Cracker's Map: North America & Canada

This series focuses on major scene countries and the cracking groups and their members, how they started, what they did and why they are remembered. In this segment we will take a long journey, leaving Europe behind so that we can enjoy the cracking culture of the USA and Canada. It would be unfair to forget the importing groups, so these will be included too. The American groups started the whole business of the cracking scene, at least in terms of the structure of things that were later to become law. 1982 to 1985 was the golden period of the early groups. The Bulletin Board System (BBS) became an important factor for trading (at 300 baud) and the concept of rushed releases, wars that went to levels they never should have and multiple intros per release came about after a few years of establishing how things should be.

The old scene was the most fascinating era for the cracking scene. Not only did it give birth to the demo scene, the sheer amount of groups, sceners and of course releases are unforgettable. This segment hopes to capture the most productive of these groups for the North American/Canadian scenes and give you an overview of those worthy back in the day.

The Few - The Proud - The Best
"Beneath the noble bird, between the proudest words, behind the beauty, cracks appear!" Eagle Soft Incorporated (ESI) is certainly the most famous group in the USA, possibly the scene in whole. Created in 1982 by two Canadians (Dan and Jason) and a student from Singapore called Jim Oko, who was at the time living in Canada. Mitch, a talented cracker from the States was invited to join and basically took over the group from the inactive founders. The first member Mitch got in was By-tor, who helped with the leadership. Other members joined like Scorpio and The Head Librarian. Mitch also went under the name "The Guy" or just "Mr. Eagle Soft" in some of his early cracks. They had one of the biggest wars in the scene with the guys in UCF, Mitch released a lot of big cracks and he had heavy competition with JJ the Breaker, the lead cracker of UCF. This war was explosive and divided the American scene into two, with groups taking sides in a slag-fest.

The group dominated the scene having first releases on almost all the major games by Epyx and releasing in excess of 300 cracks. Their supplier, Tinman, was the main supplier to the North American scene, being responsible for nearly 50% of all USA cracks from 1986 onwards. He supplied UCF, ESI, NFI and NEC. He had a store called Great Escapes, which later spawned the name of the BBS the leader of NFI used. Another interesting fact is that Mitch was rumoured to have NTSC fixed, making him possibly one of the first fixers ever.

Eagle Soft continued until late 1989; this is when the NTSC market was shifting towards the Amiga. ESI closed its chapter on the C64 scene and created divisions on the Amiga and later the PC iSO scene (1997 - 2001). Members are now in their forties and fifties and are married with children and grandchilden. From a cracking perspective, they are no longer active; however Mitch still shows interest with working on "requests" from his friends using the nick "Rush2112".
Eagle Soft Inc History by Jazzcat
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Founded in November 1986 by JJ the Breaker and Phantom Shark from the ashes of their previous group Thee Supreme Council (TSC) which continued on its own. Their main cracker was JJ the Breaker who did their first release under the UCF banner of "Murder Party". They had the most famous battle for supremacy with Eagle Soft Inc., which officially started on March 28th 1987. It started due to Mitch accusing JJ of stealing his cracking routine for games produced by EA. This was followed by JJ accusing Mitch of stealing routines from Triad's crack of 211B Baker Street in order to crack another game. The war lasted for around 5 months with no real winner. UCF dissolved in mid-1989, El Cid being the last active member.
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INC was formed in October 1987 by The Shark. They had importing partnerships with Fairlight and Fusion and are responsible for over 170 titles (10 of which were USA releases including Bard Tale's III, 4x4 Offroad and X-Men). One of their most famous imports from Europe was The Last Ninja II, again through Fairlight. Other imports came from groups like Hotline and Talent. They released a magazine called Chaos Chronicles in early 1990, which was to create a group rating system based on releases instead of popularity. The group had some accomplished members, including INC's father, The Shark. Sceners like The Butcher (later ESI and Razor1911), Depeche Mode, The Mindslayer (awesome fixer), Skreemer (H/P) and Master Kracker. The group ceased in February 1991 after a successful life.
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Founded by Brute Force in 1987, they were one of the few USA cracking groups of any importance (besides ESI, UCF and NEC). They were responsible for around 200 cracks on the C64. The most notable member was Pudwerx, who became their main cracker and leader from around 1989 onwards. Pudwerx was also known for creating really nice BBS and modem software such as the famous UCBBS. He later became sysop of one of the most famous boards in USA history, the invite-only BBS in Michigan called The Forum  (hands up who remembers +1/810-PRIVATE). In late 1990 he went on to form the group Random, together with Stormbringer and The Cure. Other known members were Major Theft and Cheapshot, who help started the crew and Prowl from ESI-fame. The group had quite a lot of bulletin boards, most famous amongst those was 22 Acacia Avenue, Prowl's Place, The Forum and Tunnel of Warez. The group also had a short-lived cooperation with Mirage around mid-1991.
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Founded by Rock Master E in early 1988, the group started out as a local group based in New York but soon became a big element of the North American cracking scene with the joining of Horizon. He was definitely the most prominent member of the group, being a highly skilled programmer and cracker. He was originally from Hungary and brought over to the USA, the European style of cracking. He was also known for cracking games FOR Spitfire/Action to release! With the folding of ESI, a lot of the members joined NEC, such as Tinman, Butcher and The Gamer. Other well known members were Colormage, Grim Reaper, TDO and Prodigy. The group folded in May 1991, but had a great amount of releases and famous bulletin boards. They were also, one of the very few real cracking groups in the USA.

Trivia: they released less quality games under their lamer label Lamers 'r Us (LRU). NEI took over most of the releasing after NEC died. Founded by Horizon in early 1990, they were the importing branch of NEC. They had a very popular cooperation with their European friends in Legend. One of the last major USA groups, they closed their doors in 1993 with the release of Sleepwalker from Legend (free of charge, courtesy of Ocean). Other famous members included Butcher, Grim Reaper, Prodigy, Sir CyRo and TDO. They were also noted for having some pretty big boards like Terminal Obsession, The Shaolin Temple, Black Rain, Second To None and South of Heaven.

Grim Reaper says: "NEC began a local cracking group based out of New York, hence the name North East Crackers. As membership grew with addition of non NY area members, a name change was considered. But with an already established name and releases under the belt, NEC was left as is. Horizon being from his native land of Hungary was already an established cracker/programmer. Switching over to the C=64 in the states, the approach was already from the European style/view point. This would grow even more so as time went on. This would include single "filed" multiloaders, level packing, adding more trainers, and added the nice fastloader/compatable level crunched multi-file games (which was PAL fixed and used by Many groups). Also single-filed multiloader games were released, generally known to most as "IFFL", but we coded our own version. The proof is in the releases... We gave the USA cracking scene quite a challenge and eventually the primary powerhouse groups such as ESI, ATC, NFI and the rest folded. Mitch didn't like this even 'tho we greeted ESI, and his members jumped ship and joined NEC aswell as from other groups. No offence to these groups, but competition dwindled quite fast. Look back and see, proof is in the quanity, quality and different approach we used. Eventually NEC owned the USA cracking scene... With all due respect to our true competition and all the respectable USA cracking groups."
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We have assumed Control
Founded by The Hell Hacker and Rad Man in December 1988. They had a slow start but soon became a major player in the importing scene with exclusive partnerships with the likes of Talent and Legend. They had a war with NEC and lost their original supplier called The Gamer who left them for NEC (as he wanted more control of the group that he had in TSM). Shortly after leaving the group The Gamer was hit by a car and was then bound to a wheel chair. He was replaced by another original supplier by the name of Blue Devil. Another highlight of the group was the joining of Aycee/ex-MSI (More Stupid Initials). She opened a lot of distribution channels for the group that were needed to beat NEC and also was the sysop of Castle of Radiance (1989), later renaming to The Shaolin Temple (1990). Other key members were Stealth and Zaldron. The group died in 1994, around the same time their European exporter Legend left the scene.
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Whilst not the biggest and most famous group from the USA, it had ones of the best coders in NTSC land – Changeling, who coded some mighty intros and demos for that time. Founded in December 1987 by Changeling/ex-ESI, most of the members came from Washington, as they expanded the group gained members from other states. One of the exciting members was the socially popular Jimmy Z. He brought with him Warez Galore, a very popular BBS back in the day. Even though their releases weren't the best, they had some popular intros and boards as well as controversial, and in some ways popular members like Kid Quick and the aforementioned Jimmy Z. The group departed to scene-Valhalla towards the end of 1988.
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The true Generation of Pirates
Founded in 1987 they had a good run in the warez scene up until their demise in 1988. Mostly known for trading with Fusion and having a good friendship with ESI thanks largely to their key member Blackhawk/ex-ESI. He was their coder and fixer. Their key importer was Side Sector. Some of their main imports were BMX Kidz, Rastan, Bubble Bobble, Thrust II and Outrun. RAD was rebuilt in 1993 with original member Blackhawk teaming up with Mr. Mister (USA) but it only resulted in two releases. Their main boards were Sesame Street and Wares House but they also had support from Phiberc0m and Purgatory which survived the group and continued into the nineties.
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Fear the power of the Sword
Founded by Overmind/ex-NEC, X-Factor/ex-Rampar and The Cavalier (also in Crazy) in 1989. Their first release was a big one during the old days, MYTH, imported from Ikari & Talent. They had a lucrative deal with Legend which worked well, when the group died in June 1990, Legend moved on and chose NEI for their fixing state-side. The group folded when The Cavalier went to PC and X-Factor, Gizmo and Robodude went inactive. The group was restarted by X-Factor and they continued to do some work with Legend. After around 60 decent releases X-Factor moved to California and the group folded again around June 1992.
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Founded in 1991 by Carcass and Moloch. Originally they decided on other names for the group, such as Convicts, Untouchables, Forced Entry (intro completed), and finally Armageddon. They did around 50 releases and had the famous Holiday Inn Cambodia as their BBS (amongst others).

Trivia: A hacker calling himself The Trooper (from Texas) joined and performed well for a while, one night he was called into a conference. His father answered the phone with a really funny Texan accent. The ARM members asked to speak with The Trooper, his father said "He is out feeding the pigs". The guys in conference burst out laughing and he was then kicked from the group within about 10 minutes. In 1996 a new fixer joined by the name of Kingpin, which was really Fungus under a fake handle. Armageddon's fake lamer label is Afros.

The group hasn't been formally dissolved and has been seen releasing again in 2011!
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The Legend Continues
Founded in 1986 by Ninja, Infernal & The Punisher, they released over 200 cracks and imports. Also known as FBR 2001, they had some prominent members such as Death Demon, Candyman, Boba Fette, Oahawhool, Changeling and The Bit Bandit. FBR ranked well against the likes of ESI and NEPA but didn't really make it big time until 1987/1988. One of the most famous incidents surrounding FBR was between members Candyman and Oahawhool. Both of these guys were running the group and living together. Candyman was married to some South American girl and Oahawhool slept with her (unconfirmed as Steve was meant to have done the same). After that Oahawhool was kicked from the group and Candyman renamed the group to Intense (which only released a handful of warez before dying in 1990). Candyman later left for Amiga (and later formed The Humble Guys on PC). FBR officially retired in early December, 1989.
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Founded in early 1989 by Hot Shot. They imported and cracked wares and were based in Canada. Early members include Rich and later Extremist, but two additional recruitments were quickly done; well known original supplier Problem Child/ATC as well as the hack/phreaker Tristan. The group died but was then later rebuilt when Rich and Extremist met Booze at a local copy party. Before the rebuild, they offered their services to INC who refused, so Empire was then relaunched. Booze went on to become one of the most skilled NTSC fixers in the scene, especially after his fix of the "unfixable" game Creatures (imported from Manowar). The group shared some big name boards also, such as Channel Zero, Mystic Cavern, Holiday Inn Cambodia and Divine Ultimatum. Eventually the group slowed down in 1994 before halting completely in 1995. They enjoyed popular partnerships with several European groups and finally got hard fought recognition as one of the few big groups to come from Canada.

Trivia: Empire members Rich and The Mercenary are brothers. Their fake label was called Burp.
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The future is ours (and the Future is now)
Created by Cult in June 1988, they quickly began importing European games to the USA. Other early members were Gladiator, Blistyx and Vector. The group expanded more in early 1989 with members such as Warewolf, Executioner, Stormbringer, Jimmy Z and Gazoo  joining. With some skill behind the name, they forged exclusive trading partnerships with Illusion, NATO, G*P, Crazy and Censor Design. Because of strong partnerships, they released quite a few quality releases (around 140) and secured some of the most famous boards from back in the day, places like The Disk Shoppe, Warez Castle, Disintegration  and Wild Warez. In December 1990 the group died, with some bigger members like Warewolf and Gazoo leaving the scene and Grim Reaper rejoining NEI/NEC. Stormbringer quit to join Random as he felt no one else in the group was doing much.
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Whilst not releasing many releases, this group was historically quite massive with two of the best fixers joining forces; namely Pudwerx and Stormbringer (who founded the group together with The Cure; sysop of Disintegration). With Pudwerx leaving A Touch of Class, Nightwriter assumed command of ATC. 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. The group did some big releases primarily with Illusion and The Dominators. Their last release was the Illusion import of The Last Ninja 3, fixed by Pudwerx. The group died on the 1st of April 1991 with Stormbringer quitting the scene, Pudwerx joining Enigma and Illusionist joining Talent.
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Started off in 1989 by  Double D, Diver One, Swan Song and Sonny. The group didn't really break the big ranks in the NTSC scene until Master Kracker joined the crew. They did have a short-lived cooperation with A Touch of Class from June 1991. It only lasted a short time and ended badly with ATC members Nightwriter and Problem Child joining Mirage. When that cooperation died Mirage started trading with Hysteric and also Genesis*Project. With around 70 releases the group didn't make a big impact into the market but is certainly worth a mention with members like Nightwriter, Master Kracker, Massive Onslaught, Problem Child worth mentioning. The group died in January 1992 when their most active member Master Kracker left to rebuild No Frills International (NFI) and Sonny left for the Amiga scene. Their last wares were "Hektic" and "Winzer".

Trivia: normally 1 or 2 days behind the NEC version and for a short time their warez were banned on most of the elite boards!
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Founded in October 1987 by the soul of the group, Master Kracker, and some other sceners from New York (back then a lot of north eastern American groups preferred their membership list to be within a 2-4 hour driving range of each other, e.g. ESI, NFI, NEC, etc). Other original members joining in October '87 were Ranger 11, The Ancient One, The Paladin and The Trancer. The group had a brief notable run after ESI died but was short lived once NEC took their original store. Just like with most groups in the eighties, Tinman/SOHO helped them out but unfortunately for them Horizon/NEC lived near Tinman and his store (Great Escapes, where Master Kracker got his BBS name from) and managed to get Tinman into NEC. They occasionally would get a game out and surprise ESI but not often. Despite this they were one of the most prolific groups in North America. Master Kracker left to join INC in 1989 but rebuilt NFI after his time in Mirage in February 1992. The rebuild was short lived.
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Something about combat boots.
Founded in 1987 by Boba Fette its full name was The Survivors 2019 (TS 2019 came from the respective letters in the alphabet (20) and (19). They had a strong partnership with Ikari and imported with them quite a few European releases. Together with FBR they were one of the early importing groups. Their central board was Copyright 2019 (ran by Boba Fette) and they had other famous additions in the BBS-world such as Prowl's Place (ex-ESI) and Tunnel of Wares (ex-ESI). In 1988 they lost Silver Surfer and Megatech, both got busted for Hack*Phreak. The group died in 1989 when Boba Fette left the scene, with over 120 releases to their credit. The crew was later rebuilt by Pathfinder and Wanderer but later died in 1990 after Pathfinder left the scene and Wanderer getting busted for blue boxing.
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We do it better than all the rest
Importing, cracking and demos were released by Rampar, from when it was founded by Kid Quick in 1988 through to their demise in 1989. They were briefly rebuilt by Kid Quick and X-Factor before dying again. Kid Quick formed the group after The Survivors died. He chose the name from his own BMX he used to own. Whilst the group did around 60 releases they had some bad scene etiquette by spreading wares they released days after other groups had spread the same ware on the majority of boards (hence why their CSDb entry looks more impressive than it really was). They had a brief war with Mayhem when Stormbringer ragged on some of their releases and also some accusations about Satan (Wanderer) ripping demo routines (later proven facts) and possibly also because Stormbringer refused Satan's membership to Mayhem.
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An American fixer group created by Swan Song, The Unholy and Taskmaster in January 1990. It was founded after some members broke away from Reign of Terror (and Swan Song's brief membership with INC). They traded heavily with the Europeans who needed a group to do their fixing, so DMX had releases with Success, Talent, Holocaust, Chromance and Censor to name a few. The group didn't ever make it big time but were well-liked and less controversial (compared to other groups from the US). Members like Swan Song, Unholy, Side Sector and Kickback were key, I myself even was in their group for a short time with a brief comeback after they finished releasing in 1995. They were one of the last remaining groups from the glory days of early 1990, when all others had died around them they had continued.
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USA/Canadian trivia:

* Massive amount of boards - the North American scene was the home of the elite BBS and the true development of the "first release" cracking and "NTSC fixing and importing" scenes. Long before the Europeans had modems and had to send their PAL releases by mail to be NTSC fixed.

* Without a doubt Eagle Soft Inc was the most dominating and most remembered. Not only did they release some of the hottest games during the C64's golden era, they also had a massively arrogant, elitist attitude which furthered their reputation.

* American crack groups felt that cracking was far more glamorous than importing. Importing to them was like taking a step down. Despite this view, both styles of groups co-existed on good terms.

* Who did the first NTSC fix? the debate continues, what I can tell you is Mitch/ESI did fix a few early games (which he didn't take credit for) and Blackhawk/RAD fixed as early as 1987. NTSC fixing was not a big deal, but because the Europeans were pushing the machine further and further, more and more games failed on the American systems. Hence the need of NTSC repair. So the pioneers of early NTSC fixing appear to be Mitch/ESI, The Mind Slayer/The Awesome Guys and Blackhawk/RAD.

* The American/Canadian commercial scene started earlier than Europe and also died off earlier also (by around 1990 US originals had really started to dry up).

* Tinman is perhaps the most famous original supplier in NTSC history. His shop "Great Escapes" helped supply over 50% of the USA scene from around 1986 onwards. I am not sure how he got the originals so quickly, probably a combination of the store being close to the origin of shipping as well as express delivery.

May You Pirate In Interesting Times!