Author Topic: Interview with StingRay / Scarab  (Read 1831 times)

Offline 4pLaY

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Interview with StingRay / Scarab
« on: March 16, 2019, 06:20:08 PM »
Hello StingRay, could you please do a small introduction of yourself to our readers?

Well, I guess I'm known as the one who made countless WHDLoad patches, quite a lot of fixes/cracks of old games that weren't done properly back in the day and well, I do still code demos as well. Though, at a lot slower pace these days. Mainly because next to the Amiga stuff I'm heavily involved in the classic cars scene and whenever the time allows, I ride one of my 4 cars (2 MK1 Golfs, 2 MK2 Golfs). That should do for a short introduction I guess.

When did you get interested in computers, and what was your first computer?

When I was 12 or 13 years old, my interest in computers started to grow. My first machine was a C16 which lasted for exactly one week as the CHAR ROM broke (I guess, at least the characters weren't displayed properly anymore). It was quickly replaced with a C64 which was much better anyway.

What Amiga(s) did you have in the past, and if you remember, what were the(ir) configuration(s)?

My first Amiga was a bog standard A500. It was bog standard for exactly one day. I borrowed a lot of games (backup copies of course *cough*) from a good friend of mine and almost none of them worked as they required 1 MB. So next day I went to the same store where I bought the A500 and purchased a 512k memory expansion. Some months later I bought an external drive and a bit later a harddisk followed, it was a 105 MB Protar HD and really expensive back then. I also bought a lot of other stuff for that machine, there was a time when I had 4 disk drives connected for example.

Then, during school holidays in late 1992, this A500 broke down and I purchased an A1200. I bought it with a 60 MB IDE HD, which was even more expensive than the 105 MB HD I bought for the A500. I also quickly bought a 4 MB fast memory expansion and then really enjoyed playing Wing Commander on that machine. Later a Blizzard 1230/IV followed and I also put the machine into a tower, which meant I could add a graphics card as well (CyberVision 64/3D). This was my main machine for many many years and I really enjoyed it.

Do you still have any Amiga(s) today? If yes, which ones and what configuration(s)

I have 2 4000's, lots of A500's and an A1000 as well. The A4000's are both equipped with a Cyberstorm 68060 and a Picasso IV and have lots of RAM. The A1000 has 2.5 MB memory, a harddisk and an external drive. The A500's are all more or less standard except for the memory, some I have modified to have 1 MB chip and some have the commonly used 512k fake fast memory expansion. My main machines are the 68060 A4000's.

Can you tell us how you got involved with the demoscene?

That was more or less just "natural progression". Like many others I enjoyed crack intros on the C64 and later on the Amiga and wanted to do stuff like that on my own. So I started coding crack intros for my very own cracks (so I didn't have to rely on any coder except myself). The protections were becoming more and more uninteresting (as in: no skill required to beat them) so my focus slowly but surely shifted to demo coding.

You are one of the founding members of the demo group Scarab, can you tell us a bit of the story behind the creation of this group?

Well, we all worked together in the group prior to Scarab and were good friends. One person however, never respected the work of the others and had quite a negative attitude. So, right after Mekka Symposium 2001 said negative member wrote another "nice" mail and we decided to leave the group and form a new one. After a bit of brainstorming regarding the name, we came up with Scarab. And here we are, almost 20 years later, still good friends and still active even though most of the members don't have that much time for demo making anymore.

Do you have plans for a new Scarab demo?

Plans have been there for quite a while already, but the usual problem is to find time/motivation to do something. I hope Scicco will return one day so we can revive our coding sessions, he always managed to keep me motivated and had a lot of nice ideas. There definitely will be a new Scarab demo, but I can't say when we'll release it. At the moment Sniper, Dan Dee and me have some ideas/plans and there even is a bit code by yours truly already, but until that will see the light of the day in a demo, quite a bit more work has to be done. We'll see...

Do you remember which tools you used back when you started out, and what are you using these days for development?

I started with Seka, then changed to MasterSeka (I have used both, Corsair's and Buddha's) and finally switched to ASM-One (which I own as a original!). Then Deftronic released Trash'm-One which introduced the quite nifty "switch between different sources with the F-Keys" feature and I used Trash'm-One 1.6 for quite a while. I later switched back to ASM-One as it had been improved and most features from Trash'm-One were implemented. These days I usually use ASM-Pro V1.16d and occasionally switch to ASM-One (mostly when ASM-Pro has problems with certain 68020+ opcodes). For graphics converting I've been using Arcane's "IFF-Master" for many many years, it was a very reliable tool, I can't remember that it even crashed once! Then, in the mid 90s, PicCon was released and it did anything I need and allowed me to work extremely fast! It has been my weapon of choice for many years. I have also used ArtPro, which is great as well but mainly PicCon is used to do any of the graphics converting stuff.

What would you consider your best production?

I don't really like to judge my own stuff. If I had to name one, I guess it would be "Cube-O-Bootic", as it was fun to do that effect in a bootblock and even add a bit of design. But the best production is always the one which has not yet been released :).

You created your own version of the game Lotus, in only 96kb, can you tell us a bit of the story behind this production, as well as how you got it down to that size?

This was one of these projects that just sort of happened for no particular reason. I had deciphered the level format of the game and then coded a level generator just for fun. When doing this I noticed that I could do it in just a few bytes, as I came up with a level format which made it very easy to code a very small generator. So I got the idea to make a size optimised version of the game for the Breakpoint 96k game compo. I decided right from the start to make it 68020 only as it allowed me to use 68020+ instructions, which really helped to reduce the code size. I coded the object generators (using an extremely slow but also super small custom chunky to planar routine), several custom packers and other stuff like that. And once this was done the "point of no return" was reached and I finished the game and released it at Breakpoint 2005. Once I had everything more or less finished, I also added a bit of fun stuff like the crack intro that is shown while the object zooming and level data is precalculated. You can also try certain player names for example, you may get some more or less funny messages then.

Can you tell us what you consider the best Amiga demos back in the golden years? as well as now

Back then I enjoyed demos such as Desert Dream (though now that I have fixed all the timing bugs, I doubt I'll watch it again anytime soon) and almost anything released by Musashi, who still is one of the most underrated Amiga coders ever for me! I particularly liked his "Deformations" demo, there's some really nifty code in it! Another favorite coder was Mr. Mega Mind, he didn't release that much on Amiga, but he invented a lot of new effects and his code was almost always top notch! He also liked to protect his code sometimes (check the Celica GT crack intro for example) and even his protections were not that easy to defeat. Really great coder! When it comes to newer/recently released demos, I really enjoy Slummy's stuff! He really has nice ideas and can support his ideas with some really good code, an excellent combination which I envy him for :). I still watch Psycho Killer on a regular basis and I guess it'll be my favorite Slummy demo forever even though I of course also like his much newer stuff.

Do you have some tips for anyone that might want to start doing Amiga productions in 2019?

Well, these days it is much easier to start doing Amiga stuff than it was when I started. In "my" days there was no Google or a tutorial for even the most basic and trivial things. Back then, learning to code on Amiga meant spending lots of time trying things, examining code others did and basically just a lot of trial and error. And I really remember these days fondly! Having the first scroller on screen and later the first blitter filled blue vector cube which rotated in the middle of the screen, provided such enjoyment and a feeling of having accomplished something great that it made you want to try more complicated things. It just kept you motivated and the many nights spent in front of ASM-One instead of getting sleep paid off in the end. But I digress, so back to the question: If you want to start doing something on the Amiga you just start doing it, as simple as that! I really dislike people needing/wanting a tutorial for even the most basic tasks, if you really want to achieve something you should at least be able to use Google these days. Or find the time to ask the right questions and these are not: "How do I code a demo?". My experience is that people asking these type of questions will never do anything at all! I am always willing to help new coders, but I expect that they at least put a bit of effort in getting something done. There are many good resources such as the ADA forum or the coders section on EAB where a lot of different things are discussed, so it should be easy to get started doing Amiga stuff. Start ASM-One (or whatever assembler you prefer) and write your code, that's how we started doing things decades ago and it worked pretty well!

You have been doing WHDLoad patches for both games and demos, what got you started doing these?

In the mid 90s, HD fixed versions of trackloading games and demos appeared on the boards and I got curious how this was possible. So I loaded good old ReSource, disassembled one of these fixes and it took me just some minutes to understand the principle. The loaders were patched to copy data from the disk images which were stored in memory, so instead of loading from disk, a simple "memory copy" loop is all that was required to be able to load games from HD. I then started coding a lot of custom fixes (not WHDLoad) for many games and demos and I really enjoyed doing that, especially those that weren't trivial to do. I was extremely proud when I finally managed to really load data from HD (i.e. not a simple memory copy) even with disabled OS and back when many people still made "RAM loaders" which required lots of memory for obvious reasons, I released fixes which loaded data directly from HD. Back then I wasn't fond of WHDLoad and thought that people shouldn't have to pay for a tool to run games from HD. Later I changed my mind (that was hard to guess, wasn't it?) but I'll get back to that later.

Fast forward a few years, I joined the EAB forum in December 2005 and saw people requesting WHDLoad patches for certain games and demos. As no one seemed to have any interest in doing these, I just started doing my first WHDLoad patches just for fun. I then also noticed that WHDLoad was constantly updated and Bert (Wepl) really took great care to listen to the users wishes and improve WHDLoad (it really came a LONG way!) which made me change my mind regarding WHDLoad completely. WHDLoad makes it really convenient to code patches as you don't have to care about all the low level stuff such as file loading, returning to the OS and similar stuff. And should there be a problem with the mentioned low level stuff, the patches don't have to be changed at all as Wepl "just" needs to update WHDLoad. Now, more than 10 years and more than 900 WHDLoad patches later I still enjoy doing them. I especially enjoy hard to do patches, I guess it is some kind of unhealthy addiction wanting to get bad code to run properly on all machines. I mean, who would watch the intro part of Desert Dream countless times just to check if the timing is correct? And before being even able to do that, write code to patch the disk version of that very demo to save timing data and coming up with a way to finally fix the timing problems once and for all? No sane person would ever do that :). Kidding of course, I somehow really enjoy the challenge to make especially demos run correctly on all machines. It is so much different from the serious code I do at work, but also helps to solve problems at work as you often have to think outside the box. That I often do patches during my working hours is another thing, but don't tell my boss :). I also enjoy patching really good protected games. I still, after so many years, discover some really clever protection ideas sometimes. And, some really stupid ones too :).

What do you feel you got out of the whole experience of being active in the Amiga demoscene? for example, did it lead you to code professionally in any way?

If I had not been part of the Amiga scene, I wouldn't be coding for a living nowadays! During my early Amiga days I taught myself a lot of things which are still useful now that I've been coding professionally for many years. Especially the cracking knowledge helped me more than once to solve certain problems at work!

Is there anyone you would like to send some greetings to? Or perhaps you have some other last words?

I want to take this opportunity to "thank" Mr. Johan Elm aka Slash/Insane for making me waste my extremely limited time on the Chiperia 9 code! It was one of the worst experiences of any Amiga related project I ever had! The way you treat people who do work for you is downright bad! And no, mentioning every other day to give the project to someone else is not motivating, it's just disrespectful, especially when you know how much work already went into that very project! Chiperia 9 will forever be my very own "Nightmare on Elm Street"! Anyone who needs a music disk can contact me, I may have some code lying around...

To finish off in a more positive vibe, I'll send greetings to all the nice people I met during my years in the Amiga scene. I'll be seeing many of you at Revision.

That is the end of this interview, thanks for taking the time to do it StingRay, I am sure our readers will appreciate it :).
« Last Edit: March 16, 2019, 09:25:20 PM by 4pLaY »