The group was born one day at a computer convention, the “Salon de la Micro”, in 1990. I went with a friend, coder-wannabe like me, from High School. Let’s see… I got my “baccalaureat” in 1992, so I was at the time in Tenth Grade. This computer convention was the event of the year for me. Impossible to miss it. It was the logical sequel to the old AmstradExpo I had followed in the past. But the 1990 edition would have broad implications.
In one corner, on a screen, a demo. I catch a glimpse, but shoulders and heads block the view. Ouch! That’s a screen from The Overlanders. For those who do not know, The Overlanders were the French counterpart of The Carebears: the best in their field… Especially when they joined forces with another star who often revolved around them: M-Coder!
Alert-eyed, I listen carefully and focus my attention on the ongoing discussions. And a shiver goes down my spine when I realize that… Dammit! Those guys chatting in front of me are The Overlanders! And I finally notice, in their back, embroidered on their jackets, the well-known logo: OVR!… I feel humbled.
Feverish, I look for my friend so that he also enjoys the show. I find him talking with a stranger. I quickly learn that the guy he’s talking to, Selim, is looking for people to start a demo group. Wait, what? We take the bait immediately, of course. I hear with amazement that Selim has many contacts in the fortress that the small closed world of demomakers can be. With The Overlanders in particular since he has been in the same class as Ziggy Stardust, their leader! A weird picture forms in my head: Ziggy in school? It sounds so amazing, so out-of-place… But this brings me back to Earth: yes, these people are regular humans too! Contact is made with Selim: he lives in the Paris area, like we do, and we promise to meet again. You bet! You don’t let go someone who has followed the same courses as Ziggy Stardust! I take this opportunity to dot the i’s: Ziggy is not a fan of David Bowie. Legend has it that he chose this pseudonym for a completey different reason: you can also read Stardust as “star du ST”…
The machine had been set in motion.
I remember a few code sessions with my coder-wannabe mate, later known as Elric. New contacts as well. Newtek, Dan Nato… how did we meet them all? I do not remember anymore. One thing I do remember from this period is the day we found the name of the group: Holocaust ! Rather aggressive and loaded, right? This could be seen as the same provocative and iconoclastic behavior that made me appreciate Hebdogiciel. But it would be dead wrong. At the time, the historical connotations of that word completely went over our heads. The only thing we saw was that it ended with “ST”, and that was it. Fair enough: that was not our brightest moment… Nonetheless, it popped up one day from the tortured mind of our friend Michael, whose musical taste at the time was somewhat standard for a teenager: Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Iron Maiden, that kind of cheerful music. This may very well explain where the name came from. I can still see us at school, in the middle of the study room (!), seeking a nickname for the future Elric and a name for the group. Well, we had just found both. That is what study rooms are for.
That was it! We had a group, we had the structure, we had the people. Better: we had the potential thanks to Dan Nato. Dan did not produce much for Holocaust, but he did one fantastic thing in the early days of the group: the FlexiScroller!
It was awesome. Very impressive. Never seen on an Atari, and as far as I was concerned never seen at all, anywhere. And yet he had done it, easily, quietly, with an unusual modesty – that was definitely not the norm amongst demo coders. And it was for the group! Merely thinking about the opportunity that Dan was offering us here made me feverish. That was it: we suddenly had a chance to create a demo that, whatever happened otherwise, could make a few jaws hit the floor – if nothing else, at least for the FlexiScroller. This was the key to the castle’s locked door. This was a way to make our breakthrough. A way to reach the other side of the mirror. A way to reach the same level as our idols… Terribly exciting. And also very, very scary. For the first time in my life I experienced a classic phenomenon in demomaking: anxiety related to time! Time passing too quickly, leaking, and playing against us. Because we had to be the first ones to release a 3D FlexiScroller like Dan Nato’s… It was a unique opportunity to create a name for ourselves. The stakes were too high, failure was not an option. Unfortunately, apart from Dan’s routine we had nothing. Not a single screen. Nothing at all. We had to create everything else from scratch. There was this terrible anxiety that gave me the chills (really!) when I received a new demo in the mail, the fear of seeing someone else releasing a FlexiScroller before us…
Let’s fight! Dan Nato’s effort had galvanized me, had showed us the way. I gathered my strength and threw myself into the battle, heart and soul. I have never learnt and coded as much in my life as during that time. I spent my days and nights coding, living each new demo as a missile to dodge, every minute of code as an ongoing challenge. More than ever I was on the Minitel looking for clues, hints, new routines, useful contacts. Like a lot of other people at the time, I focused my efforts on the two greatest ST mysteries: fullscreen and sync-scrolling. Information was scarce. I spoke at length on the Minitel with other sorcerer’s apprentices, experimenting my magic potions on the video controller for hours… My fears increased gradually as time passed. I already felt we were too late, that we had missed the ST boat, missed the great discoveries from Level16 or TCB. I had the feeling we started coding on the ST when the boat was already sinking and the rats already leaving the ship…
In any case, I made my first fullscreen thanks to a girl.
I beg your pardon? What? Yes sir! Thanks to maybe the only coding girl on Atari: Killer D, from FMC Connexion. Or at least, it was somebody pretending to be a girl, you never know. In any case “she” was my teacher in anything fullscreen-related. She sent me bits of the Full Show source code… and when, after a long time deciphering them I finally managed to run my first fullscreen, I got seized with a wild and uncontrollable joy. Finally! Finally I was ready to compete with the best! I felt like I was unveiling one of the best kept secrets in the history of the ST. It gave me an unquenchable sense of power… Encouraged, more than ever determined to create the demo of the century, I plunged headlong into the code again, living for that and only that.
As for the sync-scrolling, I only “got it” months later thanks to a friendly chat on RTEL with Fury/Legacy. And I must note here that, perhaps not so surprisingly, the same Fury now works in the same company as Manikin/TLB, on God of War as well. This really is a small world.