Interview with Ninja
Published in Vandalism News #35
Performed by Jazzcat
This time round I had the pleasure of interviewing a scene friend of mine. He has been in several demo groups and is known for his coding skills. Not only has he been involved in "scene" related projects, he also is involved with C64 game development and the popular magazine called GO64!
Welcome to the magazine. Please introduce yourself to the readers...
Greetings, my real name is Wolfram Sang, I'm 23 years old and currently am studying media-technologies at the Technical University of Ilmenau, Germany. Well, to be honest, I mainly study during the exam-period. The rest of the term I spend time with organizing international student weeks, peace camps and such stuff.
Of course, another big portion of time belongs to the C64, what a surprise! :)
Please describe a bit of your history on the C64, like when you first joined it etc.
It's a shame, but I do not remember exactly when I got my first C64. I always thought it was in 1989, but recently it turned out that it also maybe 1988. I got it as a birthday present and it was my third platform. Before that I already tried the Atari 800 XL and the Amstrad CPC 464.
Being a 10 year old kid, I mostly played games and tried some steps in BASIC. I realized that forcing the computer to do what you want is quite fun, so I bought books and eagerly read the "pro-corner" in the German 64'er magazine.
They presented the sceners as the real elite coders, so I tried to catch up. But it was too hard at the time; e.g., as I roughly got an idea on how FLI works, ECI-plasmas were presented, which I could not understand at all. Feeling unworthy to enter the scene, at the age of 15, I tried my luck on PC, where I wanted to make some bucks as a programmer. PC coding was absolutely no fun to me, I decided to return to the C64. Of course, it was said to be dead (again), but I missed this special spirit.
This time I decided not to primarily catch up with the big elite, but more to just go my own way, get to know some cool people and simply enjoy being a C64-maniac. I called some BBSes, one was The Dreams-HQ. I got to know Zaphod and Doc Bacardi (the best friend I ever had) and joined this group in 1996. From there I went to many parties, met lots of cool (and not so cool) people, improved my skills and contributed some releases, with which I honestly tried to keep the glory of the C64 and its scene alive.
After MS99 I joined TempesT, but the whole group was declared inactive, which might change when Jailbird returns from the army. Well, all this made me what I'm now, and I am quite happy with it :)
My highlights were releasing our first demo "Knoops" at Interjam 98, was very special, as it was a totally new experience for the whole group. And this "party holiday" in 2000, when went first to the Flag party in Hungary and then to North Party in Poland, was extremely cool. All travelling using trains, some extra days to explore. Budapest, night trips... It was exhausting, but great fun!
Rumours circulated around the scene about a 'group' called GOLD that would crack old games and improve them.
Recently you were involved in the fantastic improved GOLD versions of IK+ and THRUST. Can you tell the audience what this involved and what can be done in the new versions, also any other games you may have improved like this?
Hmm, I never heard those rumours, what a pity!
Well, what is involved to make something like IK+ Gold? A lot of finding! First find a clean, original version of the game. Usually it's more difficult if people already had their hands on the code. Then find the copy-protections and remove them. Now find a sheet of paper and write down exactly what you want to improve and what kind of routines you can probably change. Find those routines and find a way to modify them to your needs. In most cases, you'll need some extra memory and rastertime for the "backpacks" which can grow pretty fast. You have to find that as well. As the game is quite complex, you surely will produce some crashes. Find the bugs and eliminate them; this is the worst work of all! If it works somehow, find some motivation to write the docs, which is hardly better than bug-fixing. Finally find someone who does an intro or do it on your own. Link, pack, release. That's mainly it.
The main advantages of "IK+ Gold" are multi-player features. Most important, you can now play three people simultaneously using the most popular 4-player devices.
There are additional modes like "Losers stay in" or "Skip Bonus game" to provide the maximum ass-kicking fun (especially for parties)! Further gimmicks are hi-saver, selectable time per round and and... Just have a look and try to find all the changes :)
"Thrust Gold" can now be played with a SNES-pad, as the keyboard steering was not too good in hectic situations ("A" and "RUN/STOP" are quite near together -> BOOM!). I also noticed that the physics were more realistic on a SCPU, so I made some proper fixes for that and the C128. Plus the usual stuff (hi-saver, trainer, level skip).
I might improve other games, if I feel the need to do so.
But I won't complain if other people do it first, keeps work away from me. ;)
Your involved in quite a few different projects. One that comes to mind is the magazine GO64! What else are you involved in on C64? also some secret projects?
GO64! eats up most of the time. But it's definitely worth it, because I think a printed mag is quite important. Furthermore I personally improve my journalistic skills and learn about the C64-communities besides the scene, which is highly interesting. Another project, which has not started yet, is that Doc Bacardi and I shall do the computational part of a gravitational-force-experiment lead by a professor in the US. Of course, we will use a commie for that! :)
Of course, I also have some personal projects running. I want to create another demo, for example, with Jailbird doing the gfx. But as I have far too many ideas, I keep to my route and do what I want to do. Furthermore I try to support other people doing interesting work, like Retro Replay. Everyone who does an own project knows, how important and motivating a little support can be. Secret projects? Well, I still think about how to get rid of George W. Bush ;))
Yeah, I do not like him either. Wish he would sign the Kyoto treaty and also stop his missile defence plan! What is your opinion on the current demo scene compared to that of the late 80s and early 90s?
At that time the C64 was used by the masses. There was no need to convince people that the breadbox rocked the most. So, the point that it was YOU who rocked most was more important, especially as the quantity of demo makers was a lot higher. The result was this hunt for world records. As people had also more time, we could see new superior routines every month.
Today it's a little different. Of course, people still want to show off, but they also want the breadbox to show off. It is like presenting a philosophy: "Look what can be done even with very limited resources, if you really want to." This is the challenge most of us feel today. This is why we have the respect from other scenes (so please, don't spoil it with fast-made-just-to-release-something-crap-stuff!).
Going onward in this direction is a good motivation for being active. Of course, the C64-scene has become very exclusive. But for those who are left, this is just more motivating. Although time is rare today, we are not done yet!
In your opinion, what is the most important element of a demo on the C64?
Not only on C64 but everywhere - it's the atmosphere. A demo has to have some flow. You have to feel the creators' devotion to present their content. With content I do not only mean telling a story or one's feelings (Triad). Hailing the C64-style (Crest), breaking the limits (Booze Design), climbing to the top (Plush) or just entertain people (Metalvotze), all this can be a topic. It keeps the attention of the audience. So, the golden rule should be "You must not bore people".
Is there any effect or design segment that was made by another that you really admire? and what would you like to do on C64 with coding that you have not yet done?
I'm curious and interested in a number of fields. I don't think I will ever be able to code all the stuff I'd like to. I haven't done too much 3D for example. I like fractals, there are millions of things to try in this direction. Also, coding for peripherals: I just got a
digitak genlock for my C64, I instantly got some ideas I want to try (somewhen). This is one reason, why I'm always too busy :)
What I admire, is people who found out about the VIC-tricks. I mean, for some people, it is difficult to just "learn" these tricks. Finding those, perhaps already with explanations, must have been really some cool work. And this work is the basement of today's scene-building.
Recently there was a discussion on a massive scale about demos at scene parties, if they should be completed 100% and spread at the party like the rest of the demos, or to still allow demos to be entered in the compo even though they are not spread until some time later. What is your view on this?
Of course, I'd like to return from a party having all the stuff already on the disks. But I also know that a high
quality C64 demo needs a huge amount of time, this is what hardly one has nowadays. I leave it to the voters if they take into consideration that those demos often have flaws and that others were finished in time.
I do take it into consideration.
Can we expect more nice SuperCPU adapted games from The Dreams?
Same as before. As soon as I find a game worth patching and the motivation to do so :) Speaking of, indeed I could play a little around with the SCPU again... Yeah, would be fun!
Been to many scene parties? Which ones did you attend?
Yes, as I entered the scene quite late and missed a lot of great parties, I try to attend as much as possible now, because this time won't ever come back. It is just awesome to travel to the party-places somehow, meet people you know from IRC, mail or not at all and have a good time cause everyone shares this belief in C64. And it's especially cool if you are accompanied by such a great pal like Doc Bacardi.
Man, you won't believe what kind of adventures we had during our journeys. It's definitely the best time of my life so far, I really hope it will go on for some more years!
I hope I can recall all the parties, let me see: Comparade 5 (?), MS97, MS98, Interjam 98, X98, MS99, North Party 4, North Party 5, MS2K, Flag2000, North Party 6, Willow 2000, X2000, MS2001. Plus some meetings from Plush, Out of Order and The Dreams.
Do you like the current trend of most people releasing new wares only at parties and not in-between events?
Of course, I do not like it, but I can understand it. If you went through all that work of doing something, then you want to present it to as much people as possible. At big parties you even have the chance to present it to non-c64-sceners. You see it at least once on a BIG screen with FAT sound equipment. And there is some more: Feedback. You see how people react when watching your work for the first time. This is very important! You may hear other sceners talk about your production. It's a total different story, when you just spread stuff in-between. At least in my case, the level of feedback is close to 0 then. It seems weird, most people want feedback, but just very few give it.
If anything should be changed or improved in the scene, what should it be?
Every active scener should be given millions of bucks, so he can spend more time with producing something for the C64 ;)
Seriously, I think the scene is too complex to say "Do this and it will be better". If you don't believe me, write a mail with your suggestion to the C64-scene-mailing list and you will see...
What do you think of disk magazines on the C64 in the past and present, and what do you think should be their purposes?
I like disk mags very much. You get all the news at a time, learn about the people behind the nicks in the interviews, lots of different view points on scene-related topics are presented, reviews may give you an idea how certain productions are evaluated (although there is IMHO a trend to mainly test demos from "big" groups, which is kind of unfair to the others) and projects are introduced or explained. This all is very interesting and, combined with cool design and artwork, also highly entertaining. They also keep the scene going.
I can't say too much about magazines in the past, I didn't read them back then. There was also good and bad ones, I guess :)
What is your opinion on the cracking scene, and the personality differences between a legal scener and an illegal scener?
These few games which are released nowadays are hardly protected. So, in my opinion most of the thrill has gone. For some games it might be nice to have a trained, fixed and improved version (especially when it comes to load from CMD devices), for example Metal Warrior. But for those crappy games or previews, where cracking (?), fixing (?), training and intro linking needs 5 minutes at maximum... I don't know. There may be something like a codex to deliver every game, I respect that. But I personally would not go for that. Perhaps, understanding codex is the biggest difference between a legal and an illegal scener ;)
Otherwise I think both have a similar personality, they are just working in different disciplines. The strongest impact on one's personality is still being a C64 scener after all.
What are your all time favourites on the C64 of the following:
Musicians: Maniacs of Noise, Jeff
Graphicians: Jailbird, Deekay, Mermaid
Demo groups: Crest
Demos: ?TOO DIFFICULT ERROR
Cracking groups: Remember
Games: Manfred Trenz games
Disk Magazines: Vandalism News, Magic Disk
C64 webpage: Cocos, Girls of 64 :)
Any words of advice to the newer people on the scene out there?
Do what YOU want, but try to do it with style. And take your time, the only way to improve your skills is still training, training, training...
Well, nothing really new, but that's what I (and probably most of the others) simply did.
To end this interview, here is your time to send any greetings to anyone you know...
Cool! Greetings to anyone I know! :) There are too many to name here, and they know who they are.
Thanks for your time, do you have any last comments?
I want to thank VN for this opportunity and hope it was a little interesting. To all C64-maniacs out there I'd like to say "Keep the spirit!" and see you at some party! :)