Publishing my Computer Chronicles lately gave me a lot of positive response and it dawned on me how much the C64 scene still remembered and respected me for the editor and music I did back in the day. Not that I had been totally oblivious to it. That has been almost impossible on Facebook. I now have more than 750 friends there, and of course most of them have befriended me because of my past on the C64. I have been practically dragged into several C64 and Amiga Facebook groups, whether I wanted to or not. I just accepted it. Maybe there would be some nostalgia to check up on from time to time.
All these years, however, I always considered the C64 a thing of the past. A closed chapter. Now we have computers that are so much faster and produce so much better material, it’s not even funny. I considered the C64 a product of its time and instead spent my years making web sites and playing a ton of PC games. I had high hopes for some of the web sites and fan game sections I wrote, but none of them created much of a stir. It was pretty much letdown after letdown. There were a few dedicated visitors, but actually spawn discussions and spreading the word all around? Almost non-existent.
Just rolling tumbleweeds.
Especially my latest endeavor, the GameDeed web site, was almost always a major disappointment. I was actually arrogant enough to believe that a table layout would make it a strong contender among the likes of Backloggery and Howlongtobeat. Instead it immediately went for a small niche corner with less than half a dozen visitors per day. I even tried to fix this several times. Maybe if I added Steam synchronization? No? Perhaps if I added an export function? Still nothing? Then how about if I add a ton of C64 games?
All these fiascos really got to me in the end and I finally decided to freeze all further development on the GameDeed web site. I played some more PC games instead and wrote a lot of blog posts about them, but again the feedback was somewhat sparse.
The hell with it, I then thought. Now I’ll do something for myself for once.
This is part 5 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.
At some point during 1991, I got a 33 MHz 80386 PC as payment for doing the Hugo sound work for SilverRock Productions. As soon as I got it, the C64 already started to fade into the background. It was cutting edge at the time, with a whopping 89 MB hard disk (my first hard disk ever), 5 MB RAM, a Sound Blaster card and of course a CRT color monitor on top of a hideous desktop box equipped with a digital MHz display, a 3½” floppy drive and a turbo button I rarely used.
I was instantly attracted by the Sound Blaster sound card and its AdLib FM chip. I wanted to code for it immediately. It actually didn’t take me long to learn how to code on the PC. Even though it was a 80386, everybody said that it was prudent to stick with 8086 code and that meant having to juggle with awkward 64 KB segments for code and data. For games this could be a problem, but it was good enough for testing how to code simple things and of course music players. For coding, I used Borland Turbo Assembler along with QEdit for editing the source codes. At this point it was all DOS mode only.
Getting hold of documentation about the Sound Blaster card was actually quite difficult in 1991. I searched for a long time before I finally got wind of a book in a small computer shop in a village further north on the island of Zealand. It was expensive and came in a box from which I pulled out sort of a small binder. It was unlike any other manual I had seen before for developing software. Things obviously worked differently on the PC. But the manual was a good investment. It had all the information I needed and soon I was testing the basic FM sounds of the AdLib chip. It also had data about programming the DSP on the Sound Blaster card for playing samples, something I would also make use of later.
This is part 4 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.
One of the best things about the C64 demo scene in 1988-92 was the way we swapped with each other all over Europe. Of course a ladder of recognition was in place. You had a much greater chance of swapping with the awesome guys if you had something to show for it yourself. Climbing the ladder and getting the best swapping partners meant trying to create better demos and smaller cracks. Newcomers (usually the youngest kids) that failed to impress anyone were often condescendingly called lamers.
It was something you wouldn’t want to be called, yet most of us started as one.
Being the network it literally was, getting the reputation of producing good stuff and being a nice guy earned you more connections. More people wanted to swap with you, improving the chance and speed of spreading your work. For the groups that prioritized cracks, it was about being the fastest and also having the smallest version of a game. The game might have a copy protection that was hard to crack. There was also some prestige in showing that your group can do that anyway. A smaller version meant having access to (or being able to code) a packer that could compress better than others. For demo groups, being able to break a new technical record or show a new type of awesome effect earned respect. A large part of this network was governed by this air of competition which by itself kept it alive and fast.
But the swapping also spawned camaraderie, giving it sort of a pen pal spin where nice letters were written, discussing everything related to the scene.
This is part 3 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.
My swapping friend Kim knew a mate from school that was a member of the Amiga group Channel 42, and soon I had also established connections with them. Although they were strictly demo coders on Amiga, they respected what the C64 could do. In fact, both Niels and Morten were both very easy going and observant, often pointing out the little details in demos on both computers. Morten would later turn out to be a skilled programmer, coding games on Amiga and consoles, while Niels was a graphics artist that knew how to draw inviting cartoon characters. They themselves broadened my connections further as they too knew a lot of other fellow wizards. Niels and Morten would also later be important as they got involved in computer games for Danish television. More about that later in this part.
Kim, Scorpio and I created a C64 division of Channel 42 and I left Dominators to join it. Niels even created a few logos for C64 intros coded by Scorpio.
Towards the end of March 1989, I went to the Ikari & Zargon party in Slagelse. I had just converted a pop hit by Sandra to my NewPlayer on C64 and it was used in a demo by Ikari. This was a shared Amiga and C64 party, and the Channel 42 guys introduced me to Jesper Kyd. He was still learning the ropes at this point, but I noticed that he shared the same penchant for being observant and eager to learn when listening to MOD tunes on Amiga. He got hold of a new one at the party and it was interesting to see the way he immediately zoned in listening to it, concentrating intensely on how it was composed.
This is part 2 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.
1988 arrived and it would completely eclipse 1987 in activity and important events. First of all, I was jumping from one group to the next, typically together with a few friends such as Kim, to greener pastures. The first jump was from New Men to Galaxy in late 1987, then to 2000 A.D. in February 1988. After a very short stop at INXS in April, I continued to Jewels (joining up with Brian and their friends) the same month, then Wizax in June. Finally I settled down a bit with Dominators in August – at least for the rest of 1988. Most of these groups had something to do with cracks, but they had their demo divisions as well. I made a few demos along the way, like the wavy “Enjoystick!” for 2000 A.D., and I also made the last part for a disk loading demo by Jewels where I had two color-cycling scrollers across removed side-borders. Not totally out of this world, but good enough to prove that I knew more than just how the SID chip worked.
My “Enjoystick!” C64 demo from April 1988, playing one of my OldPlayer tunes.
The scene was constantly growing, new people popped up in new groups, and a lot of them turned out to be allies – new friends – but not all. Some were in direct competition with me right from the beginning and stayed that way for years.
One such person was Thomas, better known as Laxity.
This is part 1 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium. If you’re not used to home computers and chiptunes, fret not! I have tried my best to intersperse the text with interactive question boxes to help explain the technical terms and jargon in passing.
“This is the shop where they have the Commodore 64, dad.”
It was shortly before spring in 1984. I was 18 years at the time and still living together with my parents in our old house in Rungsted, some 24 km north of Copenhagen. Money was definitely not my forte, but dad had finally promised to help me buy the Commodore 64 that I had been dying to get for so long.
We went into the shop and quickly found the shelves where they were showcasing all the popular home computers. Among these, they had a Commodore 64 and a Sinclair ZX Spectrum that we could type on. No monitors. Just checking out the keyboards. But the decision had already been made, so we found a shop assistant in a jiffy and asked to buy a C64.
“I’m sorry, we just sold the last one and we can’t sell the demo model over there.”