Game Doctor!

When PCs become a popular gaming platforms in the mid 1980s, piracy was not far behind it. Copying a PC game in those early days was as easy as copying the contents off the disk onto another disk, whether that be the your hard drive,  a 5.25″ floppy, or a 3.5″ diskette. Software publishers, desperately needing a way to curb piracy, implemented an interesting style of copy protection; often the a PC game (The Secret of Monkey Island’s Dial-A-Pirate being a notable example) came with a code wheel. At some point in the game, the player would be prompted with a set of references. Matching these references on the code wheel gave you a code word or phrase. No further progression would be allowed in the game until that code word was entered. This insured that in order to play the full game, you would have needed to have purchased the game, thus possessing the code wheel. Other PC titles simple told you the position and page number of a word in the game’s manual. Similarly, the only way to progress would be to enter the correct word.

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By the mid-to-late 1980s floppy disks had become a cheap, reliable and efficient method of copying and transferring data. It is not surprising to find out that this gusto was redirected toward console game copying. Enter the Game Doctor. A Game Doctor, while also a brand name, is a generic term used to describe a device that is used to copy the ROM data of a console video game so that it can be played without the original cartridge. Nearly all of the early (second and third generation) Game Doctors contained 3.5″ floppy drives that games could be copied to, and than played back on the same machine.

The Game Doctors themselves where almost always devices that connected to the cartridge slot of a video game system, rather than an entire stand-alone machine.

The first Game Doctors were created specifically for Nintendo’s Famicom console, and specifically for the purpose of playing specially made pirated disks. These disks can only be read when you have the Game Doctor attachement connected to you Famicom/Disk System. You can also use these Game Doctors to copy disk games when used in conjunction with a utility such as CopyMaster.

These early devices (such as the Turbo GD 6+) had no on-screen menu, save for disk swapping prompts that would appear at the appropriate time. The Turbo GD 6+ is among the most sought of the Famicom Game Doctors, as is supports more mappers than previous versions and contains 6M of memory.

Common also on Game Doctors is the on-board ability to back-up save files, although the Famicom versions of the device require a special add-on that attaches to connector on the back of the unit.

These devices are not particularly useful today, as tracking down all the components (disks, cables, utilities, the unit itself) can be difficult and expensive, and Famicom Disk games are not terribly expensive in the secondary market in comparison. These devices are, however, an interesting collection piece, and can be useful in playing Game Doctor disks if you have any.

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