HBH / Foxx, Frontline, The Hidden Forces, Abnormal, Panoramic Designs
Added on December 11th, 2013 (4990 views)

Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Håvar Bruvold Hojem (HBH), I turned 42 years old on 20 August this year, and I live in Nord Trøndelag, Norway. I've been working with computers since 1993 in different settings such as support, teaching, hardware and software installation, etc. When I'm not busy being a full-time dad to my son, my hobbies include dabbling in the occult and spirituality, the arts, and retro-computing – I collect C64 software and some hardware. I also like listening to music, and we watch our fair share of movies and TV series.

What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
My first serious handle was Zero The Hero (ZTH), inspired by Black Sabbath's 1983 album Born Again which has a track called Zero The Hero. I loved that track, it's got so much power and guts. I was very into heavy metal music at the time, though I also listened to synth and electronic music, which was a weird combination for the time, certainly where I grew up.

I got into the demo scene through collecting and swapping games, as I'd really enjoyed the first few demos I'd seen. This was early 1985, and things grew rapidly in the succeeding years. I especially liked Psy and Mat's Metal Bar demos. I wanted to become a coder and code my own demos like Psy. He used to call himself Psy The Hero and I liked the sound of that, so when I chose my handle, I was able to take inspiration from both heavy metal music and from one of my favourite coders at the time. Another big inspiration for me was game programmer David Collier. He was a true wizard of 6502 code. I remember dreaming that I met him and he taught me how to code – I was his apprentice and he taught me his magical spells. :-)

Later on, around 1990, I changed my handle to the initials of my real name, i.e. HBH. I had by then developed my programming skills to a level where I felt I could program anything I wanted to, and so I started using my real name as I was aiming to make games – or at least tools – for money, possibly even as a full-time job. I still used ZTH when I was doing scene-related stuff, or when I needed an alter ego – you know how it is... :-)

What group(s) were you in?
First, I was a member of Foxx, writing small demos in BASIC and machine code and often borrowing ideas from more seasoned programmers. It was a time in which I learned many valuable things about how machines worked and how demos were made.

I later joined Frontline in early 1987. That was the first group in which I used my new handle ZTH. However, things were also starting to happen locally, so in the summer of 1987, some local friends and I decided to form a group of our own, and The Hidden Forces (THF) was born. It was Power and myself who were the leaders of the group, though three or four other local members were also involved. However, it was mainly Power and myself who did most of the productions, linked and packed the demos, named them and disseminated them to the outside world.

Both Power and myself traded with many people all over Europe (and I also had one US contact). Some weeks, Power would get eight to ten parcels every weekday. He was a little older than me, so he went to represent us at the Silents party in Sweden, just before Christmas in 1987. I couldn't go with him because my mother forbade it – I had only just turned 16 and was still at the mercy of my parents. At the party, Power met up with some of our Swedish contacts and strengthened the bonds between us. I remember he was trading with Glerc and met him and the other members of Science 451 at that party. After he returned, it was clear to us that copy-parties were the way to go when it came to releasing demos and meeting scene friends. So we made plans to go to Denmark in the summer of 1988 for the Danish Gold party (later known as The Cabin Party or Bingo Hall Party).

Before we got that far, however, we acquired some new members from further south in Norway (Fredrikstad) when Rocky and Hot Dog joined us. They were not in The Hidden Forces for very long, as we were in talks with Laser Cracking Service (LCS) from Trondheim – with whom we had been trading for a while – about merging the two groups. As no-one wanted to join the other group, I held a telephone conference with Hero of LCS in which we hatched a plan to form a super-group for central Norway. We settled on the name Abnormal. One reason for the name was that it's very near the beginning of the dictionary (we wanted to appear at the top of people's greetings lists, which were usually alphabetised), and "abnormal" seemed to fit us nicely – we were different. This was sometime in Summer 1988.

Later that summer, we travelled to Denmark for the Danish Gold party. We had plans to finish a huge demo at the party. I had got a couple of parts for it from Fist and Buzz in Trondheim, and Power had a handful of single parts almost completed. In Stjørdal, we met up with some members of Razor 1911 who were friends of mine, and we all took the night train to Oslo, where we met up with Rocky and others including Sauron and people from the group Compufix. They had a very talented cracker with them in Sauron. Our now rather large gathering took the train from Oslo in Norway to Gothenburg in Sweden, then a ferry to Copenhagen in Denmark. We then boarded another train for the final leg to Odense where the party was being held (or rather, as it turned out, a 15-minute taxi ride out of Odense). The party has since gone down in C64 scene history as the legendary Cabin Party. A lot of famous groups, hackers, programmers, crackers and traders were there, as well as game designers including Sodan and others. The first party venue had to be abandoned on the first night as it was too small and didn't have enough electricity, so we relocated to a bigger place the next day. You can read about this party online – it ended in carnage, with Triad being accused of trashing the entire venue.

After returning home from this experience, I talked on the phone with Razor 1911 about co-hosting a party in Norway, and in Autumn 1988, the Razor 1911/Abnormal/The Cartel copy-party in Stjørdal became the first major copy-party to be held in Norway. It was one of the most fun copy-parties I ever attended, perhaps because it was still in the early days of the demo scene and certainly because I made friends with lots of new people from elsewhere in Norway and even Sweden. The party was covered in the major relevant media at the time – several newspapers and the most popular computer magazine in Norway ran articles about it. It was also where I met members of The Shadows, Rawhead and Raw Deal Inc. for the first time, which would later lead me to befriend Moonray, Omega Supreme, Marius Skogheim, Prosonix, Richard Nygaard, Henning Rokling and Rooster (PAL).

We repeated the ritual around Easter 1989, going to Denmark and making more contacts, and when we returned, we started planning a new party in Trondheim for Autumn 1989. By then, I had met Zeb (Abnormal) and BHF (Hoaxers), with whom I am still friends today, almost 30 years later. The C64 has been very kind to me, giving me many fond memories and enabling me to meet people I would otherwise never have known. The scene helped me learn to write and speak English better, and I got to travel to many fine places and gain insight into other cultures. It was all great fun and the 1980s was without question a decade like no other.

What roles have you fulfilled?
I have always been into organising – that comes naturally when you live in the countryside, far away from the larger cities, on a rather large farm. I was a single child, and I learned early on that I could get in touch with other people by letter or telephone. My parents were very patient with me about the large phone bills, and my mother collected and sent parcels for me while I was at school, so I have little to complain about in that respect. I think my parents were just happy I was active, getting out, making friends and just generally living life. I used to work back home on the farm and was therefore earning my own money, most of which went on buying Commodores. I have had several Commodore machines and disk drives, a Commodore 128, an Amiga 500, a colour printer, a 1084 monitor, some cartridges and other assorted stuff, so I helped Commodore as much as I could with my purchasing power. I think the problem with Commodore was management making a series of mistakes which slowly drained the company until it went bankrupt. I have very mixed feelings when I think about what could have been, but at least we got (and still have) the C64.

Not long after I had bought my first C64, I naturally wanted to learn how to program the machine. I started programming in BASIC, but I soon found out that machine code was THE language. It took me some time to learn how it all worked, but I'm glad I didn't give up – knowing how to program in assembler has proven very rewarding.

I could draw freehand quite well, but doing it on the computer took me a long time to learn (mainly because of pixelating). I designed some logos and character sets, a few sprites, that sort of thing. After I bought an Amiga, I got quite good at freehand drawing in Deluxe Paint. I never made any music myself, I left that to others more qualified, but I was and am a keen listener – without music, my life would have been much emptier. I'm a big fan of Martin Galway and other SID musicians. Galway was one of the first who really stood out for me, his sound was like nobody else's. The challenge was to be original, too many people were writing identical and therefore boring songs which all sounded alike.

Swapping was a big part of my C64 activities. In 1986, I placed an advert in the English computer magazine C+VG, giving my address and stating my interest in trading games with anyone in Europe. I got a lot of replies and was able to acquire all the new software that was available. I have kept many of the old letters, sent to me from people all over the world. It's interesting to read them now, over 25 years later. I also found large print-outs of all the games I had in my collection in 1986. I had got a 1541 by then, and I printed out directory listings of my diskettes. I sent them out with my swap disks, and my contacts would send them back with the games they wanted highlighted. It was a lot of work doing single file copying, and some games took up several disk sides. I started out using Epyx Fast Load, but soon got hold of a Final Cartridge II which did wonders for a young trader (including for programming, as it had a decent machine code monitor).

How long were you active for?
The short answer is between 1984 and 1993.

From 1985 to 1986, I was just trading turbo tape games locally. In 1986, I got my disk drive and started swapping with people from all over Europe.

By 1992, I was starting to make fewer and fewer C64 demos and programs, and by 1993 I was out of the game completely and had started on the PC. I learned DOS quite easily, and that got me back into copying games and utilities. :-)

I was introduced to the Internet as a student at university in 1993-94. We were using Unix terminals with large black-and-white monitors and a round mouse with three buttons. They had Mosaic (web browser), FTP, email, newsgroups and IRC. The mouse was great for switching between multiple windows on a very large desktop, and you could resize them.

Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
As already mentioned, my first contact with the scene was at a local level, as there were some decent crackers and programmers in my area who were older than me and whom I looked up to. I used to hang around them (Spektra and Computerbrain) here in Verdal. One of them was old enough to drive a car, and I got to go with them when we either drove back to one of their places or went out to get up to no good. Spektra was a real hacker and knew a lot about computer systems. I think he was also knowledgeable about electronics in general, because he was the first person to show me how to hack a phone line. Computerbrain had rewired a public phone booth in Stiklestad which was located in an area which was often deserted. After his "fix", it was possible to call for free. It was a long time before the people from Televerket found out about it and "restored" its payment mode.

Once Spektra had got a car, we would go to a deserted business warehouse, where we dug up the phone cable by the wall outside. We connected a small (for the time) handset which had a keypad to the hacked phone cable. The line had not been disconnected, so we could sit in the car and make free phone calls, to any number around the world, whenever we wanted. It was rather inspiring.

I also tried to get some information out of Spektra about how he used his modem, as I knew little to nothing about those things back then. One weekend, we had a local computer party at our high school. They had a computer terminal system, connected to the phone by modem. Spektra had learned how to access their system (it was a Norwegian Tandberg mainframe computer system with terminals). I did not understand much of it, other than that he called up other machines around the world. Back when the Commodore 128 was still new, he was one of the few people I knew who actually used the CP/M operating system. He had a Commodore 128D, and I was impressed at how much he knew. He programmed machine language on the C64 and had cracked several games. I've still got one of his cracks, Colossus Chess, released in 1983. He hacked the tape loader and saved the game before it ran or started. That was my first lesson in true cracking.

By the time I had learned machine code a couple of years later, originals had to be acquired very quickly in order to do a crack, because the big groups would get the games from the store on the release date and would usually have them cracked the next day, so I went after games that were either obscure or hard to crack. I can count all the games I cracked on one hand. In the first few years, however, you could crack a game even if it was a couple of months old, and there was still a good chance it would be a popular crack.

In 1986, Spektra was a member of a local group called ICS, but I was not allowed to join them so I had to make my own group or join another one. Thanks to my swapping activities, and by making a lot of phone calls, I managed to make contact with Frontline (formerly SCF), and I was invited to join them. I made three or four demos for them, which were my first real scene releases. Spektra then went to the US for a year as an exchange student. When he returned, I had all the new games which had been released and which I had swapped with my many contacts outside Norway. Now the tables were turned and he was asking me for copies of stuff. Strangely, he had not apparently used the C64 while in Texas. As far as I remember, I did not take advantage of my position and he got copies of all the stuff he wanted.

After that came a period on the Amiga and I sold my C64, only to then buy a new C64 when it was released with a new design in 1987. I still have that C64 today.

The next couple of years, I mostly coded demos, though I also did some swapping and cracking. We still liked to check out the games which were coming out, though I didn't play many of them, only a few I really liked. I remember the Amiga was becoming the next big machine for games.

In 1987, I became friends with Power (Geir Ove Reitan) who lives near me, and we became a very active duo, both as coders and swappers. Geir Ove is the best game player I have ever seen. He can finish any game he decides he wants to learn, as for instance when he finished Green Beret – without a trainer. He said it took him a few days, but he did it. However, it was the arcades where he was really awesome. He once played the Gauntlet arcade game continuously from morning when the shop opened until they closed at night, all on just two Norwegian Kroner (i.e. like putting in two quarters or something). He had someone step in to cover him while he rushed home to eat. He'd acquired so much extra lives that it was practically impossible for the other guy to die before Power got back, no matter how badly he played. Geir Ove owned that machine, and it was the same with all the other arcade games like Rygar, Turbo Sprint, Rolling Thunder, etc., as well as C64 games such as IO, Green Beret, Cybernoid (I and II), Hawkeye, etc. I never understood how he managed to be that good. His brother was also just as good. The only time I stood a chance was in other type of games, like adventure or strategic games, though actually we rarely competed against each other.

Power was a very good designer. He could always find the best colours for colour bars (which became a very popular effect between 1987 and 1990), he made great character sets and logos, and he designed some interesting demo parts on his own. I was a slow learner when it came to graphics, but I managed in time to learn the tricks of the trade. My main skill was in programming and design, the creative side of demo-making such as figuring out what you want to show. As always, originality is important, you don't want to just copy someone else. While you could certainly borrow a single effect, you would want to use it in a new way.

Tracing back my memories, I think it was seeing the Commodore 64 and its programs and games for the first time that made me want to learn how to manipulate what was on the TV screen, to make something appear on screen, to manipulate the pixels and generate visuals and sound. That this was even possible seemed like pure magic.

The TV had a special place in our lives, especially for those of us born after 1970 but before 1980. When I was young, there was one channel on TV which broadcast about six to eight hours of programmes each day. Otherwise, it just showed a test signal with a loud beep signal. The radio also had one channel, though in the late 1980s we got a second channel. I had discovered cartoon magazines in the late 1970s and for a long time, that was my favourite pastime. Then the VCR arrived in 1981 or 1982, and I could tape my favourite TV programmes and watch them over and over again. I had Star Wars on one of the tapes, recorded off the TV (it was shown on NRK, the Norwegian public broadcaster). I must have watched it 20 or 30 times in those first years.

The avalanche in home computing started, at least in Norway, around 1982/1983 and peaked in 1984 when I almost went ahead and bought a Dragon 64. Luckily, I changed my mind and chose the Commodore 64 instead. I think it was because that was the machine people I knew had bought. Together with my first C64, I bought a new, roughly 26-inch colour TV. I used it for 15 years. Things were built to last in those days, not like today when everything is down to a price rather than up to a standard.

It feels like it was an age before our old TV got replaced. TVs seem to have stayed essentially the same all the way up to the recent development of the HDTV standard, which was only a few years back now. Someone should probably look at why it took that long to replace the underlying technology.

Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
A typical day for me changed a lot as time went on, so I'll take a specific example from 1984. On an average weekday, one or two classmates would come round after school. We played games throughout the afternoon until evening, when my mother made supper for us to eat, then we would go back upstairs for more games. If it was a Monday, we would watch a movie which was always shown between 21:00 and 23:00. On Sunday afternoons, I often got a visit from two close friends of mine who were brothers. We made popcorn and played games. Trollie Wallie was a particular favourite. Other games I remember playing were Boulder Dash, Kikstart, Racing Destruction Set, Bruce Lee, Decathlon and Winter Games, to name but a few. Sometimes, there were four or five people crammed into my little room, though space was never actually a problem, you just squeezed in between those already sat on the bed or floor.

These activities were a regular feature of my life between 1984 and 1987. Those three years seemed to last a lifetime. :)

Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
I made various tools, including intro-makers, note writers, interlace makers, sprite editors and character editors.

When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
The things that make me most proud include: being one of the people responsible for the first major copy-party in Norway, in the autumn of 1988; releasing Unicorn through Abnormal, which was so much fun to do; and releasing Psykolog, Digital Delight and That's the Wave It Is through Panoramic Designs, we had a unique creative vibe going on at the time and all worked so well together, I think we all had a good time while it lasted.

Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
My heroes in Norway were TCC, Human, Jazzcat, Cycleburner, The Bright Lion, Rawhead, The Shadows and Prosonix. From Sweden, I admired XAKK, Kaktus and Mahoney. In Finland, it was Pure-Byte, and in Denmark, Sodan, Upfront and Maduplec. My Dutch heroes were The Judges, Riffs, Supersonics and The Terrible Two, and from Germany, I enjoyed the work of TLC, Mr. Cursor, Chris Hülsbeck and the Masters Design Group. In the UK, it was the Scouse Cracking Group and a lot of the demos uploaded to Compunet by various people (YAK plus Stoat and Tim were particular favourites).

What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
For me, there are a few candidates, starting with FLD which opened the door to so many other great routines. Sideborder sprites also deserve mention (and no, I won't debate who was first, many would say 1001, though Sodan is credited with opening up the standard border). I really like multiplexers from the early days when you had to invent them yourself. I don't know which game first used them, if anyone does, please email me. :)

Oh! The first smooth raster scrolling message (or "scroll", as we came to call them). Who did the first one? Is that even knowable? Was it Jeff Minter? Or someone at Interceptor Micros? I think it must have been someone in the UK, a scrolling message is unlikely to have been an American invention, because if it had been made in the US, it would have been in bitmap or hires graphics, scrolling upwards and not at all smooth. It must be the one with characters, using raster interrupt and the X-scroll register. Most demo coders I know started out making one of those standard one-character-high scrolls, scrolling over the screen from right to left. The next step would then be to apply a colour cycle to the characters to give a sizzling effect.

Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yes, see elsewhere here for further details. :-)

In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
A shared love of the Commodore 64, everything the scene stood for, and of course the games.

What were the particular highlights for you?
Buying my first C64 in October 1984 and playing Kong 64 when it was still my only original. Meeting Power, without whom I would have had a much poorer experience, I think. The Cabin Party held in Odense, Denmark in 1988 by Danish Gold and friends. Meeting Moonray and Omega Supreme at the Trondheim party in Norway in 1989. Basically, all the parties I attended in Scandinavia between 1988 and 1992. Meeting a lot of very special people, many of whom I'm pleased to say I'm still in contact with today.

Any cool stories to share with us?
The coolest dude I ever met on the C64 scene was Marius Skogheim. His handle was Unitrax, and we had this unforgettable period in which we were working together very closely. It was a very rewarding time in my life. We were both learning off each other, but I felt very fortunate because Marius had this incredible talent in that he could do everything himself. He was a great coder and had a very intuitive understanding of how computers worked, as became clear when he designed demo parts and graphics. He could also draw incredibly well and with great personal expression. He could flawlessly copy or emulate any design he saw. He was also a skilled musician and later learned how to make instruments and made several instruments of his own, which to me is seriously hardcore. Music became his profession, he worked as a musician, but he could just as easily have made a career for himself in design or programming. Unfortunately, he passed away in his early 30s. At the time, his life was just starting to look up, he'd found a woman he loved and had moved in with her. Tragically, it was heart failure and there was nothing they could do. He made my life much richer, and I will always remember the time we shared. The Commodore 64 brought us together, although we were separated by a great distance and a slight age difference. I count myself very lucky that I was able to know him.

Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Yes, some locally and a lot of others elsewhere in Norway and abroad.

When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I got mine in October 1984. Today, I still have several C64 machines in various versions lying around.

Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Absolutely. It was magic in a box.

When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Hopefully soon!

Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Thanks for all the good memories. I hope our paths cross again in the future.

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