Monday, March 20, 2006

The Return of the Clownholes

The clownholes are back.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Dennis Zhidkov, PR manager for Starforce, Inc., and how he had e-mailed boingboing’s Cory Doctorow and threatened him with this classic blast:
Dear Sir, calling StarForce "Anti-copying malware" is a good enough cause to press charges and that is what our corporate lawyer is busy doing right now...Your article violates approximately 11 international laws. Our US lawyer will contact you shortly. I have also contacted the FBI , because what you are doing is harassment.

It was at this point that I settled on the term “clownhole”—an asshole who is also a clown.

Gal Civ II, which shipped without copy protection of any kind, has been selling through the roof, and Brad Wardell has been banging the drum about how the lack of copy protection hasn’t hurt sales of the game.

So in the Starforce forums, a forum administrator (not a random poster) posted a link to a pirate download of Gal Civ II.


If you want more details about that, here’s a link:

The link was taken down, and an apology was made. Here it is:
"In the end, on behalf of the whole StarForce I would like to tender our apologies to all people who have been working on creation of the game Galactic Civilizations II," wrote a moderator using the handle "SF shum." The moderator continued, "We have to officially claim that what has happened is just a mistake of our employee that was boosted into 'our planned PR action' by the people who hate StarForce."

Well, if you’re stupid enough to post links to warez on your site, gentlement, nobody has to plan anything. You’re just handing them big gift-wrapped baskets of dumbass.

Computer Gaming World also did an investigative piece…I know, you think that was some kind of early April Fool’s joke. As unlikely as it seems, though, they actually did do an investigative piece on Starforce in this month’s issue, and as an aside, they also appear to be attempting to become a legitimate magazine again (more on that later this week).

Here’s an excerpt from the Starforce article:
“Starforce doesn’t directly trash you rdrives of your IDE controller channels,” he [Nick Kallister, CGW’s desktop administrator] explains. “It can, however, cause Windows to step down to programmed input/output (PIO) mode, which could possibly damage some optical drives if they are run in that mode for an extended period of time.” Kallister also points out: [Although] Starforce is not a virus, it can act as a possible Trojan gateway, as malicious third-party applications could conceivably exploit its security holes to gain [system administrator] access.”

I think it’s fair to point out that, as far as I know, the Trojan gateway scenario is entirely theoretical at this point, and I’ve certainly had no issues with Starforce on my own system, but clearly, some people are having problems. CGW did a test and here’s an excerpt:
…an extended test of a 4X Memorex DVD-RW drive and a retail copy of Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory proved [the problem], as the drive’s burn speed eventually dropped to a paltry 1X—only to return to its original speed once we removed the StarForce program.

So there’s no real question anymore that in some configurations, at a minimum, Starforce lowers the burn speed of your optical drive. And what did Starforce have to say about this? Well, clownhole Zhidkov was ready with a response:
The issue on Starforce is obviously sponsored by our competitors or organized crime groups that run CD/DVD piracy [operations].

The Russian mafia, maybe? Oh, that’s great. Yes, and the persecution of your company also fulfills an ancient Biblical prophecy, sir. Locusts! I see locusts!

I sense that this might be a turning point for these loony tunes. With it fairly clearly proven that Starforce, while it’s installed, can actually degrade optical drive performance, publishers are in a very awkward position if they want to use it. And the company itself sounds mental. How can anyone have faith in their technology when they can’t open their mouths without sounding like absolute idiots?

Space Rangers 2, the PC game of the year in 2005, unfortunately uses Starforce. I believe it’s still going to be used in the upcoming U.S. release. Space Rangers 2 is so brilliant that it will be a shame if that decision, which has nothing to do with the quality of the game, costs them the chance to reach a wider audience. And there are plenty of people, after the events of the last two weeks, who won’t buy anything that uses Starforce copy protection.

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