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
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
Ironically, eventually the opposite happened: Janitor was recruited to
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
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
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
What was your favorite
Zeppelin, Fort Apocalypse, Archon, Bruce Lee, MULE
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
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.
EVENT(S) (E.G. COPYPARTY)
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.