Tag Archives: swapletters

ladungneu

Thorion Collection Pt. 1 – The Average Guys

In previous updates, we treated you to letters from the scene‘s top protagonists. But what about the countless average guys whom these “elites” would usually have considered “lamers”, but who were, in fact, the backbone of the formers’ popularity – by spreading their products and making their names “big” in the first place? The voices of these bystanders and “rank and file” sceners are a blank spot in scene preservation, as they often left no traces in terms of releases. Luckily, with the letter collection of Thorion (a.k.a. Thomas or Smily), we can make a step towards closing this gap. In the letters exchange between him and his Amiga penpals around 1990, one gets a glimpse of teenage computer fans swapping PD software and demos (and the occasional “Raubi”, as in “pirate copy”), following the developments of the scene, teaching each other scene-related skills, and occasionally making it to the ranks of the “elites” (like Thorion himself, who would do a brief stunt as graphics artist in TRSI in 1992 before quitting the Amiga world altogether).

You can download the scans of these 32 (German-language) letters, complete with metadata, here – or view them in the gallery below.

And as a bonus, the collection includes a document from a different fringe of the scene – namely pirate groups who would branch out into the “real” shadow economy, selling software and hardware for hard cash. The detailed advert from the Amiga group Vision Factory, offering all sorts of illicit computer products, can be downloaded here. According to a long-time VF member, this operation was maintained by two members from Northern Germany, without any coordination with the group leadership (and without sharing any of the profits)…

ladung64

The Movers Collection Pt. 4

After a break, we can present you another instalment of the vast New Balance Bochum / The Movers collection. This time it’s not just letters, but also party invitations, stickers, and other artefacts from the European 1980s C64 / Amiga cracking scene. There are highly interesting materials among these papers, such as shopping lists for originals in London; a contemporary memberlist of Elite (which was kept secret at the time); an early circular letter from Fairlight; Venlo party tickets; and much more… You can find detailed information on many of the documents, including details provided by Skylab, in the metadata sheets.

• Letter from Digital Marketing to betatesters of COP SHOCKER, 30 Jan 1989 [scan/metadata]
• Address sticker by Executor/Damage Inc., ~1987 [scan/metadata]
• Circular letter from Fairlight to all Amiga contacts, 1988 [scan/metadata]
• Letter (draft) from General Zoff/Elite (Germany) to Thor & Zeus/Teesside Cracking Service (UK), 1989 [scan/metadata]
• Holly/FAME disk cover, 1980s [scan/metadata]
• Letter from Laffen/Raw Deal Inc. (Norway) to Skylab/The Movers (Germany), 1987 [scan/metadata]
• List of London software shops, compiled by Skylab, ~1986 [scan/metadata]
• The Movers and the Stormtrooper Atari sticker sheet, 1987 [scan/metadata]
• Newsroom disk, 1980s [scan/metadata]
• Scouse Cracking Group disk protection cardboard, 1980s [scan/metadata]
• The Organized Crime Copyparty 1987 invitation [scan/metadata]
• The Orgasmatron Crew sticker sheet, 1987 [scan/metadata]
• Triad & Fairlight Copyparty 1987 invitation [scan/metadata]
• Venlo Party April 1989 ticket [scan/metadata]
• Venlo Party December 1991 ticket [scan/metadata]
• Letter from Zeke Wolf/Triad (Sweden) to Skylab/The Movers (Germany), 1987 [scan/metadata]

ladung62

Honey/1001 Collection Pt. 3

Finally, here is part 3 from the vast collection of letters kindly given to us by Honey of 1001 Crew. They stem from 1986-1988, the heyday of C64 the cracking scene, and among the authors you can find prominent figures such as Weetibix/Scouse Cracking Group and Ixion/Triad. The letters allow a glimpse into the inner workings of the international C64 cracking circuit, full of high passion about greeting lists, flame wars, stolen trade secrets, and, last not least, friendship across borders. Enjoy, and expect more very soon!

• Dirk/D.S. Compware (Germany) to Honey, ~1986-1987 [scan&metadata]
• Ixion/Triad (Sweden) to Honey, March 1987 [scan&metadata]
• Ixion/Triad (Sweden) to Honey, 1987 [scan&metadata]
• Jaws/Boys Without Brains (Netherlands) to Honey, October 1986 [scan&metadata]
• Jaws/Boys Without Brains (Netherlands) to Honey, 1986 [scan&metadata]
• Player =1=/Bencor Bros. (USA) to all contacts, 1986 [scan&metadata]
• Player =1=/Bencor Bros. (USA) to Honey, 1986 [scan&metadata]
• Player =1=/Bencor Bros. (USA) to Honey, 10 September 1987 [scan&metadata]
• Player =1=/Bencor Bros. (USA) to Honey, 1987 [scan&metadata]
• Raphael/D.S. Compware (Germany) to Honey, ~1986-1987 [scan&metadata]
• Weetibix/Scouse Cracking Group (UK) to Honey, 27 April 1987 [scan&metadata]
• Weetibix/Scouse Cracking Group (UK) to Honey, 1987 [scan&metadata]
• Weetibix/Scouse Cracking Group (UK) to Honey, 1988 [scan&metadata]

ladung61

Gentleman collection

“…so keep the paper-letters!”, insisted Hungarian swapper Messerschmitt in a letter to his German penpal Gentleman (also known as Risk and Galahad). And, luckily, he did! We are happy to put online his small paper archive, containing Amiga scene materials from the period between 1994 and 1998. Apart from letters from all over Europe, there are some demoparty– and diskmagazine-related flyers and, most interestingly, a nice collection of Ami-Expo/World of Commodore/Computer trade fair tickets. These trade fairs, held in Cologne/Germany, were an important meeting point for sceners.

Letters from:

• Beeblebrox/Orion (Germany), 30 June 1994 [scan&metadata]
• Case78 (Germany), ~1995 [scan&metadata]
• cOcOOn/Vision (Germany), 1994 [scan&metadata]
• cOcOOn/Vision (Germany), 1994 (Post-It note) [scan&metadata]
• Drago/Insane (Finland), ~1994 [scan&metadata]
• Exumer/Sanity (Germany), ~1993-1995 [scan&metadata]
• Ghandy/Bonzai Bros. (Germany), ~1994 [scan&metadata]
• Kalikone/Dylem (Switzerland), ~1996 [scan&metadata]
• Karpow/Scoopex (Finland), 8 November 1995 [scan&metadata]
• Ledge/In-Sect (Denmark), 18 January 1998 [scan&metadata]
• Messerschmitt/Ram Jam (Hungary), ~1994 [scan&metadata]
• Messerschmitt/Ram Jam (Hungary), ~1993-1994 [scan&metadata]
• Reval/Pulse (Germany), ~1994 [scan&metadata]
• Sir Jinx/Neoplasia (Germany), 15 July 1994 [scan&metadata]
• Sir Jinx/Illusion (Germany), ~1994 [scan&metadata]
• The Trendy Dealer/Ram Jam (Italy), 31 August 1994 [scan&metadata]
• The Trendy Dealer/Ram Jam (Italy), 3 November 1994 [scan&metadata]

Party & diskmag stuff:

• Ami-Expo ’91 ticket [scan&metadata]
• Ami-Expo ’92 ticket [scan&metadata]
• World of Commodore ’93 ticket [scan&metadata]
• Computer ’94 ticket [scan&metadata]
• Computer ’95 ticket [scan&metadata]
• Computer ’96 ticket [scan&metadata]
• Compass diskmag flyer [scan&metadata]
• Dead End diskmag votesheet [scan&metadata]
• GASP 1995 invitation (international version) [scan&metadata]
• Nexus 1995 visitor badge [scan&metadata]

ladung60

AD a.k.a. Rough Collection, Part 1

We are very happy to have another swapletters archive at our disposal. Austrian C64 scener AD/Alpha Flight sent us a large box filled with letters from back in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was known as Rough, lived in Germany, and was members of illustrous groups such as Chromance, The Ancient Temple, and Hitmen. Today, we give you the first batch of this rich collection, reflecting the scope of Rough’s contacts and bearing some scene history gems – such as two letters by the legendary Hungarian scener Mr. Wax; a circular letter of a C64 coder offering his intro programming services for money; or the invitation letter to an obscure copyparty.

Letters from:
• Captain Freedom/Atrix (Belgium), ~1989-1990 [metadata]
• Exorcist/Saga-Time (Germany), 13 April 1990 [metadata]
• Jayce/Paradize (Sweden), early 1990s [metadata]
• Mad/Ironstyle (Germany), 18 October 1990 [metadata]
• Mr. Wax/Chromance (Hungary), early 1990s [metadata]
• Mr. Wax/Chromance (Hungary), 8 September 1994 [metadata]
• Painkiller/Chromance (Hungary), after May 1991 [metadata]

plus:
• Circular letter from Boozer/AMOK (Germany), ~1989-1990 [metadata]
• Titan Party 1990 invitation [metadata]

ladung56

Crackers and the Transnational Late-Cold War Black Market

While going through the letter archives of Honey/1001 and Skylab & General Zoff/The Movers, I stumbled upon two letters that stood out from the rest – not because the authors were particularly “elite” or because they revealed some spectacular secrets, but because they were sent from late-socialist Yugoslavia.

• Dragoslav V. (Yugoslavia) to 1001 Crew (The Netherlands), 15 December 1986 [metadata]
• Tigersoft (Yugoslavia) to New Balance Bochum (Germany), 3 February 1987 [metadata]

These artefacts from a long gone past point to a less-known aspect of the early cracking scene that ought to be explored in depth: The transnational connections between cracking groups in the “centres” and semi-commercial software piracy in the “periphery”. Until the late 1980s, the major home computer brands were marketed almost exclusively in “Western” countries – yet there was a growing number of computer users both in the socialist camp and in other world regions such as Southern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, where people were able to obtain home computers through the black market or through travelling friends and relatives.

In order to be of any use, the machines had to be “fed” with software – and that’s where small-scale grey area entrepreneurship came in. Due to the almost complete lack of computer-related copyright laws, black market software peddlers were able to operate almost unrestricted, selling disks on street markets (like the famous computer bazaars in Poland) or even running small shops (like in Greece and many Latin American countries). Obviously, the disks they sold were mostly releases by European and US cracking groups, arriving through the twisted paths of 1980s software exchange. Often the programs still carried the original crack intros, and sometimes the black market entrepreneurs would make and add intros of their own – resorting to cracktro aesthetics, yet advetizing their shops or market stalls. It is thanks to these activities that the cracking- and in the long run the demoscene was able to develop in countries outside the West European and North American centres of the software industry: people who bought software copies complete with crack intros started wondering what they were, how to make them, and eventually became productive sceners themselves.

The more enterprising “commercial pirates” did not just wait until a cracked game would fall into their hands. They actively pursued contacts to cracking groups and tried to negotiate a steady supply of cracked software – like the two Yugoslav pirates whose letters you can see above. They did not assume the role of humble petitioners, but acted as self-confident experts who knew exactly what they wanted (“no freez frame, no icepick” [sic]). Serving quality cracks to the local computer users, they – nolens volens – became the pioneers of the world-wide triumphant march of the home computer.

The exact circumstances of these transnational software exchange practices are, just like many aspects of early home computing, still to be explored. Were you a black market software dealer in the 1980s in regions outside the US and (North-)Western Europe? Or were you a member of a cracking group in the “West” who was on the other end of such contacts? Then please get in touch!

Gleb J. Albert

Further reading on 1980s black market software exchange outside the “West”

AJ, and Nafcom. The Peruvian Scene. Scene World Podcast, 13 December 2014. http://sceneworld.org/blog/2014/12/13/podcast-episode-3-the-peruvian-scene/.
Grussu, Alessandro. Spectrumpedia. Roma: UniversItalia, 2012.
Lekkas, Theodoros. “Legal Pirate Ltd. Home Computing Cultures in Early 1980s Greece”. In Hacking Europe: From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes, ed. by Gerard Alberts and Ruth Oldenziel, 73–103. London: Springer, 2014.
Lord Lotek. “Ein schöner Traum. Interview mit Hades6510”. Lotek64, no. 7 (2003): 3–4.
Marisca Alvarez, Eduardo. “Developing Game Worlds. Gaming, Technology, and Innovation in Peru”. MA thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014. http://marisca.pe/files/EM-DGW-Final.pdf.
Švelch, Jaroslav. “Selling Games by the Kilo. Using Oral History to Reconstruct Informal Economies of Computer Game Distribution in the Post-Communist Environment”. In Game\\Play\\Society. Contributions to Contemporary Computer Game Studies, ed. by Christian Swertz and Michael Wagner, 265–76. München: kopaed, 2010.
the woz. “La escena cracker en Argentina”. Retrocomputación, 4 September 2009. http://www.retrocomputacion.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.15.
Wasiak, Patryk. “Playing and Copying. Social Practices of Home Computer Users in Poland During the 1980s”. In Hacking Europe: From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes, ed. by Gerard Alberts and Ruth Oldenziel, 129–50. London: Springer, 2014.
Wasiak, Patryk. “The East is Coming! The Demoscene in Eastern Europe”. Rhizome, 21 May 2010. http://rhizome.org/editorial/2010/may/21/the-east-is-coming-the-demoscene-in-eastern-europe.
ladung53

Honey/1001 Collection Pt. 2

After presenting you the first batch from the Honey/1001 Crew collection a while ago, here is the second instalment. The letters stem from the period between 1986 and 1987, when many of the C64 crackers and groups that later should become legendary were in their infancy, yet Honey was already a star due to his legendary stunt of breaking the screen border and the subsequent media attention. Among the letters’ authors are names like Mr. Pinge/Relax (later of Triad), Irata/Red Sector Inc., and The Mercenary Cracker aka Charles Deenen.

• Col B. (UK) to Honey, ~1987 [metadata]
• Hacker/Future Projects 20550 (Netherlands) to Honey, 9 March 1987 [metadata]
• Heiko/Yeti Factories (Germany) to Honey, 11 March 1987 [metadata]
• Irata/Flash Cracking Group (Germany) to Honey, ~1986 [metadata]
• Irata/Red Sector Inc. (Germany) to Honey, ~1987 [metadata]
• Irata/Flash Cracking Group (Germany) to Steve/1001, 19 August 1986 [metadata]
• Mr. Pinge/Relax (Sweden) to Honey, July 1987 [metadata]
• Mr. Pinge/Relax (Sweden) to Honey, between April and July 1987 [metadata]
• PCW/The Lightforce (Germany) to Honey, 8 July 1987 [metadata]
• Skylab & General Zoff/New Balance Bochum (Germany) to Honey, 25 July 1986 [metadata]
• The Mercenary Cracker (Netherlands) to Honey, after 7 May 1986 [metadata]
• Yip/Purebyte (Finland) to Honey, 3 June 1986 [metadata]
• Yip/Purebyte (Finland) to Honey, 5 November 1986 [metadata]

ladung51

Swedish 1980s C64 Stuff

Today, we give you some stickers, disk covers, and paper notes which hedning managed to secure from the collection of Zeta, a cracker, coder and musician who was active in the Swedish C64 scene in the late 1980s. Some well-known and some less-known names from the Scandinavian and international scene. Enjoy!

Disk covers:
• 2000 Volt disk cover, 1988 [metadata]
• Four Danish Dream Line disk covers, 1988 [metadata cover 1, 2, 3, 4]
• Digital Crackers disk cover, 1988 [metadata]
• Flash disk cover, 1988 [metadata]
• Gilbert Turbo Cracker disk cover, 1988 [metadata]
• M.U.S.I.C. disk cover, 1988 [metadata]
• The Digital Force disk cover, 1988 [metadata]

Stickers:
• Spemu/Finnish Gold sticker, 1980s [metadata]
• Zargon sticker, 1980s [metadata]

Letters:
• Creator/Strike Force (Germany) to Zeta, 1988 [metadata]
• Euratom (Germany) to Zeta, 1987 [metadata]
• Mr Lead/CPU (Sweden) to Zeta, 20 May 1988 [metadata]
• Mr Lead/CPU (Sweden) to Zeta, 9 June 1988 [metadata]
• Mr Lead/CPU (Sweden) to Zeta, 4 July 1988 [metadata]
• Nrj/New Aces (France) to Zeta, 1988 [metadata]
• Spirit/2000 Volt (Sweden) to Zeta, 1988 [metadata]

ladung50

Vacation Special

Now that the summer holidays are beginning, here are some examples of a rather forgotten genre of swapletters – tourist postcards! 1980s’ sceners were mostly teenagers, so, besides chasing up originals to crack, doing fascinating things with computers, and travelling to the occasional copyparty, they also attended school, had arguments with their parents, and, of course, went on vacation. The fascinating samples provided by Honey, Skylab, and Lynx show that they did so with mixed feelings: One the one hand, they enjoyed the holidays, but on the one hand, they were anxious about missing out on latest scene news. So, even in such a fascinating place as Leningrad in 1988, one scener was more concerned with ongoing C64 game projects at home than with the perestroika mood around him. Another common trait was the fascination of teenage sceners with half-naked women – so keep in mind that some of the images are rather NSFW. But most importantly, these postcards testify to the strong sense of friendship within the scene: Despite the fierce competition, the protagonists found time to simply send regards to their contacts around the world, whereever they went.

This update includes following postcards:
• AVH/Radwar (Germany) to Honey/1001 (Netherlands), 19 April 1987, sent from London [metadata]
• Breeze/Antic (Australia) to Lynx/Hitmen (Germany), 26 December 1991, sent from the Maldives [metadata]
• Drago/The Movers (Germany) to Honey, ~1987, sent from Loutraki/Greece [metadata]
• Frankie/OGM (Germany) to Honey, 8 August 1987, sent from Barcelona [metadata]
• Frankie/OGM to Skylab/The Movers (Germany), August 1987, sent from Barcelona [metadata]
• Ixion/Triad (Sweden) to Honey, 19 June 1987, sent from Liverpool [metadata]
• Matcham/Network (Norway) to Honey, 14 August 1988, sent from Leningrad [metadata]
• Mega (?) to Lynx, 23 July 1991, sent from Riviera Romagnola/Italy [metadata]
• Sodan (Denmark) to Honey, 23 June 1987, sent from Ibiza [metadata]
• Strider/Fairlight (Sweden) to Honey, 19 June 1987, sent from Kassandria/Greece [metadata]
• unknown member of Radwar to Honey, 24 March 1988, sent from Dénia/Spain [metadata]

ladung48

The “Western Games” Deal

Today, we bring you something very, very special from Skylab/The Movers’ treasure chest. These two scans testify to an astonishing and unique symbiosis between 1980s’ crackers and software companies. It was by no means unusual that computer kids assumed double roles as crackers and game developers, or that suppliers leaked stuff out of game dev studios. It was also not unheard of that game publishers leaked (broken) versions of games to cracking groups in order to mess with them. The case here, however, is totally different: A game company shares their product with the C64 elite in order to pacify it and to gain some time in order to raise sales figures.

The story behind the deal goes as follows: 1 One of the programmers at Magic Bytes was a former scener and a friend of the guys in Radwar, one of the most famous C64 groups at that time. Together, they convinced the heads of Micro-Partner, Magic Bytes’ parent company, to conduct an unusual experiment – a “legal” crack, to be spread among the C64 elite only. The bosses gave in, and soon a floppy disk reached Radwar’s closest and most trusted contacts, like The Movers in our example, alongside with a letter. It announced a special treat for the recepients – a pre-release version of a brand new game. However, they were strictly advised not to spread, sell, or recrack it, under threat of Radwar cutting all ties with them otherwise. Every group received a unique (or, as one would say now: watermarked) version, an additional pressure factor not to breach Radwar‘s confidence. The contacts were presented with an enticing perspective: “If the contract will work good with ‘Western Games’ we’ll get all new MICRO PARTNER productions a long time before they’ll be released.” 

So, how did this “contract” make sense for the company? Effectively, they killed several birds with one stone. Firstly, they secured Radwar’s technical expertise in code and copy protection optimisation, which began to be valued by several game companies at that time. Secondly, Radwar‘s closest circle of contacts coincided with the C64 cracking elite of that time. Thus, having the pre-release spread by Radwar meant keeping that elite from actually cracking and spreading the game. And, thirdly, with the elite not bothering to crack the title, and with minor groups struggling with the copy protection after the game hit the stores, the company could win several weeks to sell originals – weeks that mattered a lot in the fast-paced home computer games market. At least according to MWS/Radwar, the deal helped Micro-Partner to sell twice as many units as they normally used to. Moreover, the scheme was so successful that it was repeated by Radwar at least once more in 1988, this time with Bozuma, a Rainbow Arts title.

While the digital contents were preserved a while ago by CSDb, we present you for the first time with the actual physical appearance of this “special release”, as it landed into the elite groups’ post boxes. As usual, you can download the high quality scans and view the metadata at our archive at scene.org.

Notes:

  1. The following narrative is derived from an interview by Gleb J. Albert with MWS/Radwar, 25 October 2015