Tag Archives: swapletters

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
ladung47

The Movers Collection, Part 3

UZH Magazin, the research magazine of the University of Zurich, just published a detailed report about the research project behind Got Papers?. This is a good opportunity to end the hiatus and to bring you the third instalment of the New Balance Bochum / The Movers letter collection, supplied by Skylab & General Zoff. Once again, here are some intriguing scene letters from a fascinating time, when sceners began to move from C64 to Amiga, struggling with the new machine’s specifications; when teenage crackers doubled as game developers; when teenage magazine editors doubled as suppliers; when not only disks, but all sorts of objects, including complete computers, were exchanged through the scene’s postal networks; when contacts and friendships were forged on a phone conference and immediately continued on paper; in short, when the social network known as “the scene” was new and messy, being held together by  communication channels both “old” and “new”. Enjoy the letters, and expect more soon.

• Cracking Force Berlin/Flash Cracking Group (Germany) to Skylab, 15 November 1986 [metadata]
• Florian/Warriors of Darkness (Germany) to Skylab, ~1988-1989 [metadata]
• General Zoff to Tiamat (draft), ~1988 [metadata]
• Just Ice/Ikari (UK) to Skylab, ~1988 [metadata]
• Laurent/Megaforce (France) to Skylab, ~1988 [metadata]
• Mog/Scouse Cracking Group (UK) to Skylab, 1987 [metadata]
• Pink Panther/The Infiltrators (Denmark) to Skylab, 1986 [metadata]
• Strider/Fairlight (Sweden) to Skylab, 1988 [metadata]
• TFF/Starlight Strikers (Denmark) to General Zoff, 11 July 1986 [metadata]
• The Softteam (Denmark) to The Movers, 11 March 1987 [metadata]
• Tiamat to General Zoff, ~1988 [metadata]
• Vindicator/Delta Force (UK) to Skylab, 1987 [metadata]
• Zzap/Swedish Cracking Crew (Sweden) to General Zoff, ~1987-1988 [metadata]
• Zzap/Swedish Cracking Crew (Sweden) to Skylab, 4 August 1987 [metadata]

(NB: If the scans in the gallery below are too small for you, you can download the high-resolution versions at the “metadata” links above.)

 

ladung45

Introducing the Honey/1001 Collection

The launch of The Movers’ letter collection turned out to be a sort of honey pot for old sceners. Several 1980s veterans got in touch and promised to scan their old letters, too. The most amazing contribution so far came from Joost Honig a.k.a. Honey of 1001 Crew, who sent us over 1 GB worth of scans from his personal archive. Honey, active on the C64 since 1983, is a scene legend, and 1001 Crew (also known as “1001 & The Cracking Crew”) stood at the very roots of the demoscene. 1001 was not just about cracking games: Together with his groupmates, Honey was responsible for some of the crucial technical breakthroughs in C64 programming, such as sideborder and no-border sprites as early as 1986 – achievements recognised in contemporary commercial computer press as well as in recent literature 1 -, and the famous 1001 Card Cruncher in 1987. A detailed recent interview with Honey can be found here. The letters shed light onto a lesser-known realm of 1001 Crew’s activity – namely their transnational communication networks. Through their archive, one can slowly see 1001 moving from cracking games to making intros, demos and eventually (ironically) games.

honey-86

Honey of 1001 Crew, 1986

The first batch of letters presented here today stems from the “mixed” folder – letters from random sceners literally from all over the world trying to get in touch with the famous cracker – some with, some without success. (And those who succeeded establishing contact, couldn’t believe their luck: “Have you got any pictures of you or other members of 1001 crew? […] My friend whom I told you had answered my letters didn’t believe”, wrote one of Honey’s happy new penpals.) Honey jokingly characterised this genre as “begging letters”, and, indeed, most of the authors were begging the recepient for different favours: fresh games, the group’s latest demos, the famous 1001 Crew stickers, or, more generally, establishing a steady swapping relationship. One Finnish scener even sent Honey a long questionnaire (to which he never replied), apparently to use it for an article on the scene commissioned by the Finnish commercial computer magazine BITTI.

But the most wanted thing was, of course, the Card Cruncher. Working with an external cartridge, it was a powerful file compressor – a master weapon in the race for the smallest crack. As Honey recalls: “Having a smaller sized crack of a game than the competition stood for quality. First of all it meant you had a ‘clean’ crack, with no unnecessary bytes in the file. Making that even smaller with your own written packer made an even bigger impact, just like an impressive intro.” 2 The Card Cruncher was even more legendary as it was a strictly internal tool. Apart from the 1001 Crew, only a selected few group and individuals, such as Dynamic-Duo and Fax of New Stars, were entrusted with using it. So it is no wonder that many of the letter authors tried their luck to get his hands on it: “Please could you also send me your card cruncher software”; “please send me the compressor of the Dynamic-Duo we have talked about”; “I am after a really cool cruncher! Do you have one?” Naturally, Honey didn’t give in to any of these requests. However, the Card Cruncher leaked into the scene eventually: “It was stolen and spread by some Dutch guys. They visited one of our members, and when he was out of the room making tea, they loaded a disc with a program that saved the contents of the catridge.” 3

Enjoy this fascinating glimpse into the early C64 scene, and keep in mind that this is just a tiny portion of the 1001 archive. Today’s batch features letters from:

• Aaron (country unknown), 17 June 1987 [metadata]
• Beast/Defjam^Shield (Sweden), 14 February 1987 [metadata] and ~1987-1988 [metadata]
• Carsten (Denmark), 17 December 1986 [metadata]
• Electro’39/Electronic Cracking Crew (Germany), ~1986-1987 [metadata]
• E$G/Italian Bad Boys (Italy), 25 August 1987 [metadata]
• F.B.S. (Germany), 1986 [metadata]
• Griffo/Binary Code Smashers (UK), ~1986-1987 [metadata]
• Jab/The Shadows (Norway), 6 September 1987 [metadata]
• Judge Death/2000 A.D. (country unknown), 1987 [metadata]
• Lauri (Finland), 14 November 1987 [metadata]
• Lloyd/The Austrian Union (Austria), ~1987-1988 [metadata]
• Microman/FBR (USA), 12 February 1987 [metadata]
• Øyvind (Norway), 4 October 1986 [metadata]
• Peter (New Zealand), 23 January 1988 [metadata]
• The Cousin/Soldiers Against Protection (Germany), ~1987-1988 [metadata]
• The Jester/Cleveland Software Society (UK), ~1987 [metadata]
• The Spider (Finland), 6 September 1987 [metadata]

(NB: If the scans in the gallery below are too small for you, you can download the high-resolution versions at the “metadata” links above.)

Notes:

  1. Tristan Donovan. Replay: The History of Video Games (East Sussex: Yellow Ant, 2010), 133; Daniel Botz. Kunst, Code und Maschine. Die Ästhetik der Computer-Demoszene (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2011), 64-68.
  2. Mail from Honey/1001, 24 February 2015.
  3. Ibid.