El Stocko / XESS
Added on November 14th, 2006 (6602 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Rob Stockton. I'm 37, born in Dudley, West Midlands, England 22/05/69, I now live in Tipton, West Mids. I work as a Senior Analyst/Programmer for a large jewellery retailer. My interests include creative writing, playing sports, movies, and the TV show "24".
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
My handle from when I was about 16 was El Stocko. How I came up with it probably won't make much sense but I'll tell you anyway. In our Religious Education class at school one time there was some kind of spoof "Wanted" poster on the wall with a picture of our teacher Mr. Robinson and the words "Wanted : El Robbo". For whatever reason it stuck in my head and so when coding I started using the pseudonym El Stocko.
What group(s) were you in?
The only group I was part of was XESS. Stu Taylor was a friend from school and we were both on Compunet. Stu had already done a simple picture/music demo together with Andrew Jordan aka Shandor who he was in contact with through Compunet (the demo being Midnight Express). I wanted to have a go at demo writing and so asked Stu to do some music and he suggested Andrew to do some graphics. Stu wanted to use the handle "Xei" which I thought was related to his association with The Wolverines, but he doesn't seem to have used it outside of XESS. I believe I'm right in saying that I came up with the name for the group, and it was just based on the initials of our handles. The name of the band INXS partly gave me the idea for the name too.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Mainly coder and organiser. Also designed sprites here and there.
How long were you active for?
Rather personal this quiz. Oh.. I see what you mean. I was coding in BASIC from about 1985. My 64 was replaced with an Amiga by about 1989.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I wanted to learn about coding even back when I had an Atari VCS. There was a BASIC programming cartridge you could get and I really wanted it coz I figured I'd be able to write my own games. I never actually got the cartridge because instead my parents got me a C64. I got into programming quite quickly after this I think. Just simple stuff at first of course. Like going into Curry's and entering the program:
10 PRINT"DIXONS ARE ACE"
20 GOTO 10
Ironically Dixons and Currys are now the same company.
I later progressed into going into shops and creating small programs to make a siren noise, then turning the TV volume up to full blast, adding a delay loop to give you and your mate time to get out of the shop, and then running it. Worked even better if they had 2 or 3 C64s side by side.
I did quite a bit of shop-based programming, eventually it became a kind of performance art. I remember having a large group of kids from school watch one lunchtime as I made a solid square sprite move across the screen. They were amazed. "Can you change the colour?" one kid asked. So I did. They were all "woowwww". "Can you make it go up and down instead?". And it was so. "Ooohhhh" they said. Later I turned water into wine.
Back at home I started coding games in BASIC. These have never been seen by the public though, although I think I tried to get them published as listings in the back of Commodore magazines. Don't think I ever got in though. My first game was "Streaker!" where you had to run across a football pitch naked while dodging footballs that were kicked at you. The second was "Kong Man and the Return of the Gobbler", obviously a mix between Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. The title of this game has since been used for a popular gay porn movie. My third was "Fiat Lux", which is Latin for "Let there be light". The game screen was presented upside-down and you had to guide a jet-powered light bulb around a room to perform various tasks and eventually light the room. Crazy huh?
I started to move onto Assembly Language, and began a Phoenix type game. Didn't get much farther than the title screen though. I guess this would be when I got onto Compunet and started getting a feel for what you guys call the "scene". Basically, the grassroots of the C64 community all getting together and sparking ideas. I wrote the "Scroll Editor" probably my first proper assembly program. It let you edit a screen using CBM character graphics in a similar way to the Compunet editor, create a scrolly message, and then save your creation as runnable program. A very simple demo creator. A lot of people loved it because it gave people with no programming knowledge the ability to make their very own demos. But a lot of people hated it, because it brought about a proliferation of these very simple and boring demos on Compunet, with "HELLO MUM" in block letters filling the screen, and a scrolling message saying stuff like "Welcome to my first demo, do you think I'm great? I coded this myself."
So then XESS came into being in 1986. The first demo was "Rendezvous". I don't remember a lot about it's creation, except trying various things out with the way the demo looked one Saturday afternoon with Stu and another school mate Andy. I think this was when we came up with the checker board effect for the screen and the slopey scroller. Also have some memory of creating the mouth sprites while I made faces in the mirror.
We were all chuffed with the result but it didn't exactly set the world alight. Most of the reaction was good though. And the fact that we got a mention in Zzap!64 magazine was quite exciting!
The second XESS demo, "Rewind" became our big hit. It probably took about 4 months from start to finish for various reasons. I've explained this more fully on CSDb, so you can go there if you want the details. But the reaction at the time was great, and we got another mention in Zzap! Woohoo! And it's gratifying to know that it's still fondly remembered today.
As also mentioned on CSDb, we did start XESS3 which was going to use The Equalizer TV show as it's theme. Some graphics and music were done, and I believe some kind of sample or preview was released. But it was never finished. All evidence of it seems to be lost. I've since seen that there is a nice Equalizer demo by Plasma Grafix which was done around this time. This demo does a lot of what I wanted to try and do with it, i.e. a film like sequence replicating the opening credits. Perhaps they did a better job than we would have.
Another demo was started after I created a Koala Paint picture of the Spitting Image caricature of Mr. Spock. The picture came first, the demo idea came second. As I'd already done the graphics, this wasn't to be an XESS thing, it was just something between me and Stu. I wanted to have Spock's ears dance around in time to some music. The music was to be "Wheels Cha Cha" (Stu has reminded me of this title) and I think the results would have been quite funny. Both me and Stu did a lot of work on it, but unfortunately it was never completed. The picture was made available in standalone form on Compunet. I've since discovered it was nicked and re-coloured and used in a couple of demos. One example being "Blue Odi II". If anyone has my original version, please contact me through CSDb.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
I don't think there were any "typical" days. I spent a lot of time playing games. Other times I'd be writing games or demos. I also created a number of Electrosound tunes even though I was a complete novice and hadn't been taught much about music. Stu may recall listening to them, some were quite dire, but I think one or two were quite good especially as I had no musical skills as such. All have been lost now though apart from one which I had translated onto the Amiga. I did some sprites and animations for our demos, and I also started to play around with full-screen graphics using Koala Paint. I later did a lot more with Deluxe Paint on the Amiga.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Nope, I just used whatever I had available. ExtraMon for coding. Electrosound for music. Koala Paint for graphics. I also had tools for sprite design and character set design, but I'm not sure what they were.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Has to be Rewind doesn't it. I'm a bit regretful we didn't do more. But thinking about approaching something like that now, it just takes so much time and effort. I'm just pleased we did as much as we did.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
I could say Jeff Minter.. I'm not sure whether I'd class him as part of the "scene" as my view of the scene is the grassroots thing. And Jeff was more commercial and mainstream, albeit eccentric. Having said that, one of the earliest things that made me aware of him was the game Rox which was written in BASIC and which I think I typed in through a magazine listing. I was blown away by the result and it definitely inspired me when I could see you could get such great effects just from BASIC. I was always an avid fan of his games and he did have an online presence on Compunet. I also subscribed to his Yak newsletters. My favourites of his games would be Hover Bovver, Revenge, and Ancipital. Revenge was a massive game for me and just iconic.
Other heroes would include The Mighty Bogg (see below). Also Demon, the music he did for the 64 included absolutely the best original tunes I heard on there. I loved everything he did.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
The stand-out release that seemed to change everything was The Mighty Bogg album. If I'd had a tape or record with the originals of those same tracks on, I would probably have played it a few times and got bored of it. But it was just the fact that it was the 64 making this music and it sounded so fantastic. It just sounded better and better the more you listened to it. I wasn't even familiar with some of the tracks beforehand, like Master & Servant for example. But I loved all of them and could just listen to them over and over endlessly. Difficult to explain now what it was like at the time, but everything about it was just perfect.
I had friends who didn't have disk drives though and so who couldn't play the Bogg Demo. So I hacked the code around a bit and created a tape version. I still have this.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Just the one tradeshow I think. I think I was with Stu Taylor and it was possibly in Manchester. Probably around 1986. The only thing I remember for sure was "Ooh look, it's Jeff Minter! And he's wearing a bizarre jumper."
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
I was never really aware of a wider scene or the global nature of it. For me, it was purely about Compunet and the community there. That really was special and if it hadn't existed, I don't think I'd have done much more than the few BASIC games I'd written.
What were the particular highlights for you?
Favourite demos would probably be Metal Bar 1 & 2. They were just very standard picture/music/scroller demos, but done with such quality. The graphics were amazing at the time, and so was the music. I do think Demon was the best composer on the 64 bar none. Having said that, my single favourite piece of music on the 64 is Master of Magic from Rob Hubbard.
Any cool stories to share with us?
Nothing very cool, the only thing I can think to tell you is that me and Stu took a trip to the States in 1990. The plan was to drive down the East Coast from New York down to Orlando. Stu couldn't drive, but I had been driving since I was 17. We were both now 21. Once we were in New York, I opened the yellow pages to try and book a rental car for the trip. It was only then that I found out that 25 was generally the minimum age for hiring a car over there. I spent 3 or 4 hours on the phone to different companies desperately trying to get a hire car. It looked like we would be stranded in New York! Finally I found 1 company that would hire to us. In the end we had a good trip, but we kind of got on each other's nerves and I only saw Stu once or twice after that.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Careful who you're calling "old" sonny. :) Through CSDb I recently heard from Shandor for the first time in 20 years. I'd been in touch with Stu Taylor again a few years back through Friends Reunited but had lost contact. But I've heard from him again recently through CSDb.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
Got it around 1984. It was sold in the Express & Star around 1989 when I got an Amiga. I then spent a lot of time on the Amiga using The A64 Emulator trying to get XESS2 to work on there.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
I can only say that it was special for me because it's part of my youth and also how I got into programming, which later became my career. It sparked a lot of creativity for me and obviously for a lot of other people. Why it's still special for other people after all this time and why the "scene" still exists is a bit of a mystery to me to be honest. But I'm glad it does and it's good nostalgia for me.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
If I found the time and the inspiration, I would actually like to redo the Spock demo that was never completed. It would be quite a massive task though as I'd have to re- learn everything that I've long since forgotten how to do. So don't hold your breath.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
back to the list of available interviews