Interviews



The C64 Heaven Project and the brain behind it

Published in Vandalism News #51
Performed by Jazzcat & Macx


Mason is truly a legendary Commodore 64 cracker. A short glance at his CV tells you that this guy is someone whom has in-depth analysis in his profession, and his history goes far back. I came to know him on the car ride to X2008 and I found him not only a chap with humour, but who also is explicitly disgusted by the taste of coffee (while I am an addict). He possesses nerdy insight also in his branch of the media business, which is where he spends much of his real life. In other words - an interesting bloke.

When Jazzcat suggested it was time for an update on how Mason's project is running it seemed like a good idea. At the same time the chapter is promoting the goal of C64 Heaven and it will hopefully make the project known to a bigger audience.

         

V)
Welcome back to Vandalism News Mason and thanks for taking the time to give us an update on the project of yours: C64 Heaven. First things first, could you please introduce the ignorant to the project, what is it all about?

M)
The c64heaven project got one main goal - to preserve every single crack of each game. Of course it should follow the rules for cracking, which means you can't find entries in the archive there where someone who just freeze the game and save it on disk. When starting the project I could see several places on the internet where people stored locally imported cracks and often the most spread version (e.g. first release in many examples). The most spread were just a small part of the scene and besides being the fastest the C64 scene also focused on quality. Another important reason is that people want to play the same version as they played many years ago as they know it works or got a special trainer option they remember. Also the C64 scene started to re-release old games in better version and this might get people to forget what happened back then.

         

V)
What has been going concerning C64 Heaven the past years?

M)
Besides collecting disks, sorting disks, doing research and finding old sceners, keeping missing list updated then there was put a lot of work into an earlier project doing the final site. Sadly the guys who should help me didn't finish the project as they didn't agree on how the final site should look like. The project stopped and I had to find someone else to help me doing the final site.

The task about collecting disks also takes a lot of time. Lately a lot of people realised that it's important to get the disks transferred and preserved. A lot of people just said "I don't have anything there isn't on the internet already". This is not true as there's plenty releases on all set of disks which isn't in the C64heaven archive already.

Another big job is to getting the releases sorted from the disks. It's easy to just add a crack to the archive, but besides adding the crack there's also a need to check other set of disks to find out if there's extra files like picture files, docs, music rips etc. Besides finding the release and finding extra files then some testing is needed and testing single file games is the easiest part, but all kind of releases needs some testing. To find the extra files and to find other releases from the same group I'm using the Searcher tool that MdZ did.

Doing research also takes a lot of time, but I'm not doing this alone. I'm doing this together with Acidchild, CBA, MdZ, Swasti, TMB, Morpheus, Skylab and our friends. Doing this alone doesn't help anyone and with each other knowledge, information and friends we find a lot of sceners. Help are still needed as it can help us finding even more people.

Updating the missing list is another job that needs to be done. The first version of the list was compiled from the entries mentioned in Gamers Guide and Are We The Best. Afterwards titles have been added in case they wasn't working on the disks I have been checking, but also other mags than Gamers Guide and Are We The Best were doing the release lists and those have slowly been added to the missing list. The list from the C64heaven webpage is mirror to the Digital Dungeon FTP where you also can find the wanted list of demos.



V)
There are rumours circulating about a delayed new design, or a "final site". Is this true, and in what ways will it differ from what is available now?

M)
It's true. The Burglar is working on a new site design which will be the final site design. The design which is being used right now is just a simple design done by me, but I don't have much knowledge about doing webpages. The current design is just hosting a few games and the missing list. Mostly as a small example on how it could have been done but also to focus on a few special games.

The new site will contain a lot of new functions and of course the goal is to get all the cracks in the archive online. Since the archive will contain plenty of cracks it will also need a good search engine so you are able to find the games, but there are also some new things which aren't seen on other sites. Until now I won't go into details until we know if they are possible to do. (ED: Burglar/Success&TRC is working on the public archive site; hopefully it won't be delayed too much longer)

         

V)
Can you tell us about transfer methods and transfers of especially protected disks such as disks needing nibble copies - e.g. Dexion Copy Party Demo Disks, Sentinel Worlds/F4CG, Final Assault/Lazer etc.

M)
Normally we transfer the disks into a D64 format where we use Warp Copy and RR-Net. Anything else is useless except you nibble them using the parallel cable like Speed-Dos had. You will get a few extra tracks when transferring them into G64-files, but often when the game uses more than 35 tracks they also have some special information in the tracks that a normal transferring can't handle.

Second problem is that the D64 file can't hold all the information that's needed for some cracks and even for one demo. Often it happened to games that they didn't crack perfectly, but there's other games where the protection were removed by the cracker and then the game worked when copying from disk to disk. A good example on this is the released of Dragon Breed where it works perfectly on a normal disk but since there's disk side info stored in some way the D64 file can't hold then the game wont work.

In the question you have mentioned some good examples on games that need nibbling. Then there are The Dexion Demo disk needs it as Dexion used the Vorpal loader and I reckon it uses halftracks and those can't be stored in D64 files, so a nibble copy and G64 are needed for this.

Same is for Final Assault/Lazer, Final Assault/DDL, Sentinel Worlds/F4CG, Snow Strike/Paramount and Fiendish Freddy/Censor. These games need a nibble transfer to make them work. I don't have any details on what kind of data there's missing, but I guess we know more when those games are found working on a real disk.

         


V)
How do you feel about people moving files from the collection onto CSDb? Replacing existing versions on CSDb and new entries, etc.

M)
I think it's great to see people support CSDB and make sure to upload the releases there. I'm happy that people use the archive collection as a help to make release list complete for the group they have been member of. or making a release more complete.

Problem is just that people seems to forget they have created the entry on CSDB and uploaded the file as they don't update the entry afterwards. I have in several situations seen cracks uploaded to CSDB that doesn't get updated after I have updated the crack in the archive collection.

This ends up in several cracks from the archive which are uploaded to CSDB that are different from my archive and the only way to fix this is going through all entries manually on CSDB when the archive goes online. I am not sure who's going to do that job as it's going to be a huge task.



V)
I know you recently made contact with an old pre-scene contact of mine (/Macx), The Flying Shark of TBI. Did he have any disks that could be preserved? How do you dig up these people, many whom haven't touched a c64 in two decades? Could you tell us about some notable reactions you have received?

M)
That's correct. I have been in contact with The Flying Shark from Blasters Inc. Sadly he didn't have any disks anymore. To find the old sceners we use a lot of time doing research. Often we find information in an old demo or an old crack, asking friends of the scener and getting other sceners to help us. As mentioned earlier in the interview I'm not doing this alone.

There's old sceners who doesn't want to be “found” and never responds. Others are really surprised when we contact them as they never thought anyone would care about the Commodore 64 anymore. Those people don't even have checked sites like CSDB, C64.com etc.

         
V)
Are there other old sceners you could tell the readers about? What are these people doing today? Chatter and gossip!

M)
It's hard to remember all the old sceners we are contacting. It's a question about small bits and pieces being put together.

Many of them are working with computers now days, but there's also a big group of people who work in other branches where the computer is just a tool in their job (mostly for surfing, mailing, writing word documents etc.).

         
V)
Regarding certain games that were bugged when they were released. Are these being bug fixed or are you maintaining original release version only?

M)
I don't modify the files being added to the archive, but if someone else fixed the game and it followed the rules of the scene then it will be added to the archive. Also the games released in the late years by Remember, Nostalgia, Onslaught Antiques and others will be added too.

All versions will be available side by side. If a game were cracked by one group and trained by another group I try to find the original crack and the trained version. Doing it this way will make it possible for people to follow the release and its history is needed.

         
V)
Can you tell us a bit about the current archive, how many cracks it contains, the "most cracked" game and so on?

M)
There are 38500 cracks in the archive right now and the numbers of cracks are growing slowly. There have been added several cracks of course most from the major groups as they released most cracks. The archive also contains some secrets where people think there was only released one crack of the game. On the funny there are examples on games that imported more than one time by a group.

It's funny to follow things like the most cracked game etc. If you take a specific game you have to look at how much a copy of the original were spread. Take a game as Crystal Kingdom Dizzy. This game was only released by a few groups as the original wasn't spread. If you take a game like Madness from the Magic Disk mags then you can see there's many versions as the original were spread widely. Another import part is how well the game is protected as often you can see a disk original spread and if it was hard protected only a few groups cracked it.

The same goes for imports. If you find a US release which are single filed (Amazing Spiderman is a good example) then you can see several European imports. But if the size of the game raises you will see fewer groups who imported the game. And if the game were hard to pal-fix or there was extra work because of the disk protection you would see even fewer groups who imported it (V-Max games is a good example).

         
V)
...and how many games do you think are missing, if you had to have a guess at what percentage of found games the database currently holds?

M)
About missing cracks there are a lot of documented missing cracks (mentioned in Gamers Guide, Are We the Best and other mags) that are added to the missing list and there's around 4000 missing cracks there. Since no groups expected to preserve their work so many years later then there are no lists on what the groups released. I know Triad got most of their work listed, but even Triad finds releases they never heard about.

One thing is what is known to be missing and those are added to the missing lists on www.c64heaven.com (there's a copy of it on TDD). Another thing is the cracks and imports we would expect the major groups did. An example is Hotline who were known for imported every US release to Europe and when you can see some imports are missing then you would expect to find it one day. Same goes for the cracks from the major groups.

         
V)
I agree with you on the importance of the USA scene releases for this archive, hopefully soon I will assist in a large way with Player=1=/UCF's collection (lately I have finished my own collection of 3605 disks which is no easy task). Indeed it would be nice to track down Horizon, Pudwerx, Stormbringer or any of the old guys from that scene. Have you found many obscure cracks from other countries, like Peru (Twin Eagles Group), France (Babygang), Australia (Tera, QCF), Israel (The Force) etc?

M)
You are right there are obscure cracks from countries we don't know. Until Blasters started to crack and spread their releases all over Europe none ever thought of a Spanish scene. Same is for Australian and Israel scenes that weren't well known before around 1990/1991. I know Tera existed in the 80s and the same for The Force, but cracks from Australia and Israel didn't get known really known till the groups there massively swapped with other people in Europe. Another point is that it got easier to get originals in the 90s scene than in the 80s scene as it became to spread by swappers to get more originals.

France is a bit different to others as Transcom made the French scene known in the C64 scene – even which a lot of their members were from Belgium. Besides that Babygang, Poltergeist and other groups did release cracks that got spread to the rest of the Europe. Still there are examples on how a French group is unknown. Everyone knows about ProjectX as they were in co-op with Deadline, but not many know they did releases for themselves. I know their releases exist, but I haven't got any of them in the archive.

         
V)
What disks are you looking for the most and who do you need to contact?

M)
As standard we are looking for all disks. The most important is to get preserved everything. I'm not the one who can use demos, mags, tools etc., but I know CBA uses a lot for Digital Dungeon.

Of course I got some people and areas I want to focus on when looking for disks.

One of the areas I have been working on is the American releases. If you follow the crack scene through the years you might know that it was standard that American releases got pal-fixed and imported to Europe (just like European games were NTSC-fixed and imported to the states). One thing there's missing are the American releases which didn't have been pal-fixed or imported to Europe. Plenty of NEC, ATC, Mirage etc. cracks are missing. It would be great to find people like Horizon and Pudwerx as both were doing a lot of releases for their groups.

I got one special crack to find. According to Westbam/Legend there was released a Myth Cartridge version by Legend back when the game were released. I haven't found it yet, but I really want to find this crack as it was one of the cracks Westbam talked a lot about when he was alive. Mentioning Legend there's still missing a lot of their cracks and imports.

Another special crack to find is the European import of Jackal USA. I can't believe it never got pal-fixed and imported. Hotline was heavily importing everything from the states (also V-Max Games), so I think they did it. Problem is just we need more disks from the Netherlands.

Besides that I could mention all the groups and make long list of group names. Instead I will just mention some that are interesting.

Of course the NEC and NEI releases as I mentioned earlier would be interesting to find. Also the budget releases done by LRU and Sike. Also finding members who were in ATC, Mirage and No Frills International can be helpful to get more clean US releases preserved.

For European releases it would be great to find members from F4CG, X-Ray, Enigma, Success, Ikari & Talent, Abstract, Hotline, Crazy, Legend, Illusion, Dominators, Triad, 711 and Strike Force+Movers and all the other groups (I probably forgot to mention some). The major groups are very interesting as they tend to release almost every game and of course import almost every US game (to pal-fix it), but again it's more important to preserve everything. Another interesting part to preserve is work from the crackers in the major groups, but before they joined them. I have found a lot of nice releases done by top crackers for unknown groups.

And do you have disks or you are an old-scener and know one of your friends got disks then let us transfers them. We got several people on the team to help doing that. You can either contact MdZ, Acidchild, Morpheus, Mace, Maestro, Swasti or me (Mason).

         
V)
What's the importance of preserving these things to you, and are you only interested in cracks?


M)
The important part is to get preserved everything to make sure the history of the scene is being kept and remembered. About Commodore 64 releases I only focus on the cracks. I never had interests in demos, so I would never the right person to preserve these releases. Its better someone else with a bigger knowledge into that area do it. For demos, mags and tools there's several others to look at that. CBA is running TDD and it contains games, demos and tools. Jazzcat is looking at mags for his mags site.

Besides the preserving Commodore 64 cracks I also follow the MAME project a lot. First of all I have played some of the games in the arcade and also donated a few boards to help on emulating a few systems.

One thing that I really like about the MAME project is the goal that things should be accurate (just like my own archive). Through time of arcade emulation we have seen several hacks being made to make things work or to make things go faster. This doesn't push the MAME dev to just rush in games as they can be found elsewhere – they take their time to do it right and do it like it should have been done from the beginning. A good example is the Laser Disc games being added to MAME at the moment. Aaron Giles decided to do it right where it reads the information track (on how it should use the audio and video data). Other emulators did a smaller Laser Disc image where it was hard coded. Another good example of making accurate emulation is the CPS2 games. Without the work done by Nicola and Andreas they got it decrypted and there was no use of extra files. I think the MAME dev team does a great job.

Making things accurate is also important for me. This means when I have added a game to the archive then I just don't leave it in the archive. Often I crosscheck the disks coming in to see if there's a more accurate version (it could be an intro for the game, docs, picture file, music rip etc.). This work has to be done otherwise the archive would be useless.


V)
The difference between a 20+ year old production and something "c64 new school" is big though, have you encouraged them to take a look at what is being released now? Any reactions worth mentioning?

M)
Again I'm mostly looking at the cracks getting released nowadays. The most interesting ones of course the games that no one released before. For the demos I don't see many demos as I have to use the time working on the archive project.

The differences from the old school scene to the nowadays scene is that each side doesn't understand the other side. The new scene is of course focussed on releasing something and they are doing the same as the old sceners did in the middle of the 80s. Most important is they often release some of their favourite games with a few trainers. The old scene doesn't like these releases as the games has often been released before and might even have more trainers on the existing version compared to the ones just released. Both sides must respect the other sides work and also work together to stop one problem as sadly some of these old sceners sadly abuse the situation and release a lot of crap. Most funny is it isn't a new thing in the scene – it happened several times through the scene years.



V)
Have you received praise for wanting to preserve this piece of social history? I guess for many non-sceners it can seem a bit controversial, and in between legal and illegal.

M)
No, not really. I have to focus on the archive project and the cracks. There's enough of work to do here, so someone else has to do that job. It could be interesting to do something about being legal and illegal. Especially the ones who were in the top groups doing a lot of cracks, using calling cards to be online on the boards etc.

Besides that the story aren't that interesting as besides Germany there was no real danger as long money wasn't involved. Most countries didn't care about cracked games in the 80s and beginning of the 90s. This means if you didn't sell cracked software, cheated stamps or used calling cards you were safe (not in Germany as mentioned before).


V)
Does this mean you have started to LDA and STA after a hard days work recently?

M)
Nothing happened there as all the time is being used on the archive project. I will use all the time I can on the archive project till it's online. One step is adding the cracks, but there's still a lot of research to do and also quite a job to find the extra files that exist to the cracks.


V)
When did you first get your Commodore 64?

M)
I got my Commodore 64 back in 1984. I still got the same one as I used all the years for cracking games. In difference to other crackers C64 I only got one modification. I installed a function to break the communication between the disk drive and the Commodore 64. It was used to crack the German disk protections which used to do a lot of fun with the disk drive.

         
V)
What is your scene history? How did you get involved and what crews have you been in?

M)
I can't tell you exactly which groups I have been member of. People are still finding references to groups I have been member of. Those that I can recall are Moonsoft, Danecrew, Miracle, Coldcut, Danecrew (rebuilt), The Dominators, Danecrew (rebuilt again), Unicess, Miracle (rebuilt again), X-Ray, X-Factor, Acrise, Image, Unicess (rebuilt again), Epic, Unicess (rebuilt a second time), Anoxia, Mechanix 2124 and Motiv 8. There can have been more groups and also groups I have been into under secret handles, but I can't remember. Sorry for my bad memory.

         
V)
Between 1995 and 2000 you had a break, how come you decided to give the old breadbin a go again?

M)
I wasn't totally gone. I was busy running Motiv8 PC till 1998, but I also ran the Kalla Anka bot on #c-64 for a while and was hanging out on the channel now and then.

When I was done running Motiv8 PC (other members took over) I was using time on the Commodore 64 again from 1998. It was when I started working on the archive project. Since we in Motiv8 PC released the Commercial version of C64S then I started to check out a few sites and found out there was a lot of stuff missing. Second many sites were only having a local eastern import or a rush out version. This would never show the real history of the Commodore 64 scene. That was the reason for starting the archive project.

         
V)
What are your thoughts of the current demo scene and how it has evolved since way back?

M)
I don't follow it much as I was always cracking games, but now days I checked a few demos and I miss the demos where the VIC tricks were used. I can think of several things which might be possible to code, which contains rasters, side borders, split, sprites etc. Now day's people focus on vector demo parts and I know they aren't easy to code, but they aren't the best to do for the visual part and often people use so much memory and rastertime there's no possibility to make the extra things that make it looks nice.

I still want to get Showcase Bonanza 2 released, but I have to accept that I'm not the one to code it anymore. I still hope to find someone who wants to be part of a nice coop project.

         
V)
You recently paid x2008 a visit. How was it meeting up with the old folks and will we be seeing you at future events?

M)
It was nice to meet up with the old sceners and say hi to them. Sadly there was a lot (even that they knew I was busy transferring disks) who didn't come to the transfer section to say hi. Besides that I had a few moments where I could go talk to the people at the party and drink a few beers.

I will try to visit some more events and I will go for X2010. Even it took a lot of energy with the travelling to X2008 and still I was the one who slept most while the others were driving.

I have plans to go to more meetings and parties as much it's possible.

         
V)
The Little Computer People event in Lund, Sweden this summer? Quite a few people already signed up, as you may have noticed?

M)
I did notice. MdZ and I signed up sadly a bit too late so we are on the waiting list. It could be interesting to do a transfer session like we did at X2008 with the others. I am not sure if there's room for us, but time will tell.


V)
Any final words or requests?

M) More disks are needed as several cracks, demos, tools and mags are missing. Everything should be preserved if possible. So please ask your friends if they got disks that can be transferred. I might not just be sceners but people who lived close to sceners can have some interesting stuff.

Thanks to everyone who help on the project. It's not just me you are helping by finding disks, but also the Commodore 64 community.

         

Summary
Some months after this interview things are moving along nicely, we haven't managed to get contact with Burglar, but we're aware that he is quite busy (hopefully he gets some breaks soon to get the site up and running). I had a chat with Mason on the popular C64 waste-time-but-I-have-no-time forum, also known as IRC, he tells me currently there is 39864 cracks in the archive, so soon a big benchmark will be broken! Also, some important finds, such as the long lost ATC (A Touch of Class) version of Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders and also Classic Concentration, which was a mystery on who cracked it (now found to be ESI).

We're looking forward to future progress in the archive and hope everyone digs deeper into their disk boxes, the clock is ticking!

         

Regards,

Jazzcat & Macx.

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