This is a recount of my retro computing history. Continue at your peril.
I got my first Commodore 64 in 1986, which was used exclusively for playing games. After losing at some game one time too many, I bricked it in a fit of anger. It wasn't until Christmas 1987 that I was so lucky — or spoiled — as to cry myself to another C64. This time I had learnt my lesson, and never smashed a computer again.
This period was a hardship for a little boy with an insatiable lust for gaming. I remember trying to copy turbo-tapes on my older brother's double-decker (and before you try, no, it rarely works), spending ages turbo taping games, and even bought turbo-tapes from personal ads in the magazines. My best friend, who also owned a C64, and I travelled a long long way on our bicycles to the only computer shop in town to buy what he could afford, and all we got was Fruity, and no t-shirt. It was really disappointing.
However, the interest in games morphed into curiosity of the machine itself, and I before long I was able to write my first simple text adventure game in BASIC. I started experimenting with music in 1988, by changing bytes in a music player by Michael Winterberg before moving briefly on to Chris Hülsbeck's legendary Soundmonitor.
One of my C64 friends, Starman, was a swapper who had lots of new games, but also lots of these things called "demos", which piqued my interest. All of a sudden, my attention turned rather abruptly off games onto this new thing called demos and a thing called "The Scene".
My interest in the demoscene grew by the day, and in 1989 I came across Soundmaster by SödeSoft. It was a music editor that allowed creating advanced sounding music, just like the ones you'd hear in demos. To me, this was a revolution.
At the time I had inherited a big, fat, old TV from my parents. It had such a tiny speaker - I couldn't even hear samples! There was almost no difference if filters were used or not — everything was muffled to the unrecognizable anyway. Anecdote: I went to another friend who had an 1081 (or 1084?) monitor, and I could actually hear the samples of Jordan vs. Bird: One on One - I couldn't believe my ears!
After seeing a production of one of the quite new, but already pretty famous Norwegian demogroup Megastyle Inc's, I applied for membership by mail. For no good reason I actually got accepted as member in July 1989. My music was lackluster, but I like to pretend the guys heard some kind of potential. I chose the handle "Flashman" to represent myself.
As a member of MSI, it was suddenly really easy getting swapping contacts. Swapping, if you don't know, is the act of copying software onto floppy disks and sending them by mail to a contact, who in turn returns the favour. "Return stamps!," they'd threaten. Well, they'd better return the favour, or there could be WAR! (Cringes)
Scroll of Megastyle — in my humble opinion one of the C64's best coders — hacked Maniacs of Noise's Stormlord music player and made a custom editor for it, called Audiomaster, which looked like this:
The interface; I've seen the term Hypertracker coined recently, was very much inspired by Future Composer, the most popular music-editor on the C64 at the time. Scroll coded this editor in a monitor, not assembler. An amazing feat of true hackery!
There were, ironically and very much virtually, too many "-men" in the scene those days, so I came up with a new handle, Drumtex, which just was a combination of some random words I had put on paper. I made a bunch of songs in both Soundmaster and Audiomaster. Some were used in Megastyle demos, most remained unused. Listening to them now, they all pretty much sound the same. I could create several "tunes" in a day, re-using a lot of the sounds.
During this time I was swapping demos and being envious of the crisp sound of other musicians like JCH, Johannes Bjerregaard, Laxity, Maniacs of Noise... The desire to create more advanced sounds than the SID (aka. 6581, the C64's sound-chip) could produce was really strong. Today, authentic SID- (or chip-)sound is a virtue in itself, but in those days we wanted more, much more.
Now, the spoiled brat in me had no qualms about complaining that Audiomaster was too hard to use, and that I'd prefer something tracker-based instead, like Soundmaster above. I remember I wrote this in a "note-writer", a popular form of communication on the C64 where you'd type a letter, save it to disk, and the recipient could watch the text be typed out just as it went in, mistakes, corrections and all.
I hope for the challenge, rather than my complaining, Scroll got to work and hammered out the sequel, Audiomaster 2
He wrote his own player for it as well, again all in a machine-code monitor! Megastyle also formed a "music-group" named Jolly Poppers. Music-groups were popular at the time, after the success of the likes of W.E.M.U.S.I.C (arguably the first), 20CC, Maniacs of Noise and Vibrants. Just like today, everyone and their dog were convinced they could do music, and game music in particular.
Sadly, I don't think I ever made any music with Audiomaster 2, because by then, the temptation of the Amiga had become overwhelming. After the summer of 1990 I replaced the C64 with an Amiga 500 and immediately started building a contact network for swapping demos and games. I also picked up making music using the famous Noisetracker by Mahoney+Kaktus:
In 1991, Protracker arrived. It quickly dominated the music scene, and was the go-to tool for music over the next few years.
Fun (?) anecdote: At the Cryptoburners' Amega party in june 1991, my friend Rancor and I approached Lars Hamre, the author of Protracker 1.1b, questioning how the splash image (the Protracker info page above) was encrypted. Lars told me it was not encrypted, just byte-run encoded to save space, and copied over the encoding routine on a disk which the handed to me! Not long later, we replaced the image and released "Protracker 1.1c". I'm sure it ended up in someone's collections, but the only difference was the version number.
I also applied and was accepted into a few demo groups at the time, of which I can recall: Exit (1991), Cytax, and Deadline. Not exactly pinnacles of the scene (no offense!) In contrast, Rancor went on to join world-famous groups like TRSI, Scoopex and Absolute!
I have recently created a page with a selection of some of my Protracker modules from 1991-1993 if you'd like a listen.
By 1992 I renamed myself to Lloyd Rosen (Rosen after Ron Rosen, author of the Atari/C64 game Mr. Robot, which I later did a remake of). Over the years it devolved into lloyd and llyode. I still use those from time to time.
I also learned assembler programming on the 68000, in the hope of creating demos and games. In the summer of 1991, my friend Caustic and I xeroxed two copies of the Amiga Hardware Reference Manual at our school. About 800 pages in total! His father was a teacher, so the keys to the school were — let's just say — available.
Briefly, I released a diskmagazine called Resident Magazine (tagline: This one stays in YOUR memory) in June 1992. We got access to Usenet through another friend's father at the university were he worked, and so we were able to spam a few newsgroups. I remember we got negative remarks about this. Sorry, we were young and didn't know proper netiquette! Here's a link to one of the messages we spammed with. My friend Cray coded the first engine. An anti-virus organization called Safe Hex International wanted to work with us on this magazine. Issue two was written by entirely by Safe Hex International, and was full of swearing in contents of generally shabby quality.
I regained control by issue 3 (1993) and wrote the engine myself. After issue 4, the magazine was dead.
A friend of mine offered me his C64 for real cheap, and I jumped at it. I finally learned 6502 assembler properly, created a tiny game (Holy Camels!), the beginnings of a demo, and composed a few songs in Music Assembler. But interest waned, and the C64 was pretty much dead by then anyway.
In 1994 an artist friend of mine, Rhino and I applied for work at Funcom and were turned down. Rightly, I must say - they had the legend Jeroen Tel himself onboard!
1995 was a year off computers entirely, while I dedicated myself to girls, partying and playing bass and guitar in a band.
Inevitably, though, the digital itch came back. It always does. I got myself an Amiga 600 in 1996. I remember working on several projects that never came to be; a Wizard of Wor clone, a Bruce Lee remake, a Zenji remake. Notice some kind of pattern here? But I also wrote two music editors, so all hope was not lost.
I finally finished something; a "port" of the C64 game High Noon, under the "company name" Seasons (Chris Cornell, R.I.P.) Here's a video of someone playing it:
Seems like it has a bug that makes it freeze at the fourth wave. A shame, because there's actually a fifth wave outside a cave. Note the strange way the undertaker walks. I had no idea how to do a proper line algorithm, so I devised a strange random line-ish walk thing. I now find it adds a bit of positive "quirk" to the game. I also wrote my own music player for this game, of which I was rather proud.
I've put up a page about the High Noon remake which also has the original sourcecode. If you find the bug, let me know :)
My friend Alex had an internet connection at the Uni and uploaded the game to Aminet under my real name by mistake. Years later, I tried to have it corrected to "Lloyd Rosen", but the maintainer was very suspicious about the whole thing and rudely refused. It wasn't until 2005 or so that they finally caved in and changed it.
Speaking of music players. Now that I think of it, this was another desire in the C64 and Amiga days: new music routines. Anything that was different than the Protracker module format everyone was using. I spent countless hours disassembling and researching players and editors (Fredplayer, David Whittaker, Maniacs of Noise, Brian Postma's Soundmonitor, etc.) and also trying to come up with my own.
Come 1998 - 1999, the Amiga was on it's dying breath. First refusing to ever let go of the Amiga, I finally gave in, about five years too late, and built my first PC in 1999 (maybe 2000?) I initially built it to use BeOS, an up and coming operating system inspired by the Amiga. But the lack of quality software quickly propelled me on to Windows 98. I stayed on Windows ever since.
An internet buddy of mine, pluki and I had some game ideas, but stuff never amounted to anything except a pathetic demo that was never released. It was a novel puzzle game called Loads-a-Balls, a concept I still think fondly of. I also worked on an adventure game engine at the time called MADCAP. Here's a picture with ripped graphics:
We had an idea of spoofing of the X-Files, which we wanted to call the - wait for it - Z-Files. It was too much writing, not to mention we had no graphics artist anyway, so the idea was scrapped. (15 years later, Ron Gilbert of Maniac Mansion fame is working on basically the same idea, in the shape of Thimbleweed Park.) I'm still fond of the idea of making an adventure engine, though not so much the game itself.
The above image is taken from a 2D indie developer site I was the webmaster of, called 2DNow (2001 - 2003). Remind me, someone, to convert the posts to text and publish them, for historical purposes.
We also had other vaguely defined projects, like an Advance Wars clone, a RISK-like strategy game and so on. Nothing ever came to be. A lot of time was invested in writing tools and engines and libraries and stuff, not nearly enough effort on the games themselves.
Christmas at my parents house, I disassembled as much as I could of Maniac Mansion and wrote down some specs and the beginnings of an emulator for it, which became the basis for the ScummVM implementation of the C64 Maniac Mansion interpreter. ScummVM credits - See "special thanks" Lloyd Rosen for deep tech details about C64 Zak & MM.
I got the retro itch again and rejoined Megastyle. Time was spent mostly idling about, but I managed to produce some tiny music for some 4K productions (Spikey, Vector Runner, Trump Towers, Psytronik Intro for Mancave / Docster's Digger)
I also did a remake of Mr. Robot, and reverse engineered my favourite C64 game, Bruce Lee, over two years.
1st of March I was finally ready to release Bruce Lee - Return of Fury for the C64.
In the end of the year I left Megastyle and released Bruce Lee Duology as my final C64 project. (Although, nothing is ever really final, is it.)
It's probably strange for "outsiders" to hear that fascination for this little computer, the C64, keeps going from strength to strength.
I still research old C64 games, hack on them, create and listen to music, watch demos, read interviews, and so on. It's my mental yoga, meditation, my mindfullness, my zen.
In the weekends, I can often be found roaming retro Twitch channels under the handle dmx87 (I was not born 1987, but it is a year I have fond memories of.) I even try to stream a bit of retro myself, by playing, badly, obscure C64 games, but also some classics.
If you spot me around, do say hello :-)
So, all in all, I'm just a "has-been" now, forever stuck in the past.
But it feels so good.