Here is an excerpt from
the book. This is the second chapter of the Commodore 64 part, about
the very beginnings of the cracker scene.
"Another visitor. Stay awhile. Stay forever!"
2. The beginnings
- Impossible Mission
first computer with reasonable scene activity was the Commodore 64. The
reason for the popularity of these microcomputers was the great number
of games published for them. The Commodore 64 matched the quality of
game hall arcades on the field of sound and music, but it also bet the
game consoles of the time, which were not user programmable, and most
importantly, console games were not easily copied. Of course, everyday
people could not afford buying a dozen of games every week, just to
shortly get bored of them, and go back to the shop for new ones. It's
hard to understand why software houses expect us to do this nowadays.
When one purchases a software – be it a utility or a game program – we
can only see the beautiful, shiny box, which promises eternal fun for
the customer's money, but the real thing only comes to light at home,
when we find the expensive software unusable, or the game boring and
Eternal games of old times: Choplifter, Impossible Mission, Barbarian, Space Taxi. These simple games sometimes gave us a lot more fun than those six-CD multimedia wonders of the nineties.
to back the history of games: At the beginning of the eighties it was
completely acceptable to use pirated software. When someone purchased a
game on floppy disk or cassette, he copied it to his friends, just like
a regular audio cassette or record. The only difference was that the
software did not lose its quality after each copying, so one copier
could spread a program widely. At the dawn of the microcomputer age,
when people first started computer clubs, they all copied the newest
games for each other. These clubs saw the first hackers, advanced users
creating software on their own, like games, utilities, first in BASIC,
later, when documentations became available, in machine code language.
Machine code, or assembly greatly increased the speed of the program,
as the code was not running with the help of the slow BASIC
interpreter, but directly accessed the computer's processors. An
assembly code on the Commodore 64 ran around thirty times faster than a
BASIC program, not mentioning that many functions, like those dealing
with graphics, were inaccessible from BASIC. Soon the society of
hackers was born. A group of people who solved tasks on their computers
which required very sophisticated programming knowledge. Sometimes
these people discovered new solutions for even impossible tasks by
finding undocumented functions.
The history of the scene started when someone went to a hacker in a club and said: "Excuse
me, I heard you're very good in programming. I can't complete the 34th
level of this game, because there is a red monster that always kills
me. Can't you do something and remove that monster?" The hacker
shrugged his shoulder, disassembled the game and removed the obstacle.
The gamer was happy - he could complete the level - and by the way, the
term cheater was born by him. The hacker became a cracker, and
regularly started to modify games brought to him. Soon he even started
disassembling programs for his own fun, cracking as they named it, and
soon the clubs saw some games starting with questions like "Do you want unlimited lives?"
Not meaning that the crackers even found the secret of eternal life,
but if the player wishes to keep playing the game when dies, without
seeing the annoying Game Over all the time. These modifications were
later named trainers. When there was no need for such an option, still
the cracker found it funny to decompile the code, just to write "Cracked by XY"
or similar on the startup screen. Soon this became fashionable in the
cracking scene. Games appeared with such short messages in increasing
numbers. This soon made some companies worried about perhaps losing
millions on these crackers, and called for the law to end this movement
once for all. By the middle of the eighties law banned disassembly,
modification and duplication of commercial software in Western Europe
and the United States. But the crackers knew from the beginning that
someone someday will surely not like what they're doing, and hide
behind nicknames. This is the origin of the usage of English or English
sounding handle names on today's scene. In the beginning most members
of the scene chose a three letter name, as the high score table of most
game arcades of the time was only capable of storing three letters.
Another heritage of the eighties' scene today is the so-called elite scripting.
When the American crackers started to use legal informatics
communication systems for their communication, such as modems, networks
and telephone lines, naturally FBI immediately tried to track their
traffic and find the software pirates. This was because some cracker
groups already discovered the great opportunity to make easy money with
cracked software, and committed true computer crimes. These hackers
found a very easy way to beat FBI's filters. As the listening computers
were looking for certain words, expressions among the electronic
traffic, crackers simply stopped using suspicious words. For example
they never wrote the word wares, which was a term for pirated software, but wrote warez
instead. On this pattern they changed a lot of other dangerous words,
usually changing every s to z, or kz to x, o to 0, and soon even warez became w4r3z.
They almost never used the same word twice in the same form, and soon
they did not even change letters to similarly pronounced ones, but even
added characters that were not Latin letters, just shaped them. For
example, A was replaced with 4, or Ä, or anything similar. Sometimes
the word was so distorted that it wasn't even similar to the original.
Like hacker became haxxor, or h4xx0r, elite became eleet, eleete, even 313373,
and it's really a cool computer or smart FBI agent who can recognize
this. This traditional elite scripting, the electronic argot is still
being used nowadays, even by people who were never involved in any
illegal activities. If it's not yet clear, this book is titled Freax for the same reason.
Who was the first cracker? This story outdates even game programs, as
it happened in 1975, in the Palo Alto Homebrew Computer Club, in
California. This club is of special importance not only because Steve
Wozniak and Steve Jobs first introduced the prototype of the Apple-I
computer here, but that it was a preferred meetplace of hackers and
phreakers of the time. The world's first software piracy act was
committed by the members of this club in June 1975. The software was a
BASIC compiler for the Altair 8800 computer. A club member brought the
source code of the program in printed form from Model Instrumentation
Telemetry Systems, the manufacturer of the Altair computers.
The author of this BASIC compiler happened to be a 19 years
old young man, named Bill Gates. He immediately broke out in fury when
he learned about someone copying his software, and immediately sent a
furious reader's letter to many computer magazines and other forums. He
called for the trade's disregard of illegal software duplication,
demanding it to be declared a crime, thievery by law. No one took the
ridiculous kid serious. The letter was barely published anywhere, and
some magazines who did, all commented it in a vitreous mood. A couple
of years had to pass until they really criminalized software
duplication and modification. We have to add that Bill Gates has been
very angry with hackers ever since, and as he's the richest person of
the world. Nowadays he puts great efforts in trying to make hobby
computing disappear. For example in 2000, now as the chairman of
Microsoft Corporation, he addressed the American government to declare
hobby programming and studying of computer sciences illegal, because it
risks the interests of software companies. Perhaps this is what they
call unassimilated teenage frustration. As a matter of fact, Bill Gates
himself admitted that he needed a psychiatric therapy during his teens.
Even nowadays he is a typical nerd, who knows a lot about computers,
but nothing about life. Those who know him personally describe him as
an anxious, paranoid person, who handles others conceitedly, giving the
cold shower on them. As George Grayson, founder of Micrografx said: "I half-jokingly say there is only one person with fewer friends than Saddam Hussein. And that's Bill Gates."
thing to mention about the Altair 8800 itself is that most likely it
was the first computer ever running a demo. For our today's eye it's an
incredibly primitive machine, it didn't even have a monitor, only a few
lines of blinking LEDs, which gave feedback about the status of the
running program. How could they possibly write anything like a demo for
that? Someone found that the working computer generates an
electromagnetic field that interferes with radio communications. So he
placed a pocket radio on the top of the machine, and started to display
different numeric values with the LEDs. At each number the
electromagnetic field changed, so the pitch of the radio's noise did
alike. By blinking the LEDs with a certain speed and order, the
computer and the radio produced primitive music.
Now let's return to the Commodore 64. This computer happened
to be very popular in the eighties, and spread across the globe very
fast. Soon a huge amount of games were available, and many were
cracking and copying these. MWS, member of the cracker group Radwar
Enterprises wrote these lines in 1988, in the regularly published
underground fanzine, titled Illegal.
Think back! What was the very first game you ever saw on your 64?
Probably Commodore Soccer, which was cracked by a German guy called
1103, who also cracked other Commodore modules. Or M.U.L.E. from
Electronic Arts cracked by Oleander? Or Hard Hat Mack by OTD? Or Summer
Games by JEDI? Something like that, right?
Well, JEDI consisted of nobody less than 1103, Oleander, OTD
and KBR (Kotzbrocken), all from Germany and they were one of the first
who formed the cracking with cracks like Mr. Robot, Quickcopy V2.0,
Sentinel and others...
This all happened around 1982, other famous groups at this point of
time were Antiram who cracked games like Dallas Quest, Pogo Joe, Miner
2049'er, Raid over Moscow... or the first ‘cracking service', namely
the German Cracking Service, who released games like Activision's
H.E.R.O. or Saxxon, Slamball and Flight Simulator II. These groups
formed cracking around 1982 and 1983.
Beginning 1984 lots of new groups raised their power, some of which
were TBC who cracked Kennedy Approach or Crackman Crew with F-Copy III,
Heart of Africa, and they were the first who fixed American games to
the European PAL system, among them Ballblazer.
The first English groups were Yak Society, who cracked almost every
Elite game (remember Frank Bruno's Boxing) and Teeside Cracking
1985 was the year of Section 8, who cracked almost every game that was
released (e.g. G.I. Joe, Airwolf, Archon II.), but so did ABC (e.g.
Mr.Do! and The Hobbit II), both from Germany. PAL fixes were done by
Indiana Jones, who also cracked every single Broderbund game (Champ,
Loderunner, Heart of Africa, Racing Destr. Set...) (...)
The first big importer and spreader was a guy named Ali,
groups like Flash Cracking Group with games like Hyper Sports, Tour de
France or RMS Titanic, Megabyte with Castle of Terror or their tape
transfer disks, or the first Dutch group, the Federation Against
Copyright, with releases like Space Station, 2010 Professional with
Beach Head II. were other groups of that time. (...)
1103 has now an own company, working with PCs and bigger
machines, but he also converted Quiwi by Kingsoft on the Atari ST.
Oleander works also on PCs, OTD developed the ProLogic DOS and all
together developed the F-Copy III. F16 from Section 8 made the F-Load
3.0 and Copy+, and works now for Discovery Software.
An early cracker’s fingerprint on the high score table of Wizard of Wor
The first cracker group's name, JEDI was an abbreviation from the members' names: Oliver Joppich (OJO), Oliver Eikemer (1103), Oliver-Thomas Dietz
(OTD), and I stood for Inc. Other crackers worked alone, like E.C.A.
1998, but just like the members of JEDI, he also worked on legal
projects, like development of games and user software. E.C.A. was the
cracker who invented the term release, as he was the first who
distributed – released - his cracks nicely packed, with trainer
attached, under his own cracker handle.
Kotzbrocken was actually two persons: Karsten Schramm and
Boris Schneider. Schneider's name might be familiar for some, as he
wrote the most detailed book about the programming of the Commodore
1541 floppy drive. Another ancient group, which MWS also mentions
above, was Antiram, who were already on the scene in 1983. This group
consisted of several independent members, led by Andreas Arens, who
later created a lot of games and utilities as a programmer of Kingsoft,
a German software company. Today these first crackers almost all work
in the computer industry. They displayed so high a level of technical
knowledge during their cracking activities that they vastly outmatched
the experience of most companies programmers. Maybe it's enough that
the game software company Epyx was officially selling the version of
their famous Summer Games in Europe which Jedi converted from NTSC to
The cracker scene was flourishing around 1985. New groups were
formed worldwide. A kind of competition arose: who can crack a game
faster, who can display his name more beautiful to the title screen?
This competition soon led to these names disappearing from the games
themselves and they created individual programs, which ran first before
the game was executed. These programs displayed the cracking group's
name with spectacular graphical effects and music. These were the
cracker intros, also referred as cracktros. They were mostly alike, as
they were all made for the same purpose. They weren't yet made for an
artistic purpose, but just wanted to tell the world that someone was
here and cracked the program. The strengthening competition led to
better and better cracktros, with smarter effects and more stylish
music. The general cracktro format was the following. The group's name
or logo was standing in the middle of the screen, or sometimes waving,
bouncing, rotating, etc. Under, over, behind or somewhere there is a
scrolling text running, sometimes also not simply running, but
twisting, waving, sometimes mirrored on the other end of the screen.
This tells the history and date of the crack, and then comes the
obligate greetings to other teams. Sometimes the contact address of the
cracker was also in the scroller, but not for long, as not only the
police could read it, but also little kids whining for free games.
Instead they would usually hide the address inside the intro, which was
only accessible by disassembling the code, meaning that only another
cracker was able to read it.
The first cracker groups making intros were German Cracking Service
(GCS), ABC and Bert from the Netherlands and Danish Crackers. GCS was
the first to employ moving sprites in their intros, and BERT was the
first to add sprite animation.
BERT’s intro from 1985. It looks very primitive compared to later
intros, but it was a serious achievement in its time. The four letters,
individual sprites each, moved in from the top of the screen, sliding
on each other, giving a slight illusion of a 3D rotating text. Then the
letters stopped, text was displayed under them, and the screen border
was suddenly engulfed in colorful noise.
1985, the cutting edge of the scene consisted of 5-6 German, 2-3 Danish
and 3-4 Holland groups. Cracking games was not too difficult yet, as
most of them had no protection at all. It was only a matter of saving
the contents of a game cartridge to disk or tape. A program called
ISEPIC was a widely used tool for this purpose. Later freezers
appeared, devices which were used to save the running program from the
memory to disk. If the freezed program was reloaded from the disk, the
program continued running from the point where it was frozen.
Some crackers were disassembling games in order to save their
musics as individual programs, making them playable without the game.
They were called musicrippers. It wasn't an easy task, since the music
was not stored as files, easy to locate, but were part of the programs,
being routines themselves. The first musicripper was TMC, Charles
Deenen, who later became founder of the famous musicgroup, Maniacs of
Noise, and even later the audio director of Interplay. Non-Stop Cracker
from Germany were also ripping music.
The letters "GCS" were animated in the intros of German Cracking Service
cracker intros soon turned into a form of art. More and more advanced
intros were made, and the first, primitive sprite animations were
bypassed by lightyears by the end of 1986. Quality intros became a
question of prestige and no elite groups were to allow poor ones any
more for bad intros would ruin their reputation. But there was another
field of competition. All groups were rushing to crack new programs as
soon as possible, equip them with trainers, and spread the warez. The
term of 0-day warez was introduced, meaning a piece of software that
was cracked right on its release day. This required the crackers to
acquire new programs fast. Fortunately there were plenty of companies
throughout Europe, who delivered fresh games right on the first day
with express courier. These companies were called suppliers. They
usually did not know that a cracker group is receiving their parcels.
Often members of different cracker groups got a job at these companies,
to speed up their operations even more.
Game developers soon got fed up with everybody copying their
games indiscriminately, and added technical protection besides of the
already existing legal one. For example, upon launching the program, a
message appeared, asking for some information contained in the game's
user manual. If the player was not able to answer, meaning that he
didn't have the original manual, the program halted. Often they also
made it impossible to copy the original disk. These protections were
also removed by the crackers, and actually this circumvention of
protection systems is what they call real cracking.
Cracktro for Nobby the Aardvark from Illusion. It’s a tipical
scroller cracktro. The two Illusion logos are scrolling infinitely
looped, the red and the blue bars are “swinging”, and the text in the
middle is a text scroller.
beginnings of the real cracker scene can be dated around the end of
1986. The first great groups were formed this time, wide communication
between these groups was started, and elitism, the high quality
standards of the underground subculture has appeared. Cracker groups
became the cutting edge of the scene for plenty of years. Every little
kid wanted to become a cracker someday, and literally hundreds of
thousands knew and respected the greatest groups, the best known
crackers. Let's see how they were favoured by fortune.
Quality warez often got a quality disk cover. This one was designed
by Alain of Fairlight in 1987. Cover design was another branch of