Report: Sonic 2 HD contains a keylogger

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Turns out the magnificent Sonic 2 HD alpha has some keylogging tomfoolery running under the hood as part of the software’s ironic use of DRM to protect the engine – it’s been reported on Kotaku, and has also been followed up on by Sonic Retro.

The recommended fix is to delete all the program files and ro take out the registry entries inserted by the software – Kotaku’s piece above lists where in the registry the entries are currently sitting. The reports above suggest there’s no evidence of the keylogging phoning home as yet, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s… disappointing that this kind of thing has followed in the wake of an extremely promising project. Fingers crossed the team takes care of things and development continues… or maybe Sega can give the game their blessing and help with finishing the development with the existing team to get a release on XBLA, PSN and a PC-based distributor like Steam. Now that would be something really special :) They could look at making Bombergames’ Streets of Rage Remake receive the same treatment while they’re at it, too!

Thanks to CG over at the Madboards for giving me the heads-up. I’ve also updated my previous posts with the details.

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Update – Sonic 2 HD is officially amazing

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UPDATE: Turns out there is some keylogging under the hood, be sure to protect yourself if you have downloaded and used played the demo, which I’ve noted in an updated post.

I’ve talked about Sonic 4 before and my hopes that Episode 2 will not be terrible.

But you know what? As excited as I am about the impending release, I’d rather Sega give the keys to the vault for the group hammering away on the Unofficial Sonic The Hedgehog 2 HD Project, because it is completely outstanding. The physics are spot-on, the HD sprites look incredible, all that extra animation blends in seamlessly, the soundtrack sounds good and for an alpha build, this thing has a golden halo of awesome surrounding it.

I’m not sure how it works on different system specs, but on my humble build (Win7 x64, AMD 1055T, HD 5670), it was flawless.

So, bring on Episode 2 of Sonic 4. I’m sure it will be significantly better than Episode 1. But Sonic 2 HD is a project that should migrate to being an official release on PSN and XBLA, the quality is simply outstanding.

My only complaint? To secure the game’s code the heuristics, the programmer(s?) built some checks and balances into the game to keep people from hacking it, and on my PC my anti-virus software knocked the program from being opened. Looks like the issue’s been raised by others on Sonic Retro too.

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Sonic 2 HD is… shaping up really, really well!

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UPDATE: Turns out there is some keylogging under the hood, be sure to protect yourself if you have downloaded and used played the demo, which I’ve noted in an updated post.

While checking out awesome website Retro Collect, I came across the news that the Unofficial Sonic The Hedgehog 2 HD Project has a new alpha build out for download.

I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but here’s a video:

Unbelievable or what?

In a perfect world, Sega would repeat their sterling effort that resulted in the fantastic Sonic CD port now available on PSN and XBLA. While I’ll happily play Sonic 2 HD on my PC, it deserves a commercial release on a console hooked up to a TV :D

Thanks to Retro Collect, who in turn have acknowledged the original source, Sonic Retro.

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Seasonal gaming habits – spring?

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So, it’s hitting spring around here (remember, this is the southern hemisphere ;) ). This means it’s no longer cold (“cold” by Australian standards anyway), the garden comes alive (with new weeds and the lawn needs more frequent mowing), it’s brighter for longer and Christmas isn’t too far away (scary). Last year I wrote on how games are associated with my memories of different seasons. It’s completely irrational, but for me different seasons have tangible memories of gaming associated with them. So when the seasons change, it makes me think of different games. As opposed to something more logical/socially acceptable, like music, movies or first loves. Popular culture informs me these associations are acceptable. They’re probably right.

In my original rant, I mentioned Road Avenger (Mega CD), Sonic CD (Mega CD), Thunderhawk (Mega CD), Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Sega Saturn), Panzer Dragoon (Saturn), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn), Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive) and Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition (Mega Drive). While I haven’t done much gaming over the last couple of months, I seem to be going through a Mega Drive phase, having finished Wonderboy in Monster World back in July, buying a 32X in September and am currently contemplating playing through Phantasy Star 2. Well, I’m contemplating the latter via Sega Ages 2500 vol. 32: Phantasy Star Collection on the PS2, as you can set it to Very Easy/Easy to make the game less grindy compared to the cart. I do have Phantasy Star 2 in all its glory on the Mega Drive (including the map and the hint book!) from back in the day and even managed to finish it when I was a kid, but these days I don’t have the free time to grind-grind-grind my way through the game, so the M2-emulated compilation on the PS2 is my easy way out :)

So, looking at the list above I thought I’d focus on the Mega CD games, because I have unusually vivid memories of the Mega CD.

According to the Australian Video Game Magazine Score Archive at Retro Gaming Australia, Sonic CD was reviewed by Hyper in January 1994; this puts local availability anywhere from December 1993 to March 1994. The date is relevant because the first time I ever saw a Mega CD, in the flesh, was in my local favourite (and now sadly defunct) game store. Sitting on the front counter at the end of the two ailes full of Mega Drive and SNES games for rent that made up the small store (along with some Gameboy, Master System, NES and 3DO games to mix things up) was a Model 1 Mega Drive/Model 1 Mega CD combo with the opening splash screen/intro movie for Sonic CD running on a continuous loop. It was earth-shatteringly mindblowing in a way that you couldn’t imagine unless you were 12 years old and it was 1994. Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily a case for quality, as back in 1994 East 17 was popular amongst 12 year olds and digitised graphics/Mark Hamil was the future of gaming.

So, enthused by the promise of CD-ROM technology and low-resolution video in 64 colours, I pooled enough money to be able to rent a Mega CD from said local independent for a weekend with Thunderhawk and Sonic CD to test the machine out. This happened to be in September, and I can still recall hooking up that extra power brick to the series of double adapters behind the laminate-woodgrain TV in the lounge room to experience the future.

It was, in a word, amazing.

Sonic CD proved a great platformer in its own right, but the combination of CD audio (being a PAL version we had the original Japanese soundtrack, which is still my preference to this day) and 3D special stages elevated it to something else. Even if they could probably be done on a SNES with an overlcocked SuperFX2.

Then came Core Design’s technical wonder of a game, Thunderhawk. Having spent many hours enjoying the glorious glory that was LHX Attack Chopper on our mighty 386DX40 PC (which became an even better game when I worked out you could copy the disk’s contents to the 40mb [!] HDD for faster loading), loading up Thunderhawk was all types of awesome. Great scrolling, amazing audio, and more detail compared to my previous flat-shaded shoot-shoot-helicopter experience with the former (not surprising given it was made in… 1990, compared to Thunderhawk, which was released in 1993). Thunderhawk would mark the start of a great relationship between Core Design and Sega that culminated with Tomb Raider launching first on the Saturn, whereupon Core sold out since Sony paid them a lot of money to go exclusive. Since Sega had very little money in 1996 and created a convoluted (but loveable) mess of hardware, this arrangement is not terribly surprising.

But I digress – back to the story.

To be honest, I thought that was going to be the end of my Mega CD experience as the add-on was expensive, so there wasn’t much possibility of being able to pick one up on pocket money and money gifting on birthdays or Christmas. Fast-forward a little over 12 months though, and things changed. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation in 1995, the upcoming Nintendo 64 (though I think we were still calling it the Ultra 64 at that stage), the tanking of the Mega CD and 32X and with the 16-bit era on its last legs (nobody told Nintendo, so we got Donky Kong Country, Secret of Evermore and in the US, Chrono Trigger to keep us entertained for a little longer), in 1995 the impossible became altogether possible. I’m not sure how I got the funds together, but I joined the Mega CD club in spring ’95. I probably have the receipt somewhere that’ll give the exact date too.

Mum was kind enough to pick up the console and a game (Sonic CD) while I was at school, but it was a modern day/1995 tragedy – I was behind on a geography assignment that was due the next day (a Friday if I recall correctly), so instead of unboxing my shiny new console I stole quick glances at it between burying my head in atlases and encyclopedias whilst trying to write something coherent.

Roll on the next day though, and after school it was Mega CD time. It was warm (so I’m guessing it was late-October or November), so the fan was buzzing away at the lowest speed, and the Mega Drive + Mega CD 2 combo was hooked up via RF to the recently-acquired 34cm TV (in fashionable late-80s matte black, a hand-me-down from my older brother who replaced the TV [and accompanying C64] with a 14″ SVGA monitor and the 386DX40). Packed in was Road Avenger, which received a cursory play, but the real meat was Sonic CD. I can’t tell you how many hours I sunk into that game in the months following, but it was a lot. I remember unlocking everything on that game, it was amazing. I even started playing Road Avenger after a while, and began to genuinely enjoy it. This last point is not surprising in the context of 1995/1996, as my burgeoning anime interest was about to ramp up following easier access to videos thanks to Siren/Manga Video and SBS kicking off things with Ninja Scroll on Des Mangan’s Cult Movie sessions on Saturday nights a few months later.

So – spring, Mega CD and a few classic titles. Unusual? Probably :)

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Overhauling the Sega Astro City – Part 10, mounting the MAME PC

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I’ve talked before (here and here) on the MAME PC I’ve worked on as part of this project – today I have some images to show how I set it up.

The aim was to have the PC mounted in a way that would easily allow me to swap it in/out of the cabinet like a PCB. To do this, I therefore needed to have it mounted on something, and due to the size of the chamber in the Astro City, I also needed to take space into account. I actually got the idea from some ghetto DIY arcade sticks I’d seen on the net, and I have to say I’m pretty happy with the end result.

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It’s made up from a slab of MDF that I cut to size just slight larger than the motherboard with the mounting legs, with some extra give on the side where the accessories (graphics card, etc) stick out to allow for space for VGA adapters. The motherboard is propped up on PCB legs and screwed into the MDF to hold it in place. The top layer where the PSU, HDD and JPAC sit actually has two 80mm holes cut in a figure-8 shape that allows the CPU cooler to vent into the PSU and then have the PSU exhaust the air. To insulate the JPAC, I grabbed an old plastic VHS tape case and cut it to shape the JPAC with a rotary tool and that’s placed between the JPAC and the MDF. Small squares were then cut to act as plastic washers for the bolts so that the JPAC’s PCB wasn’t damaged when bolted down.

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The poles supporting the structure were actually one long screw rod I got from the hardware store with an M10 width. Appropriate nuts and washers bind it for each layer, and I simply cut it to the necessary sizes using my angle grinder.

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Everything was sized up, and bolts secure all the pieces of the setup, including cards in the motherboard, the PSU, JPAC and HDD. All the cables are secured using cable ties. The power button is routed to a DP3T switch I had lying around – simply flick it up, and it mimics the use of a power button.

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All up, it works well, even if it is probably a bit rough :) I like it though!

As noted before, posts on the refurb are being done ad-hoc, so to keep track of the whole project, just use the Sega Astro City Overhaul tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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