Memory Full

No Recess (Condense)

Written by Hicks in August 2010

Initially published on Push'n'Pop.

Hicks - Hi No Recess! I usually skip the classical introduction in an interview, but your case is a little bit different: you were involved in the CPC scene a long time ago, you stopped your activities, then went back with Phat in 2008. Can you introduce yourself by summing up your evolution in the marvelous world of demomaking, from the beginning until today?

No Recess - Hello there!

I got my really first contact with demoscene at the age of 11, with the Malibu Demo 4 that amazed me at the time. Of course it was pretty impressive at the time! Few years later (mid-1994) I have been in contact with Rainbird/ Arkos that printed me documentation, development softwares and of course demos. Then I have been put in contact with Scorpion team owner, Sonic3. Six months later, I left (because he was actually inactive) and founded Condense with my friend Greg. We both were teenagers and, let's be honest, loved the fact to expose our work to others. Proudness!

I stopped my CPC activities after my "maxidemo" got lost due to a READ FAIL disc. Of course I did not ship any previews or did no backups (too selfish for that). It was about a whole summer of work, made of 4 parts, and it was actually good and enjoyable! Some previews were shown at Ze Meeting 97.

But Doom/Quake really killed my CPC motivation :) Like most of people at this time, I was amazed by this game and pushed me to get a PC. During 97-98 I did PC programming on my side (assembly only), nothing special to mention, excepted I was with my CPC knowledge on a powerful computer... I was kind of lost regarding demoscene, I was still able to enjoy the PC demos being out but unable to code anything special like that!

Things changed during my studies in 98-2000. Trust me or not, during my "BTS" (IT exam specialization) I was in same class than Xbarr/ Gods, a member of a really famous Amiga demogroup. It was the time he decided to leave Amiga and learn PC programming. We learnt C++ programming, DirectX,... together. With the BIG difference that he was my "mentor", he learnt me the basis of 2D/3D programming and most of all, we had fun! 2 years of pure fun! Can you imagine going to class and speaking code/demo everytimes you can? :) We made a demo together (Dash) but most of code was from him. This smoothly introduced me to PC demomaking. After 1 year of work (and many demoparties), I have been able to release my first PC demo, called Eat My Short (it's funny to think that the title was actually found by Eliot and me - a demo we planned to release on CPC together in the old days). Then other prods followed, including Bame that was very well done (truly original art/music inside) and Red Line.

In 2001, the Nintendo GameBoy Advance was out and it was full of hype, so I decided having a look on and actually wrote my best demo ever, Kance. I love it because everything was made from scratch, the Gameboy Advance is like a portable Amiga with many constraints and the last plarform (including the DS) were programming in assembly still have an interest! ARM assembly rocks, btw!

In 2003, same "hype" with the PlayStation 2, so I did custom dev for it and participated to PS2DEV contests. The same year, my real-life job got really time-consuming and I was unable to pursue PS2 development...

In 2006-2007 I wished to get back to "homebrew" projects and got interested in PSP development. I wrote a small game (Tetris-clone) and most of all, a 5-parts oldschool-style demo called Recession that was a clin d'oeil to Amstrad CPC and Amiga, regarding the effects, the used musics and graphics.

In 2008, I was still continuing digging around retro stuff and discovered z88dk, a C compiler targetting z80-based machines! I tried it out under WinAPE and quickly got succesful results! I was amazed by these new possibilities, showed that to my good old friend Mat-Grim I mean! He has been my teacher for few months while secretely coding the Phat 1 (I was reading all the CPC forums! But I wished my comeback to be a surprise! It was hard to "read" without "writing"!).

So I guess you get the whole story. If you are interested in downloading some stuff, feel free to visit website and search for Condense demogroup.

Hicks - Let's speak about the early years for a start. In mid 90’s, you were involved in a lot of groups like Condense or Scorpion, what do you remember about this period? What were your contacts with the scene? At this time, your reputation wasn’t very good: people reproached you to rip code, not to understand CRTC technics you used (we can read this kind of jokes in the first Amslive), etc.

No Recess - That was a wonderful period, and I'm pretty nostalgic of the mid 90's. Not especially because of the production quality - repetitive and too much raster-based to me, who can still enjoy Epsilon/ Mortel/ Arkos productions of that time? -, but for all the social thing around. You know, it was wonderful having contacts everywhere, writing letters with disc inside and waiting for the postman everyday! It was a period of discovery, I had everything to watch and learn. I also think it had a deeper impact on me as I was a teenager.

My contacts in the scene were first Rainbird, then progressively Sonic 3, Eliot, Orphee, Targhan, Nicky One, Greg, Mat (Grim)... but also some "international" people including people from Bollaware and Catloc (YES you were The Legend Of CPC - RIP, I know you are reading this from where you are).

Yeah I ripped some stuff at the time; I was 14. Years later, I don't regret it, I was actually learning from that stolen code.

But don't get me wrong, everybody at the time were rippers: most of demos were inspired of articles pushed in french Amstrad Cent Pour Cent magazine! We were all learning after all.

That said, in 1996-1997 I was skilled enough to provide pure unripped code (Mystery Megademo has not a single ripped line of code), but as I already wrote motivation went out because of lost source...

Hicks - I suppose that all these reasons, and maybe others, made you stop your CPC activities? What did you do just after that on the demomaking side? Did you keep in touch with members of your old groups, or work with them?

No Recess - Well, already answered most of these questions :)

I got in contact with Greg last year (2009). He continued with "hardcore music" as a DJ under the name Greg Notill. He seems to be famous now, performing in many countries! Great for him! About other Condense members, from times to times I receive/send news... Xbarr got married! :)

Hicks - You tried a lot of platforms to make demos. Can you tell us what is your favorite one, first, on the technical point of view, second, on the scene point of view? Do you still plan to release something on another platform than CPC?

No Recess - My favorite one is of course the CPC, mostly because of the high constraints it gets. I also love Amiga & Gameboy Advance, but does not equal the CPC in term of feelings. Yes, feelings... hehe.

High constraints matters a lot to me; I love being at work using 3Ghz-powered computers and spend time the evenings on such small machines! Scene point of view... well... depends... PS2 scene was very small and really friendly, PSP and GameBoy Advance scene was full of newbies - so full of crap productions -. PC scene was quite good to me, lots of people, I found real friends there.

The CPC has both things: the BEST, and its radical opposite. I love writing to people I was already in contact 15 years ago. And I hate how sometimes simple things derive to something uncomprehensible. So yes, I have mixed feelings about the whole CPC scene; but fortunately it doesn't get me out of there - there is people, there is activity, there is motivation, there is people using their CPC to do gaming-only, there is inactive people helping others technically, actually there is still lots of people :)

Hicks - What are your Coup De Coeur demos at this moment, all platforms included? What do you think of the whole demoscene evolution, and of the CPC scene evolution and ambiance?

No Recess - I'm still inspired by Amiga ECS demos these days - WorldOfCommodore, Extension, etc. Yeah it's oldschool I know! C64 also is really amazing, they completely mastered their machine through the time AND succesfully applied "modern" demoscene technics. I'm dreaming of such things for the CPC.

My prefered CPC demo lately is still... Ukonx's Heat Beats. This demo has been clearly underrated. It's pretty good, technically and visually! Awesome effects. I also have lots of respect to MadRam for his Ecole Buisonnière demo - I know it's old now but his production clearly got a big impact on the scene. It stopped everyone making raster- and scroller-based demos, and that was really welcomed.

Hicks - Then, go back to the CPC. You came back 2 years ago with some demos using C language. C language is not new on CPC (french people can read this), but it’s the first time that it’s used in a demo. In Phat, Phat 2 and Pheelone, can you tell us what is coded in C, and what in z80? What is the main interest of this language on a platform as limited as a CPC?

No Recess - Phat 2 was fully coded in asm, so let's pass on it.

Phat 1 and Pheelone were different regarding traditional CPC development. I prototyped all the effects in C under VStudio/SDL using a PC, with CPC constraints in mind. Once satisfied, I then switched the compiler from VStudio to z88DK/SDCC and implemented most of time-consuming routines in Z80 assembly. After all, you don't need to optimize everything in a production, the rule of 80-20 is perfectly appliable here ("only 20% of a program needs to be optimized").

I recently helped Jeff (HxC2001) in making a better CPC adaptation of his HxC Floppy Emulator Manager. He got the same approach than me, did all the development in C, with few routines in ASM. It was so easy for me to dig around and make improvements, where a fully ASM-implemented source-code would have been probably more difficult to deal with. Initial version of his manager was running on both Amstrad and Atari machines, with minor changes for low-level stuff! Even if C is OK to make games/demos, I think it's even more adapted for making tools that does not need extra-speed, it's easier to manage arrays, loops, files etc. and focus on the functionality first.

Finally, C usage open new horizons. You can focus on more advanced algorythms, having a better overview of a program (as you need less instructions to do the same thing). Think about it: it could be possible to get a BitBuster packer version running on the CPC, as also a JPG reader, Zip-file archive manager, etc etc. It's 2010 now, it's time to be open-minded and use new development approaches for our loved machine! After all, the idea is not new: on C64, they have JPG readers, IRC client, website hosting, and much more!..

Hicks - Why don’t you try to create a new CPC group, with your own graphician and musician? It’s the demomaking spirit! Pheelone was a very nice step toward the new standards of demo, what is your next demo project? You are also working on some tools...

No Recess - OK, let's be clear on that: I'm NoRecess, official member of the Condense demogroup since 1994. That said, in 2010, does it still really matter? It's common to see people from different groups doing productions together, bringing wonderful productions. I'm not really in the mood anymore of fighting against "challenges" or "friendly wars", I mean... I'm done with that. I know some people have different points of view than mine but that's OK, people will survive I guess :)

My next demo project is still in its evaluation process. I needed first better tools to start it. During Phat and especially Pheedemo development, I had to deal with nightmares I don't want to be faced again. Example: let's say we have a background and a sprite, both sharing same palette. Each times I was receiving new BMPs updates from Ced, I had to "guess" what were the new color indices of the sprite to fit background's ones. Now this problem is solved by a custom tool pipeline, as many other potential issues like that. I wrote an application PC-side, that I called CPC.Net, that handles everything I need for my CPC developments. It's actually featuring everything I dreamed about: packing, image conversion, C/ASM source compilation, data converters, Z80 opcode generators for sprites, bitmaps..., DSK file creator and so much more I can't describe everything here - everything is packed as a single development environnement. It also features some advanced principes such as a build system allowing to rebuild only what needs to be rebuilt, plugin-system and all the great tralala I was expecting to implement :) It's now finished, saving me now lots of time, especially when project tends to be a big one! (even for a CPC).

Auto-critic on Pheelone: it was great; but could have been much better. Next production will have text, transition, longer demonstration time. I'm still learning!

Hicks - This is the tradition, you are free to send a message to the whole world, kissing or kicking CPC scene ass :)

No Recess - Sincerely, I want to greet everyone that have interest in CPC. Everyone that I personally contact through mails/forums. I send friendly thoughts to Arkos's Grim and Targhan, for always being there providing me great technical support when I need it. Hellos to BDCIron/Ast for providing CPC Plus productions. Kind regards to Vanity for their awesome From Scratch demo (please, next time: make compatibility a priority!). Everyone maintaining CPC-related sites. Especially Offset for Quasar.Net, probably the best thing to be put out lately. Waiting for next Arkos prods too (Grim: move your ass)... Love you all!

And finally, long live to the CPC scene! WE ARE NOT DONE YET. :)