Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Philosophy of PC Game CD/DVD Imaging

Thrift stores are great places to find older PC games on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM.  I have found many good games at these stores.  The first thing I do when I get home is to make disc images of them.  Disc images are great for several reasons.  First, it reduces wear and tear on both discs and drives.  Second, if you want to install or play a game, you don't have to physically move from your computer.  Third, in the unlikely event that two or more people in your house/office want to play the game, you don't have to share the CD.  Fourth, if the game requires the CD to be in the drive, you can mount an image on a virtual drive rather than having to hunt for a NO-CD crack.

There are three types of PC game discs, pure single-track data discs (CD or DVD), multi-track or mixed mode discs (CD only) and copy protected discs (CD or DVD), which can be mixed mode but usually are not.  In this article, I am going to talk about the types of imaging formats, programs to use and copy protection.  First, lets start with imaging formats :

1.  ISO

The extension .iso is named after the file system found on CD-ROMs, ISO-9660.  Any CD imaging program can make .iso images.  This is a straight sector dump of a formatted data track.  It does not support CD-Audio, multiple tracks and will fail to make a working disc image of any copy protected CD.  Do not make an image with the .iso format unless you know your game is unprotected and contains no CD Audio tracks.  This disc format will work with unprotected DVDs or Blu-ray discs, even though they use the UDF file system.

I have observed iso files accompanied by a cue sheet.  If the cue includes audio tracks, then by loading the cue you will have access to the audio files.  However, the only discs I have ever seen ripped this way were NEC TurboGrafx CD games, which do not use the ISO-9660 and are not readable in Windows.

How to tell if your game CD has CD-Audio?

Certain games have a data track with one or more audio tracks located thereafter.  Windows Media Player will tell you if your disc has Audio tracks.  If you are trying to image a Sega CD, Turbo-Grafx CD, 3D0 CD Neo-Geo CD or Atari Jaguar CD, assume that it has CD-Audio tracks. You can also use virtually any good CD ripping program.  Always check before you rip.  A list can be found on the Mixed Mode CD article on Wikipedia.

Will .iso work on a hybrid disc?

A hybrid disc is one formatted for both Windows and Macintosh.  The Mac file system, HFS or HFS+, is included, usually points to the same data and is not ordinarily readable in Windows.  There are programs liks hfsexplorer for Windows that can verify the existence of an HFS disc.  If any of the game's discs are marked as working for Macintosh, then all the game's discs almost certainly are hybrid discs.  I have made .iso images of hybrid discs and hfsexplorer indicates the file system is present.  Some claim that a more involved imaging format like CloneCD or Alcohol 120% is needed to actually get these games to work in a Mac.

2.  BIN/CUE (or IMG/CUE)

This extension was introduced by CDRWIN.  Unlike ISO, it can support multiple data and audio tracks.  The .cue is a small plain text file that contains the name of the .bin or .img file.  The .bin or .img contains the data from the disc, and may or may not include CD Audio tracks.  The audio tracks may be separate wave or mp3 files, and the file name will be listed alongside each track.  CDRWIN is a very old program and best run on Windows 95 or 98.  The last version is 4.0H.  Many other programs, like CloneCD and Alcohol 120% support bin/cue.  Do not use Alcohol to rip to a BIN/CUE, the audio will be two seconds off.  CloneCD doesn't have that issue.  I recommend Perfect Rip, a free program, to make img/cues.  This format will defeat basic or crude copy protection methods that use multiple data tracks or dummy files, but not Safedisc or SecuROM.  Last updated in 2010.  The Nero Burning ROM nrg format seems to provide equilavent functionality.

With the exception of a few European sports games, DOS CD-ROM games were never copy protected except for a few games like Warcraft that relied on document checks (except for the oldest and newest versions of the program).


This is the Slysoft (previously Elaborate Bytes) CloneCD format, and is suitable for copying copy protected discs using commercial copy protection products.  The .ccd is a plain text file that describes the image, the .img contains the data for the disc, and the .sub (which is not always present) is a file containing subchannel data.  The intent is to make 1:1 copies of discs.  It works well with Safedisc protected games, but SecuROM NEW (v4 and up) are best handled by Alcohol 120%.  It creates accurate cue files as well by default.  Despite its name it also copies game DVDs.  For copy protected movie DVDs and Blu-rays, you must use AnyDVD or AnyDVD HD.  This program was last updated in 2009.

4.  MDF/MDS (or MDX)

This is the format used by Alcohol Soft's Alcohol 120%.  Alcohol 52% will only make images, not burn them.  It will make any of the above imaging formats or its own format.  This program was last updated in 2012, so I recommend it.  It is especially good for SecuROM.  Use the appropriate protection profile when copying.  For Safedisc and SecuROM games, making an image that will not later require a no-CD crack will take longer, since it has to read errors and use Data Position Management.  Usually only the first or the play disc is protected, since that will be the disc the game expects in the drive.  However, some games like Syberia and American McGee's Alice have protection on both discs.  If Alcohol can detect the protection used on the first disc, then if it does not detect the protection on the other discs you can avoid using the DPM option, which takes far longer than a standard imaging would take.

Older versions of the program had a bug when making bin/cue files.  This bug would cause the audio tracks on a mixed-mode CD to be off by two seconds.  The current version of the software does not suffer from this problem, and I am not aware of any problems when using the native format.  For most games, the track index measurements are not crucial, so these discs can be repaired.  Some games, like Loom (05:00:00), require the audio track to be located at a precise measurement because they use the track for speech and sound effects.

MDX is the file format that Daemon Tools creates, and simply combines the MDF and MDS files.

5.  How to Tell if your Game is Copy-Protected?

The best way to tell if your game is copy protected is to install it and then run PROTECTiON iD (last version July, 2010, v.6.4.0)  on the game's hard drive directory.  Scanning the disc itself may work for earlier protections, but the game's exe files are usually compressed in install files which are beyond the program's scan until they are unpacked and installed to the hard drive.  Alcohol 120% can usually give you an idea of which protection is used by scanning the media, but PROTECTiON iD is better for getting the actual version of the copy protection used.  Alcohol 120% is not perfect, as the program detected the Tages protection on my original copy of Giants, Citizen Kabuto, which the game does not have.  Gamecopyworld often lists the protection used, but protections may not have been used for all releases or all regions.

I own quite a few Windows Game CDs from 1996-2004, but not all of them are copy protected.  Budget or late (Game of the Year, Gold) releases often have copy protection removed.  Games released before 1999 typically lack commercial copy protections.  Since I live in the US, I have only encountered Safedisc and SecuROM protected discs.  Tages, CD Cops, Laserlock seem to be European innovations, and Starforce seems to have come along later.

6.  Daemon Tools

Almost everybody uses Daemon Tools Lite to emulate CD or DVD drives and load disc images.  It emulates RMPS, SecuROM, Safedisc and LaserLock protections.  Daemon Tools 3.47 is the last version that supports Windows 95, 98 or ME.