Ozy / The Amateurs,
Boys Without Brains
Added on May 22nd, 2012 (3199 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Name: Arthur van Jole. Age: 43. Birthplace: Rotterdam. Date of birth: 21-10-1968. Residence: Eindhoven. Job: None at the moment, but I'm sort of a butler for two retired people, two dogs and a cat. Interests: Playing guitar, bass and drums, drawing, philosophy, playing race sims, watching boxing and kickboxing – and wonder whether the ref actually knows the rules.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
My one and only handle was OZY, for three reasons. My interest in Australia, my tendency towards metal music (Ozzy Osbourne), and the fact that arcade machine highscore listings would only allow three letters.
What group(s) were you in?
The demo period: The Amateurs with Lennart Reen. Boys Without Brains with Len, Jacco van't Riet, and Marco Nelissen. The game period: Boys Without Brains with Mario van Zeist and Jacco. Euphoria with Mario, Jacco, Hein Holt and Laurens van der Donk.
What roles have you fulfilled?
In no particular order or degree of expertise in demos: pixel #ucker, name-come-upper-wither, coder, game music extractor and text writer. And for games, with the same sequence criteria: game concept designer, graphic designer, 2D/3D animator and modeller.
How long were you active for?
The first demo we released as The Amateurs, if I recall correctly, was Amasample in around '85. After the release of Hawkeye in '88, we visited some meetings, but education and creating games took too much of my time to produce more demos.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I got interested in computers because of graphics and animation. Nothing made me laugh like Bugs, Daffy and Elmer Fudd from the Warner Bros cartoons, and I was intrigued by animal and sports motion.
In '82, Len, my pal from school that lived across the street, had a C64 with a 5'25 inch disk drive at his disposal. So I used to pop over a lot after school and in weekends. There was a lively range of consoles and computers which you could test in department and specialty stores like the Vectrex, the Colecovision, several different Atari machines, and the ZX Spectrum. But nothing got near what I'd seen and played on the C64, except of course what ran in the arcades.
We started visiting the Venlo meeting in late '83, mainly to fill up to a hundred floppies with anything we could get our hands on. But there was more to see: different machines, like an Archimedes RISC displaying a super smooth realtime 3D demo. There were early Amiga and Atari ST owners igniting the long-lasting 68000 rivalry. We also frequented Venlo because of the nice vibe and the dissimilar collection of geeks to socialize with.
As The Amateurs, we released two demos at Venlo. Because there were up to 150 visitors present and about 50 mad men copying with up to eight drives simultaneously, the spread was fast and wide. We then received a phone call from Laurens, at that time member of Hotline (a group with a considerable lineup). He inquired whether we'd be interested in a collaboration – which ended up in two demos that included my graphics. We re-branded to BWB and released some more dodgy demos. Then Jacco a.k.a. Jaws joined us. He did all the graphics on the Madonna demo which was the last one released by BWB. Game time!
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
In the demo period, most releases were systematically constructed: extract music from a cracked game, figure out how to start the different tunes and sound effects, create graphics inspired by the game or it's origin, then ice it with a scrolltext which generally required most work. Contrary to common scrolltexts, which consisted of boasting about skills and contacts, we entertained our signature daftness and self-mockery.
After meetings, we'd sift through floppies with demos and cracks to draw inspiration from and play our socks off. In this period, we weren't all that productive or ambitious, so weeks could go by without anything being produced.
The games period was more constructive and time consuming. I doubled two classes in education as a result of creating Hawkeye, which was a three year 'stumble and run' process. I'd go to Mario's pig stall after classes and weekends to crank out levels and enemies. Mind you, we built that game squatting behind a large fuzzy TV while listening to Magnetic Fields or Oxygene on endless loop. My physical constitution was also compromised by fried foods thanks to the Eismann franchise Mario's father owned at that time. If it hadn't been for Jacco taking care of six levels and additional graphics, I just might have kicked the bucket.
The Flimbo's Quest production period was the complete opposite. I would cycle 50 kilometers over to Laurens' and crank out about one level every weekend. All this went by in a about three-four months due to the similarity of Flimbo to Hawkeye.
For Disposable Hero on the Amiga, Mario, Hein and me locked ourselves up in my room in Arnhem for one and a half year. We'd get up at about 11-12 o'clock and work until ten in the evening, with short breaks for food. Mario built a soundwave cruncher in order to fit the game on two disks, and built separate routines for nearly every enemy and weapon. Hein composed music and created levels, enemies and additional graphics. I was creating enemies initially, but added level-editing and additional graphics to my duties later.
After this self-induced torture period, I had a near psychosis. Don't try this at home kids. We worked for several near three day stretches to produce the master disks for milestone delivery and testing purposes at Gremlin Graphics.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Nope, but I was impressed by the extension Laurens van der Donk made to Koala Painter, my main drawing tool. He incorporated an animation section which enabled me to create enemies of up to six offset sprites. All the large enemies in Hawkeye and Flimbo's Quest were created with his tool.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
I'm not of the proud kind. Just look at the group names.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
I never had any heroes. You're likely to kill them in the end because they'll inadvertently disappoint you. But the guys from Flash 1941, who showed up at the Venlo meetings occasionally, cracked, repaired (the version sold in stores crashed) and released Green Beret. They showed skill in abundance. I saw one of them coding in hexadecimal, memory dump style, like typing a letter. Nice. And although he wasn't in the demo scene, hail to Jeff Minter. Playing Attack of the Mutant Camels was like an LSD trip without actually ingesting that particular controlled substance.
In the music department there was Bogg, Ben Daglish and Yip of Pure-Byte whose compositions I liked a lot. I have to commend Reyn Ouwehand's work on Flimbo's Quest as well. We couldn't have wished for a more appropriate soundtrack.
In graphics, there were Dokk with his portraits, and Bob Stevenson with his complete body of work that demanded awe. Last but not least there was Robin Levy who I worked with on The Last Ninja 3. He would try all colours next to each other in multicolour mode to get the right fuzz. He had patience like an medieval monk.
Working with Hein on Disposable Hero pushed me the most because he'd already laid the foundation with partially completed levels, enemies, main ship and weapons animations when I was asked to join the team. I had to step up my game because this was my first Amiga work. And to make matters worse, I had to match Heins' level of artistry. I hope I succeeded!
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
Border sprites by Tony Crowther. It was impossible for me to comprehend how he pulled that off. I had just grasped the concept to fool the graphics chip to draw more than eight sprites on screen, and then this thing came along. Tony didn't invent border sprites, Flash did, but the fact that the border was broken was more important to me than who did it first. The fact that the C64 could be fooled into doing many more things than the engineers had imagined left me slack jawed.
Hein was working on a demo about six/seven years ago for which he was using a enhanced drawing program. He drew in hires mode with all 16 colours per character area. It was like viewing an Amiga image on a slightly strobing monitor. What?! Open that box now, there must be a 68000 in there!
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
I went to meetings organised by the Courbois brothers in Venlo and Nijmegen. They were two really, uh, huge guys with squeaky voices. And I visited a Radwar party. With the Disposable Hero team, we visited one or two ECTS's in London, but I can't recall any details.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
I guess the scene for me consisted of the meetings in Venlo, which to me were really about socialising and picking up fries from the snack bar across the street. I had put my mind to produce a game after playing Capcom's Rygar (and rip it off sooo bad with Hawkeye). So if there was a scene I surely wasn't part of it to any larger extent.
Making demos to me was just a laugh, but to some it was religion. More horizontal colourbars, larger fonts in scrollers, more bouncy sprites and hardly any coherent, stylised demos. The worst war was the 'star routine war' on the Amiga in which stars were speeding towards you from the center of the screen. "We got 1010!!!" – "Well, we got 1050!!!", and so on.
The cracker scene evolved into spreading the new releases within the shortest time span possible, compressed with the best cruncher, and earning bragging rights. In that respect, we remain monkeys.
What were the particular highlights for you?
I do recall a moment at a Venlo meeting after Hawkeye was cracked (we didn't care; we expected it to happen), and the game was on every second tv screen. People were looking at us, pointing fingers. Some would come over and ask us about the game. Weird. When seeing Hawkeye in a department store stacked on the shelves next to all the big releases was, again, weird.
I had a lot of joy from my contact with Jori Olkkonen, the composer/programmer from Pure-Byte. His music had a really cool style! Jori came to visit on his Europe by train tour, and we had an... unusual time. These Fins drink! And then some. While searching the Internet a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an interview on C64.COM where Jori was wondering how I was doing. Me, of all people. So I contacted him. It turned out he was the boss of a medium-sized software company. Here's to you, Jori! Many greetings from Alankomaat.
Any cool stories to share with us?
I developed a severe addiction to the Star Wars arcade machine when I was 16, and swapped highscores with Mario, who lived in the same town as I did. At that time, I didn't know it was him though. Our hours in the Venlo arcade didn't overlap, which was quite weird as you could play for 45 minutes on a Dutch Guilder (if you started from the beginning of the game that is). After about half a year of swapping highscores, we met. We battled it out and he beat me by destroying one fireball more. Aaaarrrggghhh!!!
When we switched from the C64 to the SNES to create an adventure game, the only official programming environment consisted of a PC with a SNES assembler connected to a SNES machine, costing about 10.000 Pounds. So we contacted a friend who said he could construct a board which would work exactly the same way, but on an Amiga. Initially the board didn't function at all, but by accident he shorted it out which had the Frankenstein effect: it popped into life and worked perfectly! The board was secured in an egg box for the duration of the project. This indicates the tight budget we were working on.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
I've recently been contacted by Remi Ebus, the first Dutchman to release an international C64 game title. And there's sporadic e-mail contact with Laurens van der Donk and Edwin van den Heuvel, who's tendonitis I'm directly responsible for. Sorry Ed.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I borrowed one and blew up the transformer. Never had one myself. Sorry. I did own an Amiga though! Does that mitigate the circumstances to the degree I won't get stoned or hanged?
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
You flicked the switch and the computer was ready to serve you. You typed in Load"$",8,1 and the directory of your floppy filled the screen in an instant. (The floppy drive could be used as a musical instrument too.) It was simple to program in BASIC. You could make the screen scroll by increasing one single screen register. Low and behold! You could program a smooth scrolling shoot 'em up if you wanted. It had the nice graphic modes 'hires' and 'multicolour'. And that sound, man! Also take a look at how many years commercial games were released for it. The only other machine that comes close is the first Playstation, but that one lacks a tape recorder to fiddle with and a keyboard to smash. And don't forget the original Commodore joystick you'd wreck after one game of Decathlon. Priceless! Most C64's will still work after the inside has been hoovered or when a blown fuse has been replaced. 8-bit, 0.985 MHz. You simply cannot beat that! One could call this melancholia, but this box had character. iPod iSchmod!
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
I've been living in 3D country for the last 15 years, and it never stops developing. It just swallowed all my time since quitting the game industry. But what the heck! If someone asked me to do some sprite animations, I just might be tempted.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Got a job for me? Warning! I'm going philosophical now. More and more people rub disposable computers to deny science at a staggering pace. Prescription drug overdoses top the casualties charts in the USA, and we will soon follow. Before you die, chances that you will contract some form of cancer is pretty big. To counter all this to some degree, read a philosophy or science book and let it sink in. Then eat space cake and use packaging plastics made from starch.
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