Last year we did an indepth documentary (This is the updated bonus version of this video from 2022 - The original can be viewed here) on an obscure platformer called Son Su Shi. At the time a few interviews were conducted and this one got stuck in translation limbo. But now, with the imminent (?) release of the complete version of the game, it is finally time to release our talk with Saïd Hadjiat (aka Zaè). He was a member of the French demo crew NeXT but maybe even more important, the founder of publishing company Expose Software, best known for releasing the tool Audio Sculpture and much more.
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The Expose Software logo ... With the bouncing Amiga ball. This is a screen from the famous Phaleon Giga demo.
After seeing the classic Wargames, Saïd knew he wanted to become a hacker. In this scene Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy try to hack into the Pentagon.
Thalion was also a company working with democoders, in the same vein as Expose Software. And what a classic logo!
This interview was originally written in September of 2020, but has been stuck in translation limbo till now.
1) Hello Saïd. Thank you for joining us. For those who don't know you, can you introduce yourself to the public in a few words?
Hi! I'm 48 years old, living in Marseille and am the co-founder of a startup that develops mobile applications (Graffiti and Reeveal).
My alias on the Atari scene: Zaè. I co-founded NeXT with my friends Olivier, Mickaël and Alexis and have been for a long time the "unofficial" swapper of the Marseille branch of the Replicants.
After that I co-founded the video game publisher Expose, which produced Audio Sculpture, No Buddi's Land and Son Shu-Shi. All created by groups from the demo scene.
2) When exactly did you enter the wonderfull world of home computers? And what was your first machine?
For me, it started after watching the movie WarGames. When I finished watching it, I only wanted one thing... Get myself a computer ASAP so I could hack the Pentagon. Or change my grades and seduce the most beautiful girl at school ;-)
My first computer was an Oric Atmos. I didn't do much with it - no Pentagon, no schoolgrades and definitely no girl ;-). But the second machine I bought, changed my life: The Atari ST.
3) Did you play any games back then? And if yes, which one(s) do you have most fond memories of?
Strangely no… I rarely spent more than a few minutes on a game. Anyway, with the frantic pace of cracks produced by the Replicants, I would never have had the time anyway. Oh yes! Wait, there was a game that I played quite a bit: a game of conquest in medieval times in which you had to conquer territories by fighting with a sword or on horseback with a spear ... But I forgot its name
4) And how exactly did you find out about the Atari ST? And was the ST your first Atari machine?
I discovered the Atari thanks to a high school friend, who had received it for his birthday.
I had never seen one before. I didn't even know what a mouse was and I remember lifting it up when my friend said "It doesn't work that way"...
My parents didn't have the means to buy one for me at the time and I dreamed about it for a while...until one day I found it under the Christmas tree :-)
I think it was around 1987.
5) And did you play a lot on this machine? Or were you more interested in the demo scene?
Clearly the demo scene! To get in touch with The Carebears for example, I remember spending nearly 4 hours reading one of their scrolltexts over and over to finally get their complete home-address, character by character! In my defence, the address was in Swedish and that scrolltext scrolled very quickly...
6) Your nickname (Zaè) has often been associated with the Replicants, even though you were not part of them. Can you tell us more about your relationship with this group? How did you meet its members?
This is precisely thanks, indirectly, to The Carebears. I was swapping games with them and they once sent me a floppy disk that said...The Cuddly Demos! But when I inserted the disc, I was so disappointed: it was Leisure Suit Larry. I thought maybe the demo was "hidden" and so I went to a computer store to ask a salesman if he could take a look at the disc: it was Snake, from The Replicants.
7) Where does your nickname Zaè come from?
Completely out of nowhere! One day a friend shouted at me using this word, which has no meaning, and it stuck with me (including with my friends and my family…).
8) Some of your relatives nicknamed you Zao. Can you tell us why?
For the same reason as for Zaè : none! Again a friend started calling me that and it stuck.
9) In 1989, you founded the famous demo group NeXT. Under what circumstances was the group born? Who were the first members?
One day I came across a demo made by 2 "strangers" in Angers...and I loved it! It looked like Dungeon Master. I contacted them, they came to Marseille, got sunburned and NeXT was born.
10) Why the name NeXT?
It was the name of Steve Jobs' incredible machine and I thought the idea of this word for a brand was brilliant.
11) NeXT was best known for its "The Charts" disks, ranking the best crack groups, the best demos, the best games, etc. How did you come up with the idea of setting up this kind of production?
We wanted to be known quickly but with the heavyweights already present on the scene, it was quite complicated. So we looked for how to make a name for ourselves and that's where the idea came from: Charts, as there were for music, cinema or video games.
12) What was your role within NeXT?
To be completely honest, I don't feel like I've done much :-(
Most of the work was done by the devs and the artists, I was more of a content provider for the charts and I did some scolltexts.
13) In 1991, you founded the company Expose Software, publisher of software (Audio Sculpture) and video games (No Buddies Land, Son Shu Shi…). Why did you turn to publishing?
With the Replicants I saw a lot of games, and none came close on a technical level compared to what was done in the demo scene. I thought that games produced by these talents could be incredible.
At the same time Bengt and Tore (of Sync fame) were working on what would become Audio Sculpture: I offered to edit the software, they accepted, Expose Software was born.
14) How old were you? Did you start Expose all by yourself or did you have partners?
I was just 20 years old... I quit college, 2 friends lent me the start-up funds and we started working from my bedroom, still at my parents' house.
15) Where does the company name come from?
From a rock band! I thought the name was cool: we added “Software” and that was it. A few years later, this was also the name that Apple used for the manager of its graphical interface.
16) How many people did you employ at Expose Software?
Very few: I think we were just 2 employees. The groups developed their products completely independently and we took care of the marketing, advertising, manufacturing, etc.
17) All Expose Software games and programs were developed by demo-coders. Why ? Because you already had many contacts within the scene?
Exactly that ! The groups were already formed and their projects were often nearly finished.
18) Another company was also closely related to the demo scene. This was Thalion, creators of games such as Wings of Death, Chambers of Shaolin, A Prehistoric Tale, ... Is this the model that somehow inspired you to create Expose Software?
Not at all. I rather think that we had the same idea at the same time.
19) What is the first game or software released by Expose Software?
Audio Sculpture! First on the Atari, afterwards on the Amiga. Most of the creators of Audio Sculpture are still in the music business, in a company that makes incredible products: Teenage Engineering
20) The original versions of No Buddies Land and Son Shu Shi are now extremely difficult to find, if not impossible. The question that many people ask themselves among collectors is the following: Were these games really sold in stores? Or did you have to get them by mail order?
They were marketed but - unlike Audio Sculpture - by the publisher Loriciel.
21) Do you remember how many copies of No Buddies Land and Son Shu Shi were sold?
No… We never knew because of the problems started with Loriciel, we didn't get any information from them.
22) Have you kept copies of these games, or production documents, covers, anything?
I still have a few copies of Audio Sculpture but that's it...
23) I believe No Buddies Land was distributed by Loriciel. Was this also the case with Son Shu Shi and how did you sign this partnership?
Given the incredible amount of work in distribution of Audio Sculpture, we wanted to rely on a larger structure for our next products. We then contacted several publishers and it was Loriciel who made us the best offer. Unfortunately we did not know that they were in a bad financial state so we never received a dime… We also experienced the same mishap with the English distributor of Audio Sculpture.
24) Can you tell us a bit more about the protection system of Audio Sculpture and Expose Software's games? I heard they were extremely difficult to crack. Did they share a common protection and if so, who was behind it?
The history of our protection system was covered in a great, maybe a bit technical, article by Orion of (The Replicants): The same protection has been applied to all our titles and has been developed by RedHead from Sync, Illegal from Replicants, Zarathustra and Altair among others.
25) Orion of (The Replicants got his hands on a copy of Son Shu Shi and worked extensively on a patch/crack/trainer of this game. It is now running on an Atari Falcon, can be launched from a hard drive, has a vast amount of trainers… Would you like to say a word to him? What is your opinion about this 'passionate' kind of work?
A LITTLE word? How about...Amazing! Great job. I love it. very impressive..
Passion is at the origin of the Expose adventure and all those that followed: I therefore have the greatest respect for the work he provided!
26) Games like Euphoria, Eutanasia or Heredis, although very promising, were never released. What happened ?
One simple thing: we closed shop before these titles were finished. I also think the developers moved on by then since it doesn't seem to me that these games were ever published elsewhere...
27) At the time, were you interested in the Atari Falcon? Have you considered publishing games or software on this machine?
Not at all: porting a game to a machine with a crowd as small as that of the Falcon would not have made sense. It was a great machine...that no one owned :-(
28) When and how did the Expose Software adventure end?
Expose started in 1991 and closed in 1993. It ended with quite a few lawsuits trying to recover the money owed to us by our distributors. In vain. The worst thing in history is that we had done our part of the job: delivering good products. But we were too naive for the business side of things.
29) May I ask what happened to you after Expose Software? What direction did your professional career take?
I continued to work in video games until the end of the 90s, in particular with Zarathustra in the company he had created with Eric Chahi (Another World). Then came the Internet. THE tech revolution. I have not left this sector since and am now one of the founders of a mobile application publisher (Graffiti and Reeveal).
30) What memories do you have of the Replicants / Next / Expose Software era?
Undoubtedly my best years, both personally and professionally. I met brilliant, passionate and exciting people, many of whom are still close friends.
31) Are you still in touch with the old ST sceners?
Some of them. Of course, my friends Mit and Dbug from NeXT, Legacy from Replicants and more recently Illegal (also from Replicants) who I heard from the 'secret' Replicants group on FB.
32) If you had to go to a desert island with 10 games and 10 Atari ST demos, what would they be?
The Expose games of course ... but since there aren't 10 of them I would add Another World, Command & Conquer and this game from the medieval era whose name I really can't remember!
For demos it's easy: Phaleon and Cuddly :-) Probably also TLB's mega-demo and of course, the mother of all demos: The Union Demo.
33) Any last words of wisdom?
Not much except thank you for your passion :-)
Said, thank you very much for granting us this interview and I hope to meet you one day at a demo party or at a French Atari Bouffé, who knows? ;-)
For more info on Son Shu Shi, check out the video.
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