An interview with Dr. Felix Brandt? You may ask yourself, how this is related to our favorite Atari ST. I can promise you, that it is. You will find out, that he has done some projects, that almost every scener knows and that you won't get any answers to health questions here ;-).
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1) First presentation
2) The 800 XL period
3) Acquiring a Mega ST2
4) He used many software...
5) ...and he had some favorite games...
6) ...but he was mainly interested in demos!
7) Joining a legendary crew
9) The Hijackers
10) Collaborating with other crews
12) Remember the perennial missed Alyssa screen?
13) Still keeping an eye on the scene
1) Felix, I made it a bit exciting in my introduction. Let's unravel the mystery later. First, tell us more about yourself and why we can't expect any health tips from you.
I am a 32-year old theoretical computer scientist (I don't have a clue about medicine!) and I live in Munich, Germany. My research interests include multiagent systems, game theory, cryptography, and complexity theory.
2) Many of us know your Atari ST work (later more), but how did you start with bits and bytes?
My first machine was an Atari 800XL which I got in 1985 (the year the first ST was released). It was a beautiful 8-bit computer with lots of nice custom-chips (the inventors of the XL computers later designed the Amiga). The beginning was a bit difficult (the manual was missing and all I saw on the screen was the word "Ready" and a square cursor), but I soon started to develop some simple programs (in BASIC). The tape recorder that came with the computer was broken right from the beginning, so I had to start from scratch whenever I switched the computer on! Later that year, I got a disk drive (outrageously expensive in the 80s) which made me the happiest person on earth :) The computer itself was quite revolutionary in some aspects. For example, there was a graphics mode that displayed 16 colors which were all shades of a single color chosen by the user. This mode was used in the legendary Lucasfilm game trailers. Right when I started to make my first steps in Assembler (6502-C), I got an Atari ST (Mega ST2) and the XL was soon moved to the attic.
3) (laughing) That sounds familiar, I also had an 800 XL with broken tape recorder and moved over to the ST later. Can you still remember your feelings, when you switched on the Mega ST2 the first time?
Yes, of course. It was like a revolution. I had never used a mouse, a graphical OS, or painting programs (NEOchrome!) before. I was switching from a 64KB machine to a 2MB machine. 32 times as much RAM! Isn't it amazing that the cell phone I am using today has 96MBs of RAM (I later bought a Megafile 30 harddisk for the Mega ST which had 30MB!)? And the iMac I am using right now has 1024 times as much RAM as my beloved Mega ST2. I feel so old :)
4) Did you get any programs with the Mega ST2 and if not, which ones were necessary for your plans with this machine?
I don't remember that very well. At some point I bought GFA Assembler, though I ended up using TurboAss in the end. Like always, the best software was free (NEOchrome Master, looots of demos). I remember using Degas Elite and GFA Basic in the beginning - although I don't remember buying these programs :). Other great pieces of software were FCopy III, ACopy (for protected disks), and Tempus (a word processor).
5) It seems, that your main interest in those days has been programming and some other serious applications instead of games.
Well, of course I also had some games and I even bought several Thalion games, but often I liked the intros more than the games. Some games I loved to play were Star Trek, Sundog, Carrier Command, Elite, Tauris, Vroom, Return to Genesis, Enchanted Land; to name a few.
6) You've said, that you had 'looots' of demos. What was so fascinating about demos?
Demos were technically much more advanced than games (before Thalion arrived). Being a programmer myself, I was always surprised by the newest achievements. For instance, I'll always remember the first time I saw the Cuddly Demos by TCB. When I first met Big Alec, he gave the disk to me and when I booted it the same evening, I was blown away. There were so many screens which seemed impossible to do on an ST.
7) Now the time is right to reveal some more information. Tell us more about your early days in the demo-scene and how your group was build.
I was a decent GfA-Basic programmer when some articles about Assembler demo coding by TEX were published in the premiere German ST magazine in the late 80s. After reading these articles, I started coding demos myself. I founded my own one-member group The Hijackers which probably no-one ever heard about and I released a simple screen with rasters and a scroller (using the Knighthawks font). Some months later, Offbeat was formed. Offbeat consisted of Ray (a classmate and good friend), Big Alec, i (who I both met at the Systems fair in Munich), and myself (Flix). After releasing a number of demos (essentially Illumination Demo 1,2, and 3, and Musical Wonder 1990 and 1991), we were visited by New Mode and Slime of Delta Force. Of course, we were very honored, not only because they invited us to ICC #2, but mainly because they asked us if we'd like to join Delta Force. Even though becoming members of one of the most well-known ST groups (and thus also being a member of the Union) was an incredible prospect, it was a very tough decision because it also meant leaving behind our own group Offbeat - which just had started to gather some reputation. Anyway, we decided to join DF and I've never regretted it. Delta Force's visit at my parent's house was an amazing experience. They gave us a disk full of DF logos to be used in our future screens, including an amazing logo by Tanis which was "unreleased" at that time. Moreover, Slime improved a logo done by Ray and New Mode prepared the boot-stuff and protection for our upcoming Musical Wonder 1991 demo.
8) That's, what i would call a fast career :-). Can you tell us some more details about the DF visit? I'm very sure, that it was also a great fun.
This was more than 15 years ago. I don't remember much, except that New Mode and Slime told many stories from meetings like STNICCC. We hadn't been to any of these meetings before we joined Delta Force. At some point during the visit, New Mode must have inserted his hidden picture in the Musical Wonder 1991 which can only be accessed by pressing a special key. Revenge! ;)
9) Some groupnames have clear roots, but why did you call a one-man- group 'The Hijackers' ? Any plans in that direction ;-)?
At that time, most sceners tried to come up with impressive or intimidating group names (e.g., TNT-Crew, Delta Force, Aggression). "The Carebears" are a well-known exception. I just liked the word; I never hijacked anything. I think I found the word browsing a dictionary. Ray and I did the same thing before we founded Offbeat (during a boring English lesson at school).
10) The Union was spread all over Europe. Who coordinated the work or have the subcrews mostly worked for themselves?
I can't really tell because when we joined the Union, the ST scene was already dying. I believe there was some collaboration going on for the Union Demo but otherwise most groups just worked alone.
11) So it was more a question of reputation to be part of one of the 'big' crews?
Yes, I'd say so. Especially during the early ST days, the well-known groups were either with the Union or with the Bladerunners. It was a nice rivalry, which resulted in some amazing intros. Later on, more of these big organizations emerged, like Phalanx (Ghost and Vector), the German and the French Alliance, Inner Circle, etc. I remember a conversation with ES (of TEX) in a whirlpool at the local pool during ICC#2, where I was pushing for a second Union demo, but he replied that the Union is "ein Alterherrenverein" which roughly translates to "old men's club". In fact, most of the pioneers (TEX, TCB, etc.) were already "retired" when we joined the Union. I was so enthusiastic about the Union, that I tried to persuade Electra, ULM, and OVR to join the Union during ICC#2. As far as I remember, Electra and OVR joined us, but ULM rejected the offer (they wanted to retain their independent status).
12) From the first idea for this interview onwards, I have one question in mind, that I have to ask. You wrote an article in the TOS magazine about demo coding back in 1992. There has been a long threat at the Atari-Forum about how to remove the borders on the ST-screen. The first one, who used it was 'Alyssa' alias Sven for an intro. The question is, which game has he cracked, as no one nowadays has ever seen this first border-removal.
I am afraid I cannot offer much help here. My only source was TEX' article in the German "ST-Magazin". I've never seen Alyssa's intro. I suspect that it was just a techincal "proof of concept" without any graphics or music. The first time I've seen that technique in a demo-screen was in TEX' BIG-Demo.
13) Many thanks for answering the questions, Flix. I have one last question. You seem to be very busy. But you still keep your website about ST-demos alive. Do also still keep an eye on the scene and look for new demos or games or read in forums? Maybe some greetings or suggestions for the community?
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to update my website for quite a while. Every now and then, I check if there's anything new on "Atari Legend". Sometimes, I also peek in the demo forum. It's great to see that many of the great old guys like Keops, Leonard, Tanis, Alien, Paulo Simoes, and Gunstick are still around, though I sometimes wonder what other legends like Nick, AN Cool or Ziggy Stardust are doing today.
If you like to know more about Flix:
- Demo History
The famous book 'Programming the 6502' was written by Rodnay Zaks (French author and founder of Sybex). It was translated in many languages including German.
The Illumination Demo is a soundtrack screen. Three demos were created: Parts I & II are available on POV disk 109 and Part III is on Ripped Off disk 115).
The 'Poppycock Demo' has never been completed but the screens are available on No-Fragments CD-Rom 1.
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