Interview with Alien
Published in Vandalism News #46
Performed by Macx
It was some evening in early autumn last year, I hung out on #c-64 chatting with someone about a really old piece of something I had in a stuffed away diskbox. Or at least something similar I believe. All of a sudden this guy popped up starting to talk about the first intro ever produced and some weirdo commodorians from the REALLY early days. A bunch of us started to discuss and I remember having seen that berliner bear intro he mentioned. I recall Krill writing something about how this Alien-fellow was cracking games, whilst he was cracking in his diapers. Something that probably could count for me as well. This was not a standard geezer it seemed and I decided to hook him up for an interview. I pretty soon realised this was not going to become like any standard interview though. The interview was conducted mainly over e-mail during autumn and winter of 2005, and finished off in January 2006. Please notice that PC refers to Plutonium Crackers and the non-c64 machine interchangeably.
Tell us who you are.
My nick has always been ALiEN (ALN, ALN'61). I am the founder of Plutonium Crackers 2001 (on C64 since 1982) and Antitrax 2010 (Amiga since 1986/87). Iím from Berlin, Germany. The story of my handle is as follows:
"Alien" from Ridley Scott's 1979 film.
"Plutonium" refers to the German band Kraftwerk and their album Radioactivity from 1975, with songs like Geiger Counter, Uranium and of course Radioactivity.
"Crackers" I don't remember...
"2001" Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" from 1968.
Plutonium has a half-life period of 24000 years, but we changed our nick into Antitrax 2010, a little earlier. "2010" also refers to the "2001"-follow up, Arthur C. Clarke's novel and Peter Hyam's film from 1984.
"Anti" means against.
"Trax" refers to the wrong track on which the scene-train was running.
That sure is a lot of references and codes! There seemed to have been a lot of those back then. Were the meanings commonly known amongst other sceners?
It was a common thing to spend a while to figure out a "very special" nick.
Early computer activities were pioneer work, so famous scene people were bound to be innovative.
Spend some minutes to think about the background ideas of great names like:
JEDI, Star Frontiers, Triad, Future Projects, Danish Gold, Raw Deal Inc., The Judges, Fairlight, Section 8, Alpha Flight, Red Sector, Hotline, The Light Circle, Radwar, Major Rom, Vision. Or year dates in handles like: PC 2001, Antitrax 2010, E.C.A. 1998, Alpha Flight 1970, Hotline 9009, Wizax 2004, Line 2002, Radwar Enterprises 1941 and AEK 2099. They all had a touch of future and science fiction. Later these handle-dates often were misunderstood as release dates.
Some nicks were paying homage to idols, like "1001 And The Cracking Crew" was named "1001" to honour 1103's (JEDI) early cracking efforts. The first generation people definitely knew about the meanings of their friend's nicks.
When and how did you get involved in the C64?
1977: I spent every day playing around with an Apple II (6502, 1 MHz, 48 KB (most people only had 4-8KB!)) with a friend while his father was working. The joystick was a square metal-box. It was the very first computer with colour-graphics in the series.
1978: I got my own Atari VCS 2600 game console.
1979: My friend's dad bought an Apple II Plus and in the late eighties my friend's dad gave me this machine as a present because I had always spent more time on it than he had. I still have got it in my collection and it still works! :)
1980: I got a $200 Z80 Sinclair US-clone (Micro Ace) - a build-yourself kit.
1982: I did some coding on an Atari, which I sold. It was an adventure parser and a painting tool done in Basic. The money I earned was my way to the C64, meaning the archived Atari financed my first C64. A positive moment for me was when the father of a classmate who was working for Apple, was able to through his connections, obtain a C64 on Christmas 1982. Now on the C64 I started to work with my classmate CJW (later Hurricane) as a team. Plutonium Crackers 2001 (PC) was born.
Some weeks later our best friends Don and CPU joined our small crew and this inner circle of four people remained the same ever since. Other members like Lord Vader (who did most of the BCS cracks) and Extermer were also joining early in the piece. Extermer, our musician back then did tunes for games like Turrican 1, Rock'n Roll and many more. Search for "Stoned Mozart Tune" on CSDb and you'll find out what Extermer was able to do in the early 80s.
Some of our close friends/posse in Berlin started their C64 scene-careers nearly at the same time. I'm speaking of Cracking Force Berlin (CFB) later a member of Flash Cracking Group (FCG) and Berlin Cracking Service (BCS). We all kept closely connected over the years and we still are friends, 24 years later.
What did you do back then, and how long did you continue?
We were primarily cracking games from 1982 until late 1987. It was a slow start and an "assembly line work"-style back then. We also did a lot of tools like packers (mostly for internal use and good friends), intros for cracks, demos and music-rips.
In late 1987 we stopped cracking, changed our group name to Antitrax 2010 and moved to Amiga for coding demos (Antitrax 2010 Megademo available at Pouet). But somehow we had about 40 exceptions to our "no cracking"-policy under our demo-nick Antitrax on C64 in 1987. This was the time when the C64 cracking-scene changed with an emphasis on zero day wares rushing but with no quality. However on the Amiga we could sense the spirit of the early C64 days.
All in all there has been 300-400 releases from Plutonium Crackers, Berlin Cracking Service, Cracking Force Berlin and Antitrax over the years.
It couldn't have been much to crack back then?
Copying games wasn't really illegal in most countries back in 1982 or 1983. The first really great original-supplier to the scene was ALI. The copy protections came a little later. Most early releases weren't "cracked", they were just released or spread.
M)Which were your favourite people back in the mid-80s?A)First of all my close friends in Plutonium, CFB and BCS.And we used to raise our hands to: Flash, FCG, Omega Man, TCS, Laffen, Raw Deal Inc., Stoat & Tim, Irata, Star Frontiers, WCC, JEDI, Kotzbrocken, Jeff Minter, Mr.Z, Zeke Wolf, Triad, BS1, Mr. Zeropage, Rob Hubbard, The Bam, Wizax, TST, Hotline, SIB, Papillons, Division Distribution, Mad All, Commandofrontier, Movers, GSS, ACC, MCP, Siners, Dynamic Duo, Ian & Mic, Armin Gessert, Radwar/TLC, Benn & "Ratt" Crowther, Jazoo, Newlook, Stars, Mario von Zeist, Lutz Osterkorn, Mad Thinker, TMC, Duke, NCC, SCF, ACS, FAC, TFG, Newfrontiers, Amigo, Idefix, Bitstoppers, Migges, Morx, Dynamic Duo, Detonator, Memostar, CHC, U.Stahrenberg, Yeti, OGM, Tristar, Bad Boy, Reflex Cracking Squad, Electro, Jayce, TWF, Future Projects, USA-Team (both), TLG, DSC, Trianon, AFL, The Judges, Jazzcat, Doug Mc, Farline, CLCC, Thomas Tempelmann, Manfred Trenz, 1001 Crew, Crackman Crew, Boys Without Brains, ZZAP, SCC, Michael Winterberg, Martin Galway, The Jackal, Archibald 84, UGS, Ben Daglish, Matcham, Fairlight, Bytebreaker (the B in ABC), Andrew Braybrooks, Antiram, German Cracking Service, Yak Society, The Master, ADJ, TBC, Blade Runner, Happy Crackers, Knacki, F-16, Section 8, Antisoft, Indiana Jones 1933 (Indy), XCS, ALI, 1701, 1811, 1807 plus hundreds I forgot plus all friends later on Amiga.M)West Coast Crackers?A)WCC were great friends (Hi Mr. Pinge) and a great group. Earlier they were known as Swedish Copy Masters (SCM). Mighty Fairlight and Relax arose from the ashes of WCC in 1987 and members also went to Triad, which was founded in the summer of 1986. As everyone knows, all these groups grew bigger than the original.M)Scene wars are a thing that doesn't exist much now on the C64 but was certainly a regular thing in the past. How were these wars fought back in the early years and did it change later on? Were the wars on c64 similar to Amiga? Any examples?A)In the early eighties there were a lot of confederations of and against famous sceners (like FATE: Federation Against The Ede). "Fucktros" also called "anti-demos" were a part of the every day trading. Intro scrollers were full of so called fuckings, hatings and anti-greetings.Two explanations for this are for once that sceners had an average age of about 12-15 years and nowadays people are older and wiser, at least I wish to hope so. The other reason is that big parts of the early scene was built-on selling software, cracking and real business. It was the time of expensive hardware, enormous phone bills, postal charges for mail swapping and party travel costs for poor "schoolboys". My hypothesis therefore concludes that if all todayís demo party-organizers should offer a lot more in prize money, the stakes would increase and the demo scene could change seriously!Antitrax's last contribution on Amiga in relation to anti-demos was a kangaroo that puked on our enemyís name. The demo watcher had to take part by using a joystick to push the hostile logo with a buggy to a certain position. My friend Stingray/Scoopex calls it a "puketro" :)Though, just as always, fucktros cannot be an apology for poor skills.M)And recently you bumped into the scene again, how?A)I was googleíing for an old scene-friend and discovered Pouet, CSDb, the Total Kaos Board and Zyron's great C64intros.org (take a look at the comments of Plutonium Crackers intro "[PC] 01" on it ;)). I got in contact with some friends from back in the day.My old friend, and a PC member since 1982 Don and me even had a small reunion with ZZAP of Swedish Cracking Crew and Detonator 4001 recently. We were all friends from the beginning. And I have also made some new mates like Fungus, -ND!, Dalezy, Titus, Hunkpapa, Midfit, Mad, Digisnap, Krill, Stingray, Dipswitch, Ghandy...I visited a small meeting called Berlin Pub Meeting (BPM) initiated by Dalezy/Triad in my hometown. BPM 2005 was my first scene meeting since 1987 or 1988, but I was up to date: Sceners still drink beer.I was asked to update the Plutonium Crackers on CSDb and I also gave an interview for Jurassic Pack #14, "the" great Amiga mag. In this interview I had a very nice talk about the C64 and Amiga history with Dipswitch. It is available from Pouet and was republished in the PC-mag Pain 10/05 XXX/Haujobb wedding issue.Short after I was asked to write some demo spotting (ie. demo reviews) for the second issue of "SCEEN" papermag that I really enjoyed.M)Whilst on disk mags, C64 scene disk magazines have been around since 1988. What purposes do you think they should serve and what would you like to read inside them?There were mags from pre-1988. At least since 1986/1987. For example, Scenery writes about how Jeff Smart, publisher of the paper-mag Illegal punched Marcel/DSI on the nose at a Venlo-meeting in Holland 1987.It was a very competitive scene back then, and early mags were very biased, people didn't care that much of on charts or contents. Today there is a much less "toxic" demo-scene and things have changed a lot. My opinion is that mags should be autonomous, with a minimum of required censorship only in order to stay within the law. The rest will follow automatically.M)I know it was an overwhelming feeling for me to realise that the scene was still alive. I guess it was similar or bigger for you?A)It was bigger than words can tell! Coding on a 24-year-old machine to keep the spirit alive is awesome, and this work is even done mostly by people from the PC era who didn't grow up with the beloved breadbox!?! I donít understand it, but I don't have to understand it to love it! I have seen some effects in recent demos that I absolutely cannot say how the hell it is achieved.M)It is a huge catch up you will have to do. What have you been able to watch of the more recent stuff?A)I got a lot of tips from Dipswitch and I'm on it. I already saw huge amounts of great C64 productions from: Crest, Oxyron, Plush, Wrath Designs, Onslaught, Taboo, Triad, Booze Design, Byterapers, Fairlight, Dekadence, Reflex and many more. But I'm also trying to get an overview for platforms like the Amiga, Atari ST/XL/XE, CPC, C16-116-plus4, ZX Spectrum, VIC20 and even PC.M)That sure is a nice thing to do, get a grasp of all the good stuff since 1987. Do you still have your Commodore lying around and are you using it to watch the stuff?A)I started collecting old computers in the late eighties, and have got a large quantity of all C64 kinds and everything. I own some curiosities from Oric, Atari, MSX, Dragon, Apple, TI, Robotron and Amstrad. However, the not that rare SX-64 I got is still my sweetheart. I won this heavy baby in a programming competition of a German computer mag in 1983 or 1984 and it still runs 100% faultless after 22 years! Even the 5" build-in monitor is still doing itís job.But I have to admit. I have watched a lot of demos in emulators lately. Shame on me. ;)M)It seems like you are slowly but surely getting back into business. Do you have any future plans for your part in the scene? Any releases from you?A)My business nowadays is to watch demos and this is fine because I'm not too much in love with PC-architecture.Though, you never know what's hanging until it drops. ;)M)Will we be seeing you at any parties?A)Yes Jonatan, I hope we'll be talking while drinking beer one day.After visiting some small but great Berlin Pub Meetings (BPM) I'll have a look on a big and modern scene-event one day for sure. I just have to convince the other Plutoniums 'cause no old fart wants to be the only living anachronism there. :)M)Anything final to add?A)Nowadays the tag oldschool is too often used to excuse poor quality in uninspired PC productions by people who have no clue about the boundaries of old hardware.That's badschool, not oldschool. Oldschool was about rivalling in quality.I had a great time in the 80s oldschool scene and all my friends have given me so much.I still cherish all friends, cracking/coding nights, serendipities, letters, conferences, parties, voyages, magic atmosphere and I will never regret the time I spent on it.Thank you all! LDA# $beer STA# $ALiEN and if the chick don't dig SID, SYS64738 her.- ALiEN of Plutonium Crackers 2001 - AnTiTraX 2010
Were there many games produced?
The amount of games was the biggest advantage the C64 had in the versatile landscape of early 80s computers. It started with an estimated 50 games in 1982, more than 300 in 1983, 300-400 in 1984-86 and 400-500 in 1987. From 1988 there was a reduction of releases. Around 1992 the amount of releases reached the same numbers as in 1982.
How were the cracks spread in 1982-86? Swappers? Bulletin Boards? Were you involved in that?
We were mail trading and I loved swapping. The early 300 Baud BBS was much too slow for trading. Most stuff in the big cities was spread through schools. A two-hour bus-ride was okay for just one game and as a "fast dude" I had friendly visitors all day. ;)
I hear you know of the first intro. Ever?
The very first cracks were done by 1103 aka OJO (Oliver Joppich). He later became the "J" in JEDI. This was the time of OTD, Oleander, Kotzbrocken (later in JEDI,GCS), Antiram, Headbanger, Schweinepocke, ADJ and a few more. But there were no intros in front of the cracks. It was common to name the disk or to inscribe it in the in-game high-score tables, but no intros.
The first intro was a picture of the Berlin Bear from the city flag and was released by BCS in 1982. It was a kind of co-production by several people and may look absurd today, but it was a different time. < http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=17555 >
There was also a time when the whole scene was talking about a cool dude called CFB, who was the first guy scrolling a text of more than $FF chars without repeat in the scroll-routine ;). Some years later no border routines by Flash and 1001 Crew ruled our world.
Returning to that very first intro which I believe I remember having on one of my old disks deep in the drawers somewhere. Were you playing a part of the making of it, and what were the reactions to it?
As I said, PC, CFB and BCS have been and still are my friends. Almost all of the activities in BCS were done by Lord Vader, our secret PC member (secret, because he was an employee of the allied forces in Berlin and cracking was more than taboo for him). But CFB, CJW and me have also been active for BCS who supplied PC and CFB with originals. Another one of our secret members was "Extermer", the musician.
A lot of us were earning money by coding. Companies liked our skills but not the reputation. This was one of the reasons why we acted as an entity in scene. Things were released by "PC2001", rather than from individuals. We benefited because of this as the first small bust wave started in Germany in 1985. That year the German Cracking Service was busted (maybe someone remembers those three slow sprites ;)). PC, CFB, BCS were never busted. We had good connections.
In 1982 there wasn't any special reaction to the intro "picture" as title screens for games were common. Kids have only been interested in games (today warez), not intros or demos. Our 1986/1987 PC intro (Sprites, two scrollers and sound) with a length of only 2k attracted more interest. M)Was there a scene to appreciate it and did forums to discuss it exist? Bigger meetings?A)Those times were fast moving. Nothing was discussed too much, as everything was beaten the next day. Milestone after milestone...Insiders knew everything, outsiders nearly nothing. Some used to call it "Elite". The early scene was in contact by word-of-mouth (phone) and intro greetings. In 1982 and 1983 only small "meetings" existed, like 5-8 people at someone's place were common.In 1984 we held a kind of "big" meeting in our hometown Berlin that resembled the later ones in 1986-87. We rented a place and our slogan was "Drink with nuclear guys". The meeting had around 30-40 drinking people (15 from Berlin) and 4-5 C64s, 1 ViC20 and an Apple II. That was gigantic for us. I wrote a party report about the Plutonium Party in 1984, it lies on CSDb at http://noname.c64.org/csdb/event/showreport.php?report_id=81The best scene party I ever visited was three years later, in the summer of 1987, the Danish Gold party in Odense. It had top-class sceners showed up and we established "release rules" for the following years.As the scene ripened, so did the organisation, which arrived at a new level. The FCS/ECC meeting, Venlo meetings, PCW meetings. In the modern times scene-issues were discussed more substantially.M)The C64 cracking scene gave birth to the demo scene. How would you describe a cracker compared to a demo coder? Are there many differences?A)There were no real differences back in early eighties. Everyone was a simply a computer-freak looking odd to the rest of the world. It's a bit strange to see what grew from it. Itís sort of weird to see how both parts often offend each other today. Crackers weren't hedgehogs in a condom-factory for demo coders, early C64 cracking helped Commodore hardware a lot in popularity/sales.M)Tell me about the American scene and the renowned Eagle Soft Incorporated.A)Okay. The first ESI cracks were done in Singapore and not in America. That should be enough.Our US contacts were a necessity in order to get hardware before the stores did in Germany, and for half the price and also in order to phone-freak a lot more.There were a lot more groups. Greetings to UCF, Bencor Bros., New Bencors, ESI, KOTRT, Wildboys, Knights Of Fortune...