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Toms Hardware Bioshock Coverage

Last response: in Video Games
August 31, 2007 2:55:04 AM

So, it's occurred to me that our coverage of Bioshock at toms hardware is spread out and hard to find. So I made this to make things easier to find.

I spent most of this weekend installing and uninstalling Bioshock, and the usable part of my desk smells like beer.

Video: The Bioshock DRM problem, Second Take

Video: The Bioshock DRM problem, part 2, Second Take

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Video: Bioshock Preview

Twitchguru DRM article

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Twitchguru article on Bioshock Demo Impressions by Rob Wright

Bioshock image Gallery

Twitchguru article, bioshock preview

User Wombat discusses how to remove SecurROM after uninstalling the Bioshock demo

User Snyderm expresses outrage on online activation.

There's only so much corporate calisthenics I can go through before I start to feel a little queasy, so let's get down to brass tacks here. We each have our own motivations for undertaking this mission, so let me give you a little warning. I cannot be circumvented, I cannot be tricked, I cannot be manipulated, and I cannot be bought. You come at me straight and keep the fancy maneuvers for your next board meeting.

August 31, 2007 3:13:27 AM

As soon as I get my head on straight, Dupre and I will dissect individual claims, and field questions.
September 1, 2007 3:01:03 AM

It would be irresponsible of me to go hammering away at Bioshock, without backing up my statements with testable, repeatable data. So here goes my preliminary results:

A caveat, the server side portion of the DRM is out of my control. There might have been some strange side effects, that I can’t account for. Also, the server owners can change the behavior of their software at any time.

Each windows user account on a computer requires separate online activation: TRUE. It’s not clear whether this uses up one of the “Same Machine” installs.

Dual boot systems require separate online activation: TRUE. It’s not clear if a hard drive change counts as a “Same Machine” install, or “New Machine” install.

Uninstalling and reinstalling to the same computer requires online activation: TRUE. It’s not clear if this counts as a “Same machine” install.

Hardware changes/upgrades can break activation:TRUE: SecuROM seems to use a point system, similar to Windows Vista, in detecting if the hardware has been changed.

Individual hardware changes do NOT break activation: PARTIALY TRUE. The 2k website claims that simple hardware changes do not trigger activation lockout. I did a quick test with some of the spare hardware we had lying around. Changing video cards from a FX 7600 to a GTX 8800 worked fine. Changing motherboards did trigger the activation lockout.

This particular area needs much closer examination.

The Retail game has a CD check: TRUE.

The Steam and Direct2Drive versions, do not contain a CD check: TRUE. However, it doesn’t mean the files are very portable. I have not examined these enough to form a specific opinion.

The Steam and Direct2Drive versions require online SecuROM activation: TRUE.

The Demo has no DRM: FALSE. The demo uses SecuROM copy protection.

The Demo requires online activation: FALSE. Akldfj;lajv

The SecuROM on the Demo, Retail, Steam and Direct2Drive, leaves a rootkit: FALSE: HOWEVER, the files and registry entries use techniques commonly found in rootkits. The SecurRom hides it’s services, and tries to evade firewall settings. They are difficult to remove, and register as problems on tools like Rootkit revealer. The AVG anti virus software was also not happy about this. I am also not happy about this.

Dupre is not happy about this either. However, we suspect that this is a faulty installer, rather than any malice on the part of SecuROM or 2k games.

The demo and the full version disable legitimate tools: TRUE:

The demo and the full version disable virtual drives: Untested.

Uninstalling Bioshock notifies the SecuROM service, freeing up your licence: FALSE. I ran netstat and Wireshark, while uninstalling twice, once with the network cable unplugged. I could see nothing sent to SecuROM.

This leads me to one of a few conclusions:

One : I am misreading my scans.
Two: SecuROM can mask it’s network traffic.
Three: The uninstall doesn’t tell the SecuROM servers anything.
Four: The uninstall keeps careful track on the hard drive, and uploads change information only when the installer is run.

Assuming I didn’t screw up my scans, I don’t see how SecuROM would know if you’ve uninstalled, in order to free up your licenses for a new machine.

Considering how much time I spent trying to move licenses around so we could discuss benchmarks recommended video cards and optimization for the latest Unreal engine, you might see why I would be annoyed.

4x3 (standard) shows more on screen than 16x9 (widescreen): TRUE.

16x9 (widescreen) users are screwed because their screen is chopped: PROBABLY FALSE: So, lets say, that while the game was developed, the testing, the design was done in 16X9, as the developers claim. To convert to 4x3, we have these options

1.Chop off the sides of the screen (pan/scan).

2.Letterbox, with a black bar at the top and the bottom.

3. Letterbox, adding the view where the black bars would be.

If the game was built using widescreen, what option should the developers have used?

1 would be stupid, because the designers already spent all that time getting the view right.

Given the choice between 2 or 3, the choice that shows the most view is the logical one.

Having gone through the story parts, and a few choice combat areas in both standard and widescreen, I could not see any story elements in standard, that I missed in widescreen.
The game looks spectacular in both views.

If there was multiplayer, I might feel different on this issue, but as it is, there’s a couple of points where it would be easier to spot security cameras in standard.

DX9 vs DX 10?: Early results say DX 10, although both look very good.

Bioshock’s Nvidia beta drivers vs the latest Nvida drivers on their website: Early results say, use the latest ones from Nvida, because of some lighting artifacts.

Nvidia vs ATI: Untested.

The activation limit has been changed from 2X? to 5X5. Probably true: The number of activations has definitely been changed.


Widescreen appears not to be broken.

Bioshock’s SecuROM DRM, on release date, is MORE restrictive than HalfLife2’s Steam activation.

A game that requires you to uninstall it and phone home when you upgrade your hardware? How often Tom’s Hardware people upgrade their hardware?

Sony proposed a system like the SecuROM online authentication for the PS3. They elected not to go with it.

Does 2k games and irrational have legitimate concerns? Absolutely. Consider the number of truly great, smart, single player FPSes, some of which undersold. Looking Glass Studios, maker of System Shock 2 is no more. Ion Storm, the maker of truly great, smart, single player FPSes, is also gone.

For me, the question isn’t DRM, or not DRM. The question is, does the product do what I want? A CD of music I want, but I couldn’t use with an Ipod is worth about 17 cents to me.

Half Life 2, a game that has the closet DRM model, I consider worth about 8 dollars, because of DRM.

EULA or no EULA, a contract is about a meeting of the minds.

I see “online activation required” and I don’t expect to ask “Mother may I” before doing a motherboard swap.

What I expect:

Fix your uninstaller, as it is obviously broken, as it leaves several, hard to remove files and registry entries.

Fix the license transfer issue.

I know there must have been some kind of internal debate on how many installs and of what type, were enough. Determine who decided that two installs would be sufficient, for a high performance game, where your primary customer base frequently reinstalls and updates their computer hardware. Remove their ability to cost you customer loyalty for future products.

Recognize that every time your authentication servers fail to let a person play their game, there’s a person on the other end, wondering why they did the right thing, and paid for the game, instead of pirating it. Adjust resource prioritizations accordingly.

Recognize the threat that CSRs with incorrect information can cause. I recognize that tech breaks, problems happen, and communication fails. But when you have something like the uninstaller not even sending out packets...

Develop a “Sunset Plan” for when you no longer want to spend money on the authentication service, and anyone who wishes to pirate the game has already done so.

Recognize that internet activation, and SecureROM is going to be met with heavy skepticism for any of your future releases. Right now, I would read “Online activation required” on a game, and I will assume they mean Steam or Vista class DRM.

Consider a “revival chamber policy” for keys. Hard drives fail, people change computers. A hard numerical limit is a bad idea. Demanding that people use your tool to clear their licenses before upgrading hardware is something that dramatically reduces the convenience, and therefore, the value of your product. Consider having keys regenerate, after a certain period of time, to account for that.

When a DRM product salesperson talks to you and promises how smoothly things will go, and how your game can be protected, while keeping the players happy, I want you to remember this incident. Compare what you were promised, with what you received this time. Don’t accept the statement at face value. Ask, “What could go wrong?” “What should we do if something goes wrong?”

I realize that there have been public statements made on some of these topics about 2k’s plans for the future, but at Tom’s Hardware, we deal with the here and now. And I only truly trust what is in front of me.

A is A.

Bioshock is Bioshock.

Dupre is a hammer of Honor. To me, this is as much about the misleading/ flat out wrong statments from 2k.

The game itself is excellent. I feel like a better person for having played it, but I’m out of energy right now to talk about it. More to come.

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September 1, 2007 3:12:43 AM

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September 1, 2007 3:32:27 PM

I think that as soon as a hacked version becomes widely available 2k should put out a patch that removes securom IN ITS ENTIRETY. No unremovable registry keys, no unremovable hidden files, nothing indicating that securom ever polluted your hard drive.

I support the need for game makers to include DRM in order to limit piracy during the early release stage of a game, but they need to understand that Securom type DRM is a burden on legal game owners... so once it's lifespan has expired (may already be so... I've not looked to see if a hack is out yet) it should be part of normal game patch releases to utterly destroy any evidence that the now-useless DRM tech ever existed on legal owners systems.

I'm glad I got Bioshock... it's not an AWESOME game like HL2 but it's darn good (HL2 was IMO 10/10, Bioshock 7.5/10), but in all likelyhood as soon as I finish it I'm going to uninstall it and go through the pain of manually removing the Securom refuse... it's totally unacceptable to have permanent rootkit like functionality on my system in the name of DRM.
September 8, 2007 9:49:58 AM

7.5, thats harsh imo, I think 8.5 would be more accurate tho hl2 was amazing (still is)