Colossal Adventure: Lenslok   11 comments

So I was chipperly plowing through all the usual parts of the game and taking screenshots (other than the aboveground being different and the inventory limit being reduced to four the game’s been straight Adventure) when I ran across a horrible discovery.

No, not the troll bridge (although it is interesting to see something illustrated you’ve only seen in text, kind of like watching a movie after reading a book five times and having it clash with what’s in your head). I mean this spot of nastiness which comes after:

Welcome to 1980s copy protection! This is Lenslok, one of the odder schemes developed by the inventor John Frost to check if you have a physical copy of a game. The game came with a physical piece of plastic which would flip around vertical slices of an image when looked through. So you would get a cryptic looking screen, hold the Lenslok up to it (custom for each game that used it), and the light beams would rearrange into a coherent-looking letter.

There is an app, LensKey, which allegedly will do the decipherment for you. I was having enormous trouble getting it to work.

That left me two options.

1.) decipher what the particular letter rearrangement is for this game’s Lenslok; this is apparently possible using the “OK” calibration screen (the top one) which can then be applied to the actual code that needs to be deciphered (the bottom one)

2.) hack at the memory, where the Lenslok code is apparently stored in plaintext in the same location as the letters OK; while the emulator I’m using (Atari800Win) has a monitor it is a bit cryptic to use

I decided to do one more try at LensKey before starting to crack open source code, and by some miracle managed to get through (the letters “UT”). It was at about the twentieth try. I have found real accounts of people doing alternate options 1 or 2 before.

The game also asks for copy protection with the RESTORE command but I’ve been using save states, so it wasn’t until now I ran into the surprise. Unfortunately, I’ve also found my lamp light fading (four inventory items only is tough, y’all, especially when you need a lamp and axe). Fortunately, the “coins” at the start do _not_ count as a treasure — I think what the game is really intending is that you have to go into the All-Different Maze (which normally can be skipped) since instead of wasting a treasure you just insert the coins.

From the Crappy Games Wiki which includes such gems as “all of the games had different Lenslok lenses, and some of them came with the wrong lenses.”

I’m guessing I’ll be done for-real with the standard adventure section next time, it is just this experience was traumatizing enough I needed to stop and share now.

Posted August 27, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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11 responses to “Colossal Adventure: Lenslok

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  1. If you use a build of the Level9 interpreter (https://www.ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archive/level9/interpreters/level9/), it will tell you what the correct Lenslok code is. If you do that, you can also use L9Cut to extract the data files and that can also strip out the Lenslok protection entirely.

    • I was able to get Jewels of Darkness to run with the Level 9 terp but not with the graphics intact (l9cut problem, not interpreter problem). Atari extracted ok (but was just text) and Amiga didn’t extract at all. Do you have a version that works?

      • I use the Windows build of L9Cut at https://ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archive/level9/tools/ which seems to work for me. I don’t have Atari 800 datafiles, but the Amiga ones don’t even need L9Cut, I think: if you mount the ADF of the game disk in WinUAE, you can see the separate game and graphics files as “gamedata.dat” and “picture.dat”. If you use WinUAE to copy those out to your system it should just work with the Level9 interpreter.

      • I’m through already so I’ll probably stick with what I have, but I’ll try it on the next game (which won’t be too far off). I will say I would prefer Atari or MSX graphics, though. Amiga has some weirdness in the display:

        Amiga shot

        compare that with the opening screen from my last post, which looks much more normal. I think it looks better at that resolution, also.

      • If by weirdness you mean the vertical compression in the Amiga screenshot, yeah, it looks odd. But that’s not the picture data, that’s the interpreter Level 9 shipped – the picture data doesn’t really have an aspect ratio in it, as far as I remember.

        Often the simplest way to use the Level9 interpreter with the 8-bit versions of the games is to load the game in an emulator, and then save out an uncompressed dump of the emulated memory, most interpreters have something like that. Then load the resulting dump into Level9, which is capable of searching files for game and picture data.

  2. I didn’t think any adventure game ever used this thing. Considering that I’ve heard it applied primarily to games like Elite, which are a bit later. I also wouldn’t think any Atari computer games would be affected, as I doubted that anything important enough to have fancy protection would be made this late.

    • Telecomsoft (incorporating Firebird and their Rainbird imprint, which later bundled up the remastered Level 9 games into various collections) went through a phase of using Lenslock during the mid 1980s. It was dreadfully unpopular with consumers, especially compared to alternate systems such as using bundled novellas/manuals for keywords… which were almost as time consuming but actually worked.

      In fact, there’s a 1986 Portuguese text adventure called ‘Mad in Cashcais’ where you the whole plot involves you playing as ZX Spectrum creator Sir Clive Sinclair, who is so frustrated at the additional optical challenge of using Lenslock as a glasses wearer, that he travels to Portugal to pick up a pirated version of Elite with the Lenslock protection removed. :)

      • I spent a school holiday doing office dogsbody duty at the Rainbird office, which included a little testing of the Level 9 trilogies and other games on various platforms. It didn’t make it easy to test a game if you couldn’t even get past the Lenslok screen! IIRC improvements were made before anything shipped, but it was still a pain.

    • The absolute worst on the list is Graphic Adventure Creator (GAC). I can’t imagine having to go through copy protection every time I want to open my game to work on writing it.

  3. > “In fact, there’s a 1986 Portuguese text adventure called ‘Mad in Cashcais’ where you the whole plot involves you playing as ZX Spectrum creator Sir Clive Sinclair, who is so frustrated at the additional optical challenge of using Lenslock as a glasses wearer, that he travels to Portugal to pick up a pirated version of Elite with the Lenslock protection removed. :)”

    LOL…

  4. The Jewels of Darkness trilogy at the Archive, IIRC, had a different copy protection – you had to produce a specific word from the novella that came with the original game (which is also on the Archive in PDF form)

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