An interview with Subzero of Skid Row
Subzero was the main original supplier for the cracking group Vision Factory, and more famously known to the Amiga underground scene as one third of the trio known as SSR (Subzero, Selim and Rudi). SSR were famous for supplying games for the famous Amiga cracking group Skid Row from Germany in the early 1990s.
I don't recall the name Subzero being mentioned as a supplier on Vision Factory cracks. Did you use a different handle back then?
During the early BBS days, I supplied incognito because I was active in developing and producing Amiga games for my sister's company. I am guessing without my originals, there would not have been a Vision Factory!
Were there times that multiple new games were released the same day, and you had to get them all cracked?
Yes I remember there were days where we got more than 2 or 3 originals, like in the earlier days in Vision Factory. We started from Cologne (by car to Holland) with 3 games in our package, 1 we just uploaded and released, and 2 which were unreleased, and got released at our party in Venlo. The games were Kick Off and Microprose Soccer. I do remember because I still own those originals pahaha! Ahwell time flies by?! At that time most of the freaks still did post swapping, because modems were expensive and all.
Can you please elaborate a little on what happened with Vision Factory?
Well Vision Factory was closed, because the original founder Marco Polo (who did most cracks) left the scene, and at that time, only FFC was cracking. He learned a lot from Marco Polo but was far away from his abilities...
Anyhow, we tried with a couple of co-op releases with The Company (as they had a paycracker called Ralph) and their leader was also a local dude. But that didn't work out well, they missed too many originals coming from me and a lot more. Also Marco Polo wanted to have Vision Factory closed, so we closed, and I started something new - Skid Row!
Who were the original members in Skid Row when you formed?
That was me together with The Hellion and Metallica (still a good local friend!), and we had FFC and Eurosoft at the beginning cracking for us, as well as the very talented dude from Denmark, Blackhawk, who also did a lot of quality work.
What does FFC actually stand for? Some scene members have told me it's Full Fat Chicken, others Fuckin' Fast Cracks. Are either of those correct?
Full fat chicken we called him when we met, because he was fat, and mostly like a girly (chicken even lol), but FFC stands for Full Force Cracking.
Did you all live closeby?
We were all locals except for FFC. Myself, Metallica, Marco Polo, Brainwalker etc - all lived just a few kilometers away.
Where did all the original suppliers obtain their games from? From what I've heard, it sounds like many groups used the same place.
They all got 'em from LeisureSoft, and another distributor in the UK called GEM. We (SSR) Germans also got 'em from LeisureSoft (and others). The Germans were often faster, or more accurately, got it 1 day earlier because my girlfriend (at that time) worked at LeisureSoft, and also my sister had a software company and store. Therefore, it was mostly just a couple of calls, like checking out if something is new, if yes, calling Rudi/Selim to pick it up from the distributor, and from the distributor he directly delivered the originals to FFC.
When you have the original disk in your possession, it's a huge advantage over only having a disk image due to the fact that some games had tricky protections that could not be written back to disk. What happened in cases where FFC was unavailable (or had too many tough games to crack at the same time) and the remote crackers would not be able to write a working version of the game back to floppy disk?
If there was more than one game released per day, we warped the other one to our other crackers. If there were tricky protections, we had Eurosoft; he wrote a warper for them in no time!
A rumour was spread that Eurosoft had some special floppy drive which spun at a slower rate than normal Amiga disk drives, and this allowed him to write back longtrack protected games without any problem. Any idea if that was true?
Haha, total bollocks, can only be a rumour!
What kind of job did FFC have that would allow time to crack the games, tack on an intro and upload it before other groups? (I can only imagine that unemployed people would be able to do such a task, unless Skid Row had crackers on standby all around the world in different timezones etc!)
Well he didn't have a job at that time as far as I can remember. Also he didn't have much to do with intros. The intro texts were mainly edited by myself while he was cracking the game, or even while Rudi was on the highway to him. I wrote the intro texts and sent him the intro. That way he didn't have to care about such things, only cracking, putting the intro in front, and uploading; that was mainly his job. We also had a cracker in the USA (he only did the US originals except for a few, which were heavily protected!) Also one cracker in Denmark, and two in Germany.
How did you organise who would be available at all times to crack a new title? Did any of the crackers have their own dedicated phone line just for you suppliers to send the games to?
They did not have their own dedicated phoneline, but they had a phone, and that was enough back then. If they were busy, I called the next person, or posted a message on one of the US BBSes...
Once the games were cracked, were they all sold off to try and recoup some of the costs or did you keep them for a while in case the crack needed a fix?
Once they were cracked they got sold due to the store!
There's an old interview with 2tuff/Crystal that explains how he sourced games and transferred them to the supplier. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but if you believe 2tuff, "Skid Row were easily destroyed". Do you have anything to say about that particular interview?
Well, there is not much to say about him, he got beaten by us many many times, a few times he was faster, but he always acted like a little ADHS child on the BBSes.
Back then, I never saw him as a competitor.
From a New Zealand perspective, it appeared that all the new games came out first in the UK. Therefore it seems that supplying originals for UK games from Germany would be a nigh on impossible job most of the time when speed is of the essence. But based on the number of cracks of UK software that says "supplied by SSR", how on earth you guys manage it?
Well, distributors released their games the same day in Europe or at least mostly in the UK and Germany, so while 2tuff was riding his BMX bike and had to warp the games to the cracker, Rudi had already arrived at FFC's place having delivered him the originals. While FFC was already looking at the protection, the others were still uploading to their crackers. The other advantage I had was that my girl was working at LeisureSoft Germany, so she told me one day earlier what was coming out and so on. She made it possible for us to be that fast!
When there were multiple games released the same day, did Selim/Rudi deliver the whole lot to FFC and he'd quickly work out which were the easier to crack titles? And presumably he'd send those easier to crack titles off via modem to the other crackers while he worked on the ones that were more difficult to crack without possessing the original disk?
Well FFC was like a machine, for example, while Eurosoft cracked and worked at the harder protections, FFC concentrated on the others. Many times when a title was important (let's say a Psygnosis game being more important to deprotect than any other as it was a major release) we also knew which rival group may have had the originals as well. That was our advantage, due to my girlfriend! ;)
The other thing was, we didn't need a BMX bike to grab the games from distributor, lol!
Back to FFC, he also did many heavy protected games back then, if he needed help, he called Eurosoft by phone, and they sorted things out together, and if there were really heavily protected games, Eurosoft got the whole warp to check in and work at.
Having original suppliers in Germany, the UK, and the USA, how did you co-ordinate who would source each game to prevent duplicate purchases of the games?
We just called each other, since we in Germany never paid for any original I supplied, we of course chose the German original instead of the UK one if they came out the same day.
If there was a really massive release (something like Lemmings, SWIV, Turrican 2 etc) would you concentrate on getting the big name game out the door and leave all the other games to the other crackers?
Major games got priority, and if a major title had heavier protection, Eurosoft took care of it. For the rest, FFC or our others crackers.
Did you guys read the same computer magazines as everyone else did to find out the big games that were coming out or simply bought new games as they were released?
I always got all the mags due to the companies I was working for, my girlfriend also got lots of stuff, and information (no wonder eh!?). Then there were many shows we visited. That way I also gained new connections and stuff.
Did you guys try and obtain every single game, or only concentrated on the big games?
We got everything that was new, and I also gave originals to friends in Alpha Flight, TRSI, and others, mainly German ONLY games.
When you ended up buying crap like Tiertex games or budget titles etc, did your sister's shop have problems selling off these titles?
What wasn't sold by the store after a while got sent back to the distributor! :)
Was your girlfriend at Leisuresoft interested in the whole original supplying/cracking scene or was it just a job for her and she didn't really care what you guys were doing? Was there ever any chance she would have gotten in trouble from knowing you guys or did she keep clean by only telling you about the games and you simply bought them?
Yes it was very risky for her, and she didn't know many of us at the beginning, but she told me who else tried to get originals from them! Not even Rudi or Selim knew it was my girlfriend! Imagine them picking up originals from my girlfriend, and didn't know she was mine lol...
Since we were all living in other cities, after a while (I think it was about 8 months) Rudi/Selim were informed about her, who she really was and all. Other than that she didn't care much for the scene, she didn't even really understand why we did all that lol.
I've heard of some games released by cracking groups sometimes a week or two before being available to purchase in the shops. Was your girlfriend able to "borrow" a copy of these titles so you could release the games before the shops even had them for sale?
Yes indeed! She got some titles earlier (so called press releases, finals with a special serial number in, which was removed before releasing of course!). And I also got some from a known German magazine. While they were testing the new games coming up, I sometimes got a copy! ;)
They were also getting the games from the company I worked for, for testing and reviewing and stuff. So it was like one hand washing the other ya know.
Did you maintain any kind of master release-list text file detailing every single Skid Row release during that period, or a list of all the games you supplied?
Nahw, I wish I had!
The French original supplier Foxy wrote an interesting post about the Skid Row release of Lemmings. According to his post, the group Sprint was going to make their appearance on the scene by releasing the game Lemmings as a world first. The original had been sourced, an intro was ready, but none of the crackers were answering his calls. He was convinced by other Sprint members to trust FFC to crack the game for Sprint, despite 2 other games also being released via Skid Row. The Skid Row leader Metallica caught wind of this, money changed hands and in some kind of double cross, FFC cracked the game and released it as a Skid Row crack yet again! What do you recall about this?
Well Metallica never paid FFC, that's for sure, and I knew both personally and have met them often. The thing was, that French frog wanted money for the game as he got it earlier. He tried to fool us before, so we said, alright, we'll pay you and FFC, while FFC said he will send bucks to the frog dude - which never happened, and that pissed him off of course, lol... (The frog dude trusted FFC more than Metallica or myself ya know).
There are many rumours around where people claim that Skid Row was a money based group, or made money by selling stuff, cards and what not.
That's not all true! Of course our card hackers sold their cards (what else are you going to do when you have thousands of AT&T cards lol). And if they made some members a few bucks, then they ended up re-investing in things such as getting a modem to other members, or visiting important people.
Keeping an eye on the competition
Did most of the original game suppliers in the underground scene know where their rivals were obtaining their games from? Did you know what 2tuff was up to, where Fairlight and Paradox got their games from etc?
Well I sure knew every step from 2tuff, that's for sure, as he meet our suppliers in UK many times. I was also informed who had picked up stuff from LeisureSoft Germany due to my girlfriend. I do not know much about the French guys, where they got their stuff, but I remember we also got a lot of Ubisoft stuff out first. The US boys were also fast, god knows how they managed all those major releases!
And I'm also unsure if people knew where we (especially SSR) got our stuff from. They may have known the distributors, but these were not the only places we got originals from ;)
Life after Skid Row
Can you tell me what happened in 1992 to make you leave Skid Row? According to some sources, you formed Crack Inc, is that correct?
Indeed, I founded Crack Inc together with my local intro-coding friend, Brainwalker. Crack Inc did not have many releases - about 30 in all. It was planned to be my last journey on the Amiga, with quality stuff and releases.
Then there was also Dynamix, founded by SSR, but also didn't last long... But we got good (and nice) people as members such as AmoK, Paso, Mok and SS, which was a great experience, but short!
Then after a while, I was asked by Zelnik, Action Man, N.O.M.A.D. and some others who came from Crystal to start something completely new together with them all. We created Ministry, starting out really well with some quality releases (which was no wonder, as we had the best crackers - N.O.M.A.D., Mok, Eurosoft etc). We also had enough originals for everyone to begin with, but somehow the new Amiga stuff became less and less, people lost interest, and others got PCs.
At that time I was a total Amiga lover, and absolutely hated PC, learning a new system and all, and I noticed it was coming to an end on the Amiga, so I left for good, and started shitty real life, wife, family, own company meanwhile (nothing computer related!)
And I tell ya, it wasn't easy for someone like me, saying goodbye to the scene from one day to the next. Well I didn't really say that, I just didn't call the BBSes anymore.
But after a few days, all was fine, life had been sorted and things like that. And meanwhile, I am more or less enjoying life, as I worked my arse off for long enough lol!
Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
I would like to sent some greetings to...
Metallica, FFC, Eurosoft, Onyx, Nomad, Mok, Phil D., Blackhawk, Galahad, Strider, Zelnik, ActionMan, TheWhiteKnight, Micro, Marco Polo, Rudi and Selim, Relayer (and the rest of our old US sysops), Brainwalker, Amok, SCSI, Paso, Shut Berlin, Ramses, all Vanish'ed Boys, all at TRSi (especially Irata+Hardy), all from HQC, all at IBB, Tristar Guys, my friends in Bamiga Sector one, all at Factor 5, and to all I have forgotten. Special thanks to you Codetapper, for having this interview with me, which brings back a lot of memories... cheers!
Thank you for your time, it's been fascinating to hear about what went on behind the scenes!
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