6 June 2022 Finding Deceit in the Chambers of Xenobia Column 5

NOTE: Updated 8 June 2022 [see section on Enchanted Island]

As a friend recently told me, magic tricks exploit the intrinsic human belief that the level of effort required to achieve a certain outcome would be so significant that it just cannot be possible. And so, magic.

The same applies to forgeries, regardless of subject. We tend to accept them and they slip by us not because they are really that good, but because we believe that they would require so much work and skill to create that they must be the real thing. Thankfully, indistinguishable forgeries are generally very difficult to make. And when we look at items critically, the flaws start to show. Sometimes in abundance.

Being on the receiving end of a transaction involving counterfeit items, is, as you can imagine, exceptionally frustrating. Obviously there's a personal stake. But it's even more upsetting in a community that, in the overall scheme of things, is relatively niche - small enough so that most people know each other at least to some extent - and where relationships are generally quite friendly and transactions are largely executed on trust. It's particularly egregious when the counterfeiter is not only a member of this community, but a well-known one who has regularly engaged in discussions on the authenticity of games and who has denounced other potential counterfeiters. When that happens, it is a fundamental betrayal of an accepted code of conduct that hits at some very basic values and principles. And it's a behaviour that is damaging not just to a few individuals, but to the community as a whole.

But first to the start.

In July 2021, I learned that a copy of an Apple II game called The Chambers of Xenobia was part of a lot of games to which a fellow collector had access. Xenobia is a relatively basic graphic and text adventure game, written in 1981 by a then 14-year-old high school student named Steven Sacks and published by Avant-Garde Creations, a small company out of Eugene, Oregon. The game sold only a few hundred copies, and is not a particularly sought-after title. In fact, I'm fairly certain that most people have never heard of it. Finding an original copy of Chambers of Xenobia, however, had been on my to-do list since 2003, when I first learned of the game. While a cracked/pirated version had long been readily available on many Apple II software sites, to my knowledge at least, an original version had never been located, and being able to archive an uncracked, original disk was near the top of my Apple II hobby objectives.

Obviously, I was extremely interested when I heard that a copy was part of this lot. However, my collector friend, David Bitton, said that it was unfortunately already reserved for someone else. I mentioned to him that I would make him a good trade if he could acquire it, and he said that he knew who it was reserved for and that he would see in the future if he could work something out. In the meantime, we made our own trade. Later that same month, David mentioned he might in fact be able to get Xenobia, or at least arrange for a trade for Xenobia through him, and asked me what I would consider trading for it. We discussed over the next few months (it took a while), but in February 2022, we agreed to the following trade (all for the Apple II):

  • Chambers of Xenobia (complete)
  • Fracas (complete)
  • Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio (box and tape only)
  • Enchanted Island (complete)
for

  • Wizard and the Princess yellow folder first release (complete)
  • Softporn folder by Blue Sky Software (folder only)
  • Cannonball Blitz folder (complete)
  • Pegasus II folder (complete)

Now, if you're familiar with these titles, you'll know that this is a pretty substantial trade. I felt that it was a bit unbalanced from a financial perspective, as the On-Line Systems titles tend to sell for big dollars on eBay, but on the other hand I was getting some items that I had been trying to find for a long time, so I was happy with the overall deal. We each sent pictures to confirm what we would be getting - more on that later, but here are the ones I sent (downloaded directly from the Twitter direct message log).

Cannonball Blitz/Pegasus II - front

Cannonball Blitz/Pegasus II - back

Cannonball Blitz - inside

Pegasus II - inside

Cannonball Blitz/Pegasus II - disks

Softporn

Softporn

Softporn

Wizard and the Princess - front

Wizard and the Princess - back

Wizard and the Princess - inside

Wizard and the Princess - disk

The trade didn't actually go through until May 2022 (three months after we agreed to it). David mentioned that his friend was located in Europe, but that he was worried about shipping items due to postal service disruptions because of COVID; furthermore, Enchanted Island had to be acquired from yet another collector in order to finalize the deal. Fair enough, as I wasn't in a particular rush. The trade ended up being through David (as opposed to with him directly), and we agreed that all items would be shipped to him, and that he would then forward them on. And as a token of appreciation for setting up the trade, David received an item from both myself and the other party.

On 11 May, I shipped my package to David. It was received on 13 May. David's inbound package from Europe was shipped on 10 May via FedEx and was also received on 13 May. That same evening, David sent me pictures of what had arrived - I was beyond excited when I saw them! Everything looked good at a glance.

Inbound package - front

Inbound package - back

Twitter messages

On 16 May, David shipped out both packages to complete the trade - the post office was unusually quick and I received mine around noon the following day, 17 May. I immediately opened it, and created flux-level images of Chambers of Xenobia and Fracas using an Applesauce floppy disk controller. I was thrilled to see that both images validated OK with no data integrity errors. We finally had an image of an original disk of Chambers of Xenobia... or so I thought. I finished work later that afternoon and immediately afterwards posted a rather enthusiastic thread on Twitter about the find. I also e-mailed author Steven Sacks, whom I had managed to contact years ago but who unfortunately had not kept copies of his games. He was also extremely happy about the news, even posting it to his LinkedIn account.

Twitter thread on Xenobia

E-mail to Steven Sacks

At the same time, as per usual when finding unpreserved software, I sent the disk images to Apple II archivist 4am for verification and posting on the Internet Archive.

That's when things started getting weird. The first sign of trouble was on the afternoon of Friday 20 May, when I heard back from 4am that the contents of the disk images I had created were not authentic. The Chambers of Xenobia disk contained the cracked version widely available on Apple II sites, complete with the crack screen. The Fracas disk also contained a version of the game normalized to an operating system called Pronto-DOS, which was released by Beagle Bros in 1982. This Pronto-DOS version of Fracas is also the one that is available for download on most Apple II sites.

Xenobia crack screen and Fracas disk content

Keep in mind that Fracas was released in 1980, and while it is a rare game, a number of original copies do exist. These are confirmed to be Apple DOS 3.2, 13-sector disks.

As fakes can be detected using disk forensic tools, I sent the raw flux images (in A2R format) to John Morris for analysis. John is the designer of the Applesauce Floppy Disk Controller and an expert on floppy disk recording and encoding. John's definitive conclusions: neither disk was authentic, and both were written by the same source. This was recognizeable due to an unusual digital pattern generated during the writing of the disks, which was an exact match between both Xenobia and Fracas.

At this point we have two disks that contain non-authentic data, that were written using the same tools and method. We also know that these two disks did not originate from the same lot, as we have certainty on the provenance of Chamber of Xenobia (I don't know where Fracas would have come from - but it wasn't from the original owner of Chambers of Xenobia, as verified directly with that individual).

If you want to take a look for yourself, you can download the image files here in WOZ format:

This warranted a close look at the physical items, starting by the diskette. The diskette sleeve was an authentic Avant-Garde Tyvek sleeve, no issues there. The scan below is a 600 dpi scan of the front of two diskettes: the one that I received for Chambers of Xenobia, and one that I already had on hand and is a proven, authentic original for Triple Arcade Insanity!, another game by Avant-Garde Creations of the same vintage and that uses the same style of label.

Chambers of Xenobia - comparison of front of disk

This is one scan with both diskettes included in the same pass, so variations in tone and colour are not due to scanner calibration. If we look at the Triple Arcade Insanity! label, we can see that it is a die cut label that was originally purchased with only the logo, and on which Avant-Garde later printed the software title using a dot-matrix printer. Now, die-cut materials are very difficult to duplicate unless you either have the die and required equipment, or an exact, blank copy on hand.

Things get weirder when we zoom in on the Chambers of Xenobia label. First, the corners of the label are not nearly as sharp as the corners of the Triple Arcade disk. I've also included a comparison with a couple of zoomed in pictures of the label corners taken using a camera - the difference is noticeable. The Xenobia label is clearly not die-cut - it seems to have been hand-cut.

Xenobia label - top left corner

Triple Arcade Insanity! label - top left corner

Xenobia label - bottom right corner

Triple Arcade Insanity! label - bottom right corner

The label itself is interesting. When scanning in colour an image that has a significant amount of white, the white area will rarely actually be white. Calibration, scanning artifacts, dirt, imperfections, and more mean that various colours will show up in the scan. And that colour will then be reproduced when printing the scanned image. If we zoom in to the white areas of both labels, the difference is clear. The colour ink pigments printed on the Xenobia label are obvious. In addition, it also looks like the title was not printed using a dot-matrix. Which means that it is not looking particularly great for our "original" copy of The Chambers of Xenobia.

One last point from the label: measurements. While the height of the label seems to match, the width is subtly different. The two pictures below show a comparison of the width of the Xenobia and Triple Arcade Insanity! labels. To about 0.5mm accuracy, the Triple Arcade label is 8.85cm wide, and the Xenobia label is 9.00cm wide (accounting for the small discrepancy for the start point of the ruler). While this is not compelling by itself, it is, again, a little strange that one label is 1.5mm larger than the other - die-cut labels should be the same size.

Xenobia label

Triple Arcade Insanity! label

Looking at the rest of the disk, first it's obvious that these are not the same brand of disks. The Triple Arcade disk has dimples all around the edges of the disk surface, while Xenobia does not. Again, nothing compelling as Avant-Garde may have used multiple types of disks, but it's another detail that doesn't match. What seems to be more compelling is that if we look closely to the left of the label on the Xenobia disk, we can see what look like scrape marks and glue marks, as if someone removed a diskette brand label. Now that is unexpected for Avant-Garde disks.

Let's flip over the disks. The picture below is of the back of the same two disks (Xenobia at the top). There's nothing here that we hadn't identified before, but it just confirms that the disks are different brands. The Xenobia disk is probably a Verbatim Datalife disk, which characteristically have lot numbers inscribed in the plastic on the bottom right corner, as shown in the second and third pictures. That detail may be important later.

Chambers of Xenobia - comparison of back of disk

Verbatim disk - front

Verbatim disk - back

We've probably gleaned as much as we can from the Xenobia disk, so now let's take a look at the folder. The thing about paper is that it often tells a story by itself. Colour, composition, wear, texture, thickness... each of these characteristics can provide insight into the authenticity of a paper item.

The two scans below are scans of the front and back of the folder. At first glance, nothing particularly noticeable here.

Front of Xenobia folder received

Back of Xenobia folder received

What about inside? This scan is of the inside of the Chambers of Xenobia folder. It is a blank paper folder, similar to a few other early Avant-Garde games.

Inside of Xenobia folder received

The paper is relatively thin, and a scan shows bleed-through from the front of the folder. Again, nothing necessarily out of the ordinary. But if we look closely towards the bottom of the folder, we notice a faint symbol and what seems to be lettering - a watermark. By isolating the bottom area, then enhancing the contrast and levels of the scan, and flipping horizontally, we get the image below.

Watermark (enhanced using Photoshop)

Much more readable. Alongside a logo, the watermark says "Fabriano". A quick online search reveals that Fabriano is an Italian manufacturer of high quality paper - look it up and you should recognize the logo. I'm quite certain that Avant-Garde, as a small company in the western United States, did not use Fabriano paper for their early 1980s game packaging. I did this analysis on the evening of Saturday 21 May. Keep in mind that at that point, I still did not know who I had traded with, but because of this find, I actually asked David "Is your friend in Italy?". Another point we'll get back to later.

Given the strangeness of the Xenobia package, and the fact that the contents of the Fracas disk were not authentic, it made sense to also take a close look at the Fracas materials, also starting with the diskette.

The diskette sleeve is just a plain white Tyvek sleeve, again no issues there. Using the same logic as with the Xenobia disk, the scan below is a 600 dpi scan of the front of two diskettes: the one that I received for Fracas, and one that I already had on hand in my collection and is a proven, authentic original for Linker, another software title by Quality Software, of the same vintage and that uses the same style of label.

Fracas - comparison of front of disk

The shape and size of the label here don't tell us too much, as this style of original Quality Software label is a rudimentary rectangular label that may have even been hand-cut. But when we zoom in, we notice the same discrepancy as with the Avant-Garde labels: unexpectedly, the Fracas label is printed in colour, with visible ink pigmentation. Not so for the Linker label.

There's not too much to tell from the rest of the disk. It's pretty clear that a brand label was removed from the left corner, as we see glue marks and scrape marks, but that's not unusual for Quality Software disks. The write protect tab is inconsistent, but that could have been done in the normal course of someone using the disk.

Where things get more interesting, however, is at the back of the disk. The picture below shows the same two disks (Fracas at the bottom).

Fracas - comparison of back of disk

Quality Software is known to have consistently used the same brand of floppy disks during its early years. I brought up my concerns with Byron Blystone, a long-time, trusted Apple II collector, who confirmed that the disks should look identical. Clearly they did not. I also checked with another collector, and his original Fracas disks were the same as the Linker disk. Interestingly enough, the Fracas disk I received looks like it is another Verbatim Datalife disk - the same brand as the Chambers of Xenobia disk.

With the discrepancies mounting, let's take a look at the Fracas manual. The scans below are high resolution scans of the front and back.

Front of Fracas manual received

Back of Fracas manual received

This particular release of an original Fracas manual should consist of a green cardstock cover with 16 black and white pages inside. At first glance, the Fracas manual I received was as expected. But taking a closer look at the cover, it looked like it was printed with a green background rather than printed black on green cardstock. Zooming in reveals the kind of ink pattern that one would expect when printing in colour. I wanted to make sure I knew what an original should look like, so I asked the second collector that I had contacted if he could provide me with a high-resolution scan of the cover of his authentic manual. It's included below (with reduced resolution), and the differences are substantial, not just with the colours (note: not the actual colour itself, as scanner differences could account for that, but how the colour is rendered) but also with the overall sharpness of the printing.

Front of authentic Fracas manual

Looking at the edge of the edge of the manual, in the picture below, it's also fairly clear that the cardstock has a white core. As sometimes even coloured cardstock can have a white core, I also checked this with Byron, who confirmed that the cover of his original manual of Fracas did not have a white edge.

Edge of Fracas manual received

The inside of the manual is also interesting. The scan below is a scan of the middle pages of the manual.

Middle pages of Fracas manual received

One of the first things to notice is that the staples look brand new. This is another detail that's not completely compelling in itself, however 40+ years old staples normally have at least a little bit of rust. Now perhaps they were falling apart and were changed by one of the owners of the manual, but then we would still expect some rust staining on the pages near the stapled area. This manual does not have any.

The other unusual aspect of the pages is that they are also printed in colour, with what looks to be an ink jet printer, and the ink pigmentation can be revealed by zooming in almost anywhere. For interest and completeness, I scanned the inside of the manual in its entirety, and it can be found at the links below:

With how things are going, we should also consider the two other games in the package. Santa Paravia is just a box and cassette. At first, I didn't notice anything peculiar about the box. But when we look at it more closely, flaws start to show. The image below is a picture focused on the hang tab. The tab looks like it has been hand cut (and not particularly well), and black pen or marker is still showing in spots like as if the hole was first traced before being cut. Compare to the second picture, which shows a verified authentic Instant Software box for a different game called Oil Tycoon, and clearly identifies that the hang tab (and the whole box) was die cut.

Hang tab of Santa Paravia box received

Hang tab of authentic Instant Software box

The next two pictures are scans of the front and back of the box.

Scan of front of Santa Paravia box received

Scan of back of Santa Paravia box received

In both scans, if we zoom in, we can see a colour ink pattern, similar to the diskette labels shown earlier, identifying that they are printed scans. Again, compare to the Oil Tycoon box and the difference is readily visible. In addition, on the top part of the back of the box, marks are clearly visible where it looks like steel wool or a brush was used to give it an aged/used appearance. Also note the top right of the label at the back of the box, where it seems that this brushing actually removed the printed ink so that the underlying colour of the label (white) shows through.

The inside of the box is interesting as well, shown in the picture on the left. While what's in the picture is a little difficult to see, overall the quality is poor, and there are visible traces of glue where it looks like too much was used . Note also on the same picture, we can see that the folds do not match what we would expect for a die cut box. For comparison, the picture on the right shows the inside of a known authentic Instant Software box that I own.

Inside detail of Santa Paravia box received

Inside detail of authentic Instant Software box

Now to the tape. The pictures below show the front and back of the cassette.

Front of Santa Paravia tape received

Back of Santa Paravia tape received

The back of the cassette is a bit unexpected, but not necessarily compelling on its own. Instant Software cassettes mostly have labels on both sides, but some don't, and it wouldn't be entirely surprising that someone would write "Duplicate" on it.

Things do not look right, however, on the front of the tape. We go back to the fact that die-cut materials are very difficult to replicate. This tape has a hand-cut label, which is easily noticeable when looking at the center hole, but also when inspecting the corners. Knife marks are actually visible where someone cut the label, most noticeably so towards the top left of the center hole. I looked up pictures of other Instant Software tapes online - and there are a number, whether for the Apple II or other machines (you can do a search) - and all have perfectly die-cut labels.

The pictures below are zoomed-in images of the four corners of the cassette label. The bottom left corner, in particular, is clearly cut by hand, while the top left corner shows remnants of glue. The bottom right corner is even more interesting as it looks like the hand cut was not quite accurate to the printing, and a small white piece of the label is showing.

Top left of label of Santa Paravia tape received

Top right of label of Santa Paravia tape received

Bottom left of label of Santa Paravia tape received

Bottom right of label of Santa Paravia tape received

I decided to dump the contents of the tape. I consulted Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe, who maintains the largest repository of Apple II cassettes on the Internet. Following his instructions, I acquired the contents of the front side of the tape and sent them to him for analysis. His conclusion: the tape does not contain any Apple II data. In fact, he listened to the entire 27 minutes, which contain mostly just noise, but also a few spots where you hear human voices. I also captured the back of the tape and listened to it, and the contents were very similar, although not exactly the same.

You can listen for yourself - here are links to the WAV files (about 73 megabytes each). Voices (and a few random noises) can be heard on the front side at around 6:30 and 22:49, and on the back side starting around 9:38 and 22:45.

NOTE: Info on Enchanted Island was updated on 8 June 2022

The last game in the package, Enchanted Island, is pictured below. I had originally thought that it was authentic. But upon a closer look, it is also a counterfeit.

Enchanted Island received

Similarly to Santa Paravia, I dumped the contents of the front and back of the tape. After listening, it's clear that neither side contains computer data. You can listen for yourself here, it is essentially just wind noise.

I then took another look at the labels on the tape, shown in the two pictures below.

Front of Enchanted Island tape received

Back of Enchanted Island tape received

The labels look really good (die cut) and the printing is of high quality, which is part of the reason why I initially thought that this was a legitimate item, especially after seeing the mess that was the Santa Paravia tape. However, one aspect is problematic: the whole label has been printed in one pass. Original Mad Hatter Software labels were printed blank, and the program title was then typewritten (see example here on the Brutal Deluxe cassette repository: http://brutaldeluxe.fr/projects/cassettes/mhs/k7_mhs_enchantedisland.jpeg).

I then looked again at the Enchanted Island manual that I received. Sure enough, I immediately noticed the colour ink printing pattern on the white pages, exactly in the same manner as the Fracas manual, a clear tell that this was also a printed scan. I hadn't looked closely enough when I first examined it, and I wasn't quite familiar enough with what I was looking for. I'll use this to re-emphasize something I mentioned very early on: it's very easy to convince yourself that something is authentic. See below to examine the manual for yourself.

First page of Enchanted Island manual received

I first went back to David with my concerns on the evening of Saturday 21 May, and asked him about the provenance of the disks. At that point, I still did not know who the trade was actually with, and presumably the person whom I was trading with did not know they were trading with me. After a bit of discussion, David told me that the original owner of Xenobia was another collector who had lucked in and found a big lot of early Apple II games, but who was downsizing and who had offered them up for sale. David went back to this collector, who thankfully had kept pictures of the original lot. Not super detailed pictures, but good enough to identify specific characteristics on the original copy of Chambers of Xenobia. The picture below is the best of that bunch.

Chambers of Xenobia from original seller's lot

There's enough detail there to see that the disk label is a proper die cut label with nicely rounded corners. Furthermore, dimples are clearly noticeable along the edges of the vinyl disk surface. We can also see that the label is slightly angled upwards from left to right (referenced to the top of the disk). Let's compare this disk to the earlier scan of the disk that I received, provided side-by-side and resized below for easy comparison (but feel free to go back to the two full size pictures). The dimples on the disk surface are the most obvious disparity, but the label also looks different. A pretty interesting but less obvious detail is that the label on the Xenobia disk I received actually has a very slight downwards angle from left to right, and the spacing between the top edge of the disk and the top edge of the label is also a little different - particularly at the right end of the label. There can be no doubt that these are two different disks.

Comparison of disk between original seller's lot and item received - Chambers of Xenobia

There are two other small but visible differences between the Chambers of Xenobia seen in the original lot and the one that I received. First, the baggie is not the same. In the original picture, it has a red tab along the top. The one I received is a straight clear bag - you can see it in the earlier picture that David Bitton took when he received the games on 13 May. Now, a baggie in itself is not that big of a deal or a compelling argument on its own, and sometimes people can accidentally mix baggies when removing their contents, but it is yet another discrepancy in a transaction that seems to be full of them. The second difference is more interesting. The image below is a side-by-side, resized image of the front of the folders between the original picture and the scan that I made.

Comparison of folder between original seller's lot and item received - Chambers of Xenobia

On the scan of the folder I received, there is a small but obvious print imperfection near the top of the right edge of the "A" of "XENOBIA". This is not due to dirt on the scanner - it is printed on the folder. Looking at the picture from the original lot, that imperfection is not present.

I later learned that to originally make its way to the person I was trading with, the Xenobia folder went through a third person, a vintage game enthusiast and collector named Stephen Emond (for clarity, the routing of Xenobia was: original seller -> Stephen -> person I was trading with). Thankfully, Stephen took enough care to actually scan the package before shipping it to its destination. He shared the scan with me - see the image below.

Scan of Xenobia folder sent to trader

The image shows that the original folder is entirely different than what I received. For a start, the colours are different, there is additional detail not present, and there are a few areas where the folder has some wear. And it is clear that there is no defect on the "A" of Xenobia.

I decided to go back to the pictures sent by the trader when we agreed on the content of the trade. They are all included below, downloaded from Twitter messages, as well as a screenshot of the Twitter log. I received them at different times through David (Santa Paravia - 29 January 2022, Chambers of Xenobia - 8 February 2022, Fracas - 27 February 2022, Enchanted Island - 28 April 2022).

Xenobia folder picture from trader

Xenobia folder picture from trader

Disk picture from trader

Fracas picture from trader

Fracas picture from trader

Santa Paravia picture from trader

Santa Paravia tape picture from trader

Enchanted Island picture from trader

Enchanted Island picture from trader

Twitter messages

Unfortunately, none of these pictures have particularly great lighting or resolution. I've left them as-received - I have not enhanced them or changed the tonal balance (someone could, however, and likely reveal clearer detail), but there's still enough there for some good observations. First, everything depicted looks to be what I did receive, with three exceptions:

  1. If we take a look at the picture that includes the Xenobia disk (ignore the 5 More Great Games disk, which was proposed as a trade but which I already had), we seem to be able to tell that this is the same disk as the one in the picture from the original lot. The conclusive piece is the same distinctive slightly upwards left to right angle of the label and the spacing between the top of the disk and the top of the label. The corners also look perfectly rounded, although this is a little more difficult to assess due to the low resolution. But all in all, it would seem that the Chambers of Xenobia disk from the original lot did make its way to the person I was trading with, even though it is not the one that I received.
  2. Looking at the picture of the Santa Paravia box sent by the trader, it is also clear that the box I received is a different box. In particular, the wear on the top part of the box and the hang tab are very different, as is the spacing between the edges of the box and the front label (Instant Software boxes are generic boxes to which labels were applied for each product - the whole front and back of the box are labels).
  3. The third exception is a little less certain, due to the low quality of the picture received from the trader, but the same comment as above seems to apply to the Santa Paravia tape: the tape I received is a different tape than the one in the picture sent by the trader. In the original picture, the label seems to be cut more cleanly, positioned slightly differently (check the spacing at the top right of the tape), and does not have traces of glue.

Additionally, when we look at the two pictures that show the Xenobia folder, two things stand out: first, clearly, the folder is not in the original baggie (no red tab). And second, the imperfection on the "A" of Xenobia is present - particularly visible in the picture of the folder without the computer.

Therefore, it would seem that on 8 February 2022, the person I was trading with had both the Xenobia disk from the original lot, which I did not receive, and the non-authentic folder that I did receive, printed on Fabriano paper. In addition, the person I was trading with sent me a different Santa Paravia box and tape than what was in the pictures that were sent in the lead-up to the trade.

Talking about the paper for the Xenobia folder... I mentioned earlier that when I made out the watermark, I asked David if his friend was in Italy. This was on the evening of 21 May. His answer was yes. David then told me his name for the first time: Enrico Ricciardi.

Twitter messages

Twitter messages

On 26 May, David informed Enrico that there was a problem with the games received, specifically the fact that both the Chambers of Xenobia and Fracas disks did not have authentic contents. Note that at that point, Enrico had deduced who he had been trading with from my Twitter post about Xenobia (and he briefly messaged me about it), but we still continued to coordinate through David. Enrico very rapidly offered to send back my games if I wanted that, emphasizing that he had no idea who could have created the fake floppies. He also confirmed, unprompted, the provenance of Xenobia from the lot discussed earlier. As my focus was on what I perceived to be a small chance of reversing the trade, I accepted the offer, and David did not present him with the rest of the evidence. Thankfully, Enrico did send the games back, and they were received by David on 6 June 2022.

The whole incident reminded me of a short e-mail exchange that I had with Enrico and a supposed friend of Enrico back in November/December 2021. The three e-mails are included below.

First e-mail with Enrico and his friend

Second e-mail with Enrico and his friend

Third e-mail (Enrico's friend only)

Back to the lot I received. Here's a summary of the issues that I found and described:

  1. Non-original contents on Chambers of Xenobia disk
  2. Non-original contents on Fracas disk
  3. Both Chambers of Xenobia and Fracas disks written by same source
  4. Hand-cut Chambers of Xenobia disk label
  5. Colour ink pattern on Chambers of Xenobia disk label
  6. Title on Chambers of Xenobia label not dot-matrix printed
  7. Chambers of Xenobia label 1.5mm smaller than expected
  8. Scrape marks/glue marks on corner of Chambers of Xenobia disk
  9. Chambers of Xenobia folder printed on Fabriano paper
  10. Colour ink pattern on Fracas label
  11. Wrong disk brand for Fracas disk
  12. Both Fracas disk and Chambers of Xenobia disk use same disk brand
  13. Green-printed white cardstock for Fracas manual (including white edge)
  14. Low sharpness of black print on Fracas manual cover
  15. New staples and no rust staining in Fracas manual
  16. Colour ink pattern on inside pages of Fracas manual
  17. Hang tab of Santa Paravia box cut by hand
  18. Colour ink pattern on labels on front and back of Santa Paravia box
  19. Artificial scratch marks on back of Santa Paravia box
  20. Inside of Santa Paravia box not as expected
  21. Incorrect label on back of Santa Paravia cassette
  22. Hand-cut label for front of Santa Paravia cassette, with knife marks and glue residue
  23. Printing inconsistency on bottom right of Santa Paravia cassette label
  24. Contents of both sides of Santa Paravia cassette are just noise, with occasional human voices
  25. Contents of both sides of Enchanted Island cassette are just wind noise
  26. Titles on Enchanted Island cassette labels are not typewritten
  27. Colour ink pattern on inside pages of Enchanted Island manual
  28. Chambers of Xenobia disk received does not match disk in original lot or disk in picture sent by Enrico
  29. Chambers of Xenobia baggie received does not match baggie in original lot, but is in pictures sent by Enrico
  30. Chambers of Xenobia folder received does not match folder in original lot, but is in pictures sent by Enrico
  31. Santa Paravia box received does not match picture sent by Enrico
  32. Santa Paravia tape received does not match picture sent by Enrico
I wrote a large part of this article between 25 and 27 May 2022, with the intent of publishing it once I had nailed down a few remaining facts and confirmed whether or not Enrico had sent me back my games. I was very worried that this would turn into a one-on-one dispute, that he would deny all wrongdoing (even possibly try to turn the tables on me), and that I would not be believed given his reputation in the community.

On the afternoon of 28 May, I learned that other collectors intended to go public with info alleging that Enrico had knowingly distributed counterfeit games. At first, I thought that this was related to my trade. It turned out not to be the case - these other collectors had been conducting their own investigation of Enrico, and I was able to be connected with them that evening. On 29 May, this other group of collectors made their information public, and you have likely seen it on the Facebook Big Box Collector Group and on Twitter. I want to re-emphasize this as it is an important point: until the afternoon of 28 May, there were two completely separate, independent groups looking into counterfeit material received from Enrico, and neither was aware of the other.

What to make of this? You draw your own conclusions. I'm clear about mine: I was knowingly and deliberately sent four forgeries. Enrico's excuses that he unknowingly passed on counterfeit items and had no idea about it do not withstand scrutiny, mainly for three reasons:

  1. First, there is clear evidence that Enrico sent me different items than the ones that were promised. Specifically, the Chambers of Xenobia disk, the Santa Paravia box, and (likely) the Santa Paravia tape that I received are different than the ones shown in the pictures sent by Enrico in the lead-up to the trade.
  2. Second, Enrico is a self-professed expert in determining the authenticity of rare games. As such, he should have clearly been able to identify that these items were counterfeit.
  3. Third, circumstantially, the fact that four games from at least three different sources that form part of one trade would be counterfeit by chance is not plausible (and let's not forget that we have evidence that the two disks were in fact written by the same source). Additionally, when we include the counterfeit items identified by other collectors, the sheer volume of forgeries that has passed through Enrico makes it unbelievable that this would be a coincidence. You would have to accept that nearly every single known late 1970s/early 1980s counterfeit computer game of the last 10 years (and really, nearly every single known late 1970s/early 1980s counterfeit computer game ever) has unknowingly passed through Enrico.

If you've ever traded or bought something from Enrico before, you might want to check your items (and have probably already done so given the prior announcements). They may not be quite what you thought they were. As for his collection that includes multiple copies of extremely rare games, well, again, I'll let you use your judgement.

While we only corresponded occasionally, I have known Enrico for about 15 years. It's hard not to feel a sense of betrayal, even when I know that he originally did not know he was trading with me. Beyond this and beyond potentially large individual losses by some, what's most unfortunate here is the mistrust that this kind of action by a central figure of a small community can seed throughout that community, the tipping of the scales towards protecting rather than sharing for fear that someone else will try to do the exact same. The suspicions that will be cast on future transactions. And the corresponding impact on preservation and archival initiatives. It's also unfortunate that what is currently (to my knowledge) the only original copy of an unpreserved Apple II game is now probably beyond reach - although that may simply encourage me to redouble efforts to find another one.

What you do with the above is up to you. I encourage you to think critically. And particularly to remember that it's only magic if you're willing to believe in the trick.



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