Interviews



Interview with Seven

Published in Vandalism News #38
Performed by Jazzcat

Recently I had conversed in email with one of the programmers from Digital Excess. His handle is Seven and he was a former member of Hitmen. He has been active for the C64 in programming games and demos, graphics and has even had a hand at magazine editing.

On the modern side of the scene he has hosted the famous "Art that isn't" website.



J)
Welcome to the pages of Vandalism News, as usual please introduce yourself to the readers...

S)
My name is Björn, turning 28 years this year, born and living in Germany.


J)
When did you first start in the scene and what has happened for you between then and now on the C64?

S)
It was 1987/1988 when I got into contact with the scene, starting as a swapper in the usual local lamer groups. I started to teach myself assembly, got known to people outside the local community, worked my way out of the local groups and started doing graphics on the way.

In 1991 my school comrade, the musician Goesta Feiweier, got in contact with Thomas Koncina of Digital Excess who lived in the same small town I still live in nowadays and so we finally ended up joining Digital Excess.


J)
I remember games that you have produced under the Digital Excess label. What were your expectations at the time and could you please tell us your involvements in the game producing genre.

S)
At first, producing a game wasn't much different from working on a demo... I'm pretty sure everybody who ever worked on a demo felt this before, the satisfaction to have created something on your own, made an idea reality.

This was my initial motivation to start working on a game together with Thomas and Goesta. The possibility to even make some money out of this was an added bonus that, especially for an 18 year old student who was facing yet another year of school and university after that, was quite appealing. So I ended up being responsible for some of our games' concepts, designs and graphics. However, due to real life issues we unfortunately never got around to do all of them. Even now that we are still positive about eventually finishing Detonators 2 and maybe even a few other projects that - more or less half finished – collect dust in our disk boxes, some of the more interesting things will for sure never see the light of day.



J)
What do you think of game production on the PC, PSX etc? There seems to be so much emphasis on the game graphics rather than the core of the game - the game play.

S)
As a graphic artist I'm of course happy that the visual element in games have come a long way since the 160x200 with 16 colours graphics of the Commodore 64, but the nicest graphics don't make a bad game more playable.

I've never been a big fan of slide-show games like Dragon's Lair or Space Ace on Amiga in the past, and I do consider game play more important than the graphics.

I have very little motivation for playing games through, and this motivation is cut down even further by bad game navigation concepts or boring game missions and levels. I need things to happen, and I need the game to offer me options, allow me to do things my way. If I can't do a certain thing in an adventure that makes sense to me, just because the designers didn't give it enough thought, I'll soon put it aside and turn to other things. Also, if I want to just lean back and watch things happen on the screen for a while, I can always load up a demo or watch the latest episode of my TV series of choice. I don't need a game to put me in the backseat for a 5+ minute’s video sequence.


J)
What do you think are the most important elements of a demo?

S)
It's hard to label some elements of a demo more important than others, but in my opinion a good demo differs from a mediocre or bad one mainly in two things - concept and design. It doesn't necessarily need coders like Crossbow or Graham, graphic artists like Sander or Jailbird and musicians like Jeff or GRG to create a good demo -
although it sure as hell helps.

Good code itself doesn't make a good demo, neither do good graphics or good music. Concept and design is what brings all elements together to form a whole, something that's worth watching and listening to, something you can enjoy.



J)
And what is lacking in demos do you think?

S)
Unfortunately, the things I consider most important in a demo, lacks in most, or - if it is present for a change - it is not appreciated by the majority of the scene.

Looking at a few demos from X2001 is a good example. Soiled Legacy by Resource, which came 1st in the competition, sure is good from a coder’s point of view, but it has no concept or design whatsoever. Caretta by Centric has a nice concept, but the design outright sucks. Apart from Insomnia by 64ever, which wasn't finished, my favourite of the X2001 demos clearly was Timewaster by Focus. Although code, graphics and music aren't outstanding at all by themselves, the concept and design is what makes this small demo very much appealing in a whole.



J)
You created the site called "The Art That Isn't", what is the motivation behind this site and how do you want it to be seen by the public?

S)
Basically, I was disappointed by the huge amount of copies competing in graphic competition at parties, and - even worse - how good they scored with the scene audience and voters. Competition entries that - from an artistic point of view - deserved a higher place didn't make it in favour for what some voting people probably didn't even recognize as copies, trace jobs - or worse - converted graphics.

When I started Art That Isn't, some people mistook it for a list of converted graphics. This is not what it is. However, I know for sure that some of them are in fact converter jobs. Some you will recognize at first sight - such as the 2nd place from Mekka Symposium 1998, others - such as 1st, 2nd, 5th and 8th place of The Party 1999 - you might not.

Of course, and everybody will be with me on this, conversion is worse than copying by other means, be it transparent grids or pixeling by hand, but either way - it's still a copy. Most sceners nowadays will recognize H.R.Giger art or - as long as it's one of their better known works – identify Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell or Clyde Caldwell, but when it comes to lesser known artists such as Greg Loudon or Gerald Brom they have no clue.

I can't blame party visitors for not being familiar with the vast amount of Fantasy and Sci-Fi art and I'm far from being an expert in that field myself. But I can at least try and bring to the scene's attention that in some, if not many cases, there isn't as much to the guys they admire for high quality graphics as they might think. Maybe they'll have a closer look at graphic competitions. Maybe next time a more deserving artist wins over the plagiarists, craftsmen or whatever you want to call them.


J)
A debate raged over the topic of "artists" or "craftsmen", and which word is best suitable for certain graphician individuals. What is your opinion on these terms?

S)
I wish there'd be no need to use separate terms. However, in my opinion it's fairness that dictates to distinguish individuals who actually do come up with something original from those who spend their scene-life copying from others. I'm not sure though, if the artists/craftsmen terminology gets the point across properly - maybe copycan, copyist or plagiarist comes closer. But of course none would like to put a label like that on themselves.



J)
The disk magazine concept is now an old one on the C64. What do you think of the disk magazines past & present and what do you think is lacking in them?

S)
In the past, back when the scene still mostly relied on snail-mail, the disk magazines were a nice way to keep up with important happenings, even if everything you read has somehow tainted in one way or another by the magazine's editor.
 
Even now, more than 10 years later, they're a nice documentation of the scene's soap opera-esk past - groups in 'war' with each other, sceners joining, leaving and founding groups. Back then, the scene was very much alive with things happening constantly. Nowadays, this movement is kinda lost and the little change that does happen is made public on the internet that is available to most sceners.

A web-based magazine seems to make much more sense to me these days, especially when you can make things public faster than by compiling enough news for a disk mag and releasing it months after things happened.

I still do read disk magazines, but hardly for the news section, which used to be one of my sections of interest in the past. Of course you can't blame magazines for the slow movement in the C64 scene nowadays, but maybe they should start to reflect this change and react accordingly.


J)
What is your all-time favourites on C64:

Demo: a lot, for different reasons, among them Dutch Breeze by Blackmail and Spirit of Art by X-Ample
Demo Group: Blackmail, Crest, X-Ample
Game: Archon, Spy vs Spy, Detonators
Programmer: Roland Volker Uli Toegel, Ivo-Juergen Mueller-Herzeg
Graphician: Sander van den Borne, Thomas Heinrich
Musician: Thomas E. Petersen, Reyn Ouwehand
Scene Party: Mekka Symposium, X


J)
The internet has certainly expanded the length of the C64 era as we know it. Great sites are available such as COCOS and C64 News Portal, which keep the C64 enthusiast in touch with new productions and C64 memorabilia. What is your favourite C64 websites and again, what is lacking?

S)
Of course COCOS and c64.sk are great sites that we meanwhile take for granted. Most recently I'm especially fond of the idea behind the new database at http://noname.c64.org/csdb/, especially because most of the C64 scene related information nowadays is scattered all over the net and hardly interlinked. The C64 Scene Database might just be the right thing to change that. More sceners should see it as their duty to at least complete their own groups' info. It's a shame to see info on groups incomplete and scene history lost, especially when there's still members of that group who claim to be active in the scene. Why should anyone complete info on a group like Crazy, when someone who still organized annual trips to a party in Denmark should know better? =)



J)
Heheh. That is a funny point :) Now it is time to send any greetings to those you know...

S)
That's probably the hardest part of the interview, because I will most certainly forget someone who will let me have it next time we meet at a party. So first of all, greetings to anybody I might forget. Also I'd like to greet my pals in Hitmen, Padua, SCS*TRC, Crest, Haujobb, Farb-rausch and of course Radwar and X-Ample, all of whom adequately serve as a reminder
of why I'm still involved in this thing called scene in the first place. Thanks for everything, guys.


J)
Any last words to leave a final impression on the audience?

S)
If I didn't manage to make a lasting impression by now, I never will. =)


J)
Thanks for your time, enjoy the magazine!

S)
Thanks for giving me the chance to speak my mind.

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