H.O / Compentent Commodore Cracking Pirates,
Added on December 3rd, 2004 (9372 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
My real name is Mattias Lönnqvist and I was born in a Swedish town called Linköping in March 1969, which makes me 35 years as I’m writing this. I stayed in Linköping where I got my university education and my first jobs until the end of 2000 when I moved to Stockholm. Having an education in Computer Science, although I never finished my master thesis, I've spent most of my working years in the IT industry; mostly telecommunication and financial service. With the decline of the IT and Telecom sector in 2001, I had no job during the entire 2002, and I had a lot of temp jobs in 2003, mostly in teaching and software testing. The good thing with this is that I realised that I didn’t want to work as a programmer/system developer. Instead I now work with software testing and test design. Finding flaws in someone else’s work is so much more fun. :)
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
The only handle I have actually used is H.O but I did consider a few other suggestions. Before I picked H.O as my handle, I was considering ML since those are my initials. But I also wanted it to mean something and having a handle like Machine Language didn’t sound too cool. So, instead I picked H.O which is an abbreviation of a Swedish expression. Back in those days most high-score lists were three letters, thus “H.O” instead of “H.O.”. Back then I always got upset when someone got my name wrong (but these days I don’t really care). Back around when I was a member of The Warlocks (TWL), I considered changing my handle to DK (as a short form for Decay), since I was a big fan of Dead Kennedys, but I never got around to actually do it. I guess I was just too lazy to bother.
What group(s) were you in?
The first group I was in was a group that me and two friends (254 & TM) founded. The idea was to call ourselves Competent Commodore Cracking Crew (CCCC) but we figured CCCP was cooler, and so Crew was replaced with Pirates. Of course, we weren’t really a cracking group. In fact, the only crack we released was a re-crack of an Icepic crack of Tubular Bells. It annoyed me that the Icepic crack was so much longer than the original game.
I recruited Glerc plus two real life friends, 4040 & FTA, to CCCP. I also let my brother Antonio be a member for a while, but he quickly lost interest. After a while me and Glerc got fed up with being the only ones doing any work (I had no problem with that really, the other guys were only in it for fun, but we wanted a group where everyone put in some effort) so we left to join The Crew.
Now, The Crew was a total disaster. I had a contact in Finland who called himself Ironfist Inc. Actually, I think there were two guys using the same handle, but it doesn’t really matter now. He got a few guys from Finland, me and Glerc from Sweden and some German guys to form this new group and he even released a few demos. Then he suddenly vanished. I even tried to call him, but he was nowhere to be found. So, there we were in a group where we didn’t have the address to anyone else in the group, no greetings list, no nothing. We really gave him a chance to get back to us, writing several letters and – as I already said – we even tried to phone him. Nothing happened so we quit.
For a short while we went solo, and then we got an offer to join Tronix. It sounded good at first, but after a week we started to feel like they were only interested in our contacts (as swappers) and not as coders, so when Triac of The Warlocks contacted us, we decided to join them instead, especially since Triac had a few good contacts and we felt that we could take The Warlocks to new heights together. Neither me nor Glerc were members of The Warlocks for very long, but we were very productive and we had some really great months in the group. I helped Triac to co-organise the group and we brought in Galleon as a new member. Our contact net grew, and things were really going great. If High-Tech hadn’t contacted me about joining this new group he was forming, we would probably have stayed in The Warlocks. The chance High-Tech offered us was too good to pass up on, even if it made me feel bad leaving Triac behind since he was a really nice guy. The name of the new group was Science 451 and we joined.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Back then, I foremost saw myself as a coder, then as a swapper/trader. When looking back, the only thing I was good at was trading and writing scrolltexts, and I'd say I was a decent coder but I never had the patience needed to do the really cool stuff. I never really finished anything, i.e. when I had done a routine I was satisfied with, I never made a good demo around it, but hurried the rest instead. While in The Warlocks, I co-organised the group with Triac and I guess you could have called me an organiser in CCCP, but I never did much in that department either (which is too bad since it’s one of the things I‘m fairly good at). I did some modem-trading and I've also been maintaining the Science 451 webpage on and off (although mostly off) since 1996, but I don’t see that as being part of the scene.
How long were you active for?
I guess you could say that I got into the scene in 1984 when CCCP was founded and I was active until the beginning of 1990. In 1989, I started my university studies which gave me very little free time. In February 1990, I moved to a dorm room where there was hardly any space for the C64, so I left it at my parents place. While I never formally left the scene I guess you could say I faded out in the end of 1989/the beginning of 1990.
I had a few brief returns though. Before fading out, I tried to start a PC section of Science 451 but there was hardly any PC scene to speak of back then. I then did a brief return to the PC scene in 1992. I did some modem-trading and I helped some guys start a PC section of Triad. But I never really got into programming on the PC and most of the other guys didn’t seem to be interested in putting in any real work, so I gave up after six months (and extremely high phone-bills).
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
There is a Swedish movie called Livet i 8 Bitar (English title: Bit by Bit) where the main character explains how he became a gamer. He got hooked at the first try and it was the same with me. I can’t recall which game I played first – probably Space Invaders or Asteroids – but it got me seriously hooked! This led me on to computers, and I convinced my father to buy a Sinclair ZX-81 in 1981. I spent the entire first weekend in front of it learning BASIC.
I upgraded to a C64 in 1982 and bought some games on turbo tape from a local guy. I quickly realised that it was better to swap to get the games I wanted rather than buying them, so I got a few contacts. In 1984, myself, TM and 254 founded CCCP. At first, I only knew how to program in BASIC, but I learned more as time passed. I bought a disk drive and Mon-64 (Commodore’s machine code monitor) and started coding, ripping music, making demos and trading on a whole new level. By then I was totally hooked. Even though I had fairly little time for computers (spending most of my free time with friends), it just escalated and I got more and more involved.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
In 1985 I spent more time with friends, went to parties and so on. But a typical day could look something like this: Since the post never arrived before I went to school, I didn’t touch the computer until I got home. While most of my friends did homework (or had sports practice), I went through the new mail, checked if I had enough new releases I could use for a spread disk. After that, I spent a few hours with my friends and if I had good spread disk, I copied it for my best contacts. The day after would look more or less the same except that my computer time was spent copying the disk to those I hadn’t copied it to the day before. During the weekends, there was usually some kind of party going on but I did computer stuff too, such as actually playing the games I got, checking demos, coding if I was in the mood, etc.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
No, not really. While I had a high opinion of myself back then, I really wasn’t a brilliant coder. I never invented anything. I have a few demos and/or demo parts that I still think looks good, but nothing was that special. One thing I was good at though was writing long scrolltexts. I wrote a lot of texts those days, and that was something I really enjoyed.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
I really don’t think I was brilliant in any way, though I think that I was an all-around nice guy who contributed to the groups I was a member of. Most of the time I was also a good trader, and at times, a decent programmer. I helped a few guys to get started with coding, and while none of them ever made it to the big time, I think I can take some pride in that. One thing I guess I also could take pride in (although it’s more an issue of luck, being born with good genes), is that I managed to combine being active in the scene, having a rich social life, plus taking care of school. I write luck because I am blessed with being a quick learner. I never had to spend any time with schoolwork to keep up with my studies (until I went to university).
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
This is a hard one. I would have to write a rather long list if I was to name everyone I think was important, and I would also run the risk of forgetting anyone. Still, I will make an attempt on the latter, i.e. list a few important persons/groups.
Glerc: For several reasons. When we first met, I knew slightly more about programming then he did, but he learned fast and later became better than me. It may sound corny, but my friendship and cooperation with him was what in the end made me end up in such a great group as Science 451.
1001 Crew for their brilliant work on stretching the technical limits on the C64. It was blown away the first time I saw their full-screen routine. Mr.Z and Janitor of Triad: Because they kept releasing perfect cracks, usually improving them if different ways. Without any motivation, I'd also like to mention Mr Zeropage, Radwar, Fairlight, The Papillons and Dynamic Duo.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
I'll mention three things. For display: the breaking of the side-border without a doubt. For sound: samples and in particular samples in music. On the hardware side it would be some of the hardware used to increase copying speed on the 1541.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yes. Less than I wanted to, but more then I could afford. I have fond memories of all of them, so I can’t single anyone out. If I have to pick one, it would be the Triad/Fairlight party in 1987 since that was the first time I felt "elite".
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
The C64 in general – and the scene in particular – was many times about inventing something new. I am both talking about new things in demos, new ways of cracking a game, new ways to trade, new tools and the whole Do It Yourself (DIY) atmosphere.
What were the particular highlights for you?
Being contacted by people whose name I recognised from groups I considered big, asking me if I wanted to trade. Every time someone had something positive to say about me, my work, or the work of my group colleagues was another highlight. The huge side-border scroll demos from The Supply Team (Kaze in particular) was a highlight, just like seeing 1001’s full-screen routine for the first time. As a coder, doing something for the first time was always a highlight. Creating your first raster interrupt, doing side-border for the first time, or just ripping a tune. It was all great!
Any cool stories to share with us?
The first thing that springs to mind is actually not scene-related, but more related to me juggling my social life with my computer life. One of my computer friends was visiting me one day (as far as I know, he was never in the scene). I told him that another friend would come over in an hour and that we were planning on doing something else than computing. My off-computer friend came over and my computer friend didn’t seem to understand that it was time for him to leave. He kept going on about "just let me finish this" until my off-computer friend, who couldn’t care less about whatever it was that was so important, got fed up with all the waiting. He lifted the guy up and carried him out the door!
Another incident, which is far from cool and which I still feel guilty about, is from the days when Science 451 was born. The number of "Do you wanna trade?" mails increased a lot during this time. I always tried to respond to people who contacted me, but because I didn’t have enough money, I only replied to some of them. There was this guy who wrote to me that I’d never heard of before. He was really polite, and as it was close to Christmas, he also sent me a Christmas gift. I was going to reply to him with some fresh stuff so he could get some decent contacts, but I misplaced his address and could therefore not reply. That made me feel really bad, especially when thinking of how hard it was to get contacts in those days when you weren’t known and had no cool stuff, but mostly because he had spent so much time (and money) on the package he sent. Unfortunately I cant remember his name, but if he’s reading this, I'd like to say that I am sorry I never replied.
For a period, it was very popular with phone conferences. I was invited by a guy called Dragonlord who could be incredibly nice and a pain in the ass at the same time. I don’t regret knowing him but at the same time I wish he hadn’t called me all the time. I remember one of the first conferences I was on (3D of Triad was on it as well). At the time, I was trying to construct a picture digitiser using an old camera and a CCD chip, and a large part of the conference was spent discussing this digitiser in Swedish, which naturally annoyed the Americans. The project never got finished since I could never get my hands on the chip I needed.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
No, not really. There are periods when I check C64 sites like Lemon 64 and C64hq, but these periods come irregularly. I really don’t have any contact with any C64’ers in real life with the exception of TM and 254 who I was friends with long before getting into the scene.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I bought it as soon as it had its first price drop in Sweden and I think that was in the end of 1982. As for having it around; I think so. Last time I checked, I had two C64’s and two 1541’s (with only one of them working) lying around, but I’m quite terrible at keeping my things in order. I’m not 100 percent sure, but they’re probably somewhere as I remember bringing them when I moved to the apartment I now live in.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Yes, it certainly was. As I said before, we had that DIY-feeling going on; you could see software companies forming, growing and disappearing. New game genres were created and while there was still a lot of the "Hey, this game sells, lets make something similar", the games industry felt more fresh and more willing to experiment. Also, keep this in mind: The C64 was released in 1982. In 1992, there were still things released that stretched the boundaries. Whenever you thought: "OK, we’ve reached the machines peak", someone proved you wrong by taking the machine even further. Imagine if computers (or games consoles) had that kind of lifespan today.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Good question. When I quit the scene (or faded out as Glerc described it), I was planning on doing a goodbye demo. I think I still have some of the code lying around. Anyway, I have been toying with the idea of finding the stuff to be able to finish the demo. It all depends on if I can find the time and energy to actually do it. Because it was 15 years since I left the scene, I should try to do it fairly soon though. Or I could just wait until 2007 and release a 20 years celebration demo for Science 451. But, let me put it like this; with my track record on finishing things, you should be more surprised to see something new from me than not seeing it.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Have fun, enjoy life, visit our webpage (www.science451.org) and feel free to email me if you want to.
back to the list of available interviews