Mad All / Commando,
Added on April 23rd, 2012 (4651 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
I am and have always been Allan Elegeert. I'm almost 44 years old and I was born on the Belgian coast in a city called Ostend. I still live close to where I was born and I work as a language teacher and part translator. I also work freelance as an editor for a few magazines.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Mad All. 'Mad' because people said I was, and 'All' came from Allan.
What group(s) were you in?
Commando and Commando Frontier (CFR).
What roles have you fulfilled?
I always said that I was the least talented member of CFR. There was absolutely nothing technical I could do. I couldn't even draw a straight line with Koala Painter! But I was good with people and spoke five languages at an early age. This was a great benefit not only in CFR where half the members spoke Dutch (and no French), and the other half spoke French (and no Dutch), but also at copy-parties where I could speak German with the Germans, Dutch with the Dutch, English with the English and French with the French. You make friends a lot quicker that way.
I designed a lot of our demos on paper. I explained to the programmers what I wanted to see, to the artists what would be a good bitmap to draw, and convinced our musicians to use this or that piece of music. I also understood that making limited and special editions of demos, like the numbered copies of the Xmas and Easter demo disks, would be very popular. When Bubuland drew Iron Maiden's Eddie for one of our demos, I knew we had to stick with that and use Eddie as a sort of corporate identity. I wanted people to think 'Commando Frontier' when they saw Eddie, and I think it worked. I was lucky because I was surrounded by very talented people who preferred to stay home coding away while I was out and about meeting people, going to copy-parties, spending entire nights on conference calls and keeping up the relationship with other groups. I also swapped with about 25-30 people on an almost weekly basis.
How long were you active for?
From around 1985 to 1990 (I think).
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I started Commando in the middle of the 1980's with two school friends. At that time, there were very few demo and cracking groups around. We were learning as we went along and got to meet two other groups that were just starting out in Belgium: New Frontier (NFR) from the French part of the country and After Midnight Crackers (AMC) from Brussels. We were in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium and one day I had an epiphany! Why not create one super group out of the three of us?! I talked to Bubuland of NFR and Anubis (later Hobbit of Fairlight) of AMC, and we decided to join forces. Sometime at the end of 1986, Commando Frontier was born. Looking back at it now, everything wasn't a pleasant experience. We had decided that we were going to take on a maximum of eight members. Altogether, we had over 15 members, so we had to say goodbye to a lot of good guys just because we were very ambitious and they didn't fit the profile. I especially felt bad as I had to leave Commando member Pluto behind. He was one of my best friends, and I shut him out.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
I got up, went to the post office – which by some act of God was right next to my high school – and emptied my P.O. Box (P.O. Box 406, 8400 Oostende). I took the packages to school, read the letters and wrote a reply during my lessons. (I always made it a point to write a proper letter to all my contacts and with each package.) I went home for lunch and copied all the latest stuff I had on disks. While I was eating, I put the disks in the envelopes with the already written letters. I then put stamps (with plastic tape so they could be reused) and the red Express labels on the packages. I drove my motorbike to the post office, dropped off the letters, and hoped I would make it back to school in time. You had to be fast in those days. If your stuff arrived one day later than the rest, it was useless and you were history! I was lucky I was on the Belgian coast because the U.K. was only a few hours away, and so I got the stuff from my U.K. contacts one day earlier than most Europeans.
Anyway, when I got home in the evening, I looked at what was on the disks that I had received and made new disks to mail out the next day. A lot of times, the rest of the evening and night was spent on the phone. I was lucky to have a 'black box' system attached to my phone so people could call me from anywhere in the world for free. I couldn't call out for free, but our American friends set up conference calls so I got to talk to a lot of our international friends all the time.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Read the above paragraph and you'll see how I had to use a strict daily schedule to make everything happen. ;)
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
When we started, we were nothing but kids with a C64 and a tape deck that managed to get hold of a few cracked games by Dynamic Duo, Eagle Soft, Headbanger, Flash, etc. In a matter of a few years, we managed to get pretty big which was not that easy coming from a tiny country like Belgium. In all modesty, I still maintain that we were never at the absolute top. Sure, we were the biggest in Belgium for a lot of years, but internationally we were not quite at the zenith. I think there were about 10 AAA (well, why not use a topical economic rating system) groups in the scene, and just under that there were about 25 AA groups. I believe we were one of those 25. Then you had about 100 A groups, and probably a thousand non-rated groups. So I'm very proud that we made something out of nothing.
My personal moment was talking with my childhood heroes Eagle Soft Inc. on the phone during a conference call, and then subsequently getting greeted by them in their releases.
I'm also very proud of the work I did for Illegal magazine. When I met Andreas (Jeff Smart), he had already started Illegal but it was in German. We got to be good friends and I suggested I would write some stuff in English. The magazine went bilingual, and with every issue, circulation went up. In the end, Jeff Smart decided to make it 100 percent in English and it became a phenomenon. Every scener wanted to read it, and let's be honest, get mentioned in it. I remember going to my first London computer show and bringing about 50 hard copies of Illegal with me. I got one copy from Andreas, duplicated it, and brought it along. I almost got mugged by everyone that wanted a copy as they couldn't wait another week to get it in the mail! Then I realised that Andreas was sitting on a gold mine...
Oh, and being mentioned in Commodore User. They were a proper U.K. computer magazine with a world wide circulation and I bought it every month. One month they did a special five page section/exposé about C64 piracy. One of the few groups mentioned were us. I think for a scener getting mentioned in CU was the equivalent of a rockstar getting on the cover of Rolling Stone. I was walking on clouds for days, and my mother was sure that the police was coming to our house to drag me away.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Eagle Soft Inc. as they ruled when I was starting out. There was something majestic about their (simple) intro and they cracked Summer Games and California Games, which I loved and broke many joysticks to. I also really liked Charles Deenen's (TMC) stuff. It was very original and a breath of fresh air. It was always a pleasure talking to him at the copy-parties in Venlo and Nijmegen. Two other groups I also admired were 1001 Crew and The Judges because they always added extra class to their demos. The 1001 Crew was always first with technological breakthroughs.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
I liked the demos where 1001 made sprites go into the borders. Amazing!
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yes, I went to the London PCW show twice, both times with false identity cards that Ikari got for us. It was essential that you got in during the trade days when the general public wasn't allowed. All the companies were showing unfinished alpha and beta versions of their games, and it was a dream for a software pirate. I remember wearing a nice shirt and a tie and getting unfinished review copies of games from the big software companies because they were under the impression I worked for a legitimate computer magazine. The second time I went, Nik of Ikari made a really funny joke. He registered me as "C.F.R. Allan" from a company called Safe Cracker Software, and people still treated me as an industry insider. Crazy!
I also went to the Venlo and Nijmegen copy-parties on a regular basis. The best one of course was when Ikari (who had been staying with me in Belgium for a few days) and Strider from Sweden was there. I think if you had dropped a bomb on the building where the copy-party was happening, piracy would have decreased with at least 75 percent. :)
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
It was about shy, intelligent young boys discovering a niche in which they could excel, meet like-minded people, and become super heroes.
What were the particular highlights for you?
The PCW shows, the copy-parties in Holland, the great camaraderie between the upper level groups, the friendly banter and little digs at each other in the intros. Being older, I can now confess that I enjoyed getting tons of letters from unknown people telling me how fantastic our group was and could they please get some software for free?! :) But most of all, all the people I got to meet from various parts of the world.
Any cool stories to share with us?
I think I have sprinkled some anecdotes throughout my other answers, so people will probably get a gist of what I enjoyed the most.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Three months ago I would have said no, but due to a few Facebook groups, I have recently talked to a lot of people I knew from back then. Every few years, I still see The Hobbit and some of the boys from the Belgian group Argus. But that's about it. I never lost touch with Jeff Smart and also Strider of FLT who is chastising us from his Republican stronghold in San Diego (just kidding Tony). I do miss the old CFR members. About ten years ago, I got a mail from Human, but the Belgian members seem to have vanished into thin air... which makes me a little sad as I considered them to be so much more than just group members.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
In 1983. It died on me, but the one I got in 1987 is still working. Even Speed-Dos in the 1541 is working perfectly. I think. I haven't fired it up since around 2001...
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Well, let me ask you this, if the answer was "no", would you be interviewing me and would there be a zillion of fan sites all over the web? It was the first home computer that reached everyone and it turned millions of kids into life-long gamers. The scene was just a happy side-effect. We formed or joined a group to get free games, and somewhere along the way, it grew with us and we are all the richer for it.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
'Let the past stay buried' is my motto. It was good while it lasted and the memories will always be sweeter than reliving it.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Feel free to drop me a line through Facebook if we haven't spoken for 25 years – and send me back my (plastic-coated) stamps you lamers! ;)
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