Galahad from the South West of England used to be at Fairlight. Phill has been cracking copy protection on games in his spare time for over 30 years.
The career of the British Amiga programmer Galahad started in the demoscene at Dual Crew. But Phill had his sights set on cracking the copy protection of games right from the start. Over the years, he became one of the most famous crackers around. Hardly any computer freak over the age of 50 will not know his name and that of his later group, Fairlight.
Die deutschsprachige Version des Interviews ist hier verfügbar.
Galahad: the car mechanic and programmer
Fairlight dominated the illegal scene for many years. First on the C64, later on the Amiga and on various other computer platforms. Funnily enough, he recently returned to the group Scoopex, which Galahad had joined once before for fun. But he has never officially left Fairlight. The reason is, that they’re not cracking any Amiga games anymore.
Galahad, actually you don’t have to introduce yourself to anyone. But please do it once anyway. (with job, hobbies, age, marital status, etc.). – You can of course leave out whatever you want).
When did you enter the scene? How did you get into it?
Aloha, i’m more commonly known as Galahad to some, and Phill to others. I work for myself, fixing, breaking cars and pulling apart 4×4’s to goto Africa!
I’m with my long term partner of 16 years (I suppose I really should put a ring on it by now!).
Galahad: “I was attracted by the underground character and the anonymity.“
Galahad: I suppose I entered the scene back in 1991 when I joined Leeds Spreading Division (LSD), but the modem scene in 1992, there really wasn’t much point in being in LSD and being a cracker, because LSD really had no chance whatsoever to to get fast original supplies.
So another member (Deadbeat) and I managed to join Scoopex for about a week (I kid you not!), I did a +22 trainer for Wizkid for them, and then it was obvious that Scoopex were no longer in a position anymore to get fast originals, so other than being in a much better group than LSD, I was again pretty much going to be relegated to doing trainers with no hope of doing what I actually wanted to do, which didn’t excite me one bit.
It’s all a question of speed.
What fascinated you about the release scene (cracking scene) back then?
The underground nature of it, the anonymity, that everyone would know your name, but you were still invisible. I’d already decided when I first got my Amiga that the cracking scene was where I wanted to be, but not knowing whether I had the skills to compete or whether there would be too much competition to get started as I figured out quite early that a lot of the best Amiga crackers in the late 80’s had already gotten their start on the C64 doing cracks, so they were already ahead in knowledge.
And how do you motivate yourself today to still crack now and then?
Galahad: I don’t know, its not as if there isn’t plenty of others around that couldn’t do what I do, but I seem to be many peoples first point of contact when it comes to cracking something new or something that wasn’t cracked properly back in the day, and if someone asks, I find it difficult to not at least take a look and see what I’m up against.
Next thing you know, I’ve made progress, it’s cracked and then its just sorting out a cracktro and its done. Sure, it’s rather boring when you’re presented with a protection that frankly, an amateur has a good chance to crack properly first time, but every now and then, you get something that tries to give you a hard time and before you know it, you’re knee deep in 68000 ASM, pulling it to pieces!
Galahad just can’t keep his hands off it.
And why as a cracker of copy protections? It seems to me that you love challenges.
Galahad: I was always nosy as a kid, wanting to know how things work, pulling remote control cars to pieces and then putting them back together again, the gears on my bike, I just liked to know how things work, and on Amiga, it was a Rob Northen Copylock protected game that got me started.
I couldn’t begin to tell you which one it was, but its the manner in which even though I knew absolutely nothing about the Amiga, 68000 ASM, once this particular game had finished loading, the disk drive made this massive noise (sound of drive stepping down from track 60 to track 0 and then stepping back to track 60 again), and even though I had no knowledge of the Amiga, I determined there and then “If that isn’t a copy protection check, i’d be very surprised!”, and so from there I decided to find out.
Which copy protection did you start with?
Galahad: Undoubtedly it would have been Carrier Command and its document check (and its extra protection if you didn’t enter anything). First thing I did was buy an Action Replay MK1 cartridge, I only had an inkling of what it might do, but at this point, I didn’t even know 68000 ASM, but I’d read an article in a computer magazine that explained what a Monitor type program was, what real time assembly / disassembly was and figured out for myself that this would be a great way to learn, because even if I was unsure what specific instructions were doing, I could check results in registers and learn what they were doing.
Curiosity as the driving force
Unfortunately for me, the MK1 Action Replay was a load of crap in some respects, was quite easy from games programmers to detect and knock it out, and also if you wanted to save files, you had to save to special formatted disks in a custom AR format, and then on resetting your Amiga, you then had to use an utility to copy the files from the custom disk onto a normal AmigaDOS formatted disk, so it wasn’t long before that was replaced with an Action Replay MK2 that could actually save down to AmigaDOS disks and that made progress a lot better.
Who accompanied you, helped you?
Galahad: I had brief help from a mate of mine that was instrumental in getting me involved in Amiga in the first place, but it was obvious that whilst he was good at figuring stuff out, I was a few levels ahead of him, and I got frustrated watching him do stuff, when I could see the answer in front of me and was itching to get on the computer to see if I was able to solve the problem. It wasn’t long before I went my own way and for the most part, I’m a self taught 68000 programmer and cracker.
Galahad: “Most of it I taught myself.”
Did you work often on Rob Northen Copylock?
Galahad: Yup, I would say that at least 70% of the copy protections on Amiga had Rob Northens protection of some sort on the disk, so for sure, you were going to encounter his protection at some stage.
In Rob Northens defence, his protection wasn’t really that bad, the major problem was how other people implemented his routines into their games, and a lot of the time they just made no efforts whatsoever to hide what it was the protection was doing.
The Rob Northen Copylock was practically omnipresent
I would say that over 50% of the Copylock protected games, as a cracker you didn’t need to know what the serial key on the protected track was, because it would be in the game, usually attached to a CMPI.L instruction, and the game would be physically checking the serial key in a longword which was monumentally a stupid thing to do, because something like a
That REALLY sticks out to you when you’re looking at the game code.
Programmers made no attempt to disguise the Copylock header, so by seaching for the string “ONz”, if the Copylock was in memory, you were going to find it easily enough, and a good cracker knows precisely how it works, knows how to find the start, and the end of the Copylock and knows where the Copylock will return to once its finished.
And, if the cracker is very knowledgeable, they also know how to decrypt it, modify it, and then re-encrypt it.
What was the most difficult copy protection for you?
Galahad: Actually, the most time consuming and tricky one for me is a very recent game that I haven’t released as of yet called Gateway Ypsilon (final playtesting and doing a cracktro for it), its a work of genius, and it was like being back in Fairlight all over again, because this had to be done old skool style, working from warp files of the 2 disks, no IPF or real disks as its a very rare game, but the guy who wrote the copy protection for this one, he must have sat down thinking long and hard of all the ways it was possible to screw with crackers to prevent the game from being successfully cracked.
Two different MFM formats, different length tracks, different SYNC marks to separate tracks on the same side of the disk, dynamic loading like SWIV / Ninja Warriors throughout the game, checksums, just lots of stuff that he did to try and stop a release, tiny trackbuffer which was much smaller than a normal AmigaDOS sized one.
Needless to say, I’ve done it, but it was a very welcome change from spending 2 minutes on a hastily thrown in Copylock. LOL
The copy protection was a welcome distraction.
When I played games as a little Lamer, your name was somehow omnipresent in crack intros for me. Did you get money for the cracks, or how did Fairlight motivate you?
Galahad: I didn’t get paid for doing cracks for Fairlight nor any of the previous groups I was in. I was doing what I always wanted to do, be a cracker in a group that could compete with others to get the originals. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best cracker in the world, if you don’t have one of the best original suppliers and you’re not in a group as organised as the likes of Fairlight, Prestige, Skid Row, Crystal and others were, you’re sat there cracking the crumbs left over that the other groups couldn’t be bothered to do, because no-one is rushing for the kudos points on some piece of shit no-one is going to boot up more than once!
Fairlight did buy my modem for me, I already had one but it was failing, so I borrowed one off someone else, couple of months later they decided it was up for sale, yes I could buy it if I wanted it, if I didn’t want it, they wanted it back.
We wanted to be number one in all aspects!
Galahad: Next thing I know, JBM/Fairlight is sending me the money to pay for it, and I continue cracking for Fairlight :)
My main motivation for cracking for Fairlight was that I was cracking for Fairlight. After years of being in groups that just were either not that serious about Amiga cracking, or couldn’t sustain a regular supply of Amiga originals, I was now in a group whose entire mantra was being #1 about all those things.
Yes, money was involved in Fairlight and other top groups, but it had to be, how else are you going to afford two copies of each game as it’s released? The Amiga scene had gone well beyond people cobbling their pocket money together to get the latest game to release, at Fairlights main supply hub, if there were 3 games released in a week, you HAD to buy 2 copies of each to qualify to buy them, because reasonably, that’s what a small independent computer game retailer might conceivably buy in to sell. And also it became a good habit, because several times an original disk was damaged in some way and having a second copy helped cut down on a release not being able to be done because you’d have to be really unlucky to have 2 broken copies.
Money always played a role…
And what about other groups?
Galahad: Most of the top groups operated on the same basis, although its no secret that some crackers were paid for their efforts, but then those same crackers had been at it since C64 days, and some of these crackers were seen as the very best, and there are some games that you absolutely cannot afford to screw up and have a bad release on, because everyone will remember it, and no-one will forgive you for it, and it could be the difference between people avoiding any future releases your group does or welcoming them.
World of difference between whatever crap Zeppelin Games is releasing and Lemmings, the first one no-one cares about, the second, EVERYONE cares about ;)
Caution was the order of the day at Top Games!
In which groups were you actually during all the time?
I won’t mention the nothing groups, because they were nothing, and we don’t celebrate nothing lol
LSD, Scoopex, Dual Crew Shining, Fairlight, Rednex, Scoopex!
Where does your love for the Amiga come from?
Before the Amiga I had a brief dalliance with the Atari ST, but before that, I had a BBC Micro that I was fairly happy with at the time, but even by the time the Amiga came on the horizon for me, I hadn’t touched the BBC Micro for at least 2 years, my future was not in computers by any stretch, I had no cracking inclinations, I liked computers and found them interesting, but not enough to do anything… until I saw the Amiga in action for the first time.
The Commodore Amiga just overwhelmed me!
Galahad: I was blown away, to say it was a massive step up from the 8bit era is selling the Amiga short. To put the Amiga into perspective, the leap between PS3 and PS4 is magnitudes smaller than the leap between 8bit and Amiga.
When I saw the Amiga, HAM mode pictures and a sampled rendition of Pet Shop Boys and Madonna, I just knew I had to get one.
Couldn’t get hold of one, hence the brief dalliance with an Atari ST which whilst graphically it was OK, the sound that came from it reminded me an awful lot about the BBC Micro and sounded nothing like the Amiga I had heard at all.
Galahad gave back the Atari ST
Weeks later, ST returned to shop, Amiga with Kickstart 1.2 bought, and it’s been Amiga ever since.
Still irritated with what Commodore did to the Amiga, the future might well have been x86 or ARM, but the Amiga deserved to either still be here or soldier on for a decade longer at least.
Were you ever in trouble with the police? Or was an acquaintance of you busted?
Galahad: Not me no, although I was asked to crack a little program for another group called Photogenics, and by all accounts, some efforts were made to try and find out who I was by Almathera, the publishers of Photogenics, probably because I wasn’t caught out by any of the checksums which meant it was a 100% crack people could actually use.
Wanted as a cracker but not unmasked.
A friend of mine who was a major UK mail trader. He got done for reusing stamps, something was put on the stamps so when the franking mark was stamped over them to say the stamps were valid, that same franking mark could simply be rubbed off, allowing the stamps and jiffy bag to be reused again.
Was there ever a contact between you and the programmers, whose copy protection you have overcome?
Actually yes on two occasions, I met the programmers of a couple of games, one of them long after their game had been published and done, and the other I met before I went onto crack their game for Fairlight!
Galahad: “I have met my victims in person several times”
Galahad: I certainly didn’t go back to the second guy and say “I cracked your protection… LOL!”, as it was nothing personal.
It was never Fairlight vs Ocean, Fairlight vs Bitmap Brothers… It was always, Fairlight vs, Prestige, Fairlight vs Crystal, the games were simply the device with which we could flex our metaphorical muscles to best other groups.
There wasn’t really any point or need for growing a conscience over these things, because it was quite simple, if when I was asked to crack X game for Fairlight, and I said “sorry, can’t do that one”, they would have said “fine” and just offered to Skol or Renegade who would have done it, and regardless, it would have been a Fairlight release.
No matter what, it was getting cracked, but I also didn’t feel the need to rub it in either.
“There was no reason to have a bad conscience.”
Why are you in Scoopex now?
Galahad: I had known Photon of Scoopex for quite some time, and it came to a game called Snow Bros from Ocean France and I’d cracked it to 1 disk like the original, but room on the disk was at an absolute premium, we are talking barely any room whatsoever.
I asked Photon did he feel like doing a cracktro for it, but that we were really up against it with room, and he saw that as a worthy challenge, and created the MonsterBobs cracktro, generated music, so after a couple of days of rejigging it to get it to fit, it was released as a sole production from me, cracktro by Scoopex.
Scoopex: It all started with a Cracktro
And then not long after that, I converted Where Time Stood Still from the Atari ST to Amiga, a Dentons Design game that was meant to come out on Amiga but never did. And again I asked Photon if he felt like contributing the cracktro again, but he’d have more room this time, and that’s when we had a discussion, end result was I was asked to join Scoopex, which was fine by me, because up to that point, whilst I was still technically in Fairlight (I’ve never left FLT), I was essentially doing most of the stuff for myself.
Now I had access to great coders, musicians and graphics artists, which means everyone gets to showcase their work, hopefully on productions that people want to play or view.
We are all no longer teenagers!
What structures did you expect there, what did you plan there?
Galahad: There is a structure but its a loose one. None of us are teenagers or in our 20’s anymore, time is not as free as it used to be, so there’s no real pressure on anyone, but when people can give up their time, they turn out stellar work.
I think certainly musically, Scoopex has one of the strongest lineups in that department, and most importantly, they are keen to do it.
When I was in the cooperation Deviance / Scoopex in 2006, everything seemed totally chaotic, has that become better? Do you have one or two organiser now, who are pulling the strings?
Photon is the man running the show, but again, its relaxed, it has to be, none of us can devote the same amount of time we used to. We are very much a “it’s done when it’s done” kind of group.
To what extent do your skills as a cracker influence your professional activities? Could you or can you use that for your professional advancement?
Other than having a fairly decent problem solving brain when it comes to fixing cars and taking them apart, my cracker activities play no part in my day to day life.
Like programming however, i’m a self taught mechanic, largely successful at it, so I must be doing something right.
Voyage’s boot block was encrypted for protection
In the Making of Voyage we talk to sim and his built-in copy protection in a demo (scenes.at/6nsy8h).
How long did you actually work on creating an AGA fix for this? What attracted you to Voyage?
Galahad: I used to do AGA fixes in between doing cracks for Fairlight and Rednex, and without thinking, I put in a readme for one particular AGA game fix that I was up for doing anything, including demos.
And Voyage got requested a LOT, of all the things I was doing back then, I must have had at least 30+ PM’s from people on various BBS’s that I frequented, and Voyage was at the top of most peoples list at the exclusion of other demos and games.
I also loved that demo, the atmosphere and the music, the BBS bit was a bit boring, but I think what saved that bit was the real time graphics rotation going on, but the rest of it, just full of neat ideas.
And the programmer had bloody well copy protected the boot routines lol, which was a fatal mistake, because now, if for no other reason, I was going to fix this demo just to “crack” that part!!
I think I was also hoping this was the only issue with the demo, but there were others that the programmer simply couldn’t expect to know about.
As I recall, I had to crack it on A500, there were some absolutely precise timings needed which 020 completely changed so that the encrypted part of the bootblock simply wouldn’t decrypt properly. I think it was a combination of the speed of a 68000 and CIA timing, but either way, even disabling caches on 020 it was too fast, I remember that the Action Replay was no good for grabbing it either as if you interrupted that decryption phase at any point, the timings were off and it wouldn’t decrypt properly, and you just couldn’t enter at the right point, possible by accident I suppose.
If I remember correctly, I wrote another bootblock which would copy the Voyage bootblock to its expected location in memory. And most importantly, I hadn’t interfered with the system at that point so as far as the demo was concerned, it was loading up in the environment it was expecting, which meant timings were untouched and most importantly, the Voyage bootblock was loaded up without modifications.
I was then able to patch one byte of the encrypted data that once fully decrypted, would cause the boot process to stop entirely, and not go any further, which meant I was then able to grab the bootblock and save it out decrypted entirely.
I had to do this twice, but for the second time, patch a byte before the last one, so I could know what that first word of data was supposed to be and correct it. You can download Galahads AGA fix of Voyage by Razor 1911 from here.
Galahad’s fix improved the WinUAE
I have a feeling thats how I did it, but it was 23/24 years ago now and I couldn’t tell you what I ate last week. LOL!
If I remember correctly, the entirely decrypted bootblock is in my version of the fix, gets loaded to the correct memory address, and then it skips over decrypter routines, but everything in the bootblock is as the code expects to find it so it doesn’t fail.
WinUAE got a bit better because of Voyage when I pointed out that the reason why it didn’t work on WinUAE was because of the decryption failing in the boot. Two days later, Toni Wilen implemented a fix that enabled it to run :)
When Dreams Come True
Kim Schmitz aka Kim Dotcom (Kimble, Bitbug of ex-Loons, Romkids) is still waiting in New Zealand to be extradited to the USA. Have you ever had any contact? What do you think of him?
Galahad: I’ve of course heard of him, but only negatively. But those that are infamous largely don’t care how they are remembered, only that they are remembered.
He is a footnote on the Amiga scene, relying on the skills of others and discoveries of others all for a bit of fame on TV.
Hey Kim Dotcom, Karma Is a Bitch
Blue boxing wouldn’t have lasted forever, but it would have lasted longer had he not done what he did.
Same thing happened here in the UK, some morons go on a TV show on Channel 4, two days later, British Telecom shut down the ability to blue box anymore, but from what I remember, they kept their identities hidden, Kimble revelled in it.
However I’m not in favour of the US getting him on copyright charges, they have this magical ability to overreact to just about everything, seemingly wanting to make an example of everyone. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a law against being a fat twat, so anything else they can get him on lol?
I’ll support the US getting Kimble the same time that they extradite Ann Sacoolas who ran over and killed Harry Dunn and then fled to the US, and where they have refused to send her back. The US seems rather selective over justice.
The USA wants to make an example
Did you ever call Scene Talk? That was a voice line with some rooms, where people could meet.
Galahad: No, never, other than being on some of the big BBS’s of the time, I largely kept myself to myself, not wanting to advertise who I was.
Some would say karma is a bitch. Now Kim is getting what he deserves. How do you see it?
Yes he deserves Karma, but like I said. Not for copyright reasons, I’d be a hypocrite otherwise, and I don’t believe the US would be fair, they rarely are.
What will you do professionally and as a hobby in 10 years?
Galahad: I dunno, I’m still doing Amiga stuff, but unfortunately, and its something we all have to face as time marches on, the audience for what we do on the Amiga dwindles each year as more people either lose interest, or as happens far too often, die :(
Whether I will still be doing this when i’m nearly 60 years old, I couldn’t tell you, but for sure the desires for Amiga that I had when I was in my late teens, are not as strong today. Now I have a business I have to maintain, work to do, relationship to keep, it’s not about just me anymore.
“A boy has to have a hobby”
So yeah, I’d love to say for sure that in ten years I’ll still be doing this, but for sure the majority if not all remaining uncracked Amiga games will be done by me and others, just about every WHDLoad install will be done, all Atari ST games that are worth converting will be done, at some point, the skills that I have, will cease to be useful anymore.
But I’m not ready to go off into the sunset just yet, a boy has to have a hobby, and it beats sniffing glue!