Tag Archives: swapletters

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.)

 

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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.

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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.
ladung42

Dr. Science Letter Collection Pt. 2

Here is the second portion of letters received and scanned by Swiss C64 scener Dr. Science/Atlantis (see here for the first one). Stemming from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, these letters mostly deal with internal group affairs and provide an insight into how demoscene groups conducted teamwork before the age of digital communication. Of course, there is also a small “scene drama” included: see the two letters of Culture, an Norwegian Atlantis member who boldly announced to quit the group after receiving no sendings from the Swiss headquarters, and then bitterly regretted the overhasty move after receiving a letter only a few days after his first announcement…

• Culture/Atlantis (Norway) to Dr. Science, late 1991 [metadata]
• Culture to Dr. Science, 3 January 1992 [metadata]
• Dan/CFA (Switzerland) to Dr. Science, 1987-1989 [metadata]
• Dr. Science to all contacts, late 1989 – early 1990 [metadata]
• Merlin/Atlantis (Norway) to Dr. Science, early 1990s [metadata]
• Mik (Finland) to Dr. Science, 31 August 1992 [metadata]
• Omega Supreme/The Shadows (Norway) to Dr. Science, early 1990s(?) [metadata]
• Rebel/Atlantis (Poland) to Dr. Science, 1994 or later [metadata]

NB: It turned out that I forgot to enable the comment function on the blog for the whole past year. No wonder that no one left any feedback! From this post onwards, there will be a (captcha-protected) comment field. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to say about the artefacts!

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The Movers Collection, Part 2

After the first instalment of The Movers‘ swap letter collection caused such a tremendous interest, we finally bring you the next batch. Once again, it’s a treasure trove, full of forgotten voices from the dawn of the C64 and Amiga scene. We learn about the hardships of switching computer platforms, about transatlantic software trade and crackers worrying about being “greeted” in intro scrolltexts, we read Strider/Fairlight complaining about “communist Sweden”, SCA sending out custom-made anti-virus software to protect their friends from their own SCA Virus (the infamous, first ever Amiga virus), and so on. A particularly emotional document is the letter by Dennis a.k.a. Turtle/Danish Gold, whom many of our readers knew and met at demoparties, and who sadly passed away in 2006. Here, we read his lines back in 1987, when he just got himself an IBM PC and was looking forward to the Danish Gold copyparty

• Action 2009 (Denmark) to The Movers, 22 May 1987 [metadata]
• Honey/1001 Crew (Netherlands) to Skylab, 1986-1987 [metadata]
• Honey/1001 Crew to The Movers, 1987 [metadata]
• Laffen/RDI (Norway) to Skylab, 1987 [metadata]
• Mr. Mister/RAD (USA) to The Movers, 21 June 1987 [metadata]
• Popeye (Denmark) to Skylab, 1988 [metadata]
• Popeye to The Movers, December 1987 [metadata]
• Popeye to The Movers, 1988 [metadata]
• STI/SCA (Switzerland) to Skylab, 1987 [metadata]
• STI/SCA (Switzerland) to Skylab, 1987 (another one) [metadata]
• Shockwave/Jazzcat (Norway) to Skylab, 1987 [metadata]
• Strider/Fairlight (Sweden) to Skylab, December 1987 [metadata]
• Strider/Fairlight to Skylab, 1987-1988 [metadata]
• ?/Trilogy (Netherlands) to The Movers, 1980s [metadata]
• Turtle/Danish Gold (Denmark) to Skylab, 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.)

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1980s Scene Letters (The Movers Collection)

As announced earlier – here we go with the first instalment of scans from the private archive of Skylab & General Zoff (of New Balance Bochum/The Movers/Elite fame). A truly fascinating glimpse into the 1980s’ C64 and Amiga cracking scene, with too many highlights to mention them all. For those with basic knowledge about the history of the cracking- and demoscene, or those who experienced these times themselves, the list of authors below will already be enough to realise the significance of the archive – and this is only a small portion of what we can expect from it. As for highlights regarding the letters’ content, I’ll just throw in some random aspects: Scottish crackers in 1986; a note from Strider announcing the foundation of Fairlight; Irata’s original letterhead; cracking tips from Mr. Zeropage; German public phone cheating techniques; anxieties over first place in intro greetings; transatlantic flows of material goods; and many more. Enjoy this first instalment – there is more to come!

• Agent Organge/ACA (USA) to The Movers, ~1987 [metadata]
• Axa/X-Men (Finland) to Skylab, late 1980s [metadata]
• Birdy/Scottish Cracking Crew (UK) to Skylab, 30 July 1986 [metadata]
• CPU/Plutonium Crackers (Germany) to New Balance, 16 December 1986 [metadata]
• Honey/1001 Crew (Netherlands) to The Movers, June 1987 [metadata]
• Irata/RSI (Germany) to Skylab, ~1986 [metadata]
• Laffen/TDF (Norway) to The Movers, 1987 [metadata]• Mr Sulu/Doughnut Cracking Service (UK) to New Balance, 1986 [metadata]
• Mr Zeropage/RSI (Germany) to General Zoff, 2 January 1988 [metadata]
• New Balance to Mr Sulu/DCS (UK) [draft], 1986 [metadata]
• New Balance to Paperboy Inc. (Germany) [draft], 7 August 1986 [metadata]
• No. 1 (=Strider)/Fairlight (Sweden) to Skylab, April 1987 [metadata]
• RGB/The Movers (Canada) to Skylab, 1 March 1988 [metadata]
• Skylab to Irata, 1986 [metadata]
• Stingray (USA) to Skylab, 6 April 1989 [metadata]

NB: If the images in the gallery below appear too small to figure out the details, you can always download high-quality scans at the “metadata” links above! There, you can also find some background info for each letter.

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Swapper Stationeries

Swappers did not just stick floppy disks into envelopes – they also had to put up with a lot of paperwork. Before the era of online communciation, building up trust and keeping social networks intact meant writing paper letters to your contacts. For sceners who communicated a lot through postal channels, it was an obvious choice to print own stationeries / letterheads for higher recognition value and a professional appearance. The task of writing letters, however, could become a time management problem for “mega swappers“, who sent out dozens of envelopes every day. Thus they printed standard blanks where they just needed to tick boxes. The options available on these fill-out forms, ranging from dead serious to rather humorous, served to evaluate the contacts’ previous sendings’ quality, to communicate requests for further software exchanges, and to get messages across. For today’s update, Goat, Lance, Se7en, and Thorion provided us with samples of such swapper stationeries and blanks, which were common in the late 1980s and early 1990s all over the global scene – from Denmark to Australia, from Germany to Hungary.

Danish Science letter blank, 1989 [metadata]
Faces stationery, 1991 [metadata]
Level 99 (TLI) stationery, 1989 [metadata]
Rock’n Role stationery, 1991 [metadata]
Stardom letter blank, 1989 [metadata]
Syllinor/Chromance stationery, 1991 [metadata]
The Force letter blank, 1989 [metadata]
Thorion/Targets letter blank, early 1990s [metadata]

NB: If the images in the gallery below appear too small to figure out the details, you can always download high-quality scans at the “metadata” links above!

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Merry Christmas From “Got Papers?”… and Pete & Jamie!

The first year of Got Papers? is coming to an end, and it’s time to thank all contributors to this project. A staggering 431 items have been scanned, categorised, and uploaded since the launch in April, and about three times the amount of artifacts is still waiting to be processed – which will hopefully happen quicker than before, not only due to our volunteers, but also thanks to Gargaj/Conspiracy, who just developed a metadata processing tool for us as an early Christmas present. The credit for the overwhelming amount of materials must go to 49 contributors from all over Europe – sceners who have searched in their basements, wardrobes, and attics for long-forgotten materials and made an effort to share them with us. Thank you!

2016 will be an exciting year for the project – most importantly because we have just received an absolutely stunning donation. Skylab & General Zoff, two C64 pirate veterans from the 1980s, mostly known for their group The Movers, gave us their complete archive for scanning – over 500 pages of intro sketches, stickers, sourcecode snippets, software lists, scrolltext drafts, paper magazines, and, most importantly, hundreds of private letters from sceners all over the world, received by these two teenagers between 1986 and 1989. To provide a sneak preview into these materials, we give you today a Christmas card [metadata] sent over 25 years ago to Zoff & Skylab by another 1980s cracking and swapping duo – Pete & Jamie a.k.a. Thor & Zeus of the legendary British C64 group Teesside Cracking Service. So, we only need to repeat what they wrote back then: “Have a great time at christmas & new year guyz!” (and “girlz”, we may add).  See you in 2016!

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Ancient C64/Amiga Pirate Materials #2

Here is the second batch of materials provided by an anonymous contributor (click here for the first instalment). Once again, you can browse through the paper relics of the very dawn of the home computer cracking & demo cultures – fragile traces of long forgotten individuals and groups as well as of those who came to be considered as scene legends later on. Among the more unusual scans from this update is the disk cover done by the early Amiga group Warfalcons. Even though Amiga floppy disks did not technicaly need paper sleeves, Warfalcons still made a batch of these – just like the usual ones on the C64, but in 3,5″ size.  Another remarkable artifact is a letter from a Belgian Amiga swapper around 1986 – typewritten on his father’s busines card. Another example of how much early digital subcultures had to rely on analogue techniques.

• Letter from CCC/Firesoft Inc. (Belgium) to undisclosed recepient, around 1986 [metadata]
Cleveland Distribution Service sticker, mid-1980s [metadata]
Commando Frontier sticker, between 1987 and 1989 [metadata]
Dominators business card, between 1986 and 1989 [metadata]
D.S. Compware sticker sheet, between 1986 and 1987 [metadata]
Italian Spreading Service sticker, mid-1980s [metadata]
Plutonium Crackers sticker sheet, around 1986 [metadata]
Soldiers Against Protection sticker, between 1986 and 1988 [metadata]
Stars promo card, 1986 [metadata]
• The Fall Guys business card, 1987 [metadata]
The Light Circle rubber stamp, between 1986 and 1988 [metadata]
The Organized Crime sticker, between 1987 and 1988 [metadata]
The Orgasmatron Crew sticker sheet, 1987 [metadata]
The Warriors 1881 sticker, between 1986 and 1988 [metadata]
The Wizards sticker, around 1987 [metadata]
• Unknown cartoon cutout, mid-1980s [metadata]
Warfalcons disk cover, around 1987-1988 [metadata]

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C64 Swap Letters (Dr. Science Collection)

Today we give you some scans from the private collection of Dr. Science/Atlantis, a Swiss coder and cracker who was a member of the legendary Computer Freaks Association in the late 1980s and is still active in the C64 scene. Apart from some neat disk covers and CFA’s official greeting list, the probably most exciting part of this installment are the letters Dr. Science received from fellow sceners in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The letters are exemplary for the global networks built by the scene already back then – even this small sample includes correspondents from countries such as Australia, Finland, and Norway. Furthermore, the letter from Snap demonstrates how group members conducted collaborative work on demo productions before email and IRC. Expect more scans from Dr. Science’s collection in the near future!

Peter Venkman/Mega Industries business card, early 1990s [metadata]
Fairlight disk cover by Hobbit, 1990 [metadata]
Trance disk cover by Twist, 1993 [metadata]
X-Factor disk cover by Brady, 1990 (unfolded scan) [metadata]
Computer Freaks Association greeting list, 1990 [metadata]

Letters:

• Agemixer to Dr. Science, 15 June 1995 [metadata]
• Boss to Dr. Science, 19 December 1989 [metadata]
• Cruze to Dr. Science, 19 February 1992 [metadata]
• Fake to Dr. Science, early 1990s [metadata]
• Snap to Dr. Science, December 1993 [metadata]