The Punisher / The Culprits,
Added on October 1st, 2020 (391 views)
Hey Gary! Welcome to the interview. Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Gary, I was born in 1969. I grew up and still live in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I have two children, a boy and a girl. By day, I'm a senior IT engineer, but in the evenings and at weekends, music is my life. I have my own trance label, and I regularly DJ with some world-famous DJs like Lost Witness, Rank 1, Lange, Signum, and Ultrabeat, to name but a few. I also host weekly mixes from the likes of Paul Van Dyk, A State Of Trance, and Ferry Corsten.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
It was 1986, and I was getting cracked games for a guy who lived near me. That was when I saw that people were using handles for their releases, so when I started cracking games, I knew I needed a handle. My mates were into comics at the time, which I wasn't, but when one of my mates gave me a comic called The Punisher, I became an instant fan of the comic, so when it came time to pick a handle, that was my number-one choice. Years later, I started getting involved in the C64 music scene, so I decided to use a completely new handle, Wizball. I choose Wizball because it was one of my favourite C64 games.
What group(s) were you in?
I started out cracking for a group called The Culprits, then I went to Xentrix, followed by Genesis Project, and finally a group I started, called Genetix (pronounced Genetics).
What roles have you fulfilled?
Hmm, my main role was as a cracker, though from 1987 to 1991, I had access to every C64 game released in the UK on its day of release, so you could say I was also an original supplier (to myself). :)
How long were you active for?
If you mean the C64 scene or the cracking scene in general, I'm no longer active. After the C64 scene, I was active on the PSX (PlayStation 1) and on the PC for a few years, up until 2006. As for the C64 scene, I started cracking in 1987. Delta was the first game I trained on the C64, what a rush that night was! I didn't get into the group cracking scene until 1989, when I joined The Culprits. Everything I cracked between 1987 and 1989 was for my own personal collection. In 2020, during the COVID-19 virus lockdown, I decided to return to the C64 and crack an old game that I'd never seen or played before. I choose this game because it has my all-time favourite C64 SID tune, One Man and his Droid. You can download the crack at https://csdb.dk/release/?id=192259.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Not really. If I did, I can't remember.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
I wrote a password encryption program that encrypted games or files. But my favourite creation was a disk protection I designed called ProLock. I sent the disk protection to Ocean Software with a demo called Aliens that Jonathan Temples and I had done. I got a call a few days later from Paul Hughes, the writer of the Ocean loaders. He was impressed for two reasons: he couldn't copy the disk or even load the files into memory; and he was very impressed with the graphics Jonathan had done in the demo. Unfortunately, however, he said they were looking into other disk protections at the time, so my Ocean journey ended there. I decided to contact Rob Northen, who wrote disk protection for the Atari ST and Amiga, but they weren't interested in doing anything for the C64 and were actually really rude to me. I then decided not to pursue it anymore, as I was happily working in my computer shop anyway. A few years later, though, I made some improvements, and it got used on Nobby the Aardvark by Thalamus. If you look at the main title screen in the CREDITS section, it says Thanks to Genetix (see below). Thalamus didn't however think there was any point in using the disk protection, because by that time the C64 was in decline, so it was taken out and never used in the end, but I was still credited for it in the game.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Derbyshire Ram, without a doubt, who in my eyes was the grandfather of the C64 scene. I'm very lucky to have known Barry. I dedicated Radio 6581 to Derbyshire Ram back in 2008, shortly after he had passed away in 2007. I also have to mention Goblin, who took me under his wing and helped me and showed me things I hadn't known existed. Antichrist, for what he did for the scene and also for offering me the chance to join Genesis Project. Snacky, his cracks were always top quality. And finally, Rob Hubbard. Geez, did he have an impact on me. I love Rob Hubbard's music. Music is still a massive part of my life now, and I believe the C64 music scene and especially Rob's music are the reason for that.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
Without a shadow of a doubt, the sprite multiplexer. That changed games big time and what people could do. I should also mention packers, crunchers and fast loaders, they made such a difference to the scene, as well as the cartridges that helped people mess around with code, sprites, pictures, etc.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yes, I was at Back In Time Brighton in 2003. What a great weekend. I got to meet and spend time with C64 music legends like Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Fred Grey, the late Ben Daglish, Dave Whittaker, Press Play On Tape, and also the late Richard Joseph. I actually spent most of the evening chatting with Martin Galway. He was born in Belfast too, and we ended up chatting for quite a few hours. I remember him telling me the first time he heard Rob Hubbard's Thing on a Spring. He said he was shocked and amazed at how Rob had even managed to do that. Of course, we all know Martin Galway went on to create some of the best SID tunes ever to grace the C64. I also chatted with Simon Nicol, who wrote Crazy Comets and Mega Apocalypse. He told me that he was working on voice recognition at the time for some company. I didn't think much about it at the time, but now of course voice recognition is everywhere, from our phones to Alexa.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
I think everyone was trying to do the next big thing, always pushing the C64 beyond the limits of what it was meant to do. That could be in demos, cracking techniques or in the music. I know there were wars and so on, luckily I wasn't involved in any of that, but it was interesting to read about it at the time.
What were the particular highlights for you?
The evening I was asked to join Genesis Project: I've added more about under Cool Stories below... Also, finally getting to meet the man himself, Rob Hubbard. :)
Any cool stories to share with us?
Yes, this is very long one and tells how a software company was named after Genesis Project and why I have a Gold copy of Armalyte.
As I mentioned earlier, my first job in 1987 was working in a computer shop. After about six months working there, Dave Clarke and Jonathan Smyth (now Jonathan Temples), who are cousins, called into my shop. I remember Dave introducing himself and saying: "I hear you code machine code". He knew this because Jonathan had been in the week before, chatting to me. Even though we all went to school together, we had never really spoken because they were in the year below me, but that statement sparked a great conversation and a great relationship.
We hadn't known how close we lived to each other. Jonathan lived just two streets from my house, and Dave about four streets away. From that moment on, we all hung out together. From 1988 onwards, Dave, Jonathan and I wrote demos together. Dave did the coding, Jonathan did the graphics (using Antony Crowther's graphics editor), and I ripped the music from the games. It was clear even then that Dave was a great programmer and Jonathan a fantastic graphic artist, whereas my mind was set on cracking and training games. In 1989, I saw an advertisement in one of the C64 magazines asking for swappers. I decided to contact one of the advertisers and tell them I cracked and trained games. The person I contacted turned out to be in a group called The Culprits. This was the first group I ever released cracks through. I think there were only one or two other people in the group, but it was a starting point for me and led to bigger things in years to come.
Shortly after that, I met another person of interest in my shop, Ashley Hogg. We started chatting, and it was clear he was a keen programmer. He wanted to code demos and was looking for someone to rip music from games, which I was able to do. Dave, Jonathan and I ended up becoming great mates with Ashley. Even though he's a great programmer and has worked for many software companies, Ashley is mainly recognised for doing music on games, especially Dave and Jonathan's games.
After a while, I moved from The Culprits to Xentrix. I forget how this came about, but I think it was through swapping and then I was asked to join. Xentrix seemed more organised and had more members, and Dave, Jonathan and Ashley were in a different mindset to me at this stage and were more interested in writing demos, whereas I was still more into cracking games.
I released cracks through Xentrix for about a year. Then one evening, I got a call out of the blue from Antichrist and Goblin, asking me to join Genesis Project. At that time, I was well aware of who they were and the status they enjoyed on the C64 scene. They had contacted one of the Xentrix swappers, saying they wanted to interview me, but actually they wanted me to join them. I was shocked: I knew Genesis Project as one of the biggest if not the biggest C64 group in Europe. This was one of the most amazing moments in my life, to be approached by them.
It was around this time that Dave decided he wanted to start writing games instead of demos. There was a very successful software company about five miles for us, called Choice Software. They mainly did conversions for Ocean Software, such as Rambo for the Amstrad and Platoon for the Spectrum. Dave wrote an updated version of Ghosts'n Goblins and showed it to them. They were impressed, and they didn't have a C64 programmer, so they were instantly keen to employ him and Jonathan.
I was invited to Choice Software a few times to meet the team and to see what games they were working on for Ocean and what went on at their software house. One time I was visiting, I decided to take along a demo I had done. It had scrolling text, sprites moving about and loads of music. By pressing different keys on the keyboard, it would play different tunes, like Commando, Monty on the Run, etc. Colin Gordon, the lead programmer and owner of the company (he wrote New Zealand Story on the Amiga) walked into Dave's room just as my demo was running. He looked at the demo and listened as I skipped through some of the tunes. While Monty on the Run – composed by the famous Rob Hubbard – was playing, he said to me: "Is that your demo? I guess you can program then?", and I replied: "Yep, I did it, I program a wee bit", and he said: "I like your music. We don't have a musician. Would you be interested in a job?". I think everyone alive wished that they had written the Monty on the Run main tune. I replied: "No, I didn't compose any of the tunes, I just wrote the demo and ripped the music from the games and put it in my demo".
Dave's first project for Choice Software was the C64 version of New Zealand Story, but since Dave had never released a full game, Ocean decided to take it off him after a few weeks and hand it back to Ocean's in-house team. Eventually, Choice Software closed down, and Colin Gordon moved to England to work for Ocean Software.
Dave then turned to freelance programming for Codemasters. By this time, I was well into the Genesis Project scene. I used to go over to Dave's house and give him games that we'd released. Dave really liked the name Genesis Project and commented on it several times. He liked it so much, he took part of the name for his company, Genesis Software (see below). Because he never got to complete New Zealand Story, his first-ever game as a freelance programmer was a two-player similar to New Zealand Story called CJ's Elephant Antics. I remember Dave telling me that he was once at the European Computer Trade Show in London showing off his games, and a member of Genesis Project approached him and said he'd stolen their name. Little did they know that he'd actually picked that name because I was in Genesis Project at the time, so it was actually honouring the Genesis Project name by using part of it for the gaming company.
In my first job, I got friendly with a girl who worked at Centresoft (we use to flirt a lot). They supplied most shops in the UK with their games. She was the one who sent me a copy of Armalyte (a Gold version). Only four copies ever existed, and I own the only remaining copy because the others were all returned to Thalamus to claim a prize. I was contacted by Dan Philips (the programmer of Armalyte), as he had never seen the Gold version, so I sent him some photos of the cassette. He said he might be doing a tribute version for the PC at some stage, I'm not sure if that ever happened. Retro Gamer interviewed me about the game. They had to print that I was a member of "Genesis Project, a demo group", as it wouldn't go down too well if they said "cracking group". You can read the interview in Retro Gamer Issue 36, page 76, in the Keep Your Eye on the Prize section, or at https://archive.org/details/RetroGamerIssue036-040/page/n75/mode/2up.
In 1998, I released a DJ mix album in the shops called Genesis Project. Since I owed the group so much, I thought it only right to name my first album after them.
In 2008, I decided to start an online radio station called Radio 6581 under my alias name Wizball. It ran from 2008 until 2011. It was similar to SLAY Radio, only we combined C64 SIDs and C64 remixes with weekly live guest shows. I even did some joint shows with SLAY Radio and SceneSat Radio around that time. I dedicated the station to my friend Derbyshire Ram, who passed away in 2007, to honour his memory, in particular his hard work and love for the C64 computer and scene.
In July 2020, I decided to revive Radio 6581 on Alexa and as a mobile app. You can listen by adding the following URL to your favourite streaming mp3 player, or install the Alexa skill or mobile app:
Streaming URL: https://securestreams5.autopo.st:1977/live
Alexa Skill: Powered by Genesis Project ;)
Mobile App: TBA
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBN-vdgot18
Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/18060534470
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Yes, with sceners like Goblin, Antichrist and more recently hedning. I still have contact with the programmer Dave Clarke, though not so much now, only once or twice a year, since he moved to England to work for Codemasters. He still lives there now. Jonathan Temples, the graphic artist, still lives near me, we keep in touch. He'll usually call round my house, or we'll go out for a drink sometimes.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
My best mate from school got a C64 computer for Christmas in 1984, and I immediately fell in love with it and spent many days and nights playing all his games. I knew then that I had to get one. It wasn't until I'd left school and started working that I was able to save up and purchase my own C64, that was in 1986, and yes, I still have it. It's in the shed with my 1541-II. As I mentioned earlier, I actually hooked it up again in June 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown and did a crack on it, just for fun, and to see if I still knew my way around the C64.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Totally! This machine shaped my life and that of many others, thanks to its games, the demos, the cracking and of course the music. I use to record C64 music onto tape and listen to it on my Walkman. I still believe this is why I'm so into electronic and trance music.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you?
Having relaunched Radio 6581 on Alexa and mobile app this year, and doing a lockdown crack, I think that's my lot for the moment, but who knows? My music and DJing takes up 99% of my time nowadays. It was only because the clubs and events were closed that I briefly went back to my roots in 2020.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
To all the C64 sceners, be they crackers, programmers, musicians, graphic artists or swappers: We all played a part in C64 history, however big or small, with our contributions. To all the fallen heroes: you are not forgotten. Thanks to websites like C64.com, they live on. Finally, if you're reading this, the C64 most likely played a big part in your life. Embrace it. Last but not least, thanks to Andreas for allowing me to share my C64 history and for preserving all those C64 scene memories. You, Sir, should take a bow...
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