Interviews



Interview with STE'86

Published in Vandalism News #58
Performed by Jazzcat



Back in the golden age of the C64 commercial scene, a talented graphician emerged on the local and Compunet scene called STE'86. He did loads of images for games including productions from the very popular Codemasters stable. Leaving the scene in 1989 he refound it again over 20 years later and is now more active than ever, please give a warm welcome for Mr. Day...




STE'86 - the graphician


J)
Hello Steve! Please tell us a little about yourself, both your private life and your scene career.

S)
Hello David.

My name is Steve Day; I am from the West Midlands, England. Currently I am an advertising designer. Formerly I was STE'86 and was a c64 graphic designer in the original c64 "scene" from 1986 to the end of 1987 (with a very brief return in '89).



J)
How did it all start? (The history of STE'86 of both a commercial and 'scene' basis)

S)
It started in January of 1986, when I was at Art College and Chris Owen of BCS (Binary Code Smashers) gave me a copy of Koala painter, modded for joystick (having just acquired a 1541). It was basically "you're an art student. Have a go with that".

I lasted with the joystick version for a couple of months before borrowing £100 off my mother to buy a koala pad, and the rest is history. I did loads of stuff in '86 which got passed on to the scene via the BCS and Div Distribution before Pete bought a CNET modem in late '86 and Meanteam began. I got my own modem in '87 and finally got to converse with other artists like Bob, Dokk and SIR whose work I had seen so much of.

1987 was also the year I met my first "foreign" sceners in Jacco van't Riet and Mario van Zeist, when Jacco tracked me down at a Novotel Commodore show that year. Most shows in London tended to turn in piss ups with half of CNET seemingly camped out on either the CNET stand, the ZZap stand, or the bar.

Early summer of '87 also saw me doing my first commercial work. It began with the loader for Pro Snooker for Codemasters (a relationship which continued at intervals for a few years afterwards). First game graphics were done for Lunari in November that year, shortly after I released Lethal Weapon. This pic was my last "scene" release for 2 years. The final ever c64 scene release being Lethal Weapon 2 in 1989.

I did bits and pieces for the c64 up to about 1990 (Great Courts and Pick'n'Pile for Ubisoft spring to mind). But of course, like many others I had really moved to 16bit mostly by then. Never 16bit scene though, only commercial stuff. I was always of the impression, that for me, 16 bit "art" for its own sake was soulless. I already knew that whatever I wanted to do would be achievable on the Amiga, and so quite pointless to me. Always for me, the "fun" was convincing the c64 to do what was out of the ordinary.



J)
How do you feel about the current scene in comparison to what you were used to?

S)
Ooh loaded question this one. So letís try to be honest. For the most part, the original c64 scene was a means to an end. For most of us, what began as a fun hobby, transitioned to a talent showcase and thence to a money earner. Almost all of the people I knew well in the scene ended up in the industry after 18 months to 2 years. Everyone seemed to have a goal, so people didn't stagnate and get bored and almost the entire scene I knew well, had only one goal... games. It was something akin to being involved in the music industry in the '60s. That's what struck me when I returned. I was expecting lots of Armalyte (for example) quality home-brew to be following on from all the impressive "coder porn" demos. That's just not the case though, even though the current 6502 coders and would-be coders have an immense database of information available at their fingertips. Information that we would have killed for :). To me, it's like the current scene advanced rapidly, then just stopped. I find this very disillusioning, especially when other format scenes do seem to go forward.
Still I will do what I can to drive the c64 home-brew games on.


J)
How does it feel to do graphics now compared to before?

S)
Still fun to make the c64 jump through some hoops. Faster now with Photoshop and much easier to experiment because of grids, layers and history buffers.

I still draw in PS in almost the same manner as with Koala. In fact when I first looked at doing c64 stuff I was only going to do it if I could find a PC app that let me draw exactly like Koala. Now though, I wouldn't do it like that if you paid me. It's so much less frustrating to draw something, THEN sort out the attribute clash, when Photoshop has told you where exactly it will occur, than it is for pixels to be splattering seemingly at random as you try to draw.

Fundamentally though, itís all pretty pointless this time around as it's unlikely to net me a job :) It's just a "Glory Days" thing. like the song says :) I do however, find solace in that I can have a play doing stuff for machines which I never had chance to work on much first time round.




J)
How did you find your way back to the C64, what happened?

S)
Well I first found the c64 scene again in 2001 on Lemon. Which I used to read and post upon but never got actively involved in the scene again at that time. Indeed I always said there was no chance of anything new on the c64 from me. This last time was indirect, I was actually reading and posting on the Atari a8 forums messing with graphics (specifically Exploding Fist) when I read on there how to make Photoshop draw in 2:1 pixel aspect ratio and realised that same system can be used for the c64. I still didnít intend to do any pictures, just game stuff, then I traded a few emails with Shane Fell about how he worked in Photoshop and exchanged a few ideas about working practices with him and I started messing with Highlander and it all cascaded from there.
 

 
J)
You are known for some great title pics back in the day and even in 2011 with some recent appearances in the likes of Edge Grinder and Woolly Jumper. What are the hits and misses of the games you have worked on? Your views on what you did well and what you could have done better in hindsight?

S)
Well, the c64 stuff I worked on was never a "labour of love" or major titles so it just came down to economics, what they were paying and how long I had. Most of the Codies-stuff I did I was relatively happy with, the weakest being Pro Skateboard. But the artwork they asked me to arrange for that was pretty crap and the 24 hour turnaround required precluded sourcing anything else in those pre internet days :) Pro Tennis/Great Courts turned out quite well, though if I had to do it again I would discuss the possibility of a bitmapped court or a much more extensive use of colour ram with the programmer. Not bad tho considering we rattled off three 8 bit versions in very short order at the same time. Fast forward to 2011 and I finally get to do an "epic" on the c64. Prince of Persia doesn't look to bad does it? :)




J)
Prince of Persia looks bloody awesome! What was it like working with some of those software houses? No doubt some interesting characters? Arguments? Wankers? Heroes?

S)
I'm afraid I didnít have that much contact with the software houses themselves, I was usually contracted by the 3rd party developers that were doing it on behalf of the houses. Thalamus was always very "developer" friendly and enthusiastic which was probably part of their downfall in the long run because they were led right up the garden path by some of them.

Codies were always very professional in my dealings with them. They always paid inside 30 days after invoicing, which was always appreciated :) and were extremely friendly at the 1987 PCW show, when I was taken "backstage" on their stand to meet David and Richard in person for the first time. (All other conversations previously were by phone).

Jacco was great and mad as snake, and drove me mad, ringing me on hijacked conference lines with assorted Danes/Swedes/Dutch while he was supposed to be at work, I think on security at some hospital.

One of the best guys I worked with was a z80 coder called John Wildsmith who did several titles for Hewson prior to me working with him. We did some stuff for Ubisoft and then the evaluation of Armalyte on the Spectrum. We got paid for what we did, but Thalamus bit the dust before we completed the full game. Shame really as we were slated to do z80 Creatures after that. He was totally focused and it was all strictly "a job" to him, which made working with him very easy for me.

You may wonder why I haven't mentioned Pete D, quite simply, I never worked with Pete professionally, He was "about" at ESP who I freelanced for on occasion, but we never actually collaborated.

Some other "names" I had contact with were Toby "Tob" Eglesfield, who was a really nice lad (younger than me :)) and was very passionate and serious about his art. He had quite a lengthy and successful career in the games industry and he deserved it. I have actually "found" him again recently in New Zealand and am trying to convince him to get his c64 "mojo" back.

Paul "Dokk" Docherty was also a decent fella, but seemed to me always hell bent on making life hard for himself. :)



J)
And the characters on CSDb? Some guys feel trouble follows you, others express that people try and cause trouble etc... Whatís your view on those debates and the modern characters loitering on that database?

S)
Hah all that's meaningless. On any forum you always get that. You either put up with someone and keep quiet or you have a go back. And I have never been one to put up with something I don't like. No quarter is asked or given by me to forum trolls. The people I want to talk to get pm'ed privately and they know who they are.

Generally speaking, there always appears to be a fair amount of talent lurking on the forum, but there are too many people on there that are long on talk and short on action. The "I could have, I should have, I would have" mob.

I personally would like to see more collaboration going on between the people on there with proven track records of producing stuff. In that way I think that more "real" stuff would get done. It's much easier to find enthusiasm to work for free on homebrew if you know your opposite numbers (be it artist, coder or musician) are actually coming up with the goods.



J)
What is your recipe for creating good graphics? And will you experiment with other formats or are you super glued to MultiColour?


S)
Research and references. Simple as that. Especially these days with internet access what it is. There is no excuse not to. As to other formats, I have worked in Hires and MC for games,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbalO5PzByk Space Invaders is in hires on the c64.

But really for just "art" I can't see me doing that in Hires on the c64 when MC is available, and I have to say that none of the "new" modes appeal, as the way they work, I may as well draw art for the PC.

I will however be doing stuff for other formats, as anyone seeing my Facebook page will see the Amstrad and Atari versions of Edge grinder and BBC and Amstrad versions of Rambo.




J)
Is multicolour the most genuine expression of the C64 palette?

S)
It is for me, thatís all I can really comment on. Other folks will have other opinions. MC and hires are the only modes that can be expected to work under any processor conditions, whilst loading etc so thatís all that will get used.




J)
Prince of Persia is your latest work, tell us about that one, what else are you working on and what do you hope to work on? Can you let the cat out of the bag a little...

S)
The PoP graphics began life 2 years ago with the sprite conversions which were done so they would be c64 and A8 capable. It was something that Pete and I were looking at. It was at this time that Andreas made it known he was working on a version. So we left it well on the back burner. Early this year we dusted it off and started talking about it again and I did all the intro and cut scene graphics with a view to maybe doing a "demo" with it. Andreas then posted me some latest videos and asked if he could use the cut scene stuff, so I turned over all the graphics to him and he used them.

He hasn't however, used my background tile data, as all my stuff has been redone to fit on character boundaries, because the version Pete and I spent weeks thrashing out the theory for, would have been charset based in a concerted effort to make it a 64k disk game. He did however, borrow certain bits of my data for his background graphics, like the stone blocks, windows and the tapestries.

What else would I like to work on? Exploding Fist A8, Exploding Fist 16bit (for which 99% of the graphics have been done since 1994). IK+ on the BBC B which I have done some proof of concept graphics for. I would like to see Space Invaders c64 finished. I have an almost complete set of "arcade perfect" Joust graphics for the c64.

Other possibilities include multi platform games, especially with the likes of Mark Jones dusting off his Spectrum graphic designer's hat to work on "Dingo", and Steve Thompson has messaged me recently and said he would also like to do a bit more c64 stuff and maybe we could collaborate. I read a post on the Ocean website, by I think Simon Butler, that said something to the effect of "There are enough ex Ocean about, to do a retro game" and I thought "yeah I'd be up for that".

I am very much interested trying to get some old graphics "faces" back into action particularly Steve Robertson and Toby Eglesfield and any game coders ex or current that fancy it.

Currently however I have 1 or 2 "promised" loading screens but time is very tight at the moment up to Xmas because it's the busiest, nastiest time of the year in the advertising industry, so feeling like doing c64 stuff after work is unlikely. Anyone viewing my releases last year will see the same pattern.





J)
Your view on the scene and piracy? The way it has impacted the commercial scene? Your involvement and what did happen at those meetings at the Bloxwich Computer Club?

S)
Well the scene was born from piracy really. Even when it split into "cracking" and "demo" scenes, the demo scenes were still heavily reliant on piracy, and the whole raison d'etre of the demo scene we were part of, was to showcase the latest game music ripped and demo'ed in the shortest time possible.

"...a game only has to be in the shops for a few pico seconds, before The Mean Team have hacked out the music, and transferred it into demoness" - Gary Liddon (ZZAP!64)

It never bothered me from a personal aspect in the commercial sector. I would have been hypocritical to moan about piracy after all the stuff that had passed through my hands. In actual fact we used to buy a lot of software. Particularly Claka, while we did demos (he was the only one with a full time job). We would just buy different software and then swap it. I think many people did that and I think that's totally acceptable, because then most of the companies get a "piece of the action". From a purely personal point of view I bought and still have, a virtually complete Microprose collection up to the early 90's. I played all the Eaglesoft hacks of them, then bought them on UK release for their manuals and of course their fastloads :). Realistically, if I knew I was going to get my money's worth then it got paid for.

A game with a good new Hubbard or Galway tune always got bought for demo purposes. :)

The Bloxwich Computer Club was basically a weekly copy party and demo showcase. It was attended almost every week by about 50 or so people in a local school. Some "serious" stuff went on, but mostly amongst the c64 crowd it was generally game piracy on the menu. There were a dozen disks or so each week of new stuff from the USA and Europe turning up, as well as the "native" stuff being cracked/trained by the weekly attendees who included Chris and Griffo of the BCS, Div D of BCS/Danish Gold and XXX and Airborne of Hotline/Ikari/Talent. They in return wanted disks full of Cnet stuff and new music demos to trade back to their contacts.

Other occasional visitors were guys who worked at Elite software which was only a couple of miles away and they were as bad as anyone else. One anecdote I will share concerning Elite was the time a  young guy from the club who wanted to be part of the "scene", was doing some work experience at Elite, lifted the master copies of Space Harrier and Bombjack for the ST and gave them to Chris and Griffo, which called down large amounts of aggro on their heads in the shape of the boys in blue.

Another snippet about the club's relation to the scene is that the original Who Dares Wins that was withdrawn may well have never made it onto the circuit if it hadn't been for a chap called Richard Gibb who was an occasional visitor there (he lived a few miles away) and programmed for Alligata. He gave it to us and the BCS/Div passed it on.

We also used to descend en masse by coach to multiple Commodore shows and the main PCW show every year.

Finally, on the subject of cracking and piracy I would like to say how ludicrous I find it that certain groups in the current scene are allowed, without derision, to put "cracked" and "original supply" on the uploads of brand new software and previews even. There has been NO protection on anything since the early 90's I believe, and certainly none on the homebrew stuff of today. And who supplied the original? Generally the coder did when he uploaded it to his website that they just downloaded it from.

So basically what it translates to from "cracked" and "original supply" is that someone downloaded the  free game from the coderís website which has already been advertised and someone else has slapped some lame intro on the start of the unprotected PRG and "cracked" it to get some CSDB credit entries. Sweet.

At worst we may lose homebrew coders because of this attitude. And that's something that we can't honestly withstand. There are not anywhere near enough game coders on the c64 compared to some platforms as it is. This is after all not 1987 with 1000+ releases annually.


J)
CompuNet was a big part of the early scene, especially connecting a whole bunch of freelancers that would later join the software house giants. Some people appear lost or uninformed on those golden days, what did it mean for you? What happened on Cnet? Did it shape your future computer activity in anyway?

S)
Personally, I think it meant everything to the UK demo scene. It meant that you were in constant contact with most of the "faces" in the UK scene and techniques and information were disseminated overnight. One person uploads a demo with a new technique one night and 30+ demo writers know exactly how and why it works by the next day. I can't think of any other medium that worked liked that until the internet revolution nearly 10 years later. Bulletin boards it could be argued did similar, but the thing about Cnet was that you were able to chat "live" to all these people at the same time and send and receive email. All in 1985/86 :)

There were many people from the industry itself who frequented CNET (both to talent scout and to "meet their public") and this brought the scene into direct contact with the industry like no other country could claim at that time.

It shaped all my future computer activity, as it could be argued that the chances of me getting a job in the industry would have been drastically reduced without CNET. It is of no surprise to me that the vast majority of the UK demo scene were on CNET and most of them, either worked or are working currently in the industry. Particularly the artists and the musicians.

I would be very interested to see the percentage of sceners from other countries that actually transitioned and made a living from the industry for comparison. CNET enabled the UK to actually be a scene community rather than a collection of individuals who knew only a few other people or at best saw a couple of dozen occasionally at a copy party.



J)
If I told you the location of the CompuNet system, that still survives intact in a house somewhere in the London suburbs (along with your 'Hall of Fame'-directory still on it), would you go there? :D

S)
I already have everything of mine that was in that directory :). I would however, like the opportunity to download other peoples stuff that's currently missing. Some of Bob Stevenson's is certainly missing from CSDB that was in ARTH. In reality tho CNET was about the people, not the halls of fame.

When you actually look at the dates, the "classic" period only lasted from 1985 to 1988, but an awful lot of stuff was produced by relatively few people in that time. You could recreate CNET on a web server relatively easily, but it wouldn't recreate the feeling, the rivalry and camaraderie. It was a very idealistic and "innocent" time.



J)
You lost contact with JCB for a while. Tell us about how you got in touch again? Have you met? Did you make plans for The Mean Team? What is the future for The Mean Team?

S)
I have lost contact with Pete on two separate occasions. He went south to work at Phillips in the early 90's and it wasn't until 2000/2001 that we got back in touch. That was via Mike Berry's (Kernal) CNET website www.64apocalypse.com. Quite a few old faces had registered and posted on there including myself and Pete. Then we lost touch again in 2002ish when he went to work at Warthog. We again got back in touch in about 2008 due to Frank Gasking asking me for the last email I had for Pete and after a while telling me he had answered on that email. We have stayed in touch since then.

Strangely, no we haven't met in person since about 1992, but we speak most days. Initially we started collaborating on a8 projects, discussed a new Meanteam demo, then realised neither of us was really interested in producing demos, only games. I think that once you have done games, no demo can give you the "buzz" associated with a game's release. Ask Andreas (Mr. Sid), I am pretty sure he will agree with that :). There is no future for The Meanteam, there is however a future for Pete Dabbs & Steve Day.



J)
Demos. Can we see more from you in that arena?

S)
Categorically no. I have done bits for other people. But me getting involved with demos at a personal level isn't going to happen. Games yes, maybe even demos of games but not just demos.



J)
Who did you appreciate output from back then? Who do you appreciate output from now? Why?

S)
Many many people. I used to keep an eye on what all the artists were up to. We all did. We were after all in healthy competition with each other commercially. :)

My own demo disks however contained predominantly music, and demos with new music in were always downloaded. I lost touch with a lot of it after Rob went to the US tho, as this roughly coincided with me doing much more 16 bit stuff. I wish I had kept more of everyone's art, because there is quite a lot of that which is MIA these days, and which I had once.

These days, I think I should be honest and say I rarely download much at all. I look at the preview images and decide from there. I rely on Pete telling me if Iím missing something usually. One of the things I did look at recently (or listen to) was Arabian Bias from SÝren Lund (Jeff). I would have liked Jeff to provide the music for PoP.



J)
Were there any other games which you worked on which never saw the light of day?

S)
Hmmm, probably not on the c64, there were a couple of "demo games" which Pete and I messed with before going commercial, but they weren't really in any shape to call "games".

On the c64 most of the stuff I worked on was conversion work and conversion work almost always gets released.

On other formats there are a few: Armalyte on the Spectrum was only released as a cover tape due to Thalamus' demise. On the 16 bits there was the A&D game "Tears of Rage" and the last game I ever worked on, which was going to be a 16 bit version of an Exploding Fist/Fist2 type of game. And I was probably one of the few people outside of Thalamus that saw the Search for Sharla demo. But I avoided working on that one like the plague.



J)
Was there any C64 game which you saw released, looked at the game and thought "I could have done that much better!"?

S)
Hasn't everyone?. If there was a PoP available which was easily editable there are one or two bits on that which would get updated even now :). On a related note, the thing I most wanted to have a go with were the Ocean dev tools. They must have used very interesting bits of kit to do all the sprite overlay stuff they did.




STE'86 - the person

Food: English or Chinese. I can't do Indian.
Drink: Bumble Hole real ale brewed at The Olde Swan (Ma Pardoes) Netherton (google it)
Movie: Snatch, Lock Stock (most British gangster films to be honest) and Sci-Fi generally
TV: The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Shameless
Books: Sci-Fi, Harry Potter, have a fair collection of British TV comedy books (Porridge, Likely Lads etc) and a massive collection of fighter pilot biographies and autobiographies (aviation is my "thing")
Music: Eclectic. From bagpipes to Glenn Miller to rock. Most of the stuff played in the car tends to be 60's. (Think Vietnam film soundtracks), The Doors, Steppenwolf, Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stones etc
Morning or night Person: Night definitely. Far too many dusk 'til dawn vampire shifts to be otherwise.



J)
Fold or scrunch toilet paper?

S)
Scrunch.




J)
What annoys you about people?

S)
I don't cope well with lack of intelligence. If I have to explain something to you more than twice, then you are wasting my life. :)



J)
What do you like about Western society?

S)
Aircraft Carriers, planes, big bombs, Power projection. And the fact that we are always right (see previous).



J)
Do you have children? Wife? Or love the freedom of solo flight?

S)
No wife, never wanted children (which is lucky really, sans wife :) ). I am quite happy playing "Uncle" to my friends and relatives kids but am always glad I can bugger off home when I have had enough.

Always been very happy with my own company. Probably due to working in advertising and having to talk to people all day. Anyone who knows me, understands not to "doorstep" me without phoning first. :)



J)
What do your friends/family think about you tinkering on an ancient machine like the C64?

S)
Family don't really know. Probably I would be told to "stay away from that Peter, he will do you no good". :) Some friends think I am barking mad and can't understand why I picked up on a 30 year old machine. Some think it's quite cool and have been following it on the net.

Strangely, the people who I work with, who know, think its very cool and keep sending me web links to where they have found PoP being talked about, and one of their partners thinks its "rock star" because she used to be a PoP freak "back in the day". :)



J)
Will we see it end? I mean, if the commercial aspect of our culture has not killed "it", will time be the true nemesis?

S)
God knows. Who would have put money on "it" going in 2012? Certainly you wouldn't have bet PoP appearing 22 years after the event. :)

Who would have said in the 60's that the music of the era would still have a fan base in 2012? Quality and "fun" will persist it seems.

I hope that the appearance of an "epic" game in 2011 will inspire the creation of other stuff and maybe even draw a few "oldies" back into the scene. I do definitely think that fresh good games would drive up the retro user base significantly.



J)
What do you hope to be doing in:

S)
1 week - be finished with this interview. :)
6 months - Still have a job.
5 years - still be alive. No joke there. Seems like quite a few of the people I knew from the industry have bit the dust recently.



J)
Please feel free to send some greetings out there to anyone you know, past and present...

S)
gah! no. I always hated typing scrollers and there is nobody left I knew. :)



J)
Thanks for your time and participation, it has been a nice journey down memory lane! Do you have any final words for the readers, the C64 community in general or the Prime Minister?

S)
Thank you. My final words would be..."write some bloody games instead of plasma effects!"



...and off he goes, hopefully to do some more pixels (less work, more pixels!).

Hope you all enjoyed this long journey with another scene personality in the quality only Vandalism News can provide!

Until next time,

Jazzcat.

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