JCB / The Mean Team
Added on March 29th, 2008 (6846 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Pete (or Peter) Dabbs, 39, born in Wednesbury, West Midlands (England) on 22/01/1969. I'm currently living in Llanbedrog, North Wales. Current job, well I'm a self-employed programmer but haven't done much actual work recently. Interests are music (listening and playing my guitars), reading, movies, cooking and my cats.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
My only handle was JCB. It confuses a lot of people because back in the early days everyone thought it was my initials but once you know my name, that's obviously wrong. It actually came about because one day when me, Ste and Claka were messing around with writing demos, my sister asked what we were doing. I told her I was extracting the music from a game to put into our demo. She thought it was funny to say "so, you're an extractor, an ex-tractor, like an old JCB?" JCB being a well known manufacturer of machinery like diggers, tractors etc. So there you go, stupid really but it stuck.
What group(s) were you in?
The Mean Team.
What roles have you fulfilled?
How long were you active for?
1986 to around 1990.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I'd been programming for a few years before starting The Mean Team. Basically at school I was in the first class to have computer studies lessons using BBC Micros and (if I remember correctly) a research machines 380z as a server. My dad was really into the idea of computers and I was lucky enough for him to get a BBC Model B for "us", hehe. I of course monopolized it. When I left school I wanted, not a rest or time off but to be doing something easy that still meant making some money, so I joined a local scheme where they trained you in various things like electronics and computers (which by this time I already knew more than the people running the course). This was where I met Claka, who was very similar to me in our enthusiasm for the computer part of the course and a lack of interest in pretty much anything else there. We started hanging out and going to a local computer store. This was where I met Ste. The rest, as they say, is history. We decided to start writing demos after seeing a few a friend had downloaded from Compunet. Then after a while doing this, I got a modem and Ste and Claka would come round to my place to "go online".
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
Weekdays – if I wasn't working – would usually be me doing some code, ripping music, having ideas for demos. Ste and Claka would turn up later. Claka usually supplied the new games for us to rip the music from and Ste would either have a new font or sprites or bitmap or something. Weekends were pretty much the same except Claka would turn up and go to sleep! *lol* Usually there was a visit to the local shop for coke and (if I remember right) a bag of revels!?
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
VSP (Variable Screen Positioning), I think some people know it as DMA delay.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Hmm, I'm not that proud of any of them as far as the coding goes. I'm very self-critical so when I look at our demos now I think of ways I would do things better. Also, a lot of my better code was kept away from demos because I was saving it for games. Most of our stuff was written really quickly just to release the latest music and as such weren't technically brilliant. I think for the time they were quite advanced and certainly got away from the "bog standard" demos that were the norm (bitmap and scrolly message along the bottom). I AM proud of the overall effect The Mean Team had, being there pretty much at the start of the demo scene and I think we inspired some more coders to start writing demos.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Just anyone writing original demos, creating graphics or music.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
I can't think of anything specific but some of the demos that were written after I left the scene, the "new school" I suppose they're called were amazing and had effects we never dreamed of. I only saw most of them within the last five years or so after finding them online and playing them on an emulator.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Me, Ste and Claka used to go to a weekly computer club which was basically the weekly copy party. ;-) You know, I never did work out why we never tried to get a ride with Ste who lived like 1.5 miles away from me. Instead me and Claka would get like two or three buses and usually end up having to run half way across town to get the last one. *lol* We also used to go to trade shows and meet up with other Compunet demo crews like Ian & Mic.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
Creativity, freedom, and a bit of competition.
What were the particular highlights for you?
Highlights were just being part of the scene and being able to write demos and get them seen by other people. I think we had some fans at the time and that was great to know people enjoyed what we did. Also Partyline on Compunet, sitting up all night in a dark room chatting to people, people like Ste who I'd probably only seen a few hours before. Ste's online Chekov (from Star Trek) impersonation *lol* – yes it is possible to type an impression of someone.
Any cool stories to share with us?
A few funny things happened that relate to the demo scene.
Me and Claka used to know the hex and decimal of every opcode and most addresses because when we started coding we had no tools, not even a 1541, so we would write BASIC programs that read data statements (the decimal of the opcodes) and poke them into RAM, then a SYS to call it. We'd then save these to tape. It took quite a while before we got cartridges that had machine code monitors built-in which is how we then coded demos for a long time (anyone who looked at our code would find routines spread all over ram like $1000 $2000 $3000). It was also a bitch when you needed to put an instruction in the middle of a routine. You had to copy a chunk of RAM starting where you wanted the instruction to a byte or two or three further away, then put the new instruction in the gap. *lol*
When I was just about to quit Compunet, we got involved in a kind of war with Zig & Zag, not sure why. Anyway, I went to work at a certain software company in around 1995, and after a couple of months just happened to be chatting about stuff that we'd all done in the past when one of the coders says, "I used to write demos on the C64 as part of a demo group called Zig & Zag". I said: "Really? I was JCB/The Mean Team." The guy thought I was going to start beating him up or something, he got really worried, hehe. Sorry Andy!
Along the same lines, I went for an interview at a local software company, might have been when I was still active on C64. I'd gone for a job as a C64 coder obviously, but when I got there they told me I'd have to learn the Spectrum, so immediately I lost interest (who would want to work on that thing?!). They showed me around the office anyway and introduced me to their current C64 coder who decided to show off by running a demo he'd just written. Wow! It was a scrolling message at the top of the screen, in sprites, overlayed over a bitmap that was moving horisontally really quickly. Err... Yeah... VSP! The guy had taken my demo and replaced the bitmap, edited the scrolltext and tried to say he wrote it. I said "Oh, that's the VSP demo by The Mean Team" and then got out my box of demo disks and explained who I was. The guys' face was great. I wish I had a picture! *lol*
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Ste'86. I just joined Facebook and there seems to be a fair few old sceners on there.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I have no idea when I got it. I think it was around the time The Way of the Exploding Fist was released because I remember seeing that running in the window of the local computer shop and thinking: "WOW! I HAVE to have it!" Unfortunatly I got rid of it a long time ago. :( I did have a 128D, but the drive died in it and I think I just binned the whole thing. I'm pretty sure I've seen my C-net modem around somewhere though!
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
I think it was special. The SID-chip for one was amazing, certainly the best sound chip around, and for a long time still produced better music than the Amiga and it's sample players (at least until the Amiga players started emulating the C64 *lol*). The graphics modes too were pretty good, and the VIC helped a lot towards enabling some great games/demos.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
When hell freezes over? No, maybe I'll finish off Ste's Sid & Vic's concert. He sent me the file with the graphics in a whole ago but I need some changes and I'm not sure he's up for it. ;-) I also need some music. I suppose you could almost call SplamSID – my SIDplayer for GBA – a C64 production. I really need to have a go at finishing both that and the actual GBA C64 emu at some point.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Are we too old for this shit now? *lol*
back to the list of available interviews