Yesterday’s Copy Protection Schemes – Sid Meier’s Pirates!

I love an imaginative copy protection scheme that sets the tone for the game that I am about to play.  These days, copy protection consists of entering a 24-digit hexadecimal code with CIA-class encryption, a bland and repetitive experience (not unlike many games, actually), or worse yet, being forced to go online to do the same to unlock the game.   Back in the day, however, many options were available, from lining up windows on code wheels to examining fingerprints.  Sid Meier’s Pirates! chose an educational method of ensuring copy protection, by asking when the Spanish Treasure Fleet or Silver Train arrived at a particular city, the answer to which was contained within the game manual.  A simple question, but effective.

However, the original Sid Meier’s Pirates! was released in 1987 – over two decades ago – and game manuals have a funny way of disappearing like the lovely ladies in a stage magician’s show, without ever showing up again.  Well, fear not: scroll down and click on the game cover pic to view the original copy protection data, ready for your retrogaming needs!  And for those of you who need a game map for Pirates!…look here!

Click on this image to view the copy protection information!


Game of the Week: Sid Meier’s Pirates! (1987)

Once upon a time it was a lot more avante-guard to be a pirate, long before the unwashed masses embraced the Disney Jack Sparrow movie juggernaut, and even before some wag convinced enough people to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.  In the heady days of the dawn of the PC graphic adventure, pirates were nothing more than literary devices or the stuff of all things dastardly; pirates portrayed in PC games were more Blackbeard or Captain Hook than Errol Flynn. And then along came Sid Meier.

Box art for Sid Meier's Pirates!

Sid Meier is a gaming legend today, a name that is as much a brand and promise of great gameplay, but in 1987, this was not the case.  To be sure, Sid Meier’s name already carried some weight in the simulation community, as a designer of games such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Silent Service.  His games were always enjoyable and well-coded, but more importantly, sold well.  The marketing gurus at MicroProse suspected that people were buying Sid Meier games because they were designed by Sid Meier, so it seemed reasonable to help make their buying decisions for them by announcing his involvement directly in the product title.  From this reasoning the very first game to feature “Sid Meier’s…” in the game title was born: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier - Gamer god

Sid Meier - Gamer god

The game was for single players, made long before the mad, lemming-like multiplayer rush of today that all gaming companies seem to have embraced.  (Wait, was that an editorial?)  It was an open-ended game, letting the player make the choices on where to travel and what to do, with the only caveat being that eventually the player’s character would grow too old to continue on the pirate’s path, and would retire.  Depending on what actions the player took (that is, what rewards and successes they achieved during the game), the game would then give a litany of how their character lived the rest of their days, from a lowly beggar in the streets to the prestigious role as adviser to the King.  The game world itself was created using a series of questions-and-answers, beginning with what pirate era the player wanted to play within (1560: The Silver Empire; 1600: Merchants and Smugglers; 1620: The New Colonists; 1640: War for Profit; 1660: The Buccaneer Heroes; and 1680: Pirates’ Sunset).  This was followed by which nationality they wished to be (Dutch Adventurer, English Buccaneer, French Buccaneer, or Spanish Renegade), which Difficulty Level they wished to play in (Apprentice, Journeyman, Adventurer, or Swashbuckler).  Finally, a Special Ability was chosen: Skill at Fencing, Skill at Gunnery, Skill at Medicine, Skill at Navigation, or Wit and Charm, each with its own advantages (for instance, Wit and Charm was used to keep on a Governor’s good side; whereas Skill at Medicine kept injuries to a minimum and prolonged the character’s life).

Swordplay in Sid Meier's Pirates!

The game world was then generated from these questions.  Of course, the final variable was the copy protection, which requested when either the Silver Train or the Spanish Treasure Fleet arrived in a particular city.  Failure to provide the correct answer stacked the odds so far against the player that even the game manual stated, “Heed the advice and start over, otherwise you’ll find your situation most bleak.”  Take that, software pirates!  Actually, in some ways the manual was as interesting as the game, as there was a wealth of historical information on pirates and the historical context within which they plied their trade.  Well worth reading!

Decisions, decisions in Sid Meier's Pirates!

As for actual gameplay, the live of a pirate was sometimes short, but always challenge-filled and exciting, which the player soon discovered for themselves.  Since a pirate fought with a sword, fencing was part of the game.  Since pirates sailed the seas to prey upon treasure-laden ships, navigation and naval combat was part of the game.  Since pirates often sold their loot to merchants (money laundering was alive and well in the pirate era), trade was part of the game.  Since pirates sometimes sacked small townships, that, too was part of the game.  Since pirate ships didn’t magically manifest crewmembers to sail the seven seas, recruitment was part of the game, and since a silver tongue helped a pirate live a longer life, diplomatic contact with town governors was also part of the game.  All in all, this was an impressive pirate simulation.

Pirates! Gold for the Sega Genesis

If the Career Mode was too large of a time investment, Sid Meier’s Pirates! offered six historically accurate scenarios to test your swashbuckling mettle.  Each scenario was in a different time period, and each offered unique challenges to overcome.  These scenarios were: John Hawkins and the Battle of San Juan Ulua  – 1569 (wherein you have a slow, but powerful galleon to command, with many ports unwilling to trade and a fleet not powerful enough to force them to comply); Francis Drake and the Silver Train Ambush – 1573 (can you match the verve and skill Drake showed battling the Spanish Fleet at the height of their power with only two small ships?); Piet Heyn and the Treasure Fleet – 1628 (your fleet is powerful, but the season is late and finding the treasure ships is becoming a difficult task and will take expert planning to locate and dispatch); L’Ollonais and the Sack of Marcaibo – 1666 (an abundance of manpower but a shortage of powerful vessels make ship-to-ship battles difficult, but port sacking attractive, with the additional challenge of the fragile nature of your men’s morale); Henry Morgan the King’s Pirate – 1671 (the dangers of having a powerful pirate fleet in both naval power and manpower in that you must keep everyone fed, content and treasure laden to succeed); and Baron de Pontis and the Last Expedition – 1697 (the munchkin scenario, in which you have a large strike force and a more than reasonable certainty to win any battle, making the only challenge how much treasure can you loot?).

Pirates! for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was first released in 1987 on the Apple II, Commodore 64 and IBM PC (PC Booter) platforms.  It was quickly ported over to the Macintosh (1988), Amstrad (1988), Commodore Amiga (1990), and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991).  It would be remade in 1993 with improved graphics and sound, then published under the title Pirates! Gold, for IBM PC (both DOS and Windows), Macintosh, and – because Nintendon’t – the Sega Genesis. The remakes didn’t end there, as it was again remade in 2004 for Windows XP, returning to its original title of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, and then again in 2008 for mobile devices, imaginatively called Sid Meier’s Pirates! Mobile.  Perhaps in the next decade it will be remade once again.  (I recommend they try Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold as the title for next time.)

Box art for Pirates! Gold

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was not only popular amongst gamers, it also performed well in the eyes of the gaming press.  It was awarded “Action Game of the Year” by Computer Gaming World, and also the Origin Award for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1987”.  The game also ranked at #18 in the Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time.  Clearly, this game has remained in the gaming public’s eye for a reason, making Sid Meier’s Pirates! a worthy addition to anyone’s game collection.

Gameplay video of Sid Meier’s Pirates! ()

Retrogaming Game Maps – Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Marauding along the Spanish Main is much easier when you can refer to the map that came in the game box.  Of course, that’s usually a tough task considering the map tends to disappear along with the game manual, leaving would-be buccaneers wandering aimlessly on the high seas.  That’s a fate almost worse than joining the deep crew of Davy Jones’ Locker!  Avast, maties, here be the map!

Sid Meier's Pirates! Game Map

Sid Meier's Pirates! Game Map

Doom’s Dawn: The Ten Best PC Games of 1993

It was the year that William Jefferson Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States; Czechoslovakia ceased to be a unified country in the Velvet Divorce; Jean Chrétien became the 20th Prime Minister of Canada with a massive majority; the Dallas Cowboys became the NFL champions in Super Bowl XXVII; Boris Yeltsin faced down an uprising in Russia; and the underdog Montreal Canadiens defeated the Wayne Gretzky led Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup.  It was also the year that id Software released one of the greatest PC games of all time: DOOM.  That year, of course, was 1993.

Computer games really started to hit their stride in the 90’s, and many of today’s game franchises have their roots in some classic games from this period.  The year 1993 had a bumper crop of excellent games, and it was hard to come up with a list that didn’t exclude some personal favorites.  Even their order placement was difficult!  If you disagree with the list – comment below!


1. DOOM, id Software.  Outstanding graphics, amazing sound effects and brilliant gameplay combined to make this game a runaway success, and made its creators icons in the gaming industry.  Add to that id Software’s ingenious shareware marketing strategy, and this game is easily the best game of 1993.


2. MASTER OF ORION, MicroProse Software. This strategy game set the gaming world on fire with deep gameplay.  It spawned several sequels and imitators, and cemented MicroProse’s reputation as a strategy game software giant.  If DOOM hadn’t been released that same year, M.O.O. would have been #1 on this list.


3. SIMCITY 2000, Maxis Software.  Will Wright scored a huge hit with the successor to his original hit, SimCity. The isolinear graphics and fun gameplay make this game a joy to play, even after all these years!


4. RETURN TO ZORK, Activision, Inc. & Infocom.  “Want some rye? ‘Course you do!” This eagerly awaited sequel to the Zork franchise did not disappoint.  Filled with Zorkesque humor and puzzle-based adventuring, this game is still a must-play for gamers.


5. MANIAC MANSION: DAY OF THE TENTACLE, LucasArts Entertainment. More crazy humor from the creators of Maniac Mansion, as the players raced throughout time to stop Dr. Fred’s creation, Purple Tentacle, from ruling the world.  With a premise like that, how could gamers go wrong?


6. THE 7th GUEST, Trilobyte & Virgin Interactive.  CD technology was just coming to the mass market, and gamers really had no reason to upgrade – until the release of this game, that is.  The puzzles were fun, but the story was gruesomely entertaining.  A real hallmark of the CD Age.


7. SAM & MAX HIT THE ROAD, LucasArts Entertainment.  True to its comic roots, this adventure game was bizarre, light-hearted and completely fun.  Gamers enjoyed seeing just what crazy actions they could make Sam & Max do – and what happened when they did it!


8. GABRIEL KNIGHT: SINS OF THE FATHERS, Sierra On-Line.  What happens when you hire a novelist to design an adventure game for you?  An award-winning gaming experience, that’s what!  Jane Jensen created a world of horror and suspense, as players searched through the dark underbelly of New Orleans and delved into zombie folklore in their quest to solve the mystery.


9. WING COMMANDER: PRIVATEER, Origin Systems, Inc.   Although this game is set in the heroic Wing Commander universe, players chose to be a merchant, a pirate, or a mercenary, plying the space lanes looking for a quick profit.  Of course, waking up an ancient evil can put a huge damper on your profit margin and leads to all sorts of distractions.  Better not – whoops, well you’re in for it now!


10. PIRATES GOLD, MicroProse Software.  Pirates, ship-to-ship action, booty, Sid Meier…what’s not to like?  This was the “sequel” to Sid Meier’s Pirates!, with a blend of action, strategy, and adventure that was as interesting to play then as it is today.  How can anyone resist the call to be a buccaneer from the 17th Century?  (If you can, turn in your gamer card – it’s all over.)