Harlequin / HI TEC BBS Crew
Added on July 5th, 2009 (7284 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Name: Sean "Harlequin" Harrington. Age: 42. Birthplace: Wichita, Kansas, USA. Birthdate: February 14, 1967. Current residence: Los Angeles. Current interests: Retro gaming and sharing old classics with my kids, producing children's theatre shows with my wife, reading, analog entertainment (board games, books, woodworking).
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Harlequin and that came from the Harlan Ellison short story Repent, Harlequin! Said the Tick Tock Man. I may have used others, but that one stuck the longest. Oh yeah, once the ISEPIC cartridge was out, I used Iseman occasionally.
What group(s) were you in?
I ran a C64 BBS in Tulsa called the HI TEC BBS. It was one of the first boards to use the ANSI color graphics, so it attracted a lot of attention in the midwest USA. I also specialised in having the newest, best demos and cracks, which was the way that I met most of my friends and comrades. As for a group, we did all of our work under the HI TEC BBS Crew name.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Mainly I was an organizer, but secondary duties definitely involved a lot of artwork, both hires and ANSI BBS stuff. My hand still cramps from holding that Koala Pad stylus.
How long were you active for?
I got my C64 in the spring of 1985 which was fairly late in the arc of C64 history. By winter of 1987, I had sold my entire C64 collection to buy an Apple Macintosh SE. Prior to the C64, I had a Mattel Electronics Aquarius on which I learned BASIC.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I was working for a theatre company in Tulsa, Oklahoma as an actor and technician, and I had a secondary job working for a computer software store. The software store gave me ready access to all of the newest games, but I was amazed that I could get cracked versions online before they actually hit the shelves. I deciced to fill in the gaps and start cracking the ones that weren't out yet.
Through the HI TEC BBS, I started to meet folks in the USA who had done some cool stuff. That was a pretty rare thing as most of the action was in Europe, without a doubt. Believe it or not, Tulsa wound up being a hotbed for very skilled coders. Our group started meeting regularly on weekends starting in fall of 1985. Once every few months, we would go to Kansas City or Dallas and swap with folks there. The group also pooled money for extra hardware that was used for either cracking or for supporting the BBS.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
For me, my day started some time after 10:00 PM, after work and the shows I worked on. I'd jump on my BBS and see if I had any messages, or if anyone had uploaded anything new. If there was nothing there, I'd dial out to some of my other favorite BBS's and see if they got anything. If I'd brought anything home from the store, I'd play with it a while to get a sense of how it should work, taking notes on any erratic behavior of the 1541 or screen or anything. I'd make notes of what was cool about it and what code I might like to snarf.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Ha! No, I wish I was that talented! I was just a quick study, and I never forgot anything. I asked a lot of questions whenever I could get ahold of someone who had done something cool. Most of the time, they got to know me through the BBS and knew I wasn't just a warez junkie.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
I'm proud of several things, but mostly that I got out when I did. If I hadn't sold off the C64 when I had, I wouldn't have left the midwest and gone to school and learned bigger things. It's all additive, so it's hard to pinpoint the deciding moment, but getting out of it was a big step.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Honey, The Jackal, Gremlin! Wow! I'm amazed you got ahold of these guys. Those names are permanently etched on the back of my eyeballs. On the legit side, I'd say Bill Budge and Dan Bunten.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
My favorite things for the C64 were the ISEPIC cartridge, the 1670 Modem, and the 1570 HDFD drive. I also fondly remember getting my first disk notcher so I could turn my single sided floppies into double sided floppies. Ahhhh, the simple pleasures...
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Our meetings were always copy parties, but we had them so frequently and we knew everybody so we didn't focus on the copying so much. Whenever someone new would come into the group, then it would take a while getting their collection up to speed. Three of us did get to go to to the Winter 1986 CES and see the GEOS rollout. We were disappointed in that we hoped it would rejuvenate the platform. Instead, we talked with a bunch of guys from Berkeley Softworks that indicated it would be still-born, and that they were all looking for other jobs.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
The whole thing was about equalization really. There was finally a computer that I could afford on my very modest income. I found out that there were many other guys like me who wanted to play in the computer arena, but couldn't until the C64. So we all came together to pool resources and share what was cool. I remember thinking how huge 64K of memory was! I used to get headaches trying to figure out where a coder might have stuck a snippet of copy protection code or how they got the sprites to run off the borders. But now, it boggles the mind and reminds me what great things can happen when you've got a great piece of technology and creative minds plugging away at a problem, even given the constraints. I think it's easier when you've got exceptionally tight constraints, rather than now, when the sky's the limit. It's just a much bigger canvas than my mind can grasp now.
What were the particular highlights for you?
We were always trying to stay away from warez junkies, particularly kids. The people we met who knew what they were doing were great, and most were very generous and modest. But the ones who had no talent (and there were tons of them) or who were lazy, spoiled it for the rest. I remember this one guy kept leaving nasty messages on the BBS and even on my home message machine, demanding that I give him copies of all of my software or he would report me to the police, which was absurd considering the technical level of our local police at that time. We agreed to meet him once at a public library but he didn't show up. We even managed to get his home phone number and address and when we staked out his house, we found out that he was only like 13 years old. We got out of the car and tried to talk to him while he was skateboarding, and he freaked out and ran in the house when he found out it was us.
My other favorite memories were the all-night M.U.L.E. tournaments. Crystite rules! I also remember the utter glee I felt when I first heard the speech synthesis from Impossible Mission... "Ahhhh, another visitor. Stay a while. STAY FOREVER!" I never finished that thing, but it's still a great platform game!
Any cool stories to share with us?
We started getting into laser tag (Photon) in early 1987, and that gave us an excuse to travel even further across the country. We took a road trip to the Dallas, Texas Photon, and we took our C64's with us. I remember taking at least four large floppy holders with me, basically my whole collection, along with a generic 50 pack of blanks. We spent the whole weekend playing laser tag, eating pizza, and copying demos and games. It was like a giant C64 orgy!
I also remember hacking a Radio Shack radio-controlled battle tank so that it could be controlled via the C64 serial port. I saw an article in some C64 magazine and I ran around town getting solder, wire, DB9 ports, etc. and working all through the night. It was with sheer and utter joy that I had the thing tooling around the living room the next morning. By the next afternoon, I had a simple programming tool for it that would save the mini programs to floppy. I was so proud of myself. I wanted to make an automated floppy disk swapper, but that never worked out very well as the unit used only basic motors, not stepper motors. Oh, well...
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
The last time I spoke to any of those guys was in 2001, and only because I found two of them on Switchboard (when you could still do that), and only because they had very unique last names. Their email addresses still include their old handles which is funny as I've long since abandoned the Harlequin handle.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
My grandmother bought my first one for me and I picked up others throughout the years to supplement the BBS or the group's activities. I always wanted one of the more exotic units like the SX64 or the Max Machine, but it never happened. As mentioned before, I quit cold turkey in winter of 1987, selling off the whole lot and buying a Mac.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Undoubtedly. It was at the right price, it had the right support from the sofware developers (and hackers), and it was accessible.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Probably never. I loved the platform, but that was 20 years ago, and I wouldn't remember how to do it again without relocating a significant chunk of my current brain heap space.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Thank goodness for emulation! I had forgotten how much fun it was to play some of these games. If you get a chance, download VICE or some equivalent and play for a while. It will make you appreciate true playability. I miss you guys, but I'm sure our paths will cross again. Maybe I'm over-justifying my actions, but if we hadn't worked so hard to crack these games, many would be un-emulatable now.
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