The Zapper / The Wanted, Empire
Added on March 17th, 2021 (1767 views)

Hello Marc and welcome to the interview! Please introduce yourself to the readers.
Hi! My name is Marc Girard, I am 47 years old now, and I'm from Montreal, Canada. I am currently working as a software developer for Canada's biggest telecommunications firm, Bell Canada.

What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
I used to be The Zapper! That's the only handle I ever had. As a teenager, I was looking for a name with "Zap" in it, which I thought "very cool". :) After brainstorming with a friend, we decided on The Zapper! (That was a few years before Nintendo decided to give their "TV Gun" on the NES this name too!).

What group(s) were you in? (Please include full names and the order in which you joined them)
I was in The Wanted, Empire and a few other unknown groups. :)

What roles have you fulfilled (e.g. swapper, coder, artist, musician, organiser, etc.)?
In The Wanted, it was mostly graphics; for Prosoft (with Booze of Empire) I did graphics and music; and in Empire, I dealt with cracktro coding, graphics and a bit of music too.

How long were you active for?
From 1986 until the late 1990s, so about 15 years. I switched to the Amiga scene for a while but came back to the C64 scene, as I liked it more and I did not have any Motorola 68000 assembly skills! :) There's something about 6502 assembly and PETSCII BBSes that I just loved.

Tell us a bit about those years, and how you first got onto the scene.
Well, my uncle was a techy. He introduced my brother and me to the Commodore 64 in 1985. The C64 was not entirely new to us, as we already had a VIC-20 at home and I was already rocking BASIC programs more than playing the thing. One day we were visiting my uncle, and he said: "Hey, kiddo! Come over here, I've got a new thing to show you!"

I can still remember seeing Impossible Mission for the first time and hearing that sampled voice at the start of the game. I thought to myself: "Oh, this is something else!". In the following months, we played the classics to death: Summer Games, Raid Over Moscow, Impossible Mission, Jumpman and a few others.

A few years later, as a young teenager, I started working and bought my own C64. My brother continued playing the games, but I went in a different direction: modems and BBSes. I really loved the fact that I could call another computer and communicate with it (and the other people using the service). When I discovered Quantum Link, that was also very fascinating to me. Since I had some good BASIC programming skills, I started coding my own BBS software. It became an obsession. I coded many versions of BBSes, further enhancing my coding abilities and sometimes looking at other people's source code (ColorBBS comes to mind). It was fun, and it was different to playing games: I felt like I was doing something constructive.

In high school, I met a guy called François Vézina (known by the moniker "Vizz"). He also had a C64, and we talked a lot about it. Frank was also doing some programming and introduced me to the 6502 assembly language and to hacking. After a few months of learning, I also starting fiddling around with graphics and music editors.

Later on, Frank introduced me to Sylvain (Booze) who became a sort of a guide to us, he was much more advanced and helped us develop our skills even further, providing us with tools like Bitmap-to-sprite converters, Bitmap-to-character converters and frameworks for our cracktros. We all then joined forces to form what became Empire. Booze and Vizz would crack/fix games and demos, while I coded some of the intros.

Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer (in the 1980s/1990s).
My time was spent calling BBSes, downloading new stuff, creating and editing bitmap graphics for intros/demos, and coding intros using Turbo Assembler.

Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
No, I was more into creating something that looked good than innovating or looking for exploits! :)

When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Definitely the intros I did for Empire, which were so popular that some folk have since recorded YouTube videos of them! I wrote a BBS program on the PC which was ANSI and PETSCII-compatible, it ran for years. We didn't do documentation, but we did share tricks and bits of code (this was pre-OpenSource). I made a lot of group logos, some of which I still see now and again.

Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Eagle Soft, because they were EVERYWHERE! (And I loved the fact that they were RUSH fans!). JCH, Martin Galway and Rob Hubbard, because they were simply masters at making music. Lots of demos groups, particularly those who really pushed the C64 to the limits.

What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64? (e.g. a tool, routine, etc.)
Definitely the SID chip! It's still very popular today, even after all these years.

Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yes, in my C64 days, we once held our own demo-party at a friend's house one weekend. Later on, we also attended the NAID '95 and NAID '96 demo-parties held near Montreal.

In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
For me, it was about having fun with a small home computer, hacking new routines and creating stuff that your friends would find cool. I was fortunate enough to be able to do it all by myself (coding, graphics and music).

What were the particular highlights for you? (e.g. favourite event, demo, etc.)
In terms of games: seeing Impossible Mission for the first time. In terms of music: hearing the song Thrust by Rob Hubbard and thinking "WOW!", and hearing the Myth theme by Jeroen Tel and thinking "HOLY SH1T!". As for the C64 itself, seeing a demo with the borders hacked/opened for the first time, and my first telecommunications session with a 300-baud modem. Also, playing Archon for the first time with my brother (we still play it now!).

Any fun stories to share with us?
Well, being teenagers in the 1990s, we talked on the phone a lot. One night, we were having a phone conference with Vizz, Booze and some other group members and friends, and I simply fell asleep with the phone still in my hand! It was late at night, and the guys were yelling down the phone for me to wake up (I must have been snoring or something!). :)

Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Yes, I get news about folks though Facebook. We're all "responsible" adults now! :)

When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
It was around 1986, that was my first one. I had two C64s (the old grey one, and the newer white version) and a C128.

Why was/is the C64 such a great machine?
Because it was/is a complete system (in one box) that was affordable. You could play awesome games and learn to code in BASIC and assembler. The graphics and sound capabilities were top-notch at the time. You could communicate with others via modem, print stuff out, etc. Even big PCs costing five times as much couldn't match the C64's abilities at the time.

When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Oh, I've been toying around with the idea lately of making a few SID tunes. Nowadays, there are "modern" trackers available for modern machines, and it's so much easier to create SID music.

Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Thanks for your interest in reading my C64 résumé! I was an awesome time and a major part of my teenage years, a time I'll cherish forever. Cheers!

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