Interviews



Interview with Archmage

Published in Vandalism News #55
Performed by Jazzcat



Fellow scene nerds,

Introducing to you Archmage, key member of The Infinite Andromeda who has in recent years migrated to our humble community, securing membership with the likes of Booze Design and SHAPE. It has not taken him long to establish himself in the superior scene as a formidable artist who proves less can provide more.

Please welcome this especially powerful wizard of pixels, Archmage.



J)
Thanks for taking the time for this interview and welcome to Vandalism News, our audience is eager, please make an introduction!

A)
Hi! My name is Hakon, and in the scene I am known as Archmage of Booze Design, SHAPE and Nostalgia. I am 35 years of age and live in Oslo, Norway, with my girlfriend and our two small boys. By day I work in the dull and grey world of book publishing, and by night I am a superhero dividing my time between pixel punching and being a rock star. I have been doing graphics on the C64 since 2007, so compared to a lot of the old geezers who might be reading this I am an absolute beginner. I did, however, put my first pixels on screen in 1988 on the Amiga, so in that respect I consider myself something of a demo scene veteran. I am also an avid games- and hardware collector with my main focus on the 8-bit era.



J)
I have to admit I was excited when I started seeing your name on the blue screen back in 2007 and I have not been disappointed! Tell us, when did you first get a C64 and how did you change from just a regular guy with a computer anyone could buy to a superhero in the underground scene?

A)
My first C64 was actually not a C64 but a C128 which I bought in 1987. I remember the sleazy shopkeeper told me that I really should choose the much pricier C128 over a C64 because of the infinite superiority of the big brother - but of course I ended up using it in C64 mode 99% of the time. I wanted to play The Last Ninja, not dabble with CP/M, so that was not exactly money well spent. I did not have the C128 for long, however, as I was spellbound by the Amiga at a very early stage. My friend Hyde of Andromeda fame bought one of the first Amiga 500s to hit Norwegian soil, and seeing the graphics on that I just had to have one too. So I sold off the C128 and reinvested the money in the A500. Before long we developed a fascination for cracking intros, and by late 1988 we had started making demos under the group name Mind Warriors. In 1989 I attended my first copy party. As fate would have it, this was the SHAPE/TRC party held in Porsgrunn, Norway. I remember us being totally outnumbered by a horde of slightly older C64 guys at the party. When I look at the CSDb list of attendees now, I see some familiar names. So in a way, both by joining SHAPE and having the pleasure of knowing some of these people now, I have come full circle.

Apart from my debut at the Porsgrunn party I rarely crossed paths with the C64 scene of the early 90's - except on a couple of occasions. My first major peek into the world of C64 was at The Bergen Party  in 1990, when my group-mates and I spent the night prior to the party in the house of a C64 scener. Judging from the CSDb-records this might have been Price of Megastyle, but I am not 100% sure. Either way, the whole experience was rather shocking, because coming from the Christian conservative part of Norway we were not used to the whole hardcore booze-DATA and living room thrashing combination that was enforced by the other people that had crashed there. Most of them were from Panoramic Designs, Hoaxers and/or  Contex  I think, but I am not able to put names to faces after all these years.

My second encounter with the C64 scene was less disturbing. I used to skateboard a lot in those days, and through that I got in touch with AWA  of SHAPE who happened to live close by. He invited me to his place and we watched some demos and he showed me how he pixeled on the C64. This must have been around 1993 because I remember him working on The Flying Sorceror-picture. I was quite shocked by the whole pixel-by-joystick method, and not knowing any better I gave him a hard time about it and tried to convince him to convert to the Amiga. Good thing he did not, because he did some great stuff for the C64 after that.


J)
The Amiga scene took you away from us so early! Imagine what your tale would say if the path had traversed another direction? No regrets I am sure though and glory was still sort regardless. Can you tell the readers about your journey from those old days until now?


A)
This is where you all have to adjust to Amiga scene mode, I am afraid. Around 1990 Hyde and I joined the then unknown local Amiga group  Andromeda, and during the next four years we worked our way to demo scene fame. I did graphics and a lot of swapping, and I also wrote some articles for magazines. My first pictures were your regular run-of-the-mill Boris Vallejo-copies. The way to stand out in those days was not by coming up with a great theme or original artwork, but rather being able to sport the best pixel technique. I attracted some attention for my pixel skills around 1993 when I won the graphics competition at The Gathering, but I spent most of my time as a nobody working in the shadow of great artists such as Duel and Fairfax. The first prize at The Gathering 1993 was an Amiga 1200, so winning that rocketed me into the world of AGA. Around this time I also started to do "no copy"-pictures, and by far the best and most famous one was the title screen for the Nexus 7 demo which won at The Party in 1994. After Nexus 7 the air went out of the balloon for us. The demo, bearing the internal working title "The Punisher" had done just that, both to us and the scene as a whole, and we were left disillusioned by winning every major demo competition, feeling uninspired - and drifting apart as people. Most of us moved away from our hometown to study, and real life took over. I studied and played in bands for years and I rarely thought about demos or pixels.

In 2006 Hyde started to code again for the PC. I tagged along and reawakened my long dormant interest in demo making, working on such PC demos as Noumenon, Lifeforce for ASD and Stargazer. While working on these productions and spending a lot of time on Pouet I started to realise that something in the scene had changed for the worse. Gone seemed the sense of healthy group rivalry, serious work ethics, mutual respect and earning the right to have a say. What was left, it seemed to me, was the faceless cowardness of the pouet-thumb, so-called "funprods" that were coughed up in a couple of drunken hours, and a scene dominated by a bunch of jealous and frankly quite unsympathetic bullies and lamers with overblown egos. It all seemed hollow, and I was on the verge of quitting when I happened to stumble across a demo called  The Wild Bunch on the C64. I had always been fascinated by the C64 preset colours, and in this demo that palette and sound was put to a use which just seemed to click with me. I followed the trail of this magnificent demo into CSDb, and there I discovered an alternative community to the PC scene which I had come to loathe. The C64 scene seemed populated with actual people who dared to spend a lot of time on actually doing something out of love for the machine and each other. The sense of heritage was there, something that I discovered through reading the first two issues of  Recollection, but also the will to do new stuff in a new way. When I was introduced to Project One by Proteque, I did an Andromeda logo, and in order to get a genuine feeling for what I was doing I bought a C64. After doing some logos I wanted to join a group, but not sharing any of the history of the C64 scene, I did not feel comfortable joining one of those many headed dinosaur groups that keep going on about demos they did ten years ago. My instincts - and my trusted friend Sander - told me that it had to be Instinct, so I contacted them to apply for membership. And guess what, they agreed! I also got to know GRG when travelling to BFP in 2007, and after that we have tended to go to parties together. He has become a good friend of mine, and after a while it became only natural that I joined SHAPE. Furthermore, Instinct merged into Booze Design after a couple of good cooperation demos. Just recently I also joined Nostalgia, where my prime function is as a tester and logo maker. So this is basically where I am now, Archmage of Booze Design, SHAPE and Nostalgia - maker of some powerful pixels and pitiful tunes on the Commodore 64. And feeling a part of a community that is interesting and dynamic and constantly surprising.



J)
You mention The Wild Bunch, CSDb and even my very own Recollection magazine as sources of interest and motivation, can you also reveal anyone you look up to in the scene that may have motivated you and why?

A)
In the Andromeda period I was mostly motivated by my group-mates. Graphics wise I really looked up to Ra of Sanity, and this shows in some of my stuff even today. Without his influence I would never have been able to make the logos in Still Ready for instance. I was also a big fan of Uno. His stuff was otherworldly. Speaking of today's C64 scene the "looking up to" blends a lot more into "admire as a person as well as an artist", as I have gotten to know a lot of the people in the community. And working with and showing my stuff to those people is what fuels my motivation. There are a lot of good graphicians I could mention of course, but I think it is just as important to give a shout out to those people who keep the wheels of the C64 scene turning without getting their deserved credit for it. Names that spring to mind are Jazzcat, CBA and the X-team, Frantic and the LCP boyz, the Datastorm posse, Macx, PAL, the HVSC-team, Morpheus, pixelpushers Veto, enthusi and the guys behind  C64Intros, C64.sk and the C64 codebase. Hell, even grumpy Groepaz needs a pat on the back for his sharing of C64 knowledge and tireless CSDb-efforts. Without these guys we would not have a community, and then my motivation would have been non-existent.


J)
I always find it hard to describe to people what the scene is all about. Sceners themselves have differing views, what is your opinion?

A)
Well, it very much used to be an arena for kicking ass and putting people in their place by means of doing impossible and stunning stuff on a computer screen. At least that was the motivation in Andromeda, but hey, we were seventeen at the time. Now it is more about hanging out with friends, enjoying a beer, presenting your newest stuff and rejoicing when others come up with something cool. There is also that undeniable tinge of nostalgia to it all. The best part, however is feeling the DATA flow through an audience at a party. That is just a very special feeling.



J)
Did you ever imagine the scene would still be alive in 2011? That demos (including records and new effects) are still being released?

A)
I was very surprised in 2007 to see that there was still a strong C64 community. Thinking about it now, however, it kind of makes sense. Most of us are now living lives with girl- or boyfriends, kids and jobs or lack thereof and a real life that can be very demanding. To get away from all that, to have a taste of the carelessness and comradeship of childhood, and to be able to strive for something that is without monetary significance, can be very rewarding. Furthermore, it makes a lot more sense to make demos on the C64, including the records and new effects that you mention, than to try to do something on a modern PC. To me, demos are about breaking limits that are known, and I am ten times more impressed with coders like JackAsser and HCL than I am with any of the PC coders. Oh, except Hyde, because I know for a fact that he would kick ass on the C64 if only we could win him over.


J)
What productions have changed your way of appraising what is doable on this machine?

A)
I have already mentioned the impact that The Wild Bunch had on me. I also like most of Hollowman's demos because they have a very strong and rare artistic nerve to them. Hollowman and JackAsser's Sharp is an absolute favourite of mine. It is so fucking post-modern that it will be state of the art on the C64 only in 2047. The same goes for the stuff from the wonder trio from Triad, namely  Ne7, Twoflower and Iopop who do really nice things. Recent blockbuster demos like We Are New, Pearls for Pigs, Error 23 and Another Beginning are limit transcending too, especially when it comes to graphics. I also found Artefacts very impressive, as this is the only 4k that makes sense to me artistically on any platform. EOD should also be mentioned of course. I think the music in EOD is amazing, and I can't think of a better demo track.

I tend to like all things Dane,  and even if it might not qualify as a "production" per se, his track Arctic Circles made me realise that the music that is being made within the scene context is not necessarily just good within that context. It is simply great music. The most mind blasting demo on the C64, though, is Andropolis. It is the one demo where everything just clicks. I know it is hopelessly shameless and bigoted of me to say so, but that is my honest opinion and I will stand by it until somebody comes up with anything better.



J)
Hollowman's demos are indeed some of my favourites too, particularly Wok Zombie and the Manhood series. Are there any recent trends or tendencies since you have been on C64 that you find interesting?

A)
I am not a numbers person, and as much as I try to understand the limitations and possibilities and technical aspects of demo effects on the C64, I still tend to end up judging a demo by the interplay between the visuals and the music. Although it might not qualify as a brand new tendency, the sense of timing between music effects and visuals seems like a concept that has matured nicely the last few years. Take Natural Wonders 2 for instance, EOD, the filter sweeping sequence in  Andropolis or the intros to the recent  Fairlight  demos. Stuff like that rocks my boat.


J)
When you came over to the C64 as a graphician, did you ever imagine this huge choice of modern graphic format? You have stuck to MultiColour, rarely deviating... Tell us your view on C64 graphic formats...

A)
I was quite surprised by the number of formats when I first started to check out the possibilities of pixeling on the C64. I quickly found that the formats that were of any actual use in a demo context could be counted on one hand, and I tend to think of this a prerequisite for my graphics. There is also the workload aspect, and one thing that I like about doing stuff on the C64 is that results manifest rather quickly in the native modes. I'll give a quick run-through of my views on the various modes.

Hires   is relatively new to me and I've only done a few pictures in it. I feel that the full potential of this format is yet to be seen on the C64 - even though there are some really good pictures out there. Still I look to the Speccy scene to see the really mind blowing stuff done in a similar mode. The trick, it seems, is to think diagonally.

Multicolour  is what makes the C64 rock in my opinion. The fact that this native mode can be used *with* effects instead of -being- an effect is of the essence to me. Besides, it is chunky and dirty and cool in a ballsy kind of way and if it is wired it is fairly easy to tell. If you can pull it off in multicolour you have pixel skills. If you can't, you don't. Period.

Interlace should be avoided at all cost. The detail gets all muddled and the flicker just burns your eyes. Torture.

FLI is what I started out with. I worked my way through the formats in P1 and thought "hey! this mode gives me one more colour per char. After a while I got more conscious about the FLI bug and the fact that the mode wasn't really as usable in demo effects as MC. Besides, I discovered that I didn't really need that extra colour per char to do good stuff.

NUFLI  is the new buzz, and even though it is very technically impressive I really can't be bothered. There are a couple of reasons for this. One reason that I already mentioned is that it is more an effect in itself than anything else. More importantly, there are just too many pixels on screen for me to be in control of them all without having to quit my day job. And most importantly, anything that can be done in NUFLI can be done just as well in MC if you are any good. The best graphicians on the C64 are the ones who can come up with a striking theme, good use of colour and lighting, put the pixels where they are supposed to be and to be able to turn limitations into advantages.


J)
And the restrictions compared to the PC and the Amiga, how do you feel working with them?

A)
I feel better working with restrictions than without restrictions, that is for sure! I have done some pictures on PC and I've never ever felt that I really got the hang of it. I can't seem to shake that annoying thought that there just might be an easier workflow or a certain brush that would make my stuff look way better. Pixeling for the Amiga used to be easy, but nowadays I feel that there are too many colours to work with and too many pixels to put. Besides, why would I want to dither from white to black with say 16 colours of grey when I can achieve better results with two?


J)
One of my favourite pictures by you is 'SX64ual Healing', this thought provoking 8-bit canvas is a typical example of how your colour usage is so much more different than other artists on this machine. Looking at Mekanix there is clearly a theme and motive. What role does that play in your other work - do you feel it's important? How does it relate to your quickly evolving style and skills?

A)
In order to pixel on a platform with a limited fixed palette you have to think of the colours in terms of luminance to realise their full potential. Once you get used to the thought that you can put complimentary colours next to each other and you get a grip of the relative luminance level of each colour you have a pretty good span from light to dark on your hands. Once you master that, you can try to come up with alternative palettes for different elements in the picture. You mention SX64ual Healing, and even though that picture is far from perfect there is one thing that I am happy with and that is the warm colours of the hair in contrast to the rest. For me that was a milestone.

As for themes, they are important to me personally, but I don't think that I am very good at communicating them. There are traces of a storyline in both  Amplifire, Andropolis and Mekanix, but about 80% or so of that only exists in mind. I don't expect people to grasp the story, but what I do enjoy is when people see some sort of underlying intention and coherence between the pictures in a demo - like you apparently do in Mekanix. The end picture in Mekanix is the  best picture in my C64 portfolio by far, and it is also the most "thematic" picture I've done. But at the same time it is a picture that very few people have taken any particular notice of, which again tells me that storytelling might not be my strongest side.



J)
You seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for different challenges when glancing at your time on C64. You have quickly migrated through various graphic formats, music composing and even joining a cracking group. Do you need to feel challenged?

A)
I might be out to justify my attention deficiency here, but I do have a huge admiration for people who can do everything on the C64. One-(wo)man-bands like Dane, Conrad or Mermaid do not really have to be members of a group in order to get their stuff out there. Although I like being in a group, it would be very cool to be like one of these people in a very small and humble scale. To be able to make a one screen intro with a scroller, music played and graphics displayed is an old dream of mine. If you look at where I am at the moment of writing this, you may very well say that I am pretty far off. Where I put pixels to canvas with great ease, I find it equally hard to code and the music I make is so-so. If I ever get to the point where I am able to make something similar to a crack intro, I have come full circle with what got me into this in the first place. That day I shall treat all my C64 scene friends to akevitt and fenalar - so encouragement is due!


J)
You have tested the water in so many parts of the C64 scene... And now you are doing work for Vandalism News also, at least in this issue! Will we see more appearances by you on the magazine front as well?

A)
Well, my role in this last issue was mainly to pose as Macx's drunken journalistic sidekick in order to put him in a good light. I am not unwilling to write for VN, but at the moment I am in a place where I have taken on far too much stuff both at work, at home an on the C64 scene. Besides, you guys are much better off without me straining your deadlines.



J)
Seems like you would fit in well, we tend to not have a deadline as deadlines just get broken anyway. :D You have been to a few parties over the years, focusing on the C64 events in recent times and the part they play in the scene, what could be done better?

A)
In short, not much. To pull off a party takes a lot of effort, and I have not been to a C64 party these last few years where I have thought that "these guys haven't managed to pull it off". Of course, there have been parties where the facilities haven't been as good as X, but then again the fact that beds are offered there is not strictly in compliance with the rules of hardcore concrete floor DATA. My worst party ever must have been LCP 2009; I came up with a bad fever and the party place was not the best place to be sick. All the windows except one had been nailed shut and the party was held in the middle of the summer, so everybody there - fever or not - were boiling in their own sweaty data farts. I remember thinking "never again" at that point, but when I got home I missed the people and the atmosphere even so. And I couldn't really say that anything could have been done better in this case, because the organisers did a great job in all departments. If there is one thing that I find worth criticism on the recent parties I have been to, it is that people - myself included - do not always bother to vote in the competitions. That sucks, and we ought to sharpen up!



J)
The graphic compo at X2010 - some people rate it as one of the strongest ever, do you share the same view?

A)
It was a strong competition indeed, and there were a lot of interesting contributions. None of the pictures were astonishing, but most of them were very good. Skimming the list on CSDb now, I see that none of my favourites were among the top three, which again says something about the general high level. I would really have loved to be a part of this competition, but I ended up doing stuff for the demo instead.


J)
Seems like some artists are coming back to C64 - how do you feel about Louie500 now being in the C64 scene? Must be some kind of flashback or something?

A)
The fact that Louie is doing graphics on the breadbox makes me happy indeed. He has been a pixel master since the Amiga days, and he has an approach that I can sympathise with. His picture for the  X2010  graphics competition was finger licking good and I also love most of the stuff he has done for the recent Fairlight  demos. I don't know his reasons for coming back to the C64 scene, but the Amiga scene has seemed kind of deflated lately so I guess that is one reason. I really appreciate all new blood that enters the pixel scene and having guys like Louie and Veto showing up in recent years is great.



J)
In the C64 scene you have quite a few colleagues, some doing very different things compared to your work (e.g. Veto, Oys, Ptoing etc). Are there any pixelers whose work you feel has a strong relation to your own, and whose least connected to your own? Please explain why and how you feel about their work...

A)
That is a tough one, but one way of answering the question is to mention the guys whose work I have studied. When I started pixeling on the C64 I pointed my magnifying glass at everything that Mirage and Sander had done. I was also very fascinated with a lot of Mermaid's graphics. To me she is perhaps the best drawer in the scene, and I relate to that because I draw all my stuff by hand before I do pixels. Jailbird, Joe and Valsary both have interesting technical approaches and colour schemes, while Ptoooing! and Twoflower have a good eye for design. I must also mention PAL's picture of the boy with the C= in Another Beginning. In general, when I look at pictures I tend to do a quick overview and then move on to systematically studying the pixel technique, the use of colour and stuff like that. With that picture, however, I just got sucked into the theme and stayed there. I have made a lot of pictures of people holding Commodore related artefacts, but I could never have managed to come up with such a simple yet brilliant and touching idea. As for the part about the ones with whom I feel least connected, I'll leave that hanging in the air I think. There are people who are playing a different ball game, but that doesn't mean that they aren't any good at it.



J)
Do you feel the scene is a community? Do you think that is good or bad and why?

A)
On parties it is more like an extended family I think, and it is mostly all good. The competitiveness in the scene is at a healthy level right now, and to me it is very inspiring. Take X10 for instance. Of course we wanted to win that demo competition, but I must tell you that none of us were the least disappointed when Offence got the first spot. Hopefully this means that they will be inspired to make more demos, so that we can beat them the next time around. This, to me, is what the scene is about at the moment. Having people put effort into something, be it big or small, and getting a pat on the back for doing so.

On the net it tends to be rougher, and I have started to pull back a bit. Being an opinionated guy with a temper, I have had my share of drama throughout my years in the scene, but now I have come to the point where I just want to enjoy a beer and feel the DATA flow through my veins. Like I know I will when I fire up the next issue of my favourite mag, Vandalism News!


J)
Oh yes, on that last note I hear you well! Nothing like preparing some drink or smoke and totally submerging yourself in something you know you are going to enjoy! You recently mentioned to me a new job you have, can you tell us a bit about the real life Archmage, are you out there smiting people with your elemental staff or do you work 9 to 5 and only assume your evil guise after hours?

A)
Archmage at work is a fairly uninteresting story really. 9 to 5 is the name of the game. I am currently working as an in-house editor and graphics designer for a Norwegian publisher of academic books. I do book covers and some book editing. I also maintain the company website. So not much smiting I'm afraid.


J)
Will you ever come to Australia one day or have any country you want to travel to? (anything is possible if two insane guys fly from Australia to go to X2010)

A)
Currently I am lucky if I am able to get away for the weekend, but once the kids grow a bit older I might travel the world again. I've never been to Australia so of course that ranks high on the wish list. I would also love to see Tokyo and to go back to New York once more. And yes, that was special, having you guys fly halfway across the world to get to X. Massive respect!


J)
I had to come to get a hand delivered Norwegian comic from this insane artist I know! :P Okay, time to send some greetings out there to anyone you know...

A)
I've dropped a lot of names throughout the interview I think, so I'd just like to say hi to all my group mates. Greetings to my man JackAsser who just had a baby, and to RaveGuru who did just the right thing and moved to Bali. Also hi to Dane and HCL of course. Cheers to GRG and Geir, and hullo to the Nostalgia posse!


J)
Thanks for your time and participation! Do you have any last words for the readers?

A)
Stamps back.



Vandalism News ends its interrogation once more, the end of another epic scene tale. If you still cannot get enough of Archmage and have pillaged his CSDb entry already, make sure to visit his "Slow Dots" site at http://www.arthak.net

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