Handle: Mr.Z

How did you come up with your alias ?
The 'Z' is simply from my first name, Zoltan.

I have hungarian background, born 1970 in Transsylvania, Romania. Lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 1979.

What was your first computer, and when did you get it?
My first own computer was the C64, which I got in 1985. But my first contact with computers was with a home-made computer built by the father of one of my friends. And I also had some experience programming CP/M computers (in Basic and 8080/Z80 assembler), before the 64.

How did you get into the scene and what groups have you been a member of ?
When I started I was not a member of any group, it was only me and a friend called Attilla. He fixed the original games, and traded the cracked ones. At that time my "intro" screen on the cracked games was a picture with a lot of colored stripes. Most people probably thought it was really ugly, but I remember it was my first fascinating experience with raster interrupts.

After a while we got contact with RND, and then it was the three of us. But still we were not a group with its own name. It was only when Triad was founded, with RND and I forming the Stockholm "department", that I started to work in the name of a group.

Being part of the Triad was something completely different than working on my own. Triad was a very effective mini-organization. Before Triad the cracked games mostly got spread in Sweden only, but after a year with Triad the whole C64 swapper world knew about us. This was much thanks to Ixion, who organized the group.

I sticked with Triad until I quit the scene in 1987.

Actually I once got a phone call from Janitor in Relax, who tried to recruit me to Relax, but I was not interested. I sounded really harsh during that conversation, he told me afterwards, so he didn't do any more attempts...

Ironically, eventually the opposite happened: Janitor was recruited to Triad.

I remember a phone conversation with Ixion, where he was in a state of decomposition when I told him I was going to quit. There were no other really active crackers left in the group. "What will now happen to Triad?", he asked. "Recruit Janitor", I recommended, "he is the right guy". Ixion followed the advice, both Janitor and Mr. Pinge joined Triad, and the group continued to be successful, from what I heard even more successful than before.

What was the proudest moment in your career ?
I remember one moment being very special, it was when I got a letter from Honey in 1001 Crew, where he sent me a cartridge with the infamous Card Cruncher, which was superior to other compressors at that time. We were one of the few groups who were entrusted to have it.

But the most rewarding occasions for me personally was every time I had managed to get past a really creative copy protection scheme, after a hard struggle, which could be as long as a week.

Curiosity was my main driving force during those days. In an odd way I felt like an explorer, or archeologist, who discovered something for the first time, accomplishing something which nobody else had done before. And it was very important to get recognition for the "discovery", even if it was such a strange thing as how to get through the maze of a good copy protection.

For what specific reason(s) do you think that you are remembered ?
For being one of the prominent persons in an epoch which was very special to many of the involved. The athmosphere was magic, because it was the first time in Europe home computers got spread around to millions of homes. And the C64 was the most sold of those computers.

What would you like to be remembered for ?
The quality of what I did. I put a lot of effort into cracking games (even if it was nothing compared to the effort of writing them).

In the beginning I played through almost every game I cracked, just to make sure that everything was working properly. Meanwhile I really enjoyed many of the games. Of course, in order to be able to complete a game in reasonable time, I had to cheat. Mostly the cheating was about giving myself infinite lifes, but nothing more than that. The games would have become too boring to play if I just could have walked through all the levels.

Sometimes it happened that I found big glaring bugs in the game which were also present in the original!

One of the games I worked hard with was International Karate. The original tape contained two separate versions, each with four different scenarios. When transferring the game to disk, I merged the two versions into one, with all the eight scenarios present. It required the rewrite of some parts of the game code.

Tell me about the most interesting copy protections you have encountered!
I remember the american company DataSoft (makers of Bruce Lee) as doing the most creative copy protections. I especially remember the game Mancopter from them. I thought I was finished cracking the game, and was playing through it to make sure that it worked. Everything seemed to work fine. But in the middle of the game, the little man on his helicopter just crashed into the sea, and the game was over. As I found out after a few days of investigation, this was because of the copy protection, which expected a special value in one of the zero-page addresses, which I had missed, and which was normally set up by the obfuscated loader code.

DataSoft was also the maker of the game Alternate Reality. The whole game was stored using a proprietary disk format, I struggled with the protection for about two weeks before deciding to let it go. It was no use spending more time with it, since the disk could be copied anyway by one of the special disk copier programs, although it could not be copied with a standard program.

I also remember the adventure game Guild of Thieves which asked for a word from the documentation, after about 100 steps had been done in the game (this kind of protection seems to be common in PC games today). Removing this check was a real pain, since the whole game (including the check) was written using a proprietary game language, consisting of interpreted byte-code. I had to write my own debugging- and tracing tool for the byte-code, in order to remove the check.

MicroProse made many good simulation games, written in some kind of compiled Basic. The result was that the games were running as interpreted byte-code (the same concept as in Guild of Thieves). Most of their games were copy protected in Europe (but I think the American versions were not). Anyway, not having the time to write a disassembler for their byte-code, I gave up on most of their games. The only exception was F15 Strike Eagle. It asked for codes from the manual on each startup. So I patched the output- and input functions, to run my filter code at the startup of the game. The filter intercepted the output, and automatically returned the correct input. Of course for this to work my filter code had to contain the relevant information from the manual.

There were also a lot of other copy protection schemes which made my life exciting. But most of them made the same mistake: all of the copy protection code had a purpose, everything was very straightforward, really. If they instead had produced a large piece of copy protection code, where only 1% had some real functionality and the other 99% was just smoke, it would have made it much more difficult.

After quitting the scene I actually started working with a copy protection of my own, with all the necessary ingredients to make it hard to defeat. It contained large pieces of compiled Basic code, setting up hardware registers (such as the timer registers) which are hard to read but which can be checked to be correct. I even talked to representatives of large game companies during a PCW show in London, but the project ran out in the sand because I didn't have the time making it the complete product which could be used by anyone.

What made you stop the scene activity ?
I felt I had reached a dead-end. The motivation was gone, cracking became mechanical work. The quality of my work stagnated, as Janitor was quick to tell me, whenever he thought something could be done better.

It was simply time to move on to do something different, to learn something new. I had worked with PCs before, but now I could completely focus on learning the PC architecture, DOS and the C language.

It was also time to do some constructive work as a programmer, and for the first time also get paid for the work.

Thinking back on the good old days, is there anything you regret?
I don't really regret anything, but now, after 10 years have passed, I can't help having some thoughts if it was completely right what I was doing at that time.

Because Triad was a very effective machinery our activities must have caused economic harm to the involved game writers and game companies.

However much I try, I still can not find a complete defence for that.

But who is perfect, anyway? To be honest, how many of the companies today have paid for all the software which is in use in the company? And how many persons are there today which never copy software illegally?

We were having fun, and following the spirit of the time. We never earned any money from the activities. And good games were always being bought by a lot of people (including myself), regardless of pirated copies floating around.

What was your favorite
Real oldies:
Zeppelin, Fort Apocalypse, Archon, Bruce Lee, MULE

International Karate
Green Beret
Last Ninja I, II and III. (I made the mistake of buying the diskette version of Last Ninja III, which loads _awfully_ slowly, is it to make people buy the cartridge version?)

I actually like most of the games programmed by Dave Collier of Ocean (including Green Beret) since he had a marvellous sense of having an adequate difficulty of his games, not too easy and not impossible.

He also wrote code of very high quality, as I could see when looking through the code of his games.

I was very impressed of things done by the 1001 Crew.

Danish Gold party in 1986, in Odense (?if I remember right?). I met the 1001 Crew, Mr. Zeropage, Sodan, and many others. I really was just a kid at that time, sleeping sweetly in my sleeping bag while the big guys were drinking vodka and partying all night long.

What are you doing nowadays ?
Working with development of computer security products (public-key-infrastructures, secure protocols, smart cards and other things like that)

What are you doing on your spare time?
I'm a workaholic (probably will regret it some day). But I also try to spend some time with my girlfriend, and practice Wushu (a special style of Kung-Fu). And I'm never afraid of trying something new and exciting. I have tried skydiving (done about 20 jumps), hopefully I will be able to gather the guts and time necessary to continue.

Is there anything you'd like to say to the public (read: admires)
To my old friends from the C64 time: Tell me when you are in Stockholm and I'll join you for a beer.