[Life of a demoscene..........................]
Italy and the (forgotten) C64 scene

Page 109 of "Freax", the only book* (I'm aware of) on the demoscene, reads:

"There was some C64 scene in Italy but it was the weakest of all European countries. The only group worth mentioning was F4CG's Italian section but they were mainly importers, rarely releasing a few cracks".

That's all the book has to say about Italian scene (C64 and Amiga**).

I don't know, or better, I didn't know C64 Italian demoscene before (my activity in the scene starts around 1997), but that sentence triggered some serious doubts in my mind. Italians are usually full of ideas and a resourceful kind of population, so it seemed strange to me that all that remains of C64 Italian scene is a group that was made mainly of "importers". So I started to delve into that years (somewhere between 1984 and 1992), speaking with Italian sceners that lived that era in first person, watching all the material that is on CSDb, staring at hypnotic scrolls on black backgrounds that last for ages.
The result isn't so far from Tomcat's sentence, but this post may be seen as an "addendum" to what isn't written in "Freax".
And, trust me: 8 years of C64 scene deserve more than 2 rows in a 300-pages book.

Maybe what I'll write may not be 100% accurate (since almost 30 years have passed from that days, and traces are fragmented and unclear sometimes). Maybe some works (intros) could be just reuse of international material (I'm no C64 expert, after all). Also, 1985s were the years when it was not unusual to pick a .sid from some game and put it straight into a cracktro. Copyright laws were fuzzy at that time, and pouet threads on "ripped commercial music in demos" were still years to come.

Italian C64 scene shows mainly two phases (that merge into each other):

1) A "cracking/swapping/trading" phase, from around 1984 to 1989

2) A "maturity" phase, from 1989 to 1992, when we start to see typical products of the demoscene: demos, intros, music disks, diskmags and so on - and, consequently, the demoscene becomes also self-aware (yep, as Skynet does in Terminator)

Early tries at PETSCII graphics
"Happy" nature of the Italian people and fuzzy laws on copyright of digital material were fertile ground for a bunch of crack groups born around 1984-1985. Memories of that period speak of coders with "incredible skills", like the people behind 2703, NIWA, PM and so on. Mystery and funny anecdotes remind of mythical figures, like Piersoft "the hairdresser" that (legend says) had a swapping/trading-base in the back of his barber shop. Or Wildcat, the "cracker" of ICS that is flagged as a lamer, a "re-cracker" and a ripper by almost every group of that period.

Those were the days of "the Wizard", a copy-protection mechanism for floppies that, if forced, made your 1541 vibrate so badly that, after five or six unsuccessful tentatives, you had to buy another disk drive.

Some open borders trickery (ripped? :) from ICS
Cracker groups spread in the whole "boot" (Italy is a big boot, did you know?). Crackers were so fearless that put shamelessly their private phone numbers in their crack-intros, sometimes asking to "call them call them call them" to get the latest and freshest software. Naples was the homeland of "software collections", big compilations of 10-15 commercial games on a single cassette, each game often dubbed with strange Italian names. Importing games and cracking them became a real business, with people organizing trips to London or other european cities to catch the latest warez. Yep, we would see a "serious" law (as an Italian law can be) for copyright only in 1993, but for that date crackers were already far away.

With the decline of C64 in favour of Amiga and other computers, the C64 cracking scene went disappearing (even if there are trainer/cracker "nostalgia" groups even at the time I'm writing this, in 2013!); what remained was the beginning of the "real" C64 Italian demoscene. This scene was, indeed, a prologue to the Amiga Italian demoscene.

We can do nice logos too!
Some interesting groups started to walk the scene, like Gax777, Demons, ARM, The Force (an italian-hungaro-israelian-australian collaboration) and Air Design. As said, groups started to produce more serious demos, not only one-screen intros, but charts, original music compilations, graphic packs and disk magazines. One for all: the funny-named (funny just for the few among us that understand Italian) "Coolface" (a beautiful joke on a word that sounds like "cool" in Italian). This C64 diskmag reached even 5 editions, mainly composed of flames towards (yep, again) Wildcat/ICS and reviews of Italian cars.

Relevant coders and graphicians emerge, like gi 909 of the Force and Zagor and Zoris of Gax777. Graphicians are now capable of drawing nice logos and pictures, and coders can open the borders of a C64 like a child opens his presents at Christmas time. At the same time, some (unfortunately not long-lived) game companies were starting to produce software, and some demosceners worked there as coders or artists.

More advanced graphics from Zagor&Zoris (Demons)
And then, the Italian C64 scene starts to fade away.

The first "real" Italian party, in 1994, and some early "crackdowns" by the police mark the end of an era. F4CG and a few other groups still produce intros and scene-related material, but after 1993 the main targets of Italian scene will be PCs and Amigas.

(The Italian Amiga&PC scene produced, in particular, world-class demos and sceners, winning international parties and writing pages of demoscene history)

Italo-sceners on C64 gave us hundreds of cracks/trainer intros, kilometers of cassette tape and tons of insults towards Wildcat/ICS. And still, survivors of that strange and obscure period are proud of what your imagination and will could produce in a world that still had no Internet, wi-fi or broadband, where the only way to swap software ("swap", a term that lost its significance, today) was sending a real paper mail into the void and waiting for an answer.

* People pointed out that there is at least another printed book (in English) on the demoscene: Demoscene: the art of real-time. I haven't read it, but since it has only 72 pages, I hardly think it talks about Italian demoscene.

** At page 327 "Freax" dedicates 9 lines (yes, nine) to the Italian Amiga scene of the 90s. That's all.

posted by friol at 6/05/2013 10:46:00 PM - under: , , - comments? here (4)

4 commenti:

Z3k ha detto...

Grandissimo articolo, complimenti per la ricerca, non deve essere stata facile (specialmente il distinguere le leggende metropolitane dalle verità di 30 anni fa). Se posso permettermi di suggerire una correzione, ti suggerieri di seostituire nella didascalia della intro di Piersoft PETSCII ad ASCII, in quanto era solo il primo il set di caratteri del biscottone. Grazie!

friol ha detto...

Giusto, era un set di caratteri diverso.

Markku Reunanen ha detto...

Plenty more articles and even books on the scene here:

friol ha detto...

That's a lot of material, Markku, some of which I already knew (including your thesis). But I bet there's nothing that speaks about Italian C64 demoscene! I would be happy to be proven wrong :)

Nice to know that there's at least another (paper) book on the Demoscene (The art of real-time).

the tunnel - demoscene blog - (c) friol 2k10