Michael Detert / DeBohr-Soft,
The Picturesque Art,
Added on September 24th, 2020 (1690 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Michael Satzer (né Detert), and I was born on 26 February 1971 in the small town of Lünen in North Rhine-Westphalia. I have been living in Hamburg for the last 20 years, and I am still working in the games industry now, currently as Product Head at Bigpoint GmbH.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
My first nickname in the demo group Omega 8 was M.I.C., which was simply derived from my first name. I was often called Mic by my friends, so it was kind of obvious. Before we started using our real names in the "professional business", I chose a new name for X-Ample Architectures, which was taken directly from the anime Akira. Since I also practised Karate and was a big fan of Japan, the name Takashi appealed to me.
What group(s) were you in?
In 1984, my brother Thomas Detert and I founded the group DeBohr-Soft together with our neighbour H J Bohr, which was short for Detert-Bohr Software. DeBohr-Soft developed small text adventures at a very simple level for the C64 in the programming language BASIC. I would develop graphics for these games on chequered paper and then transfer them via ASCII code into the memory of the C64.
Around 1986, my brother and I got together with Helge Kozielek to found the demo group Omega 8, and we developed more complex demos for the C64. At that time, I also started to learn assembler in order to be able to utilise the technical capabilities of the C64 much more efficiently. Our demo Supernova made us more popular on the scene.
In 1988, we got together with Thomas Heinrich, who lived in the next town, and founded the demo group X-Ample Architectures (X-Ample for short). Joachim Multermann (né Fräder), who was a colleague of Thomas' at the time, joined the group a little later on. Our aim was to develop good games and high quality demos. At the infamous ReLINE Software Programmer Party, we met Ivo Herzeg and Markus Schneider, who later joined X-Ample as members too and became close friends. We made additional contacts in Venlo, after which we mostly focused on games development.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Ever since early childhood, I've been more of a visual type, so I started out doing simple ASCII graphics, until I discovered KoalaPainter. I also found programming very exciting, so I started writing simple text adventures in BASIC. With time and accumulated experience, I later learned 6502 assembler and started to use better tools (such as Amica Paint) or programmed my own tools. I learned a lot by watching Helge programming. Although I mostly just programmed fairly small music player demos or mini-game prototypes, I also dealt with music routines. I created the sound effects for many of the games for which my brother Thomas composed the music. Before we had our own tracker, I always had the ungrateful task of converting the raw data for my brother's music, converted from Soundmonitor, into our own music player and recreating the sounds in accordance with the original. Once we started to develop games commercially, I also often took care of the planning and organisation. Good organisation was very important at that time in order to be able to work fast and data-secure. Working with limited resources in different areas was not only a creative challenge then, but also something I still enjoy doing now. We only did a little bit of swapping at the very beginning, although later we even had a visit from the police, but we were fortunately able to clear up all the accusations and got away with a rap on the knuckles (loss of various disks).
How long were you active for?
I am still active in the games industry professionally. The only thing that's changed over time is the platforms, and I've worked on about 150 games on systems such as Amiga, Atari, PC, console, mobile and browser games for numerous well-known companies like Ocean.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
My brother and I discovered video games very early on. In our hometown, in the late 1970s, there was an arcade machine at a kiosk with a succession of games, such as Space Invaders, Galaga and Moon Patrol. After the arcade game Pong, the Atari 2600 then brought the first video games into our living room. At about age 13, we had our first opportunity to play on the C64, and after that things developed relatively quickly. We delivered advertising brochures to earn the money we needed to buy a C64, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
As far as I can remember, we spent every free minute in front of the computer, even deep into the night at the weekends or during the holidays. Most of the time, Helge was also with us and we worked together in my room, while my brother worked on the music in his room. We all had a crazy time and were living the dream a bit; we met many great people and are still in contact with them today. However, anything you go on to do professionally becomes normalised and less exciting after a while. But even today, my heart still belongs entirely to developing games, and I'm on fire when I'm allowed to work on great games in a creative process with other people.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
I programmed some small tools for font or sprite creation for my own use. Apart from that, I also liked to come up with theoretical solutions to complex problems. Helge implemented a sorting method, M.I.C-Sort, for a very fast sprite multiplexer, which is something I first conceived of. It was successfully used in some of our games. I also played around with our music routine at that time and extended it to get some new sounds out of the SID. Even today, I still like to solve complex problems and find it appealing to work out solutions to them.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
I'm mostly just proud of having been part of a movement that has turned into a multi-billion-dollar global industry. So many things that are taken for granted professionally today did not even exist back then. I like to think I helped pioneer all of that in my own small way. It is also nice to see that our work inspired many people back then and is even still a part of their lives today.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
I loved the music of Galway, Hubbard and Maniacs of Noise. I was also very enthusiastic about the graphical realisation in games like IO or Armalyte. To be honest, I didn't really have any major heroes, it was more that as a team, we tried to set new standards and get as much as possible out of the devices. Over time, we got to know a lot of people from the industry and the scene, and that gave us perspective on a lot of things. That being said, there were some very impressive talents like Mario van Zeist and Ivo Herzeg, and working with them was great and often very funny too.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
Amica Paint was the best graphics tool back then, and I also remember how the Maniacs of Noise music routine blew me away. The music on Cybernoid is still unbeaten today. Ivo Herzeg developed a multicolour graphics scroller, which we first used in the Double Density demo and later in the game Another World.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
We've been to Venlo and some other copy-parties a few times. Venlo was the most important place to make business contacts.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
It was about being able to live our youthful dreams, have a lot of fun and meet some great people.
What were the particular highlights for you?
There was one demo that I found incredibly brilliant at the time, but whose name I've since forgotten. At the Demo of the Year 198X series, I saw some of these demos again and was very happy to make their reacquaintance.
Any cool stories to share with us?
There are so many countless incidents that were funny. When my brother was working with Markus Schneider on the soundtrack and the digi-samples for Hawkeye II, we laughed so much and were doing so many stupid things while sampling, that's still a fond memory for us today. Since the scroller for the level-editor on Another World regularly crashed our C64, we had to cool the devices in the fridge again and again in order to be able to work on the level graphics properly.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Yes, almost everyone from X-Ample and Digital Excess, regularly with Ivo Herzeg and Walter Konrad via Facebook. The Internet has made a lot of things easier.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I think around 1985 or 1986. Unfortunately, I don't have it anymore. To be honest, I do not know where all my old equipment has gone.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
The C64 simply had an unbelievable range of possibilities. It enabled you to create complex game worlds on your own and turn them into creative worlds. This at least is what has always driven and motivated me.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
We are working on a new demo, in which I was also able to contribute something. Hopefully, you will like it, it shows the spirit of X-Ample Architectures away from code-porn.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Most of us were very young back then and got to live out a youthful dream that has stayed with us until today. For me, and I'm sure many others as well, it was an important and formative time that will remain forever in our hearts, as well as having a very special place in computer history.
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