ST games had an interesting new feature: the “cracked by” intros. ST games were unreal for me, coming from the CPC. But these intros were the ultimate form of unreality, unidentified mutant objects that surpassed anything I had ever seen in video games - and I had seen a lot.
Better. These intros were better. Better coded, no doubt. Unquestionably more beautiful, with more colors. Out-of-this-world colored bars called rasters, that one could only find in those “demos”, managed to invade the usually empty screen borders. They were displayed outside of the screen! Again: unreal.
Curious, as always, I gradually gave up playing games to investigate these famous intros and get a closer look at them. It was also at this time that I first connected to servers such as SM1*ST or RTEL. This was on the Minitel, long before the Internet. I made contact with some people. With a lot of people, in fact. Not doing things halfway here either, I ended up with a lot of mails – I’m talking regular “snail mails” here – coming from all over the country. My mother used to joke I had more mails than a French minister. That network had basically a single goal: to share demos.
And one day in 1989, I received a particular demo from one of my contacts. Not your average demo. The most legendary demo in the history of ST demos: the Cuddly Demos by The Carebears (TCB), from Sweden. And that day my life changed. It is no exaggeration on my part: it is clear that the next 5 or 6 years of my life have been in one way or another influenced by what happened that day.
What happened was nothing out of the ordinary on paper: I just inserted the Cuddly Demos disk in the drive, and I booted the machine.
And I got torn apart like never before. I remember this like it was yesterday. I had never felt anything like this. It happened at just the ideal time: I had not seen enough to be completely jaded (that would happen later with the Amiga, which for this reason impressed me far less) but I had seen enough to know that the world had never seen this before! Mindblowing is too little a word to fully convey the force, the power that exuded from this demo. Brain petrified, leached, liquefied, shoo! I fail to explain with words what I thought and felt at that time. It was not just unreal anymore – I had come to terms with the unreality of that world -, it was worse than anything I had brought myself to accept so far. The Carebears invented everything that day, and put on a single disk what others would then painfully rediscover in the years to come. Techniques that even the designers of the Atari ST would have had a hard time replicating. A visual unthinkable folly. Think of it as if suddenly your black and white TV had started to produce colored images, out of the blue. Complete madness.
That was the last drop. It pushed me over the edge. It was too much for me. I was terrified and ecstatic at once. Terrified by the extent of my ignorance. Terrified by my littleness. I was wasting my time playing stupid video games when others were doing… this? But I was ecstatic because it was possible. It was possible to do with this machine so much more than what people believed!
My decision was made. And irrevocable. Whatever the cost, I would also create demos. Me too.
I learned that demos were coded in Assembly, which reminded me of bad memories and put my ambition to rest for a while. I could not wait to start programming these magical things myself, but I did not know where to begin. Taking advantage of the STMag and RTEL servers, which both had programming forums and chats, I unearthed a few experts in Assembly language, looking for any help, any tool, any source code sample.
I quickly found a mentor, a guy named Loïc – a.k.a. Pirateal. He kind of took me under his wings and provided me with tools (Devpac!), a few source code examples, and more importantly agreed to answer my naive newbie questions. And boy those kept coming! I had a thousand questions a day, for any small insignificant detail…
Questions kept coming, demos kept coming. I am not going to list here all the demos that blew my mind at the time, but one of them deserves a special mention. While the Cuddly was the unquestionable number one for me at the time, a close runner up was the MindBomb from The Lost Boys (TLB). I do not have a lot of programming heroes. I think I might have maybe 3 of them: Nick of TCB, Manikin of TLB, and Steve Bak – from Goldrunner’s fame. So it is worth mentioning all those years later that the world caught up with one of them, Manikin of TLB, now responsible for nothing less than God of War. Yes, that game. There are very few people who managed to blow my mind twice with a 20-year interval inbetween, so, well done sir.
Anyway, in the end I learned 68000 Assembly. To make demos. Learning by playing, as always.
I created a few small demos that I submitted to the STMag server, so that other people could download them - I knew the sysop, Mic Dax, well enough at that point to just boldly ask him. And before you ask, yes, we could download stuff from the Minitel, from at least as early as 1986. Those first demos were not great, but quite decent still. I was very proud of them in any case.
But something was missing. Something vital.
To create demos seriously, I needed a group.