From the ashes of demo team Aenigmatica, rose Synergy Software Development. This Dutch group, which included 12 talented individuals, released the Synergy Megademo, one of the best demos on the Atari ST from Dutch soil. And if that wasn't enough, they are also reponsible for the best Pac-Man clone on the system called Crapman. Today we speak to member Arnoud Kinderman/Wingleader, Tjeerd Bruinsma/MCA and Joris de Man/Scavenger about the good old days of the Atari ST demoscene.
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Synergy felt like a big happy family where each member could be one of the jigsaw puzzle pieces and bring his own skillset to the table. This is represented in their logo.
This is the receipt of Wingleader's first Atari STe he bought in the beginning of the 90's. 1499 Dutch gilders, which is the equivalent of 750 Euro today.
Scavenger created his own tracker tool called Chipmon, which was eventually released with the Mega Demo.
Joris has created some amazing chiptunes with his SID music style. 2 music disks were released by Synergy.
An interview with all members of the team was released on DBA issue number 6, including a beautiful new chiptune by Scavenger.
'Having a Period in 3D Space' was perhaps the most impressive part of the Synergy Megademo, featuring Delta Polygon techniques created by math genius, Rapido.
The Synergy Megademo's menu featured a cube which could be rotated using the keys. Each side would lead to a demo, intro or program.
1) Let’s start with you. How did you end up with an Atari ST? What is your history with computers?
Arnoud/Wingleader: My first encounter with a computer was with the Atari 2600 that I got from my parents. I was directly interested in the technology and wanted to play other games but didn’t have the money so I started to search if there were other persons that wanted to swap. After the Atari 2600 I saved money to buy the Atari 600 XL and had the Atari 800XL and even the 130XE. My programming adventures started on the 600 XL with BASIC. Together with a friend of mine we tried to emulate the menu structure we saw on the Atari ST and build a program with which you could rip graphics from games by scanning the 5¼ disks. You could operate the menus by using the joystick and save the picture in different formats like Koalapainter. Recently (30 years later) we got it running again and were even able to get the source code back (we used a simple protection). The program has been written in Turbo BASIC XL.
And how did I end up with the Atari ST? Well, I remember that on a certain day my parents asked me to come down to the kitchen and I thought what have I done wrong. (My parents owned a 'petit cafe restaurant' and were very busy and not really interested (they didn’t understand it) in the computer stuff I was working with at that time (Atari 800XL/130XE). And suddenly a computer magazine, I had left lying around, was on the table open on a page about the Atari ST. They asked me, do you want to have that computer as a present and to work with now you finished your primary and economic education and are going to secondary economic and administrative school. Off course I said yes and if I remember correctly, we went to a store in Utrecht and I got my Atari 1040STF. Until that day I never used one before but of course I had read about the ST in the computer magazines. I remember that I found someone who also had an ST and I biked to the farm where he lived, this was outside the city I lived in. I was able to copy the B.I.G Demo and some games onto my first 5 disks. (I still have them and they are numbered 01 to 05). When I was back at home I started it and kept the Atari on the whole night playing the different musical pieces.
Tjeerd/MCA: My first computer was a Commodore Vic20. 5 kb memory, wow, if I tell that to new colleagues fresh from school they don’t believe me, I get the same reaction of disbelief as I had when my father told me the size of the computer he used at work on in the 60’s (we’re talking room-sized). After that I got a Commodore 64, and later I was looking for a new computer, either an Amiga or an Atari. I had some friends at school who already had an Atari ST so it was obvious for me to buy an Atari as well. I got older, had to find a job, learned other languages than Commodore/Atari BASIC and 68000. Now I am still a programmer of boring administrative software. Well, and a serious game now and then.
2) When did you join Synergy? Can you tell us about the history of this demogroup? How did you meet up with these guys? From my understanding, you were not living near them. What was your part in it?
Arnoud/Wingleader: I don’t remember exactly anymore but I do know that Sasja Barentsen/Chrome introduced me to the rest of the group and I think I was asked to join them. There were members that have been in Aenigmatica and started the new group called Synergy. It felt like a big happy family where I could be one of the jigsaw puzzle pieces and brought my own skillset to the table. We were all unique and enjoyed being together and respected each others skills. Together we formed a perfect puzzle where all pieces would fit into each other.
My part was supplier / swapper / coder (a bad one) in GFA BASIC / ‘cracker’ / organizer and a cuddly guy. (for more info about me from that period of time or other members see Pajaro in our mega demo). I visited the members a lot of times in the Hague at Zanac’s house and sometimes one of them would visit me at my place.
I started coding on the Atari 600XL in Basic/Turbo-BASIC XL because I didn’t have that much games on cartridges or cassettes and wanted to find out what I could do when I programmed my own creations. So I made an alarm with a button from a broken joystick that alarmed me if my parents came up to the attic and used SAM to tell me “intruders detected” so I could fast switch off my lights and pretend I was asleep ;-) On Dutch radio there was a broadcast called “Hobbyscoop” (https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basicode) and they broadcasted code you could record on a cassette and playback on your computer. I was glad that my parents had a radio with two cassettes so I could copy them for friends. On the Atari ST I started programming with GFA BASIC and through the years i’ve coded a lot of different things (for example disk menus, intros, bulletin board (QBBS) config software), but i’m most known for the Synergy Giga Depacker.
I also did some hacks/cracks of different programs like the universal file selector, GEMAR (streaming software) and games (even from friends like Mr. Coke ;-)) . And a lot of school assignments have been coded in GFA as well, I just took the Atari Falcon in a big AH shopping bag to school connected a VGA monitor and showed the assignment to my teacher.
JDM/ Scavenger: My memory is a bit vague on this one; but I do remember that whilst Synergy started as a local group in The Hague, with Zanac, BAT, Rapido (who didn’t live in The Hague but nearby), Stash, Odessa and myself (Scavenger), and was focused on each individual’s particular skill, once we started attending coding parties in various places, it grew to be more inclusive and more social.
We started including people we enjoyed hanging out with who weren’t necessarily in the same place, like Wingleader, MCA and Chrome. We used to chat a lot about a 'collective' of people, and I think that was what we’re trying to create.
Tjeerd Bruinsma / MCA: I do not remember exactly when I joined Synergy Software Development. I used to be a member of Aenigmatica and when that dissolved I became a member. It must have been somewhere around 1989? Synergy Software Development rose from the ashes of Aenigmatica. All Aenigmatica members were terrific people, but there some members had problems with other members and the group split up. I remained a member of both groups. The founder of Synergy Software Development is Zanac, and I think he started together with Bat, Rapido and Scavenger.
3) Crapman was part of the Synergy Megademo. Can you tell us a bit about this demo project? When did this start? And why was it made?
JDM: MCA, who we’d known for quite some time, also joined Synergy while we were putting together our MegaDemo. I’d come up with the concept of a rotating cube, on which each side would represent a different demo, and so now we needed to come up with the demos for each side.
Tjeerd Bruinsma (MCA) had been working on a Pac-Man clone, and though there was some initial skepticism (why a clone of a well-known game?), once he showed off the split-screen gameplay we totally got it; next to that, it was just so much fun to play! We realized that with mini-cutscenes, new graphics and music there was a real opportunity for a team effort to make this our own.
4) Who’s idea was it to integrate a complete game into the mega demo? Isn’t the actual development of a game a much bigger task than the demo itself?
JDM: MCA had initially started this on his own, and had already advanced quite far with it before he joined Synergy. I think most of us secretly harbored some ambition to work on games, but just didn’t have the experience or longevity to really do it. It’s only after I started working in games professionally that I realized; demos are a sprint, but games are a marathon. It takes a lot of planning and design, and I’m not sure our late teenage brains would’ve had the attention span to see something through like that at the time. But here was MCA, presenting us with something that was already really playable, had a lot of the code already in place, and so finishing it off with some new graphics and tunes, and the concept of a world travelling Pac-Man wasn’t so daunting.
5) What do you know about the history of Crapman and did you take part in its development?
JDM (Scavenger): Once MCA had presented it and we’d all agreed it would make an excellent contribution to the demo, everyone got involved in some way. Zanac did all of the graphics, Scavenger did a bunch of tunes including national anthems for each of the countries Pac-Man travels through, Rapido and BAT helped (I believe) with some optimizations, and Wingleader, Chrome and Stash contributed a whole bunch of levels of increasing difficulty. Of all the parts of the Synery Megademo, this was probably the most collaborative one – literally everyone got involved in one way or another.
Tjeerd (MCA): I remember that I used the GenST assembler to code Crapman. It took forever to compile the game and it (logically) got worse the more code was added. The other members were using a different compiler, Turbo Assembler, and they told me several times to switch. When I finally did (with help from BAT), compile time changed from several minutes to 10 or 15 seconds. What a relief that was. Turbo Assembler was also my introduction to what we now call scoped variables, very handy.
For every frame, the maze is copied from somewhere in memory. This is because when you use the 2 player option, the 2 players can be ‘separated’ and when that happens you have to copy the relevant part for player 1 from another memory location then the relevant part for player 2. So I decided to put the active game graphics into some large part of memory, ‘perform’ the game there and then constantly copy relevant parts to the visible screen, using the ‘movem’ opcode that copies multiple registers at once to or from memory. The screen could not have been much larger because it took much, much time to copy all this data. That is also the reason in attract mode there is either the logo or text on screen, because drawing both the logo and the texts took too much time and would exceed a single frame.
I also remember that I used one of the A registers solely in an interrupt so it wouldn’t be changed by the normal code. When the attract screen is showing, Crapman is walking around randomly. When he is going up or down, the game is constantly steering him randomly left and right. When he is going left or right, the game is randomly sending him up or down. So when Crapman reaches a point where he can go right as well as left (or up/down) he will never go straight, but always take one of the two random directions. If he goes right and the only way to go is up, sometimes it takes a few frames before he goes up because the random direction tells it to go down at first.
I remember thinking; “when Crapman ‘walks through the score’, it is difficult to see him”. So I made it that the score only shows the outline of the numbers when Crapman (Or Capman) comes close to it. Some time later I watched some guys playing it and noticing this happening and reacting to it, it was fun to see that. That gave me a good feeling.
Wingleader : A silly little anecdote. While bug-testing Crapman, I used to whine a lot to the other members, complaining because I had to always start from the very beginning of the game each time I died. So they build in a cheat code. When you pause the game and type in my name 'arnoud', then unpause. Pressing ALT you receive extra points, or you can skip levels by pressing the '0' key ;-)
6) Why a Pac-Man clone?
JDM: I don’t really know (this is a question for MCA!), but from what I remember he thought in order to create games, a good first step would be to create a clone of something just to see what it would entail programming wise and gain experience. And he certainly did that!
Tjeerd (MCA): Well… I think it was because one of the first games I ever played was pacman in an arcade hall. I always liked the Pac-Man style games so it wasn’t really a decision I made, but more something I always wanted to do.
7) Was it ever considered to release Crapman as a standalone commercial, shareware or PD product? What happened?
Tjeerd (MCA): No, I have never considered releasing Crapman as a standalone game. For me it was always meant for fun.
8) What is your most fond memory of the time with Synergy? Do you have some cool stories to share?
Tjeerd (MCA): I vaguely remember some parties at Zanac’s house that were… well… the kind of party that, when you told your parents, you’d tell them the expurgated version. I have fond memories of the ICC 2 demoparty, but they are blurred by Plantiac.
9) What happened after Synergy? What did you do?
Tjeerd (MCA): After Synergy I got a job and life kicked in.
Arnoud (Wingleader): I finished my school and started working, first at a small company and later I’ve worked for KLM and after that I started working at the Dutch Tax Office. Got engaged and married and enjoyed life until my sister died and my wife got ill and I took care of her as best as I could. She died in 2018 and since a couple of months I’ve met a very nice lady and we are a couple now together with her son.
10) Are you still in touch with any members of Synergy? And if so, are they still part of todays scene?
Tjeerd (MCA): I am not actively in contact with any Synergy members, but I talk to some of them now and then (usually email) and I still regard them as friends
Arnoud (Wingleader): No one of us is really part of the scene anymore. I’m in touch with Scavenger and Rapido on and off not on a regular basis. Was in contact with BAT but he lives in Australia now, so that’s difficult.
11) You are still an active Atari scener. What do you think of the scene today (compared to the one of yester years)?
Tjeerd(MCA): I have no Atari ST anymore and I’m not active in the scene.
12) Do you still use Atari today?
Arnoud (Wingleader): I’m not actively using my Ataris anymore, but still own my original Falcon and STe and some other hardware. A year ago I purchased a Atari 800 XL and a 130XE so I could see and watch what I coded on those machines.
13) Are you a gamer and if so, what is your favorite retro and/or new game?
Tjeerd (MCA): I am not that much into gaming. I used to play World Of Warcraft a lot, and some Assassins Creed. Although my computer has 2 graphic cards I don’t game as much as I’d like to.
Arnoud (Wingleader): Yes I’m a casual gamer and I own a Playstation 4 (never using it, just bought it to listen to the music from Scavenger which he made for Horizon Zero Dawn.) Next to this a Xbox 360, the orginal Xbox and the Xbox Series X. (also owned the Xbox One and Xbox One X). I’m currently busy with Far Cry 6 and Forza Horizon 5. Favorite retro are different games like Fort Apocalypse, H.E.R.O, Boulder Dash and many more.
14) What do you consider your greatest achievement on an Atari? And in life?
Tjeerd (MCA): Crapman and raising a daughter and having a family.
Arnoud (Wingleader): Synergy Giga Depacker, and some of my hacks/cracks. Being a modest person helping out others if I can.
15) If you could have a drink with somebody, dead and/or alive, who would it be and what would you ask?
Arnoud: Difficult choice it would be my sister or my wife both died at a young age. I would ask my sister how she thinks her two beautiful daughters turned out as semi adults now. And my wife I would ask if she found a place without pain and found a place she feels happy.
16) Do you have any last words of wisdom to share with the readers or fellow sceners?
Arnoud: Enjoy life to the fullest, it can be short. Be nice to others and treat them the way you want to be treated. And as always stay foolish and keep the Atari ST scene alive.
Thank you guys! For more details and history on the Synergy team and Crapman, check out the episode on the AL TV channel
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