A crash course in scene-evolution by Newscopy
Priced below competition, boasting spectacular memory, graphics and sound, it swept Atari and Apple's attempts at home computers of the ground in no time.
The industry of Commodore 64 was born over night. The machine literally flew of the shelves and Commodore had severe difficulties keeping up manufacturing with demand. You've read the stories about the Commodore 64 being the world's most sold home computer to date. You've played the games. You've seen the intros. But have you lived through the dawn of Scenetown and evolution you're part of?
In 1982, Commodore was enjoying tremendous success. Then came the games, capturing and hypnotizing a world of teenagers. Commodore had already introduced add-ons such as tape-recorders and disk drives, but the tape-recorder was still representing 70% of all storage media sold. Games were traded over tapes and floppies in school, in the soccer fields and homes of millions of teenagers. In 1985, you could walk into any school in the Western world and find kids with long lists of games they were swapping with each other. The schools around Europe would quickly develop a hierarchy: The VIC20-, Atari- and Apple-people (lamers), the kids with tape-recorders (semi-cool) , the kids with disk drives (cooler), and that person in school who knew someone in a group (very cool) or better yet the kid that was in a group (coolest). I'm not even going to comment on the birth of consoles, as this was beyond lame back in the day. Europe was very reluctant taking on consoles in the 80's.
Kids with access to a lot of games would put together dream-tapes with 50-100 games in turbo-load mode jammed onto one tape and then use their double-deck tape recorders to produce several copies for sale or trade. Going through a tape with 50 new games, was close to orgasmic for any teenager with sense of understanding. It is fair to say, that the most commonly pressed keys on a Commodore 64 back then were Arrow+L (the turbo load command).
The business savvy kids were making money selling games but mostly, the kids just swapped. "I have these games" - "which do you have?" was the common conversation over the lunch-hour (Please note you never talked about games in singular - you always traded in plural). Many times, you'd hear the disk-drive kids talking about a hot game they just got, and the tape-kids asking for a copy. Sadly, the tape-kids soon realized several multi-file games couldn't be copied to tape. These poor tape-people were stuck with getting one-filers (still the most common format back then), or copying original-games through the double deck tape recorder. Adding on to the frustration was the poor reliability of the tape-media. Load Error. Ready? caused several angry moments loading your favourite game, only to realise it was not longer working.
I'm positive it caused parents even more grief to have their kids demanding disk drives for birthdays and Christmases. Priced at 499GBP, British retail, the 1541 disk drive was the Christmas present of the year in 1986 not only in the UK, but all over Europe. With the majority of 64-owners switching to floppy, the evolution was switching into tornado-mode. There was no stopping it now.
What few realised, of all these kids, was that they were supporting the evolution of one of the world's largest sub cultures: The scene. Back in 1985, it was becoming commonplace to see small snippets of information about where the game you were playing were coming from. Where were all these copied games coming from? In the early days, a game would say "Broken by Antiram" as opposed to the more modern cracked, trained and fixed.
Depending on your geographical location, it would be natural to get games broken by groups from your city or country. In Sweden, you would commonly see WASP, Triad, WCC and SCC. In Germany, it would rather be The Light Circle, AEK and YETI. These were names that popped up over screens on hundreds of thousands of machines across Europe in the mid-80's. What these groups did for the pleasure of activity-starving teenagers, was just what Napster did for music in the late 90's: They gave kids unlimited access to entertainment. And it just so happened that there was no other form of entertainment competing with the 64 in the mid 80's. Read my lips: In the mid 80's, the C64 had no competition or match. No movies, no soccer, no girlfriends nor toys could match or be on par.
So who were these groups? Appearing in the living rooms and boys' rooms across the world, they were rapidly becoming household teenage brands, looked upon with great admiration and respect. They were heroes that freed up the capitalist system (not that they were against it), allowing kids to play games priced at 14.99GBP (disk) for nothing. They were rock stars, celebrities and by far the coolest thing on the planet if you were into the Commodore 64. Surrounded with mystique, hiding behind aliases, brave to take on the laws of copyright, these early pioneers were people that were just fortunate to be around at the right time. Some worked in the computer-games stores, having access to original games to crack. Some had rich parents who could afford to buy original games (to be cracked). Someone had a wide network of friends. Some just learnt how to crack and code. These people didn't realise that the groups they started would become part of the history we've all been part of creating.
And in school, things were changing. Suddenly it was no longer enough just to be swapping heaps of games with the kids in school. You had to look beyond the school premises to realise there were sources of games in other schools and other areas of your city or better yet, other cities or countries!
The major drive had to do with speed. Games were released weekly and were becoming old quickly. Like milk, games seemed to have a best before date. It was quickly becoming important having access, not only to huge archives of old games, but having the latest games in your collection. You were no longer cool just having old games. To be cool, you had to stay on top and have the latest.
I think many of us have forgotten, but I do remember the first time I received a game that was "broken" only 6 days earlier. You have to understand: this was a major thing. Only 6 days earlier, someone had been breaking the game I now had on my computer!
That was my eye-opener that made me realise that I was working my way up the hierarchy, up the chain, closer to the source. Back then, way before BBS'es, way before the Internet, this was nothing short of magic. Of course, the game was cracked in my city, by a local group under the name WASP (We against software protection, later to become part of WCC), whose brother knew somebody in my school.
In 1985, I was starting to develop a solid scene-network of friends in schools outside my geographical limits. In the 5 schools I had friends in, I can count 15 active groups in 1986. In my class, I can recollect 10 of 15 boys who had a 64. By the way, I never got to know the 5 without what was the point? They couldn't do anything for me! What happened was fascinating. And it happened all over Europe. The kid with the greatest collection and access to new games teamed up with the kid who knew how to put together a flashing text or scroll, which teamed up with the kid who worked extra in the game-store and there you go: another group was born. Needless to say, these kids would be the heroes in school. What was great about the mid-80's and the Commodore 64, was that it set off a wonderful ambition in kids to be someone to achieve something. These were future leaders, innovators and thinkers being born.
And the desires and ambitions were becoming larger. By getting an alias, learning to crack, or even code, was a ticket to fame, status and of course, an unlimited access to more NEW games. It may seem obvious to newer sceners, but the ambition to be someone and fresh releases of games drove the market completely. There were demos, but no scene. There were no magazines. There were no organized groups with functions like swappers, fixers or sysops. This was the beginning of the evolution and we, the kids, were slowly learning how to mobilize ourselves, like small armies, to achieve maximum impact in the neighbourhood and outside. We were learning corporate culture, organization, moral and ethics (yes, our own internal scene-values / we crack copyrights, but God forbid you rip someone’s code, lamer! Don't you love the logic?)
So by now, there were swarms of groups all over the schools. Teachers had no idea of what was going on, and nor did the parents. They simply thought the kids were spending a lot of time around the computer, playing games. If we weren't playing games, we were "poking and peeking", as my parents would say. That's about as much as they understood about the 64 and what we were building in 1985. What happened the following years was magic. We were all rapidly outgrowing our school and had to look outside the box, making contact with other groups nationally, but even more excitingly, internationally. Very few people dared sharing the addresses and contact points through their primitive intros (occasionally you would find a German PLK in an intro), so the main source was to advertise in the classifieds of 64'er, Commodore User, Zzap64 or one of the country's local papers. A typical ad would say, "Want to swap C64 games? Call 555-2321" or a written address. Personally, growing outside the school, an even my country Sweden), I placed my first add in the German 64'er in May 1985. I went away on a family vacation in June (missing my 64 every minute of it). When I returned, July 1985, I had received 87 envelopes with disks from people in the UK, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway. There were sendings there from people who would go on to form IKARI, FUSION, BROS, X-RAY and BEASTIE BOYS and CENSOR. I will never forget the thrill of making contact with so many people from all over Europe at the same time. I was completely thrilled. The 87 sendings contained all the latest wares (even though some had gotten old during my month-long vacation). All sendings were from people who had an alias and were part of a group. All of them! Some were what you'd call lamers. Some were definitely elite. Eager, I produced disks with my own group's stuff, mixed it up with other sendings and started sending out to my now powerful 85-contact "customer-base". I was on a roll, and so were thousands of other kids who were advertising. If you ever pick up an old issue of 64'er from back in the mid-80's, you will find 20-30 pages of fine print classifieds of kids wanting to swap games. This is how it started, and how you got in to what was becoming a very international market place. Looking at an old Illegal Interview (#22/October 1987) with Sledgehammer, it's almost comical how things have changed:
-Illegal: How many swap partners do you have?
-Sledgehammer/Hotline: 10 real ones! 4 in Holland, 3 of them are Hotline members, 1 of them SRG, POPEYE in Denmark and 5 guys in England. I swap by express with them!
-Illegal: How many packages do you send per week?
-Slegehammer/Hotline: 4 express ones and 26 or 27 to the rest!
Hotline was up there, on top of all greeting lists, in case you missed it. In 1987, the scene had been firmly established and the very base of the scene you all know was starting to take shape. The super groups, powerful as corporations, had been established and were pumping out games. We all know them by heart: Ikari, Hotline, Strike Force+Movers, Beastie Boys, Fusion, Triad, Fairlight and the list goes on. These were creme de la creme, segmenting the kids in school who never made it to a big group further down the chain (the lamer chain) from the elite. For the giants, trading games in a school was a thing of the past. It was not even about having the latest games having the latest games was a given. If you didn't, you were out. An interesting "scene-rule" was developing. One of the first, actually. Suddenly, you were not only being measured in the cracks that you released, but by the greeting-list you presented. The greeting-list in the scroll text was becoming the way to show the world with kind of customer-base you were dealing with. A lame greeting-list was NOT what you wanted to show in your releases. It made you look lame. And God help you if you didn't make it to the greeting list of your own contacts! What had you done wrong? Were you delivering bad or slow wares? Ikari decided to take it even further and started ranking their contacts in a top-20 fashion in late 1987, definitely putting you on the spot and letting you know how you were performing. Being greeted and having the possibility to greet the coolest players, was what you needed to continue build success. What it said was: "This group is a serious player and we appreciate their business". Needless to say, this brought on another trend: sending out "fuckings" to your enemies an absolute low water mark for any scener to receive. Looking at greetings today, it is fascinating to see how they still play a key role in any release. However, they have somewhat lost their meaning. Today, greetings are more a sign of "buddy-buddy"-syndrome, supporting the ones that are still in action. Take a couple of hours and go through old releases, you will see how crucial and with what delicate attention greeting- and ranking-lists are put together. That's where elite and lame were first starting to be segmented. It was only when "Illegal", the first C64-magazine (let's not count DR.MABUSE with his "SCHROTTPRESSE), made it's way to the market, by brilliant editor Jeff Smart, that the world first saw official charts, based on votes, giving an accurate flash of group's performance.
So the army of groups was slowly mobilizing. The kids who once started out building local groups were becoming pan-European players and learnt to trim their groups into multi-functional corporations. The very first swappers started to see light of day (people who didn’t really do anything else but distribute), suppliers (whose job was to secure fast originals) and crackers. Musicians and artists were not even part of a cracker group set up back then. Frankly, because there weren't that many of them around and the demo-scene were yet to explode. The crackers in the groups would code their own intros, and use whatever music was available (which was usually by Jeroen Tel or Charles Deenen). Sometimes, they would carry that dark, humming base-noise that sounded so angry and powerful. However, most intros didn't have sound at all. Today, many, many years later, it is commonplace to have exclusive logos and exclusive music. We don't even flinch about it. Let me tell you: Having an exclusive music made back in 1986 and also 1987 was an ultimate luxury. It simply wasn't around. It took the release of Sound Monitor from the USA-Team to really jump-start the musician-scene in any fashion. And when Future-Composer was released to the public in late 1987, early 1988, SID-creators were born on every block of this globe. The rest, as you know, is history!
So in little over 2 years, we have gone from trading games in schools to forming giant corporate brand-name groups. No longer was it necessary to recruit people to your group from your own country. You could become member of a group based in Italy, Belgium, Germany or wherever you wanted. The network was exploding. Sweden and Germany were always two of the most influential and strong players in terms of scene-dedication and elite-groups. But to be honest, from a cracking perspective, all eyes were on the UK. This is where the games would be released first and where all (but a few American) software houses like Ocean, Imagine and US Gold had their head quarters. Quite naturally, the fastest groups were born out of the UK for the same reason: Ikari, DCS, CCS, Fusion, Zenith, TCS, Paninaro, Nato, Talent and SCG. All different groups from different eras. You can argue all you want, but fact is, the British groups dominated the market for as long as the main supply of games kept coming out of the UK. Germans and Swedes were fast but never as fast.
The only question that was left how can we get faster than before? Sending envelopes across Europe and typing cool greeting-lists is good but how can we further differentiate? Some of the groups were looking over the great ocean at the land of opportunities: the USA. The USA was an untapped market that was missing out on most of the releases. I remembered swapping with people in the US back in 1985, sending games they'd never see. NTSC-fixing was not part of releasing back then, so I never understood how they could enjoy some of the games I sent them. The USA also had a software-scene, with several releases coming out from giant companies. You all know them. The Activisions, the Microproses and the Cinemawares, bringing out giant games seldom (if ever) one filers. These were all great, groundbreaking games that needed to find a European haven, just like the European games needed to find an American one. In short the scene was up for a new conquest establishing fast, solid distribution-channels across the Atlantic.
So we did. We all got hold of 300 baud modems and 1200 baud modems. They were expensive and primitive, but imagine the thrill the first time you ever contacted an American friend and imported an American release that was less than an hour hold! That's right not 1,2 or 3 days old. It was so fresh it was still smoking! Most of the trading went through the corporate giants directly with American groups. There was no BBS'es initially so it was one-on-one trading, then leaving it up to the American swappers or European swappers to secure proper distribution. The trading was normally done directly by the cracker, since leaving it over to a swapper (distribution point) would add on extra time to deliver.
-- Continued in the next edition
Also look forward to:
* Does IKARI live in a software-shop? One could get that impression all right. Last month they have been releasing 10 games a week, must be nice living in England.
* Jeff Smart is seriously thinking 'bout putting a lot more English pages into the ILLEGAL. Sounds reasonable, after all Germans can read English, but most pirates can't read Goete's language, so get your claims to put more English in and write it to JEFF.
* IKARI's visit to the continent was a great success, when they arrived at Venlo they almost got mugged by everyone who wanted to meet 'em, some guys even asked them to sign their sport bags. And they enjoyed Venlo so much that they promised me to come every two months and PAL, who was missed by some, wants to join them (NIK & JUST ICE) next time.
* The RADWAR party seems to come along pretty well, lots of guys are said to come, but the big question will be if pirates can dance!? Read the next ILLEGAL for a full report.