Sparkler / New Hellmates,
Added on January 5th, 2015 (2444 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Rune Spaans, and I'm 40 years old. I spent most of my childhood in Brønnøysund, a small town in the middle of Norway. I now live in Oslo, the capital of Norway, and work as a director. At the moment, I am directing my second feature film. My interests are film, programming, Lego, Star Wars and anything relating to my current project.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
I must first say that my C64 career is very tightly intertwined with that of my awesome brother, who has also been interviewed here. My first handle was one we shared: RSW, which was a clever abbreviation for Ruben and Rune Spaans Software. It had to be three letters so that it could fit on games' high score tables. We changed handles when entering the scene, but that name crops up from time to time, and I still use it in games.
My first real handle was Ruzz, and I'm sure that was inspired by the names of the two C64 artists who inspired me the most, namely Bobb (Stevenson) and Dokk (Paul Docherty). I used that for a year or two, then switched to Sparkler. I'm not completely sure where I got Sparkler from, but I remember we used to browse a lot of English dictionaries when looking for handles and just pick stuff because we liked the sound of it. Since it's similar to my last name, I must have started there in the dictionary.
For the last demo I worked on, I began to question the concept of using handles (which I think originated from crackers who wanted to be anonymous), and I wanted to try using our real names. But the rest of the group went back to handles right after that, I think it was too weird for them.
What group(s) were you in?
The only groups I was a member of was New Hellmates and mainly Megastyle. I remember my brother and I had several offers from other Scandinavian and European groups, but nothing that really gave us a good reason to leave Megastyle. After all, we played a central role in building up the reputation of the group so we felt very attached to it.
What roles have you fulfilled?
I was the group's graphic artist, doing images, fonts and logos. I also did some demo design, although that tended to be a lot less technical than what my brother came up with. I tried to swap a bit, mainly so that I could get my hands on more games (oh, how I loved the games on the C64!), but I lost interest in swapping pretty quickly.
How long were you active for?
I was active from 1988 to 1992. I'm surprised to see that it was a period of just four years, it felt like a decade to me – and looking back, I'm surprised at how productive I was within that period.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
Those years were great for me. I grew up in this very small coastal town which had very little to offer me as a creative teenager. My brother Ruben and I had done a lot of small programs on the C64. I played around with drawing, and Ruben taught himself how to write machine code. Through some friends, we met another group of teenagers who were doing the same things as us, but they had connections outside our town, swapped stuff and programmed these amazing things called demos. We really wanted to try that as well, and pretty much immediately got hooked on it.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
I would spend parts of my school day drawing sketches for C64 art or imitating my favourite cover artists such as Oliver Frey or Bob Wakelin, then I'd bike home and see if the C64 was available. Usually, I would be checking out some new game, but occasionally I would spend the entire evening working on an image or doing a typeface.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
I have never been very patient, and I have a lot of unfinished C64 drawings for that reason. I was very fortunate to have a genius programmer in my brother. I loved drawing on the Amiga, and he actually hacked one of the C64 art programs to make it work with the Amiga mouse, which was great! Eventually, I preferred to draw my C64 artwork on the Amiga using Deluxe Paint. I made my own palette by eye-matching the C64 monitor and using the interlace mode to match the pixels. Once the drawing was complete, I would translate it back to the C64 by hand, pixel by pixel. Sounds laborious, but it involved a nice mix of using the right-hand and left-hand side of my brain.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Some of the artwork still holds up, I think, which surprises me a little. What I'm most impressed by is the restraint I had in colours and composition – not trying to stuff as much as possible into the limited pixels available. I am especially proud of an image I called LSD, which makes clever use of black and has some great pixel work on the girl's hair and hands. I'm also glad I stuck to my dithering style, which was very ordered. I was never a fan of the noisy/random dither pattern that some artists used and still use, so I kept to the classic style of Paul Docherty and Bob Stevenson.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
I didn't care too much about the scene, although I was really impressed by the art style and sense of design which Bjørn Røstøen of Panoramic Designs had. He did a demo called Digital Delight which I remember being inspired by at the time. I was mostly inspired by fantasy artists such as Oliver Frey (Zzap!64 and Thalamus cover artist) and Bob Wakelin (Ocean and Imagine cover artist). I adored the pixel art of Paul 'Dokk' Docherty and Bob Stevenson, they were my Commodore 64 heroes. But I also looked to arcade games for much of my inspiration. One of the local pubs had Gradius (a.k.a. Nemesis on the C64), and I remember spending hours just staring at the visuals. I also loved the music of Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway and Maniacs of Noise – and I still do!
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
I remember being really fascinated watching my brother doing vector graphics on the C64. Graphics in 3D on the C64, as in Sentinel or Ballblazer, were magical and weird, so I was excited to be typing in 3D models for my brother to rotate on screen. Also, my brother making the Amiga mouse work in the C64 paint program was extremely cool.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
My family couldn't afford to send us to any of those, so throughout the peak years of the scene, we only shipped demos for other members of the group to show. We only went to one event, and that was after the scene was already starting to fade. It was a rather disappointing demo-party at a school gym in a town some hours' drive away. There was only 50 or so people there, so after hearing all those tales of enormous awe-inspiring demo-parties, it was a huge disappointment. I think we spent less than an hour there before we set off back home.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
The scene meant two things to me. Firstly, it was about swapping great content. It was so exciting to get weekly deliveries of amazing demos and games, which in turn inspired us to create even better things ourselves. Secondly, it was about having somebody else say we had produced some quality stuff. Looking back now, I think that was the most important thing of all. It was a huge boost to my self-esteem to get positive feedback on my graphics or on our demos, and topping a chart was especially great. Those years were really formative for me in that respect, I think, particularly in terms of always striving to be the best.
What were the particular highlights for you?
As I mentioned, we never went to any of the really great demo-parties, though we did arrange coding weekends where we would get our parents to drive our stuff to whomever in our group had the biggest space, and we would spend two or three days and nights doing intensive programming, artwork and gaming. Those weekends were particular highlights for me. The first proper solo demo we did, Brainstorm 2, came out of one of those weekends, so by extension that demo is also very special to me.
Any cool stories to share with us?
I think I'll share two stories which are more about the life-changing experiences of an introverted small-town teenager.
I remember once setting out to do the best C64 artwork ever (this became the LSD image), which won me first prize at a Norwegian demo-party. My prize? Ten floppy disks. I remember being really let down by that and starting to question whether it was really worth all the effort.
My final demo was The Seal of Focalor, which I wanted to be a comment on the seven deadly sins and more of a design/animation piece with cool metal music and open to interpretation. Looking back, I was probably trying, in my own limited way, to craft a genuine piece of art. I was really proud of it, and it felt like we'd made the last ever great demo to grace the C64, so for the first time ever, we even travelled to a demo-party to release it (that was the hideously disappointing 50-strong school party I mentioned above). We entered the "party", almost turned around in the doorway to go straight out again, but then decided to at least let someone load the demo up. The guy looked at it, shrugged his shoulders, called it weird or something, and that was that. It was such a massive anti-climax for me, it really helped me decide it was time to move on and do other things.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Not really. I'm still friends with some of the people from Megastyle, but we haven't seen each other for a long time. A shame, really, it would be great to chat again about the old days.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
My family got our C64 around 1987, I think. My brother kept the machine after I moved, but I think it died many years ago. I only emulate through VICE these days, which works surprisingly well, although I wish VICE could do a more accomplished imitation of an old monitor (spherical distortion, anyone?). I have promised myself that if my family ever get a bigger apartment, I'll try to find an original C64 to have on display.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Yes, I think it was. It was a machine which in a way forced you to really learn programming and to be creative. That blinking cursor after the word "Ready" seemed to encourage you to play with the keyboard, just to see what happens. Also, the SID chip was really very special indeed, it still sounds good today, I think. I still reach for my C64 playlist when I'm working late or need that little extra kick of energy. The music brings back lots of memories for me, and sometimes even leads to a quick bout of C64 gaming on VICE.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
I still have some unpublished artwork which probably deserves to be shown on a C64 screen, though I probably won't be the one putting it out there, those days are over for me.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
This goes out to the Megastyle guys: I hope to catch up one day, it would be great if we could get together sometime and talk about our scene days!
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