Interviews



Interview with Hex Hacker

Published in Vandalism News #52
Performed by Jazzcat


In this issue of Vandalism News, which is largely dominated with affairs around the Australian scene, we introduce one of those names that people knew; none other than Hex-Hacker. Coder of numerous demos under Tera, Ikon Visual and The Soft Smashers 6802  and also the author of Sidplay for OS/2. The Australian scene is even more underground than the rest of the scene in the sense of its isolation, what happened back in the old days? Who were those that had skill and could face the challenges of distance between from the larger European and American communities?

Most guys have heard of Tera, but if I asked you about TSS6802 what would you say? Let's delve a bit deeper into the world of Hex-Hacker - interview conducted through email by David "Jazzcat" Simmons on September 2009.


J)
Thanks for taking the time for this interview and welcome! Please introduce yourself to the audience.

H)
Hex Hacker (Peter Conklin). Coding, cracker, swapper and very poor graphician. :)


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 doing magic stuff behind the blue screen?

H)
My first introduction to the world of CBM was not a C64, but a PET-80 that my father was loaned for a few months back in the early 80's. It came with a book containing some programs which could be entered.

Later when I was in high school around '84 I received a C64 for Christmas. It came with a tape drive and a tape with some games on it in a bundle. The games were ok but became quite boring after a while, and then I got Impossible Mission on tape. It took ages to load (around 20mins) but the graphics were outstanding compared to the basic sprite based games I had been playing up till then. Once I realised there were actually better games out there, I bought some "Turbo Tapes" off a guy at school for $2 each. They were so fast to load back then, and had arcade games like "Spy Hunter"; at this point I was addicted to playing the games only.

After a while I had a huge amount of these "Turbo Tapes", until the same guy at school showed me this unit called a "Disk Drive" at his house. It was fast to load, and I had to have one. After convincing my father to buy one (in exchange for mowing the lawn) I bought a few disks off this guy. There was a tool called "Fast Hack'em" by Mike J Henry, and this is where my path in the scene began. After learning about disk editing I had noticed a lot of games being 'cracked' by someone, so I disk edited the EPYX legendary game "Summer Games" to be "Cracked by Peter C Pirate" (there was no actual cracking performed though), which became my handle for the next few years.

In this time I had been playing with Peeks and Pokes in Basic and was able to send simple sprites across the screen and make ridiculous sound effects by poking random values into the SID registers. I came across a "Demo" in this time and thought it was very cool. Then I went out to Dymocks and bought a book "Mastering Machine Code" for the C64, this is where my focus changed to coding. It was now about '86 and I could make simple colour bars and a simple scroll text, but the coding was still in its infancy.

Then in early '88 I contacted a guy in the Trading Post about buying some games and demos on disk, his name was Robert from Fairfield. So I went to meet this guy and bought some disks off him. While we were at his house I was playing around in the Action Replay and made a simple scroller and played some music from JCH and he said "We should make a group". So we did and we had to come up with some names. Overnight we came up with "Hex-Hacker" (meant to imply hacking code in Hexadecimal) and Snoop (to imply "Snooping" around in code to crack).



J)
You've been in groups like TSS 6802, Tera and Ikon Visual. Can you give us some details on your scene history... how did you enter the groups, what were your tasks for them, why did you leave one group to join another... relive your scene history - from the beginning up to now...

H)
And so TSS6802 was born in early '88 (The Soft Smashers 6802 because we "Smashed the software on the 6802 processor LOL). Robert had lots of local contacts but we had no international elite contacts. So we wrote some letters with disks inside of a simple demo called oblivion and some ripped music. Surprisingly I had a response from "John Boy/Frantic" who was eager to swap. It turned out (to our surprise) that the international scene liked our stuff because it was unknown internationally, 0 day warez was far more important than quality. After this the contacts begun to romp in, especially when John Boy moved from Frantic to Sphinx, Chris/Sphinx made us out first intro. Somehow, we were an established group now.

In late '88 we contacted a group called Tour De Force (TDF) and got some disks from them, they were good stuff. Then there was a (small) copy party in Cabramatta to which we were invited, here we met Matt', Xlr8 and Deadbone if memory serves me correctly. Time rolled along and we got to know the TDF guys very well, always hanging out and doing all kinds of crazy stuff.

Then it came to the TEC Copy Party in Lane Cove, myself and Snoop had spent long nights at his house trying to get something ready for the party, including a few demos, and my first 'proper' crack of "Black Knight" from tape including a trainer. We took our disks, computers and off we went to Lane Cove. Lane Cove was quite symbolic as the CBM head office was only a couple of blocks away from the party. Being the hooligans we were at the time, some of us (names withheld) went to CBM for a bit of vandalism with spray paint. Unfortunately some of us were met by the local law enforcement and this was a bad time for the party. We met many people there including members from TEC and The Force and Reflex, there was some debate about the results of the party but that is another story covered in many scroll texts of the day. :)

A while after this, TDF and Reflex joined forces to form TDF + RFX, and later TSS6802 was admitted membership also. This conglomerate became "TERA Australia", and had many coders, swappers and artists. TERA was steaming along strong but it late '90/91 things had changed. Internal arguments and disputes had left a sour taste, and due to my strong connection with Einstein/WOW I was admitted as a member to Warriors of the Wastelands. I had been trading with Ives for a long time now (one of my oldest contacts and a really nice guy), and we spoke over the phone quite regularly. I was also in contact regularly with Pyle/Netmen over the phone, and also had an offer to join Success/Crazy by Markus at the time, but went to WOW instead.

During this time I began coding a new demo for WOW but remained unfinished for some time. I had now quit the scene in late 91 but still hung around with some of the TERA guys and the newly formed Hype guys (who we had known for years before). We played hours upon hours of Street Fighter II with Caine and Deadbone. Not to mention the endless nights of playing consoles at Deadbone's house. ;-)

In 1998 my life in the scene continued with a small stint in coding the Sidplay for OS/2 emulator to play tunes from the HVSC.



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

H)
I would have to say Matt' was one of my initial motivators. I spent a lot of time at his house coding and hassling him about how to best approach certain coding techniques.

From a group perspective, Badger/Horizon. Till this day when I think of hardcore coding I think of Horizon, they were cutting edge and stunned most of us I think.


J)
Matt' is quite respected in the Australian scene and one of the few personalities that the Europeans got to know due to Australia's isolation from the rest of the 8-bit community. Did you work on any co-op parts or projects, sharing the code?

Was it an after-school thing that happened etc?


H)
The only one's I can remember was a part he did for the Tera/Sodom co-op and a scroll routine for the 2nd part of  Econovan when I was still in TSS6802. Mostly it was a weekend thing that I can remember.



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

H)
I guess this changed according to different events that were happening in my life at the time. From playing games, to cracking and coding demos it was all good times. But the challenge of coding was probably the most memorable part of my time on the scene, and has probably influenced my current career path in some way.

Most importantly I think the ability for total strangers to become friends over long distances. I made a lot of good friends on the scene and to all of them out there, best of luck!


J)
Can you tell us more about the TEC Copy Party in Lane Cove? Like the people attending, any trivia or special moments you can recollect?

H)
Memory of everyone attending is a bit vague, but I do remember Deadbone, Xlr8, Matt' and Snoop from Tera. Also there were Rock/Sharks and a few guys from The Force; of particular importance at that time was Colwyn (Paul) who we had a trivial war with for a while. Boss and Bullet from Reflex were also present.

The party was held at Lane Cove which had particular significance as it was at the time just down the road from CBM offices. Xlr8, and Snoop were later caught by police for spray painting the CBM offices. It was a big shock to everyone when the police turned up, we all thought they were there because of the copy party. LOL. Then I saw Snoop's father and I knew immediately what had happened. Funnily enough our demo "Econovan" was released later after the party since Snoop had the disk on him when he was busted.

The party continued with lots of groups coding and drawing graphics, then there was the demo competition which the results were notified in a later spread disk by The Force. This would lead to a war between The Force and TERA.
 
Trivia: Metro (Henry) didn't end up coming, but we played a joke on him saying that the party was at Kiama. Always the pranksters we were.

This also brings to mind the Adelaide copy party where we caught a train from Sydney to Melbourne, and then Melbourne to Adelaide. Matt' and Xlr8 were also there and we met the guys from Ikon Visual who showed us around Adelaide. We had a great time and Matt' released another high quality production. This was a huge party compared to the Lane Cove party, must have been at least 50-60 people there.

Trivia: It was a condition imposed by Colwyn that the war be ended if we were to be able to attend the party.



J)
Regarding the war with Colwyn, wasn't that over the results of the TEC party?

H)
This is linked in part with the previous question about the TEC Party. It was indeed to do with the results of the party. Matt's demo at the time was exceptionally good, and it was a surprise to see a simple raster stretcher beat it. I guess it was a bit of an ego trip at the time, and like true Aussies we did support our mates to the extent of creating a war and various anti-Colwyn notes and demos.

The war ended because we were told by TF that we couldn't attend the Adelaide party unless we ended it, and we really wanted to go. :)


J)
Because the Australian/New Zealand scene was isolated from the European/American sceners, they missed a lot of our heritage. Just like their scenes we had wars too, do you remember any of the big disagreements and slagging that went on?

H)
After the results of the TEC copy party were published, we became a bit disgruntled about the results. Being coders I guess everyone felt that their stuff was quite good, however at the time I would have to say that Matt' and Deviet were probably the best coders in Australia at that time. Needless to say the results were not taken well, and hence began the war with Colwyn, due  to feelings that the judging by The Force was 'not neutral'. Accusations were detailed in scroll texts of Anti-Colwyn/Rock demos and were specific to mention that this was directed not at The Force as a group, but only Colwyn.

Ironically, another war on Mr. Chain/FHI diverted attention from this and that war fell to the side. At the time I was swapping with Zodiac/FHI and eagerly awaited his sending of the demo Summer Code 3, which was released in late August 1989. After loading the demo one of the parts coded by Mr. Chain had reminded me of one of the parts in Matt's demo OHH Mate.

After comparison of the code and the layout of the screen, it became obvious to me that the file Code 6 from Summer Code 3 was extremely similar to the first part of the file P1 from OHH Mate. After showing Matt we did some further investigations and concluded that the part had indeed, been ripped by Mr. Chain/FHI.

I notified Zodiac/FHI with the evidence and he concluded with the rest of FHI that Mr. Chain should be kicked out of Flash Incorporated.

http://www.atlantis-prophecy.org/recollection/interviews/Hex_Interview_MrChain_Ripping.zip


J)
I'm in contact with Deadbone these days. Metro and Caine I've lost contact with however. I remember the Gangsta demo quite well, originally it was going to be called Rhythmical?

H)
Deadbone and Caine were members of TERA near the end of its life. Deadbone I had known for quite some time, Caine over time I would get to know quite well with our continual bouts in Street Fighter II. :) We used to spend nearly every weekend at Deadbone's house watching movies and playing endless amounts of Famicon and SNES games.

I remember completing Gangsta at Caine's house and giving it to Hype. Originally the demo was to be called Rhythmical in 1990 for my short stint in WOW. I had been promising Einstein it was coming for ages but never got around to completing it at that time. Einstein was one of my best contacts and considered more a friend then just a contact. Around 1992 I sold my disks and C64 and thought I might as well complete it and then release under the Hype label.


J)
Were you in contact with guys like Lone Wolf and Rocky Kid from QCF or Porsche/Nukebusters? Who did you trade with in the
early days?

H)
Used to trade with Kilenemy/QCF (Paul) when I was in TSS6802. Especially liked his "Kilenemy Music disks" back then. Later he joined TDF+RFX and then TERA. And Buccaneer/WOT (Steve), what a cool guy and nice phone calls about his job at State Rail Authority. :)

Some of my early international contacts I can remember were:

Johnny Boy/Frantic/Sphinx (first international contact)
Ultrafox/TDB/Sodom
Jason/Baboons
DNA/Logic

Closest International Contacts (awesome guys, nice phone calls)
Einstein/Atrix/Unicess/WOW (Ives)
Spy/FBR (Michael)
Pyle/SCS (Marcus)


J)
You also converted some disks of Snoop/Tera's recently to PC? (He told me he gave you what was left after he was raided by the police) You managed to salvage much?

H)
Unfortunately not much, I think I gave them to Caine or Deadbone, can't remember now. I did salvage some of Deadbone's dodgy basic demos like the "Tank Demo". :)


J)
You did a couple of cracks on C64, the most serious of which was Dragon Breed +6 for Tera. Where did you stand in the scene
as far as cracking is concerned? Who was leading in the Australian scene?

H)
Didn't really do many cracks at all, however the most memorable for me was "Black Knight+" released on the TEC party since it was my first crack/trainer from tape. We didn't really see many originals originate from Australia, most originals came through contacts in Europe (Smasher/Crazy gave me quite a few). In cracking nothing comes to mind, but The Force was probably most active in imports for sure. Nearly everything had a The Force intro back then.


J)
As someone involved in H/P heavily, I was aware of the Aussie scene and how, for some reason, many people were attracted to bending over telecom and shafting them. Any memories of H/P and it's relation to scene activities back then?

H)
Oh yes, it seems all we did back then. We never went anywhere without a phone with alligator clips or a gas stove clicker. Many a time we would park the Urvan about 20 meters from the Telco Manhole, or phone box, make our splice and run a 20 meter roll of cable to the van. Then we would sit inside and call everyone, I was always at the well ready if something was about to go down. :)


J)
Didn't some sceners get busted back then? Weren't you guys’ paranoid? (Ed: Westpac is one of the big banks in Australia)

H)
Yes, in actual fact I lost my job in Westpac from doing this. I guess that's youth, you feel you could do anything back then.



J)
What was the story for being sacked from Westpac?

H)
In late 1989 we went to my office in Westpac to do a LOT of 'unauthorised' phone calls. We all brought our modems and downloaded from every BBS we could get access to that night. Need I say more. :)


J)
Did you code any games on C64 or have any plans to?

H)
I made a poor attempt at one when Deadbone was still at Villawood. It was a platform game but I didn't have the patience to complete it with all the sprite collisions. Deadbone drew some of the graphics for me, and the plan was Henry would compose a tune for it in Future Composer.


J)
Reflecting upon the demos and projects you've been a part of. What was the most challenging thing for you? And do you feel that there is something you wanted to do but wasn't accomplished?

H)
Definitely would have to say when I got sacked from Westpac, it was a big thing for me back then. Always wanted to go to one of the Euro parties like Venlo back then.


J)
Did you ever imagine the scene would still be alive in 2009? That demos (including records and new effects) are still being released?

H)
To be honest no. It is testament to both the machine, and the people who continue to keep it alive. Long live the 64!


J)
Have you checked any C64 stuff out in the last few years, new demos etc?

H)
I haven't seen any latest stuff recently, hard to find the time to do anything these days when running a company. I did see some stuff from about 2003-2004 vintage and was impressed with the graphics especially.


J)
What do you think makes the C64 something that people keep coming back to? Does it hold some special charm?

H)
Perhaps it is just nostalgia for some of days gone past. For others it may be the challenge of doing something new. Whatever it is, one thing I think holds true for the 64, and that is how a machine which barley has the memory of a jpeg can do so many things. If we all coded like we did on the C64 with these 3GHz Zeons and fought for every CPU cycle imagine what could be done. I think the art of efficiency has been lost these days, rather than perfecting code just throws more CPU and Memory at it. That wraps up the C64, trying to do more and more but with the size and architecture remaining the same for over 25 years.


J)
There were a lot of disk magazines back in the day, Econovan was one of them (how did it earn its name) and your own little 7up series. Can you tell us about these?

H)
Before the TERA magazine appeared, TSS6802 released a demo called Econovan. Later the name was also adopted for the name of the TERA magazine as well. For those who don't know, Econovan is a van made by Ford which Snoop used to drive us around in. For us Econovan became synonymous with "Hooligan", basically driving around doing 'Poppers' and burnouts, sideways and the like. At one point we even seized the engine (which I still have a video of I believe). And the Demo by TSS, and later the Magazine were really tributes to us being "hooligans". BTW, you may recognise the word Popper from one of my tools called "Popper Utilities". A "Popper" was the act of turning off the ignition to build up excess fuel, then restarting the engine whilst in motion and the excess fuel would be burnt at once causing a "backfire/explosion/popping" sound from the exhaust, hence the name. I'm sure Snoop could elaborate more on this. :)



The favourites of Hex-Hacker:

Demos: Thrust Demo/S+T
Demo groups: Horizon
Games: Impossible Mission
Crack Group: Hmmm, Triad, Ikari, FLT (Hard One)
Cracker: Tri-Dos and Nik/Ikari
Coder: Kjer/Horizon
Musician: Too hard to pick just one. JCH/Jewels, Rob Hubbard, Laxity and Reyn Ouwehand
Graphician: Scrap/Contex
Magazine: Sex'n'Crime (of course!)


J)
Here you have a chance to send some messages and greetings to anyone you remember...

H)
Einstein/WOW: Hey how are you going, best friend and swapper on the scene. A really top guy! John Boy/Frantic+Sphinx: My very first international contact, really helped me get going on the scene. Deviet + Buccaneer/WOT: Top Aussie guys, really cool. And most of all the TERA/Hype guys, Matt, Xlr8, Mystic, Snoop, Deadbone, Caine, Metro, Boss and Bullet, lost touch over the years. We had some good times and some petty arguments. A lot of fun times though!!


J)
Thanks for this chance to have a chat about the old days and share your recollections! Any final words to leave an impression on the audience?

H)
It's great to see the scene is still so active, keep up the great work and demos. What a top machine the 64 IS! (Not was)

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