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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A C-64 intro with a quirk, and finding that quirk again

I've always had a soft spot for the scrolly raster graphic hacks which used to show up on demos and in front of cracked software on the C-64. While it seemed that every pirated program had some kind of intro back in those days, these scrolls were also used to distribute information.

SFU demo

One day back in 1990, I downloaded something which was nothing but a scroller with some music and a whole bunch of text. It was advertising a "SFU" party which was to be held at a motel somewhere in town. Apparently SFU meant "Sysops For Unification" but I have no idea what that was anymore. It might have been a warez group or something else entirely. That is: I have no idea what the unification was about.

I don't think it was fighting Ma Bell, since that one was called COSUARD -- the "Coalition Of Sysops Unified Against Rate Discrimination". (How I still remember this stuff, I may never know.)

Somehow, this party announcement made it onto one of my floppies and rode out the years in a box in my closet somewhere. Then, one day not too long ago, I built a cable to recover this data and started making images of everything which could still be read. This was one of the files which made it.

I've managed to transcribe the entire thing. For the sake of history and folks looking for bits of the "scene" from those days, here it is:

On July 14, 1990 SFU is planning a user party. The 3rd annual SFU user party. For complete directions to the party, you can call any of the following SFU BBS'S: Phase 4 713-371-0121 Control Room 713-558-5016 Texas 64 713-441-7138 City on the Edge of Forever 713-937-9318 Rangers Den 713-852-9772 Jammer's Place 713-458-7283 Cyber Space Express 713-688-8203 Improb. Drive-in 713-339-3373!!! and attention machine language coders! There will even be a special contest! The prize for the best SFU demo will be a 2400 baud modem, so everyone sharpen their ML abilities. For more complete information on the demo contest, simply plug in yer modem and give one of the SFU BBS's a call. Credits: Coding/logo/sprites/character set by Panther Modern Music by Alpha Flight, Look for redline BBS coming soon and possibly the return of Mike's game room. Call code zero vmb at 1-800-242-4674 box #745 (Panther Modern #746 Greenleaf box #747 and Neurofire box #748) Also call code zero hq BBS: Pet Semetary at 713-580-1470 L8R SK8RS! Panther Modern -WRAP-

What a wild bunch of text, right? I liked how they admitted how they had a bunch of voicemail boxes ("vmbs") set up, presumably obtained by cracking into a corporate system somewhere.

Remember, this was a scroller, so it was a bar at the bottom of the screen which displayed a handful of letters at a time. They would travel from right to left, and as some fell off the left, new ones would appear at the right. This continued until it hit the end of the sequence, where the author had signed it with his handle ("Panther Modern") and something unusual: "-WRAP-".

That last bit about "wrap" was nice, since it meant you didn't need to keep watching for new data. You had hit the end and it was just going to display the same long string from the beginning again. You could move on to something else. Most people didn't do this in my experience.

Back on the day when I recovered this program and did this transcription, I did some digging around. I wondered if this "Panther Modern" character was still out there anywhere. What I found was surprising, to say the least.

Panther Modern screen shot

It was a web page with Flash embedded in order to display raster bars, weird pixelated art, and yes, even a scrolling message. Any doubts about whether this was the same person were eliminated when it reached the end: "**wrap**".

Unfortunately, that site is no longer active, but I managed to catch that screen shot while it still lived. Maybe this person will resurface again with more retro awesomeness some day.

Has the music finished yet? Did you figure out the song? I'll give you a hint: Roxette.