ThunderBlade / The Airwolf-Team,
Added on May 16th, 2005 (8395 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Hi! My real name is Malte and I was born on January 19, 1974, which makes me 31 years old at the moment (oh, I'm getting ooold, please help me to cross the street!). Currently I live with my wife (married in 2004 :-)) Jana in Hannover, and I'm working for QNX, a realtime OS vendor (you can download a free version from www.qnx.com).
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
My first handle was Airwolf and I took it because I was a big fan of the TV-show with the same name. The year was 1988. Of course, I was not the only one who liked this show and so several people had picked this name. I later changed my handle to ThunderBlade (I think this was in 1991/92) which is a cool helicopter game, so the name fitted perfectly and I am still using it today. In 1996, I also used the handle Vectrocon.
What group(s) were you in?
I founded my own group – The Airwolf-Team (AWT) – in 1988 which was my main group for seven years. This is quite unusual because normally people start with very little knowledge and do simple things. Later when they can do more, they change their nickname and move on to a new group.
I was later invited to join Fairlight by Bacchus and Sledge. I expected more activity from the members in Sweden but they seemed to have retired, so I left in the middle of 1997. I stayed in the group for about 1,5 years. I then founded a new group – DMAgic – together with my good friend Wotnau. I was also in Protovision, the leading game producing crew on the C64 today, but I left the group in 2004 because I prefered spending time with my sweet wife instead. My daily job was/is taking a great amount of time too.
In 1997, I took part in founding the successor of the 64'er paper mag, the famous GO64! magazine. Motivated by its huge success, I started a new Amiga magazine in 1998 called Amiga Fever which unfortunately was demised with the decay of the Amiga market in 1999 (after Gateway failed to introduce the Next Generation Amiga as announced).
What roles have you fulfilled?
I started as a cracker, learned to code and did some swapping as well. I was also the leader in AWT and had organiser tasks in Fairlight, DMAgic and Protovision. The position of a leader (or group organiser) must not be underestimated. In my experience, even the best people can't work efficiently without someone organising, coordinating and taking decisions on what to do next and how. I was also the editor for Metal Force (the AWT disk magazine), GO64!, and Amiga Fever.
How long were you active for?
I'm active since 1987. My most active years were 1993, 1994, 1997 and 1998.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I got my C64 in 1987 and it took me quite a while to get into the scene. At that time, the scene was a bit "closed" and not everyone could just become a scener, unlike later in the 90's. Because I didn't have access to early originals, I cracked what I could get and spread those cracks locally. The quality of the Airwolf-Team cracks was much appreciated.
I was surprised when I got into the actual scene in 1990 or so, that so called "first releases" seemed to be much more important than 100 percent working games. I very soon noticed that the competition for "who releases a game first" meant "who is the best cracker, who can crack the protection first". But then new computers came, and many people with knowledge left, mainly for the Amiga. The former number two's became the new number one's, although partly lacking the necessary wisdom. The first release tradition was continued although most of the games were not copy-protected any more. If you by coincidence knew the programmer of the game, you could do the first release. As this did not have anything to do with knowledge and skill on the C64, we, in our group, concentrated even more on high quality releases made for those who actually wanted to play the games, not just copy and forget.
Unfortunately, the groups' competing for first releases did their cracks (they still called them cracks, although there wasn't any protection to crack) without including instructions for the games, or sometimes even spreading non-working versions. As a result, many of the C64 gaming people that had been served by the very much respected cracking scene for so long now followed their friends to the Amiga or other systems. We didn't want that to happen and tried to open peoples' eyes to make them understand that they should use their creative energy in either improving the games or even coding own ones (or demos). With more talented members joining, our group started to do games too. The biggest ones being Kitron, Colonial Trader and the very promising Starblast project.
What we didn't understand at the time was why many people felt offened by us. They were unable or unwilling to do more creative work on the C64. They just wanted to be famous and they got that fame so easily just by doing a first release. As a result, AWT became one of the most controversial groups ever in the C64 scene, mostly in Germany. People felt personally attacked by the attitude we had and started fighting with us. It started with fake AWT intros and ended with stealing hardware and selling it under our name. A lot of action was taken to get rid of this disturbing factor called AWT.
AWT died from external and internal pressure in 1995. I was about to leave the C64 scene when a guy called Wotnau sent me a letter and it seemed that he belonged to those who understood. His letter impressed me so much that I eventually decided to stay on the C64. Wotnau became one of my best scene friends! I got an offer to join Fairlight and so I returned to C64 activity. I began working on several specially improved game versions (Boom, The Train, Bburago Rally and others) and also released the Ultraflash Noter v2, a writer which compressed the text pages while writing and offered over 20 different flash effects (while other noters just had three). After some time in Fairlight I decided to start a new group again together with Wotnau, JTR, and my cool brother MacGyver (Milo).
DMAgic was the unusual name of this team and it was a group with huge potential as Wotnau had learned to code amazingly fast. I had also finished some of my jewel game releases mentioned above into which I incorporated my SuperCPU ramdisk system. One of my best cracks was The Last Ninja 3 which was originally copy-protected by the famous MWS (Markus Wiederstein). I met him on the Radwar 2000 party and later sent him my version, which he liked a lot. ;-)
There was one issue with DMAgic though. It was decided to have a non-hierarchical structure without a leader. It was a kind of democratic approach and this led to a lot of discussion and quarrel about everything. For example, we planned a revolutionary diskmag called Dawn with an outfit including multi colour and hires pictures next to the text. But while some wanted the text to scroll up and down with a logo for each chapter, the others wanted fixed fullscreen pages, and a lot of discussion was taking place around this and similar stuff. The magazine was never released although almost finished. One of my most ambitious projects ever was the DMAgic Realocator, a completely player-independant program that could relocate any C64 music. It used several advanced techniques to analyse the playing routine and relocate not only the code, but also detect pointer tables, self-modifying code and calculation routines that calc'ed the highbyte of the data pattern location while playing the music. During that time, a kind of rivalry between Wotnau and me had developed. Partly to help me, partly to show that he was as least as good as me, he programmed his own Realocator and sent it to me. From a flight on a wave of enthusiasm, I dropped down to hard ground, and I decided to leave the group. Sadly, none of the two Realocator programs have ever been released to the public.
While cracking was part of the C64's success in the 80's, it slowly began harming the shrinking C64 game industry more and more in the 90's. Thus, doing cracks didn't make sense to me any more. I decided to concentrate on Protovision, a game producing group I founded together with Big User (Stefan Gutsch) in 1996. Games like Bomb Mania, Stroke World, It's Magic 2 and Team Patrol were released by us, and of course the famous SuperCPU game Metal Dust. I was mainly active as a kind of project manager and concept man, helping with coding here and there. Everyone who ever worked as project manager knows that this means people don't like you because you have to kick their asses, and this became more and more problematic. I was used to the situation where C64 scene life was an important matter for all group members. In the late 90's, the C64 slowly became a retro and nostalgia thing and no one cared if you delayed or at all finished a product. For everyone, including myself, other things became more important. I put my energy into my work instead, and this was a very interesting experience for me. When you gave your best on the C64 and spent sleepless nights working on something, in the best case you got some praise, but often you got a lot of criticism or even ass-kicks (which is worse than nothing). In contrast to that, you receive money when working, and you hardly get any criticism, even if you only use 80 percent of your power.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
When I came home from school, I checked my sendings (disks sent in envelopes, in case you don't know what I mean ;-)) and read peoples' letters. I then often worked on a crack or other projects such as writing a new intro, tool or disk mag outfit. If I wanted to send out something the same day, I had to hurry because the post box would be emptied at a certain time. I would then stay up until late at night, talk to people on the phone, code, crack or think about concepts for my projects.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Sure. For example, I built the 1764 ROM Expansion using the free EPROM socket in the 1764 RAM Expansion from Commodore. It held the tools I mostly used and I could load them in no time. This became possible by adding some switches which would bank in and out the EPROM into the C64's address space, plus software to transfer it. You could even hold down Shift during reset to hear some music. :-) Quite simple but very useful.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
The thing I'm most proud of is that my group, The Airwolf-Team, evolved from a quality cracking group to a game development team with an own disk magazine. We had tons of talented members. What I'm especially proud of is that we kept standing so long with our own opinions and attitudes. We liked the C64 as a platform and tried to keep it going with our high quality game releases and other productions. On one party, I remember Skyflash/Oneway (coder of The Crunch AB and Byteboiler) telling us: "Guys like you keep the scene alive, not those guys calling the boards". Some people became our enemies because we did not share their opinion, and when I look back at that today, 10 years later, I am proud that we survived so long despite those people.
Another thing I'm proud of is of course the GO64! magazine that I started with Cosowi/Plush and Spockie/T'Pau back in 1997. We didn't have anything, no money and no knowledge about layout or printing. During the first years, the quality of the magazine was extremely high. It's amazing to see that it's still released every month!
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Manfred Trenz wrote the best games on the C64. Eagle Soft Inc. created high quality cracks and had atmospheric intros. Several demo coders, from 1001 Crew to people like Graham, pushed the C64 far beyond its limits. Matt Gray and Thomas Detert (among several others like Martin Galway and Rob Hubbard) made the best C64 music.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
I adore sprite multiplexers, FLI graphics, and AGSP scrolling. I also liked how the crunchers developed. I remember Matcham's crunchers, Time Cruncher and later Cruel Cruncher being the best, which later was topped by The Crunch AB. There was also some very good hardware invented for the C64, like the 1764 RAM Expansion, the FD-2000 3,5"HD drive or the SuperCPU 20MHz accelerator featuring the great 65816 CPU.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Of course! I visited tons of parties and shows. I was always ready to travel long distances as well, no matter if the party was in Sweden or Slovakia. It's interesting how the quality on parties could differ. It depended on the location but also on the people. Sometimes, especially on smaller meetings, there could be just two or three guys watching morbid videos or playing games on a non-C64 platform. If it's a C64-only party, that kind of thing could spoil the atmosphere. The presence of some legends could vastly improve the experience of the whole event.
Nothing can beat the atmosphere of the large The Party in Denmark or the small hall full of people with 20 years old hardware, completely ignoring the technology hype outside. Like the Forever 2e3 and Vision parties. If you want to know what I'm talking about, I recommend you to watch the Vision 2003 video report by Virtual Dimension (http://www.virtualdimension.de/display.php?page=html/essentials.html).
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
The scene was/is a sub-culture, its own world. You could become famous, gain respect and get in contact with people from all over the world. You could feel special if you were in the scene. This is probably the reason why you often could read about the scene vs. the real life with people quitting the scene. I never made this differentiation, because for me, the C64 and its scene was a part of my real life, sometimes more and sometimes less important.
What were the particular highlights for you?
Hm, let me think of some personal highlights. I remember when I was 13 and got my C64 from a guy who had just bought an Amiga 1000. He said: "Don't be so proud of your C64, this machine is dead now!". What a strange way to start a C64 career! :-)
Why did I become a cracker? I could look at intros like those from Eagle Soft Incorporated and Dominators for hours, and my first scene contact, W.O.P.R. of TPS Inc. was a cracker. Those two were the main reasons. As a cracker, my crack of X-Out is something I remember very well because I stayed up really late, and when I finally went to sleep, I heard the games' title music in my dream. ;-) Seeing the demo Eldorado from Origo Dreamline was another event to be remembered as for me it showed that the C64 was almost as strong as the Amiga. We did a lot of good cracks, some nice digi-demos, and we released our own disk magazine, Metal Force. Every release was a highlight for us. :-)
Generally, there were tons of highlights. Katakis, Turrican, Creatures 2, The Last Ninja series, and Defender of the Crown were all great games. Coma Light 11+12, Elysion, and Access Denied were demos with never seen before effects. There were cool new hardware too with the Action Replay being one of the most important, no doubt. Same goes for events... there were many good ones. So if you want to know my favourite game, demo, hardware or event – I can't name just one. :-)
Any cool stories to share with us?
There hopefully is enough already in the other answers. There have been a large number of cool, funny and sad stories during my time in the scene and this interview probably isn't the right place to tell them all. :-)
I remember I was talking to Graham at The Party 6 (or 7?), I think it was something about the SuperCPU, when a guy called Flare approached us. I didn't know him personally, but I knew JTR had been in a group together with him and that he had some bad experience with the guy. Flare stood next to us and when he thought was the right moment, he opened his mouth in an attempt to join the conversation. That was kind of lame behaviour and I remember Graham's reaction. He didn't say anything, he just slowly turned his head towards Flare and looked down on him (which really worked well because Graham is tall and Flare is short) with such a scorn in his face that Flare didn't say anything. Then Graham turned back to me and we continued to talk, and Flare silently left. :-)
I think it was at the Tribute '94 party in Sweden where Martin Rossmöller (Rossmöller Handshake / Discount 2000) was going to introduce the Flash 8 card. The party took place in a school and we were in the same classroom as Fairlight and some other people. Mr. Rossmöller had unfortunatenly caught a heavy cold, and he was getting worse as the party went on. Some Fairlight guys really worried about him and started asking people to be more quiet and even asking them to leave the room with the words: "Mr. Ross must sleep!" Only some Censor Design guys (e.g. Bob) were still there and they were using my C64 to do some work on a demo or something. We had huge respect for Censor because of their legendary coding skills, so we didn't want to approach them and tell them they should let us use our machines. When one of the fairlighters asked us why we weren't using our computer, my brother and myself responded something like: "Well, the Censor people still needs it, and...", but the Fairlight guys just responded: "Kick them out!" :-)
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Yes, some of them are still my friends, and many of them are still active on the C64. Of course not as much as they used to be, but I think especially this year (2005) will be a great year release-wise for Protovision.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I got my first C64 in 1987. I don't have it any more because the CIA broke in 1992. A school pal told me he could repair it but that was all talk. I got a new C64 that I still use from time to time.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Absolutely. It's actually very interesting when you read some scrolltexts from 1987/88. People said the C64 was dead – in 1987! The creators of games like The Last Ninja and Katakis, along with the makers of some of the great demos, showed that the C64 wasn't dead at all. In fact, the end-of-life cycle of this machine was postponed over and over, and I believe this was the first time it ever happened in computer history. The SID with its gorgeous capabilities and the VIC II that was so easy to manipulate was the reason the C64 survived far longer than its competitors Atari XL, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. It even survived longer than the Amiga 500, given the fact that Commodore introduced the Amiga 1200 in 1992 while they still produced C64's.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
That's an interesting question indeed. Maybe I will kick myself into releasing the Realocator. I am also working on something else but it's too early to talk about that yet.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Well, if any of my old contacts is reading this, why not contact me and let me know what you are up to these days. To everyone reading this: you are reading this because you have been involved in the history of the Commodore 64 and its scene. Computers and generally IT technology is becoming more important every year and is influencing everyone's life. But while we were busy creating our own programs, graphics and music back then, people today just waste their time installing and configuring operating systems, or hang around on the Internet. Remember the old days and get productive again – and think about something that would make a difference!
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