The team behind FirST Love on Atari ST. An Amiga mag featuring Atari-Releases? Ghandy dares to celebrate 35 years of that other 68k computer..
The team behind FirST Love on Atari ST. An Amiga mag featuring Atari-Releases? Ghandy dares to celebrate 35 years of that other 68k computer with the six dudes from Overlanders.
Interview: The team behind “FirST Love” on Atari ST
By Lars “Ghandy” Sobiraj
When the production “FirST Love” came out in late summer 2021, it caused a stir far beyond the boundaries of its own computer platform. In times where most demos are probably consumed on YouTube & Co., the hardware or operating system doesen’t play a big role anymore anyway. People love the mix of fresh graphics and the integrated routines. We recently spoke in depth with those involved as part of a group discussion. Eine deutschsprachige Version des Gruppen-Interviews ist hier verfügbar.
It all started after a private meeting…
Ghandy/JP: This seems to be the first production from Overlanders (OVR) since a real long time. How did you come up with the idea?
Janek: It started just after a meeting arranged by Mr Bee at his home in 2016. There were many demosceners from the old days. Of course, lots of OVR guys but also Leonard/OXG and others from Undead (hi KAS) or Legacy. It reminded us of the good old days, this magic period when we were 18 and meeting all together during demo parties (Transbeauce 1&2, STNICCC 1990 or other special events). It generated an appetite and I created a little ‘colorshock-like’ demo that I did send to RATI a few days later. And then the magic happened: we started to code various routines without any intent to create a demo at the start. Our goal was more to explore and develop advanced routines.
RATI: Before coming up with the idea of creating a demo, you must come back to asm 68k coding. As Janek explained, I restarted coding right after I received his remake of the Colorshock demo from The Carebears. Then Janek and I (we are twins) managed to code quite many effects and some years later (2019), at a new Mr Bee’s party, the idea emerged to do something with all the materials we had in hand.
The others have infected me
Jess: I did not come up with this crazy project. They pulled me into this. And I’m grateful they did because the outcome, in terms of personal & team achievement, of community feedback, of impact on the demo scene, happened to be way beyond expectations. It felt like we resurrected something, not only Overlanders.
Mic: Actually, I’m not a member of OVR but Dune. RATI reached out to me with the idea and asked me if I was in. And I said yes ;-)
Mr Bee: For many years, I thought one day I would come back but this actually never happened. In 2016 I organised an event at my place with many good friends from the demoscene I hadn’t seen in a long time. This is where and when Janek and RATI reconnected with the scene and the passion. A few years later, they showed me what they coded. I was impressed by their work. But when I saw how they were working (almost all effects have been developed the old way), that’s when I pulled myself in to improve their development toolchain.
Ben: I have learnt about the project and the ex-Pendragons twins (RATI & Janek) return to active duty late. At some point it would have been nice to have our own music player for the demos but I could not deliver a modern editor for Jess in time.
Ghandy/JP: I guess it’s now time to say hi from everybody who took part in this production. Please with name, pseudonym, age, job, hobbys, country etc.
RATI: Benoît ‘RATI’ Durand, 51yo (born in 1970), IT Architect. I like coding and solving problems in a smart way. I also like spending time with my family, skiing and traveling. I’m living in Paris (France).
Introduction of the active members
Janek: Hervé ‘Janek’ Durand (RATI’s twin), 51yo, computer scientist. I’m passionate about computer science and car racing simulation. From France.
Jess: Jean-Sebastien ‘Jess’ Gerard, 51yo, business owner in IT services, synthesizers & tracked music composition, USA.
Mic: Michel ‘Mic” Svariradjalou, 50 yo, co-founder of a mobile games company. Main hobbies are all kinds of art and making games and such. Living in Sweden.
Mr Bee: Patrick “Mr Bee” Bricout, 53 yo, software engineer. Some hobbys includes programming, roller skating, snowboarding, diy. Living between the UK and France.
Ben: Benjamin “Ben” Gerard (c)1973 in Paris/France, originally software engineer. Likes Blipblops and slaking.
Ghandy/JP: What was your idea, what’s the basic concept of “FirST Love”, if there’s one?
Mic: I would say it’s a way for one of the most legendary ST demo crew to come back from a prolonged hiatus where real life took over and tell everybody what the scene and the ST meant for them.
Atari ST: Many are already 50 and more years young!
RATI: Fully agree with what Mic says. Plus ‘FirST Love’ definitely is for asm68k coding on Atari ST and love for the Atari ST demoscene.
Jess: Actually, my first love was the C64. But who among us can pretend they married their first love, huh?
Janek: Celebrating the 35 years of Atari ST while unifying the old and the new generations of demo makers.
Mr Bee: I think the title is quite explicit isn’t it? Notice the capitals ‘ST’ in the title ;-) Greets to Grey/Mystic Bytes for the idea.
Ghandy/JP: Why did you release it at that party? Because of the anniversary of the Atari? Sorry, I have never heard of this party previously.
Janek: Silly Venture is THE party that unifies the wider audience for Atari machines. OVR had not released anything for more than 2 decades and it sounded logical to us to make our comeback at this event. Too bad we could not attend physically though. But the stream was great and the audience looked really enthusiastic towards our production.
RATI: When we realised that ‘FirST Love’ was becoming a real big thing, we just wanted to fight against the elite on the Atari ST platform. Silly Venture is well known for having the best Atari demo crews competing there so that’s why we decided for this party.
As for the ‘anniversaries’ (Atari 35th and SV 20th), the idea to use them arose when Mic was working on the storyboard in July 2020. These anniversaries were ideal as Overlanders is a crew from the past (born in 1988) so we were in need of a proper timeline to tell a pretty long story. These were very nice vehicles to convey our messages to the scene.
Jess: I totally trusted my teammates on the release plan. I think they made the best choice by targeting the Silly Venture party, as a good compromise between 1) reaching less demo scene people but securing a maximum from the core Atari audience and 2) having a bigger exposure at a very well-known and generic party (like the Revision) but taking the risk to be diluted in a wide audience.
Mic: As mentioned, we had a couple of milestones in sight and it seemed like the perfect timing and place to release the demo.
Ben: Not my decision. There was an internal discussion between the members. The Atari anniversary was definitely a factor in the final decision.
Ghandy/JP: Reading the sign from the start you’re normally busy with cracking stuff? Is there any more new commercial material (games or programs) that is sold on the Atari ST or Atari Falcon? Speaking about the Amiga market, that happens quite seldom.
Ben: No. In my all life I have cracked 2 games only for fun and for the benefit of very close friends. I have played with demo protections for the fun and challenge of it as well.
We (Jess and I) joined Overlanders long after they had stopped the cracking business. I never met any of the former members involved except for Stan Mercury. The same way (AFAIK), The Union had already stopped cracking operations when Overlanders joined.
As for the Atari ST market I am not aware of anything commercially serious. Most new software is homebrew free software.
Mr Bee: The Union logo has a “Cracking” line but I would myself consider this legacy, we did not join the Union for this aspect of it, but for the two others: “Creativity” and “Pleasure”. I never cracked, I am not very interested in this.
RATI: As mentioned by Ben, the Union started as a cracking organization indeed, hence the ‘cracking’ mention in the initial logo. Later, the Union became a legal organization composed of some of the top demo crews of the time and eventually created the famous Thalion software company. The ‘cracking’ mention was removed from the official Union logo at the time. For ‘FirST Love’, we just wanted to use the prime version of the logo because the demo is all about the demo legacy from 1985 when the Atari ST was born to 2021, and there’s no doubt that cracktros played a big role in the emergence of the demoscene.
Janek: As for games, like in Amiga, it’s very seldom to have new games developed for the Atari ST platform. But there are still some passionates: Dread (also on Amiga) developed by KK/AltaÏr is awesome. Before that, there were games such as Athanor 2 (Eric Safar), Randomazer (Thomas Ilg), Whack a virus (Janez Valant aka swe/YESCREW), … and there are some remakes like Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge (Jonathan Thomas) that leverage the Atari STe capabilities.
Jess: The only thing I crack is jokes. I leave the rest to the smart ones ;-)
Ghandy/JP: Does it really make sense to crack original software, because it probably kills the income of the companies behind these productions? What do you think?
Mic: Yes, piracy didn’t really help the burgeoning software industry back then. That said, I would say it has become less of a problem these days with games and such being treated as services instead of a one off offer. Also the rise of F2P is another factor which makes the question of piracy less relevant than it used to be before.
Mr Bee: I think for many crackers, this is an intellectual challenge, “I can beat you! I can remove your protection!”. I think this is where the competition in the demoscene started. Unfortunately, as you mention, there is the darkside of it: it hurts the companies developing the games. It however helped develop the platforms, as it was for many an argument to buy the machine. This is quite paradoxical; it helps develop the platforms but also kills them.
Ben: I am more balanced about the damage of software piracy. There is an important upside to it. People actually buy/use the machine because they know they will have access to a lot of softwares. Many of my friends bought their Atari ST because I had one. Once the people have the machine they are potential clients, and even if they do not buy all their softwares, they will consume. Especially software piracy does not cost anything to a company, except for the business of copy protection.
Remember game consoles go above or beyond to minimize the real cost of the hardware in order to circumvent the law that prohibits sale at loss. They know they have to distribute the hardware to a maximum of people to sell more software and accessories where the margins are higher and real money is done.
One of the wealthiest companies of all time, Microsoft, was also the most copied. And their hegemony for long was not disputed despite the many copies of their softwares. However I always had a big problem with selling pirated software. I have never bought a single pirated piece of software.
We could also talk about the legal status of software. How companies can licence unfinished/bugged products without any legal repercussion.
Ghandy/JP: How would you describe the state of the Atari scene? Speaking of the database from pouet there have been around 8 or 9 demos for the Atari ST in the whole year 2021, or did we forget a lot stuff that came out?
Mic: I would say the Atari scene is in much better state nowadays than during the late 90s-beginning of 2000s. Don’t forget also that it has always been smaller than the Amiga or C64 ones.
RATI: According to pouet, 84 Atari ST/Ste demos have been released in 2021 which is pretty decent I would say ;-) (scenes.at/m2dy8h). What impresses me the most is that the Atari scene never died. There has always been new crews arising to keep it alive: Dune, Sector 1, SMFX, Dead Hacker Society, Checkpoint, Cerebral Vortex, Reservoir Gods, Hemoroids, Dekadence, Effect, New beat, Eko (that I discovered very recently thanks to SMAG-FX) , … (sorry for those I forgot) who constantly invented new tricks and made the Atari scene reach new levels. As Stef from Spectrals says: “Demoscene never dies”.
Mr Bee: I haven’t followed the demoscene closely for a long time. Just randomly checking stuff from time to time. But it seems that the legacy scene never died (the PC scene kept going strong), even better, it seems that there is a revival in the past years with many very good productions. Nowadays we have a better understanding of the machine, better development platforms, and this helps raise the bar again.
This is true not only on Atari ST but on any “legacy” platforms. There are a lot of people dedicating time to create and share content, videos, conferences, documentations, websites, etc. It’s incredible. There are also a bunch of people for whom the passion never stopped and they keep going. It is great to have Websites like pouet or demozoo, which are amazing databases. I really enjoy all of this. Thanks to everybody.
Janek: From my point of view, the Atari scene looks really friendly and active. Maybe less active than others (Amiga and PC) but I find it very heartwarming to belong to this rather big family. Everyone is nice and keen to help each other. And as said by RATI, it looks like you’ve missed a lot of Atari productions in 2021 ;-)
Ben: I kept following the scene from far away but never too closely. I am sure there is plenty of great stuff during the first decade of the millenium I have yet to see. Social networks helped a lot in that manner. As much as I despise them I keep my FB account almost exclusively to keep track of the Atari ST scene.
About the Starstruck port
Ghandy/JP: I’m sure you know of the Atari port from the demo Starstruck by Mystic Bytes. Do you observe what’s going on at the Amiga scene?
Mic: Yes. I was actually involved in Amiga too and occasionally did a few graphics for my brother (Ninja/Scoopex). I actually enjoy watching demos on any system, and the Amiga scene has always been a good benchmark for tech and more particularly design.
Mr Bee: I haven’t checked the Amiga demoscene in a while to be honest. I should probably do and will. Thanks for the reminder.
Ben: Ami what?
Janek: Starstuck by TBL is awesome: incredibly well crafted. The tune, the graphix, the effects… Everything in it is fantastic. The port to the Falcon platform by Mystic Bytes is also fantastic and enables it to benchmark the Falcon with the Amiga AGA. Compared to other demos in the same machine, it’s definitely one of the best. But look, there are extraordinary demos on many retro machines. Have you watched ‘Possible‘ on ZX Spectrum by Acid-Maker that was released at SV2021? Or the incredible “Beams of Light” by TRSI on an… oscilloscope. On recent machines, there are just too many incredibly blasting demos. A special mention for “VRX” demo by Spectrals that I like a lot. There are many others that I have great pleasure to look at.
One likes to be inspired by the ideas of others!
RATI: For sure I’m looking at what’s happening on the Amiga scene. That’s not the only scene of interest though: C64 and PC scenes are great too. Amiga OCS is of course very appealing to me because, even though I barely coded on Amiga, I pretty much know the limits of it so I like to watch innovative ideas there. For example, the vector stencil effect in Hologon/TEK is terrific because it’s coded in a very smart way. I like that. You get inspiration from others’ work for sure.
Jess: I wish I had more time to reconnect with the Amiga scene, which I was closer to back in the Protracker days. For me, it’s still from where I learned how to tame a soundtracker!
Scene of the Atari ST has its own atmosphere
Ghandy/JP: I often get the impression that Atari scene members like to separate themselves and do their own thing. So they are rarely seen at the cross-platform parties like Revision, Breakpoint etc. How come?
Janek: Well, we left the demoscene for a very long time and so had no idea of the specificities of one party versus another. We observed that Silly Venture was a very popular party unifying a lot of Atari’s passions and so it sounded to be the best audience for what we wanted to do. At a point in time, we made a choice and we think we made a good one.
Mic: I would say it’s the same for lesser known platforms like Amstrad or Spectrum. I guess it’s difficult to find your place in such big events where the spotlight is mainly focused on Amiga, C64 and PC.
Mr Bee: Yes, this is an interesting observation. I am not really sure myself. I would probably not go to a party like Revision and kind; this is too big for me. That being said, I like the point made by Mic.
Ben: I did not go to many cross platform parties. At the time when the Atari scene was in its prime there were definitely not many of them, and except the few people who had the privilege to own both machines, it was all Atari ST.
We prefer to go to our own parties!
I don’t really know why the Atari sceners don’t go to these great parties. Maybe just because we have our own. Or maybe it is the remnants of an old rivalry? Maybe because it’s hard to compete with that cheap hardware of ours?
Jess: I share the same analysis from Ben and Mic. I do think it’s a mix of both. Atari is technically somewhere in the middle of all the platforms mentioned here and there. And for some reason, the Atari scene has its own ambiance and never made it to that C64-Amiga-PC circle. I’m not sure though. Interesting question.
RATI: I truly can’t tell. Back in the day, the only multi platform party I’ve been to was a copy party. That was not at all about demo coding. Personally, I find it weird to compare demos running on platforms which do have totally different capabilities. And well, the Atari demoscene is just so friendly.
Ghandy/JP: Where do you see similarities, what are the differences for you?
RATI: I can’t really tell as I’ve not attended Revision, Breakpoint etc. I can guess that it’s always entertaining to discuss techniques in one platform and see how it could translate to another. Surely can help develop new algorithms.
Mr Bee: I like the “friend and family” format of the Silly Venture.
Janek: Similarities: all parties unify people having the same passion for this “Art” that’s all about design, effects, music all assembled in a way that delivers a message, a story. Differences: hard to say as we are not familiar with them all. The main difference I see is that SV is dedicated to Atari and so is full of people who know the real limits of the machine and who can judge the performance.
Ben: Hard to tell. I don’t know the others well enough to compare. Probably something more industrial with these big cross platform parties. They are very well organised, dare I say professional events, whereas small Atari events seem more like a family small business brand.
“The title of the demo says it all. Atari ST is our first love.”
Ghandy/JP: Why did you choose this computer? Coincidence? Intentionally?
Mic: I actually got my Atari ST from my brother who gave it to me when he migrated to the Amiga.
Janek: The title of the demo says it all. Atari ST is our first love. We discovered assembly coding with it. We discovered how we can break the barriers and think out of the frame. It opened us to new communities, new competitions, and real friends… that we still meet 30 years later. We never lived the same experience with any other machine so it was obvious to us to code on this machine.
RATI: Our new motto : “Be strong! Be smart! Be Atari!” :-) Ah well, it could only be the Atari ST for everything Janek said.
Mr Bee: Mostly coincidence, because my dad bought one!
What would Father Christmas have said? ;-)
Ben: It was the family computer. The father’s choice.
Jess: Better ask Santa :-)
Ghandy/JP: What can we expect from you in the future? The next demo again in 15 years? ;-)
Jess: There is a life after Atari. In the near future I’d like to find the time to share my passion for synthesizers and tracked music. I hope to see you visiting my new YouTube channel “Jess From Square One” (scenes.at/q7a48h).
Looking to the future …
RATI: We’ve already released a new demo at Silly Venture 2021. It’s called ‘Little -ME- Demo‘ and is a tribute to -ME- of TEX, a true pioneer of the Atari ST demoscene and one who played a big role in us joining the demoscene.
We’ve got another motto in OVR: ‘No rush, just fun’. The next demo will come when we’ll be able to combine motivation/energy, a good topic to address and nice effects for your enjoyment.
Ben: One can always hope. Possible things are:
- A long overdue update of sc68 (my YM/Paula musique simulator)
- A sound demo with my modern SID music conversions
- A modern tracker for my new sound routines
Mr Bee: It’s impossible to predict! I don’t have much time to dedicate to it and most of the time would prioritize social life over it nowadays. Though I would love to do a few things and have some ideas. But that’s not enough to make a good production and I would not like to release something not high quality (expectations are high). This is where the difficulty kicks in. This means time… Full circle.
Janek: Who knows?
Lars “Ghandy” Sobiraj: First of all, thank you very much for all the detailed answers!