DRM Workarounds Save Arcade Cabinet

DRM has become a four-letter word of late, with even media companies themselves abandoning the practice because of how ineffective it was. DRM wasn’t invented in the early 2000s for music, though. It’s been a practice on virtually everything where software is involved, including arcade cabinets. This is a problem for people who restore arcade machines, and [mon] has taken a swing at unraveling the DRM for a specific type of Konami cabinet.

The game in question, Reflec Beat, is a rhythm-based game released in 2010, and the security is pretty modern. Since the game comes with a HDD, a replacement drive can be ordered with a security dongle which acts to decrypt some of the contents on the HDD, including the game file and some other information. It’s not over yet, though. [mon] still needs to fuss with Windows DLL files and a few levels of decryption and filename obfuscation before getting the cabinet functional again.

The writeup on this cabinet is very detailed, and if you’re used to restoring older games, it’s a bit of a different animal to deal with than the embedded hardware security that older cabinets typically have. If you’ve ever wanted to own one of these more modern games, or you’re interested in security, be sure to check out the documentation on the project page. If your tastes are more Capcom and less Konami, check out an article on their security system in general, or in de-suiciding boards with failing backup batteries.

31 thoughts on “DRM Workarounds Save Arcade Cabinet

  1. Want even more onerous DRM? Microboards makes automated disc duplicators, some even have built in high resolution printers so you can feed it data and blanks then collect the fancy finished product.

    Prices for one of their DVD and Blu-Ray Disc Publishers can top five kilodollars. You’d think that would be enough money for the company, but noooo. To use their software and machines you also have to buy USB dongles loaded with ‘disc credits’ in amounts of 100, 500, 1000, or 5000.

    I was all set to jump on a Disc Publisher MX2 going cheap on auction, then did some research. Nope! Not biting into that pie filled with poop. At any time they could make any of their machines into useless junk by discontinuing disc credit sales for them.

    1. About 5 years ago I needed to burn 500 copies of a DVD-Video for school. Looked all over for a bunch of different solutions. My solution, I put 11 DVD-RW into a case and burned batches of disk using Free NERO BURNING ROM and Light Scribe Labeling. Now you cant really find Light scribe disc and disc printers will run you $200-300 each with expensive DRM ink that you can not refill.

  2. It’s amazing that the crappier the code is, the more afraid the author is for it being copied by someone. I’ve seen people asking about how to “secure” their 10-line Arduino sketches from being “stolen”. Seriously.

      1. Not defending it.. but from their perspective: a person who struggles for months to make a single thing (photo/code that compiles/etc). They finally get something working or passable quality. Bam, that’s the one worth-while thing they’ve ever done. Meanwhile, those of us with talent turn out dozens of decent things just to pass the time. It’s easy to overlook the latent you have when things come easy.

    1. Worth notwithstanding in today’s day and age, IP infringement is a global problem, from the smallest individual up to nation states, with attitudes to match. DRM may be “going away” due to ineffectiveness, not because IP infringements are no longer a problem.

      1. But much like the much *ahem* loved budding novelists asking how they should protect their drafts from being stolen, adding a big “Copyright ME!” watermark doesn’t do anything but make your work look amateurish. Anyone who really wants that work will gladly OCR, transcribe, or copypaste that anyway. You stink of distrust with your target audience and the pirates win anyway.

      1. Perhaps that particular euphemism doesn’t exist where [rastersoft] lives.
        Explanation: In English, many of our worst swear words are 4 letters long when spelled. This has brought about the term “four letter word”, which is a substitute for the actual swears.

        1. Thorough explanation indeed. Thank you.

          Like to add the ironic and cynical characterization of “four letter word” to innocent words like: “love” , “work” and a few other than may have/had a catastrophic effect on some people, hence the “four letter word” warning.
          All in humor, of course.

  3. Not only do you need to bypass the security dongle and decrypt the HDD data, the newer Bemani games are online-based DRM. If it doesn’t get the a-OK back from Konami’s server, the game won’t boot. Not 100% sure on the earlier Reflec Beat versions, but that’s been the case with Bemani for years now.

      1. Correct. No way to spoof server replies. You can’t write a fake server packet without Konami’s private key, which is on a harddrive on their server, which would require physically breaking into company headquarters to get it, something like out of a spy movie. Any DRM that depends on RSA (public/private keypair) for authentication can’t be hacked by anybody other than professional CIA/NSA type people using lock picks to sneak into company HQ at night with nightvision scopes, because you would need physical access to company server equipment to extract the private key.

  4. DRM is like chemo. You gotta screw your customers hard in the hopes of screwing the pirates a little harder. But unlike cancer, the pirates just hack out a kludge to get around it and you’re just screwing the customers.

      1. The ‘drugs’ used in Chemotherapy are highly toxic. The idea is that they will kill the cancer faster than they are killing you.

        DRM only hurts your customers as the ‘pirates’ will *ALWAYS* be able to find a workaround.

    1. I really like that metaphor. I agree, but I’ve never thought to put it that way.

      Make it easier to get your media legally than pirate it. For example, I already pay Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime. All Access (for example) would have to be amazing to be worth the extra trouble of making a damned account, let alone the monthly fee.

      (Speaking of Hulu, I wish they’d work with Spotify to have a package deal like the student one, but for everyone else.)

    1. Its running Windows XP Embedded so the hardware is probably just a mini-ATX motherboard like a Megatouch bar game. All modern arcade games/gambling devices are PC based. Even games from the 1990s were running LINUX. Why waste money on new hardware when PC hardware is stupid powerful and dirt cheap?

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