Sledgehammer / Hotline
Added on October 3rd, 2020 (2211 views)

Tell us something about yourself.
For security reasons, I can't really release that information.

What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Sledgehm or SLH were the handles I used, both shortened versions of Sledgehammer. I took that name because I like to hammer things down.

What group(s) were you in?
When it comes to the C64, I founded the group Hotline, and never left. I never even changed my handle. On other platforms, there were other group names that I used.

What roles have you fulfilled?
I have been a swapper, a cracker, an organiser and a BBS sysop.

How long were you active for?
Piracy filled about 12 years of my life, but if you take just the C64 part of that, it must have been about four years, give or take.

Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
It all started because I wanted more games, I was missing a lot of titles I'd read about in Commodore User, so I started writing letters to some of the addresses I'd found in demos, and I got a response back from ACS.

ACS got lots of letters from all over Europe because of the demos he programmed, but he only swapped with a few people. Through him, we got in contact with one of the biggest computer clubs in the Netherlands. After attending a meeting in Nijmegen, it was clear to me that I had to start a cracking group: it was the only path to fame, glory and lots of free games. I asked ACS if he knew anyone who could explain to me how to crack game protections. He knew a guy from a group called The Warriors, and after a quick tutorial at his house, a new binary world opened up for me. A plan was taking shape in my mind: England was where most of the new titles were coming from, so I had to find some contacts there in order to get hold of some originals. I asked ACS if I could write to some of the many addresses he had received, and he said: "sure, go for it". So letters were written and sent to various parts of England. I asked these new contacts for originals or backups that I could crack and promised to mention the supplier's name or group in the intro. Thus, I had made a start, and original games duly came flooding in. ACS quickly made a Hotline intro, and a few days later, we released some of the first Hotline cracks. I quickly stepped up doing the cracking, since ACS preferred coding demos and games to cracking games. Luckily, the first games were simple tape loaders, so I had time to develop my cracking skills. I got in contact with other groups at meetings and met some people who were eager to jump ship and join Hotline, so other crackers and intro coders were quickly added to the group.

Attending those computer meetings really helped us to disseminate our cracks, and many groups were eager to trade warez with us. Getting to the top was not that hard, but staying there was the really tricky bit. Another aspect was the feelings and emotions of the other group members: as leader, I had to listen to a whole lot of personal stuff – members jealous of other members, or even jealous of me, because I was getting more recognition than other members who were making the intros. The part most of them seemed to miss was that I was doing the lion's share of the work out of everybody in the group. But then again, it was a group effort, you can't run a cracking crew on your own. In my opinion, the modem scene was fun for a while, but once every other lamer was calling in to the US bulletin boards, the fun was over for me. Games were being shared, sometimes with three intros on them. Most times I removed them, because who wants to trawl through that many intros before playing a game? We also had a member who imported US games and added an import intro to them, but at least he knew how to convert NTSC to PAL. For me, all these BBSs turned into one big trashcan after a while, and I gave up and let other members handle it. In our fourth year, I turned all the leadership and trading over to other members and joined The Blade Runners on the Atari ST.

Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
It mostly consisted of waiting for the postman to deliver packages from the many groups I traded with, including of course originals that needed cracking. Otherwise, I played games, fucked around on conference calls, tried to improve trainer options in games, etc.

Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
No, I can't make that claim, though I did make a lot of good deals through building up trust, and that really helped keep the group happy and at the top of our game.

When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Definitely, setting up the Bulletin Boards in the US and everything connected with that. Hotline really brought things up to a much bigger scale, it just exploded and took on a life of its own like I had never expected. Another thing I am proud of is the work we did on the Super Nintendo, but that is another story.

Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Mitch of Eagle Soft, who was one of the better crackers on the scene, he always had my professional respect, even if I didn't like the guy that much on a personal level, because some of the protections used on the US games, like the track and sector loaders, were not easy to crack. The Mercenary Cracker was a good friend and deserves respect for being so good not only at cracking but also programming, making graphics and later music, which is what made him famous with Maniacs of Noise.

What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
For me, it's the sound routine from Maniacs of Noise, or Card Cruncher by 1001 crew which sped up my releases just so much.

Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yeah, I attended some parties in the Netherlands and Germany. I also went to the tradeshows in London for several years running.

In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
It was about competition, respect, fame and glory and about meeting people to work with.

What were the particular highlights for you?
I liked the meetings in Venlo a lot, I hooked up with the other members of Hotline there and also met many other cracking groups.

Any cool stories to share with us?
We used to make loads of wacky phone calls on conference calls, like calling the Chinese consulate and asking to speak to the most senior official there; when this very important person came on the line, the mad American guy who had set up the conference call asked if he could order egg rolls and some other Chinese food. :O

There was this one guy who was re-cracking our releases, and hated my guts, whom I exposed in a computer meeting with an anti-demo of his group. It was so popular that all the groups in the Netherlands started making anti-demos of this group. I won't mention their name here, because that would give them the fame they do not deserve. I asked one of my American friends to call him up and pretend he was from Eagle Soft, looking for a partner in the Netherlands to exclusively import games for them. As you can imagine, the guy was very keen. My friend then asked him what he thought about the group Hotline, and the guy starts trash-talking us like you would expect. It was a lot of fun to listen in covertly, and even more fun to hear the disbelieve in his voice when I suddenly cut in and started talking to him. He cursed a lot and then hung up. I never saw him again at any of the computer meetings.

Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
I am with a few, on Facebook.

When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
Before computers, I was a big collector of comic books; not the US superhero shit, but the decent European ones. When I saw the commercials on TV for this machine, I just had to have it. I decided to sell my comic book collection, over 2000 issues, and used the money to buy my first C64 in 1983. When I left the C64 scene, I sold my C64 to some guy, I forget who. I never had another one after that: when I left a scene, I always sold the machine or console relating to it as well.

Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
It was simple to get into and had an arsenal of cool games. It was the first computer I ever liked. I had a lot of switches built into my machine, so I could switch to action replay or other debuggers directly in the game. Those were very handy tools for game cracking/training. The first computer I bought was a used Sinclair ZX81, but I sold it on to another guy just a week later, what a disappointment that machine was...

When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)

Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Stop living in the retro past, life's too short! But seriously, my greetings go out to all the friends and contacts who know me, thanks for all the good times we had.

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