Psymon / Benfleet Cracking Service,
The Data Department
Added on April 26th, 2007 (8340 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Simon Dorn, 35, born in South Benfleet, Essex UK. Currently living in Bedfordshire, however, I am due to move soon (again). I am a full time qualified professional wedding photographer (http://www.invoguephotography.co.uk). Interests are beer- and winemaking, gardening, pyrotechnics, learning languages (9 understood so far including Russian) computers and Internet (of course).
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Psymon – I used to have a game called PSI Warrior and PSI Tron. The game was OK I guess. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce the letters PSI so I looked it up in the dictionary and found that it essentially was ‘Si’. I settled on the simplest version I could think of which was Psymon. So that stuck. It only used 6 sprites and that meant I had another two that I could play with.
What group(s) were you in?
BCS or Benfleet Cracking Service (very early as I wasn’t sure what to call the group of friends that I belonged to), and The Data Department of 5 members which was a group I founded and named in 1986.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Always the programmer and artist. The reason for that was I didn’t really enjoy playing games – apart from maybe Paradroid oh and Wizball.
How long were you active for?
Some time in 1983 until about late 1987. I gave up because I didn’t see any future in the 64. New computers were coming out all the time and the Amiga and Atari ST looked so good.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
My interest in computers started in 1981/1982. My father had a conversation with a friend and he was advised to get me into computers as a career. They would be the ’future’ after all. So he bought me a Sinclair ZX81 plus a massive 16k RAM pack. I would spend hours and hours typing programs into it. I sold that for about £40 in 1983; the ZX81 was so bad to program anything in with that dodgy keyboard.
My cousin had one of the first Commodore 64’s in 1983 and after I played a couple of games on it I was pretty impressed. I asked my parents for one and I must have been good because I was bought one. It took me a few weeks to get bored of playing games and that was when I started to whack the brown keys to get some BASIC programs typed in. I found it quite fun to get the machine to run a program I had written. Even wrote a few games for friends. The games were simple adventures. Then my cousin started calling me the ‘Wiz Kid’ which made me smile. Very quickly after that I realised that BASIC wasn’t quite the language for me. Machine language 6502 was only proper language to be programming in.
Everywhere I looked, I couldn’t find the resources I wanted. I asked at schools, colleges and clubs to find a place where I could learn 6502. To be honest I almost felt like I was the only person wanting to learn about computers in the whole of Essex, maybe even England. My friend Andy heard about this strange language from one of his friends. So I badgered him to ask some questions about 6502. Which were kind of answered a bit vaguely? So I programmed a few bits in 6502 and started to get the hang of it with some help from the Programmer's Reference Guide.
My father heard about the BASILDON I.T.E.C. (A small college) and he agreed to take me there once a week in the evening. It was a small club of about 20 boys who used to meet up and swap computer games and talk about computers in general. It was there where I met Ian & Mic. That’s when the ITEC started to get fun I guess. Every week we would meet up and show what new ‘tricks’ we had learned on the Commodore, and it almost became a competition. You know the sort of thing – “I can do multi coloured raster interrupts because I pulled the routine from KoKo.” – “So what? I can do split-screen scrolling” etc. Then we would write demos and upload them to Compunet. I used to consider the Compunet to be like the school notice board/graffiti wall where anyone could write their idle ramblings about life in general. Seeing as we were all in school that’s basically what we would talk about. Oh and of course the 64.
Programming in 6502 was so easy. It would take me a few hours of coding directly into RAM and save out binary to disk. I could not even be bothered to use an Assembler as compiling the code would take ages and of course eat up most of the RAM. For a while I tried to use Fast Assembler (FASSEM) but learning how to operate it was taking up valuable 6502 time, so I decided to go back to just coding directly into RAM. Eventually I wanted to start programming games full time for companies like Martech (who I sent the demo with Nemesis in) and Ocean. I created my Wizball demo when I thought it would be a good idea to advertise for Ocean and maybe that way I could get a job programming for them. Then I found out you could make more money working for banks in London.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
On the weekend maybe a day would be like this...
10 Me in front of my Commodore 64 with a 1571 Disk drive and a soft reset machine language cartridge in the back of it.
20 Blue screen and a page of Hexadecimal codes scrolling up. Looking for that block of 4k code of Robb Hubbards music so I can rip it out and stick it in a new demo.
30 Then in the evening off on my bike to Vandy’s house so he could upload it and give me another disk of games to examine/hack/rip/re-program.
40 goto 10
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
The Big Scroll Editor and The Font Uridifier.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Getting my demo into Zzap! 64 magazine, after that the Big Scroll Editor and the Font Uridifier.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Games: Andy Braybrook, Jeff Minter, Tony Crowther and a few more I can’t think of right now. The musicians of the time: Before getting a Commodore I wanted to be a classically trained violinist. I attended music school for two years. I heard the wonderfully twangy SID-chip on the 64 and that just took my attention completely, especially the Monty Mole tunes by Robb Hubbard. I also liked We M.U.S.I.C., Martin Galway. Fred Gray, and Demon. Demos: Compunet demo groups The Mean Team for the graphics and fun to read scrollers. The 1001 Crew for the cutting edge programming.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
My Big Scroll Editor of course and the Font Uridifier. I think open border sprites were cool, especially sideborder sprites.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yeah, the Basidon ITEC, London Commodore Show, London PCW Show, and Olympia London Computer Show.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
Zzap! 64 magazine. Basically what they said was the correct opinion of the time. It was a really fun time being one of the only guys who really understood how a computer worked from the inside out. I guess sometimes I still feel the same way today.
What were the particular highlights for you?
The PCW show and the Commodore show in London. Always looked forward to it. I enjoyed meeting all the people. Honesty, I can’t remember any names of who I met then. Anyway, I am one who doesn’t like to drop names.
Any cool stories to share with us?
Do you have a spare couple of hours? OK maybe one or two for now. I had a phone call from Mr. Ludwig in 1986. He lived in Scotland and asked me to write him a utility for money that would enable him to make demos. I wrote it in a day and then sent it by post. He loved it. Yes I became the youngest professional Machine language programmer at the tender age of 15! This was the birth of the Big Scroll Editor. A program enabling users to write a big scrolling message with the music from Delta, and then save it off and upload it to Compunet. Soon after, several hundred demos on Compunet quickly followed. I was one of the first demo creators that spawned spam demos. You can download it on http://www.64commodore.info.
Oh yes, I also made a program soon after called the Font Uridifier. It was a similar format to the Big Scroll Editor, however, the idea of the program was to create Uridium-style fonts from any font you can load into it. The purpose of this was so you could create a unique font for your own demo in a few steps as opposed to 3 days of re-drawing the font. I was quite shocked recently to get a call from a guy who still uses the Font Uridifier program, and he told me how he uses it to create fonts for the Atari ST. I have no idea how he was doing it, but the call ended with him sending me the long lost copy of Zzap! 64 magazine with the Compunet page and my demo on it. (The page scan is on http://www.64commodore.info.) It's nice to have people call up and tell me how they use the software still to this day. How many other people have programs still running on machines after 22 years?!
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Yes if you call us old... Vista, Vandy. I visited Ian and Mic a few years back in Essex when they were into the music scene.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
In 1983 from Computerama in Southend on Sea Essex. I have 2 Commodore 64’s; one C64C, and the other is the original shape. I still have drawers full of games tapes. My wife’s father used to write reviews of computer games for a computer magazine in the 80’s. She tells me that at her mum's house, she still has her old VIC 20 in a box too.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Sure, of course it was, and still is!
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Keep watching http://www.64commodore.info. :)
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Hello to Ian and Mic (I never did like the Commodore 128 ;o)), JCB and Claka (Mean Team), Thargoid, Hero, Vandy, Vista or Hovis (better call you that as Bill Gates has stolen your name for some software thing), etc. etc.
back to the list of available interviews