Jog / Eastenders Cracking Crew, Pulsar, Sub-Zero, Doughnut Cracking Service, Babygang
Added on January 13th, 2015 (3734 views)

Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Mark Jones, I'm 43 years old, and I was born in the English town of Eccles (part of Greater Manchester). I currently live in north Essex in the UK and work for a US investment bank. I've been doing technical support (PCs, OS support, software and hardware support, etc.) since I was 18 but recently started doing a slightly different job: it's pretty interesting and largely involves analysing data in huge Excel spreadsheets. No coding though. *LOL* I travel an hour and a half to work and an hour and a half back again each day, so don't really have a lot of time for interests or hobbies, but when I'm not spending time with my three-year-old daughter, I like messing around with my camera.

What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
I only ever used two handles. When I first started swapping, cracking, coding, etc., I didn't really spend much time on a name, so I just used something that a friend used to call me. He called me "Jog" because every time he saw me, I was always running somewhere. :-) Many years later, when I joined Babygang as a cracker, I used the handle Mr. Stark which is a nod to the character from a Stephen King novel called The Dark Half (he was "a very bad man").

What group(s) were you in?
I was first in the Eastenders Cracking Crew (ECC or simply Eastenders), then Pulsar, then Sub-Zero (which I formed with some other guys), then the Doughnut Cracking Service and finally Babygang.

What roles have you fulfilled?
I started out as a swapper and even now, I still remember most of my Sundays being taken up copying disks and getting them ready to post. I think I had about 100 contacts back then, which probably wasn't that many compared to other groups, but I was doing it all single-handedly, and preparing 30 to 40 disks a week took quite a lot of time! I started coding before I had even joined my first group (ECC), and I started cracking properly when we formed Sub-Zero. I was never talented enough to write any music or create any art.

How long were you active for?
From when I first joined ECC until I quit completely, it was about eight years or so.

Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I was about 15, I think, and I wrote (yes, wrote, no email back then!) to a guy from the Eastenders Cracking Crew. The East End is a term generally used to refer to the area of London east of the City of London and north of the Thames. There's a UK soap opera (which started in 1985 and is – unfortunately – still going now) called EastEnders which was about families living in this area. I was writing to this guy whose handle was Dirty Den (a well-known character from the TV show), having got his address from a demo. To my surprise, he wrote back to say he was quitting the scene and would I like to take over the entire group and all his contacts. At first, I thought it was a joke, but he was completely serious, so I said yes and a couple of weeks later, he sent me about 100 disks along with all his contacts' details. I started swapping and making demos/intros for ECC, and the rest as they say is history. :-) One of the first guys I made contact with via ECC was Qual I of the Swedish group Tetragon. We are actually still in touch now, and he and his girlfriend came all the way over from Sweden for my wedding; he's one of my oldest and dearest friends. Our communication methods have changed over the years; we used to write very long handwritten letters to each other, then the letters became typed, then we started using email, and now we tend to use our iPhones and Facebook. How times have changed. :-)

Anyway, just before joining (taking over) ECC, I'd met two other guys, Toy and Wiz, through a friend at school who did coding and C64 demos outside of the scene. I can't remember exactly how it happened, but we ended up making contact with guys from a group called Pulsar, namely Mik, Dolly, Torky and Tork. Torky and Tork were brothers, and Torky was this amazingly clever coder, although – how can I put this – his social skills weren't the best. Mik and Dolly were cool, though, and we (Toy, Wiz and myself, plus a couple of other guys) ended up joining Pulsar. Dolly was the artist, Torky did the coding, and Mik did all the organising and swapping (although he could also code a bit, just not very well – sorry, Mik!). I remember we released a few things, then we somehow managed to have a massive falling out with the original members. I can't even remember what it was about now, but we ended up leaving Pulsar and starting our own group Sub-Zero (a.k.a. Sub-Zer0). The list of members, off the top of my head and aside from myself, was Toy, Wiz, Bear (a friend of Toy's), SET (another friend of Toy's) and Apex (a guy whom I made contact with because he was a mega-swapper). We did quite a few demos and cracked some games. We were starting to get noticed and I remember getting a greeting in an Ikari crack or demo, in which they called us "up and coming". We were having a good time, but then it all fizzled out – again, I can't remember why. After Sub-Zero ended, I joined the Doughnut Cracking Service with my old friend Mik from Pulsar. We mainly focussed on cracking games and swapping, but also did a couple of demos.

When DCS ended, I was still in touch with another very old friend, a swapper called Foggy, who was a member of the French group Babygang. At this point, I had a full-time job and a girlfriend and I didn't have much time for demos, coding, etc., but I still wanted to do something on the C64. He asked me to join Babygang as a cracker, because he could source a lot of original games, so I joined under the handle Mr. Stark. I cracked quite a few games for Babygang, and since there was no real time pressure like there was in the old days of cracking/swapping, I tried to make them the best cracks on the scene, and I like to think I succeeded a lot of the time. Everything was consistent, the intro was the same, the trainer screen was the same, and they were all as small as possible with as many trainers as possible. Wherever possible, I would crack tape games and move them to disk. One big problem with this was something I had called Dolphin DOS. It was a hardware modification to the C64 and 1541 drive which turned it into a parallel disk system, so it could send/receive 8 bits at a time to/from the 1541 instead of just 1 bit at a time. It was amazingly fast and one of the best things to ever be invented for the C64/1541. It had a switch that you could use to turn it off, because some games just didn't like it being there. I found to my annoyance that even with the switch turned off, some of the tape games I'd cracked to disk wouldn't work on a C64 without a Dolphin DOS; it would just look like I hadn't cracked the game properly or that I didn't know what I was doing. It was very irritating at the time.

At some point in 1990, I thought about trying to code a game. My friend Toy had just written a left-to-right scrolling affair called Sentence and had ended up selling it to Magic Disk 64. Another friend of ours, the Compunet legend Kernel, had recently written a game called Reckless Rufus; both of these started the fire burning and gave me the incentive to start coding.

I'd started to try and code the core of a game about 3-4 years earlier. It was based on an Amiga game I can't remember the name of, and was similar to the C64 classic Thrust. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the gravity physics working properly so I gave up on the idea. However, whilst I was thrashing around ideas and code, legendary C64 artist SIT was staying at my house (my parents' house, to be 100 percent accurate) as a lodger because it was near to his new job at Ocean Software. SIT came up with an imaginary company name under which the game could be released: Little TV Men Software. This is ultimately the name I used. Funnily enough, I recently came across SIT's original drawings of the potential LTVM logos. They were on a pad of paper which has extremely high sentimental value for me, so I kept it. Both drawings are now about 24 years old!

So, once the idea of this game had been decided upon, I started to code and Toy said he'd do the graphics. I couldn't decide on which main character to use, so I added the option to choose either Lance or Loat. Lance was so called because the sprite was that of a knight who was holding a – yeah, you guessed it – lance. Oddly, choosing this sprite made the game extremely difficult and I was never quite sure why. The name Loat actually originates from the nickname of somebody which Toy knew from years earlier called Lee Oatway. Toy used to often draw caricatures of this guy to show big ears and a huge chin, nothing like the character in the game but we just wanted to use the name. There was also a sprite at the bottom of the screen which breathed in and out to match the amount of energy you had left; the closer you were to losing a life, the quicker this little guy's breathing became.

I also decided to put in a bonus round at the end of each level. Four sections of an image flashed in a certain order and you had to replicate the flashes using left/right/up/down on the joystick. Once complete, the same sequence would appear but with an extra flash and this would continue until you made a mistake. As this bonus round played out, there were speech samples taken from my girlfriend at the time, giving instructions to the player.

Once it was finished, play tested to an inch of its life and arrived at the point where I figured there was nothing else to do, I began to send it to every publisher I could think of who might be interested in marketing it. Even at the time, I only thought it was "OK" and nothing more. Money wasn't a consideration and it was really about just coding a game from start to finish; it was never really going to end up anywhere else than the front of a magazine on a free disk, but there you go. I do look back on it fondly, but let's be honest, it was pretty poor and barely playable.

A year or so later, Toy coded another game (this time, a platformer) and called it Hektic II. :-) A short while after Hektic was sold, I started to code a second game called Pentris which was a Tetris clone, but with shapes made from five blocks instead of four. It also had a two player option where lines taken off one player would appear on the other player's stack. Needless to say, this was never finished.

Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
I would split my time between playing games (the C64 had some of the best games of that era, and many of them can still be played via an emulator even now!), creating/posting swap disks, cracking games and trying to learn as much 6502 as I could.

Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Not really. I started out using a machine code monitor, so I was basically typing in the 6502 mnemonics by hand, one at a time. This was very time consuming and tricky because you had to manually decide where all the code would be, using hard-coded addresses, etc. Later on, I began using Turbo Assembler, which was much easier but took up a large amount of the C64's memory, so you could only have a relatively small amount of code/data. At the end of my time with the C64, I was using a C128 and a development system that was connected to my C64 with a cable and downloaded the assembled code directly to the C64's memory. If only I'd had that at the beginning! :-) I remember coding a few intro makers for the various groups I was in. This was basically a program that let you enter scrolltext, choose music and then load an already crunched version of a game. It would then add the game to the intro and save it all to disk, so you could then crunch the entire thing. It was designed so that group members who couldn't code very well could do some of the work on an already cracked game.

When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
I'm not sure I was proud of any particular thing, although I am proud of being part of the C64 scene in general. It was a very special time, probably never to be repeated, and owning a C64 has undoubtedly shaped my life. It sounds odd, but without the C64, I'd never have ended up working in IT and would never have had the chance to meet some of the amazing people I've met (some of whom I'm still in touch with).

Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
I started out on the C64 in the days of Compunet in the UK. The famous demo makers back then were the likes of Ian & Mic, Ash & Dave, Choroid, Kernal, Mat & Psy, STE'86, The Mean Team, etc. They were really my heroes back then, as well as later on people like The Judges.

What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
I think one of the best things I ever did ended up never being released. Towards the end of my C64 time, I saw a demo by Horizon with a world record-breaking amount of scrolltext, something like 180 disk blocks which I think was about 45 kB. I coded a text cruncher which was so efficient that it could give you over 100 kB of text in a demo. I loaded the routine just recently, and although I could only remember parts of it, it was pretty good coding, even back then. But like I said, it never got used. One of my problems when coding was that once I'd figured out how to do something, I kind of lost interest in actually doing the work that would make it happen. I'm guilty of that even now. :-9

Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
A couple of times, I went to the ECS (European Computer Show, I think) at Earls Court, London. I remember having to travel the 220 miles from my hometown, stuck in the back of a friend's van, it was horrible. At one of these shows, I met an old friend whom I've just recently got back in touch with: the C64 mega-artist, SIT.

In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
A lot of the later era was about who could be the best: who could make the best demo, the most number of sprites on a screen, the largest number of samples playing with all the borders removed, etc., which I personally thought was a load of nonsense. The best parts of the scene as a whole were about connecting with people, doing what you loved best and sharing your creations with friends.

What were the particular highlights for you?
I liked it all. There were some amazing musicians on the C64 and to this day, I still listen to C64 tunes via the SID Player app on my iPhone. I often find myself humming a tune which turns out to be from a C64 game or demo! :-)

Any cool stories to share with us?
I remember having the musician Demon over to my house (he was a friend of a friend) to show us his latest music, and he was so paranoid we'd steal his routine or tunes that he wouldn't leave the room without all his disks, not even to go to the toilet! When he left my house, he insisted that I power down my C64 and wait 60 seconds, to make sure all the RAM was empty.

Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Yes, as I've mentioned above, I'm still in contact with a few people from back then, such as Qual I of Tetragon, Foggy and very recently SIT, Toy, Wiz and Kernal.

When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I got my C64 when I was about 13, and yes, I still have it somewhere. I think it's in a box in my shed, along with my 1541, an Enhancer 2000 drive by Evesham Micros (a replacement for the 1541 that never really took off), my old cartridges (Expert and Action Replay) and all my old C64 disks. I may try and lug it all out this coming weekend and see if it still works! I have most of my old stuff on PC anyway and am able to look back at it all using a PC emulator.

Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Absolutely, it was definitely more than the sum of its parts. As I said above, there's no question that it altered the course of my life.

When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Never, I fear. :-( I looked back at some of my old code recently and didn't really have a clue what was going on. Even if I did still remember some of it and wanted to get back into it, I just don't have the time.

Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Sure, I'd particularly like to hear from Mik of Pulsar, Apex of Sub-Zero and anybody else who remembers me.

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