Classic Video Game Copy Protection Code Wheels Digitised and Accessible Online
On this little retrogamer's sub-project website you can find our digitalized collection of different code wheels for original boxed Old Games accessible online, all of which spinning independently with a Mouse click & drag or press keyboard Arrow keys, supported by all modern internet browsers. Several code wheels contain two or three independent layers and you can choose which ones to rotate. On the each codewheel page, we bring interesting information about particular copy protection or detailed instructions about its usage while playing the game. We are still looking for gamers/collectors/contributors willing to provide scans of their original physical copy of any interesting code wheel...
About Code Wheels
A code wheel is a type of copy protection used on older computer games, often those published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It evolved from the original "manual protection" system in which the program would require the user to enter a specific word from the manual before the game would start up or continue beyond a certain point. This system was popular because it allowed the actual media to be backed up and replaced freely while retaining security, but with the increased availability of photocopiers, those wishing to distribute the games simply started copying their manuals as well to defeat the measure.
Although whole code wheels could not be directly photocopied, the component wheels could be disassembled and individually photocopied; these components could then be crafted together into a duplicate wheel. The contents of code wheels could also be copied onto paper and the user of an unlicensed copy could simply apply a mathematical formula to the presented challenges to calculate the correct response. Once a suitable formula was found, code wheels actually made the process of copying easier since the amount of information they could contain was low compared to a manual of potentially unlimited size. Thus, code wheels were rapidly phased out in favor of regular manual protection and protection based around color, as public access to color photocopying at the time was expensive and uncommon. This was itself made obsolete by a return to protection based on the game media itself, when CD-ROMs were introduced.
Code wheel forms
A code wheel itself is a physical object consisting of several circular sheets of paper or card of different sizes, fastened in the center, creating a set of concentric circles. The game issues the user with a set of challenges (symbols, words, or other identifiers), which instruct the user in how to manipulate the wheel in order to reveal a response, a single symbol or word that the user must enter in order to start the game. Entering anything other than the expected response would result in the game halting or performing other behaviour associated with unauthorised usage of the software (for example, the game Starflight
would send unbeatable "police ships" to destroy the player's spaceship).