Interview with Rahiem and Touchstone of Essence
Although Touchstone left the Amiga demoscene about one year ago, he still is one of the best known Amiga democoders ever. By inventing the C2P (Chunky to Planar) effect he still has a great influence on the scene. It's used in nearly every new demo that comes out. Maybe the coder has been working on it and changed some things here and there but the rights still belong to Touchstone & Scout.
Being active as a coder from 1990-1998 he and his group Essence had a great name in the scene. Essence was known as a crew producing only a few but really perfect productions. When they spread the news that Essence is dead, it was really depressing to hear and for sure a big loss for the whole Amiga demoscene community.
Rahiem has also more or less left the scene but during the past years he was very well known as a mailswapper, modemtrader and the organizer of Essence.
As both Essence members bought a PC, started watching PC demos and got in touch with PC sceners, they are good persons to compare the scenes of both platforms. For me it was interesting to hear where they see the differences and which advantages and disadvantages the one or the other scene have for them.
Not to forget that they didn't miss a single demo party in Europe of major importance. Assembly, Gathering, The Party, Mekka & Symposium and many others, they were there.
Hello and welcome to yet another interview. Like always, please introduce yourself to the dear readers. I guess it won't be neccessary to tell them your scene activities, but your real life would be good. Real name, age, studies or your job, hobbies, girlfriend or already married, friends, computer equipment etc. etc. etc.
Touchstone: My 'real' name is Thomas and I'm a 23-year-old computer-science student in Bonn/Germany. I started my computer-obsession at the age of 11 with a CPC 6128 and changed to Amiga in 1989. Just one year later I had my debut in the demo-scene with the group "Hardline" and in 1992 I formed "Essence" with some of the best friends I had at that time (greets to Dascon who is still in the scene). When it comes to my "real life", there's not much time left besides to university and programming. And if I find some free minutes, I like to spend them with my girlfriend or hanging on the basketball-court with some friends. I don't know if my CURRENT computer-equipment is that interesting for you, because I ONLY have a Pentium MMX 200 at home... shame on me... (grin)
Rahiem: After my birth in 1969 (which makes me almost 30 years old) my parents decided to call me Frank and that's the name I still use these days. I finished my studies some years ago as an administration economist and started working for the government. Currently I live together with my girlfriend and therefore my time for other things is very limited.
Nevertheless I enjoy meeting friends and if motivation hits me I even spend some hours on the court playing badminton or basketball. I still own my Amiga and even turn it on from time to time, especially after parties. Besides, I use a P233 MMX in order to make my "online" life even happier.
First of all, I heard that Essence is dead. You both can be called real oldskool sceners. After all those years, did you finally get tired of what we call the scene? What were the reasons to close the group after all? Last year after The Party 1997 you (Touchstone) told me that Essence would have an unsure future due to less time. Why did you set the final point right now? With your fame your group could have existed for a long time without producing anything, couldn't it?
Touchstone: But what kind of existence would this be? We always said that it's better to let Essence die than to 'hang around' and let Essence fade away! Too many (real good) groups still exist but produce NOTHING! And when I think of them, I do it with tears in my eyes. All those brilliant groups are just a shadow of themselves now! I don't want to make the same mistake! And that's why Essence is dead now! The last eight years were really great, I met a lot of people and made experiences that let me grow in mind. But now it's over, I have to think more business-oriented, I have to earn money, I have to finish my studies and so on. That's life... and because of all of that, I decided to close all my activities on Amiga, sell the computer and change my status to "visitor". This started a chain-reaction in the group and after all we thought that Essence had been a great group and we had reached our goal by making small, nice productions with a friendly and talented team. We won competitions, we became cool people and I am proud of every production we released. There's nothing to do next...
Rahiem: Essence is dead, that's a fact. We truely had a great time during all those years in the scene, but now it's over. That's life. We all became older and lost motivation due to several reasons. It was better to end now than in some years. New members are not always a help in order to keep the spirit alive. We were (and still are) a small bunch of friends who occasionally shared the same interests. And that's the most important thing for me, friendship. Groups may die, but friendship still exists. The scene will always be a part of our lives in some way. It's just that we changed from "active" to "retired", which doesn't mean that we aren't interested in what is going on from now. We can lean back and let others do the job we did years before.
I don't know when exactly you began to enter the scene but in case of Rahiem I guess it was around 1992. After watching the scene, its people and productions, how did the scene change? Is it only that you feel as foreigners at parties like you both told me several times? Is it the behaviour that changed? Or the quality of productions or what is it? Do you think the scene can have a chance to survive on a commercially dead computer like the Amiga? Do you think it can survive with all those newcomers and nearly nobody left from the past? Can it survive with all those crap productions that come along?
Touchstone: A lot of things changed in the past years, but not all of them were negative. One of the biggest changes is the quality of the demos. As I started in 1989/1990 I worked two or three days on an intro and never more than a month for a demo. When I want to create a state-of-the-art-demo today I have to go to holidays for six months... Of course, the demos are much better, just look at the objects, textures, effects. Some years ago it was enough to show the audience some copperbars in strange colours. Now you have to create entire 3d-worlds with much more details, you have to synchronize the music, you have to tell a story, there should be a red line through the demo and such stuff.
And that's the biggest reason why I left the scene. I don't have the time anymore! One result of the quality demos is, that no one will ever release a big demo OUTSIDE a party. Hey, I understand this and did it the same way! And so you just wait for the next party, where you see 20 brilliant demos, but you can only remember three of them and you'll forget the rest, because it was "only" mediocre. Another result of those killer-demos is the size of the groups. There are just two or three really big groups that dominate the Amiga scene. As we formed Essence, one 'rule' was to never have more than 15 members and as far as I know, we never broke that rule. How to compare to 'big' groups if you want to feel the friendship and creativity and not just the will to win?
One word more about the parties. My first party, which I visited in 1990, was held at a really small partyplace with 50 or 60 creative and cool people. They all had a demo or intro in the competition and no matter whom you asked for computer-related stuff, they all had an answer. Today you go to a party and see 5000 to 6000 people. The funny thing is, that there are still only 50-60 people who know what they are talking about. It's just much harder to find them (grin). Once (it was on the sih'95) I met Facet and asked him what he thought about the set of visitors there. He stated the scene is like a pyramid where just a few cool people are at the top and the rest is the audience that claps while the competition is held. Hmm, I think this is a bit arrogant, and not that true anymore. Today most of the people on a party are the SAND that doesn't care about the pyramid. The sand that starts the mp3-players (grin)...
Rahiem: When I entered the scene in late 1989 it was completely different from the small bunch of productive groups which exist nowadays. Around that time (1989 - 1992) teams like Anarchy, Red Sector, Crionics, Silents or Phenomena made history. I can't remember a week that passed without the release of a new stunning demo. Today you have to wait for the next big party to see at least one good demo and during the other time of year nothing happens at all.
Another point is the current lack of creativity. It's just like Thomas said, today nearly everything is based on one "simple" C2P routine. Therefore most of the demos look the same, sometimes the coders even use the same objects or effects which had been used in other demos before. Only a few groups try to be inventive and take the risk to release an unusual demo. The reason for that behaviour is quite obvious, why invent something new, when you can win a party the easy way? I still admire Melon for their awesome design and ideas. They made demos nobody else had made before and when they switched to PC they even had success there because everybody was tired of watching another object show again. The result was that nearly everyone tried to copy their style. The same thing that happens to music and fashion also happens to demos nowadays. Ideas of the past are used over and over again. Telling a story in a demo is nothing new (as, for instance, "Relic" by Nerve Axis does), it's just an advanced copy of "Odyssee" by Alcatraz which won The Party one year ago. Today's scene needs fresh and creative people to survive.
In this context motivation plays an important role. But where to find motivation if only a few people can remember your demo two weeks after a party even if it was a real killer? As a matter of fact, demos didn't get the attention they used to get years before. I still remember watching "Enigma" by Phenomena thirty times and never getting bored of it. Today I watch a new demo only once and then store it somewhere on my harddisk. I don't know what changed exactly, maybe it's the "I have seen it all before, give me something new" attitude that makes me act this way. But when you ask me if the Amiga scene will survive, the only thing I can tell you is: of course it will. Just because of the simple reason that the C-64 scene is also still alive after all those years. It will become smaller (is this possible?) but will not fade away until the last coder has sold his machine.
Concerning parties let me say this, I have been to numerous parties during the years, visited all major events in Europe (TP, TG and Asm) and therefore know one thing for sure. It's not the number of visitors that makes a party successful. Maybe for the organisers money is all that counts, but not for me. I'm more interested in meeting old friends and having a good time. Over the years more and more non-sceners entered the party stage. They filled the halls and made parties a commercial success. As a result the once so famous party atmosphere was destroyed. Nowadays you can't talk to friends at a normal noise level anymore, you can't leave your seat without protecting your hardware, and you can't find any sleep since the sleeping hall is practically non-existent or outside the party place, which is especially nice in winter. But maybe that's the price we have to pay in order to make competitions more attractive.
Are you going to do anything on PC as you both sold your Amiga? Or did you cancel your scene activities totally? Is the PC scene worth producing anything for? Have you seen many productions on PC? As I heard from several PC sceners, most of the demos on the Hornet FTP server from 1998 are nothing else than shit, except those from Pulse, Melon, and CNCD, which hit really hard.
Touchstone: When I purchased my PC, my motivation to produce a demo on this machine was really high. I started working on a 3d-engine, learned the five necessary Assembler-commands on PC and made it. But it wasn't the same thing as before. We asked some nice people and good friends if they could create the music and graphics, besides to our design and code. The demo was planned as the first and last Essence-demo on PC, but everyone was willing to help us with... NOTHING! That's the scene today. Hey, I am not angry or whatever, but I am just surprised, because in the old days, it was no problem to ask someone for something and when he promised he'd make it, he made it! OK, that was our PC-demo (grin). I watched some other PC-demos and the only thing I realized was, that there are a few really (REALLY) good ones, like the Pulse stuff from Unreal, and tons of pure bullshit. And I am not motivated enough to download 20 demos to see one brilliant piece...
Rahiem: Well, as I mentioned before I haven't sold my Amiga and therefore I will stay in the scene in some way. I still have a lot of active friends in the scene and if someone needs my help from time to time he can count on me. Nevertheless I'm also interested in the PC scene (if you can call it a scene). There are some demos which I really like a lot. Groups like Pulse, TBL, CNCD and Melon surely know how to entertain the audience. Lately even Java demos have become better and better, especially the ones from Komplex. Maybe this is the form of the future for demos on all platforms.
Generally: What do you think about the PC scene?
Touchstone: Generally: I think it's not "naturally-grown" as the Amiga scene and that's why it CAN'T be that good!
Rahiem: I think that there is no scene on PC as we know it from the Amiga, especially when it comes to friendship. That's because there are so many PC users and just a few of them produce demos. Most of them are not involved in the demo scene at all. They don't care about demos and prefer playing games instead. You can see it on every party, it's always the same. But maybe this will change in the future as more and more Amiga groups start creating demos for PC.
What about ROM, Essence's diskmag? In your homepage you wrote that Mop would continue it under the flag of the ROM-team as he did since ROM exists. Are all those rumours untrue that you (Touchy) are going to give the ROM source to a Public-Domain magteam?
Touchstone: About all the ROM-interna, ask Mop. I don't have a clue. The last thing I heard from Mop was, that there would be a new disk-based issue in the near future, but that was a while ago, and I don't know if this became obsolete. The nice thing about ROM is, that you don't need the source code to put an issue together, because there is a full-featured editor with all kinds of DTP-stuff that does everything for you... So Mop doesn't need me to release another issue! When it comes to the source-rumours I have to admit that I have heard this the first time now! It is true that I told several people that they could have the complete ROM-codes, but nobody was really interested, it seems. When I was working on the ROM-II-code (that will never ever be released, even if it is 95% finished) I made it modular and told some other coders that they could use the text-engine, but that's it. And now? The complete ROM-code is on a CD and anyone who's interested should contact me under firstname.lastname@example.org...
Rahiem: I really hope that Mop will continue releasing ROM since he is the only one who is able to fill a whole issue with own articles. No, just joking. To be honest, I think he is the born editor and will never stop making ROM in some or another way. So, I guess he will surprise us again pretty soon.
Rahiem, are you still calling around German Bulletin Board Systems? Do you think it's still worth the expenses? The board scene in Europe became very poor, or what is your impression? What boards do you call now?
Rahiem: Well, in times when the Internet gains more and more importance concerning global communication, calling boards has certainly become old-fashioned in some way. Several years ago I invested a lot of money every month to get the latest demos from various boards around Europe (and believe me, no demo is worth a phonebill of 750 $). Nowadays I connect to the Internet and get all the latest party releases from different scene FTP sites for free. The only board I still call just for the "taste" of it is "Los Endos" in Germany because I really need my money for other things now.
Touchstone, who are the people who taught you coding and who had some influence on you? What coders do you respect and who are bad? It would be also interesting for me to know how many hours you worked on your demo "Crazy, Sexy and Cool", which was very impressive in my humble opinion. Is your coding technique more like playing around with an effect and if you like it saving it or do you more try to implement certain mathematic formulae in Assembler? Everybody thinks that Scout invented C2P but it was you, am I'm right? How did you do it? It's one of the effects that now appear in most recent demos... Now also a mediocre programmer can create stunning demos...
Touchstone: There wasn't THE coder who taught me coding, because most of the stuff I know, I know from books or magazines. A lot of people influenced me like Azatoth and even Chaos (even though he's an asshole). Every demo I have seen made its impact on me and all in all I respect every coder who is willing to spend all his spare time to create something which only a few people will ever see. Every coder who's willing to realize his visions. How can I say that someone is a 'bad' coder, just because he doesn't have that much experience? Everyone I know started at that level and you'd laugh if you'd seen my old hardline-productions. But I hate arrogant coders (hey, I have been told I am one of them, grin) like Azure, Chaos, Equalizer and so on.
Well, I can't really say how long CSC was under construction, but it has to be something like four to five months all in all. It's always hard, 'cause even if you do stuff that will be later used in the demo, that stuff is just to learn new things (like the texture mapping and the C2P-routines in CSC). All I still know is that I finished CSC ON The Party 5, just ten minutes before the deadline. While we were driving to Denmark, no one really thought we would be able to finish it in time, but after 90 hours of coding, WITHOUT ANY SLEEP, it was done...
And now it comes, the one and only REAL story of Scout's C2P. Loads of misunderstandings and lies are spread around and if there is still someone who wants to hear the truth, just keep on reading. In the very beginning, there wasn't anybody like Scout, because it was a kind of competition between me and Azure. He contacted me via e-mail and asked how fast the C2P in CSC was, just to compare it with his own one. And so we started a competition that broke all records in C2P-coding of that time. We've fought for each raster line, and while it was over 600 raster lines at the very beginning (for 320x256x8 unscrambled screen WITHOUT blitter), we reached 400 and 300 rasterlines really fast.
And one day I had a really nice idea how to make it still faster. For all of you non-coders a small explanation. One of the main-routines in a C2P is the "merge-operation". All in all the complete C2P is just a lot of merge-ops with a few other commands in between. Well, the merge-op was always 24 cycles fast (invented by a guy called Peter McGaffen) and we both, Azure and me, thought it couldn't be done faster. But one day I had the idea to make it just in 22 cycles (later I even found a way to make it in 20)... and again I believed it couldn't be done faster...
Some days later I met a guy called Kalms on the IRC, and we talked about C2P. He said that he made a C2P, too, and it was so easy to get it fast. Hmm, I was a bit angry because I had not ever heard of that guy before (I did not know then that he in fact was Scout) and he wrote in quite an arrogant way... So I explained to him how Azure and me did it and I revealed my optimization to 22 cycles to him. He was really happy, because he had never made an attempt to find a better merge-op than the one with 24 cycles. On the next day I got an e-mail in which he told me that he had found a merge-operation in 18 cycles. And it was true. He had done it.. and that's it... that's the whole story.
At that time I was shocked because he made the routine public. Even today I think this wasn't a good idea, but who cares? Anyway, at that time, I just saw that I had worked half a year on that problem and Scout had released it. Okay, it wasn't my routine, but some of the ideas used in it were from Azure and me. I never had the intention to make it public because it was MY work and why should anyone else profit from it? Maybe this sounds old-fashioned, but look at the demos of that time (when the C2P by Scout was made public), a lot of coders used the routine by Scout (and "optimized" it, just to say that they made it themselves, haha), used one of the public 3d-texturemapping-routines and voilů, the demo is finished... urgs! Okay, the C2P that is used today (mainly made by Scout, too) is not the same as then, today you don't use the blitter anymore, because it's faster to do it CPU-only. And so I finally have to say that the C2P of today has really been made by Scout.
And now? The homepage is still up... the PCs are still running, your studies and your work take a lot of time. Will you miss anything? Will you be present from time to time in #amigascne? Or meet some old friends at parties? Maybe you now have a bit more time for your real friends and girlies... That's far more important thsn the scene ever could be, isn't it?
Touchstone: Wise words! Of course, I will miss a lot, but I missed most of that even when I was still in the scene. The glorious days (92/93/94) are over and you can't rewind time. I guess I will be still on #amigascne from time to time, even though nobody really seems to know me and I don't know anyone of the new guys in there either. And with a little luck you'll find me on parties too because it's still a nice feeling to cruise to a party-place with some old friends... But after eight years of hardcore-scening it's time to change your life, it's time to find new targets, it's time to make a break...
Rahiem: That's right. Actually there is a real life besides to my scene activities. It sounds unbelievable, but I won't miss anything at all, since I will be around on #amigascne most of the time. The fact that I'm no longer a member of any group doesn't mean that I will end my contact to the scene and to all my friends I have met during the years on various parties. It's just a new chapter of my life. Nothing more, nothing less.
Hey, I won't be present at THE PARTY in Denmark at the end of 1998 (the year this interview was conducted). We talked about this topic very, very often. Every year after the event we all say that it was nothing else then a commercial and quaking event of gambling players and newcomers. But after some months you start to think differently about it. You saw some old friends and had some nice chats and sooner or later you plan to get there again. I won't be present this time nevertheless, the first time since 1993! What about you?
Touchstone: I told you about my party-experiences (now and then) some lines above and it would be a lie to say that it's the same as in 1993. I am pretty sure that I won't be present at this party in DK, either! And it's the same with me, the first time since 1993! I changed, and this year, when I have to choose between a holiday with my girlfriend and a party full of nerds, I won't select the party!
Rahiem: I remember the discussion we had in the party van on our way home from The Party 1997. And some days ago I was asked if I would visit TP8. But this time I can't come to Denmark. I neither have the time nor the money. Anyway, there are surely better places to be around christmas. So, hopefully this will be the first time since 1992 I will be at home with my family.
Would you like to greet some old pals or present scenish friends? You have all space on page that you need. The chance won't be too big for your old mates but you can feel free to do what you want... By the way, what are the other ex-Essence members now doing?
Touchstone: The biggest greets are going out to all the ex-Essence-guys, mainly the 'good-old-posse': Dascon, Groo'n'rufferto and Roman. We had a lot of fun on countless meetings! Another big greet and THANK should go out to Mop who is one of the best scene-friends you can have. I won't greet anyone else, because those who should be greeted know that! The last eight years were a really great time and I like to thank you all for the fun and pleasure we had! We will meet from time to time, FOR SURE! That's it, end of transmission, or whatever. But the last two words should be a tribute to the two people who are still two of my best friends... RAHIEM and JAZZ/HAUJOBB... I love you (even though I am not gay)...
Rahiem: First of all I want to thank all former Essence members for their support and friendship over all the years. You really made my time in the group unforgetable. Greetings are also going to the people I met during my active time in the scene. I guess you know who you are. Hopefully we will meet again one day and talk about the good old days. Until then keep the spirit alive. Before I'm going to end this interview I would like to send some very special regards to my two "brothers in law" Touchstone and Jazz. I love you. May our friendship last for ever. Over and out...
- Ghandy of Darkage, Faith, Gods & Chemical Reaction