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INTERVIEW WITH... F#Ready ! I am extremely pleased to present another interview with a well-known personality of the Atari community. At the "Silly Venture" 2018 computer party I came across one of the famous (The meritoriously :)) Atari-sceners of the of the 80s/90s era. And it turned out that I didn't need to persuade him so much for a few words about his history, which I proudly published for you here. So it's an interview with the living legend of western 8-bit Atari scene, the man known as F#READY and once Frankenstein from the High Tech Team. Interview time: December 2018. D : Dracon/TAQUART F: F#Ready F: Hi, my name is Freddy, $30 years old. I live in Hilversum with my girlfriend and our 10-years old daughter. I’m currently work as Software Engineer / Scrum Master at an hosting company in Amsterdam. Got my Atari 800XL in 1985, that’s when my passion for programming started. The Atari and retro computing in general is still one of my favourite hobbies. Next to that I’m crazy about bicycles. I have two recumbent bicycles and a rowing bike ( my recumbent Nazca Pioneer). D : So.... why did you choose ATARI computer (but not C64 or Amstrad?) and was it your first 8-bitter? How did you start your computer adventure then? F: Well, I was introduced to the home computer by my uncle. He had a ZX spectrum and that was like a magic box to me. At one time I could borrow it for a few weeks when my uncle went on holiday. I was hooked and remember typing all basic programs I could find. There was no tape recorder or anything to store the programs, so I kept the computer running through the night or typed a new one the next day. Anyhow, of course my uncle got his computer back and I saved money to buy my own computer. I had to do my research into which computer I should buy… In October 1985 I bought my own Atari 800XL with 1010 data-recorder. The other home computers were simply too expensive and I had seen the Atari computers before in a local shop. Again I typed in a lot of program listings from books and magazines. Each new Atari magazine was like a big birthday present and I read those several times. Soon I started programming my own (simple) games in Atari Basic. Even made some cassette inlays (still have those). So that's how it all started. D : And what's next ? You made huge progress through the years.... F: Next to Spectrum and Atari I had some experience with BBC computers during an internship at a school. I had to convert BBC Basic to Gw-Basic on the PC. They also had books about 6502, so that was a really nice working environment In the meantime I became member of a local Atari club in my region; Atari GebruikersGroep Friesland (AGGF). My long time friend André (The Exterminator) bought an 130XE, so we went together to play games, copy new stuff and have fun. There we meet the other HTT guys; Yeb (SolarSystems) and Eric (The DDT-Crew). In the beginning I was still programming machine language in hex codes using BASIC data statements or directly in Supermon. The other guys had access to assemblers, so I soon switched to Atmas II for all my assembler programming. I have to add that I really learned a lot from using Supermon and hacking existing programs (mostly games). I’m still not much into playing games, more discovering how things are done. That was the real excitement, looking inside a game to find new kinds of tricks with display lists or how DLI and VBI were used. Armed with ‘Mapping the Atari’ this was a nice way to learn more about the Atari hardware. As a group we had a lot of fun. We visited each other on a regular basis next to the local club meetings of course. And we exchanged letters and disks through the mail (yes, it was the time without internet!). There was no musician, so I ripped music from games to use in our intros. Personally I was inspired by the demos I saw on the Atari ST. We were not aware of a ‘demoscene’, even the word was never used at that time! High-Tech Team in 1989 year. From left to right: The Exterminator, The DDT-Crew, SolarSystems, Frankenstein D : Were there (in the Netherlands) proper computer literature and magazines that simplify Atari programming? F: There were quite a few in the beginning. Of course I got the Dutch magazines first; Atari magazine and Atari info. Our local Atari club AGGF did a few magazines called 'Reset' for which I wrote a few small articles. Next to that there were too many; Atari User, Page 6, Atari Magazin (German), Happy Computer (German), Analog and Antic. I could only afford to buy some and mostly bought Atari user and the German Atari Magazin. The Happy Computer special edition was the best one. A thick magazine packed full of listings with quality software (e.g. Turbo BASIC). So yes, I think I learned a lot from the magazines. There was not much more than that. D : So you were really lucky! Because in Poland at the time (1985-1990?) there were literally no serious, extensive books/articles on programming Atari 8-bit. Well, at least there were few books and texts only by one authors (Wojciech Zientara). That's why quite many Polish programmers had been trying to explore Atari system on their own (e.g. Henryk Cygert, known better for his amazing games like “Miecze Valdgira”). Can you imagine he has been analysing the whole Atari memory and system routines and wrote down (by hand) a big paper notebook on it?! F: Ah cool, I didn’t know that. I heard that ‘mapping the Atari’ was also made by reverse engineering instead of reading official Atari documents. I can imagine it was fun too. By the way, I have a few of these Polish Atari ‘school’ books and I think Poland was ahead of the rest because of teaching these things at school! A different perspective I guess. D : Didn't you have any difficulties to master Atari hardware ? What was the biggest challenge in it? F: Difficulties with the Atari? Not really. I gradually discovered more things. Whenever I learned something new I experimented until I understood how it worked. E.g. display lists. There were examples and it was easy to modify and later try it in the assembler. The book mapping the Atari helped greatly. It was my Atari bible. D : You said before about HTT-team. But how it what was born and how it evolved? F: The HTT started with four guys who made a few intros and the Big demo. After that a few joined us, but soon it all collapsed because of different reasons (e.g. read the articles in Mega Magazine #1). It was also one of the reasons I started Mega Magazine. So, in my humble opinion there was not much ‘evolving’ going on. It just ended around the time of the first Mega Magazine release. D : During MegaZine’s time one could say it already was there (the so-called small Atari European demoscene). The time was early nineties and there were people from The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Czech & Slovakia, Canary Island (!), Sweden, Hungary and even Turkey (!).... Many of them had created, let me say, MegaZine “family” of editors & readers, I guess. F: Yes, exactly that! It was one big (happy?) family. And just like making demos is was all for fun. For Mega Magazine I was much inspired by the first issues of Maggie on the ST (by TLB), some other disk magazines and Dr.Dobbs Journal. D : OK, you just mentioned about your inspiration from ST machine. Where did you had contact with it ? And weren’t you ”envious” about Commodore 64 computer (due to plenty of nice(r) games, etc.) and its big demoscene? Didn’t you plan to move into other computer during your Atari days’ period? F: Some people from the local Atari club had Atari ST’s and loads of software. A good friend also got an ST next to his 130XE, so I visited him often to watch demos and play games on the ST. I once bought an Atari STE in the early 90s but had more fun the the 8-bit. I sold the 1040STE after one year. And really, I’m not kidding you, I did not know anyone with a C64. I did saw some screenshots in magazines and knew more games were released for the C64, but that was about it. But on to this “controversial” photo with me (shot in early 90s): The one I'm holding was from Pirx/Our 5oft. They used it to rip gfx (for own games, etc.). Of course I seen it before, but I had no friends with C64. I did my research though, so I was aware of the Amiga and that it was designed by Jay Miner. D : So does it mean Atari (8/16-bit) was quite popular in the Netherlands in nineties ? In my country for example, there were full of small (8-bit) Ataris so there was quite a big market for making games in 1990-1995 year. F: I don’t think there was a big market here. Most people switched to ST, Amiga or PC. There still was a reasonably Atari community, but I think it was nothing compared to C64 and Amiga. D : So what about these: Stichting Pokey, Atari Club Eindhoven and other? In any case, not bad for a small country. Well, I'm afraid that in Poland in the eighties and nineties there were no active foundations or formal clubs (like ABBUC) as above…. There were few newspapers, a couple of publishers and certain amount of Atari demoscene people... F: Yes, and before Stichting Pokey there was Stichting Atari Gebruikers (SAG) with their Atari Magazine and regional meetings. Next to that there was an Atari division from the Hobby Computer Club (HCC). The HCC Commodore division survived and let other retro computer die-hards join them. This meeting is still happening every second month in Maarssen (near Utrecht). As you may know, in february the Atari 8-bit fans bring a lot of their Atari stuff to have a real Atari Invasion at the Commodore club See here: http://www.atari-invasion.nl/ and http://atariage.com/forums/topic/273530-atari-invasion-2k18/ and http://atariage.com/forums/topic/286339-atari-invasion-2k19/ D : Back to Mega Magazine… So what’s like to be main editor of such big magazine? Was it easy for you to manage all the contents, writers, etc. ? ;o F: Big? It really was just a hobby and the articles I got came from friends. I also liked to write a few articles myself. Sometimes there was a delay for an article, but than it could be used for the following issue. The hard part was to fit all the text on one disk side. D : From one moment (but not from the start?) MegaZine started to be distributed commercially... Why does it happen? And was it successful? I know ANG (A NEW GENERATION SOFTWARE - worth to show what it was) was responsible for this in the Netherlands and Mirage in Poland, but I’m afraid the magazine hadn’t been spreaded (by official way) as much as it could, isn’t it? F: IMHO it was spread enough through the usual channels, mainly Atari friends. Spreading it through ANG was an easy step (we were friends) and convenient for me because they did all the copying, labeling and they created nice looking covers D : The Mega Magazine (aka MegaZine) was a real gem for me. No other Atari magazine (formal or informal) had so much nice dose of humour, knowledge and overall good impression! It’s a pity it is not continued in this or another form. Why? Or maybe you are going to do so in future? F: Thank you for your kind words. All credits to the contributors, they made it possible. As you can see, MegaZine #8 was the last one mainly done by Jiří Bernášek and myself. The whole story can be found on the magazine itself TL;DR : in the age of internet there are enough other methods to get and spread the information. The last issue was done to release the remaining good articles, done by Jiří in 1995. I wanted to finish the whole series nicely with number #8. D : I remember that at later stage HTT was quite a big band, wasn’t it? And I always wondered about two facts: - What does “High Tech Team” name mean itself? Is it: the guys from High Technical school (aka Polytechnic ) ? - Why some HTT-members took their nicks in “plural” style? ;o F: How did we came up the name ‘HTT’? That’s a good question! No, it had absolutely nothing to do with a technical school. I’m sure it was simply a popular term at that time. High technology, meaning ‘cutting edge’. And the three letter abbreviation was probably inspired by groups on the Atari ST (TEX, TCB, TLB etc.). LOL, I really don’t know why some members decided to be not one, but more than one Solarsystems (there must be a great ego at work there) or why one guy calls himself a crew. It sure confused me at the time D : What is the origin of your nick in HTT ? Is it a homage to favourite fictional character in movie or book by Mary Shelley ? Or was it randomly taken ? F: I think it was inspired by (fragments of) the movie. “It’s alive!”, the feeling when you finally got that assembly program working OK, now is clear. But from a couple of last years you came back with another nickname… Why? ;o Maybe to indicate a fresh start, I don’t know. I felt it was time for a new name. People change and maybe the nick should change too. In detail: From the Atari BASIC screen. After boot, arrow up, insert 2x, press F. That's my name Since we don't have the inverse-space anymore, this was replaced by the modern day hash-tag. D : You forgot (?) to add you were releasing some cracktros (unprotected games with your custom, colorful intros) as HTT. So, that’s what some of demoscene members had started with. What about that? Who was doing what, if that’s not any secret nowadays? Is there any place one can see or download your releases (for brilliant games like BLACK LAMP, PLASTRON, BLINKY’S SCARY SCHOOL, anything else) ? F: Ah, yes, but I don’t have a complete overview of what we did on cracktros (yet!). D : What do you mean by this? I saw only three games with HTT’s intro… F: There should be more. I have a large collection of files which I did not check with the ones on the internet. Would love to preserve those cracks (not only HTT, also others). And as a side note, we didn’t even know we were doing cracktros, never even mentioned the word at that time. Call me naive, but we really didn’t know much about any ‘demoscene’ or even ‘demo parties’. D : So what made you write such intros? Any idea usually comes from somewhere… C64 was around the corner? F: Not from other systems, we didn’t know much about those at that time. We all had Atari. It must have been the intros from others before us, like Steve Zipp (who did this Black Lamp cracktro), CSS and CCA. 😧 Let me guess… CCA = Copy Crew Amsterdam? And CSS = Copy Service Stuttgart OR Chip Special Software? F: Yes, Amsterdam and Copy Service Stuttgart 🙂 Probably also saw the ABBUC hobbytronic demos before we did our things. I remember visiting an event where ABBUC showed one of their demos and they made a nice digitized photo for us which we used in the Little demo and Little Color demo. D : These „copy services” sounds little suspicious. Were them huge factory to copy stuff for free? ;))) F: LOL, you really should interview Steve Zipp or one of the CSS guys. It would be nice to hear those stories, since I really don’t know much what was going on there. D : Steve Zipp is (in a way) a legend. But I don’t know if he is so talkative as you! F: One thing I heard. Steve Zipp got his software from a guy reviewing new software for a magazine. So, it was first send to Steve and later send back to the reviewer. D : Wow, didn’t know it! In Poland in 80/90s were so-called „computer studios” which sold a lot of A8 programs, including even demos. So quite many times I saw „Big Atari 8bit” as one of the hits there. These were real „copy-services” in my country. I bet in Netherlands situation was more normal and demos were for available for free, right? F: Yes, I never heard of selling demos and we were really surprised that Page 6 offered us money because they told us the Big demo would be included in their public domain first. We even got a little assignment (and money!) to make a small intro ‘creator’ for the Page 6 magazine. Still have to find where they used it D : Not bad for non-professionals. What I heard about ABBUC, they ask various ppl to prepare intro to its magazine but without benefits (except fame) Correct. That was a big (!) difference with the UK. I got a thank you letter and they put the Big demo in their public domain, which was ok, we liked it. Still like their concept of intro for the magazine. It gives the disk something special. Ok, back to the intros (that’s what we called it). I remember making a cheat version for ‘tank commander’ and a little tool to generate accounts for ‘ghostbusters’ (I think it was on a Mega Magazine, called ‘account buster’). We all did a few game intros, but not much real game cracking. We got most already cracked file versions directly from Steve Zipp who had access to original software and was known for his cracking skills. D : Since you were not into demoscene (crackscene) when releasing any intro+game, what were you hoping for ? Was it for just pure fun or hope to make new friends in Atari-world or just for…. fame? F: Fun and being creative. That’s all. The goal was not to get new friends, but it obviously resulted in getting to know new people, some of those became good friends. No, don’t care about fame. I have much respect for all who are just creative, no matter what they do. It can be a real struggle to start coding on a new platform, so anything creative gives you a good feeling, it doesn’t even have to be something special for the rest of the world. D : Cool. So you did some demos, cracktros and very fine disk-magazine, but were not plans for any game or bigger utility? I only heard about announced stereo music-editor from one of the HTT members…. I mean here the time of HTT, not ANG afterwards. F: There was a plan to make a game with the code from the Platinum main menu, but since we all know what happened to that demo... Yeb (SolarSystems) worked on a music editor called ‘Atmus’. I still have the source code, but he did not even remember he ever made such a thing. D : Interesting! Is the source code almost ready to go? Would it have been better than other music editors at that time? I heard about Platinum demo in the past and know it as one of "impossible" productions which had too much expectations for.... But as of today, have you got some parts from it to use in future maybe? F: Don’t know the state of Atmus and it’s impossible to compare an unfinished product with other finished ones I do remember it was supposed to work with joystick and mouse. I still have all the source code from the unreleased Platinum, but some parts were already released as ABBUC intros years ago. To be honest, the unreleased stuff was quickly outdated and is not interesting compared to all the great demos that has been released over the years. For example, I used a little code from ‘Megadeth Scroller’ to create ‘The Lost Bytes’ 16K for Silly Venture 2k14. Also code from the ‘Plazma’ part was used by FRS and myself for the ‘Lets Rol’ 16K intro (Silly Venture 2k16). D : Oh, there was just one collaborative demo in which should HTT took part… Could you reveal more about this project? F: The Expo ‘91 demo was made for an Atari Benelux Expo in 1991. John from Pokey’s Magazine (The Missing Link, ANG Software) asked us to take part. I used a chiptune from Benjy ripped from the Hobbytronic demo and digi musix which I got from Detail (TACF) We did the final part for this demo and the small intro. The graphics was done by Prizm. Since Pokey’s Magazine was a Dutch magazine they wanted me to write the text in Dutch. I think I translated the English text back to Dutch including the group names in the greetinx. The result is funny if you can read Dutch language. The end part is difficult to reach since you had to read a large part of the scroller until you could press start. Digi music with screen on was not very common in 1991. D : Still speaking of demos, I must admit “Big Atari 8-bit Demo” was quite impressive at its time. I remember trying to read all texts from “the biggest scroller” there (but rather failed, as far as I remember ). Did "BIGA8Demo" made HTT somehow more popular in Atari world? Did you receive postcards, phone-calls or congratulation-letters from many other Atari freaks? F: Yes, we were all very surprised by the amount of letters we got in our P.O.Box. We decided to fairly distribute the new contacts we got. We got even more mail after the advertisement in Page 6, which was of course a great honour for us. While it might be considered to be a very simple demo nowadays, I’m still very proud of it. D : Well, especially digi-sound and music was surprising in "A8BD". But I bet you there are some fun facts about this production, hidden somewhere… F: Maybe a few, did you know... - the intro text was not decoded, but if you alter it with a sector editor the program will punish you (beware, it will destroy your disk if protection in disabled!) - the big scroller was decoded into 6-bit per character, an easy compression (25%) but fast enough to decompress - musix from the music menu was carefully chosen based on where we ripped it from memory. So, all musix from a menu don't overlap each other in memory - although the music menu is easy if you know about pm gfx,, I got questions on how we managed to get a screen with only 16 characters wide. for some this was already black art - the initial plan was to have a picture show instead of digi samples, but it turned out the guy who promised to do the pictures was not very good at it and gave up. - there were 17 master disks each with a unique serial number. the number is related to the person who got it directly from us. E.g. ABBUC, Page 6, etc. - the DOS menu is of course fake. when pressing return 3 times it shows a message and does a fake format. It all shows how much fun we had in making this demo D : Fine. What do you think about phenomenon of ripping on Atari 8-bit scene in mid 80/90s ? There were plenty of demos with ripped music from commercial games (is this due to lack of good musicians or music editors available at that time?). There were also demos with converted/ripped graphics from Commodore 64 (e.g. WFMH or HARD group) or even with some code/fx (HARD group). Do you condemn it? F: I’m not against it. Sometimes it is the only option. We had no musician in the early days and I liked to rip music from games. We had great respect for their work. On the other hand I would always prefer original music or graphics in a demo. It has a better chance of being a good demo when everything fits together nicely. D : Being longtime Atarian (with some years of break, right?) what keeps you still using Atari and visit different computer parties from time to time ? ;o F: There was a long break indeed. Did a few small things during that break, but really got back to the Atari when I decided to go to Silly Venture 2k14 to meet ‘old’ friends. Actually Grey talked me into coding something small and I rediscovered my hobby. Also, the great IDE (WUDSN) from JAC!, the MADS assembler and Altirra emulator helped a lot. Hereby a big thank you to the creators of these tools! At the moment the Atari as a hobby gives me great pleasure. I’m lucky to have a few good friends with the same hobby, so that helps too. It is always nice to go to parties to meet old and new friends who have the same interest. It’s also a very friendly and creative community. D : By the way, how do you like visiting Poland now (2018 year) and in the past (1991 year) ?Are there significant differences ? F: I’m not an expert, but I think the economy in Poland improved a lot. Prices went up, so I don’t feel like a rich dude anymore when visiting Poland. Transport and hotels are still much cheaper than in the Netherlands. I’m sure people in Poland are more wealthy now, maybe even rich compared to 1991. You should be able to answer this But from a personal point of view, people are still friendly and very hospitable. D : You said to me on last SV2k18 that you handed over “Atari Preservation Project” to somebody else. What is its status nowadays? F: Not exactly that. I try to do a few things and gave advice about best practices for software preservation since 2003 when the APP started. I see the current A8 preservation project is going very well. Farb and others from the AtariAge community are doing a wonderful job! It’s nice to see that the project is on the right track with good people and lots of knowledge about the A8. D : And now something quite different... Please tell me what is your favourite: - Demo (Atari / other) - Game (Atari / other) - Music (do you still listen to extreme metal bands?) F: Ah no! Demo, too difficult. Sorry, not possible to answer that. Game: Rescue on Fractalus and Boulderdash Construction Kit. Music, depends on my mood. Like to listen to industrial / martial music like Frontline Assembly, Laibach and Triarii. And of course chiptunes from different systems Don’t listen much to metal bands at the moment. Still like the old bands like Napalm Death. D : Does this kind of extreme/experimental music make you more quiet or vice versa??? ;o F: Yes it helps me to relax D : Well, we unfortunately have to finish this huuuuge (!) interview. What would you like to say at the end? F: There are probably important things I forgot to mention and things I remembered differently or are simply wrong. Feel free to correct me and restore my memory Thank you for taking the time to interview me. I can go on forever, since I really like to talk about the good old days, happy memories, it shaped my mind. I hope to see you and other Atari friends again sometimes, maybe next Silly Venture? D : We'll see! So, thanx a lot for taking your time as well and let us long live Atari (in our hearts) ! F: My pleasure P.S. Polish version can be found here.