Interview with Andy The Arfling of The BBC / Automation 14th March 2003.
Hello Andy Well the last interview you did was for TLB's Maggie I seem to recall , well over 10 years later we travel back into the mind of Andy The Arfling .... Briefly what's your scene/computer history ?
Oh, a trip down memory lane to start with! The first thing I programmed (I think) was the Basic interpreter on the Atari VCS. I didn't really get into it much, but then I started on a BBC Micro at school. From there I got my first computer, a Commodore Vic-20. I started in Basic but pretty soon moved to 6502 assembler, and wrote a couple of games from there but never managed to get them published despite many attempts. After that the Atari 800XL (nice!), then the ST. I got a job in a factory at 16 to save for the thing (£300), and after that I couldn't afford any games, so I started cracking. Much later on I did get a contract to release a game for it, but took some legal advice and it didn't come off.
Do you remember your first crack ?
Probably Enduro Racer by Activision. I remember thinking how easy it was considering I didn't know half the 68000 instructions at the time!
Why did you join Automation?
Difficult. I wasn't really into the whole competition thing, I knew as a group of basically two people we couldn't compete, so I thought it was a good move for us, and for really everyone in general. We could then do our own thing, but synchronised with the rest of the group. I always hoped our menus were slightly different, with the intros, but really it was just good to be part of the "big picture".
I remember you coded some pretty nifty intros and demos screens, I'm particularly thinking of your full screen BBC menu and your screen in TLB's Mindbomb, did you prefer this to cracking ?
Hmmm... I started as a programmer, it was always my hobby, and indeed it's now my job. I got into cracking because I had no money, and nothing to play. To be honest I'd rather be thought of as a programmer, but really I spent a lot more time cracking overall. Cracking was a quick fix, most games only took a couple of hours, so it was an easy evening to knock out a quick crack. Coding is never that simple. So to answer the question, really I dunno, to code a good demo takes one nifty idea, to crack a game takes one piece of skill, except cracking is much quicker. Looking back I think I preferred coding, but I just didn't have the patience.
Later on you left Automation and the BBC became independent again, what was the reasoning behind this ?
I don't remember any specific reasoning. Automation as I knew it was never a very close group, there were certainly people in it that I never met. I just remember it becoming less together than it was, and kind of drifting apart. It certainly wasn't a conscious decision that I can remember now!
Did you ever get close to being busted ?
Nope. I was worried a couple of times, but they were always wind-ups. My home phone number wasn't that hard to come by at the time, and I was quite young and naive!
What computers/consoles have/do you own?
After the ST I did release a demo on the SNES, under the name NESQuick. Probably one of my best ST programs I wrote was a cross assembler for the SNES (called ORGasm!). Nowadays I'm still with the consoles, probably mostly XBOX because the games are the easiest to come by (thanks Direct Connect!). I also own a GameCube because Nintendo are still the best. And a PS2, because you have to!
Do you still own your ST, and if so what do you use it for?
Nope. I gave it to a friend of mine who had a recording contract at the time and wanted to run CuBase. I still see him, so maybe I'll get it back one day. I still have a load of floppies, and also my prize possession at the time, a 120Mb hard drive.
Where do you think Atari went wrong, and would you buy a disk-drive from them?
Atari were fantastic. The VCS was great, the 400-800Xl 8 Bit machines were wonderful, then their 16 bit machine was incredible, the Atari Amiga. Oh hold on, it didn't happen that way. That I think was the first big problem, I don't know the details but the story was that Atari built the Amiga, then at the last minute Commodore bought the rights and sold it themselves, certainly the hardware was very similar to the old 800XL. In retaliation, Atari took a 68000, ran it a bit quicker and made a computer around it, but didn't have time for any custom hardware, and so was born the ST. However, looking at things now, neither Atari nor Commodore are around. I think really you have to look at the companies that have survived, Nintendo and Sega survive because of incredibly good games, Sony and Intel survive through good hardware. Atari were neither, so they failed. And no, I don't count the fact that their name lives on through an obscure marketing deal. The disk-drive would be fine though!
Have you tried any of the ST emulators?
Nope. I should do. I probably will do. I just played so much at the time, there really wasn't anything I missed that I now think I'd love to go back and try. Maybe nostalgia will persuade me some time...
Are there any games you weren't able to crack, if so why ?
Hmm, a few! Firstly "Sapiens", I'd love to see that again! It came out very early on when I was still very wet behind the ears, but also it was one of the first games to use a custom formatted disk, so copying was impossible. I remember I never got very far through the encyrption before giving up, rebooting, and just listening to that wonderful digital soundtrack, probably one of the first on the ST.
From experience I find packing games often a lot more difficult than cracking, how did you start packing, did you learn it all yourself or did you grasp ideas and techniques from other BBC / Automation members ?
I'd probably disagree on that one. Protection was intentionally made difficult so people couldn't crack it, whereas the loading routines of games were just functional, so much easier to replace. The only tricky thing was reading a FAT file system without GemDOS, but once you'd written your own file system routines this was easy. And no, I don't think I learnt it from anyone, it was just a general idea. In fact I think the later Automation menus use my routines for the file loading, and yes, even those done by Was (Not Was), or whatever pseudonym he was using at the time!
You had a close relationship with Cynix aka Medway Boys was there any kind of co-operation between the two groups ? Zipload <-> Andyload ??
Nope! Andyload was completely my own. Really it wasn't that important for me to release it. At the time I was in my first year at university and had just completed a course on coding / cryptography, so I implemented a basic compression algorithm based on Huffman encoding, put it together with some cracking knowledge, and my file loader, and there was Andyload. It worked occassionally without hassle, but really it was just for me to use.
Did you ever get a scroller to yourself?
Did you ever slag anyone off you wish you hadn't?
These things aren't that important. If I did, I can't remember it now!
Did you ever not slag anyone off you wish you had?
OK, so having said I can't really remember the minute details, I do remember disliking the Pompey Pirates. They came to the scene much later than most groups, (as I recall), offered nothing new, but were very arrogant about the whole thing. If I didn't slag them off then it was only because I didn't want to start a stupid group "war". If I did, then well, they probably deserved it! :-)
What was the most innovative thing (at the time) you saw on the ST?
Only thing that really blew me away was the Big Demo. The music was incredible, and they killed the bottom border! It was an early demo and well beyond me at the time. Obviously there were better demos afterwards but by then I always viewed them as magic tricks. You know it's not for real (i.e. the ST can't do that!), so where's there trick? I was normally able to figure them out, so after that the demo wasn't impressive.
What's your fave ST game?
Easy one! Dungeon Master. Nothing comes close. Oh, except Alternate Reality.
What do you think is the best (technically speaking) ST game?
Probably the Care Bears game, Enchanted Islands (I think). A sync-scrolling platform thing. Not the best game though.
What's the worst ST game you have seen?
Dunno, I saw so many the bad ones just got binned within 5 minutes without me ever taking the trouble to remember its name. I do remember anything by Tiertex was particularly bad though.
What's the best job of a game crack (ST) you have ever seen?
Dungeon Master. It seemed to be written in some kind of interpreted language which made it very difficult to fathom. It also had protection embedded throughout the game. Good protection is like good encryption, it can never be an afterthought, you can't buy it off the shelf, it has to be part of the fabric of the game. Apparently it had a protection check after the final boss, just so you couldn't see the end sequence. Hats off to them. Hats off to Was (Not Was) for cracking it.
What's the worst job of a game crack (ST) you have ever seen?
What's the best protection system you have ever seen?
Encryption routines were a silly game, so the best protection has to be Dungeon Master as far as I'm concerned. Law has mentioned a decryption routine I wrote running on the keyboard processor, but it was still beaten by hardware.
Did you (or anyone else) manage to crack it?
What's your fave demo? /p>
Big Demo, for reasons mentioned.
What's your fave group?
Firstly , but then . They always raised the level of what was possible.
What's your fave TV show?
I don't really watch much telly, but I guess right now it has to be Star Trek Enterpise. Sad but true.
What's your fave movie?
I guess it's The Matrix. You can always put it on after a lot of drinks, then fall asleep and wake up at any time knowing there's a good bit coming!
What's your fave cheese?
Parmigiano Reggiano. Thanks Delia!
What's your fave food?
Chataeux Briand (sp?), always special.
Can you name 10 ST Hackers?
At a push.
Who was the best ST hacker ?
Was (Not Was). By a mile.
Can you also name 10 PC Hackers?
What does that tell you?
That I don't care? No really, I don't think there's any kind of "scene" as there was with the ST/Amiga, and the 8-Bits before them. It seems a lot more commercial now.
If you could travel back to 1988, would you do anything differently?
I'd definitely finish more demos. In particular the great Apathy demo that was too aptly named for its own good!
Who did you most admire?
Was (Not Was). He did things I couldn't. Nobody else did. :-)
What music do you like?
As I'm typing it's Joe Satriani in the background, "Strange Beautiful Music". I'd love to play guitar like him but I'm not that good.
Are you in contact with other members of the BBC , Automation or the old scene in general ? Chrispy Noodle, The Pilot ?
Kind of, once a year maybe. We were at school together, the drifted apart, diffent uni's, different jobs.
What tools did you use to crack most games?
Only one; RAID. Eventually I had most own version that I'd disabblembed and recompiled with many different features.
What Pseudonym's did you have?
I only remember Arfling. Taken from the Atari 8-Bit game Alternate Reality, where my character was a Halfling. Mostly because I didn't grow until I was 17 so I was very short at the time.
What's you fave software house?
Nintendo. The best. Shigeru Miyamoto is my hero!
Do you think your activities helped to kill off the ST?
Nope, it had its time, technology moves on. I don't think piracy was really that organised to hasten its departure.
What are you doing now ?
I run a software development team for an international company in the finance industry. 'Nuff said.
Anything else to add ?
I dunno, I think I should thank Atari for making great computers thoughout my teenage years. Also Nintendo for making the best games. And Porsche for making great cars (he he!).