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The Art Of Warez

oliver payne · Vimeo · 349 HN points · 0 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention oliver payne's video "The Art Of Warez".
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Aug 02, 2019 · 349 points, 95 comments · submitted by fcambus
What a fun watch. I was a member of CiA, the “Creators of intense Art” and my handle at the time shows up in the video. I wasn’t an ANSI artist though — mostly worked on VGAs using Photoshop and 3D Studio R4 on my 386DX with the math coprocessor. Rendering frames was painfully slow, but there was a big push each month to pull together a collection of ANSI, VGA, RIP, and Lit to release and highlight our skills.

I’m still in touch with a few of the guys I knew from the group. Most were people I’d never met in person —- only spoke to on phone bridges or on IRC.

Such a fun and formative time where everything was still so new and unexplored.

One of the more interesting things to come out of the ANSI scene, as the web began to emerge, was a website called which gave each artist just the edge pixels of a square of artwork from what another artist had created. From there, the artist on the receiving end, could create their own square of the overall composition. Only when all of the squares had been created could you see the end product with the combined imagery created from the imaginations of artists who expanded upon the edge pixels from another artist.

Thanks for posting this. I remember those days very fondly.

> Most were people I’d never met in person

I was on a BBS in Sacramento, CA and we had the opposite - it was a MajorBBS system and teleconference was almost always full. People could say "CIT" (Coffee In Ten) and we'd all drop off and meet up at a Java City location in midtown. The odd thing about this BBS was that it was a very diverse group, and not just a warez scene. It was actually a local social scene, and weathered the days of AOL. The web slowly killed it off, though.

MajorBBS was a whole other ballgame when it came to operations... Cost of the software, digiboards, modems and multiple lines generally put it outside of the reach of the teenage sysop market... it also tended to lend to commercial operators who flipped into the ISP space (or at least it did on the east coast)
We had a couple in the northern California region that were MajorBBS. I don't remember the costs but it seemed like it was common. Wildcat and Hermes were others … I think. it's been a while. :)

I'd love to spin up a MajorBBS installation again just to play Galactic Empire. That was a fun game.

I think this could be the tiles, if anyone else is curious: Super cool project! Would be fun to have a modern equivalent.
Yeah, that was it. There's also a collection of many artpacks here:

I still remember getting an $1,800 phone bill when I was 16 because the state I lived in split 2 counties into separate area codes and my ISP had a number I used to use labeled as local even though it was now long distance.

My mom was pissed but luckily we got the phone company to drop the charge due to all of the confusion.

This was shortly after the BBS era when dial-up ISPs started to pop up everywhere. Earthlink, Mindspring, NetZero, etc.. It was nice having a lot of competition back then. There was one ISP in NY called Red (or Red something). I remember it gave the best ping times in Quake. Does anyone remember what that ISP was named? It was during the late 1990s or maybe very early 2000s.

Happened to me too in my teens! New England telephone (later Nynex, later Verizon) had the most arcane pricing scheme in Massachusetts. Calling a BBS in the town next to mine in the same area code was a long distance call, etc. Anyways, I can still remember the panic/shock I felt as a 12 year old getting a $500 phone bill. I laugh it now because I was running an autodialer to hack long distance calling cards at the time. Karma :)
Interesting! I helped start an ISP in Central Mass in the mid-90s and at least part of the reason we picked the town we did for our POP was because it reached a ton of towns as a local call. For whatever reason, calling the next town over in a different area code was even considered a local call. Great memories from this era!
I remember a lot of them setting up 3 year contracts and giving an instant $400 on a new computer in exchange for signing up. Aol and Prodigy both had them and i'm pretty sure a few others did as well.

Then there was the whole NetZero hacking to disable the ads (that ate half the bandwidth). Those were the days in deed.

Anyone remember that period where FREE dialup was everywhere - even freaking KMart had one- little ad appeared at the top of the screen.

Here it is:

Figuring out how to game those systems so you could connect without the ads was always fun
Ahh yes, in the UK there was one called X-stream (and another called ic24) for a while which did exactly the same thing with an ad banner in exchange for a toll-free number. I think it was only free at weekends, and you’d have to retry hundreds of times to get through once word got out, only to end up with a crappy connection so slow you could barely use it. Still, it was free!

Someone I knew wrote a little program that killed the ad window...
Oh my. This brings me back to my teens. Spending all days on Swapper BBS (they had all the best warez), downloading Top Gun over a week. Me and my friend alternated disks (it was zipped into 14 1.4MB chunks) then trading floppy disks at school. The joy when we, after a week, had the whole game.

My mom used to kill me over hogging the phone-line all day and night. And the phone bills where Out of this world (pun intended).

Brings tears to my eyes. One of the happiest periods of my life.

You realize you and your friend figured out the basics of torrenting there? Downloading complementary pieces on limited bandwidth connections and sharing them across another.
I remember when my friend - who ran a popular warez BBS in my area - finally got his 14.4kbps USRobotics Sportster modem. I literally sprinted to his house for a demo, watching the warez download 6x faster than the 2400bps we were used to. It was so exciting.

Kids these days have no idea..

I remember getting excited about 2400bps.

I was not as early to the BBS scene as some of my friends, but I had to start at 300bps, even though my first model was rated for 1200.

There was a known issue with the serial port on the Apple //c I was using that I had to get fixed before I could even hit 1200.

In 1990, my roommate and I split for an HST so we could cut our long distance bills downloading Postscript fonts for our Macs at the time. This was before long distance got super cheap in Canada (we were calling a BBS in the US).

We were crazy obsessed with hoarding those fonts. Looking back, it was a ridiculous waste of time and money.

Heh, I had a 33k6 and my buddy across (an admittedly small) town only had a 14k4. It was often faster for him to ask me to download something, and then he’d hop on his bike, ride to my place, grab the floppy, and ride home.

That, and FidoNet! Nothing like a 12-year-old arguing his clearly superior opinions on a high latency global message board!

Fond fond memories.

Edit: also got my first functional Linux distro over dialup (Slackware). Floppies were expensive too, so I somehow figured out that I could download the A packages (core system), and a small subset of the N packages (networking) to floppies, and then bootstrap my way from there. Basically just grabbed PPP, the command-line FTP client, and Lynx, did the install, and then downloaded the X11 packages and Netscape from there.

Nice. Suse Linux was my first. But that came. Couple of years later. CD-ROM was already a thing by then.

Regarding the modems. My internal PCI 36.6 modem actually got me shorter latencies than using a 50k modem over serial bus. I have no idea why. But my 50k modem was at the very last years of modems. Many where getting ISDN and cable by then.

Perhaps, like me, your serial port was driven by an older UART chip like an 8250 [0] which could be a bottleneck for modems faster than 9,600 baud.

I remember in teen years phoning the local computer shop every week asking if they had the 16550 UART [1] serial cards in stock yet to upgrade my 486DX4-100 to get full 28.8kbps from my modem. Can't remember if they ever did.

I think the 16550 was faster largely because it had a larger buffer, so it wouldn't wait or drop data as often when the CPU was slow/busy.



Having the fortune of growing up at the exact moment all of this was happening has formed and shaped who I am today. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Even from your browser you can still connect to the official ACiD BBS

I recently posted a link to an interview with the creator of "Tradewars 2002" - a BBS door game. A bit different niche from the same era.

This is more about ANSI BBS art than it is about warez - which was usually contained ASCII art for releases.
ANSI art and Warez were pretty closely tied scenes.
BBSes were central to my growth as a software developer. I was a teenager in the '90s and quickly became hooked on calling up BBSes.

I played the games on them and found out you could make money writing and selling them... so I made my own. I released them as shareware, as others before me had, and asked people to mail me checks to register them (i.e. remove ad screens). I soon got mail from people all over North America and the world asking for registration codes.

I wrote those games in C and C++ and were the first big projects I ever worked on. Looking back, the code was really poorly done, but it taught me a lot about managing work and basic programming fundamentals. I got better as a developer over time, but I cut my teeth on writing BBS games.

Great video, though the team Razor 1911 really deserve more coverage. They were the prolific game crackers of their day.
Yeah I'd be interested in more about the teams but this was really about the ansi artists so fair enough.

The other names I remember from all those 1.44mb ace/rar files were class, hybrid, radium and DoD. Class was the one that had my favourite intros with amazing chiptunes.

they're still at the top of the game
Indeed. I haven't been into the warez scene in a long time. But if you look at any pre-db, Razor 1911 is still prolific. The thing that astounds me is that there are still so many groups, topsites, categories, etc. in this age of near ubiquitous surveillance.

For 10 bux a month you can get good quality music from nearly all artists on spotify. For 5 more, so can your whole household. Steam, and the steep discounts offered to the patient, has made PC gaming quite a cheap hobby (once you've bought the hardware, anyway). Yet, these people are still releasing games, music, apps, etc.

Just a lot of dedication to keep the scene going that long.

Some of "the scene" actually do it for archival reasons and aren't very big on piracy itself. Cracks are about preserving games playable long after their makers go out of business. The same goes for private servers.
Brings back great memories of long nights spent making ansi screens in TheDraw. I still have the muscle memory for all the keyboard shortcuts (it seems weird nowadays to imagine drawing with the keyboard).

I was even a minor member of iCE for a while. My first experience of impostor syndrome :)

There are still artists making great ansi art today. You don’t even need to draw with the keyboard if you don’t want with new editors like Moebius.

Give it a whirl, you’d be surprised how your fingers remember how to mash the function keys to shade!

What was your handle in iCE?

BBSes were great, and we got another burst of this kind of artistic and creative culture during the early days of the web. I hope it happens again somehow.

(ex-CiA coder :))

At this point I'm curious: do you know the guy who commented this and did you know he was an artist for CiA before he commented or was this one of those "surprise!" moment for you guys?

EDIT: spelling

Also this really short documentary on warez [1] is gold. [1]
Pre money Kevin Rose's neighbor.. these were great.
Uh, my teen years in one video. I was more on the warez side though. In Europe the Warez BBS had a "secret" couriering network that was out of band. Everymonth one of the biggest BBS would distribute all its uploads on DAT Tape (4/8 Gigs a Tape) to smaller ones. I was the one who received and distributed these tapes to local BBSs.. fun times.
I hosted a BBS in the mid 90's and it was a pain until OS/2 Warp and the 5th MB of RAM on a 486/66 that allowed me to run the BBS while still using my computer. Most of the traffic was photos of places abroad or girls. Every Christmas I left it without any ratio, the utilization was almost 100%.
No mention of mods, the audio counterpart to the visual side?

The ansi scene is alive and well today. Several groups such as Blocktronics and Fuel continue to put out packs. You can view the work by some of your old favorites still kicking it old school on the archive:
So I didn't fully get it: what is BBS?
Bulletin Board System. You connected via telnet over dial-up and could chat and participate in discussion threads with others, play games, download files. A lot of people hosted their own BBSes on their home computers. BBSes were largely out of style by the time I got a computer so I don’t have first-hand experience from the golden age of the BBSes but I’ve read a little about it on the web.
You connected via dialup to a host connected directly to a modem.

telnet is an protocol typically used on the Internet and run over TCP. The vast majority of BBSes did not involve any Internet technology or protocols. For instance, the functionality of SMTP and UUCP was provided by FidoNet.

However, as home dialup Internet itself became a thing in the early 90s a number of larger BBSes served as dialup ISPs.

There are of course BBSes today that can be connected to via telnet over the internet.

The best BBS when I was young were the ones that were only online for certain hours, because the op's parents wanted to use the phone during the day.
When I started BBSing, chatting was still a luxury feature available only from the larger corporate BBSes or the indie sysops who could afford multiple lines. Back then, the indie sysops didn't have access to stuff like ads to monetize their efforts.
Your predecessor's fora. This is the meeting place of phreakers and warez enthusiasts. Not as random or as clumsy as a public tracker; an elegant platform for a more... civilized age.
Sweet summer child...
This comment isn't really in the spirit of hn. Don't make fun of someone for not knowing something. Educate them!
it is a pretty ironic comment on a site called hacker news
Here’s a 5 hour documentary series:
It's like Reddit except lots of unrelated people ran it and you dialed into it with a modem.
And the number of concurrent users was directly correlated to the number of phone lines there were for the BBS.

So there were a lot of indie BBSes that scaled to... 1 concurrent user.

While that’s true, even single-line BBSes were still technically multi-user, as the sysop could be logged in locally while another user was on the line.
Yes, that is true too. It also depended on what software being used to run the BBS.
But that was OK! Because BBS's worked like Usenet. You logged in, checked your messages, and logged out. A lot of multi-line BBS's had lines dedicated to downloads and lines dedicated to interactive use.

I am having a weird time-travel moment remembering Telix continuously trying to redial through busy signals to BBS's to play my next turn on some door game while I listened to Smiths songs on FM radio and soldered crystals into Radio Shack touchpads so I could get free calls from pay phones.

Let's see how many of those concepts the median HN user remembers. :)

My friend's BBS had a dungeon style role playing game (this is around 1986), so you could waste quite a bit of time playing that game.

The best "purchasable power up" in the game was an "All You Can Eat"... which ran out very quickly, so not quite what was advertised.

Telix but not Telemate? ISTR the scripting language for Telemate was really nice and I definitely built something pretty sophisticated for x25 NUA scanning.

Payphone hacking was not much of a thing in Brazil but I spent days on Bluebeep on international R2 connections. It is amazing to think how hard you had to work to be able to call abroad. The scarcity in everything made for a lot of fun.

Toneloc was also something I recall from the era that was outstanding. It is a pity I never printed out the full exchange scans I had, as they were beautiful.

Probably a bit more like Facebook. With Reddit being more Usenet.
Q: What's a modem?

A: It's like Wifi you can hear.

A2: It's like WiFi you can sing.
This has been going around Facebook for a couple days now. It takes me back! I was an "artist"† in one of the better-known second-tier groups (if ICE and ACID comprise the first tier) and ran a fairly popular, though relatively small-scale, BBS in Chicago.

It's a good video and worth watching, but (I think) gets some things wrong that kept snapping me out of it.

For one thing, the link between HPAV boards ("HPAC" was not a common term) and warez boards is way overblown. The major groups all probably did have a couple of H/P people attached in some way, but for the most part I think all that amounted to was setting up conference bridges, which was super easy to do. The bit about "dummy 1-800 numbers" --- and someone could tell me that did really happen in a bunch of places --- rings false, because at the time, 800 numbers were perceived as risky, due to ANI. I got in trouble for phone bills like everyone else, but really, unless you were actually downloading warez, dialing into random BBS's across North America wasn't that expensive.

Warez boards and H/P boards were very different subcultures.

(For that matter: many boards were linked together through the FIDO protocols, which was like the BBS equivalent of Usenet).

I also don't remember much of a crossover between the ANSI scene and the demoscene (they were both linked through the broader BBS scene, of course). I don't think it's the case that ANSI people fed into demo stuff.

There are technical details in here I think are wrong as well. Most notably, I don't think it was modem speeds that broke ANSI, but rather modern operating systems. We didn't use ANSI because it was space efficient so much as because the only way to access a BBS was through a terminal emulator, and, for a long time, that meant MS-DOS. Also: the amount of technical skill you needed to do this stuff is way overblown. MS-DOS is cryptic compared to macOS and Win10, but it's how everything got done in the late 1980s and early 1990s; your parents often knew as much as you did about getting around on MS-DOS. Once people started SLIP'ing into ISPs on Windows and OS/2, it was just as easy to get GIFs as it was to get ANSI art.

It's hard to blame the video for that; my understanding is that it started out as a school final project, and, at any rate, it's trying to communicate to a lay audience.

Finally: I'm sort of spitting my drink out at the assertion that ANSI artists were exploring undiscovered new modes of visual expression, or that ANSI shading techniques are comparable to major artistic movements. If you want to say that about any countercultural art form, you'd say it about real graffiti, from which ANSI derived a lot of its visual style. The artistic-technical work involved in graffiti is, I think, a lot more serious than ANSI was. Looking back at old ANSI packs, a lot of it is just the technical-technical work of transcribing a reference image from a comic book or album cover into a pixel editor. That, by the way, didn't take weeks or months; once you got the hang of it, it was pretty quick (and by the early 1990s, a lot of that artwork was being drawn specifically for and with high-res viewers, so literally you were just using TheDraw as a sort of zoomed-in pixel editor).

I think pixel artists today work with much more significant constraints, do more interesting work, and probably don't draw a whole lot on the 1990s ANSI scene.

Eagerly awaiting my comeuppance from an ICE or ACID person on this critique. :)

not a good one

> . The bit about "dummy 1-800 numbers" --- and someone could tell me that did really happen in a bunch of places --- rings false, because at the time, 800 numbers were perceived as risky, due to ANI

This was my thought as well. 800 numbers were very rarely seen in my experience. What was common though was line extenders of various forms, first via diverters but later via call forwarding. Install call forwarding on a businesses alarm line that never received incoming calls (perhaps without their knoweldge) and forward calls to a distant but still local BBS. Because of overlapping calling areas you could greatly extend the calling area of a BBS.

What the video didn't really go into is how these various components, -- warez origination/cracking/distribution, art, phone stunts (conference calls/diverters/long distance codes/etc. ), bbs operation, etc. formed a bit of an economy. Lots of people who could do something useful but wanted to get something in return, exchanging things of value that wouldn't have otherwise been created except to get access to other stuff...

> I got in trouble for phone bills like everyone else, but really, unless you were actually downloading warez, dialing into random BBS's across North America wasn't that expensive.

You could easily spend a lot more time connected to far away boards in chat than from downloading...

So many QWK packets!

I loved the BBS and "underground" scene. I really wish I'd been able to keep in contact w/ the odd acquaintences and friends I had back then. It all didn't seem so fleeting in the moment. Connecting people to old handles from 25+ years ago isn't easy (which, I suppose, is good for a lot of people too).

Think about this at times. How many people I even met at meetups or even knew early early days of Defcon. The underground bbs scene and then the underground irc channels. Oh well.
the little groups I've been part, people started with release notes/bragging rights in a readme1st file, which then evolved into a elaborated ascii poster, and eventually the release included (in the dump or besides it) a demo. and since most groups were 2-4ppl, it was the same ones doing all that "PR"
That's how I remember it.
> ACiD

While I never had any talent for drawing (with ANSI or otherwise), I spent most of the time in my high school AP Computer Science class hanging out with Rad Man[1]. We wasted probably half of the school year using the school's BBS computer (286) and modem (2400 baud) to log into various bay area BBS (esp..Code Room). Fun times... (and now I kindof wish I could play Barren Realms Elite)

> I also don't remember much of a crossover between the ANSI scene and the demoscene

Yah that's right. Jason Scott gave a fun talk[2] about warez/crack intros, which eventually evolved into the demoscene[3].

> the only way to access a BBS was through a terminal emulator

If you were feeling adventurous, RIPscrip[4] was a fun alternative.

[Unfortunately, my internet connection is currently crapping itself (ADSL bouncing up and down every 30s, massive packet loss), so I'm gong to have to watch this video later.]



[3] I've been really impressed with several recent prods:


Hardcore trip down memory lane. Went to high school with lord jazz (ACiD) and all my bbs ansi was done by him. Had loads of fun back in those days running my board. Tons of cool user meetups. Love seeing videos and art expos that display this work.
That’s amazing! Did LD! Release the art for your bbs in a pack? Do you still happen to have the art somewhere? Would love to get it hosted on the archive if possible.
I wish I still had it. My favorite version he did was the Maxx. I think it was a little before he joined ACiD.
Well if you come across it the ansi scene as a whole would consider that some found gold. I would even donate to a Patreon to fund finding it or restoring it from a floppy.
It's visually a nice collection. As a documentary it is pretty inaccurate in a number of key areas. The BBS Documentary has a very nice and accurate treatment (interviews with actual people from the scene) if one is interested.
Makes me feel old because I remember that world. I lived in DOS. I remember trying to download Doom2 over telephone. All 32mb of it zipped - it took hours. Then we'd play 'networked' over phone.
He covered the first phase of the art scene. Great. But what about the art scene for FTP sites of 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, and in addition the art scene for .nfo files and the artists who created them.

And it would also be interesting to cover the art scene around cracktros which spawned the demo scene, and to this date still exist in its same form as in the 1980s.

Ah. For instance SaC has the entire history on their public(!) website: Well worth a visit
guys, warez wasn't just for the BBS generation. i knew and learned about warez through IRC. i think of myself as the IRC/ICQ/AIM generation and i tried BBS be could not figure it out. but this makes me feel nostalgic too :)
I'll never forget running a BBS with my friends when I was in 5th grade. We had 4 lines the chat, and games were so much fun. Also ran a warez website (lame one) but taught me photoshop and html at the time.

Formative stuff that is for sure.

Minecraft is the new ANSI art.
SaC - Superior Art Creations. I guess they're still around?
Anyone know the title of the chiptune playing at the 14:00 mark?

I've heard it somewhere but can't remember. It's driving me nuts.

I wish I could have the ANSI logos I made for my group. Such intense and exciting times. It was truely the edge of things at the time.
Have you check the archive to see if they were released and captured?
I've seen comments on HN by members of ACiD. Maybe they will make an appearance again?
christianvozar Some former acid still release in this group. You can find us around on discord or FB.
This is so good, thank you
ahhhh nostalgia, brings me back to my courier days in college. Getting access to a "pre" was so addicting. Great documentary!
This was my preteens/teens. What a rush that was! Seeing all of those groups/logos and I was on half those sites, and the transition from BBS's to the dawn of the internet, or at least when it started to be used by the public. My fav BBS was Fear and Loathing (in Las Vegas). It had a ton of LD lines to connect to, which was important since it could take many hours to DL a single game as they grew in size/spanning multiple disks, so the lines were full a lot. I learned a lot of area codes lol, as you could usually tell which BBS's were good ones based on the city they were in on the BBS lists. So many hours spent tweaking connection string parameters on the good ol US Robotics to make it dial faster, pause less in between tones, etc., so you could try to connect to a board faster. It was almost like you were hacking the BBS just to connect to it (redialing over and over lol). There wasn't even caller ID back then, so they couldn't prevent you from hammering them. It was like a lottery system whether you connected or not, as hundreds of others were doing the exact same thing at the same time 24/7. Oh, and you had to dedicate a lot of your phone line time to hacking LD codes so you could spend the rest of the time phreaking so you could actually connect/download without paying LD charges. It took a dedicated phone line. It was always fun when someone else in the house picked up the phone and ruined your download. Thank goodness when the z-modem protocol came out with resume functionality. Way better than y-modem or whatever it was before it. lol ;)
Have you had a look at Jason Scott's BBS docu? Could bring back some memories. :)

ATS11=35M3 is about all I remember these days.. dial quick, only gimme the busy or ring ;)
Some of us had to make do with ATDP.
I started there... I was talking HST Dual Standard days and had upgraded by then ;)
That is a whole mountain of nostalgia, especially the phone line. I remember what a big deal *69 and party lines were when they became available. I actually got in a bit of trouble from Prodigy for calling new kids on the block gay.
This might be the most 90s comment ever.
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