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Warez groups and cracking, the early years. - SpookyZalost - 03-29-2022

It's always been part of computing culture going back to the university unix systems of the 1960's that computer software was often shared and improved upon.  This was the accepted norm and still is within the FOSS communities today.  However as people began buying personal computers and companies began producing software the idea of sharing that software was accepted as soon as it was discovered you could make copies using blank cassette tapes and later floppy discs.

Yes this all began in the age of Magnetic Cassette Tape storage!

Going all the way back to computers like the Apple II, the ZX spectrum (Pronounced zed Ecks), the BBC micro, and the early atari 8 bit computers, the idea of copying cassette tapes had been around for at least a decade or so with popular culture making mixtapes from vinyl records and radio broadcasts and sharing them with their friends.

As you can imagine of course companies weren't happy with the idea of "piracy" the idea of sharing Music, Text, Pictures, Games, Software, and other things that they were all copywriting without paying the original person was generally frowned upon by them.  Due to this pushback warez groups were formed, people who often as a hobby or a challenge to authority would make copies of software and distribute it through unofficial channels.

At first this took the form of warez parties where friends and acquaintances would get together and throw a party where whoever was hosting it often had a cassette duplicator (and later dual floppy drives).  There'd be music, food, drink, everything you'd normally associate with a party.  As technology evolved however these warez parties would also be joined by Bulletin Board Systems, and later, Warez sites.  It went from one person buying a game or music CD and copying to share.  And evolved into people downloading stuff and recording it to tape or downloading it onto a floppy. 

Of course this made the companies even more unhappy so they had to find out ways to put an end to it, so they first started a slogan campaign.  A simple catchphrase that they hoped would catch on but would instead be mocked and ignored. "Don't copy that floppy!"
In fact it would be made into the butt of a joke of sorts.  and what was supposed to be an early attempt at viral marketing would instead turn into a mocking early meme.
[Image: UgBP6pxm.png]

As time went on, software developers began making great strides in creating what was called copy protection schemes.  It started with things like cartridges needing special chips in the original Nintendo console, to floppy discs turning any files that people tried to copy off that floppy discs into garbage by encrypting the data and only decrypting it at load time.
This of course was easily worked around by people figuring out how to read the memory of a program that was loaded and copying it that way.  Or figuring out how to decrypt the data or spoof the chip that was used to prevent copying.

Next was the copy protection checks on load up.  I'm sure many of the older crowd here recognize code wheels and manual checks.
Of course those were annoying but people lived with them.  Often the manuals and code wheels were simply copied as well using copiers or xerox machines.
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Eventually though warez groups began learning to program games, to crack them so they could be copied without the copy protection.  These code savvy pirates would often attach cracktro's to games going back as far as the old C64 and Amiga 500 computers in the early to mid 1980's.
some examples here.


Now I don't condone piracy but the art of the cracktro was it's own thing really and often a testament to the hacker/cracker group's efforts as they'd often either make music or nab it and combine it with custom visual effects.  This would actually evolve into the demo scene with groups competing and having competitions of who could make the coolest intro's and continues to this day.  It was also a challenge to fit it into an already limited game file space since usually floppy discs, tapes, and later CD's were often limited in size making fitting all that into such a small space an even bigger achievement.  Many cracktro programmers would later go into game and software development getting hired on for the skills they perfected helping to pirate software in their formative years.

Among these communities are some fairly large cracking and warez groups such as, Fairlight, Paradox, myth, PWA (Pirates with Attitudes), and Razor 1911.  Often these groups would compete to see who could get the crack done first with an unofficial rule being that the rest would recognize that one as the official cracked version.  Not everyone abided by these rules of course but even back then the networks could be a harsh place and only the strongest survived while the rest faded into obscurity.

Growing up in the early 2000's I often couldn't afford software so my mother introduced me to cracked software.  To me it was kind of incredible, I could get games for free? heck yeah!  I'd later become bored with the game after beating it but I'd always load up the cracker to look at the cool intro's and listen to the music that played while it cracked your game for you.  in the late 2000's early 2010's I'd begin my explorations into cyber history and start learning more about the history of warez and cracking, as well as discover lots of cool music and often spend hours watching videos of retro cracktros while browsing surviving BBS servers from my old 286 and reading ancient text files.  This was also around the time I'd lurk around the aging TOTSE boards, (temple of the screaming electron), which it's self began it's life as a BBS group.  It may have also been part of what started my interest in chiptune music besides playing games on my old sega genesis back in the day  B-)

There's more stories to tell here but this is just a bit of the early history and how I got my start learning about all this :P
Here, enjoy a couple of some more updated cracktros like the ones I enjoyed in my youth.

RE: Warez groups and cracking, the early years. - Moonshroom - 03-29-2022

I, indeed, recognize those godawful copy protection devises.

To me, they were a really aggressive way of punishing the legitimate buyer and mildly inconvenience the pirate.

Interestingly enough, every single copy of "Loom" that I have ever encountered online remains uncracked and has to be dealt with as it was intended by the developers. It is like going back in time to a crappier era.

RE: Warez groups and cracking, the early years. - SpookyZalost - 03-29-2022

Moonshroom it could be worse, it could have always online DRM  :P

When Simcity 2013 came out with that attached, I celebrated the cracking groups who found a way to make it offline despite having bought the game!