It all started with a VIC-20, let me explain….
When I was 15 years old, my parents purchased a Commodore VIC-20 home computer for Christmas. With a cream case and a brown keyboard it was nothing like the BBC Micro or ZX81 I was using at the school lunch computer club. This small machine with a slow processor and 5K of memory with only 3.5K available to write programs in basic was enough to captivate me, my mind and my soul.
My first program on this new amazing beast was to display the contents of every memory address using the PEEK command. What did all those decimal numbers mean? How did they control the computer?
The answer would come a year later after I managed to get a morning job at a local supermarket were I would turn up every morning at 6am and clean/wash the floor. Once I had enough money saved, I purchased a C64. Games with amazing sprites, and sound from the glorious SID chip. It was heaven on earth! Some kids at school were programming the BBC Micros in 6502 and having found the C64 used the same assembly language instruction set, I purchased every book I could find on the subject!
During the following summer I managed to get a weekend job working in a local computer store. Shelves and shelves of all the latest C64 and Spectrum games. To me, it was a dream come true. This is the place I met Andie and Gairy. Andie loved to do GFX and Gairy, at the age of 13 could write in 6502 and loved to work with the SID chip. We formed our little crew called HCS.
It was around 1986 and I had just watched a TV show about a young computer hacker called Freak. I thought that was a cool handle (nick name) so I adopted it.
My friends and I joined an online service called CompuNet. A service which allowed C64 users to connect and upload/download files and chat online. This service introduced us to the “Demo Scene”. Oh My God! Some of the best 6502 programmers had their demos on CompuNet like Ash & Dave, Ian & Mic, Mean team, The might Bogg, Dokk, Skuzz, Alpha flight, 1001 crew, Yak, Judges, Stoat & Tim, Hubbard, Galway, and others!
I can only describe the demo scene as a kind of brotherhood. Being able to program the C64 and force visual FX due to bugs found in the chipset, which would allow you remove side borders, change the border colour every xxxx machine cycles to make a rainbow pattern with one colour was cool. Being able to share the programming tricks with others to enable a better demo to be coded was awesome.
The problem for me in my younger years was finishing a demo coding project. Having an idea, coming home from school and coding for 4-8 hours a night, it could take a few weeks to a couple of months to finish. I would always get 80-90% finished and get bored and start on something else. I just could not seem to finish. An example demo I created is DangerZone. It was my first demo like a mini shooter game but I could not be bothered to add a sprite explosion animation when something was shot. It’s odd that I still regret not adding that last bit in. The screenshot on the left is the demo as featured in Retro Gamer issue 130.
The first full game (unpublished) I created was called DangerZone and was a vertical shooter dedicated to Yak the Hairy (Jeff Minter). Unfortunately, the source code and game have been lost. I love Jeff’s games and you can read about the history of Llamasoft here https://s3.amazonaws.com/lsshop/AHistoryofLlamasoft.pdf
The second game I finished was called “Crack Mainia”. I thought the miss spelling of “Mainia” would be funny but people just accused me of being a bit retarded saying I can’t spell. I expect thew- r-wobbly-wight. 🙂 Crack Mania was a 2 player Pac Man style game but with little characters and floppy disks instead of ghosts. I had this bug that affected the player 2 joystick and could not find the bug. I was at work and had one of those weird kind of moments where I stopped in my tracks and in my mind’s eye, could see 100’s of lines of assembler code scrolling and then an arrow flashed next to a statement which showed I was saving the accumulator “A” register to the X register instead of the Y register. I told my dad about this and he recommended I “Get a life”. Looking back, I could see that Asperger’s focus going a bit too far. No wonder I had no girlfriend.
If you download and play Crack Mania today, you will see it has been cracked by TRIAD who were one of the biggest game crackers at the time. Its kind of a weird privilege to think someone would take the time to crack a game I made.
I am grateful to have been born in an era of the home computer and at a time when kids could find joy at looking at the schematic of the machine and have hours of fun programming the chip directly instead of using nonsense like Basic.
Next came the Amiga and that’s another story….
I buy the Retro Gamer magazine every month and in issue 130, there was an article about having more than the standard 8 hardware sprites on screen at the same time. I was very surprised to see a screen shot of my DangerZone demo. In some games you will see a side border as shown in the screen shot. (from memory) This is because the X value can only be from 0-255 and then you have to switch on a BIT value and reset the X to 0 and increase to take the sprite the rest of the way across the screen. I do have a box somewhere in storage with printer listings of some of my early demos and will upload some code in a future post.