Shit Hot Originals
Originally published in Vandalism News #70 - November 2019
Original suppliers. Unsung heroes of the C64 underground? This is to be decided. But first, what do these guys actually do?
Orries, firsties, shit hot originals. Some lingo used to describe a game that is uninfected by the dirty fingers of some cracker. Crackers sometimes pick the game up directly themselves or in other cases, employ the specialist skills of the "original supplier".
Cracking groups through the ages needed someone to source the game original. The purpose of this was sometimes to create "mail version" of a game (or jewel crack), other times to make a "first release" or "firstie" (which had to hit the major boards in the United States to be "counted", which usually resulted in an 'import group' applying their own intro as well as an NTSC fix).
Generally, someone who can supply a good amount of originals has to have some kind of networking ability or relationship closely to the game creator, producer or distributor of the game. They might own a shop and get the warez before anyone else. They may know the game creators or perform services such as testing or bug removal and in return receive the original. They may even steal the game whilst staying at the distributor's house; sneaking a copy of the original while their friend is sleeping. Or even be one of the many visitors of some Computer/Software show, and whilst no one is looking, snatch the smoking hot disk out of the drive and just keep on walking (with a smile on their face). In my view, in its lowest form; originals are obtained via public websites, open source directories or via the cover mount of a magazine.
Obtaining the game via public channels for "first releasing", means that the cracker is placed under immediate pressure (especially if the game has no protection of any kind); as suppliers of other groups may also obtain the game and then a race begins for who will be first. Obtaining the game via other means, exclusively - before anyone else; increases the chance that the group will be first with their crack and gives the group a chance of having a version of the game that is more palatable (more trainers, shorter etc.) instead of a rushed "point snatcher", which was followed by a "mail version" - e.g. first release for the board scene, nice crack for spreading to the masses via mail. In the first release scene, people with better networks and performing "inside jobs" were the best suppliers. Any lamer can grab a publically available game (especially in the age of the internet). An important angle to mention here is the difference between the North American and European scenes. First releases in the USA seemed to have higher importance and support compared to Europe. The reason? North American's primary trading was via modems. During the golden years, it was either 300 baud or 1200 baud. Transferring a full-disk or multi-disk game was very time consuming, and the idea of re-downloading a "better" version of such a large game just wasn't attractive. So basically, for large releases, which ever group was first was going to be the version that lasted. Further, from a gamer's perspective, you've seen in modern times people line up at stores for AAA midnight releases. That same eagerness existed back, difference being that people would spend all day and night downloading the game just to play it.
Original suppliers of the first release world usually differ to that of the "mail scene" or the "oldie crack scene" (Nostalgia, Hokuto Force, Remember, Cyberpunx etc.). For this non-first release style treasure hunting, the original supplier is looking for something else, as the first release had been done (often long ago) and in many cases, multiple cracks of the game exist. So why does the supplier still want it? There are many reasons. The hunt could be for rare originals of games that have been poorly cracked before. It may be for originals that contain documentation that has previously not been published in a digital form (docs) or even variations such as the US version of a game (e.g. Death Sword AKA Barbarian) that was never cracked before (different title, graphics etc. than the European counterpart that HAS been cracked) or originals where no one has yet cracked a version which contains an extra game level (e.g. PSI 5 Trading Company 4-level version or the Golden Axe version with the missing 5th level, yeah thanks for that Virgin). Another thing that comes to mind is various mediums such as cartridge, tape and disk. The same title might have slight variations depending on the medium (System 3's "Myth" on cartridge comes to mind with the title picture that did not exist elsewhere, the different "R-Type" versions with 2-player mode and hi-score saver options differing between tape and disk or the different "sponsors" shown and in-game protections between the disk and tape versions of California Games). The supplier could obtain all of these versions and the cracker may attempt to combine them somehow into an ultimate release (something that the EasyFlash 1MB cartridge has made easier in recent times). Or simply, they are obtaining this previously release game to position their own group with the possibility to release the best version ever made.
Still with me? Good.
Suppliers are like trucks on our roads. They can be fucking annoying as hell, but without them, scene town would be a different place.
Purveyors of interest
Crackers are not totally evil right? The widely known fable of crackers serving the wider community, enter: Summer Games. JEDI 2001 was probably one of the first group of crackers in the scene. The members were 1103, Oleander, OTD and KBR. Well, one of their interesting stories is that of Summer Games. The PAL version of Summer Games was fixed by JEDI and then that version was sold by Epyx all over Europe (intro removed). Also, this was the first recorded PAL fix in the scene. Then more recently there was the iPhone C64 app from Manomio. It was using cracked games and selling them to people, Bozo's Night Out (Phantom's crack) and The Last Ninja (TCS' crack) come to mind. Same for the DTV, intros removed and made available to the public. It makes sense that some game companies utilise the cracking scene, after all, the cracking scene is taking from them, so why not return the gesture? (And cracks are mostly just damn better, bugs removed, smaller etc.)
So, they are not totally evil. Anyway, I am not here to convince you otherwise. I will share my point of view and walk you through some history. Do you mind if I share some stories? Okay great. Some of these tales are quite known and have been published in my various other magazines in the past. What I have tried to do is to collect these stories, add some unpublished information to them, and then gather new tales - all neat in one article rather than snippets scattered here and there and some things just never told until now.
First up, my favourite group of all-time, Eagle Soft Inc. ESI was easily the biggest cracking group in North American history. Back in the early days, crackers such as Mitch and sometimes Kombalar and Mutant-X would bring out the big titles, removing massive game protection without the comforts of modern tools and accumulated knowledge that the youngsters enjoy these days. Supplying them was the group SOHO (Suppliers of Hot Originals) and of this group the supplier was Tinman (Charlie). Tinman ended up joining ESI in 1988 (a subtle way for ESI to eliminate supply to other groups also). But let's step back a bit, between 1986 and 1987, Eagle Soft really controlled the market, totally dominating the North American scene and forever inscribing their names into the memories of people even to this day. This was largely thanks to Tinman, who supplied originals not only to Eagle Soft Inc. (ESI), but also to most of the North American scene, which included the likes of Untouchable Cracking Force (UCF) and North East Crackers (NEC). How did he do this? How was he able to single-handedly bring delight to those who could not afford these big titles all over the world? Simply, he was the owner of a shop called "The Great Escapes", he used to pay extra to have the originals express-posted to his store so that the groups he worked with had a 1-2 day advantage over the competition. And it is no coincidence, NFI's BBS was named "Great Escapes" too. I suspect this was done as a tip of the hat to Tinman.
I believe that Master Kracker (NFI) also was supplied by the same store after ESI ended but I am not sure MK gave credit. It is possible that MK had to buy the originals himself so he didn't feel the need to give credit. Eventually, though, Horizon of NEC started to hang out a lot at that store attempting to convince them to allow NEC exclusivity. Despite MK knowing Horizon was hanging out at the store, MK didn't think Horizon was much of a threat while this was unfolding so MK didn't do much strengthen the relationship with Tinman. In hindsight, this was an overconfident miscalculation on MK's part. Once NEC aligned with the store, I assume that meant that the store would withhold copies of the game to the public until NEC cracked it.
What Tinman did was uncommon and baffling for a for-profit business. This guy owns a video game store and is enabling cracking groups to create free versions of the very product he sells?! This craziness is probably the main reason why no one was able to consistently compete with him. Most video game stores are anti-piracy for obvious reasons.
It is hard to find many people around these days that could give me some commentary for this article, by chance I sent an email to The Shark and the reply was very quick, he recalls: "INC was always trying to get deeper into cracking originals so we spent some time trying to figure out how to compete with Tinman. We were told that not only did he pay for express shipping, but that the majority of original distributors (those that printed the disks) were on the Eastern half of the USA. This gave another 1-2 day advantage. The best we could do it occasional snag a low-tier title or find some title distributed in the West first.
One time we caught ESI off guard. With the head start they had, we started to notice that Mitch was taking his sweet time in cracking games. With UCF (with legit cracker JJ the Breaker retired) out of the scene and Tinman as the supplier, he easily had a 3-5 day head start. To compete, INC realized the only way was for the second-rate original supplier like myself to do a raw dump of the disk in order to send them over the modem for a proper cracker to deal with. We kept our eyes on the lookout, and a rare moment popped up - I snagged a copy of Epyx's 4x4 Off Road Simulator. From there, with a partnership with MSI, I used the tools the cracker sent me to extract the files and sent them on their way. MSI's cracker, El Cid, stayed up all night to crack the game. He then woke my ass up so that I and my network of spreaders could upload it everywhere. It was a glorious first-release considering the dominance of ESI. After I uploaded it to the ESI BBS, the admin contacted me and asked me a few doubting questions about my upload - and that was something he never did. Later that night, our version was deleted of their BBS and the ESI version replaced it but by then it was too late. The MSI/INC version was dominating on the boards."
Moving over to Europe, suppliers were mega active in 1988. A year that was good for Fairlight, hell, it was good for everyone - the golden times. Hitting little kiddies disk drives were big titles such as Predator, Rastan, Platoon, Batman, Cybernoid, Rolling Thunder, Ikari Warriors and Target Renegade. But the one I want to mention, is one of the most memorable FLT moments as well as one of the biggest cracks in their history: The Last Ninja II, released in October 1988. The first copy of The Last Ninja II had just landed in the computer shop in Malmo where Strider used to work after school. Strider had an exceptional opportunity to be the first kid in the schoolyard with a cracked copy of the game everybody wanted.
But to do that, Strider needed to pass the game over to his friend Gollum. Gollum was a cracker, specialising in removing copy protection from the games Strider provided him with. But Gollum lived in Ronneby. Mailing the game to him would not suffice, because then he would not get it until next day. That would give other groups time to get ahead and cheat the two friends from the release. Strider had to think.
The solution became one of the linchpins of Fairlight, the worldwide pirate empire that Strider eventually found himself being the ruler of. A couple of chocolate bars was all that was needed to convince a train conductor at Malmo central station to assist. Strider gave him the cassette with the hot ware in Malmo. When the train arrived to Ronneby, Gollum was waiting at the station. A couple of hours later, the game was cracked, signed with a Fairlight intro and ready to spread across the world. Strider could lean back and enjoy all the talk and nobody understood how Fairlight could be that fast.
Strider recalls: "Last Ninja II was soon to be released and we were frequently checking with our store. The game was finally released so I ditched school and got on the bus to go home, and I called Gollum at the time and I asked him whether he could put it on disk if I gave him the tape version. As time was of the essence I had to get it to him quick so I found the train schedule. I took the bus down to the train station that was headed to Gollum's city. I gave the conductor some sort of incentive like chocolates or whatever so he would personally give the package to Gollum. The conductor agreed but those were different times when security wasn't such a focus. I would have taken the train myself though had the conductor not agreed as this was such a huge release. Gollum worked all night... and I stayed up out of sympathy as well to make sure he wouldn't fall asleep. I'd call him every hour or so and by the morning he had it on disk. Then he posted it to all his contacts."
The game was imported to the United States by the guys in International Network of Chaos (INC). The Shark remembers: "After Duplicator got busted, INC went two months without a release. There weren't many releases coming out in Europe outside of England, so Fairlight was hurting for about 3 months as well. FBR was doing quite well although the group they were trading with was freezing everything in sight (Steve/Zenith), but they also inherited SCG after ESI had died. It was a good time for Oahawhool (FBR) to see INC doing so poorly. There was, however, a game coming out that EVERYONE wanted -- Last Ninja II. Considering that System 3, the company who made Last Ninja II, was based in England, Oahawhool thought it would be a sure bet that either one of his English groups would get the game first. This led Oahawhool to proclaim, "Whoever imports Last Ninja II will be the greatest importing group ever!" I kid you not. To Oahawhool's surprise, the game was released in Finland (I think) first and word quickly spread that Gollum/FLT was working on the game.
Just as Gollum was wrapping the game up, Strider received a call from Oahawhool where Joe was begging Strider not to send INC the game. Here is an exact quote, "Tony (now it is spelled with a 'y'), I don't care who you send Last Ninja II to, but whatever you do DON'T send it to The Shark!" Poor Joey." What is even further interesting about this crack is that it is strongly rumoured that System 3 used it! Because they only had a tape master at the time, they did something that was not uncommon and used the cracked disk version (intros and trainers removed) so that they did not have to concern themselves with the mastering of the disk version (cost reduced method).
Having a modem was pretty damn important for crackers and original suppliers. Getting an original is one thing but being able to ship it to the cracker or the cracked version to the boards was paramount. Journey to Switzerland. The year is 1989 and The Goblin had just received a modem from TNT. This opened up multiple first releases for Genesis Project. During this time, The Goblin had visited the Transcom & Fairlight Copy Party in Paris in October. Was it prior knowledge or spontaneous? I do not know, but he managed to steal the original disk of "Cabal" from the Yankees and then make a crack of it, live at the very same party. He recalls: "Those guys really wanted to kill me, but as you know, it's not that easy to catch a goblin!"
Trade shows - attend your disk drive at all times
Those trade shows were prime real estate for original suppliers to grab big titles back in the day. This happened frequently. 1988 being no exception. Some examples from the ECES show in September were XXX stealing "Joe Blade II", delivered under Hotline and imported to the states by INC. At the same show, Excell grabbed "Game Over II" (do you remember that glorious game poster?), this one made it out quickly under the Ikari label and again imported state-side by INC. He did the same for "Star Ray Preview" too (released in North America by Epyx as "Revenge of Defender").
In 1990, Goblin went to the European Computer Entertainment Show in September where he met up with Antichrist and the English members of G*P. One of those members was Dawsy, a largish fellow, who broke the locked glass cabinet at the Ocean stand so that Goblin could steal all the games that were supposed to be released at Christmas. He escaped from Earl's Court to go crack "Midnight Resistance", but he had a little break at the top of the stairs at Trafalgar Square to smoke a joint – and was arrested! A couple of hours later he was (first) released from custody and prepared Midnight Resistance release. He managed to get two versions of the game done as well as an export to his North American partners in Exodus.
During the nineties the C64 was still going strong, particularly in Europe. The guys in Fairlight were busy as usual and at the end of 1990, Strider's younger brother Aaron visited the ECES (European Computer Entertainment Show) in London. Interactive had a stand where they were showing off "Hellhole". Aaron stole the disk from the drive, kept on walking, ran then sprinted, desperate to get it into the hands of Bacchus, who promptly first released it. Furthermore, post the first release, Aaron spread the original everywhere with some guys accusing him of leaving out parts of the graphics memory at $F800 (meaning that when other groups cracked the original the game would be bugged) portraying Fairlight in a superior light, after all, the cracking scene was never about friendships, it was a dirty yet clever tactic - to rub mud in the face of your opponent and portray your own group in a shroud of glory!
Move to 1991 and Legend, another dominating force in the cracking scene. The Belgian based crew were rocking the competition with their rival Illusion having to just sit back and watch. Titles such as Covergirl Strip Poker, Outrun Europa and Navy Seals amongst other full pricers. Legend had several suppliers such as Narc AKA: Westbam (rest in peace Mike), Goldfish, and The Miami Bit Cracker (TMBC). Another one of their suppliers was Excell. Brian had joined Legend with some of the other guys from Ikari. One of his tales I feel compelled to share with you. Excell basically had visited the ECTS show in London (European Computer Trade Show). Most of you know System 3 right? You just read the story on the Last Ninja II previously. Oh no, again an event for that label... System 3 had a stall at the event showing off their next big title "Turbo Charge". Excell noticed the disk was still in the drive for the three-level preview. Timing was good, the digital burglar moved quickly and snatched the disk, the game must have been screaming to him, "Excell, take me and release me it's the will of god", and so he did... In fact he did not stop there, he went over to the Storm stand and did the same for the full price "Rodland"... you sneaky little devil Brian. :D
The same thing happened at the ECTS in 1992, those 8-bit nerds were at it again. CBA was there, Niels, tell us what happened: "I recall being at the ECTS show in the UK in September 1992 with Action Jackson, Just Ice, Bod and XXX. At the Codemasters stand their new game Slicks was on display and I don't recall seeing Bod taking the floppy out of the drive but when we left the show he showed me the floppy and we joined him at his house where we saw that it was the entire game."
A famous tale from 1991 is that of "Rubicon". The story of Rubicon concerns a catastrophic nuclear accident in Russia. The player must work through seven levels inhabited by mutated super-intelligent animals in order to diffuse each nuclear reactor. The game was dressed to impress, with an array of phenomenally good graphics and code. It also featured absolutely awesome music by the legendary Jeroen Tel from Maniacs of Noise. It received good reviews from the magazines, but sadly never lived up to its high quality, due to various troubles with software houses Hewson and 21st Century Entertainment. This game was a product of Fairlight. Yes dear reader, Fairlight made games as well as cracked them!
Now, Genesis*Project disliked Aaron/Fairlight quite a bit (as did a lot of people back then) and when they had an opportunity to release the game and insult him, they seized it big time. But how did they get the game in the first place? Digital Marketing had used Snacky/G*P to write protections for their games previously and had approached him with the Rubicon contract, Snacky used the Timex V3 system and modified it slightly for both the disk and tape versions of the game. So, one of the GP guys had the game original. Snacky recalls: "The turmoil around Rubicon arose when Tyger of Genesis*Project released a crack of the game. When I heard that Tyger got the game, I was shocked. I called Antichrist and asked him about the game. He told me that he got a non-protected version of it that Tyger would release. I tried to convince him that I would be in trouble if he released a version. As you know, Genesis released a version of the non-protected Rubicon, which was easy to release obviously". The relationship with Genesis*Project and Fairlight was quite sour at this point to say the least. Bacchus recalls: "Gollum coded Rubicon, and installed trainer protections. Snacky released if for GP but had to call Gollum for help disabling the trainer protections (so he could train it) claiming that this was needed for his protection. These are merely checksums of the areas likely targeted for mods in order to implement trainers." Even now it is funny that Snacky still does not admit to passing the game to Tyger to crack it. How else could Tyger have obtained it? May be it just fell out of the sky? :)
The Hungarian guys in Chromance remembers OMG (Antichrist) for stealing three of their originals in 1991. One cracker group stealing from another...
They had sent three originals (CFLI editor, Digi Editor and Warrior) to OMG who promised to buy it for distribution under the legal label "AMOK" for a good price. "After waiting a lot we called him and asked what's up with them? He said that he had to talk to the bosses about the price but they will buy it for SURE! Later on we've got our CFLI Editor as a 1st release from Joy Division! It was a HUGE SHOCK as ONLY OMG had the original and the version which was sent to OMG was crunched with MDG's cruncher. Later on we've got the Digi-Editor and it was again spread to the scene! Another HUGE SHOCK! Later on we tried to call OMG but he never seemed to be at home... Finally we reached his father and he said that OMG is on holiday for EIGHT weeks! OHHH FUCK! Then we saw 'Warrior' as a first release from Genesis Project! What do you say? NEVER send to OMG to sell anything coz he will steal it for a G*P 1st release. We can't understand how low a 'people' can go to make a 1st release for his group!"
Another big tale is that of "Lemmings" from Psygnosis, which started its journey to completion back in 1991. It took a while to complete, roughly two years or so. Remi Ebus had first talked with Psygnosis about the C64 conversion at the 1991 Autumn ECTS show, and it took exactly one year for both parties (E&E Software and Psygnosis) to sign the contract needed for the conversion. Then another year to complete the game. Two groups were fighting to obtain the original of this game. They were Alpha Flight 1970 and Success. Whilst many contest that Alpha Flight holds the first release mantle and stole the Dutch game from under their Dutch rival's noses. Success also have a tale of their own. On how they obtained the game in the first place and then manage to get it NTSC fixed (a difficult task performed by Booze of Empire). Burglar recalls: "It all began back in '93, word had been out Lemmings was about to be converted. With quality releases drying up quickly and the few remaining big game companies turning their backs on the 64, it instantly became the most anticipated release for the future. The hunting season had started.
For Success, partly based in the same country as the producers, Lemmings obviously was now our holy grail. As competition for games was still fierce, we knew it would be a hard task. Even when you know the Remi Ebus-crew (E&E) personally.
The first real Lemmings preview (after a few fakes) was obtained quite easily, we faked the credits a bit to cover our tracks, but also to give a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the godfather of Success (The Arrogance). So yes, we easily beat everybody on the preview, but things change. Producers hand out previews quite easily, it even helps their marketing, but to give out the full game, no fucking way. We had to broaden our horizon and get complete control of the Dutch market to solve this. Problem was, we were not alone.
The Ruling Company was grabbing a big, steady piece of the Dutch market at the time, and as we all already got along quite well (Action Jackson was one of my very first contacts back in the 80ies), joining up forces started to look like a win-win situation. Not only for Lemmings, but for everything. So in the bus back to .nl from The Party 3, we got together, SCS*TRC got formed. It's not so easy to form a cooperation between 2 well-respected groups. Neither wants to give up their identity, at first both groups try to absorb each other, but that only seems to work when the two are not really equal. With SCS and TRC, this was not the case, so a cooperation was the best for all of us.
We combined efforts at some expense, The Silver Surfer left as far as I can remember, because he didn't want the high-profile group pressure again, I'm not sure what it was. SCS*TRC started thriving, 1 + 1 can equal more than 2 people say, they are right. Supplying, cracking, fixing, hacking, modem trading, it all fell right in its place, with both groups contributing on everything.
Lots of things going on, but of course we didn't stray, we tried everything to get The Game. As a cracking co-op, you don't want to rely on one source, you gotta have option b, c and d as well in case everything else fails. You try every option, anything to get closer. But the funny thing is, everything will fail and all you can do is order the game from a fast shop. Hoping not to get beaten.
Out of nowhere a parcel arrived at Nightshade's place, with a note from an old friend. He magically was able to copy 4 of the 5 disk sides of... The finished game! Apparently our old friend visited Remi Ebus and was able to copy the disks at night while Remi was asleep. The things crackers do. ;) NSD quickly forwarded the disks to me, so I could prepare everything. It turned out we got a very late beta-version that crashed like a card house in a typhoon. I spent several weeks ironing out the bugs, while at the same time the rest of the group was occupied with packing the game (hi CBA), and obtaining all cheat codes (hi Moren).
In the mean time we got our friends from Empire, the group we should've sent Creatures 2 to instead of MO (but that's another story), to pre-NTSC-fix the game, especially cause Lemmings was a very hard fix. It turned out to be Booze's farewell fix. A tribute to one of the best fixers, in my eyes rating equal to Horizon and Pudwerx just to name a few fixers I always had the utmost respect for.
So with almost everything sorted, we still had one problem... The Fucking Fifth Disk!
The waiting started, we exhausted all our usual points of entry, but maybe we also slacked a bit because we were so much ahead. We still did our best to get the 5th disk before anyone else, but other groups weren't wasting their time either. Basically, with a game like that, you know you'll lose on ordering as other groups put far more money and effort in ordering than us. Our other main supply-lines got cut off, and thus we were in limbo. We got busy solving those problems when...
*BAM* there it was, out on the boards, Lemmings/AFL! It turned out to be an intro-linked original. No fix, lousy trainers, just a rushed first release. Thank the lord, if they just had taken more time, they would've smacked the door in our face.
We did what every self-respecting release group would do, just fucking steal it. Anything for the last real full price first release.
You gotta do it as fast as lightning, so we got everybody together to work on it simultaneously. Well everybody? Not really! A certain member was spanking some phone-sex-dating-whore in Amsterdam, which obviously could be called for free (Meridian Mail, ah yeah).
So we downloaded the 5th disk, packed it and included it in our 3 disk side, fixed and trained release. Within a few hours we were storming all boards with our full and fixed version. Right before most people started noticing the AFL version. You gotta remember, PAL-only games didn't count at all at that time.
We won! After we put it out there was a lot of gossip going round, Booze's fix apparently wasn't fully 100% (2 less than .25 sec glitches in the intro sequence), but while people made promises all over, nobody ever got close to the fix Booze did. Groups with power in release magazines would deny us the points as 'it wasn't 100%'. But I guess that was part of the game too. AFL just rushed it too much to get it fixed or at least put a fingerprint in their release.
Years after, several people from AFL tried to get the truth of the 5th disk out of us, but it never seemed right to tell all. Until now. Years later, we've all grown up and cherish those evil moments. Why not share it in a mag that shares that view.
This is what releasing was about. It wasn't about being able to crack the hardest protection ever, intro linking or whatever, it was about being the first, beat the competition at all costs. Things you can never do alone, you need to be able to call for free, have friends on boards, know good fixers and have a great group to support each other at all times on all levels.
For me, SCS*TRC was just that.
I have to show at least some respect to Alpha Flight and all the other competitive groups, it was a shitload of fun competing with you guys. We'll never be able to do it again, but at least we still have our memories until Alzheimer's kicks in."
Guess I better mention myself somewhere here. I have supplied close to 500 originals, the majority as first releases (Daffy Duck, Sword of Honour, The House and Armalyte Competition Edition come to mind, amongst others). The groups I have worked with include Rebels, Alpha Flight 1970, Legend and then my own group Onslaught. There is a lot of tales but I cannot share them all. What can be made public? Well, sometime in 1994, I remember being on a party line with a bunch of sceners. Party lines were a good thing for those who didn't have a conference set up and wanted to trade information, rag on people or just talk nonsense (now assumed by IRC). I remember calling them and speaking with some guys like Bod/Talent, Solar/F4CG, Rebel/Legend, EVS/20CC, Skinhead/Alpha Flight 1970 and Powerplant/Legend.
A lot of C64 guys used to call the same lines (in particular a line in Iowa, still remember the number: +1/515-945-6500), which made it even more fun, along with some phreakers from the USA scene and the regular maniacs who just called for sex talk and arguments. Anyway, when you called the number you listened to a recording that explains the rules and gives you your own "private code number". After this you are in the "main menu", from here you can enter the rooms or the private room. Entering the "public" rooms allows you to choose any of six different chat rooms, each room holds around 8 people and is the main area that people dwell in. The "private" room" allows two people to connect and is often used for phone-sex. One day I was in a room and I was chatting with some guys from the UK, one of them turned out to be Jade/Dominators (later known as NME/Illusion). I asked Matt if he knew of any games that were unfinished. He said "of course, my very own untitled game which is mostly done except for some presentation stuff". I asked him if I could call him and grab it from him, he said "bugger that, let's try something". So we then discussed if it would be possible if we could connect modem signals "across the party line". The line needed to be silent and clear, so the first thing we did was exchange "private code numbers" and went to the "private room". Meeting in private, we loaded up our terminal programs for our modems and I sent "ata", he sent "atd" on both our modems. Now, what we were expected was what is called "line noise", which means random characters would be printed across your screen and no data could be transferred. Instead we got a perfectly clear line. We started typing to each other:
Jazzcat: "OH MAN!!! No fucking l/n!"
Jade: "Yep, this is amazing!!"
Jazzcat: "Try sending the file?"
Jade: "Yup, sending...."
Okay, so to summarise what the hell had just happened: I called from Australia to USA, Jade called from the UK to the USA. We meet across a party line, connected C64 modems and transferred a C64 program across multiple phone switches and the party line setup itself. Most people wouldn't think it was that amazing but it was kind of special and most importantly, it worked! The game was then completed and released under the name of "Shatterlands". If you manage to play this game, keep in the back of your mind that it was transferred across a dirty sex line in the states! :)
TRIAD - tales of supply
Taper writes: "The most famous supplier story regarding TRIAD is the HK Electronics incident, which is outlined in the FAQ at www.triad.se in more detail. However, in short, a member of TRIAD knew some guys at HK, which was the largest importing company for software in Sweden during those days. Naturally, a whole lot of originals were obtained this way, and in 1987 TRIAD got a call from HK, with an invitation for a meeting. Sales had decreased drastically and they wanted to get the crackers on "better thoughts". So, some members went to the meeting at the HK Electronics offices, and put forward a suggestion - if HK kept supplying TRIAD with originals, TRIAD would not spread the cracked games in Sweden at all. The suggestion was rejected by the greedy executives at HK, though.
HK then put the TRIAD member who had used his contacts at HK in order to obtain originals under pressure. He didn’t like this and quit for all time, reluctant to even talk about C64 and underground hacking for a long time. Following this incident, Ixion refrained from spreading TRIAD warez in Sweden. Only the most trustworthy were given the latest cracks, and many TRIAD cracks ended up in Swedish school yards by traversing Germany and Denmark, back to Sweden again - instead of being spread directly from the local TRIAD members.
However, there is an alternate version of the story above, which actually might be more historically correct. Of course, getting the exact facts is hard after all these years, but reliable sources say it was not a TRIAD member being put under pressure by HK, but rather the employee who in turn gave TRIAD the originals. This additional information not yet published in the TRIAD FAQ tells the tale that it was this employee, who was more loyal to TRIAD than HK Electronics, that was fired after the meeting. That meant that TRIAD was cut off from their biggest supplier, and had to turn elsewhere to obtain originals.
Naturally, the affair of supplying games was much different during the 80's, 90's and 00's - or in other words during the heyday of the commercial success of the c64, the autumn years and then after the commercial death of the system.
During the early 90's, it was not uncommon for Jerry to deliver originals personally to TRIAD crackers. For instance, sometimes he drove one of his SAAB's to Sailors place, dropping off a parcel in the mailbox or ringing the doorbell to hand it over. If this was the case with the game Hans Kloss from LK Avalon back in 1993 nobody remembers, but it is an example which shows Jerrys commitment to bringing out the best possible version of a game once he got hold of an original. This time, Jerry got the orrie via Nightshade of Success, and realised there was no properly translated version available. So, together with Sailor he worked tirelessly to bring out a proper crack, with everything in the game properly translated, including the list of specifications of the V-1 rocket and a speech at the end of the completed game. To pull this off, Jerry went to the library and read up on the German V-1 design as well as bugging his polish neighbour to help with the translation.
A much later story involves Taper travelling around flea markets to hunt for Commodore gear and console stuff, something he did frequently for many years beginning in the 90's. For a few years it was quite common to find interesting stuff, like C64's, Amigas, disks, tapes, joysticks as well as 8- and 16-bit Nintendo and Sega thingies. However, as the years passed the older stuff dried up and was replaced by Sony Playstations, Gamecubes and other newer gaming devices. Those who sold older systems instead put them up for sale on Tradera (Swedish Ebay), not handing them to flea markets as frequently as before.
One day in 2009, he was visiting a few flea markets, including one in the village Ekeby where he grew up (and Antidote BBS originally was located). Rather surprisingly for 2009, he spotted a Philips CM8833 monitor on one of the shelves, and immediately rushed to it. Naturally he started looking around for any accompanying computer, but there was none. He did find a disk box filled with floppies though, and picked that up along with the monitor for next to nothing. Taper asked the guy behind the counter if he knew of any computer that had been handed in together with the monitor, and it turned out someone else had bought it along with a disk drive. From the description, it sounded like a C128. It was a strike of luck that the buyer of the computer hadn't picked up the disk box as well...
So, back home the disk box was examined, and it curiously mostly consisted of original games stripped of their boxes, but with some of the manuals retained. It was clear the previous owner had a thing for simulators. Silent Service was there along with some other Microprose and SSI games. There was also an original of a game he never heard about, nor could find any information about. It was a submarine simulator entitled U-101 from a Swedish guy, and it turned out to be very rare. Developed in 1986 and most probably just sold via mail-order it was one of those uncommon occasions where you find something unreleased in a very unlikely manner..."
Things are a bit different these days. Whilst it seems like the original supply scene is never ending and strengthened by a strong indie home brew network, it is slowing down (at least in terms of quality produce).
In recent times, the new generation of C64 nerds has continued to keep the cracking scene alive. One of these groups is Mayday, I really love their attitude and their releases are pretty solid. I asked TheRyk on his recent supply of 'PSI 5 Trading Company 4 Level Version' as well as his general thoughts on the cracking scene today, TheRyk writes: "One anecdote I can recall on that issue is only 5 years old. Still it's an early case of MYD being bashed for being supplied by a group mate who belongs to developers of a game, Darkness by Psytronik. Funny enough, MYD were bashed on CSDb for "cracking their own games", because coder Achim - member of Mayday! - supplied us, while Triad was praised for their first release, though they got the original by the game's graphician TwoFlower - member of 3AD. Only the self-declared uber1337 dorks know why to frown about the first and celebrate the latter. Just by the way, that was a time when we were still willing to do the 1st release dance via X of Y "counting" BBSes. But exactly when we wanted to upload, especially Scandinavian BBSes were mysteriously down and when they were up again, Triad's version was already on it, hehe. Sometimes I think this experience might not have caused but contributed to Spider Jerusalem's decision to quit cracking biz altogether.
Half a decade later we have even once or twice with some help managed to get stuff on BBSes first - but only to be granted minus points in some made-up lists, again for being supplied directly by a member of MYD. Read all about it in Propaganda List #1 2019 or the CSDb Forum shitstorm it caused. As a German saying states, some people are simply so jealous they even begrudge you the dirt under your fingernails. Conspiracies theories about developers supplying own groups in order to "ridicule" first release scene make me laugh a lot. I found crying "unfair" silly back in the days and even sillier if some fortyish nerds do it today. There was never a fair race, charts and lists were always made up, and taking such stuff overly seriously is really lame if you ask me. As you can see in Run Demon Run we've decided to ignore whatever frowning for good, no matter whether it's about acceptance of our BBS or about being supplied by groupmate in developer team.
As Jazzcat asked about Ori Sup of our PSI 5 Trading Company releases, that's quite a different story. How was it possible to "first" release such a famous title almost 35 years after the release? Well, Grue mentioned that 4 level NTSC version that never got cracked on CSDb Forum. iAN CooG found a transfer of the original as two .G64 images linked on Lemon. Then nothing more happened for a couple of weeks, in spite of firstie mania in some groups. Why? Well, probably because (as someone suggested) it needed actual cracking, not the usual training and linking of some open source work-in-progress (btw some groups really seem to give Ori Supply credits to the brave guy who found and leeched that preview stuff from whatever forum, go figure). As I knew that in persona of CSixx we've had the right man able to hack ancient trackloader protections, I pointed him to that forum entry and some days later we've had the crack done. No idea if Grue or iAN should claim Ori Supply Credits now, hehe, at least it felt alright to have one first release out without major Ori Supply drama. ;)"
Genesis Project have been mentioned frequently throughout this article, the group has had many leadership changes (Antichrist, Newscopy, Sixx) over the years, now Hedning is leading the group and has made it one of the most competitive cracking crews operating today. Any modern tales of orrie supply hedning?
"I'm thinking of these nervous times when dealing with physical releases as mentioned before - they are rare these days. The stories concerning digital downloads are plain boring, except for one: I bought and got my hands on Honey Bee (2016) from Psytronik. Nothing strange at first. It was released, I paid for it and I got the game from Psytronik, but after the G*P first release Laxity, who apparently had a deal with the game's coder Richard Bayliss to release it first (as payment Didi had NTSC-fixed the original) became frustrated and claimed that we had released a preview of the game. Richard Bayliss and Psytronik claimed the same, and Bayliss made some small changes to the game, and updated the game release so that Laxity could release the "real" sales version, and the official story from Bayliss and Psytronik still is that GP somehow had been able to get a nonofficial version. However, I still have the receipt and the downloaded file I got from the Psytronik store to prove that G*P actually released the real first sales version. Drama, drama...
One nice (?) memory is from this year. I was invited to Birdie, a Swedish LAN and demo party, to talk about the C64 scene of today, and on my way home on a shitty train and shitty internet connection through my phone I was able to get hold on Stercore XD real quick, send it to Zyron, and then upload our release fast as hell to the boards, succeeding against all odds, going through tunnels and other connection obstacles. Stress level: toxic.
When it comes to getting my hands on old rare finds it's a combination of collecting yourself, and to know other collectors, have the right equipment to dump the games, and the ability to spend money. I believe I spent four years trying to find the 1985 strategy game fran DKG, Clash of Wills, and when it finally popped up on eBay I spent around $80 for it, including postage from USA. I spent even more for some rare games that we never released as they were coded in Basic, or were plain shitty. Or were actually released before. Of course I still preserved the unknown ones, and then sent copies to Gamebase 64, but no popcorn for GP. Nothing unique for me, perhaps. All serious original suppliers know the drill. But it's perhaps interesting for others to know what we go through to get these last drops of old originals that are still out there, and what we then give them for free."
The most active group in recent years, without any doubt, is Laxity. In 2019 they overtook Onslaught as the group releasing the most first releases ever (about time guys, what took you so long? :)) and released number 500 (the first group to bring out that many first releases on C64).
Which first release did they choose to celebrate this auspicious occasion? Was it a compiled basic game from 1983? No, they found "The Rocky Horror Show (US Version)", also known as the "multicolor" version of the game. How did this happen? Why had other groups missed it? Let's chat to Goat/Laxity: "While reading a German issue of the Retro Gamer magazine, I stumbled upon an article about "The Rocky Horror Show". The article dealt with the different versions for the C64 and C128 and showed some screenshots of a C64 version that looked much different than the game I remembered from back in the 80s.
So I started searching around, but could not find a crack of the US multicolor version. Instead, there were many crack versions of the UK game. The original of the US version could be obtained without problems and we found out that it did not only look much better, but the playability was also much better, too. Also the small instructions of the UK paper were enhanced to a real manual. So we started working on a decent version of this long lost multicolor game, added trainers, docs and a map of the different rooms.
As with other games, that were redone for either the US or UK market, we assume that the US version of The Rocky Horror Show was simply overlooked until now, as the much earlier UK release was available in so many versions and spread so well. By checking the releases of the UK versions, we also saw, that one of the trainers in the Remember +7 version is not working well. So we searched for the correct trainers ourselves.
To sum the release up, I searched for a copy of the British Retro Gamer magazine issue with the original article about the game, because the German magazine is mostly a translate job from the UK issue. An old friend of mine from the UK was able to send me the original text scans and I included that story into our crack release, too. Don't dream it, play it!
As we came to know through TheList.C64.org at that time, we already released about 500 first releases, we decided to mark "The Rocky Horror Show" as our 500th first release. And we were the first group to reach that number of first releases. Heading for the 1k now. :-)"
So what do you think? Are original suppliers unsung heroes of the cracking world? Or are they just thieves ruining the commercial aspect of our beloved computer? There is no way that can be answered here or anywhere for that matter. Arguments for and against exist and opinions vary. Instead, what I have hoped to achieve is to shed a bit more light on what is an "original supplier"; going over some of the legendary tales from bygone years; detailing clear distinctions between the European and North American markets as well as some background on the three pillars of the C64 cracking world: "Mail", "Oldie" and of course, "First Release".
Got a first release original? Let's become friends, savvy?