Atelier: The Dreamcast Game That Could Destroy Your PC On Christmas Day

The Atelier franchise is one of the longest running PlayStation-centric series of role-playing games and has spawned a number of manga and anime adaptations. If the name doesn't sound overly familiar, it's probably because the vast majority of the games in the series have never been released outside of Japan, or translated into English. Not that this should stop you exploring them, of course - the alchemy themed narrative that runs throughout the series is quite intriguing - but you might want to brush up on your Japanese, especially if you wish to play the two Dreamcast volumes that were released in late 2001. But this post isn't really about the quality or gameplay features of Gust Co. Ltd.'s popular RPG series. It's more about the fact that the Dreamcast version shipped with an incredibly destructive computer virus unwittingly bundled on the disc.
The Atelier title that was released on the Dreamcast is actually a sort of 'remaster' of the first two games in the series, and the full title is Atelier Marie & Elie: The Alchemists of Salburg 1-2. Played from an isometric viewpoint, the game is a fairly traditional J-RPG with a heavy reliance on the player's ability to create and upgrade items using the arcane method of alchemy. When the double disc set was released in mid-November 2001 by Kool Kizz, it was quickly discovered that the discs included some special bonus features that were accessible when placed in a computer CD-Rom drive, one of which is an Atelier-themed screensaver.
Not long after, it was also discovered that this screensaver actually delivered a payload in the form of the Kriz computer virus; a virus that was initially released in 1999 but only found real infamy in 2001. The Kriz virus that was accidentally included on the Atelier discs cannot infect a Dreamcast simply because a Dreamcast doesn't have the hardware or the makeup of a PC; but once executed by a system using the Windows 9x, NT or 2000 operating systems, would silently spread throughout the computer and lie dormant until 25th December. Then, on Christmas Day it would cause havoc by merrily turning your PC into a paperweight, while you were chowing down on far too much chocolate and throwing up the third helping of turkey you knew you shouldn't have eaten.

"Kriz is capable of rendering a computer useless. It executes its payload on December 25th, which will mean a pretty miserable Christmas for anyone receiving this in their stocking. Although the Dreamcast itself is left unscathed, anyone loading the screensaver onto their PC will be in for an unpleasant surprise. It's almost unbelievable that two years after this virus was first seen it is still doing the rounds."
- Graham Cluley, Sophos Anti-Virus (2001)

According to this virus wiki, the Kris virus had the ability to completely destroy an infected machine, deleting data on any connected hard drives and even removable media, ultimately flashing the computer's BIOS rendering it unable to even boot.
How the Kriz virus was included on the Atelier discs is not fully known, but the best guess is that the workstations used to create the final versions of the initial batch of shipped games was itself infected with the virus. Not long after the 15th November 2001 release of the Atelier Marie & Elie in Japan (a mere 5 days, infact), Kool Krizz released the following statement via its Japanese website (find the original press release here, translated - and paraphrased by me - into English below):

November 20, 2001
Kool Kizz Inc.

Urgent apologies and requests from Kool Kizz

Our SEGA Dreamcast special software "Atelier of Marie & Ellie - Alchemist of Salburg - 1-2" released on Thursday November 15, 2001. A screensaver is included as a hidden element.

This screensaver cannot be accessed if the user is using this product by regular use recommended by SEGA CORPORATION, but by using the game disc of this product and extra disc on a Windows-equipped machine, its existence will become clear.

However, due to reports from users who purchased this product, we are currently investigating at our company; and we have detected an infectious virus in the screensaver included in this product. There is a possibility that there is a danger of interfering with the personal computer owned by the users when using this screensaver.

As a result, everyone who purchased this product should not perform any acts such as browsing, copying, executing, or installing the contents of the game disc and bonus disc of this product on a personal computer. Please stop using this product except on Dreamcast.

We deeply apologize to all concerned parties as well as to our users for their great worry and inconvenience, and since we will continue our efforts to improve quality with a thorough system in the future, we appreciate your understanding and cooperation.

There follows further information for people who had already bought the game, along with links to a Symantec anti-virus tool, and also the promise that a new version of the screensaver (minus the computer-destroying virus) would be available to download as soon as the outbreak was contained. Those who had already purchased the game were encouraged to either return their copies of Atelier Marie & Elie, or to simply destroy them. More specifically, by destroying them with fire; or by blasting them out of an airlock. These are the only methods known to work.

The fact that the Atelier series wasn't hugely popular outside of Japan back in 2001 is quite possibly the only reason that an outbreak of Kriz didn't run wild throughout computer networks around the globe, as NTSC-U and PAL releases of the initial batch would have created an exponentially larger risk of computer systems being infected. As it was, the game's limited release worked in Kool Krizz's favour and allowed for the rather embarrassing incident to remain largely contained and not widely reported in the western press. That said, there are stories still available to be found and read at the Sophos website and here at The Register; and the various wiki entries on the game make reference to the free virus bundled on the discs.
It's not uncommon for certain games to be used in the current climate to unlock exploits and workarounds in console and computer architecture, but a full-blown virus being unleashed via a commercially released console game is quite unthinkable these days. We hope. There's also a kind of cruel irony that the publisher was called Kool Kizz and the virus was called Kriz.

In any case, if you own a copy of the initial batch of Atelier Marie & Elie, probably keep it in your Dreamcast and away from your computer's disc drive. That said, I can't imagine there are many people still using Windows NT or 2000...right?
Find out more about the Atelier series by visiting the Atelier Wiki here.


hoogafanter said...

Just... lol

Hiro said...

When viewing in which console was published normally the game, it leaves in Dreamcast and suddenly viruses appear.

It makes me think there was sabotage from someone who worked for the competition.

But of course they are suspicions.