Pad / Speed DOS Crackers,
The Iron Gods,
Added on February 18th, 2020 (2291 views)
Hello and welcome to the interview! It's a pleasure talking to you. Please tell us something about yourself (e.g. full name, age, place and/or date of birth, where you live, your current job and/or interests).
My name is Kristian Tjessem. I was born in Stavanger, Norway's oil capital, in 1973. I started working in IT in 1995, building and repairing PCs and running smaller networks based on NT and Novell. After a few years of that, I moved to Oslo, where I continue to work in IT to this day. I now live just outside Oslo, about 20 minutes from the city centre, and I've been living in the Oslo area for over 22 years now. I work primarily in fibre-optic communications and data centres. About ten years ago, my hobby – photography – also became a secondary income, as people suddenly wanted to pay me to shoot for them. Having a full-time day job prevents me from fully embracing the photography business, but I still do occasional shoots for select business clients. You may even have seen some of my photos from demo parties on slengpung.com or Facebook.
When did you get your first C64 and how did you come by it?
As I wasn't a footballer (aside from half a season in 1981) and wasn't into any other sports either, my dad decided to get me a computer in 1984. He was a correctional officer, and his local union had scored a good deal on some Commodore 64 computers for their members. I was so excited, and I'm certain that this laid the foundation for me working in IT to this day. I started out like most of us did, I guess, typing in stuff in BASIC from the manual and magazines, and of course getting copies of games from local friends.
How did you get into the scene in the first place?
At first, I didn't know much about the scene, obviously. But as I said, I got copies of games from my friends, almost all Turbo Tape games. I started to notice a difference between the copied games and the few originals my friends and I had. First of all, the loading was much faster of course, but there would often also be a line of text in the game that said "broken by ..." or "cracked by ...", etc. This started to fascinate me, especially when I saw the game Donkey Kong. The damsel in distress, Pauline, was supposed to yell "HELP!" from the top of the girders next to Donkey Kong, but instead, she was yelling "1103!" What was this? I had never seen anything like it before. After a while, I realised that 1103 was in fact the handle of the cracker: the guy who had made it possible for me to play this game. I later found out that 1103 was one of three members of the German cracking group JEDI and that 1103 was his date of birth. I still smile every time I happen to see a digital watch showing 11:03, or the number 1103 showing up in any other context, it takes me straight back to those days.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
One of my friends from school also had a Commodore 64, we messed around in BASIC, and he decided to call himself 007. Not very original, but neither was I, so I just changed the 7 to an x to make 00X. We didn't produce anything under these handles. Later, in 1986, I played the game Enigma Force, one of the team's characters in which is called Zark. I liked the name, and so I adopted it. A handful of awful demos were made under this handle. During this time, I got in contact with a guy in Germany called Malle who joined the group I was in. We were swapping games and writing each other long amusing letters, some of which he started with "Hi, Zarky Baby", so that then became my handle within our group, so I just officially adopted it. Later on, in the 1990s, I wasn't in any group and I felt I needed a change, like a newly single girl deciding to get a new hairdo. My friends had always called me Pæd ever since I was about ten, which is pronounced exactly like the English word "pad". Why is another story. But for simplicity's sake, I just changed my handle to Pad and started to code under that handle. Without a group to egg me on and encourage me to release something, nothing got finished. Then life took over, with military service and school, and none of that code ever got released. I've still got it all, and have in fact used some of that original code in recently released demos. Both the charset and code for the large sideborder scroller in Call The Hidden, released in 2018, were actually written in 1992.
What group(s) were/are you in? (Please include full names and the order in which you joined them)
In 1986, a good C64 friend of mine somehow got in touch with Telephone Crackers Norway (TCN), who were sort of local to us. One of their members was a real technical wiz, and we had him install Speed DOS on our machines, since we had 1541 drives by then and were no longer messing around with tapes. I cannot for the life of me remember what his handle was, and none of the TCN entries on CSDb ring a bell. Anyway, I think it was actually called Trooper DOS, but it was based on Speed DOS. All I remember was that it was scorchingly fast, not only compared to the original 1541 disk drive loading times but also compared to other fast loaders like Final Cartridge. It used a parallel cable as opposed to just the original serial cable of the 1541 disk drive. When I turned on my C64, it even said my name on the screen, right up there with the BASIC bytes free and stuff. Not many of my friends could beat this. Anyway, we took the Speed DOS name and started a group called Speed DOS Crackers (SDC). We didn't actually crack anything except jokes, so we might as well have called it Crew instead of Crackers, but we thought it sounded good. The guy from TCN who installed the hardware for us later became an IT founder and was even a judge on a Norwegian version of Shark Tank for a couple of seasons.
SDC lasted for a year or two, then we – the same two guys – renamed our group The Iron Gods (later shortened to Irongods). We did release some demos as this group, but not that many, and they weren't very good. While in Irongods, I met Magnar Harestad in 1988 or 1989. He was also a member of Irongods for a while back then. Also around this time, many of our members had bought Amigas, including myself, and soon I was the only active C64 member left in the group. Having built up a decent network of contacts, I joined some friends of mine who had recently left Tetragon to start Cross. I also sold my Amiga in late 1990, since I felt that the C64 had more soul, but I did manage to do some graphics for a handful of Amiga demos for Irongods and Beastie Boys, before I got rid of it.
Just before joining Cross, I had transitioned from coding directly in machine code monitors, which was a real drag, to using Turbo Assembler, and a beautiful new world opened up. It made everything so much easier, although having both the assembler and source code in memory at one time limited the space available for compiled code and graphics, majorly! I coded some parts and one-filers for Cross, before that group died off in 1992 or 1993 and I was stateless again. My own C64 activities also died off as a result, and it wasn't until the early to mid-2000s that the C64 caught my attention again. I discovered CSDb after randomly searching for my old handle on the Internet, and I was stunned to see that someone had actually uploaded some stuff I had coded over a decade earlier. I kept up with CSDb intermittently, but it wasn't until the early 2010s that I started following the scene more closely again, watching demos on an emulator or YouTube and just generally playing the sofa-scener. It never occurred to me that I would get back into the scene properly, but in late 2014 I reconnected with Magnar on Facebook, and he told me how much easier it was to code now, as you could just code on your PC and then compile it to a PRG. The torch was lit again. I got myself an XU1541, transferred my old floppies and code to the PC, and started coding again. I did a lot of different stuff which wasn't released at the time, but was used later when I joined a group.
In 2016, I released a little comeback one-parter, my first release in 25 years. Dr Science of Atlantis noticed it and asked if I wanted to join his group which had been resurrected from inactivity a few years earlier. I was suddenly back on the scene and started attending parties again. I stayed with Atlantis for three years and used several effects, which I had coded before joining, in the demos that followed. The sprite scrollers used in both The Last Hope (2017) and Fett som fjell (2018) were actually coded in 2015, before I joined any one group. After Gubbdata 2019, at which Atlantis had released Thera which I did most of the code for, I joined Genesis Project. Having had a lot of fun times and a great connection with the guys from GP at Gubbdata, Fjälldata and Datastorm, it felt like the right move.
What role(s) have you fulfilled (e.g. coder, artist, musician, swapper, organiser, etc.)? What attracted you to the role(s) and did you gravitate towards it/them naturally?
I view myself primarily as a coder, albeit a lousy one. Except for BASIC and Turbo Pascal at school, I've never coded in any languages other than C64 machine code and assembly. I wish I did know some other languages, as I do think it would help me when coding C64 assembly, but I never needed it for work, so I never got started on anything else. I often do my own graphics, like fonts and logos, so I can be an artist as well, but more advanced graphics I have to pass on to people who actually know what they're doing. I've always had an urge to be creative, including outside the scene. I guess that's part of what attracted me to the scene. The process of making something and releasing it into the wild. As I mentioned, I also do photography, and I vent some of my creative steam doing that. As for other roles, I was always a swapper, though never a massive one, but enough to always have some new stuff to shuffle around.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about in the 1980s/1990s?
It was about breaking boundaries and being creative. People wanted to outdo each other or improve their personal skills. It gave you a sense of accomplishment when you achieved an effect you'd never managed before. Even if someone else had already done it, it was satisfying to do it yourself.
Do you have any fun stories to share with us from those days? We were after all teenagers, and they tend to do all kinds of fun/stupid/crazy stuff. :)
Well, the parties I went to were pretty thin on shenanigans, I would say. We did tape a guy to a table at the Bergen party in 1990, which is ironic, given that one of the organisers of that party went on to work for the police. Speaking of the police, I did go to the only party in Norway that ever got completely shut down by the police, that was in 1990 in Drammen. That was a very special experience for a teenager, although since it was primarily an Amiga party, it's perhaps not the right fit for C64.COM, though I have some stories from there too. One scene story I remember in particular, I think it was in 1989, I went with a friend (and member of Knickers) to visit some sceners in Sandnes in Norway, I think it was someone from SHAPE. We found the place, and there were some other sceners from out of town there as well, including one guy who I think was a member of Coolex and had come from Kristiansand, I forget his name. At any rate, he and a friend had visited a lamer earlier that day or the day before, and while they were there, this guy from Coolex had gone to the bathroom and, instead of peeing in the toilet, had spun around the room like a helicopter, peeing everywhere. We laughed, because the guy who lived there was after all a "confirmed lamer", whatever that meant, though I later thought about what a mess that must have been. The poor guy's parents must have been furious at having to clean it all up. I still feel bad for them now, even though I had nothing to do with it, and it was well over 30 years ago.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer (in the 1980s/1990s).
Usually, there was school in the first part of the day of course, then maybe some homework, or at least the pretence of doing homework, so my parents wouldn't freak out. I would then go to my computer room, which was actually a different room from my bedroom. If I had received any post, I would check out the new wares, maybe copy some floppies and prepare some packages to go out to my contacts. What I really liked, though, was to sit on my sofa, put on some Queensrÿche or similar music, sit the breadbin on my lap and start experimenting with coding and stuff. I could easily sit there for eight to ten hours, with just one or two breaks for food.
What were your go-to programs (for programming, drawing graphics, composing music, etc.)?
Turbo Assembler was the only program I used for coding. Coming from machine code only, it made a huge difference to be able to use labels and insert lines into your code. The only graphics program which comes to mind is Amica Paint. I used a lot of other programs as well, like Ultra Font.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows? Did your group(s) hold many internal meetings? If so, tell us all about them!
I went to a handful of parties in 1989 and 1990, both for C64 and Amiga, but they were all in Norway. I never ventured as far as other countries, unfortunately. Except for a few German members, Irongods was mostly local to my area, so we met up now and then. I only met one guy from Cross while we were active back then. You'd think I would have met more, as it was a mainly Norwegian group, but it never panned out that way. I met a couple of the members in later years.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
The aforementioned 1103 made a big impact on me, mostly because he opened my eyes to the scene and represents one of the pioneers of C64 cracking. Many of the crackers from that time are like heroes to me, but 1103 stands out. Also, other guys who made huge technical leaps and breakthroughs – 1001 Crew opening the border springs to mind – and other people then taking it further, making it into a natural progression, like the first demo to contain a scroller which combined the use of open sideborder with sprites and characters on screen. Lastly, Impossible Demo by Thunderbolt Cracking Crew, before which scrollers only ever had sprites expanded in the X direction, with no graphics above or below.
What, for you, was the coolest routine ever invented on the C64? (e.g. sideborder sprites, FLI, sampled sounds/effects)
As I already mentioned, the sideborder stuff was really awesome. When I first saw it, I had no idea how it was even possible. It took me years to figure it out, but I didn't want to just rip off someone else's work, so I looked at it and tried to understand how it worked, and finally I got it. To quote something from later years, I still have no idea how Bob made all those bobs in Wonderland XIII, which just makes it even cooler. That being said, I do prefer style and design over just code porn. I have huge admiration for coders who invent new advanced stuff, but it has to fit a context and be wrapped up in something enjoyable to watch. I think people are much better at packaging technical stuff now than before, although nowadays you also have more time to hone it. Back in the day, when someone invented something new, they just wanted to get it out there instantly to prevent anyone else from beating them to the punch.
What, for you, were the best demos and games released in the 1980s and/or 1990s?
When it comes to games, I really love Bubble Bobble. I still occasionally go back and play it on the C64 (real hardware, of course). I also play it on the Amiga, and I even bought the new version for Nintendo Switch which also includes the classic Bubble Bobble. I've played the classic version a lot, but I haven't even tried the new version yet. ;-) Bruce Lee is another game that still holds up, I think. Having three-player support, both in the classic game and the Return of Fury continuation, as done by dmx, doesn't hurt either. I also played Laser Squad a lot with one of my friends growing up. We didn't let each other watch the screen when playing, so it was very thrilling to look round the next corner. We were also into role-playing games at that time, so Laser Squad – as a turn-based game with a dice-like random hit rate – was right up our alley. The game that brings back the absolute best memories, however, has to be Wizard of Wor. This was the only game my dad also wanted to play. When I played it, I ran around like a mad man, chasing the monsters and promptly dying of course. Then I listened to my dad, and he told me to position myself together with him, back to back, so that we only needed to concentrate our attention in one direction. I now realise that my dad was the original camper, just sitting there waiting for the enemies to walk right in front of him. He would have got yelled at online. :) I also remember that my bedroom was right above the living room, so when I was told to go to bed, I then had to listen to my mum and dad playing Wizard of Wor into the night.
Looking back at the demos from that era, I really like Maduplec's demos from NATO and B.U.D.S. They were always entertaining and contained a lot of nice ideas and code. I also like the old demos by Panoramic Designs like Digital Delight and Mentallic.
When you look back at your time on the scene and what you created, what are you most proud of?
It's almost like the newer the production, the prouder I am of it. I feel like I was just a git back in the 1980s and 1990s, and I think I'm able to do so much better now. On the other hand, I'm never 100% pleased with anything I create, so I just keep trying to improve.
How long were you active for and why did you quit the scene?
I started swapping by mail in 1986, I think, so I guess I was active from then until around 1992. After that, it all fizzled out for me due to other commitments, unfortunately. I'd had my C64 for eight years by then, and although I love the C64 now, it had become rather old by then. No-one could ever have imagined that it would be as popular as it is now, 30 years later. If I'd known that then, I probably wouldn't have stopped, I would have powered through the late nineties and early noughties. :D
Developing for the C64 is dead easy these days. What tools are you using?
When I came back on the scene, Magnar let me use CRT's 6510 compiler for some code I wrote in Notepad++. After joining Atlantis, I switched to Kick Assembler to make it easier to share and link code, plus all the other members were using it. So these days, all my coding is done using Sublime and Kick Assembler on the Mac. My definite go-to application for graphics is Pixcen, I love that program, CRT did a great job there. There are also lots of smaller programs I use for different tasks, like PicChar, Exomizer, Marq's PETSCII, Dano's excellent sinus maker called BounceMe, etc.
In your opinion, what is the current scene all about? How is it different from the 1980s and 1990s?
The current scene is now even more about the friendships and camaraderie than before. Don't get me wrong, we were friends and stuff before too, just look at all the letters we used to write, often to people we never even met. But I think today, having social media, and being in a completely different economic situation to when we were teenagers, makes it easier for us to meet up and socialise. The scene feels a more peaceful place now than before, and the term "lamer" has disappeared. If you asked a question or didn't know something back in the day, you were ridiculed and told to fuck off. Now, everyone is more willing to help out and share information and techniques, which is essential for a sub-culture like ours to survive and thrive. I've met up with a few of the people I knew back in the day, but the majority of the people I've met at the ten or so parties I've been to in the last three years are people I'd never met before but might have known of, and they couldn't have been more welcoming and nice.
What are your favourite C64 demos and games from, say, the last 10-15 years?
Oh, there are so many great demos to choose from. I have to admit I have a real soft spot for Offence demos, so Another Beginning does spring to mind. In that demo, too, you get to decide for yourself when you've seen enough of each part, just like in the old days when we pressed the spacebar. Today's demos are more fast-paced. I love trackmos too, believe me, but sometimes you want to see more of one part and less of another. Demos that are paced and synced to music are awesome to watch, I've always liked that. As for recent games, I must mention Sam's Journey and Planet Golf, they are two really nice contemporary productions.
Do you still have your old machine and is it in working condition? Did you, like many of us, start to collect all things C64? What I'm really asking is: are you a hoarder? ;)
Yes, I do still have my first C64. I picked it up from my childhood home about five years ago. Unfortunately, it wasn't working any more, and it doesn't look all that good, but I have since acquired several "new" machines. Is it hoarding? Probably not, but I have quite a few spares. :) I have two main machines, one breadbin and one C64C, both slightly modified with SIDFX boards installed with 6581 and 8580 SIDs. They've also both got LumaFix and a 1541U2+ from Gideon to make life easier. The breadbin is VSP-safe, but could use a better VIC-II chip; it's a work in progress. Speaking of Gideon, I also have an Ultimate64. I think it's number 106 of the original ones. It's an awesome piece of kit. It sits in a transparent C64C case which is signed by a few great SID musicians like Ben Daglish, Matt Gray, Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel, etc. I'm trying to grow that list. I do also collect C64 stuff other than actual C64 hardware, like books and Kickstarter projects. I've actually got Michael Tomczyk's 1984 book The Home Computer Wars, in which he writes about his time with Commodore, and it's signed with a personal note saying: "To PAD! Keep coding 6510 assembly!"
Who are you still in touch with from the old scene? Who do you still look forward to talking to? Any new friends? Drop as many names as you like!
I've already namedropped Magnar several times. :) As I mentioned above, most of the people I've met recently have been folk I never met back in the day, mostly because I only attended Norwegian parties back then, I think. Few, if any, of my old groupmates from Irongods and Cross are still active today.
Thank you so much for answering all these questions! Before we end, do you have a message for your groupmates, old contacts and/or anyone else reading this?
You're welcome! It was my pleasure. I do want to mention that me and a friend have a monthly C64 show at a games pub in Oslo. I bring some real hardware of course, and the concept is that I talk a bit about technical aspects of the C64, we play some games on the big screen, enjoy some banter, let the audience play and win prizes, and then show a contemporary demo at the end, to show what you can actually do with this gem of a machine. Last time, you'll be happy to know, we showed The Star Wars demo by Censor Design. We also pick the games in a special way, because we don't want to burn out on all the cool games straight away, so we base our picks on each month's Commodore User Magazine of 35 years ago, so for the February 2020 show, we'll be having a peek at the February 1985 Commodore User Magazine and choosing only games reviewed or advertised in that edition. This way, we'll have content for years to come, and in a few months, it'll be 35 years since Zzap!64 started, so we can pick games from that as well.
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