A crack without craking:
Talonsoft's 'Operational Art of War' (TOAW)

(And a couple of sound advices for all games-demo releasers)

October - November 1998
by reverser+


A crack without craking: Talonsoft's Operational Art of War

This excellent strategic game (out in October 1998) has been published / will be published as "demo" version on many world magazines' CD-ROM covers in late fall/winter 1998. My copy is a Cdcover Demo without version number, with a length of 936.448 bytes dated 30/06/98.
If you can't find a magazine with this demo just fetch it for instance from here...

This demo should allow you to play only one of the main campaigns: The Corea war. You should not be allowed to resume saved games. You should not be able to use the scenario editor.

Yet, as you will see, you will be able to use this "demo"
  • To play IMMEDIATELY most scenarios
  • To play -with little work- ALL scenarios
  • To save and play saved games
  • To edit and prepare new scenarios with the games' editor
  • In fact you'll transform this demo in a FULL-FLEDGED (good) strategical game...

    Believe me: all options and routines are there, you'll just have to individuate them, 'lock them' and reverse them... and the funny part is that in order to play most scenarios you don't even need to 'CRACK' this demo at all... it comes with all the necessary code already installed on YOUR own harddisk. It's a 'crack without cracking', great reversing fun! BTW, I may actually even buy the commercial release, because it is a really good strategical game and because I like to have and read the manuals of the games I really play...

    There is, as I said, a 'compulsory demo file' which is called Korea 50-51.SCE, and you'll find it inside the \TOAWdemo\scenarios subdirectory on your own harddisk once you have installed the demo. But, remarkably, you will find there something else as well...
    Ok, I'm sure you already guessed it all (eh eh) once again a demo comes with (almost) the COMPLETE version concealed inside... lazy protectors didn't want to spend a little time preparing a real demo... they just crippled a complete version and hammered it into a crippled demo... therefore let's have a look at our own harddisk once we have installed... what is this?
     Volume in drive L is gamesPC_L 
     Volume Serial Number is DEAD-BEEF
     Directory of L:\TOAWdemo\Scenarios
    ORIGIN~1 SCE  68.281  29/09/98  00:00 Original Korea 50-51.SCE  ;copy of the original
    KOREA5~1 SCE  69.057  21/05/98  10:34 Korea 50-51.SCE   ;already renamed a different one :-)
    KHARKO~1 XXX  69.057  21/05/98  10:34 Kharkov 42.xxx    ;this one :-)
    CRETE4~1 SCE  59.800  21/05/98   9:28 Crete 41.SCE      ;their turn will come :-)
    CRUSAD~1 SCE  68.735  21/05/98   9:43 Crusader 41.SCE   ; "
    FRANCE~1 SCE  89.399  21/05/98  10:49 France 40.SCE     ; "
    FULDA5~1 SCE  61.931  21/05/98  10:45 Fulda 55.SCE	; "
    ISRAEL~1 SCE  65.329  21/05/98  10:43 Israel 48.SCE	; "
    ITALY4~1 SCE  79.866  21/05/98  10:41 Italy 43.SCE	; "
    KASSER~1 SCE  57.233  21/05/98  10:35 Kasserine 43.SCE	; "
    ARRACO~1 SCE  50.521  21/05/98  10:47 Arracourt 44.SCE	; "
    KORSUN~1 SCE  73.122  21/05/98  10:33 Korsun 44.SCE	; "
    LUZON4~1 SCE  68.060  21/05/98  10:28 Luzon 41-42.SCE	; "
    NORMAN~1 SCE  93.163  21/05/98  12:44 Normandy 44.SCE	; "
    PATTON~1 SCE  79.919  21/05/98  10:26 Patton 45.SCE	; "
    SICILY~1 SCE  74.995  21/05/98  10:16 Sicily 43.SCE	; "
    SOUTHF~1 SCE  84.340  21/05/98  10:14 South Front 42.SCE
    TYPHOO~1 SCE  88.090  21/05/98  14:54 Typhoon 41.SCE	;this will be the last one :-)
    Yeah: incredible yet true: all the other scenarii of this nice game are already there, inside the 'demo' version, loaded on your own harddisk. (Admittedly, some of these won't have -yet- all the necessary graphics... yet most of them will work fine with very little 'finetuning'...

    Fun isn't it? Of course you may crack the simple protection scheme of this demo (see below) in order to play "as you should" i.e. as if you had the full release, but the object of this small introduction is not "how to crack" this target, but rather how to get full functionality from this target WITHOUT ANY NEED TO CRACK IT, see: you actually don't need any reverse engineering knowledge (just elementary dos rename commands lore): Pace yourself and believe me: In order to play any campaign of this supposedly "limited" demo (or any of the zillion scenarios you can download from the web, for that matter), just rename the campaign you want to play to "Korea 50-51.SCE". Choose your 'Korea' Demo Option and then play whatever you want...

    All images are in plain *.bmp format, so you can modify them at leasure, which, as you will see, is quite important in order to restore the full functionality of this demo. The A.I. -as I said- is not bad at all and if you're a strategic buff (like me :-) you'll have MONTHS of interesting play with this 'demo'!

    Why did the Talonsoft guys actually leave all the scenarios inside a supposedly "limited" demo beats me. There is a famous precedent, that has made HISTORY when performed by Mindscape with Panzer General (back in 1996), and all demo-releasers -at least the many perusing my site- were supposed by now to be immune to this kind of blunders... but as we have already seen a couple of months ago with Gettysburg (see the very good instructions by +Rezident in order to turn Sid Meier's demo into a full-fledged release) this kind of 'mistake' is indeed still quite common. I wonder if I just find them in the strategic oriented games only because these are almost the only games I really have a look at... in fact I wonder if this kind of blunder is actually also very common in all other 'limited functionality' (i.e. 'crippled') applications and games that are continuously released? Who knows... the point is: often enough you don't need actually to 'crack' anything in order to transform a demo release into a full-fledged software... may be this is intentional...? :-)
    Anyway this raises an interesting 'legal' question: let's for a moment admit that the publishing of an elegant cracking solution for a protection scheme would really damage the 'material interests' of a software producer... as all my readers know I don't reckon this to be true at all, since I believe that all warez sites, where you can find any software COMPLETE AND ALREADY REGGED and all 'SERIAL' sites or lists, where you can find zillions of stolen serials and keygenerators, damage those same interests in a 'really tangible' way... anyway, let's concede, for the sake of this discussion, that the knowledge given out on 'teaching' sites like mine could, if used with malicious purposes, damage those same interests... (note that this is also true for all sites that teach programming basics and assembly, in fact for all 'teaching' sites :-) OK, nuff caveats: now, even if that were true, the big question is: what about programmers (like Talonsoft here) stuffing your harddidsk with complete sections of their software you are not supposed to use? (You'r not even supposed to 'know' that you have those files on your harddisk). Who's cheating who in these cases? An interesting line of thoughts IMO. And I wonder if all demo-releasers reading this will ever thank us...


    Now to the more reversing oriented part of this small essay: As you'll see we need a little reversing in order to understand some finer points...
    * Referenced by a CALL at Addresses:004356AB, :004356FD, :00435761   
    :435370_demo_routines galore
    :00435371 55                 push ebp
    :00435371 8BEC               mov ebp, esp
    :00435373 81EC0C010000       sub esp, 0000010C
    :00435379 898DF8FEFFFF       mov dword ptr [ebp+FFFFFEF8], ecx
    :0043537F 8B85F8FEFFFF       mov eax, dword ptr [ebp+FFFFFEF8]
    :00435385 8985F4FEFFFF       mov dword ptr [ebp+FFFFFEF4], eax
    :0043538B 83BDF4FEFFFF06     cmp dword ptr [ebp+FFFFFEF4], 6    ;cx bigger than 6? No good
    :00435392 0F8740010000       ja 004354D8                        ;don't call and ret
    :00435398 8B8DF4FEFFFF       mov ecx, dword ptr [ebp+FFFFFEF4]  ;check cx
    :0043539E FF248DE3544300     jmp dword ptr [4*ecx+004354E3]     ;jump according to cx
    So the jmp dword ptr [4*ecx+004354E3] above gives: :004354E3 A5534300 cx=0 DWORD 004353A5 :004354E7 B2534300 cx=1 DWORD 004353B2 :004354EB C1534300 cx=2 DWORD 004353C1 :004354EF CB534300 cx=3 DWORD 004353CB :004354F3 F3534300 cx=4 DWORD 004353F3 ;the "allowed" korea scenario :004354F7 77544300 cx=5 DWORD 00435477 :004354FB A7544300 cx=6 DWORD 004354A7
    So option cx=4 jumps to the 'hardcoded' Korea 50-51.SCE scenario... and what would happen, pray, if we would instead jump to 435431 (go ahead nice guy) on option cx=4?
    :004353A5 83C9FF         cx=0    or ecx, FFFFFFFF  ;make sure ecx=1
    :004353A8 E8B3FDFFFF             call 00435160_peek, getdc, release
    :004353AD E928010000             jmp 4354DA_call and ret
    :004353B2 B901000000     cx=1    mov ecx, 00000001  ;make sure ecx=1
    :004353B7 E8A4FDFFFF             call 00435160_peek, getdc, release
    :004353BC E919010000             jmp 4354DA_call and ret
    :004353C1 E83AFFFFFF     cx=2    call 00435300; get release
    :004353C6 E90F010000             jmp 4354DA_call and ret
    :004353CB 6864E54C00     cx=3    push 004CE564
    :004353D0 6868E54C00             push 004CE568
    :004353D5 686CE54C00             push 004CE56C
    :004353DA 681CB64B00             push 004BB61C       ->"Continue"
    :004353DF BA28B64B00             mov edx, 004BB628   ->"This feature is|not available in demo"
    :004353E4 B958B64B00             mov ecx, 004BB658   ->"DEMO"
    :004353E9 E8E2BF0000             call 004413D0       ;show luser window
    :004353EE E9E7000000             jmp 4354DA_call and ret
    :004353F3 6860B64B00     cx=4 push 004BB660   ;"Korea 50-51.SCE" string to search for
    :004353F8 6820DD5E00          push 005EDD20   ;searched string (str1)
    :004353FD E80EA90500          call 0048FD10   ;this is a call to strstr, which returns
    :00435402 83C408              add esp, 8      ;the first occurrence of str2 in str1
    :00435405 85C0                test eax, eax   ;zero=no pointer: str2 not found in str1
    :00435407 7528                jne 00435431    ;this is the good "Scenarios" routine
    :00435409 6870E54C00          push 004CE570   ;warn luser with luser's warning 
    :0043540E 6874E54C00          push 004CE574
    :00435413 6878E54C00          push 004CE578
    :00435418 6870B64B00          push 004BB670       ->"Continue"
    :0043541D BA7CB64B00          mov edx, 004BB67C   ->"Only the Korea|50-51 scenario... "
    :00435422 B9A8B64B00          mov ecx, 004BB6A8   ->"DEMO"
    :00435427 E8A4BF0000          call 004413D0   ;show luser the above messages
    :0043542C E9A9000000          jmp 4354DA_call and ret
    * Referenced by a  Jump at Address:00435407(C)
    :go_ahead nice guy
    :00435431 6820DD5E00              push 005EDD20
    :00435436 68B0B64B00              push 004BB6B0      ->"Scenarios\%s"
    :00435442 FF1578657D00            Call dword ptr [007D6578] ; USER32.wsprintfA, Ord:0264h
    :0043546F FF1560657D00            Call dword ptr [007D6560]  ;USER32.PostMessageA, 
    :00435475 EB63                    jmp 4354DA_call and ret

    As you can see the 'protection' was a simple strstr function on an hardcoded scenario name. That's the reason you could play just changing it: since any wrong name would give a zero, you would jump correctly only if the scenario name you'r searching (at 5EDD20) matches the hardcoded one (or if you change the scenario names, or if you just load 1 into eax, for instance changing the test eax, eax into an inc eax), or if you choose a more complete patching solution, for instance bypassing completely this strstr check and landing directly onto the 'go ahead nice guy' part of the code... there are infinite possibilities... once you understand the code.


    Ok, now everybody that will play with this stuff will soon find an apparent flaw... I hear you all already asking... "Hey reverser+... how comes that even if I now can play all scenarios, I can see on the screen only PART of the colored tiles?"; "Man this is not funny: gosth units?"; "Hey, frav, is it an ugly anti-cracking protection scheme?"; "Woah! Did we trigger a remote CRC protection somewhere?"
    No, friends, I wish it were so (and it would have proved quite an effective anticracking trick, btw, take note, protectors! :-)
    Yet in this case is nothing of relevance and we'll soon solve this little problem: have a look inside your target (that's always a good practice). You should routinely check what's inside your targets... download the good (old dos) 'strings' program from my tools.htm page) and you'll see, using the command
    strings -o -6 opart_md.exe

    that your target is calling a LOT of graphic files! Here the relevant strings:
    bf61:	units_1_blue_0		bf71:	units_1_blue_1
    bf81:	units_1_blue_2		bf91:	units_1_blue_3
    bfa1:	units_1_blue_4		bfb1:	units_1_brown_0
    bfc1:	units_1_brown_1		bfd1:	units_1_brown_2
    bfe1:	units_1_brown_3		bff1:	units_1_brown_4
    c001:	units_1_gray_0		c011:	units_1_gray_1
    c021:	units_1_gray_2		c031:	units_1_gray_3
    c041:	units_1_gray_4		c051:	units_1_green_0
    c061:	units_1_green_1		c071:	units_1_green_2
    c081:	units_1_green_3		c091:	units_1_green_4
    c0a1:	units_1_red_0		c0b1:	units_1_red_1
    c0c1:	units_1_red_2		c0d1:	units_1_red_3
    c0e1:	units_1_red_4		c0f1:	units_1_bluelt_0
    c105:	units_1_bluelt_1	c119:	units_1_bluelt_2
    c12d:	units_1_bluelt_3	c141:	units_1_bluelt_4
    c155:	units_1_white_0		c165:	units_1_white_1
    c175:	units_1_white_2		c185:	units_1_white_3
    c195:	units_1_white_4		c1a5:	units_1_yellow_0
    c1b9:	units_1_yellow_1	c1cd:	units_1_yellow_2
    c1e1:	units_1_yellow_3	c1f5:	units_1_yellow_4
    c209:	units_1_tan_0		c219:	units_1_tan_1
    c229:	units_1_tan_2		c239:	units_1_tan_3
    c249:	units_1_tan_4		c259:	units_1_greenlt_0
    c26d:	units_1_greenlt_1	c281:	units_1_greenlt_2
    c295:	units_1_greenlt_3	c2a9:	units_1_greenlt_4
    c2bd:	units_1_greendk_0	c2d1:	units_1_greendk_1
    c2e5:	units_1_greendk_2	c2f9:	units_1_greendk_3
    c30d:	units_1_greendk_4	c321:	s_units_1_blue_0
    c335:	s_units_1_blue_1	c349:	s_units_1_blue_2
    c35d:	s_units_1_blue_3	c371:	s_units_1_blue_4
    c385:	s_units_1_brown_0	c399:	s_units_1_brown_1
    c3ad:	s_units_1_brown_2	c3c1:	s_units_1_brown_3
    c3d5:	s_units_1_brown_4	c3e9:	s_units_1_gray_0
    c3fd:	s_units_1_gray_1	c411:	s_units_1_gray_2
    c425:	s_units_1_gray_3	c439:	s_units_1_gray_4
    c44d:	s_units_1_green_0	c461:	s_units_1_green_1
    c475:	s_units_1_green_2	c489:	s_units_1_green_3
    c49d:	s_units_1_green_4	c4b1:	s_units_1_red_0
    c4c1:	s_units_1_red_1		c4d1:	s_units_1_red_2
    c4e1:	s_units_1_red_3		c4f1:	s_units_1_red_4
    c501:	s_units_1_bluelt_0	c515:	s_units_1_bluelt_1
    c529:	s_units_1_bluelt_2	c53d:	s_units_1_bluelt_3
    c551:	s_units_1_bluelt_4	c565:	s_units_1_white_0
    c579:	s_units_1_white_1	c58d:	s_units_1_white_2
    c5a1:	s_units_1_white_3	c5b5:	s_units_1_white_4
    c5c9:	s_units_1_yellow_0	c5dd:	s_units_1_yellow_1
    c5f1:	s_units_1_yellow_2	c605:	s_units_1_yellow_3
    c619:	s_units_1_yellow_4	c62d:	s_units_1_tan_0
    c63d:	s_units_1_tan_1		c64d:	s_units_1_tan_2
    c65d:	s_units_1_tan_3		c66d:	s_units_1_tan_4
    c67d:	s_units_1_greenlt_0	c691:	s_units_1_greenlt_1
    c6a5:	s_units_1_greenlt_2	c6b9:	s_units_1_greenlt_3
    c6cd:	s_units_1_greenlt_4	c6e1:	s_units_1_greendk_0
    c6f5:	s_units_1_greendk_1	c709:	s_units_1_greendk_2
    c71d:	s_units_1_greendk_3	c731:	s_units_1_greendk_4

    Quite a lot of stuff, as you see. Now most of these files are missing in the demo version: the protectors left all the working code, they even left all the scenarios, but they decided to spare on the (easy to reproduce) *.bmp graphics... go figure...

    Now, if you want to play the various scenarios, you'll have to fake these colored tiles. The best solution is to "recreate" them using PSP and the "edit palette" function, since in the 'graphics' directory of the demo you'll find some tiles ("s_units are special units"), have a look through psp, just browsing the graphic files inside your toawdemo/graphics subdirectory...:

    Of course -instead of recreating them editing palettes- you could also steal the missing units tiles from any complete version, but then you could just steal the whole game as well, and that's not the point of our work at all: we don't want to steal anything: we want simply to use some material that has already been stuffed on our harddisks... besides it's way more fun to change colors on your own using your own fantasy... :-)

    Of course now you'r ready to play (almost) ANY scenario, see, for instance those at
    Well, now you'r all set, from a strategical point of view, for the next 10 years... wonder what will come next :-)
    Last but not least on the 'wargalmer' site mentioned above (and elsewhere) you will also find Ralph Loewen's zipped file counters.zip with all possible tile sets and graphics if you'r really lazy. Take note that some of the terrain tiles are also missing in the demo, you'll encounter some funny effects playing the 'israelo-arab' wars, for instance, because the desert tiles are missing.

    Ah yes, the "load saved game" function is disabled in the demo... this is not funny, since some scenarios are huge, and you cannot just play the whole night for the sake of it. But you are (supposed to be) a reverser, and this is a classical case of 'crippled target functionality', which is pretty easy to implement... much too easy in my (biased) opinion: the strings immediately reveal it...

    As you can easily see, the 'opening scenario' (Load_whatever) relevant routines are all at:
    :004720F0 833DD0BC740000  cmp dword ptr [0074BCD0], 0 ;is it a bad guy?
    :004720F7 7525            jne 0047211E		      ;~no, so go to "load_whatever"	
    :004720F9 6834FE4C00      push 004CFE34		      ;~yes so beggar off...	
    :004720FE 6838FE4C00      push 004CFE38               ; ...with the following
    :00472103 683CFE4C00      push 004CFE3C               ; ...little demo window
    :00472108 68802D4C00      push 004C2D80               ;->"Continue"
    :0047210D BA8C2D4C00      mov edx, 004C2D8C           ;->"This feature is not avail..."
    :00472112 B9BC2D4C00      mov ecx, 004C2DBC           ;->"DEMO"
    :00472117 E8B4F2FCFF      call 004413D0               ;show message to luser and
    :0047211C EB1C            jmp 0047213A                ;don't execute following 'good' code
    *__Load Whatever__* Referenced by a Jump at Address:004720F7(C)
    :0047211E 33C9            xor ecx, ecx
    :00472120 E81BB1FBFF      call 0042D240
    :00472125 85C0            test eax, eax
    :00472127 7411            je 0047213A
    :00472129 33D2            xor edx, edx
    :0047212B B9C42D4C00      mov ecx, 004C2DC4 ;->"Opening scenario. Please Wait"
    :00472130 E82BD9FCFF      call 0043FA60
    :00472135 E8D6EB0000      call 00480D10
    An easy patch of the simple code snippet above will land you to the load_whatever part and present you a small window for opening SCENARIOS (the *.SCE files), yet you will be able to easily open your (or others') saved games as well: just (1) navigate to the 'saves' subdirectory and then (2) type *.* (or directly *.sav) as a query mask... yes, it works (of course)...
    I'll leave as a (relatively) easy exercise for the reader 'how to get the FULL editor functionality back'... great fun (and worth your reversing time)... you'll actually get a complete working and reversed copy of this very good game at the end... but, and this suits my teaching approach, you'll have to work a little on your own and you will have to understand (at least part of) the code... hint: use a flow editor like smartcheck :-)


    The first obvious lesson you should have learned long ago (seen the incredible success of the unsurpassed Steel Panther I, the best ever strategical/tactical game that is now -fall 1998- appearing for next to free, complete, on some magazine CD-ROM: BUY IT!) is that you should, by all means, give for free scenario editors.
    With them you SHOULD offer to the masses the possibility to play home-made scenarios.
    A good protection scheme, that would at the same time work well for the SPREADING of your strategic game would therefore be, IMO: give with the demo a couple of scenarii and the ability to create (and play) any scenario, PROVIDED THE USER HIMSELF HAS MADE IT. The demo will NOT allow the playing of scenarios created by a third party (a very easy to implement protection scheme). So the user will have a great game (hopefully :-) and he will probably create a lot of home-made scenarii for the greater glory of the 'regular' user community, in fact only those that will have UPDATED TO THE REAL VERSION will be able to play third-party scenarii. The demo users will NOT be able to play scenarii made by a third party (well, unless they crack the protection scheme, of course, but we are speaking here of normal placid demo-users, not of reversers :-)
    Final effect: lotta people playing the hell out of it (but with a great incentive to register) and AT THE SAME TIME working a lot for free in order to spread your game, with lotta scenarii coming out and a great incentive to update... if you give a good written documentation and if you keep the update price low enough, as you should IMO.
    Of course even that can be cracked if necessary, yet note that that would basically be THE CONTRARY of what Talonsoft did with this target. Here they didn't give anyone the possibility to create scenarii with the demo (which would have actually helped the spreading of their game) and yet -a silly mistake- gave away with this demo the possibility to play de facto any scenario, something that will not help them much actually... a mistake, IMHO.


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