Interviews



Interview with ZZAP69

Published in Vandalism News #49
Performed by Macx


Tobias "ZZAP69" Svensson recently turned 30. He has a steady relationship, a baby boy and lives in a small Swedish town. He has some odd jobs within psychiatric care and takes a big interest in the mental life of his fellow humans. I would think that most people see him as a decent and ordinary citizen, though with some specific intellectual cravings. What they fail to see is the man that escapes down the stairs to his C64 room in the basement to hack and make weird sounds. They also fail to see the grown up man that on meetings with others of his kind, with pride in his voice, can make utterances like "I went to bed last of all!". Iíve come to know Tobias more and more during the years, and he is someone Iíve come to regard as a good friend of some sort. When I decided to interview him it had as much to do with my own curiosity as making a chapter for the top magazine. It was conducted by Jonatan "Macx" Forsberg, during spring 2007, taking off at En MAZZA Data 2 and finished in late April.



M)
I know you got your Commodore 64 together with your father, what is the story behind that?

Z)
My father is, and always has been, a real sucker for electronics of all kinds. I started talking about buying a computer in the summer of 1986, there was some kind of American TV-show called Computer Detectives or something like that. I canít remember exactly what it was about, but I remember that the show featured a lot of computers. Anyway, my father encouraged my interest and said that it could be a nice toy for me. A lot better than the comic books I was spending my money on at that time. It did seem very expensive though. I had saved approximately 300 Swedish Kronor at that time for something big when I got "older". Mum did however think it was too expensive for a 9 year old and thought it could be reasonable a year later when I started to learn English in school. I had almost forgotten the idea of buying a computer until I saw an advert in Josefssons postal order catalogue in autumn 1987. They had an MSX computer Spectravideo 728, (or was it 328?) for only SEK 1499, less than half of what I had been saving. My dad was however sure that Commodore 64 or the little more expensive Commodore 128 was the best home computer. A classmate of mine named Mikael, who would later make a short visit in the scene, bought this SVI 728 and thought everything about it was fantastic. However I remembered what dad said about the C64 and felt a little scared of ordering stuff via postal order, so I was waiting for a good offer. On a Thursday in October, while I was visiting a friend, dad called me telling me that there was a sale on computers in the local electronic store and said that it was going to be now or never. But cheap as we are called here in Smaaland, the region of south eastern Sweden, I felt bad of letting most of my savings go on this electronic device. I didnít even know what to do with it except for playing games. But dad told me that he would pay half of it if I just decided tonight. Probably he was so curious of this himself that he could not wait a day longer! So he picked me up immediately and we went to the electronics store to buy a real basic set of C64 stuff - computer + datasette + Joystick : Tac5 + game: Star Paws. I was a little curious about the disk drive too, but they were as expensive as the computer so it had to wait. Smaalandish or not, I wouldnít have any use for it until someone else I knew got one.


M)
Who or what was your first encounter of the scener?

Z)
I started to read computer magazines only a couple of months after I got my C64 and eventually learned that there was something called Demo and Copy parties. It seemed very illegal and thus exciting. Mikael, who I mentioned earlier, got a disk drive with his Commodore 64. He probably regrets that he fell for Josefssons commercial and bought that SVI machine. He found a disc with some interesting content. It was an address to a proper scener in our town. He was a swapper and probably had some cool cracked games we could buy way cheaper than in the computer store. The scener was called Status of Light and I remember that M didnít want me to hang out with him when he was going to visit Status for getting new games. M and I were sometimes friends and sometimes enemies.


M)
Tell us how you got involved?

Z)
When we started 8th grade we got in contact with some guys in our school who also were C64 freaks and of some reason we decided to make games together. I had only been doing text adventures earlier, but they had something big going on with graphics and joystick control. This was when I realised I couldnít make games with only a datasette, so I once again borrowed money from my father to buy a computer, this time a C128D. I would sell my old C64 and pay the rest of the money after Christmas. Since M was ordering discs from Jerry/Triadís Public Domain service for the Swedish computer magazine - Svenska Hemdatornytt, I could follow the demo scene pretty well. The first day of the Christmas holiday I called my friends Micke and Chrille and told them that we should not make games but crack and make demos instead. We should put all our efforts in keeping the C64 format alive. Thus I named the group we would form Alive. Shortly after the Christmas holidays we saw an advert in the local newspaper about a guy wanting to trade games. We contacted him and realised he was somewhat like a scener although he was three years younger than us. He had some cool contacts like Tranziie of Triad (at that time, now he's a member of Hitmen). He was instantly involved in the group and since he provided us with some hot demo-stuff I got some contacts from a disc magazine in early 1992. (Oh, did I mention that Davidís big brother went to school with Status/Light?) I remember the summer of 1992 being one of the most exciting summers of my life, getting more and more involved in the scene and making my contact list expand from 3 to 40.


M)
What happened to the other members of alive, or were there other members but you?

Z)
Martin, one of the guys in our school quit for PC even before the group was officially declared as a demo group in December -91. Micke (or Mikael), who was sometimes my friend and sometimes my enemy, took the handle "Explorer" and swapped for a year or so (92-93). David, the young guy, swapped from time to time. I think he quit in late 1992 to focus on SNES (Dude, can you believe it?). Chrille, the other guy from my school, took the handle Zakk (my idea, since it would match ZZAP so nicely!). Zakk stayed in the scene for some years and was the only one of us who really learned to code. After I had left Alive for the second time in 1993 they found a decent coder (Hype) who would learn them some coding skills. Zakk was in groups like Onslaught, Chromance and No Name. I don't think he ever did some work for the two latter groups. Zakk is still one of my best friends in personal life, and we talk on the phone at least twice a week. He has not released one byte of code for the C64 since 1996, but I constantly try to convince him. He works as a programmer for a game company in Stockholm, I don't remember the name. Micke (Explorer) works as an IT-manager for a big insurance company. We don't have any contact at all, but there are no hard feelings. We just grew away from each other. Martin and David work with IT too, thatís all I know about them. It's strange that I'm the only one in our old group that does NOT work with IT. But a career within IT has never appealed to me.

And for the record; Alive changed name two, or three, times depending how you look at it. In summer of Ď92 we changed name to Epic, but then we realised there was another Epic (Crossfire and Co) just being rebuilt and our group changed name to Betrayal. At that time I had already left for Gothic Design. After gaining Hype as a coder they changed name to (or formed a new group?) Liquid. Opposed to the other group formations, Liquid actually did release some stuff, for instance a demo called "Very" with VERY little design (hehe) but with several world records. All the members I knew quit in 1994. Zakk released a demo of his work actually made for Liquid called "Ambush Mania" under the group label Ambush. A group I think you know pretty well Macx! ;)


M)
At your page on CSDb you tell us that you added the 69 part onto ZZAP in 1996, though you fail to reveal why the choice of number, despite having had to come up with explanations over and over. Will you tell us now? ?

Z)
Nnnnnope. :-)



M)
Rumours say you once were in Wrath Designs?

Z)
Yes, it's true. I don't think that many sceners noticed, but I just read the interview with me in Vandalism News #23 from 1995 for the first time in many years. I realised that I was angry with them, or actually with Oxidy, for a long time. Somewhere in autumn 1992 the infamous leader of my group (Gothic Design) decided to dissolve the group. I was swapping with Avalon/Wrath Designs at that time so I called him up and asked if I could join them. He told me to call Oxidy and after talking for about five minutes the deal was settled. The following week Wrath would release a demo called "Stupidity 2" and I would spread it. He asked me how many contacts I had and I said 50, which wasn't completely true. I had about 40 and would contact another twenty when I got the demo. Who would be Sherlock enough to tell the difference? One day later Static, the infamous leader, called me and told me that we were in the same group again. "Fine" I said. Perhaps he wouldn't let me walk my way on the elite ladder alone, or perhaps he just found it easy to join since he knew that he would probably join too. So one week later I got the package from Oxidy with a smoking hot demo. I remember the release was set one week after the actual release date (something I actually considered pretty lame.), so I had for the first time -7 days wares in my hands. I had to buy like 30 new discs to reach all contacts who had not responded my last sending and to reach all those I wanted to contact. I then started writing the note, after reaching contact #27, or something, in my addybook I saved the note, since I had to go to sleep and go to school the next day. I continued writing to the remaining circa 13, those who had not responded to my last sending. But then after one hours work the noter freaked out and I couldn't save the data I had written. I thought that the lazy contacts would not have a note but simply a disc and a note saying "Hello John Doe, I just joined Wrath, stay cool, send sooner!". I also wrote a note for those I wanted to contact. Then I copied the discs and sent the packages. It must have been one of the most expensive sendings I had accomplished at that time, since I had stopped cheating my stamps.

I got a few replies in the week after this sending, but also a phone call from Static. I don't know if he had some sadistic inclinations or simply lacked social skills, but he told me that we used to be in the same group but not any longer. "Oh come on Static, don't tell me that you changed group again, how many times have you...." "No." He replied. "This time it's you, and you have been kicked!" Of course I had to check facts and called Oxidy. "You have some things you have to explain to me" I said. "Oh, what might that be?" "Am I kicked?" "Well, yes that's correct." "Why?" "Because of some rumours I heard about you... and hey, you didn't send the package to more than half of your contacts." "I DID TOO!" I told him the story about the two notes and the some 13 contacts missing in the greetings list. "Well, that is not going to change my mind, I have made my decision and there are also some rumours I've heard about you" "What kind of rumours?" "That you are lame, we can't have lamers in our group." "Well, you already let me join, you should have done the research before I joined, or at least before I spent the weekend copying your fabulous groupís demo". I was really pissed off, and even though he wanted to hang up several times I made him give the name and number of at least one backstabber. It was some scener I had never heard of. I worked on the trail of the rumours for a long time and the only thing I actually had done was to try joining Megaunit as a graphician, a group that he had been in contact with. I have seriously thought of releasing my graphics as a joke, for it's true that they were very lame. Another reason for being kicked was that I was misspelling Wrath Designs. I thought it was Wrath Design.

Well, just another couple of weeks later, the cream of Wrath Designssss were offered to join Fairlight and the group died for like six months. But since Wrath died, I had a perfect excuse for not being part of that group anymore. Being kicked is really a disgrace, but I didn't think I deserved it, either now or back then.


M)
You chose not to tell us (at CSDb) that you are an ex-member of Wrath Designs at CSDb, how come?

Z)
As I said before, it's such a disgrace to be kicked from a group, even if it was almost 15 years ago. And secondly, I don't think one sending actually makes you a member of a group. And the third reason, how many members of Wrath Designs remember that I was a member for two weeks?


M)
Tell us of yourself, what do you do and like to do in real life?

Z)
In civil life I'm unemployed part-time and working part-time with mentally handicapped individuals. I went to school for a long time, studying the sciences of behaviour (psychology, sociology and pedagogy). I have a masterís degree in sociology and a bachelorís degree in psychology. Right now I try to puzzle my life together with different ingredients such as social life, work, spare time, fatherhood and my intentions to find a more qualified job. In my spare time I have some common interests like movies and music. I used to attend music festivals and get drunk and crazy, but that was more in my wild youth or at least until I met my girlfriend. I have a quite large CD-collection and I enjoy many kinds of music. I also sing and play the guitar, rather happily than well, but still. ;) I used to play the piano when I was a kid, but I didn't get along with my teacher so I stopped pretty early. I like to read articles and books about my special areas, especially history and psychology. I also write some texts myself. I have heaps of old poems, some short stories and some half written novels on my PC.


M)
You recently became a father, is it not a biggie as Frantic says? ?

Z)
In most ways I agree. The year of 2006 was really a hectic year for me. I have followed my girlfriend to a new (and much smaller) town to make it work with her newly started own business, we decided to buy a house since it's just as cheap as an apartment in Vaxjo, the town we used to live in. There was a lot of effort to be put in the house, so becoming a father actually came as a bonus rather than an obstacle. However it is an obstacle in some ways. Since my girlfriend works a lot, I don't have so much time for my Commodore activities as I wished I would have. Besides that, becoming a father is really great. It feels better and better for every week and I see him become more and more like an individual. I thought it was going to be a real big thing psychologically, feeling more like an adult and stuff like that, but actually I feel younger and even more childish. So I guess it's not a biggie.


M)
What is the scene today?

Z)
I started swapping back in 1992, at that time the wares seemed quite dependent on the mail scene. If you didn't release your demo at a party, you'd need a mega swapper to reach the audience. I don't try to praise myself (as a former swapper) by saying this, but I actually think it was like that. There were a lot of modem users, but most of the communication in the scene was realised with envelopes and stamps (cheated or not!). Now all of the communication is being made via the Internet. Imagine what the scene would have looked like if the Internet was made public ten years earlier. Would we have had a mail scene at all? The Internet has made the scene something like a hotel, you can come and go when you like. The only thing you need to make a temporary visit is an Internet connection. Some people do stay at "The hotel" for decades, and that's lovely of course. The scene has developed to a more democratic and relaxed sub culture. Everyone has the right to participate even if the things you release are considered as "crap". This has opened the doors for hundreds of young enthusiasts who werenít part of the scene in the 80's or early 90's. I like the scene a lot more now than I did when I was 15; it's looser with not the same pressure. Come on! We are here to have fun!


M)
You were interviewed by us in 1995 for Issue #23. What are the major differences between that ZZAP in that C64 scene and the current ZZAP69, in this scene, would you say?

Z)
I don't think the difference is very big, except that I have profiled myself more as a musician than as a swapper now. I don't think anyone remember that I actually used to swap. I just read that old interview and I think I would use the word "artistic integrity" instead of "charisma" when I discuss what the scene is about. My taste has changed a bit when it comes to design and music. I liked Flash Inc. better than Panoramic Designs at that time for instance. I took a lot more shortcuts when describing my scene history and I hope I havenít ignored anything this time.


M)
What makes the C64 so special? And is it the computer or the scene?

Z)
As I might have said earlier, I didn't buy my C64 just because everyone else had one. When I bought my C64 I didn't know anything about computers, but I realised pretty soon that I had made the right choice. There were so much lovely games available and at least 4 Swedish software magazines were covering the commercial scene of the computer. In that way the C64 is special, almost every man born in a West European middle class family in the 1970īs has owned or at least been in contact with a Commodore 64 computer. I know the C64 didn't sell very well in the UK or in France, but I think it was pretty well known there as well. Why the C64 became such a commercial hit, I donít know. But just look how many features it has compared to other home computers of the 80's. Look at the colour schemes of Spectrum, and their infamous attribution problems (Hello Mats Jonsson!), not to mention the SID compared to other sound chips. I have learned some 6502/6510 programming, and I'm stunned by the genius behind it. (I don't know a single operation for other processors so I can't compare though.) Something happened to me around 1990, I realised that the C64 would "die" soon if the users didn't unite to do something about it. This was when I discovered the scene. I was totally absorbed by the idea of being a scener. When I eventually joined the scene there was no turning back. I had a large hardware break down in January 1993, at that time I was thinking of quitting the scene and never buying a C64 again. I had pretty bad grades in school at that time and my parents blamed it all on my C64 activities. One semester before high school could be a good time to stop. I was totally without a computer for almost one month and I must say that this was one of the most boring months of my life. I got packages from all around the world, and I couldn't watch them at home. I took all the money I had been saving the latest year and bought a new computer set. The C128D I use today with a printer and more software. I knew it wasn't a "hot" computer, but every time I switched it on I felt like I was "home". It's a magical feeling that can't be described in words I'm afraid. It was also about the scene, I HAD to be in touch with it, the desire of seeing what hides behind the next corner. So, to make a long answer short; the scene wouldn't have been there unless the computer was so popular, and I wouldn't have continued computing in the mid 90's if there wasn't a scene. I'm lucky I didn't spend my money on a boring and virus spreading Amiga 500!


M)
What kind of music would you call your tunes?

Z)
I guess a fair general definition would be electronic- and/or psychedelic pop. If you weren't a C64 user I would probably add "SID" in front of pop to make it more accurate. I have made several tunes that I would simply call "old school game tunes". I try to change style a little from time to time.


M)
You tend to fancy 8580, donít you?

Z)
Well, I donít mind the 6581, with its characteristic bass and that it's better for using with samples. I'm really not a geek when it comes to the technical terms of the SID-chip, so I shouldn't try to talk some technical mumbo jumbo I donít understand myself. I just try my way ahead to see if it sounds nice or not. The computer I prefer to use is however equipped with an 8580-chip and it's much more sensitive when it comes to filter-tricks and such stuff. Imagine my disappointment when I have been spending hours on an instrument that sounds exactly like I want on the 8580, but then doesn't sound at all on the 6581. The music editor I use, Voicetracker, has some really distinct advantages for the 8580 that is not at all compatible with the 6581. Iím not sure of how many SID-musicians has this problem generally, but I know they are. Some musicians have learned to use the 6581 better and prefer that chip. Most of my tunes however are mostly compatible with the 6581 as with the 8580.


M)
Where do you find inspiration for your creative output on this machine?

Z)
Mostly from other sceners. Especially those who make releases the way I play guitar (as I was mentioning earlier), rather often and happily than "well". Sceners who make an effort of having a personal style rather than making an effort of being loved. Of course I do like the good old quality-production style, we need it for nostalgic reasons but the scene must not stop to renew itself just because the production of new C64ís has stopped. I sometimes get inspiration to make music from really old games that you need a datasette and a tape turbo to load.


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

Z)
I recall some technically featured productions, and I quickly see a connection between them. For instance, I was really amazed by Reflex' demo "Mathematica". How could they make those 3D-objects so fast in real-time? And if they were pre-calculated, they would have been much slower anyway. Then the whole German trackmo concept started for real. Especially Smash Designs made those kinds of demos. I quickly started to dislike them, since they looked like really bad Amiga demos, and looked just the same every time. It seemed like both the C64-spirit and the artistic integrity was gone.

Something that really made my jaw drop lately was the "Polly tracker" by Aleksi Eeben. Polly tracker made it possible to play four samples in four channels at the same time. I really had to download it and transfer it to my C64 to see that it was not a hoax. Really cool, but I soon realised that this was going to reduce the C64 into a bad Amiga, with dusty sample-features. On the other hand Eeben is one of my favourite present C64 musicians, and his tunes are the kind of tunes that inspire. As I see it, what is doable is more about the creatorís fantasy, than the technical possibilities on this machine. Of course, breaking records and new technical grounds might be interesting to some, but most often I find these releases damp and boring.



M)
But you would rather prefer concept?

Z)
Well, as I see it. There's a large difference between "concept" and "design". A demo can have a good concept, taking up important issues of today's world. It can also have nice design, without referring to anything else. This is what some people, including myself, would call "art". I can enjoy both, depending on what mood I am in, but generally I prefer original demos like Triadís Borderline for instance. I'm sadly one of few who like the demo Flut by K2. I really love the bizarre routines by Bob and the other guys in Censor Design. A sense of humour is also important to me. Do you remember Lickpipe by Triad or Gergamygg III by Groovy Bits, both from 1990? Damn, I'm name dropping again! :)


M)
Name some all time top notch productions.

Z)
As I mentioned before, I'm a sucker for Censor Design demos. So Spasmolytic, Wonderland 8, 9 and 10 are really nice demos. Wonderland 9 from 1992 is probably my favourite demo. Red Storm by Triad is really nice too, some parts look a little ugly, but I still give it a solid 10/10. Oxyron made some really nice demos around 1993, like Coma Light XII and Dawnfall from 1995. Then we have the classical conflict between the two disciplines of "hard code" and "design" manifested by two groups hating each other. Of course I'm talking about Flash Inc. and Panoramic Designs. I actually liked both very much. Have a look at Legacy 2 by Flash or Parapsykolog by Panoramic! There was a big gap in good releases in the latter part of the 90's I think. I can't pick one release I really liked from the years 1996-1999. Plush 2K by Plush is probably my favourite demo from the 00's so far. Deus ex Machina is really nice too. Newer releases are too young to be classified as "all time top notch" already, but other worth mentioning are Feedback and Borderline by Triad, Emanation Machine by Fairlight and the coop demo Spaheristerium. The latest demos from Booze Design are definitely worth mentioning as well.


M)
Whom in the current scene would you like to cooperate in making a demo and a game?

Z)
I think we have pretty good groups now and that they most often work very well together. We've also had some really interesting cooperations lately, like "The Wild Bunch", for instance. Lots of people have seen HCL and Crossbow as rivals, but I'm pretty sure that it's not the case. However, it would be cool if they finished a demo together. I also would like to drag in some old inactive good coders back to the scene. I've tried to motivate my friend from Vaxjo, Zakk of No Name, for almost ten years but I still haven't got any result. My old pals in Noice were also really good, I really miss them and I hope they some day will cooperate to make a last demo from the parts that weren't released in Goatology.


M)
You are a frequent visitor to the Swedish parties. What do you think they mean to the scene? And wouldnít the online-versions, like the recent Freestyle Jam, be enough to get a good flow of productions?

Z)
Demo parties are vital to the scene! If it wasn't for the demo parties, I would probably have quit around 1998. The demo parties fill me with motivation and I get a whole weekend of good dATA. It is also a way to socialize with people with the same interests and to see that even hackers are aging, but keeping the C64 spirit alive. As I see it, the flow of production is not the main thing of a demo party. It does however inspire people to make releases.

I still think an event like the Freestyle Jam can be a good way to inspire people from different corners of the world to be productive, when not being able to meet because of distances. I have lost the interest in games on this machine, but some of the titles from this event were really good.


M)
You have participated in the making of this issue. Do you think diskmags play a role in todayís scene? And if, what would you expect (and hope) from contemporary diskmags?

Z)
I think disk mags somehow are important for our identities as sceners. The Internet is a lot faster media where everyone can state their opinion, which is a two headed coin of course. People like myself who were in the scene in the early 90's or maybe even earlier recognizes the disk mag and feels safer while reading it since the content has, just like daily magazines in real life, been passing a quality filter. I'm a little concerned sometimes when I visit CSDB or other scene related databases/forums. People are such assholes towards each other, and the news in the forums are drowned in spam from people who don't take the scene very seriously or rather the opposite, taking it too seriously.


M)
Jucke digs you, do you dig Jucke?

Z)
Of course I dig Jucke! He's a guy with a spark in his eye; he's a dude who's not being rude! :) He made some really nice CG graphics and he's one of the organizers of the Floppy/BFP-parties. He also share the same taste as me when it comes to the Commodore culture except for one thing, he prefers the MOS 6581.


M)
Any final words?

Z)
No. I have talked too much already. Thank you! :)

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