Spare Change is an odd little Apple II game from 1983, where the player tries to thwart mischievous creatures who escaped from an arcade game, who are trying to steal quarters from the machines. One of Broderbund’s earlier hits, although it never gained the recognition of Lode Runner.
Spare Change, in addition to its various little features like animated intermissions and customizable difficulty, also had a pretty strong copy protection scheme. These schemes served to prevent casual copying at the time (although cracks of all the popular titles inevitably started making the rounds on BBSes), but also serve to work against software preservation. Spare Change is 40 years old now, and disks fail frequently. There is an available crack, but it’s said to be missing an important feature: it fails to save their high scores to disk.
4am is the famed preserver of classic Apple II software, performed by dint of figuring out their protection and removing it as unobtrusively as possible. His account on Twitter (I refuse to call it X, I don’t even like saying Xbox) made for great reading for people of a technical mind. He isn’t on Twitter any more for, I dunno, some reason, but he still posts his cracks, and his explanations for how they work, to the Internet Archive, under the 4am tag.
All this is to say his crack of Spare Change makes for entertaining reading to one of the right mindset. One of you may have it, so here it is.
Apple II preservationist and awesome human 4am (Mastodon) has released the latest version of Total Replay, a collection of Apple II games that can be played both in emulators and on real systems (provided you have a way to read the hard drive image from your Apple). It can even be played directly over the web on its Internet Archive page.
An important note if you try to load its torrent from the page: that torrent contains a complete history of the project, weighing in at 22 gigabytes, even though Total Replay itself is just 32 megabytes big. If you choose to download that torrent for offline play and are just interested in playing, make sure to uncheck the history folder so you don’t end up downloading a huge amount of files you don’t need.
Total Replay 5.0 archive page (Apple II hard drive image, ProDOS mountable, 32MB), Mastodon post
Back in the days of the Apple II, there was a thriving scene in trading copies of commercial software. Means to prevent this, through copy protection schemes, were just as rampant, as publishers sought to protect their work from those who would use it without paying. The process of figuring out a disk’s copy protection and making it so it could be copied and run by others was called cracking, or sometimes, kracking.
Cracking was, and still is, a black art. There are many ways to protect a disk from being copied, and just as many to deprotect that data. Some disks remain uncracked to this day. It is the work of Apple II cracker 4am (Mastodon) to try to unlock the data on these rapidly aging pieces of media so they can be preserved. (On 4am, jump to the bottom.)
The Apple II Kracker’s Guide seems to have been written by a anonymous user known as The Disk Jockey. It’s a good overview of basic forms of copy protection and ways to defeat them. A copy is at the Internet Archive, but I encountered it in the collection at bitsavers.org, here. It’s like candy to someone of the right frame of mind. Like me!
Aside: If the name 4am sounds familiar, and you find yourself thinking “Didn’t he used to be on Twitter?” He was. He’s not anymore. This happened several months before the Age of Musk. Twitter’s automated processes decided somehow that a video he tweeted of Apple II software Super Print booting was revenge porn and banned him, even rejecting an appeal. He moved to Mastodon. Now that Twitter is missing half of its employees, situations like this will probably become more common. 4am is not the subject of this post, but if you want to read more about Apple II protection and its breaking, you should follow him on Mastodon. He has about one tenth of the followers there that he had on Twitter, which is a shame.