Back to 1986 [Codegate Qualifs 2023]

writeup by: zenbassi

Challenge Description

We’re given a Linux kernel which when run starts an instance of the 1986 arkanoid game.


We can see that the shape of the bricks corresponds with a letter. In later levels, the letters are obfuscated with extra grey shaped bricks, but those can be easily removed because they’re all of the same colour. The solution would be to skip levels and convert each level’s letter to an ASCII value.

This is written way after the competition and it’s based on what others used to solve it, which is cheatengine. Opening it in cheatengine and fiddling around we can find a memory address which corresponds to the number of bricks left in the level. Setting that to 0 automatically skips the level. Now, how can we automate this?


The solution I arrived at is written on Linux, where cheatengine doesn’t work (reliably at least). For this use case tho, gameconqueror does the trick. In the beginning, I used it to find the memory address that interests us.

I wrote a program which changes the value at an address to 0 using ptrace:

#include <sys/ptrace.h>
#include <sys/wait.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
    long data = 0;
    int pid = atoi(argv[1]);
    int *address = (int*)strtol(argv[2], NULL, 16);

    ptrace(PTRACE_ATTACH, pid, NULL, NULL);
    waitpid(pid, NULL, WUNTRACED);
    ptrace(PTRACE_POKETEXT, pid, address, (void*)data);
    ptrace(PTRACE_DETACH, pid, NULL, NULL);

    return 0;

I used this as part of a shell script to automate the retrieval and de-obfuscation of each letter. The main flow is the following:

  1. send key using xdotool to start level
  2. take a screenshot of the window using spectacle
  3. skip level using the c program
  4. goto step 1 if there’s still letters to process
  5. clean-up all images using imagemagick
  6. stitch all images together using imagemagick

This is the full script:

#!/usr/bin/env sh

window=`xdotool search qemu 2>/dev/null | tail -n1`

rm -r ./captures
mkdir ./captures

# focus on the window
xdotool windowactivate "$window"

for i in {000..270}; do
    # go to next level
    xdotool key Left
    sleep 0.05
    # start level
    xdotool key Left
    sleep 0.05
    # take screenshot
    spectacle -aebno "captures/img$i.png"
    sudo ./skip_level "$pid" "$address" &>/dev/null
    echo "$i done"

for i in {000..270}; do
    # remove grey
    convert "$file" -fill "#000" -opaque "#a9a9a9" "$file"
    # remove white
    convert "$file" -fill "#000" -opaque "#ffffff" "$file"
    # remove red
    convert "$file" -fill "#000" -opaque "#ff0000" "$file"
    # remove blue from the paddle
    convert "$file" -fill "#000" -opaque "#add8e6" "$file"
    echo "done $i"

echo "stitching all together"
# append horizontally
convert +append ./captures/img*.png out.png

The flag can be easily transcribed form the resulting picture.