Interviews



Interview with Deev

Published in Vandalism News # 44
Performed by Macx


Last autumn, the very same as when Vengeance and Jazzcat did their tour in Europe, I did one as well. Before I met up with them Aussies in Amsterdam and then went partying at X2004 I was travelling around in the UK to visit friends and to get a glimpse of the more northern parts of the island. Before my trip which lasted two months I had been chatting with Simon, also known as Deev of Onslaught, about meeting up in his hometown Manchester. I was a bit curious of this guy, a great graphician that hadn't been around before my three year break in the late 90s, but whom definitely had the skills.

The first time we met up was in central Manchester. The sun shone and I was indulging the view when Simon "Deev" approached me. He gave me some sightseeing, and then we came into discussing our shared interest in music. If I remember things correctly we were aiming at this place where Belle and Sebastian have had a gig, but as it was closed we found another good music pub. Before we split up and I went roaming the city for some nice pictures we went looking for the latest issue of Retro Gamer. A mag none of us had gotten our eyes on, but were keen to see. The next time we met up, a week or so after, we immediately went for the pub and this time the chatting mainly was about philosophy, politics and the interview I had proposed. I jotted down some questions to start out from and we went from there in emails, meaning this interview has been conducted from October to May.




M)
Who are you?

D)
My name's Simon, I'm 26 years old (probably 27 by the time you read this!) and I live just outside Manchester in north-west England. By day I work as a web designer for an internet travel company, by night I rot away in front of a C64, listening to strange sounds on the stereo, and attempting to visualise how the world would look in 16 colours and several thousand low resolution pixels. On the days when I manage to break the chains which bind me to the C64, I like to hang around in Manchester with my friends, watching bands, going to clubs and generally enjoy what the best city in England (perhaps...) has to offer! I also have a foolish weakness for a football team who never win anything.....ever.


M)
How and when did you get involved with the C64?

D)
I guess I was around 9 years old (which would be about 1987) when I got my first C64. My dad was always interested in computers and had owned a Spectrum for several years previously. Although it was his computer, I spent just as much time on it as he did, so when he decided to upgrade to the C64, I got into that as well!



M)
Tell us your first encounter with the scene…

D)
My first encounter was probably through demo features in magazines like ZZAP!64. In the early days this would be short Compunet articles, but as the commercial games  scene started to dry up, magazines had to find other features to fill their pages, so articles concerning demos increased. I was always intrigued by these, but like most people in the UK, I was cursed with tapes for quite a few years after initially owning a C64, and since the majority of scene productions were made for disk, it was hard to check out releases for myself.

When I finally did get a disk drive in the early 90s, one of the first things I did was to get hold of some demos. I really liked the idea of the demo scene from the start. I'd been doing graphics on the C64 for quite a long time, but never really had much of an outlet for my work, other than to show my friends (who mostly didn't really appreciate what I was doing anyway!). I saw all the bitmaps, logos etc. and wanted to do things like this for myself. The idea of this international scene of people producing things on their C64s really appealed to me.



M)
How did you get a hold of those first demos and which demos were they?

D)
I got my first disk drive second-hand and the person I bought it from also threw in a bunch of his disks. There wasn't much scene stuff, with the contents of most disks being games he'd copied with an AR cartridge. There were, however, a small number of demos tucked away in the directories. I think the first demo I ever saw was Red October by Triad; I'd seen something similar on my friend's Amiga, but had no idea my C64 was capable of the same! After my initial batch of disks, I mostly got my fix from PD libraries in the UK. In retrospect, this was hardly the best way to get hold of releases, but unfortunately I was to dumb to know any better at that stage!


M)
How  and when did you become active on the C64?

D)
I didn't become active until some time in the late 90s - I guess I was quite a late starter :) The first time I ever set some pixels on a computer screen, however, was many years earlier when I was around 6-7 years old. I used to have a simple games editor on the Spectrum (the kind that would make SEUCK seem advanced!) which I used to enjoy playing around with as a kid. The quality was quite poor, but having to pixel the sprites gave me my first taste of computer graphics. As time went on and I got hold of a C64, I used to do more in the way of bitmap graphics which has lead to the sort of things I'm things that I'm doing today.

As for how I became active, I basically just put together some examples of my pixelling, went on IRC, and sent my work out to anyone who would pay attention :) One of these people was Jazzcat who then asked me to join Onslaught.


M)
So you knew about #c-64 from before? Are any of these early graphics released?

D)
I'm not sure where I first found out about #c-64. Possible a scene mag, I don't remember. When I first got online in the mid-90s, I did a search on some demo groups quite early on, but there weren't anywhere near the same resources we have today!

As for my early graphics, thankfully(!), most of this work is long lost. I didn't really see the need to keep things when I was really young and just re-used the same tapes over and over again. I'm sure I have unreleased works from my teens scattered around on disks, but most of it is probably pretty crappy and doesn't deserve a wider airing. Maybe one day I might dig out some old graphics so anyone who wants to see can do so, but I'd certainly keep it low key. I'm not one of these people who likes to celebrate their crap! I already have releases from just a few years back that I now hate, so I wouldn't want to flood the scene with a whole load more work that makes me cringe. :)


M)
What does the scene mean to you?

D)
I definitely think the scene is what's kept me active on this computer up until now. I don't really have much interest in doing games the C64; it's restrictive, you're limited to a certain theme, little opportunity to try out ideas etc, it all sounds like hard work to me! :)

I'm certainly not interested by GEOS, Super CPU's and all of that! The scene fits in far more with the sort of thing I enjoy doing on this machine and it's great to be able to meet people from all over the world with the same interest as you; to be able to check out what others have done, discuss ideas, get feedback on your own work etc.


M)
What differs the contemporary scene from the old scene?

D)
I think it's good that in the past few years there seems to have been a rise in people trying to accomplish something a little different with the C64. I've nothing against a slickly coded technical demo, but I also find productions that attempt to steer away from the more traditional approach increasingly intriguing. I think there's a still a lot more potential left in this area and it will be interesting to see how it progresses in the future.

From a graphics point of view, it's nice to see that competitions are no longer filled with reproductions of Vallejo, Giger, comic artwork etc. (I know I've been responsible for some of this myself in the past!).

There's certainly more creativity on show these days and the best graphicians are increasingly not just seen as those who can translate a girl and her dragon to 16 colours most effectively. Designing something yourself is ultimately far more rewarding than ripping off the design of another and viewing something actually designed by the graphician is more interesting to me.


M)
What are your main sources of inspiration?

D)
Lately I tend to try and look outside of the scene for inspiration. There are lots of great designers out there whose artwork makes much artwork within the scene (my own included) seem quite basic in comparison. I buy books and magazines, look at online portfolios and so on - it's all good for developing ideas!

There are, of course, still some more traditional C64 influences in my work, particularly from the point of view of pixelling style. I still feel that quite a few of the graphics I've released in the past year are still quite simple from a design point of view, so I hope to progress further in this direction in the future.



M)
How do you mean that you are traditional when it comes to your pixelling style? Do you get the feedback you want from other sceners?

D)
Well as an example, my use of colour to portray skin would often be light grey to pink to light brown to dark brown.. This scheme has been used over and over again throughout the years, but isn't necessarily the only was to represent such a thing with the C64's palette. Similarly, the way I draw objects; my dithering style etc. is also quite conventional. If you look at "real world" artwork, there are masses of different styles employed by its creators, but with the C64 it can be sometimes a little hard to incorporate an alternative pixel-style into your work. When you don't stick to the 'rules' that have been laid down throughout the years, things can sometimes look unaccomplished. Similarly, each gfx mode lends itself to a certain style that can be hard to break away from. I like to think my picture "Lost" is slightly more imaginative style-wise and I hope to do more things along that line in the future.

As far as getting feedback goes, CSDB has helped a lot with this. It's given people a platform to rate productions and leave comments and I know because of it that I certainly get more feedback about my releases than I used to. It would be good, however, if more people joined in! A release can get 100+ downloads and yet only 10 ratings. Admittedly, I'm often guilty of not voting myself, but giving feedback is a good thing - even if it's negative!



M)
The scene is still alive, what keeps people motivated?

D)
Well I can only speak personally, but as I already touched upon earlier, the scene itself is what keeps me coming back. Whilst obviously I get some enjoyment specifically from working this machine, I'm not one of these people who believe there is no life beyond working on the C64. I enjoy Flash, Painter, Photoshop etc. I also use my PC for writing music (some would say noise!), something which I never took so far with the C64 as I found it hard to realise my ambitions (probably largely my own fault, rather than that of the SID!). But I still enjoy being a part of the C64 scene and being a part of it keeps me motivated to produce more.

Of course I also have personal goals within the scene. There's very little of what I've released so far that I am truly happy with and I hope to push the standard of my work further in the future.


M)
What tools do you use to create graphics released on the C64?

D)
For IFLI I always used Funpaint 2. It was the first tool I got hold of that let me paint in this mode, so was the one I was most familiar with from the start. I realise most people prefer Gunpaint, but I only discovered this several years later and found it hard to adjust to a different tool after so long. Despite some bugs (most of which have now been fixed!), Funpaint has always done what I needed it too, so why change?

For multicolour bitmaps, I've used loads of tools over the years. I'm currently leaning towards Advanced Art Studio, but I'm sure I'll find something else soon :)

Aside from native C64 tools, I've also done some things in GFX2 or sometimes Photoshop on the PC. Some people don't like this kind of approach, but I don't agree with the idea that if you don't pixel it on a C64, then it's not really a C64 graphic. You're still creating something in the C64's resolution and using the C64's colour palette.


M)
Do you have any favourite types of demos? Could you name a few?

D)
There seems to have been something of a renaissance in thinking behind C64 demos over the past few years. I like that a lot of demos are no longer just effect shows and that people are instead now trying to incorporate new design ideas and concepts behind their releases. I think now, more than ever, demos can be considered art. Of course, as I said previously, that's not to say I don't enjoy a more old skool approach also; it's still good to see a really great technical demo and I'd be happy to see both styles continue to co-exist.

I'm reluctant to narrow down my favourite demos to a short list as there's so many releases I've enjoyed over the years. If I try I'm bound to forget lots of releases and in a few weeks I'll probably have changed my mind anyway!


M)
What is your recipe for creating good graphics?

D)
Well first of all I'm always on the look out for inspiration and new ideas. Ideas can often be the hardest part, particularly if a deadline is close and the pressure is on.

Making graphics on a C64 with a joystick and a screen of pixels is perhaps not the most natural way to create something, so I tend to plan and build prototype screens beforehand, just so I know exactly what I'm doing and to give me the confidence that after my hard work, the finished product will look fairly decent!

Once started on the pixel work itself, I tend to think one of the most
important things is to take your time. Good C64 graphics are rarely the sort of thing you can put together in an evening; you have to keep working on an area until it looks right, even redrawing sections if possible. I believe it's worth it in the end though and I know I personally prefer to see one really good picture per year than 50 average ones.



M)
Do you think parties play a vital role?

D)
Well obviously these days it's where the majority of releases originate. I guess if there were no parties we'd still have releases outside them, but I suspect it may not be as many. Personally, even when I don't attend, I like the chance to compete at a party and there's nothing like a big party on the horizon to motivate me to boot up the C64 and get pixelling! An impending party also gives you a goal to work towards and I think that is quite a useful thing. If you don't have a release date to aim for, things can sometimes drag on, seemingly forever.

I'm sure meeting up with a large group of sceners like that is also great motivation. In the times I've met up with sceners on an individual basis I find it motivating, so to hook up with a large group of people in that atmosphere must be even more so. I know you have quite a thriving scene in Sweden at the moment and the likes of Floppy and LCP seem to be at the forefront of that (correct me if you think I'm wrong here :) ).


M)
I agree with you. Meeting other sceners sure is a blast for the motivation and I believe we've got something good going here in Sweden. How come it is different in the UK, you think?

D)
It's hard to say for sure, though I think there are probably two reasons which contribute quite heavily towards us having such a small scene. First of all, in the past almost everybody used tapes over here. New machines were bundled with a tape deck, probably in part to keep the price of a C64 close to that of the Clive Sinclair's rubber keyed wonder (The Spectrum - which was the most popular 8 bit computer here, for the 80s at least) and to buy a disk drive separately was very expensive, often costing several times more than the computer itself! The average kid just couldn't afford it. Disk software was hardly in abundance either and even specialist games stores would often have to order a disk game for you! I regularly hear stories from sceners outside the UK that they saw intros on games and wanted to find out more for themselves, but the scene was obviously about disks and so releases just didn't seem to make their way down to the average UK user in the same way. The other big factor may well be the strength of the games industry. I guess at the C64's peak we had more game releases than anywhere else in Europe and perhaps most people who were creating on the C64 were more interested in writing games than making demos. I really can't blame someone for seeing the opportunity to make a living from the C64, but when you're working professionally you have to move onto the next big machine, leaving the 8 bits behind.


M)
Have you ever attempted a demo party?

D)
At this point in time, unfortunately not.


M)
You know, flights from UK to Sweden (or all over Europe, really) are dead cheap these days. Will we be able to see you at LCP or Floppy?

D)
If I ever sort out my shit, I'd like to think so :)


M)
I heard rumours of you planning a party?

D)
There's been talk of a party a couple of years ago, though it's been more TMR's idea than mine. A UK party would be good to have, though given the quite small size of the UK scene, it would most likely have to be an all format event.


M)
Enough about all tomorrow’s parties. Thank you for taking the time! Any final words?

D)
I'd like to think I had something witty to say at this stage, but unfortunately my brain has let me down, so I'll just send out greets to everyone I know and end the interview on a rather uninspired note.

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