Interviews



Interview with iAN CooG

Published in Vandalism News #50
Performed by Jazzcat

Hard to believe that there is still guys working on the C64 in 2008. We are scattered shadows of our former self, flung across the globe, remnants of a single cause - the scene. Italy is one of those places, with a handful of enthusiasts still spending time behind the blue screen.

For Vandalism News Gold, Ian Coog, organiser of Hokuto Force and active crew member of the HVSC, allows us a look into his scene life for your entertainment.


J)
Thanks for taking the time for this interview and welcome to Vandalism News! Tell us a bit about yourself...

I)
Hi, iAN Coog/Hokuto Force here. Real name Emiliano Peruch, born 1971.02.22, Italian. Main scene activities are: cracker for Hokuto Force, ripper for HVSC and intros.c64.org


J)
When did you first get a C64 and how did you get into the underground scene?

I)
In spring 1983 I saw Vic20s and Speccys from friends, I wanted one too. Later I heard about the C64 which was more powerful according to everyone, so I forced my parents to buy me one for Xmas 1983. Started playing around, first with only the manual, then typing mags' listings. One year later I received the 1541, which changed everything.

Firstly, assemblers, monitors and disk editors led me into trying to change stuff in games and programs. I learned quickly to do simple hacks and the most important thing, to learn reading others' code to know what they did and why.

I had a friend at school that was into coding and hacking too and we founded a local group, called TWT. It was 1986.

In the beginning we cracked games we bought by ourselves, then after some time we started gathering original disks from friends who bought them, we returned the orrie and the crack, so they can exchange stuff with friends. It was a little network in local schools, nothing special, but enough to gather some stuff and knowledge about it.

I always worked with few tools, at first only with SpeedDOS internal memory hex editor and a disk editor, then also got a cheap Expert clone which at least could save all memory to disk and let me work with a transparent resident ML monitor. I haven't found any better cruncher than 1001 card cruncher, until 1989 when I finally received Time cruncher from a Swiss contact, IIRC.

At the end of 1990 I quit school and started to work, so I had no more time to waste on the C64 and I quit my group, put the C64 in the basement and almost forgot it was there.

In 1992 I had the chance to find work as a PC programmer, so I bought my first 486, started learning Clipper, C and x86 ASM, and obviously started to know the PC scene and become immediately interested in cracking on PC too.

In 1993 after buying my first 14.4K modem, started to visit PC scene boards and I learnt about the first C64 emulators and SID players. I found out I haven't forgotten anything about C64 registers, reading a disassembly, how to know where music is located and ripping SIDs... "Everything can be done like on the real machine, but even easier!" I said. :D

Finally came the Internet era of 1997/1998.

I started gathering cracks and demos I've never seen before and in the meantime also a lot of DOX, something I liked to have back in 1986. Damn, I didn't have even the Programmers Reference Guide back then! All I knew was from mags and lots of reversing. I think that I really started to know about the C64 only after I actually stopped using it!



J)
That was a long break and it made me smile seeing someone return after leaving scenetown. :) Can you tell us a bit more about your time in the scene, how did you join your first group and how you came into Hokuto Force?

I)
My first group was a local group, only a bunch of local guys knew us. In 2002 I was into emulation sites and mail groups talking about C64, when I met Overkiller/HF. We talked about the good times and he was amazed that so knowledgeable about C64 than the average Joe you can find on every forum. I explained I did cracks back then and showed him some I'd dumped from my own disks. He said if I could join HF and try doing some cracks. Whoa, I said, I could be part of the only Italian group left in the scene :D

Had to learn lots of things, but I managed to do some stuff I didn't even try in the past, like level packing and one-filing cracks with pics and dox. I also did some tools to make dox linking easier and stuff like that. All cross-tools, I do everything from PC because I don't have anymore a working C64 and don't even have the space to have a C64 setup in my room. This always marked me as an emu-lamer by the l33tests ones, but I don't care about extremists. I think I know how things work, real thing or emulated.


J)
But why cracking?

I)
Probably because I started by looking at others' code, and always failed when trying to code something :D I'm always trying to improve my knowledge and I have tons of unreleased test stuff, most of it probably not even worth watching, but even this way to acquire knowledge is fun for me. Learn and try. Once I knew how to do a scroller, I moved onto the next subject and so on. Knowing how things work allows me to even fix some demos without even having coded one entire intro in my life.

I'm too lazy to start trying something demo related. I probably lack motivation, I prefer watching demos rather than coding them. =) I only felt the urge to do a commemorative one-screen intro to remember Derbyshire Ram the same day we knew he left this world. A quickly hacked together a piece of code, fast converted and slightly edited bitmap, drawn some sprites and put them in the borders and added an atmospheric SID from HVSC.

I didn't know him personally nor have I even chatted with him, but I knew his name and cracks from the oldest times and knew how everyone respected him. I thought that doing something to remember DRAM was like putting a virtual flower on his grave.

Motivation is important, most of the time if I code something it's because I need that specific piece of code and that's why I often find myself doing cross tools in C instead of doing asm coding on the C64. Even when I had to do cracks on request, I found out really boring titles I disliked and most of the time they went out even untested by me. I did very few cracks because I wanted to do them and release as the best versions around.



J)
Derbyshire Ram certainly was a figure that a lot of guys looked up to. Did you look up to anyone in the scene? Someone that maybe motivated you?

I)
I only do stuff for my own fun. If anything I do is of any use for someone else, good. Else I'm okay, I'm not looking for fame or something like that.

About motivation, I don't know. I feel there are too many "gimme gimme" type guys, not even trying to do stuff by themselves, always asking "do this and do that, I know you can do it, I'm too lazy/too dumb to do it" etc. This only makes me angry instead of motivated. Most of the stuff I did was by my own decision.


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

I)
Really don't know how to reply well on that. Scene is fun and coolness, as well as a LOT of lameness, like everywhere. It's easy to spot cool people from "normal" and average Joe's. It's another point of view from real life, but you can see how people can change when they hide behind some "nicknames" and built-up attitudes. Some are the same, some completely different. Some are great idiots in RL but geniuses when using a C64. Some the other way, can have incredible IQ and abilities elsewhere but can't use a C64 apart from pressing Shift+RunStop. Too bad the vast majority are idiots and nothing else. :D


J)
Did you ever imagine the scene would still be alive in 2008?

I)
Of course times change, people leave and return, but generally I see a good movement around C64 and I hope this will last for decades. A new production found on CSDb or the FTPs is always a good sign. Even crap ones, as they are useful to have something to laugh at on IRC for example.


J)
Well, hopefully better ones than bad ones. :) You're currently working a lot with HVSC and INTROS.C64.ORG, can you tell us your tasks concerning these sites?

I)
My tasks are simple, ripping and eventually fixing what's ripped. Ripping consists of dumping the memory of a program, preferably just by unpacking it and tracing the depacker until it reaches the starting JMP. This once was performed by place a BNE * instead of the JMP and freezing with a cart (or SpeedDOS C=+Reset, anyway a resident monitor was always handy), now with Vice Monitor it's just a matter of placing a break point.

It's never advisable resetting a running program and dumping the memory. Lots of initial values are lost after the program is started and probably the real entry point got overwritten or it doesn't reinit some vars and so on. This is valid when cracking games too, of course.

It's better to be safe than sorry, dump always the mem before the program starts. Then you have to disassemble and find only the interest parts. Most of the times they're self contained between a predefined range of memory, harder ones need a bit of hacking, slicing distant parts, recombine and repack them. For the sids I had to learn lots of tricks, HVSC members had
plenty of guidelines for me to study, I think I got on par quickly.



J)
What release impressed you most on C64?

I)
Old cracking scene: everything done by Omega Man/TCS. I always liked TCS cracks with everything packed into one file, intro, pic, dox. And those cool intros! 90's cracking scene: Toki/Legend. After reading about it I couldn't avoid feeling envious of such skills. It's not only about cracking by patching bytes, lots of recoding is required to do that. Respect.

Current cracking scene: most of 6R6/N0S' and JA/REM's stuff. They were the example to follow when I started with HF.

My own: Well, Typhoon and Citadel, I think I've spent a lot of time on those and I'm quite satisfied with the results, apart from not being able to install the hi-score saver in Typhoon without making it crash, so I left it out. :D

Demo scene: too many to list, I simply drool at almost every demo I see, I think I'm a fanboy of too many groups. :)


J)
...and what release let you down the most?

I)
I saw many bad cracks that are a waste of bandwidth and time for checking them. I won't write any names here. You know who I mean, I don't like receiving used condoms in my mailbox.


J)
Have you thought about cracking Toki yourself?

I)
I have actually tried to figure out the cart dump but I thought it was too hard to extract data and recode the loader. I know my limits and also being a lazyass I had to quit trying, there's too much to do. :p


J)
What's Mr. Fox up to these days?

I)
Who knows, I haven't heard any sign of life from him in about 3 years. Last I heard from Overkiller is that he was studying as a chef or something. He was working on some rarities he bought from Ebay: Outrun Europa work disks, of which he already made some working versions and uploaded some videos of it for Games That Weren't, and Phalsberg, a French RPG which had some hidden protections later in the game. But he has disappeared. Probably got bored. I have the untouched dumps of Phalsberg, but can't release it for obvious reasons: he paid lots of money to buy these games, it's up to him to release them or not. No, don't even dare ask me. =)


J)
So, can you tell us what do you think about this modern phrase 'retard scene' and how do you think it applies to our scene?

I)
I think it's referred to people knowing shit about C64 and/or the scene but still desperately wanting to be a part of this world. Wannabe's exist in every aspect of our life, even at work you always find people with little or no knowledge at all, but still doing (or trying to do) the same thing you are supposed to do after studying and gathering experience through years of work. Those people show some guts by the way, they totally lack pride, self-esteem, shame. They're needed anyway, else there wouldn't be too much to laugh at while on IRC. =)


J)
Intro design is something I hold dearly, I love the way an aggressive or classy crack intro can put people into the mood (up or down). Thinking of crack intros, any come to mind? What is the ideal crack intro for you?

I)
A poorly designed intro surely makes a crack less interesting, likewise a good intro can catch all of my attention. I'm one of those that collected cracks to ONLY see the intros, I barely played 1% of the warez I had. Surely colourful rasterbars, big logos, sinus movements and a catchy sid music are important. Unreadable fonts are not a problem, most of the time I read scrolls directly from memory in the monitor to save time. =)


J)
Does anyone thing it's strange that you still work on the C64? Like: "hey man, why you aren’t on PC?!"

I)
I'm on PC for work all day, I was "all PC" until 2000 or so, but got bored about PC demo scene. I hate to have to upgrade a PC to see a demo, I always hated demos that don't run on a "normal" PC. C64 is limited but that's the fun. The feeling of doing so much in such tight restrictions is unmatched. I also tried to compete in a C= Plus4 mini intro compo, just to get the same feeling on a slightly different machine. Creating a 128 or 64 byte intro in 6502 asm can be really fun. When I show the latest C64 demo to non-C64 hardcore lovers they always get impressed, even if it's not run on an emulator. Some of those people by the way, looked at me like I was mad when I said that I'm still doing C64 game cracks and trainers. :) It's the same feeling I have when I think about people wearing medieval costumes and acting in Role Playing Games. Oh well, you have to have a hobby anyway. :D

I also cracked games and shareware appz on PC, sometimes I felt it was even easier than on C64, but the tools on PC are way more complete, making the task easier I think.



J)
How do you feel the demo makers have pushed the C64 over the past few years? Any demos or groups that come to mind?

I)
I like to watch demos with lots of raster tricks, I also like trackmos where action on screen is synced with music. There are so many, I have no special preferences. ATM I can think about Horizon, Crest, Camelot, Panoramic, Booze, Smash Design... I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention some, so let's cut it here. =) Anyway, I believe the C64 nowadays owes something to the PC demo scene, many demos from the new millennium sometime used some effects previously I saw in PC demos, what's different is that they can make you say: "can be done also here" and that's priceless.


J)
Do you think the demo scener understands the cracking scene as well as the cracking scener understands the demo scener?

I)
I know that some demo sceners think that the cracking scene is a waste of time. Let them think so, I think that both are important. Everything started from the C64 cracking scene, all other "scenes" born after it taking it as a model. Everyone can find fun in what he does, being it cracking, intro linking, composing, painting or coding intros and demos.


J)
What about the magazines, the scene ones such as Shock, Corruption... as well as the commercial ones like ZZAP!64, Commodore Format and C+VG? What's your feelings on the role of the magazine in the world of Commodore?

I)
Hmm, I like reading disk mags but have nothing particular to say. There are a lot of daily information from the internet that is quite rare to find something really new in disk mags these days. Recollection is one of the examples of really all-round interesting mags, because the articles and the interviews are exclusives. I have to admit anyway that reading disk mags can raise the feeling of reading news about the scene. I stopped reading IT paper mags since years ago because they really don't add anything to what you can get from the net, they're only filled with ads. Mags should always try to have exclusive content, if something is already known, there's no use in repeating the same stuff over and over.


J)
The Italian scene is a little unknown to most new people, can you give us some information on ICS, Gax777, F4CG, Demons, Ruler, 2703 and those guys who made a name in Italy?

I)
I know little about them. I knew 2703 was a teenager (15-16 years old they say) in 1985, not Italian but living here in Milan, Italy. PierSoft was more a swapper than a cracker. His real life job was as a hair stylist. His store is managed by another person now, but we know from an interview in an Italian mag from 1986 that in the back room there was a copy party a day or so. =)

I remember Mamasoft/ICS at the SMAU (IT show in Milan) at the Commodore stand while we were swapping the latest wares, it was 1988 or so. I didn't even know who ICS were at the time. I knew him by name because he wrote many cheats and sent them to the Italian Zaap!64 magazine.

The only Italian group I knew because of their warez arriving to me was F4CG, I was amazed to know that an Italian group also had members in Belgium at that time. Having quit C64 activities in 1990, all I know now about the others is nothing more that
what we can currently read on CSDb.


J)
A real shame we can't contact these old Italian sceners and recapture some scene history that is lost. Anyway, here is an opportunity to shout out to those you know...

I)
A message to everyone: don't waste your time. Not even mine. Learn if you can, do something but don't be lame. Give me a million Euro. C64 rules, me too. etc. okay, thanks bye.


J)
Thanks for your time, any last words for the audience?

I)
I can fart with my armpits, wanna hear?

Other than that, let's have fun with our 8bit wonder, I guess you're all doing so already.


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