The History of NTSC Fixing
By The Shadow
It was the dawn of the Commodore 64 scene, during the early 1980s. There were groups competing to be the best. Game cracking and distribution was becoming increasingly more popular due to the fact that people either could not afford to pay for new games or simply did not wish to. In the United States, the most powerful cracking groups had a monopoly on cracks due to the fact that they had early supplies for originals and also had the ability to crack with mastery. After receiving the original, there was pressure from the scene to release and distribute the finished ware as quickly as possible. There was very little possibility for new cracking groups to form and compete in America. Being the first to release a game was the priority for American cracking groups.
The cracking scene in Europe flourished at the time. Since Europe consists of many different countries, there was a great abundance of new games being produced from a variety of different countries. Many cracking groups had a chance to release their share of wares. In Europe, the emphasis was to spend more time creating a higher quality crack.
When overseas phreaking became possible for Americans, a new concept was soon created and wares importing became an alternative choice to cracking. No longer did someone need to have fast originals and cracking skills to have a respected group. Importing still was no easy task and required a special set of skills. An Importer needed to be able to call overseas, locate the proper people to contact overseas and have the negotiating and diplomatic abilities to convince the proper people to give the importer their cracks. Many importing groups formed in America.
PAL televisions and monitors are created with longer screens, which contain 49 more raster lines than NTSC televisions and monitors do. Most PAL games running on NTSC Commodores will visibly flash and flicker, making the game nearly impossible to see. Some games crash, making them completely unplayable.
After a few years, the standards raised and simply importing was not satisfactory. People became annoyed at trying to play games that flashed and flickered. A new idea was conceived to probe the coding of the malfunctioning games and seek a way to reprogram them so that they may function properly. A few pioneer programmers experimented with this new form of programming. The idea of NTSC fixing was born.
In the mid 1980s, a few programmers experimented with the new streamline technique one day to be known as NTSC fixing. The first attempts at fixing started with adjusting the Commodore 64's memory at $D012. Many programmers tried to NTSC fix but only a few were successful. A new technique was soon to become a highly regarded skill within the scene. The pioneers of advanced NTSC fixing were The Butcher of Why?, Mandrake of Public Enemy, Blackhawk of Rowdy American Distributors, Mitch of Eagle Soft Incorporated and The Mind Slayer of The Awesome Guys.
The Butcher did a few NTSC fixes during the early years of fixing. When he was a member of Eagle Soft in late 1988, his NTSC fixing services were requested by the group Fucked Beyond Repair to fix the game Return of The Jedi. He disappeared from the scene in 1989.
Mandrake invented his own fixing style. His skills advanced rapidly. He retired from the scene in 1989. Mandrake's ability was highly respected by The Mind Slayer.
Blackhawk was the main coder and fixer in RAD. He was dedicated to his work and the resulting fixes were expertly done. RAD Imported many games to America, allowing Blackhawk much fixing practice. He was able to fix games considered unfixable by re-writing large chunks of code to enable a game to function on NTSC. He departed from the scene in 1988 and returned briefly in 1993. His work on Thrust II was most impressive. He converted the CIA interrupts into rasters and he re-wrote the raster routines. In early 1988, this was an incredible feat of rastertime streamline engineering.
Jason and Dan (Canada) founded Eagle Soft Incorporated in 1982.
Mitch, a cracker from Pennsylvania (USA) was the heir to ESI. He was a strong willed man, who was self-taught in many different skills. Being ambitious, he expanded from cracking into the occasional NTSC fix. One of Mitch's greatest fixing achievements was his work on the game Parallax. Although the screen still flickered much during gameplay, Parallax originally did not even function on NTSC computers. Before departing from the scene in 1988, he taught everything he knew about cracking and NTSC fixing to his student and fellow Eagle Soft member The Hell Hacker.
The Mind Slayer, a coder from Missouri (USA) and a member of the group TAG, evolved rapidly in his fixing talents. He created techniques in NTSC fixing that had not previously been thought of. He fixed efficiently, changing only what was necessary to allow a game to function. In the early days of fixing, many games that were NTSC fixed, no longer functioned properly on PAL computers. The Mind Slayer looked into the Commodore's memory and discovered a solution to this problem. By examining the 64's memory located at $02A6, the computer being used can be recognized as either a PAL or an NTSC computer. A byte value of zero within this memory location indicates an NTSC computer and a byte value of one indicates a PAL computer. Once this was discovered, The Mind Slayer created a simple routine that examines the memory at $02A6 for NTSC with a byte adjusting template that changes any necessary bytes for a PAL game to function properly on NTSC computers. After he fixed a game, he made a record of the bytes that needed to be changed in order to fix the game and used the byte values to make a template. For the first time, it became possible for games to function on both PAL and NTSC computers.
The Mind Slayer fixed many games and gained much respect in the scene for his coding and fixing talents. His path to mastery was done the hard way, using a crude freeze cartridge called The Final Cartridge. His ability quickly reached levels no other fixer had even thought possible. TMS became the first person to master the art of fixing. He is the grandfather of NTSC fixing.
A new art, a new school
The Mind Slayer befriended a talented coder from Ontario (Canada) by the handle of Stormbringer. Stormbringer was the main coder of the importing group Mayhem. The Mind Slayer recognized Stormbringer's incredible talent as a coder and decided to teach him how to fix. The fixing lessons were detailed and thorough. The Mind Slayer and Stormbringer both loaded up a PAL game and giving thorough instructions on the telephone, The Mind Slayer imparted the knowledge necessary to Stormbringer, step by step, how to fix the game. The lessons continued on game after game until the student grew to a level even stronger than the master.
X-Factor, a very ambitious coder from Idaho (USA) and a member of the group Rampar, sought out The Mind Slayer to be his teacher. On the telephone, over many long hours and many games, The Mind Slayer gave thorough instructions to X-Factor how to fix. They talked on the telephone and loaded up the same games on their computers. The Mind Slayer gave step by step instructions to X-Factor how to fix the games. X-Factor absorbed much knowledge about fixing. X-Factor was a most ambitious scener. He would sometimes go without sleep for 48 hours, in his quest for greatness.
Master Kracker, a talented cracker from New York (USA) was the last student of The Mind Slayer. They served together in the group International Network of Chaos. Master Kracker learned to master the art of fixing. He did his first NTSC fix blindly on the game Marauder (Hewson Consultants Ltd.).
A young, promising new student known as Stealth, was trained by The Hell Hacker in the various techniques of NTSC fixing. They served together in The Shaolin Monastery, a group destined to continue the legacy of Eagle Soft Incorporated.
Pudwerx, a cracker from Michigan (USA) and a member of the group A Touch of Class, became a student of Stormbringer.
When the group Mayhem collapsed, Stormbringer joined the group Exodus. With Stormbringer a member, Exodus was able to release a broad spectrum of NTSC fixed games. Cult, the founder of Exodus, retired from the scene. Warewolf assumed command of Exodus.
In December of 1989, Excalibur emerged as a new group in the scene. Importing took on a whole new level of competition. X-Factor, armed with his mastery of NTSC fixing, skilled coding and experience of group dynamics during his experiences within Rampar, he was able to lead Excalibur to a powerful level in the scene. The competition for games functioning on both PAL and NTSC began.
During a period of massive quantities of quality games being cracked in Europe, Exodus and Excalibur collided viciously in a competition of importing and NTSC fixing. The Dominators were the major suppliers of cracks to Exodus. Legend was the main supplier of cracks to Excalibur.
One of the biggest fix disputes between Exodus and Excalibur was over the release of Rainbow Islands. Exodus released the game twice, due to a bug in the first release. Neither version was fixed correctly. The Excalibur version was fixed completely.
X-Factor spent an obsessive amount of time scening. Being a perfectionist, he always worked hard at making his releases come as close to perfection as he felt was possible. His obsession with perfection quickly burned him out and he departed from the scene in 1990.
Gizmo attempted to keep Excalibur afloat as the new leader but he was unable to maintain the group for very long. Excalibur was disbanded. The mighty sword of Excalibur had been broken in half and thrown into a lake of calm waters.
In 1990, when X-Factor and The Mind Slayer departed from the scene, Exodus gained the greatest power in importing and fixing within the scene. Master Kracker did the fixing for International Network of Chaos. A Touch of Class did a fair share of importing and fixing as well, with Pudwerx at the helm. There was no competition between these groups. They were all great allies. There were plenty of games being cracked in Europe and everyone was satisfied. Exodus and The Dominators dominated cracking/importing/exporting within the scene for many months.
The Shadow, a relatively unknown coder from America and a member of the cracking group Terasoft's Invincible Pirates, began learning to fix in the late months of 1989. His first teacher was Master Kracker, who taught him basic cracking and some advanced fixing techniques. The teacher he sought out next was The Mind Slayer, who had retired from the scene, and asked him to join the newly formed group Excellence. Before deciding to remain retired permanently from the scene, The Mind Slayer imparted some knowledge to The Shadow about fixing, coding and the ways of the scene.
Upon founding the group Excellence, The Shadow made the commitment to learning and mastering the esoteric art of NTSC fixing. Being in frequent contact with Cavalier, a retired scener and former member of Excalibur, The Shadow was introduced to X-Factor. X-Factor and coder Guardian joined Excellence and they both taught The Shadow about the various techniques of fixing.
The Shadow befriended a skilled coder known as Wareworf. Stormbringer taught Warewolf how to fix, during the period they served together in Exodus. Warewolf taught The Shadow a great deal about fixing. During a conversation with Warewolf, The Shadow was introduced to Stormbringer. Stormbringer imparted vital knowledge to The Shadow about NTSC Fixing.
Stormbringer taught a few successful students in the art of fixing. His main students were Pudwerx, Warewolf and Grim Reaper.
During the heyday of Exodus, The Shaolin Monastery was starting to gain footing into the importing scene. Stealth's ability to fix was becoming refined. This gave Ikari and Talent an outlet to have their cracks fixed.
Horizon, a talented cracker who moved from Hungary to America and a member of North East Crackers, began examining the NTSC templates from the fixes of The Mind Slayer, Stormbringer, Mandrake and X-Factor. He reverse engineered all the knowledge he needed to enter into the competition of importing and fixing.
Booze, an unknown coder from Quebec (Canada), studied The NTSC templates of The Mind Slayer. His first fixes were done on intros and demos. His talents grew steadily. The high ranking crackers and coders from Canada shared a great admiration for The Mind Slayer. Booze, together with his friend The Extremist, practiced NTSC fixing. The Extremist asked The Mind Slayer on the telephone for advice.
An NTSC fixing movement sparked in 1991 and started a trend in fixing that spawned the creation of new groups devoted to importing and fixing games. Fixing was a difficult skill to master. Very few people knew how to fix. Anyone with the ability to fix gained major respect.
In late 1990, Exodus was losing ground due to Stormbringer's inactivity and Warewolf losing interest. Exodus soon disbanded.
During the period that Exodus was beginning to dissolve, there was a brief opportunity to enter The Scene in importing and a new group formed called Destiny. This new group was founded by The Barber, a graphician who lived in Beverly Hills, California (USA). The original forming members were Asterix, Illusionist, Guardian and Phantasm. With the powerful importing abilities of Asterix, Destiny was able to emerge into The Scene with the release of the game Satan, giving the group a strong reputation. Phantasm was their primary NTSC fixer. Less than a year after formation, Destiny disbanded.
Pudwerx decided to leave A Touch of Class. Nightwriter assumed command of ATC.
Stormbringer, Pudwerx and a scener called The Cure from New Jersey (USA), formed the new group called Random. Random was built with the intention of becoming a "supergroup". The idea being that Stormbringer would attract all the best imports to be fixed, Pudwerx would crack as many American games as possible and The Cure with his BBS Disintegration, would have the influence to become the world's most powerful group.
In early 1991, Stormbringer went to college and retired from the scene. Stormbringer is the greatest NTSC fixer of all time. The Mind Slayer acknowledged this. The scene always had a consensus on this fact.
Pudwerx was overtaxed with all the responsibilities of keeping Random afloat. He soon stopped all activity except for continuing to run his BBS The Forum. Alas, Random collapsed within months of it's inception.
After the dissolution of their group Napalm, The Extremist, Booze and Rich reformed the dead Empire and gained worldwide recognition after Booze successfully fixed the game Creatures (Thalamus Software), which was considered impossible to fix by other master fixers. The Extremist assisted Booze in fixing Creatures as well. Creatures was fixed using the "cli fix" technique.
Excellence emerged with the release of Scooby and Scrappy Doo (Hi-Tec Software). This game was considered unfixable by master fixers. The Shadow with experience only in fixing demos and intros, tackled this game and successfully fixed it.
The Bit Bandit! a coder and former member of Fucked Beyond Repair who returned to the scene in 1991, founded the group Doublecross. TBB! who was an NTSC fixing student of Horizon, released three games under his new label before dissolving DBX. TBB! took his old school coding style and created an interesting style for his fixes. The release Jai Alai is a good example of this.
Zaldron, a relatively unknown NTSC fixer emerged into the scene. He cracked UCBBS. Pudwerx, a master of cracking created the Ultra-Com BBS system and the protection system on the originals.
North East Crackers became North East Importers and began to dominate importing and fixing within the scene. Horizon did the fix of the game Extreme in a very unique way, by rewriting how the game handles Non Maskable Interrupts.
Master Kracker joined the cracking group Mirage, giving the group the power to fix imported wares.
The Shaolin Monastery was steadily releasing NTSC fixed games.
Mirage and A Touch of Class merged into A+M.
Excellence made a permanent alliance with The Sharks (Germany), a cracking group who had the largest number of master crackers of any group in the scene (Zap!, Darkforce, Paradroid and Deadbeat). The Sharks had a poor supply of originals until Dirk and Cray became exclusive suppliers of originals to The Sharks.
The long awaited game Crown was cracked by The Sharks months before the original was due for release. This showed the world the power of Cray as an original supplier and demonstrated the cracking mastery of The Sharks. Crown gave Excellence the recognition as a serious competitor in importing and fixing.
In September of 1991, X-Factor resurrected Excalibur. Legend, the main trading partner of NEI was in a permanent 'marriage' with Excalibur. When Excalibur reformed, Legend starting giving cracks exclusively to Excalibur again. This weakened NEI. The Dominant One from Pennsylvania (USA) and a member of the group NEI, abandoned his group and joined Excalibur. Excalibur declared war against Empire. Skreemer, a highly praised hacker from Texas (USA) joined Excalibur. The Ozz, a hacker and sysop from Kentucky (USA) joined Excalibur. X-Factor, Skreemer and The Ozz asked The Shadow to join Excalibur. The Shadow dissolved Excellence and joined Excalibur. The Sharks became an exclusive trading partner of Excalibur. Excalibur was able to dominate importing and fixing, with Legend and The Sharks being new exclusive trading partners.
In November of 1991, the long awaited game Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles was provided as a tape original by Dirk to The Sharks, months before the original was publicly released. The game was level-squeezed to one disk side. The Sharks gained due respect within the scene.
After a heated argument on the telephone, X-Factor kicked The Shadow out of Excalibur. A strong fixer was urgently needed to assist X-Factor. Massive Onslaught, a strong coder with decent cracking abilities from South Carolina (USA), joined Excalibur and became X-Factor's last NTSC fixing student.
Toward the end of 1991, cracking in the United States began to crumble, due to a shortage of fresh games. After years of crack warring, The Scene was tattered for a bit from being battle weary. The importing wars were in full bloom.
A new group called Armageddon formed. The original fixers were Moloch and Jerki. Zaldron's abilities were recognized by the members of Armageddon and he was invited to join. Zaldron proved to have exceptional skill as an NTSC fixer when he fixed Double Dragon III. The game was considered to be unfixable by master fixers.
The star that burned brightest, burned out after only months. The Ozz got busted for hacking. Skreemer retired from the scene. Blackheart, a hacker from Nova Scotia (Canada) who replaced Skreemer and The Ozz, was busted shortly after joining Excalibur. X-Factor became overloaded and retired from the scene. Massive Onslaught tried to keep the group intact. He was forced to leap for dry land. In June of 1992, Excalibur was thrown back into the lake to remain with the Lady of the Lake forever.
Legend resumed trading relations with North East Importers. The Dominant One, in order to save face, rejoined NEI. North East Importers and Legend began to assume control of the scene. Where cracking went, the rest of the scene followed.
1992, the decisive year of NTSC fixing.
The Shadow had become an expert in NTSC fixing. He founded the group Avatar. The Green Griffon from California (USA), Burning Horizon from Illinois (USA) and Dead Zeppelin from Kentucky (USA) became his students.
North East Importers, by default, became the ruling group from sheer skill, popularity, organization, group cohesion and bias. Since the magazine charts were automatically in favor of NEI, they always received the highest ratings. The most widely spread respected magazine at the time was Mamba.
Horizon had become the strongest fixer in the scene. He had achieved a level of fixing mastery unlike any other person due to the fact that he was an extraordinary cracker. Before he retired, he grew very close to the ability of Stormbringer. Around the middle of 1992, Horizon disappeared and NEI began to collapse.
By the end of 1992 NEI released Lethal Weapon and was nearing it's end. In May of 1993, NEI burped out Sleepwalker as their final release and then collapsed.
Empire was rapidly climbing in power. The chaotic nature of the Empire members gave them an edge in ability and popularity.
Pudwerx joined Illusion as an internal NTSC fixer.
Some games proved very difficult to fix and a trend started among fixers to unravel large loops in games. This technique came to be known as speedcode. Speedcode greatly reduces the rastertime a routine uses but requires a great amount of memory to accommodate it.
A few games were considered impossible to fix. A few weeks after the original crack, these games were fixed for NTSC only, with no fix template, in order for the fixer to conceal his technique. One famous example of this was the game Black Hornet. This game was fixed by Horizon of NEI. Members of NEI claimed this game was fixed using a new technique.
After the dissolution of the group Black Reign, Thor founded the group Glory. Glory was a group that gained popularity fast due to the public relations abilities of Thor and Coldrake. The main fixer in Glory was Dead Zeppelin. He was able to fix the games Glory imported. In March of 1992, Dead Zeppelin retired to join the United States Marine Corps. After a few releases, Glory collapsed.
Armageddon was able to maintain a steady flow of releases due to the fact that Zaldron was a strong fixer. In March of 1992, Zaldron realized that The Shaolin Monastery was a superior group. He left Armageddon and joined TSM.
The Shaolin Monastery had always been a consistently good and well balanced group. Aycee's BBS The Shaolin Temple was the center of this. When The Hell Hacker retired, Aycee took control of TSM and always did a fine job in leadership and as a sysop. Stealth was the primary NTSC fixer in TSM. He was one of the top fixers of all time. When Zaldron joined, TSM became considerably stronger. Stealth became Zaldron's teacher and helped him expand his fixing skills drastically. After the collapse of North East Importers, Legend became the exclusive trading partners of TSM.
Mirage had gained strength (after years of oppression from North East Crackers) as a group when Master Kracker joined and Stormbringer showed support. In March of 1992, Sonny left for the Amiga scene. Their last release was Hektic.
A group formed from the hack and phreak scene called Coderz. A scener named Lucifer founded and led Coderz. They entered into the importing competition. Four powerful NTSC fixers came from the group, Lucifer, Eddie, Natas and X-Radical. Their training came from studying an assortment of NTSC templates. At the time, there were plenty of templates available for study.
1992 was the ending year from the old scene.
1993, the neutral era.
This marked the beginning of the mid scene. The group wars ended.
Empire had gained major ground and became the dominant group in the scene. After intense training and lessons from Booze and The Extremist, a new and powerful fixer emerged in the scene known as Vizz. Rich's brother The Mercenary became good at fixing and gave Empire even greater power. By this time most of the master fixers had retired from the scene. Booze became the world's strongest fixer. Mid year, he released his masterpiece NTSC fix of Lemmings.
Rowdy American Distributors made a comeback. Blackhawk did his two last fixes on the games Styx and Colors. He has not released since.
Armageddon gained much momentum and became respected.
Demonix gained its best momentum in the year 1993, starting with the release of Matrix. Rockstar of Talent fixed the game for Demonix.
The Shaolin Monastery was a consistent performer. Stealth eventually became one of the strongest NTSC fixers ever. Zaldron had earned his reputation as one of the strongest fixers in the scene. Quadrant, Mega Thrusterball and Ugh were some of TSM's strongest releases in 1993 and all difficult fixes. Stealth and Zaldron worked together to fix Ugh. It was a high accomplishment.
In late 1993, Pudwerx did the only successful fix of Mayhem in Monsterland.
Lurid & Tricycle formed in 1994 by Stubbscroll and Rotteroy as a cracking extension of the super demo group Megastyle. This humble cracking group started a new era in quality cracks. Essentially L&T created the system of cracking that is in place today, inspired by the style of the legendary cracker Weetibix of Scouse Cracking Group.
A new group formed called The Remembers, founded by Mr. Alpha.
In early 1994, Lucifer was arrested for felonies and was forced to serve jail time. Coderz immediately dissolved.
Success + The Ruling Company dominated cracking.
As the American and Canadian sceners began to fade and mostly entered the Amiga scene, NTSC fixing began to be done by cracking groups. Fixing groups vanished and merged into cracking.
The Shaolin Monastery did the final release in late August 1994 of Mystery. Stealth did his last fix. Aycee a great leader of TSM, closed her BBS The Shaolin Temple and quit scening to begin a new career. By September The Shaolin Monastery had closed its gates forever.
Empire released it's final fix in early 1995 of Ghost Town. As Empire crumbled, so did importing.
1995 marked the early beginning of the new scene.
From the ashes of Legend formed a great group named Onslaught, founded by Jazzcat.
Another powerful group named Nostalgia formed through transformation of the group The Remembers. Zyron invoked this transformation.
Cracking was to forever be great.
The power that was once in America, shifted to Australia.
The new generation of NTSC fixers who emerged into the scene were mostly people with PAL computers, who sought to create complete cracks that function on at least 99% of all 64s and 128s.
In early 1997 a new cracking group formed called Remember, founded by Jack Alien and Hok.
The strongest fixers to emerge in the new age were Jolz of Onslaught, Jack Alien of Remember, 6R6 of Nostalgia, Fungus of Fantastic 4 Cracking Group and Peacemaker of Hitmen.
Jolz surprised the scene with his ability to fix Fred's in Troubles. The game was considered impossible to fix by others.
Jack Alien did a surgically excellent fixing job on The Running Man.
6R6 did a great job fixing the cartridge version of Myth.
Fungus elegantly fixed Laser Storm.
Peacemaker fixed Complex.
There was dispute over the completeness of the fix of the two versions of Centric. Jolz and Peacemaker both successfully fixed the game. Though opinions vary on which version is fixed more thoroughly, the game was a very difficult fix and both versions are approximately equally fixed.
In late 2003, one of the highest fixing achievements was accomplished with the game Phobia. Fungus did the majority of the fix. He was assisted by 6R6 and Sorex. Specific and critical components to the fix were coded by Sorex. Nostalgia produced this exquisite release.
Other strong modern fixers include Danzig, The Ignorance and Lynchbit of Alpha Flight 1970, Suicide of Avantgarde, Ninja of The Dreams, Cerebus of Fantastic Four Cracking Group, Count Zero and Copyright Breaker Again of Success + The Ruling Company, Lion and Stake of Chromance, Homeboy and Donar of Onslaught and Ksubi of Neophytes.
Since fixing continues to this day, history moves into the present and continues to evolve as coding continues to evolve.
There are many great releases that have remained unfixed to this day, the most famous of which are Turrican, Bionic Commando, Snare and Retrograde.
Fixing continues to progress as people continue to reverse engineer code. To fix, one needs to be skilled at or at least have the ability to reverse engineer. The bulk of fixing is locating where the problem resides.
"The main challenge in NTSC fixing is finding the source of the flicker. Once you have found the cause, the actual fix is the easy part" -Stormbringer