Interviews



Interview with Olav Mrkrid

Published in Recollection #2
Performed by Jazzcat


During the years of change in our demo scene, one guy really pushed it along. The demo scene was quite stale, almost predictable in its nature, a group called Panoramic Designs was born and all of this soon changed.



J)
Thanks for taking the time for this interview and welcome to the Recollection magazine, please introduce yourself to the audience.

O)
Hi, I'm Olav Mrkrid, to most C=64 people known as one of the programmers in Panoramic Designs, also known as Omega Supreme of The Shadows and Rawhead.

I'm also the co-founder of Norwegian games company Funcom, who has produced several console and PC games, most recently Anarchy Online and Dreamfall. I later went on to work at Opera Software, designing the user interface in the Opera browser. I also designed the mobile dating service Flirt (one couple who met through the service got married in a phone booth). I currently work in Stockholm with a startup mobile company designing positioned mobile services.

In my spare time, I play the piano (my favourite is Rachmaninoff), play squash, enjoy good cappuccinos, check out new cafs, eat sushi, and I sometimes go on traveling sprees.


J)
When did you first get a C=64 and how did you get from just a regular guy with a computer anyone could buy to a guy in the underground scene?

O)
My dad bought me the C=64 for my birthday. I was one of the first kids in my neighbourhood to get one. I had friends sitting on a row of chairs from the living room, the guy on the end would play the game, and when he got a "Game Over", everyone would do a logical shift left with carry. The curtains were down and the room was off limits to the rest of my family. My first game was Gridder, and the second was Stix. At first I didn't have a joystick. We found out we could move the game character by pressing random keys. We did not understand which keys would produce which movement, so we just competed by bashing on the keyboard and checking who could keep the game character alive for the longest time. We soon discovered that there was something called a joystick.

One day I met some local guys who showed me something they called "demos". I was impressed; one I remember was a Flash Cracking Group demo. Actually I did not have the faintest idea what a "demo" was. It dawned on me eventually.

At the same time, a friend of mine was making some simple games with silly graphics combining basic and machine code. I was once more amazed (jealous, perhaps?). I started reading a machine code course in a Norwegian computer magazine, and learned the computer logic and the 6502 instructions one by one.

I think a small labyrinth game was the first thing I made in machine code, and then suddenly, I don't know how, I found out how to make an interrupt. This was a major breakthrough. When you can make an interrupt, you can start doing anything and everything. This may sound non-sensational in 2006, but this was 1986.

I made my first demo, called "NCD Demo I", which wasn't very pretty, but it had some scrollers and sprites. It was a start. A local friend, Bjorn Hilstad, had made contact with some guys at Nesoya on the other side of the Oslofjord. They were called Bjorn, Kjetil, Jorgen and Thomas, also known as Moonray, Wizard, JAB and Wilfo of The Shadows. They had made some quite impressive demos (for the time). We met at Tanum Data, which was a computer store on Karl Johan, the main street in Oslo. Some of the guys who worked there happened to be in the god-like group Newlook, and we felt intimidated just walking near the store. Working in a shop that sold computer games is how they managed to release early cracks. We fired up the demos, the Newlook guys laughed at us, but the bottom line was that we joined The Shadows.

From here, we just kept programming and exchanging ideas, and looking at what other people were doing, and trying to come up with something better.



J)
Who did you look up to? Did anyone in the scene motivate you and why?

O)
Yes, definitely. We always felt we were among the best, which was a good place to be (or feel to be), but then there of course were some guys that were just plain innovators and broke through barriers unimaginable. Remember, the C=64 was meant to be a *business* machine, right? How did we ever open the sideborder?

List of heroes include:

1001 - for opening the sideborder

Omega Man - for doing horizontal rastersplits years before anyone, for unsurpassed cracks, and good design at an early time. To this day I know very little about who Omega Man was, except that he lived in Teesside in northern England. If anyone has any background on him, I'd like to read it.

Flash Cracking Group - very early with good design and "concept demos". They were an inspiration.

Mr. Cursor - when he made the Double Density demo with the mighty multi colour logo scrolling diagonally with all the sprite comets on top, you just felt like you had gotten all the air punched out of you.

Solomon of Beyond Force - he didn't do many things, but every time he made something it was really impressive.

Bitbuster of Rawhead - a genius in every sense of the word. Today he actually holds a doctorate in logics from the university. He made the world's first picture stretcher, and he actually made it writing all the code first and then compiling it, and it worked the first time. And this was a routine that no-one had made before. I challenge anyone to top that.

Marc - a Dutch guy who made the legendary demo "Marc's Movements". I think it was the only thing he ever made, but that was an amazing gem of a demo.



Rob Hubbard - well, Rob is #1. Nothing more to say about that. The guy had close knowledge of how different instruments behave, like a fiddle or a guitar, and he tried to *emulate* them with the SID. Not only is he a good sound engineer, he also has an unparalleled apprehension of music composition, combining musical traditions and clichs in his own way. Thanks, Rob, you rock my brain to this day!

Troopers/Prosonix - Stein has always had a firm touch with everything he does. Too modest for his brilliance (unlike me, who was more like the McEnroe of the C=64). And they were all great musicians of course, and made demos with a personal touch.

Then there were all the Britons and the CompuServe guys like Ash & Dave and all those guys. They had a great touch!

I must also say all the guys like Jedi, GCS, Antiram, Antirom, people you only knew by simple intros and text messages when you typed "LIST" were a mysterious presence in your life when you were just a kid who toyed around with Turbo Tabe 64 (someone should look up Stephan Senz Freiburg and give him his due credit and an honourable interview).



J)
I wonder how much you are aware of Panoramic's avantgardishness and if you ever realised it would become the 'Velvet Underground' of the C=64-scene?

O)
Haha. That's an analogy I haven't heard before. In a way I can understand it, because some of the stuff we made was pretty experimental, and psychedelic to say the least. I'm sure our people will be very flattered to hear this.





J)
Can you tell us about the history surrounding the demo by Flash Inc called "We Love Olav"?

O)
Zodiac was a very good programmer. His bouncing starry globe still puzzles me. They had a skilled Norwegian artist called Crept; with whom we had a co-operation demo planned, which alas came to naught. However, their other artists were not very good, and then they had a musician called Moon who made meaningless pling plong music. A new and impressive code effect deserves to be dressed up in equally great graphics, music and design. Programmers generally don't have a sense of visual design. I don't really have it myself, I just realise the importance of co-operating with good artists. Think not "code", but "what can I ultimately accomplish with the code".





J)
How did you get your handle?

O)
I was watching the "Transformers" cartoon series on TV. There was this character called Omega Supreme, who was torn between the good side and the bad side, and couldn't really make up his mind where he belonged. I liked this concept, so I went for it.


J)
You were once involved in United Norwegian Crackers (UNC)?

O)
UNC was just a group I made up for my very first demo. It was just me. I joined The Shadows very shortly after.


J)
You worked on your own game on C=64?

O)
Several. None were released, but a couple is finished, and some were on their way. I'm actually sort of wondering what to do with these things. I don't really have the time to finish them myself (though it would be a lot of fun), and experience has taught me that you can't really trust other people to finish what you have started. That's something with being a coder that you have control and can see the vision through the way you intended. I have been told that people have disassembled some of my utilities and developed them further. They may be improvements for all I know. It's just that when you make something, it's sort of yours, and you want to hang on to the ownership.


J)
What's your view on the other groups in Norway? Like for example Megastyle? (Incidentally I heard you had some problems with them years ago?)

O)
The Megastyle thing was quite weird, because we never actually met the guys until years later. They lived far up north, or actually in the geographical center of Norway, but then again Norway is extremely long. They were quite talented (some of them were geniuses), but they seemed to have an odd humour, and I guess certain of members of ours took a liking in ridiculing some of their guys. It was all really quite childish from both sides I guess, but quite funny too. It spawned some outlandish pranks and demos.


J)
From memory, originally Panoramic had a different name; some German group stole the name so you had to change it, what happened here? Also quite unique back then was the fact that all members used their given christian names and not handles anymore, how did this come about?

O)
Did some German group steal our name? I can't remember that, you'll have to bring me up to speed on that one. That would seem like a weird thing to do anyway.

The thing with christian names, I think that was part of Bjorn's great vision, but I think it was mostly about just becoming more honest and professional, not hiding behind monikers, but taking pride in what we did by putting our real names on it.


J)
Would you agree Panoramic's main strength of these guys seem to be - apart from the obvious musical excellence from Prosonix - design? The demos look like they are a little more than just effects strung together. Or maybe other groups back then lacked design which made Panoramic stand out?

O)
I've touched this earlier; it was about just thinking beyond "let's put a rasterbar here and a scroll there". Some of our guys had pretty vivid imaginations. I think anyone can make original demos; you just have to decide to yourself "Today I'm going to do something original". And you have to team up with people to excel in all areas and work together and inspire each other.

One time Marius Skogheim made a demo part called "Morgendagens skyvedorsystem", which translates loosely into "The sliding doors of tomorrow", which was a phrase he picked off an outdoors advertising board for walk-in closets. To take inspiration from irrelevant things can bring you to interesting places.

And of course there were other groups who had "design" too; I have mentioned some examples earlier. Another example that springs to mind just now is the demo "Give Me Edelgas" with a cool Star Wars inspired scroller. Or the "Star Frontiers" demo from the 80-s with the guy running along the Trailblazer chess board. Or the Sachs demo with the guy in the UFO and the dinosaurs. Or Seal of Focalor from Megastyle. Or the Pretzel Logic demos.

One demo (from a Danish group I think) with 8 x 4 green animated frogs that exploded one by one in order, and when it came to the two last ones, the last one exploded before the last but one. I laughed so much my stomach hurt. It toys with the mind you know, the unexpected. Surprises you off guard. Why can't people do more stuff like that?





J)
In creating a demo like the Pimple Squeezer series f.e. do you try to find a use for a new routine, or do you make up the 'story' first and then figure out which routines (FLD's, FLI, and such) to use?

O)
To tell you the truth I wasn't really conscious about what I was making. I just made something. It was really Bjorn who got us all thinking about design. He took a really conscious and intellectual approach towards the whole thing. Then there was Marius, who just had it naturally. It wasn't until like 1991-1992 that I really started experimenting outside the box and thinking broadly, and by that time it was mostly over anyway. But I have a lot of code and music that was truly experimental but was never released.


J)
Can you tell us about Zoomatic and the company you sold it to? This tool seems to have helped quite a lot of people over the years.

O)
Zoomatic was made because Bjorn was using a program called "Micropainter" but wanted new functions. So I made Zoomatic from scratch inspired by Micropainter. Bjorn and Richard would push the feature requests, and I made the thing, with some ideas and features of my own. Any time I would change something that Bjorn didn't like; he would send it back in my face and say "this is unusable". No matter if I made 10 new great features, if I changed one little thing that touched his personal habits, he would physically refuse to use it. It was sold to Walter Konrad at CP Verlag GMBH (magic disk), for 3000 Deutschmarks, which was a nice sum for a 16 year old at the time.





J)
Stein Pedersen mentioned to me once that you "borrowed" his music editor, a freeze backup?

O)
Haha. I bet he did. Well, he is right. I admit to the crime. Stein deserves the true credit for making the first and best music editors. Then of course other people stole from me again, but then there's of course the biblical saying about throwing the first stone and all that. So I should probably just leave it at that.


J)
You have some unreleased demo parts? Anything special and why aren't some of them released?

O)
Must be dozens. Some are just small things; some were grand schemes to impress. Reason they weren't released is because the summer of 1992 came and I finished school and the scene died in general. Plus we were lazy, and still are. But we still to this day talk about getting together again and releasing some of the stuff we have lying around.


J)
What do you consider lost, wasted or meaningless during the years you have spent on the scene?

O)
We named the demo Wasted Years after an Iron Maiden song because of what you are saying. We wanted to stop making demos and start making games, which we did in a way (Funcom), but we still made a lot of demos. I guess it was a half-ironic, deterministic way of realizing "It's a waste of time, but it's good fun, innit?"


J)
Did you ever imagine the scene would still be alive in 2006? That demos (including records and new effects) are still being released?

O)
Back then I thought the C=64 was dead in 1992. But of course I have realised that people have endless nostalgia, plus there is of course the big challenge in pushing small technology to even new boundaries. I'm particularly impressed with the 3,5K demos on VIC 20. It's also a bit funny that the VIC 20 has hardware features that the 64 doesn't (like moving the entire screen).



J)
What do you think of the recent (last couple of years) conceptual stuff? (attached demos to email)

O)
1000000M
I like it. It has a very non-tech feeling to it. No rasterbars, and no feeling that they are trying to max out the CPU (even though some of the parts maybe does). The design and the idea seem in focus, and there seems to be an overall theme. The only minus I have is that whatever humour is there seems a bit failed.

Macho Programming
It doesn't impress neither as an "emotional" demo nor a "tech" demo. It's "OK" at best. Well, not all demos have to be spectacular.

Manhood
Weird. I like the concept, and the idea about discussing aspects of sexuality and identity. It would have been much better if they had dropped a lot of the bad humoured text, and put in more psychedelic or psychological elements.

Manhood 2
The graphics gives an overall "childish" feel. The idea with the pencil drawing the car is funny (though this could very well be stolen from a Flash advertisement for the Norwegian lottery a few years back). Again I have to say its "OK".

Hello: Friend
Very sad and at the same time morbid. It makes me feel something. Impressive. The colour blending part with the butterflies is really impressive in terms of processor performance. Actually one of our unreleased parts has a similar feature. Again the humour could have been more edgy. It seems unable to choose to be either very serious or not serious at all.

Timewaster
Haha, this reminds me of our demo "Wasted Years" (I think I mentioned this somewhere else in the interview). Anyway, if anything is impressive about the demo, is that it sticks to a very simple idea. I miss more 1985 style demos 30 block demos based around a single idea. Like the "Star Frontiers" demo with the guy running on the Trailblazer grid. Why can't we have more things like that?


J)
What was the scene all about in your opinion?

O)
I think it just "happened". The computer was a tool, and when people got their hands on it they started playing around with it, and found out they could do stuff. Don't forget, when you're a programmer, you're God (at least within the boundaries of the computer screen). You give the instructions, and they happen. So people form communities and start co-operating and challenging each other and it's really like any other thing, like tractor pulling or stamp collecting.

One Norwegian scener once said that he did not know of any other community that had pulled so many different sorts of people. In a way I think he was right (except for the women, perhaps). But it was a truly mixed crowd. And all of us should be quite proud we were part of the early innocent time, pre-PC, and pre-Internet. People today surf on what we built, practically speaking. Gatherings today are mostly people coming to chat and play games, which no doubt is good fun, but it's nothing like that demo-compo craze we had back then.


J)
I want now to give you some questions that may spark responses that will guide or teach the new guys. Let's start with a simple one, what are some of the biggest mistakes a new guy can possibly make on C=64?

O)
I would dig out the best nuggets from the early 80's; the best demos, the best games. Study them, play them. There is a simplicity and brilliance that you won't find in modern things. I would encourage people to think as differently as possible. Use their imagination. Be inspired by mysticism, timeless issues like love, hate, and the fight for survival. Humour. I think you have a better chance of leaving a mark this way than by thinking "I'll add just one more sprite to that DYSP than the guy before me".


J)
From your experiences at copy parties, meetings or tradeshows, what do you think makes the experience a memorable one? Any examples of things that happened back in those younger days?

O)
This is one that could fill a whole book. I simply feel that mentioning one story or just the summary of a few would be an insult to the full legacy of them. I will have to pass on this for now, maybe I'll get back to you later. The parties were full of crazy stories and pranks and stuff that still makes us laugh.


J)
What's the secret in organising a group or company? How do you get everything to bond together, not only in being productive but also a good morale?

O)
In a way I think it's a combination of talent, friendship and sense of humour that draw people together. We simply thought alike, and spent a lot of time together away from the computer as well. This is very important. Geography is also a factor - we tried joining some people from other parts of the country. It rarely worked out. You have to meet up and spend time. Actually, I would like to capitalize on the humour. If you want a good demo group, find people who share your humour and twisted view on the world.



J)
You mentioned about your days in Funcom. Can you tell us about what happened there and who worked for the label? I guess you had official roles in projects and so forth but your partnership inside Funcom and how you got there is less known? (I think quite a few from the C=64 worked there, Laxity, Jeroen Tel, Danko, Geir Tjelta, Jogeir Liljedahl and even Mario van Zeist traveling to Norway to work with you, and the other BWB guys had to stay home, it isn't fair, those talented programmers having all the fun :))

O)
The Norwegian scene died at the same time that Funcom came about. It was a fortunate coincidence, as many sceners started working there. Me, Bjorn Rostoen, Geir Tjelta, Stein Pedersen, Henning Rokling to name a few. Even Laxity worked there for a while, he actually slept on my couch for a couple of weeks. Great guy!

As for Mario van Zeist, I love the guy, as do I Jeroen Tel, if you meet them you will know what I mean. for one thing they are Dutch, and all Dutch people are great people. Just take a look at them and you will know what I mean. Mario did some weird things with multiple levels of IRQ and NMI and normal code (on the C=64 and SNES) that I could never get my head around.

However, when we did a basket ball game on the SNES, Mario wrote some really strange and super-optimized code to plot SNES sprites. However the Swedish lead programmer reported back that it was not fast enough (the original code came from an arcade with much more processor power than a SNES). I sat down, spent some time, and it must have been one of the prouder moments of my programming career when I was able to make a SNES sprite plotter that used half the CPU of Mario's. I still think about it some times.


J)
Please feel free to send some greetings out to all those you traded with and shared good times with on C=64.

O)
Cycleburner (we may forgive, but will never forget the Spydeberg humiliation)

Rooster of Offence (kan'ke e og du finne p no en dag a du?)

Jeroen Tel (doe maar!!)

Mario van Zeist (gotcha back on the sprite routine!)

Zoko Team (DYSP-frekkaseJ)

Hitman of Killers (now a career man with dress and tie)

Beyond Force (hyvv!!!)

Pretzel Logic (great design, guys!)

Martin Ranang (nice work with the girl!)

Hoaxers (except certain sleeping bag drowning victims)

All of Panoramic of course!

And everyone I have forgotten





J)
What would you like to be remembered for in the C=64 scene?

O)
Hmm, for Zoomatic and my other utilities, and for the stuff I did with Bjorn in Panoramic.


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

O)
Yes, I challenge everyone reading this to completing the games Drelbs and Boulder Dash, probably the most ingenious games ever made. Do also try for 96 stars on Super Mario World and 120 stars on Super Mario 64.

I also hope to be still impressed by what people can do with the breadbox. And like people should realise by now, it's not always about the rasters and sprites and sideborder. Some times it is, but I would really like to be mystified, to laugh out loud, or to go "woooow" some time. Or if someone could make a demo that would truly move me. That would be an achievement!

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