The Prank That Fooled the World

Please Note: This story is a historical narrative of Internet culture from the year 2002. There are no illegal files anywhere on this site. All links are for additional reference and are not the responsibility of the author.

Today I want to tell you a story about how a group of friends pulled an Internet prank that fooled thousands of people around the world. This prank took place back in 2002, when the Internet was a very different place from what it is today. To better understand the story, some background information is necessary first.

The Web In 2002
Back in 2002 there were no social networking sites, no YouTube, and no Twitter. People communicated with each other using forums and message boards. There were message boards for nearly every type of hobby and interest, from cars and cooking to video games and more. A message board could have anywhere from a few dozen to tens of thousands of users discussing the latest news and events about a particular subject.

Creating a viral video phenomenon in 2002 was not as easy as it is today. Broadband Internet access was not very common back then and many people still accessed the Internet with dial-up modems. Video clips had to be fully downloaded to a user's computer before they could be watched. This required the help of site administrators and moderators who were willing to host the video clip on their server for other users to download.

Today, cable and DSL Internet connections and better video compression allows users to watch "streaming" videos before they are fully downloaded. There are now plenty of free video-hosting sites like YouTube and MetaCafe. Free video hosting sites like these simply did not exist several years ago.

Video Games and Piracy
For as long as there have been video games, there have been people looking for ways to exploit them. In the mid-1990s, hackers figured out that Sony PlayStation games could be copied with an ordinary CD burner, though a grey-market mod chip was required to play the copied games.

Video game hackers hit the jackpot with the Sega Dreamcast in June of 2000. The rip group KALiSTO discovered that Dreamcast games could be compressed from Sega's high-density GD-ROM format to a CD-R disc. The first pirated games required a boot disc swap, though later releases could be played with no hardware modifications at all to the Dreamcast console!

KALiSTO quickly retired from the Dreamcast scene just as ECHELON released its first game, Flag to Flag CART Racing on September 4th, 2000. Game enthusiasts around the world swapped thousands of Dreamcast games using file-sharing programs like Direct Connect. Less than a year later, Sega announced in March of 2001 that its Dreamcast console would be discontinued.

Hackers also sunk their teeth into the Playstation 2, with the first bootleg games appearing online in March of 2001. One of the first homebrew applications was snestation, which originated sometime in 2002. It seemed as though nobody was able to create a game console that was immune to piracy.

Video game manufacturers were keenly aware of the threat of piracy. The latest generation of video game consoles featured the newest anti-piracy technologies to protect games from being copied illegally. The Xbox games were stored on encrypted full size 4.7GB DVDs while the Nintendo GameCube used special 3-inch "Mini DVD" discs with a 1.5GB capacity.

Microsoft released its first game console, the Xbox, on November 15th, 2001. Three days later, the highly-anticipated Nintendo GameCube went on sale. It was the first all-new game console from Nintendo in five years. As soon as the new consoles were released in November of 2001, hackers were already hard at work figuring out ways to reverse-engineer them.

By mid-2002 the budding Xbox and GameCube homebrew communities were coming together while the PS2 homebrew community was really taking off. Thus the stage was set for a group of pranksters to explode on to the scene with a "breakthrough" of their own.

Team BMM
On May 14th, 2002, a video surfaced on the Internet from a group called "Team BMM." No one had ever heard of this mysterious group before, but they claimed to have defeated the copy protection on the Nintendo GameCube.

Their first video was a 3.5 minute clip that showed a man wearing a paintball mask burning a copy of "Super Monkey Ball" on his home computer and playing the game in his GameCube. The video included the song "Good Ol' Days" by Authority Zero and ended with the message "All Your Cube Are Belong To Us: The GameCube Has Been Hacked!"

Five days later on May 19th, 2002, a second video was released by Team BMM. Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" accompanied the 6.5 minute video in which the same masked stranger burned "Dave Mirra's Freestyle BMX 2" to a miniature disc using an MS-DOS program on his computer. The man then plays the game on a GameCube with no visible modifications.

To dispel any rumors about the authenticity of the hack, the cameraman showed the back of the television to prove there were no other game consoles connected to it. A mirror was placed behind the television while the copied game was played for additional proof.

The third and final video from Team BMM appeared on June 3rd, 2002. In this 5 minute clip, one masked person loads a baked snack cracker into his friend's mouth which is labeled "Pioneer A04." (You may recall that the A04 was one of the first DVD recorders with a 2X write speed. When it debuted in March of 2002 it had a price tag of nearly $400 dollars.)

The video then shows the man playing the game "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2" from the snack cracker, an obvious fake. The video opens with "My Name is Jonas" by Weezer and finishes with "The Heretic Anthem" by Slipknot as Team BMM engages in a brawl.

The first video released by Team BMM was explosively popular. Gaming forums and message boards came alive with members who had seen the video. Users posted it to other websites and soon the video was being mirrored on several different high-bandwidth sites. The video had received tens of thousands of downloads in the days following its release.

The video was so popular that it made the front page of Lik-Sang, a respected retailer of grey market import and backup devices that was in business from 1998 to 2006. The Team BMM video was also posted to The iSO News, NeoWin.net, Xbox-Scene, and EuroGamer.net. Over 400 people joined the #TeamBMM channel on EFnet (an online chat room) to discuss the videos.

After the second video was released, a TeamBMM website appeared on GeoCities. Here, users could download the "burning software" they saw in the video. The small application was in fact a dummy that appeared to be writing information to a disc, regardless of whether or not a disc was present. The website's bandwidth was exceeded in a matter of hours and GeoCities restricted users from visiting it for the next several days.

By this time the GameCube community had figured out that the videos were staged. The third and final video of the hackers burning the game onto a snack cracker was about as legitimate as President Clinton's press conference in which he stated he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." By the time the third video was released, it was too late. The first two videos would continue to fool people on gaming forums and message boards for several more weeks.

There were those who doubted Team BMM from the very beginning, and they were right. The Team BMM videos used clever editing to fool viewers into thinking they were copying GameCube games with ease. Once it was confirmed that the videos were fake, site administrators deleted them from their servers and people were unable to download them. With the videos unavailable, no more people were able to view them and believe them and the incident was quickly forgotten.

Stories about video game piracy would continue to make headlines for the rest of 2002. In July, just two months after the Team BMM video craze, an anonymous donor offered a $200,000 dollar prize to anyone who could get Linux to run on the Microsoft Xbox. Less than a month later, the Xbox Linux Project announced that it had succeeded in booting the console to a fully-controllable network-enabled state. The floodgates of the Xbox homebrew community were now open.

The Nintendo GameCube's protection was finally defeated in 2003. An exploit was discovered in the game Phantasy Star Online that allowed hackers to connect a GameCube to a PC using a broadband adapter and load small amounts of data to it. Soon afterwards, they were able to extract game data to ISO images that were released online. The first fully playable game to be ripped for the GameCube was Animal Crossing. By the end of 2003, the last anti-piracy measures had been defeated and video game consoles were wide open to modifications.

Closing Thoughts
So what's the point of all this? The point is that you should never underestimate the power of smart people with video cameras. While the impact that Team BMM had on the gaming community was not long-lasting, it was incredibly far reaching for such a short period of time. The other message is that you shouldn't believe everything you hear, especially on the Internet! The only people who remember Team BMM today are those who were part of it, and yes, we are still laughing about it!