The art of the crack

Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;

Piracy is as much an issue today as it was thirty years ago: gamers who pay for their software are often penalized for the actions of those who won’t. But somewhere between the DRM and the theft is the actual hack. Today, that often amounts to little more than releasing a torrent of a disk image — once you’ve acquired and installed the warez, the experience is little different from a legitimate one. That wasn’t the case with the Apple II.

When the hacking medium was not DVD but 5.25" floppy, hackers had to break a different copy protection scheme for each piece of software. They demanded acknowledgement for their hard work, often placing their byline in the opening splash screen, even if it meant removing the programmer’s or publisher’s credit. Some especially creative hackers went beyond that simple substitution by editing the screen at large, producing original works of art.

Arkanoid 2 cracked

Jason Scott has compiled an extensive collection of these crack screens. As far as I can see, there’s 794 screens, though fewer total games are represented, as often the same image is displayed in both color and monochrome; I would estimate the gallery includes 572 unique games. It’s fascinating to see both the art and the creative handles by which the pirates were known.

There’s little I can say about the Apple II pirate scene that hasn’t already been presented more exhaustively and eloquently by Scott in this presentation from Rubicon 2003.

However, there have been new developments since then. At KansasFest 2010, Martin Haye hacked Wizardry, producing his own splash screen for the occasion. With so much work being put into the crack itself, a programming genius such as Haye shouldn’t have to work even harder to leave his visual mark.

Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe agrees and, at the request of Daniel Kruszyna, has created T40, a 40-column text-based editor. Itself a 24-hour hack job, T40 runs on any Apple II and offers an impressive array of keyboard commands with which to design and save ASCII art.

"Krüe" has started compiling images created in this program and welcomes your submissions via email. The collection thus far can be seen online, where you can also download an Applesoft BASIC self-running slideshow to display the artwork natively on your Apple II.

I make no commentary on the legality of ethicality of piracy — but the ones who engage in it are capable of amazing works of genius and artistry, which have just been made a bit easier.

(Hat tip to Mark Pilgrim)

  1. Holy crap! One of those screens is mine. I did I, Damiano. I never was part of any group or even had a modem to share. I just did it for learning and the puzzles. It must have got out about 15 years ago when I sent someone my personal floppy collection to have converted with ADT.

  2. Interesting.

    Whatever happened to Dirty Gertie’s Slow Loading Software? Didn’t see that in the list.

    I have a few disks somewhere where I fitted code into the empty sectors on track 3 to play back my digitised voice (all one bit of it) at bootup. Was always fun to see people jump just after the whirrrrr clack clack clack dit dit dit.

    That’s the problem with emulators, I miss my drives.

  3. To further the discussion of crack screens as art, I encourage you to research the demoscene. The Apple II didn’t have much of a demoscene, but the IIgs did.

  4. Thanks, Jim! I’m familiar with the demos of the FTA, for one, and I attended @party 2010. It’s a different scene from crack scenes, but still a notable one.

  5. Martin Haye says:

    Cracking a game is such fun that making a crack screen is really just icing on the very delicious cake. I think it’s actually more fun than playing the games. Maybe Antoine agrees with me:

  6. It is always embarrassing to me when I hear this speech and listen to myself indicate the creator of Softporn Adventure (Chuck Benton) went on to create Leisure Suit Larry. As people know, Leisure Suit Larry was created by Al Lowe, using the original Softporn Adventure as a template.

    I like to think I made up for this oversight by interviewing Chuck Benton, for historical purposes:

  7. Wow… so many crack screens.
    I know I downloaded a disk image for my Apple II emulator (not sure what the disk image was called) but there were tons of names on the intro like mr. krak-man, lorax, peg leg buccaneer – will have to go and check out the image again and see what it was – i might even be able to post a full list of names.

  8. There was a group in Australia in the mid 80s, called San Inc, who produced animated crack screens, using grabs from the game. The Karateka one shows Akuma’s hand moving from hip to pointing (and the side B crack is also upside-down); the Choplifter one has the guy waving while a tank blows up the moon. There were probably some others. They were funny.