FBR 2001, The Legend Continues...
In the Beginning...
Let me take you back through a journey in time. Back to a place that pre-dates the Internet and Microsoft, back to a place when legends walked the earth. This place that I speak of is none other than the pirate world of the Commodore 64.
I have descended from the heavens, from the world of the elites to visit and share with you mere mortals the history of FBR. Who am I you ask? I am none other than the legendary Ronski/FBR 2001. The writings that follow are biblical scriptures in that they contain the tale of one of the best pirate groups that ever laid claim to the Commodore 64, FBR 2001.
FBR (Fucked Beyond Repair) was originally formed in the early 80's and consisted of Ninja, Infernal, Changeling, Microman, Invincible Importer and Death Demon. They were an American group who imported games from pirates overseas and released them for free in the United States. At that time, the contenders in the states were ESI (Eagle Soft Incorporated), NEPA (North Eastern Pirates Association) and a few others. FBR was one of the best importers in the states during this time and was responsible for releasing many games.
FBR later added a member named Oawahool, a New Jersey based pirate to its roster a short time after its formation. Oawahool then elected the legendary Candyman to its ranks as well.
Over time, the original members of FBR left the Commodore 64 leaving Oawahool and Candyman as captains of the ship. New members were added and the name gradually changed to FBR 2001 in the late 80's. The members of FBR at this time were The Candyman, Oawahool, Ronski, The Ace, The Astral Warrior, Optic Freeze, Elric, Reverb, Iman, Toxic Roadkill, Morrissey, The Wiz, Gonzo and The Bit Bandit.
Candyman was the eldest member of the group. He may have been in his late forties at the time. He was the leader of the group, the brains of the operation. Dave (Candyman) owned a company named "Davesco Have a Snack". It was a vending operation that placed food items in companies throughout Tennessee. Dave hired Joe (Oawahool) to work with him on the routes. The profits from Dave's company helped the group out tremendously by supplying the needed resources to upgrade every member with the latest modem. During the early 80's, we had to use 300-baud modems because that was the fastest speed available during the time. A breakthrough happened a few years later during the mid 80's, the birth of the 1200-baud modem. Hayes shocked the world when they released the 2400-baud modem and that was the standard used by most pirates in the late 80's.
Candyman made sure each and every member of FBR had a 9600-baud modem in 1988-89. We needed the best of the best modems because our jobs as pirates depended on it!
The Membership Roster
The members as of December 1989 consisted of:
The Candyman: Leader of FBR
Oawahool: Co-leader until he was kicked out of the group for having an affair with Candyman's wife
Ronski: Lead programmer, co-group leader and hacker/phreaker
The Bit Bandit: Programmer
Reverb: Musician and programmer
Toxic Roadkill: Importer and distributor. Led the FBR slaves department
The Ace: Importer and distributor
The Astral Warrior: Importer and distributor
Optic Freeze: Importer and distributor
Iman: Importer and distributor
The Wiz: Importer and distributor
Gonzo: Importer and distributor
Candyman played a tremendous role in FBR as the leader of the group. He also operated “The Candyland” BBS (Bulletin Board System). I was the lead programmer, a hacker and a phreaker and have always been known for having an extreme ego that rubbed people the wrong way. I didn't really care what people thought because I was a member of one of the best pirate groups on the C64. Oawahool was a very cool dude and worked his magic over the telephone. He was well connected and opened doors to European groups that we could trade warez with. The Bit Bandit was also a dude with an ego but he too was a good programmer and added value to the group. Elric was never officially in the group but he did a lot for the group so we sort of made him an unofficial member. Reverb's music skills improved over time and eventually made the grade to be included in FBR intros. Morrissey is a legend in his own right because he was the absolute best graphic artist in the states on the Commodore 64. No one else came close to his talent.
Toxic Roadkill completely changed the scene when he introduced the concept of FBR slaves. Lamers (wannabe elites; guys who got a modem at Christmas, or Xmas Modemers) would do anything to be associated with the almighty FBR and have access to zero day old warez (brand new games). Toxic Roadkill assigned “Slaves” to members of FBR. A slave's job was to do whatever their master assigned to them but their job for the most part was to spread 0-1 day old warez to BBS's. Each slave was assigned a name that they used in the Commodore 64 world. For example, Candyman had several slaves and their names were “Candyman's slave #1, Candyman's slave #2, etc”. They had to use their slave names to join BBS's and post in discussion groups. Everyone in the group wanted a slave and this concept rocked the Commodore 64 world!
Doing whatever it took!
Although most of us were in our early teens at the time, we were a very well organized group. The Europeans were the guys who had access to the vast amount of games released in Europe. These games were out of the reach of American gamers who wanted new games to play. It was our job to satisfy this demand by establishing contacts with pirate groups in Europe.
We had many challenges when dealing with our European counterparts. Some of them didn't speak very good English and this made it difficult to trade with them. However, the largest problem was “How do you phone overseas when the cost to phone there is so expensive?” We solved this problem from our friends in the hacker and phreaker community. We were very well connected and our influence reached deep into the realm of the computer hacker and phreaker. They supplied us with the means to phone overseas for free, which gave us a tremendous advantage over other American pirate groups.
Our importers were tasked with the grueling job of phoning overseas, downloading games and uploading games to our European contacts. The term “exclusive” was given to our contacts overseas that dealt with us exclusively. Europeans knew their value was worth more than their weight in gold because they supplied new games that weren't available in the states. Although we were one of the best and most famous groups in the states, it was still a challenge to keep exclusive ties with some of our allies overseas. We had to “grease some palms” so to speak, which meant we had to do special favors for them to keep an exclusive trade going with us. We sent them gifts, state of the art modems (because we needed to transfer with them at fast speeds), etc., pretty much whatever it took to keep them exclusive with us.
Sometimes the telephone connections to Europe were so bad we couldn't transfer files at all using a modem. In these cases, we had to have them ship warez to us using snail mail. We did whatever it took to be the first group in the states to get a new release. Many of us cut school (didn't go to school) on release days because releasing a game was more important than attending school. I for one cut school so much that I was held back a grade. Matter of fact, I was held back twice because FBR meant more to me than school did. This is the level of commitment and dedication we had during this time in our lives.
Blocking the Competition!
We did whatever it took to be the first to release new games in the states and nothing stood in our way. The #1 BBS's at the time in the states were Jimmy Z's, Prowls Place, Candyland and a few others. These were the cream of the crop BBS's with a reputation for having zero day warez and the place where all the elites hung out. When we imported a new game, our job was to get the game fixed (NTSC fix) to work in the states. The standard for Europe is PAL (50Hz) whereas the standard in the states is NTSC (60Hz). We had to edit the code in machine language to fix the discrepancies in order to make the game work on NTSC Commodore 64 computers. We then slapped our intro on the release and sent it to our distributors in an effort to get the game distributed to the top BBS's.
When I say we did whatever it took, I meant it literally! We often had phone lines of our competitors disconnected or shut off completely on important release dates. We also had members of our group tie up the phone lines of the hottest BBS's while we were getting the game ready for distribution so no other groups could release the same game before we did. We did whatever it took to get a game out first and we took no prisoners in the process.
Today is not Yesterday
The overall pirate scene today is nothing like it was in the 80's. The advent of the Internet has made it too easy for people to gain access to websites and forums. Technology has changed indeed and software is definitely more challenging to crack these days but even with these advancements, today is certainly not like it was yesterday. We had to earn our stripes in the Commodore 64 pirate scene.
Most of us were kids back then and we couldn't access something as widely used as the Internet to communicate with each other, trade games, etc. because the Internet didn't exist at that time. We had to have the drive, ambition and motivation to make great things happen. BBS's were our websites then but they weren't called websites because the web didn't exist yet. We used BBS's to communicate with each other as well as trade games and information. It's no problem at all these days to connect to websites all around the world with ease. You can do this today simply by entering the website URL and Walla, you're transported there almost instantaneously! We didn't have this luxury so we were forced to think outside the box.
Many of the top BBS's were distributed all around the United States as well as Europe. You first needed a modem to connect to these BBS's but more importantly, you needed to figure out how to connect to them without paying the toll charges. Long distance phone calls were more expensive back in the 1980's and your average time on a BBS was 45 minutes to an hour. New games were released almost daily back then so if you were a gamer who wanted zero day old warez, you had to spend several hours a day on various BBS's. In fact, FBR alone was known to release about six games a day on average! The problem of “how to get new games without paying long distance charges” forced us to think outside the box.
Enter the World of Hackers and Phreakers
Hackers and phreakers were pioneering their scene by learning all they could about the telephone companies, how they worked and how to exploit them for personal gain. We had to rub shoulders with these guys and learn from them, as well as continue learning how to exploit telephone companies on our own. We created software programs that would dialup a long distance company's 800 or 950 numbers to scan for codes. Let me share with you a little about how this worked.
Most long distance companies at the time (MCI, Sprint, AT&T, etc) offered calling card codes for their customers. Unlike today, calling card codes were only four or six digits long on average. They're much longer today as an indirect result of the generation of hackers, phreakers, pirates, prison inmates and organized crime during the 1980's who exploited four and six digit access codes. Programmers wrote programs that would dial a long distance carriers' telephone number and enter random access codes. The program would then have the modem attempt to dial a known BBS and if the modem connected to the BBS, the code was valid! Waking up to see a list of valid codes printed out on your printer was exhilarating! Codes were more valuable than diamonds in the 80's because they were the keys that opened doorways to the world. You could connect to any BBS around the globe and phone your contacts in the states as well as over seas for as long as you wanted (or until the code died).
In the early 80's, technology used by long distance companies was very young. Great hackers such as the infamous “Whistler” broke early ground in the phreaking community. Joe Engressia (The Whistler) was blind but his sense of hearing was extremely keen. While attending the University of South Florida as a mathematics student in the late 1960's, Joe learned that he could make free long distance calls by whistling a 2600 Hz sound (close to a high note A) into a payphone, which would trip phone circuits enabling him to make the free phone calls. The Whistler is the undisputed grandfather of phreaking because he's the first person to discover a technique used to make free phone calls. Captain Crunch (John Draper) figured out that a toy whistle given away in a box of Captain Crunch cereal would also emit a 2600 Hz tone as well. News spread quickly about the toy whistle and phreakers all over began using it to make free long distance phone calls in the late 1960's.
Most of the larger cities were upgrading their phone systems from crossbar and step-by-step switches to ESS 1 and 2 (Electronic Switching System) a few years later. The more rural areas still had the older technologies and were still vulnerable to the 2600 Hz “back doors”. Programmers in the early 1980's wrote programs for the Commodore 64 that produced the 2600 Hz frequency and they too exploited this phone company back door. Hold the phone to your speaker, produce the sound and dial away! That's all it took to make free phone calls back then.
The phreaker scene was very advanced for their time because they had conference call “bridges” setup to trade codes and information amongst themselves in addition to voicemail systems with greeting messages that literally gave away codes for free! You had to be “in the loop” to get access to these types of areas in the Phreaker community. I was a veteran phreaker before I entered the pirate scene so when I joined forces with FBR, they gained access to the vast resources of phreaker information.
Various loopholes in the phone company switching system led to the development of different “boxes” used by members of the phreaking community. Blue box, Aqua box, Red box, Beige box, etc. were all used to thwart phone companies back doors in an effort to make free long distance phone calls or to avoid being traced by phone companies. They were pocket-sized devices made from parts purchased at Radio Shack. Phone companies caught on and made improvements but many of these “boxes” still worked nonetheless. Let me share an old personal secret with you that many people did not know about in the 1980's. This “social engineering “ secret was used by FBR to make long distance phone calls even when we experienced dry spells (hard to get codes). While other groups were in hard times scurrying to find codes during these dry spells, we always had an ace card up our sleeve.
Here's how it went. First you'd pick up your phone and dial ‘0' for the operator:
Operator: Hello, this is the operator. How may I help you today?
FBR: Hi, this is line repair and I need you to do the following. I need you to key pulse forward 818 (area code) 121 and start, then release position with no A.M.A. Thank you.
Operator: Ok, hold a moment.
Operator 818: Hello, this is operator 818 forward.
FBR: Hi, this is line repair. I need you to dial 555-1212 and release position with no A.M.A. Thank you.
Operator 818: Ok, putting you through now.
You'd then be connected anywhere in the states for free!
*** Disclaimer: Don't try this yourself to see if it still works. Making illegal phone calls is a prosecutable criminal offense so please don't attempt this!
Being Elite, What it truly meant
We were forced to think outside the box, to come up with solutions to problems facing us. When we used the term “elite”, it truly meant something. An elite person had courage, the ability to make things happen and an overwhelming motivation! A true elite person figured out solutions to problems and overcame them. We had to really work hard to achieve a respected status as being elite. Nothing was ever given to us; we had to work hard for it. That often times meant long hours studying assembly language books and programs, long hours on the phone talking to fellow programmers and contacts, long hours trying to negotiate deals with European pirate groups, long hours that ultimately paid off with the respect of your fellow pirates and the earned recognition of achieving elite status. This type of commitment built true character.
Being elite was not a simple term to be tossed around or used lightly. It carried with it the influence, respect and admiration from your peers in the scene. Being elite meant you could have access to the top BBS's in the world with unlimited downloads (very BIG deal at the time) as well as having exclusive trading opportunities with some of the big players in the European pirate scene. It also meant that people all around the world who played a game that you released would see your name in the intro (or your intro if you programmed it), your graphics (if you were a graphics artist), hear your music (if you were a musician) and come to a sense of awe over the group they've come to know and love for releasing cool new games.
Most people trading games at school, at user groups and amongst themselves were a part of the C64 world but they were not a part of the C64 “inner-circle”. It took a person with special abilities, talent and motivation beyond belief to pierce into the upper echelon to become a member of any of the top ranked pirate groups. The likelihood of you reading an article written by me (outside of a demo) or communicating with me on a BBS would be slim to non-existent if you weren't elite or had access to the top BBS's in the states or the world for that matter. I for one never associated with lamers or anyone who was not elite. Since we were outside the realm and reach of normal Commodore 64 users, this seclusion created a mysterious presence for most of the bigger name groups and members. They could only see our intros, demo's and game releases but they could never contact or speak to us directly for the most part.
Time to Retire the Commodore 64
Candyman and I spoke in late 1989 about FBR, the future of the group and the future of the pirate scene. We conquered the Commodore 64 and felt that it was time to retire it. We made many accomplishments and were at the peak of greatness when we made this decision. We officially retired the Commodore 64 in December 1989. It was a sad day because we all dedicated a huge part of our life to the Commodore 64 and the pirate scene. I for one introduced two new programming routines as my farewell gift for all. I was the first person to split raster bars using critical timing (not $D011 tricks) and introduce the optical illusion scroll in our “Farewell Demo”. I also created a new routine that stretched a sprite over the entire screen vertically. I gave a Canadian programmer named Wanderer my permission to use the new routine in his demo entitled “A New Decade”.
Most of the FBR members went to the Amiga computer and then on to the IBM. I've only spoken with a few of the members over the past few years but most are long gone. Most of us are probably in our 30's now since many of us got involved in the Commodore 64 when we were teenagers. I got involved when I was 13 and taught myself how to program the Commodore 64 when I was 15. It is truly an honor for me to represent FBR 2001 some 20 years later from my introduction to the Commodore 64. I'd like to thank Jazzcat for contacting me about writing this story for the magazine. It has truly brought back some fond memories that I'm happy to have lived and experienced first hand.
I must now ascend back to the heavenly realm of eliteness so I bestow upon you this most holy scripture as a divine gift from the legendary FBR 2001.
Until we meet again.