Interviews



Interview with Rockstar

Published in Recollection #3
Performed by Jazzcat & Mason


Our scene has a rockstar, one of a different variety... a talented cracker, involved in groups like Contex, Extasy and Byterapers. Over the years he performed like a rockstar should, delighting the fans with his many quality cracks... please welcome the pride of Finland!



J)
Welcome and thanks for taking the time for this interview! Please introduce yourself to the readers.

R)
Thank you, it's a pleasure to still be remembered after all this time! I've been out of the game for something like 16 years by now, you know.

Name still withheld for obvious reasons, there were some shenanigans I was involved in that might still ruffle a feather or two. The handle I used through it all was Rockstar, sometimes abbreviated as Rock* or R*. Not Rock, Not Rat, not any of the other people I got mistaken for.

Right from the start, I came to be known as a really high quality cracker who came up with innovations that sometimes left people scratching their heads. Later on I also released some software in the form of the widely used Extasy packer, and another powerful cruncher that was only spread to friends on an Eprom I think.

I guess I also gained some notoriety for coming up with originals way before the others in England and in mainland Europe. I had some pretty okay connections and most of all a superb supplier and friend called Servant (I didn't pick that handle for him though!). Some of the first releases I did were inexplicably never released in other countries, and yet there were no shenanigans involved. All legit releases. I'll be happy to keep the secret still... ;)


J)
How did you find the C64 scene?

R)
Well... it was a bumpy but enjoyable ride, no doubt. I gained many valuable friends during those years, some of whom I still keep in contact with. There was great friendship and camaraderie for sure, and yes some disagreements as well.

In a lot of ways I've come to think it was great preparation for a life as an entrepreneur. Such an interesting early window of team dynamics, ego parades, bandwagon jumping, and whatnot. :)


J)
You were in some big groups during your time on C64 - Byterapers, Contex, Extasy, G*P, Dominators, a brief time in Fairlight and finishing up in Talent (amongst others). During this time in the scene you released many cracks and made many friends. Please describe in detail - take a deep breath - the complete history of Rockstar - when did you join the scene, what groups you became member of, trivia, wars, releases, friends and foes, the Finnish scene, the highs and lows, the start and the end (and why the end?)...

R)
The complete history... ohh dear. I don't think I've ever done this so why not. Let's call it therapy. ;)

So here goes... I first joined Byterapers somewhere in the late 1980s, simply because they were the biggest group in Finland at the time. So I simply sent them a couple of cracks right off the bat and they were happy to release them. Byterapers was a rowdy, fun bunch who honestly put more effort into their partying than making it bigger in the scene.



Which was fine for a while, but when the opportunity came to team up with the Contex guys who also wanted to leave, I jumped at the chance. They had great demo scene cred and needed a cracker to make it really big, which was the perfect setup for me. I still stay in touch with Flex, one of the really good guys I was fortunate to hang with.

Also, a notoriously out of control party at my parents' country house provided some extra motivation for jumping ship, I must admit. Seeing toilet paper in the trees and vomit mixed with egg whites on the floor... was not my idea of fun. So that was it for Byterapers. People who were there still talk about that party when they meet me, it was a pinnacle of that brand of craziness I guess.

Contex was a really fun experience, I did some of my best cracks during that time although I'd be hard pressed to recount them now. I remember a lot of parties as well, this time more about making friends and doing cracks on site than getting wasted. :)

At the height of Contex's success, my main original supplier and friend Servant felt like it was time to move on, and as we were both courted by our Swedish friends from FairLight, I found it hard to resist that. So we ended up jumping ship to FairLight, released I think two first releases in two weeks and decided it didn't feel right after all and formed our own group Extasy.

Servant and I... had a love-hate relationship. I loved cracking his stuff, and he hated giving me the stuff. Heh... well no, we were friends but it was an interesting dynamic for sure. I guess he felt he was in my shadow or something as I gained fame and notoriety as a cracker, I don't know.

Around this time, the modem trading and U.S. imports really started in a bigger way, as I recall. We grew Extasy at a rapid pace, and made a name for ourselves doing fast cracks our British and German competitors couldn't touch. This of course was very entertaining to our small group of northern mavericks, including our hard working swappers and traders up in Vaasa. Being the winning underdog was great. :)

That is when it sort of becomes a blur for me. At some point, Extasy just folded as people went their separate ways, Antichrist lured me to join Genesis*Project (he can be VERY persuasive, as you may know), then Dominators with my Danish friends, and finally Talent at the end of it. I may have forgotten something, but as the 1990s wore on I was already turning to other things in life.

Among the blur were some periods with Radar of Victims, who was a very good friend, but had a highly entertaining penchant for getting into wars without just about everyone. I never had a problem with him, but it was interesting to see these things unfold.

In the end, around 1993 or 1994 when I was already studying at the university, there was a big crackdown on phone tricksters and such. I too got pegged and intimidated by the phone co, ironically for things I had not done, so I decided this was a good time to finally stop everything.



J)
How did you get involved in cracking games? And how did you get the interest in cracking?

R)
How did I get the interest... I guess I was always interested in challenging things, and things not everyone could do... and the first time I laid my eyes on games that were obviously cracked completely through sheer skill, as opposed to muscling it with cartridges and whatnot, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.

Just to show myself that I could do it, and do it with the best of them. Obviously the whole cracking scene politics and BS later came into it, but it was a very personal motivation at the core. Also, the whole notion of doing something somewhat illegal or at the very least in the grey areas was always a moot point for me. Whatever, I just like doing this okay? Close the door please? Okay. :)

If I had to name some inspiration from the early, early days, it must have been the group called Stack who was putting out lots of cracks in the mid-1980s and in my eyes these guys were just pure magicians.


J)
Your toughest crack would be Paperback Writer? do you remember what was so tough about programs like this?

R)
Yes indeed, Paperback Writer must rank pretty high up there. Antitrack actually sent me a copy and wanted to see how I do with it. I don't remember that much about it other than that it had a really elaborate loader encryption scheme that took forever to unravel. Which I did, eventually.



But other than that, there were a bunch of cracks from tape that other crackers either didn't want to bother with, or didn't have the chops for. So I developed quite a library of automated routines to crack all the different tape protections, which was both challenging enough and commanded certain respect from fellow crackers. There were some things the freeze-frame cracker wannabees couldn't touch, and I was only happy to oblige.

Funnily enough, it was sometimes hard to explain to our U.S. partners that a multi-loading game cracked from tape might not necessarily fit neatly on a disk. I remember one particular case (Hydra, which was ever only released by me) where those guys thought I just did a bad crack, increasing its size inconveniently. Heh, no such thing...

I always took pride in optimising my cracks as much as I could, using techniques to make files pack better and load faster, and so on. This was not lost on the other crackers, so I developed some good relations with many of them. The only regret I have is occasionally giving in to pressure from our U.S. importers to just wrap up a crack quickly for release, instead of taking the time to train and test thoroughly. Mostly I just stuck to my guns and said it'll be ready when it'll be ready. :)

In the end, I got tired of that pressure and asked one of my friends from New York to send me an NTSC computer so I could just fix my releases myself and not lose time, or quality of cracks. I believe I was one of the first if not the first European to do so.


J)
You also did some imports to Europe and some PAL fixing like Ski or Die from North East Crackers. What did you think of fixing and importing back then? Did you have any other issues with your import partners?

R)
Well, doing the fixing was born out of two things mostly; I enjoyed the challenge of it, and I needed something for the times when there were fewer originals available for me to sink my dirty little mitts into. And it was kind of interesting to again be one of the very few doing such a thing in Europe to begin with.

Maybe I exaggerated my troubles with the U.S. importer partners, it was just the way the setup was, and personally I didn't always like it. But my relations with our importer partners were always quite good, I had no real issues with anyone personally. Diplomat to the last. ;)


J)
The US scene had a lot of attitude and 'eliteness' to it. What names do you remember from that chapter in your scene career and why do you think you still remember them even though it was 20+ years ago?

R)
Heh heh, I'm a diplomat by nature but I'll put that aside for the moment. You're right the U.S. scene was quite different compared to the camaraderie of Europeans, very competitive, sometimes aggressive. Just like it is in the business world, mind you. So you just take it as it is.

As for the names... I remember having a very good partnership with the Empire guys, obviously The Sorceress and all of the guys running around there.. And there must be a ton of others, the names and handles just escape me right now.

A lot of the ego rattling and nonsense I just ignored, including some bozos whose 'genius stroke' was to always call me Yoohoo the delicious chocolate drink on conference calls. Because it sounded close to my first name. Yawn. Yeah, there were a lot of young guns who honestly were just there to be cool, swinging their... bats. ;)


J)
Extasy were the Finnish group who started importing and pal-fixing US-releases. How did it start?

R)
Yes, Extasy was a group I was very proud to start with my original supplier Servant and my inexhaustible trading pals up in Vaasa. While there were some patches of time when I didn't have originals coming in but I still missed the challenge, the obvious thing to do was to start PAL fixing some U.S. games. A friend in New York graciously offered to send me an NTSC computer, which also allowed me to see the U.S. games au naturel, plus as a bonus do my own NTSC fixes from time to time.

It was another very welcome challenge, and I enjoyed being one of the very few around doing it at the time. I believe it was only Legend who was doing it besides myself. It was a different kind of challenge, very unforgiving work, but when you finally get it right, a very nice feeling...




J)
You were a co-sysop on the The Mystic Cavern BBS. Who would have thought that The Sorceress and Antichrist would have got married?!

R)
Heh... well actually, that one I could see coming a mile away. The Sorceress was an anomaly in the male dominated scene, and did an incredible job running the BBS for us for a long time. A great gal, I have nothing but the best to say about her.

The Antichrist... well, you could tell he was a man on a mission because he was deleting posts that he deemed 'too friendly' to The Sorceress, and little things like that. I think there were situations where he read a bit into things, but that's alright, we all know what it's like when you're in love.

Later on he would make these late night calls to me when they were having some trouble and whatnot, but I think they've been happily settled in New York ever since. They married and he immigrated and became a career cartoonist, I wish nothing but the best for them.


J)
The crack intros - were they more fun to write than cracking and training the actual game?

R)
That's an interesting question! As fun as the intros, the first release chest-beating and the team rivalries were... for me it was always primarily about the challenge of the crack, and doing the best possible job at it. So good it was glaringly obvious to anyone who'd care to look or compare with their own work.

Having said that, I did enjoy writing the intros often as well, loved having a recognizable style, a dubious form of fame and whatnot. Looking back now, it was an interesting prelude to a later career in different forms of communications. A lot of bloggers have a similar kind of rivalry and one-upmanship going on these days.


J)
What crack impressed you the most by another cracker and why?

R)
It's been way too long to remember a single crack by name... but there were definitely some crackers whose work I always appreciated. Antitrack is one, the Fairlight guys especially in the early days, the elusive Kasper from Byterapers, the Danish Ikari were better than the reputation they made for themselves... in the Finnish scene, Stack were the first crackers whose work really blew me away.

Now I'm sure I just offended a bunch of people who considered me a close friend, but it was simply too long ago to remember everyone...

I was also impressed by anyone who did a release at a copy party or such, wide open for people to see your methods. I did it a few times, and it was always exciting. Adds a bit of juice to the whole process.

Was that it? Well, it was fun while it lasted... just like the C64 scene itself. ;)


J)
As a cracker you always have some special cracks which you were most proud of or had a special story behind the cracks. Do you have any of those?

R)
Oh boy. I'd say every single crack I did had some interesting story behind it. I never got into the sort of assembly line cracking mode where I'd just crack every single original thrown at me and throw it out there for distribution. It just didn't interest me, and the perhaps couple of times I succumbed to the pressure of 'just putting out a crack', I instantly regretted it because then it just lacked the art of it. For me. I'm sure nobody else noticed a thing. :)

It's tough to remember any individual cracks but certainly many of them were memorable because of the excellent original suppliers I had, perplexing many German and U.K. crackers especially. Other cracks were memorable because of the cracking routines I stayed up nights developing, just because I wanted to do it right. I guess it was that kind of ethic which earned me the respect of my peers.

I can't remember the titles for the life of me, but one memorable one was a game that was packed into a single file and yet kept loading from that same file. This was new at the time. And many other little innovations like that.



J)
Do you have any idea how many cracks you did in total? And how many you did for each group you were in?

R)
I think I had a number down way back when... but now I'd just have to guess it was in the hundreds. With the exception of Fairlight, for whom I did only like two cracks I think, before bailing, I did dozens for each group. I'm sure some of my friends will refresh my memory after this gets out though.


J)
The Finnish scene was mostly a demo scene and only a few interested in cracks. How was it to be one of the few ones?

R)
That's a great question, and it was very interesting. In the beginning, the very few crackers in the Finnish scene like the elusive, almost reclusive Kasper of Byterapers and the Stack guys I mentioned, were treated like gods with magical powers in their possession. And who was I to argue, I wanted to be one of them after all.

Once I got some name in the scene and was cracking consistently, I have to admit it was fun being the only internationally recognized cracker in Finland. And once I raised up the ranks, there was lots of fun to be had in the neighbouring countries as well, specifically in Sweden, where I frequented many a party by our friends in Fairlight and Horizon in particular.

Later I was lured for quite some time by various Finnish groups with deep resources to continue cracking for them on the Amiga or on the PC... but for me the impulse was gone and I was on to other things.


J)
Being in the scene you make some close friends locally and all over the world. Who were the close friends? And do you still have contact to them?

R)
Oh sure. There were many friends all over Europe and some in the U.S. as well, and I stay in touch with a handful of them, half a dozen to a dozen. Some in Facebook, some in email or phone, and some I meet occasionally at events in Finland. I've had some early morning prank calls from the Contex guys, and a few more people which must mean they still consider me their friends. :)

I feel awkward listing close friends because there were so many and some would definitely feel left out... but I'm going to try anyway.

I'm going to do this intro scroll style, so here goes: Greetings go to my pals all over the globe, in no particular order: Hartmut, Antichrist, TMB, Servant, Grendel, Antitrack, Dr. DMA, Communist Cowboy, Hoffi, The Sorceress, Flex and the Contex guys, Brian and the rest of the Danish crew, Darren / Talent... and many, many others I've not forgotten but simply cannot list here.

Boy that took me back, thanks for the chance to flex my memory and that period of my life!



J)
Did you crack on other platforms?

R)
No, I never did crack on any other platforms. I did dabble a bit on the Amiga and the PC, but never really got into it. On one hand I was just through with the whole cracking thing, and on the other felt like the challenge wasn't there in a similar way anymore. Would have been just more of the same, which is like prison to me anyway. I need variety in life, and cracking just didn't do it for me any longer.


J)
If you were a video game character, which one would you be and why?

R)
HAHAH! As paradoxical as it may be, having cracked tons of games in my time, I'm not a big gamer at all. But I guess you could say I'm pretty close to Leisure Suit Larry, LOL... I take it pretty easy.




J)
And demos, any names that left a skid mark on your mind?

R)
A skid mark? Nah, nothing like that. I'm sure there were some at the time, but it's long gone. Although I have to say, when I think of demos, the word Contex instantly springs to mind. Those guys were truly a class act, and just turned out great demos one after the other. It was such a pleasure to be part of it, and combined with the cracking we did, it really was a uniquely unbeatable combination, as long as it lasted. So cheers to Flex, Apollyon, and all those other guys who were involved. Best of times.

Now that you got me going though, it was always highly amusing to me how competitive the Swedes were with each other on the demo front. Horizon, even Fairlight pitched in... just a ton of guys trying to do one better. It was very entertaining, and fun to watch. At the same time, the Finnish Beyond Force occasionally threw a wrench in the works, as well as Finnish Gold in the early days of late 1980s...


J)
Imagine if Rockstar became an elite demo coder, Mr. Sex would have to crack those games instead huh?

R)
Heheh! Uhm... not sure how to answer this question. We're deep deep deep into parallel universe theory on this one, I'm afraid. :) Never was a big demo man, although I did enjoy them and even coded a few. Don't know about Mr Sex's ability, although I vaguely remember some party talk with him through some odd haze...


J)
Thanks for your time, any last words for our audience?

R)
It was my pleasure guys. A great chance to plop down memory lane. As for last words... this interview was cracked, trained and NTSC fixed by Rockstar in the summer of 2010. Also available on Blu-Ray and iTunes streaming, and torrent vendors near you. Maybe. As a professional disclaimer, have fun while it lasts, and take what you can out of the experience. Because when the music stops playing, it's good to have a place to land. Just sayin'. :)

[back]