Why hack your game console?

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/1916


Some people buy game consoles at launch only to take them apart immediately and post pictures of the insides on the internet. Web pages, wikis, and forums are devoted to putting Linux on game consoles even before they have been released. Recently released videos feature Windows XP successfully booting on a Sony PlayStation 3 via Linux/QEMU and another running emulators using a Gamecube Action Replay exploit on the Nintendo Wii. Why bother? Why reverse engineer a console? Why void your warranty? Aren’t the games and provided content enough?

It’s part of the ideology of the hacker: take it apart, fiddle with it, and make it do what you want.

Illegal home brew development has existed for years: shady individuals authored and sold bootleg Atari cartridges back in the ’80s, followed by 100-in-1 Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges, and so on. However, hobbyists have found better (and more legitimate) ways to explore and extend their hardware: home brew software. If a program doesn’t exist (or it does exist and you don’t like the way it was done), do it yourself. If there’s a barrier like Digital Rights Management, find a way around it.

An excellent example of this sort of home brew is the Xbox Media Center. Why have a DVD player, a computer for watching videos or playing music, and a console for playing games, when you can combine all three into one unit? Unhindered by corporate interests, DRM restrictions or marketing concerns, a geographically distributed development team has built an incredible piece of software. XBMC is an extremely versatile video and audio player with network streaming, RSS feed readers, live Weather reports, access to YouTube and Google video, and much more. Bill Gates was even impressed by its capabilities.

Another area of constant development is Linux. Why stop at developing software just for one console when you can use platform independent software? Over the years, Linux has found its way onto many common consoles.

Dreamcast Linux, the veritable granddaddy of console Linux, has been around since at least 2001, and there’s still interest today.

Gamecube Linux is still under semi-active development, and will probably find much more interest now that the Wii is out. Already, people are trying to find ways to get GC Linux to run on the Wii, in addition to the fledgling Wii Linux projects such as Wii-Linux and Wiili.

Xbox Linux exists in a couple of different forms, including a branch of Ubuntu and Gentoo. An effort to get Linux on the Xbox 360 hasn’t gotten nearly as far yet.

The Sony PlayStation 3 includes Linux support out of the box with their Open Platform. The Sony-sponsored Yellow Dog Linux, released on November 27, 2006, was written specifically for the PS3. Other distributions such as Fedora Core 5 and Gentoo have been successfully installed.

You have to admit, there’s a certain amount of “because I can" mentality with Linux. However, there are many uses for a game console running Linux, including game console emulators, routing, or serving web pages.

Emulation allows programs to run on a platform other than what was originally intended. Common examples include MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) and cartridge dumps of older consoles, such as the Atari 2600, NES, or Sega Genesis. At this point, virtually every cartridge-based console has been emulated in one form or another. For example, armed with a ROM (software image of the contents of the game media) and an emulator, you could play the Nintendo game Super Mario Brothers 3 on an Xbox.

However, this brings legality into question; if you don’t own the game, even though the product isn’t being sold, do you have the right to copy that game? Nintendo has recognized the market potential with their Virtual Console, allowing consumers to easily purchase older games from different consoles from a growing library of titles.

I heard a story of a Student Association web server running on an Xbox with Linux and Apache until the new manager, not knowing what it was, took it home for his kids to play with. In essence, a tool was mistaken for a toy, and that’s part of the paradigm shift one needs to recognize when dealing with these consoles: they’re not just children’s toys anymore.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

> if you don’t own the game, even though the product isn’t being sold, do you have the right to copy that game?

unless that right was given to you (passed into public domain/copyright owners explicitly allow for this to happen) then under copyright law, there is no right to copy the game.

Terry Hancock's picture

Fair use permits a variety of copying activities to take place even for all rights reserved work. In particular, making a personal copy to transfer from one medium to another, or for purposes of making a backup is most certainly legal.

Of course, there are industry interests who are lobbying to remove this right, and when they can't get it by direct legal action, are trying to do it with TPM and use law to protect the TPM, but that's another matter.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

1. Copyright owner makes game and authorises copies
2. People get authorised copies
3. Copyright owner neglects/abandons game. Game becomes "abandonware"
4. Copyright owner doesn't authorise more copies
5. Someone else hears about the game.
6. The same someone downloads the game from an abandonware site.

I understand about fair use for the people in number 2, but please show me where it says it is fair use for that someone else to get an unauthorised copy?

Terry Hancock's picture

It's not, but there is a defense in that case. It can be argued that since the original copyright is not being exploited, you are doing no damage to the author's market or profitability on the work.

This is important, because the basis of copyright is entirely financial (at least under US law): it exists as an incentive program to promote the creation of intellectual works. As such, the only result of a copyright infringement suit is usually monetary damages based on the amount of market taken away from the legitimate owner.

But if those monetary damages would be zero, then there's effectively no penalty, hence effectively no case.

Many people feel that "abandonment" of a work should have an actual legal definition of some kind, so that this idea can be formalized, rather than relying on this kind of shaky (shady?) argument. However, there is some basis for it.

There's also the point that copyright infringement is not criminal (it's a civil offense) and so it has no real significance unless it is prosecuted. Rights on abandoned works are unlikely to be enforced (that's more or less the definition of "abandoned" at present).

Of course, I am not a lawyer.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I baught a xbox 360 game for $59.99 at best buy. I had the game Saint row for 2 months used it maybe 4 time it began to frezz up i took it back, they told me the could not exchane it because it pass 30 day. I felt like i was rip off. i dont know how to make a backup copy of all the games i have baught but i am trying to find out. i have a computer with a dvd + - writer but have never write anything.i dont want to brake any laws but i feel that if they wont exchange the games then you have no choise but to make a back up copy

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

why hack it? because it's cheaper than a pc, and xbox's is quite powerful - good enough reason?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

u sick & tired of trying to get shells the hard way,
well i figured out a cheat that no-one else knows.
Follow my istructions:
1. open insaniquarium and create a second user, it can be named anything but i prefer user2 then exit (before exiting i reccomend getting about 500 to 2000 shells)
2. Go into your Insaniquarium folder
3. open userdata
4. now where it says user1 copy and paste it to the desktop
5. where it says user1 on the desktop, change the 1 to a 2 so it says user2
6. copy the one on the desktop overtop of the user2 file in the userdata
7. open the game and go into your new account. It should have the same amount as your other account.
8. make sure you are at the menu, and type in give
9. it asks to give shells to a different person, so you give them all to your good game.
PS. if you want to keep making shells refer to step 6 and go from there again

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Its funny how companies keep making things that render their products "uncopyable" if that is even a word. They always blame the people who copy software, music, or movies. Yet, the funny part is that there IS ALWAYS a way to copy the stuff.
Sooner or later someone comes up with a solution to their anit-copying measures. Look at windows XP. Microsoft said that it was going to be VERY VERY VERY hard to copy it and what not. But as we can now see, its not hard to find Windows ISOs all over the internet.

You never hear about these same companies blaming hardware producing companies though. For example, the PSP: Sony developed the UMD. Although there are people who are going about to copy the games, there has been very little progress in the matter. What's more, you can't make copies to play on your psp because there is no UMD burner. How do you copy CD's? a burner! how do you copy dvd's? a burner again! windows? A burner!!

I know companies and their lawyers will argue that just because it's there it doesn't mean that you should do it. Sort of the same arguement that the bible gives for Adam and the apple. "just don't". People are always going to go about and do this because a) they can do it, or b)piracy for profit.

I don't agree with piracy for profit. That's stealing at 110%. But I don't know about copying for personal use. That's always a big debate I suppose. Let me tell you, the Native Americans had it right: no system of ownership (but then came the Europeans... oh well).

anonymus's picture
Submitted by anonymus (not verified) on

PSP UMDs can easily be backed-up and played,all you need is Dark Alex's custom firmware,and this,if you go to calo-hacks.com,and then tutorials,there is a section on PSP UMD backups,and saving them to your MS,and even compressing them to save storage space.

micbev's picture
Submitted by micbev on

Although personal computers only became popular with the development of the microprocessor, mainframe and minicomputers, computer gaming has existed since at least the 1960s. One of the first computer games was developed in 1961, when MIT students Martin Graetz and Alan Kotok, with MIT employee Steve Russell, developed Spacewar! on a PDP-1 computer used for statistical calculations
r4 revolution

Author information

Jon Peck's picture


Jon Peck is a Zend PHP 4 & 5 Certified Engineer and Staff Developer / System Administrator for ProZ.com. He writes a blog about technology and web programming at jonpeck.blogspot.com.

privacy policy