Top Personality: Wade of Alcatraz
An Interview done by Magic of Nah-Kolor
Photos by Wade
Please tell us some things about yourself as an introduction.
My name is Dan, I'm 32 years old and I've been hanging around this digital community known as the demoscene for a good 17 years now. I've been a swapper, a diskmag editor and a graphic artist/designer.
In which city were you born? Please tell us something about how you grew up, and what is it like living in the UK today?
I'm from a city called Wolverhampton, not far from Birmingham. I grew up in an industrial town, surrounded by warehouses and factories, many of which are now derelict. Some areas are reminiscent of war-torn wastelands, the sort you might see in post-apocalyptic movies or games. In fact, my friend recently made a YouTube slideshow of photos, all of which were taken in my town.
I think many foreigners still have a romantic vision of England as a place where well-mannered ladies and gentlemen sit on long green lawns drinking tea, but for most of us this couldn't be further from reality.
I was born into a supportive family with good values and consider myself one of the lucky ones, though I still got into a lot of trouble and had my share of fights growing up. I guess most of that stopped when I got my Amiga and found the demoscene, however.
I could rant forever about the state of the UK today, about the murderers and paedophiles that walk free among society, about unemployment and exploitation, or about our incompetent government which we never even elected. Almost everyone here is in a state of despair and it's as if George Orwell's vision has literally come true.
State of despair? George Orwell's vision?
It seems that people around me these days are so scared of losing their jobs and their homes; they're struggling to pay their bills and aren't in any position to help themselves.
When I look at the UK today and see bank managers and politicians giving themselves cash bonuses and pay rises, stealing from the public and living in luxury while many of us can barely afford to eat every day, I'm reminded of Orwell's Animal Farm – "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Likewise, you're sure to notice a lot of things from his book 1984 are now in effect: the idea of constantly being at war to promote patriotism, CCTV cameras everywhere, the fall of democracy, and the general violation of human rights.
Needless to say, you won't see me waving a British flag any time soon.
Please tell our readers, in order of chronology from past to present, which groups you have been part of, when that was and what is was you did in that group.
It all started around 1994 on the Amiga with a little known UK group called Eltech. We were a bunch of beginners who earned a decent reputation within the UK and had a few nice intros and packs to our name. Unfortunately the group never really evolved into a fully fledged demo group and I was itching to get my graphics released, so I accepted an offer to join Gods.
Gods were a friendly group, but with such talented artists as Bridgeclaw and Typhoon in their ranks, my artwork wasn't really up to standard and not used outside of pack mags etc.
Meanwhile I joined up with the Seenpoint staff as a co-editor, which is where I began developing my provocative scene persona and put my name on the scene map. When Seenpoint was taken over by Scoopex, the staff were invited to join too and so I found myself in one of the most legendary groups of all time. I worked mostly as an editor at this time and put my graphics to the side for a while.
Following the final issue of Seenpoint I joined some good scene friends in Darkage. I did some logos and supported their diskmagazine, Showtime, but never really got the opportunity to design a demo so I decided to become a double member of Nerve Axis.
This move shocked a lot of people because I'd been feuding with them for years, ripping into them in my diskmag articles and so on. But when they released "Pulse", they made me eat my words and I loved them for it! Secretly, I had been emailing Meson and some other members and hanging out in their IRC channel for some time and found them to be passionate and talented guys. The "feud" was really just superficial, something to make diskmagazines more entertaining and incite some reactions.
When I joined, I was given an opportunity to work on their masterpiece, "Relic", visit their homes and take an active role in the group, but my interest in the scene was waning. It was one of my biggest mistakes as a scener, which I am reminded of every time I watch "Relic" and see my halfhearted Noah picture.
I guess I wasn't really enjoying the demoscene of the late 90s so I took a time out for a while. I returned to activity a few years later by taking over as main editor of Devotion, an Amiga magazine started by Darkus and Magic. It was through this magazine I became a member of Haujobb. They were great on the Amiga, but I had no idea just how highly respected my new group was until I got my PC and saw some of their releases. I remember sceners asking me how much I paid to get into Haujobb or who I had to sleep with.
Luckily I was on good terms with many of the members of Haujobb and they were in no rush to kick me out. I gained some respect when I won the Breakpoint 03 graphics competition and was elected to work on an ambitious new demo... too ambitious unfortunately as it never reached completion.
Meanwhile I began talking to Smash and Reed and was invited to join Fairlight as a double member. Fairlight were my favourite PC group at the time (in fact, they still are) and I desperately wanted to be a part of it. The sad truth was I didn't know how to make graphics for PC demos. I didn't even know what masks were or how to use layers properly. I was too stuck in my old Amiga ways, and the days of blowing people's mind with a mouse-painted picture or logo were passing me by.
So, there I was in two of the most respected groups in the demoscene feeling totally unworthy and out of my depth. It really hit me how much the scene had changed from what I'd been used to and I was beginning to realise how little I had to offer the scene.
I needed to start back at the bottom and work my way up... and there was no group closer to the bottom than The Fearmoths. Under their name I was able to work anonymously, experiment and learn more about making demo graphics without bringing my name down in the process (at least that was my intention). I also started getting involved with art and design communities outside of the scene where I found a lot of encouragement and learned many useful tricks and techniques.
I returned to the scene last year as a member of Alcatraz and contributed graphics to "Mudia Art issue 2" and the music disk "Jailhouse Voices". I hope to be involved in many future projects, but only time will tell.
Please describe a normal day for you anno domini 2010.
There isn't a whole lot of excitement in my life these days unfortunately. I spend most of my time freelancing as a graphic artist/designer. I have a few regular jobs come my way, one of which involves restoring official Disney scenes and animation cells, which I really enjoy, but general business is erratic and work is not always guaranteed so I work a night job on the side, loading and unloading goods in a warehouse. It's menial, but it's good exercise and offers a stable income. I also try to visit the gym 2-3 times a week and for relaxation I spend time with my girlfriend or my friends, go for walks in the country, to bars in the city or out to lunch somewhere. A lot of the things I enjoy, including the demoscene, have had to take a backseat, but I'm hoping I can participate more in the near future.
Next to computers/graphics, what has your interest also?
About 4 years ago I started weight lifting and taking an interest in nutrition and fitness. I've battled with my weight since my teens and spending so much time in front of a computer certainly takes its toll, so I decided to start eating better and make more time for the gym. When people hear the terms "weight lifting" or "body building" they often think in extremes, of hulking abominations with bulging veins, but for me it's more of a casual hobby than a competitive interest.
I'm not a big fan of movies or TV, but during recent weeks my girlfriend and I have been watching DVDs from the 80s and early 90s, such as The Lost Boys, Goonies and The Karate Kid, to name a few. Otherwise, I just like getting out and about.
Nice movies you are talking about here. Which movies of the last few years did you enjoy?
It's quite difficult finding movies to watch with my girlfriend as she likes chick flicks and silly action films, whereas I prefer more serious thrillers. The last film we both enjoyed at the cinema was The Dark Knight. It's one of the best films I've seen for a while along with Watchmen and Gone Baby Gone.
Wade vs the Demoscene
You returned to the demo scene as an active member in 2008. How did you end up imprisoned in Alcatraz? Please comment.
After finishing university I found I had a lot more free time on my hands and was itching to spend some time on my computer again. I spent the subsequent year rediscovering Photoshop and contributing to digital art communities. I'd been checking in with the demoscene occasionally, downloading demos that won parties or by prominent groups. Among them were some real masterpieces that got my passion flowing again and reminded me what it was that drew me to the scene many years ago.
Around this time I received some emails from S7ing telling me he was reviving Alcatraz and asking if I would be interested in joining. S7ing was actually my first overseas contact back when I was a swapper for Eltech and after seeing the talented line up of members he had acquired I decided it would be a fun group to be a part of.
You mentioned the Alcatraz music disk called Jailhouse voices. I noticed Mop did the coding and you the graphics while from origin the two of you are Amiga writers/editors :) How did this project start and what can you tell our readers about working together with Mop? Also what can you tell us about the music in Jailhouse Voices?
acquired I decided it would be a fun group to be a part of."
I believe this project was planned before I joined, but with the other artists of Alcatraz tied down with other commitments, I agreed to take it on. In the beginning it was a case of making the design fit the project, rather than basing the project around the design. It's not the best way to work in my opinion and we ran into some complications that caused it to be put on hold. S7ing was determined he wanted it finished, however, and one day I received an email from Mop telling me he was reviving the project and handling the coding. What's more, he offered me full creative freedom and welcomed my ideas about how the music disk should function. That's what every artist/designer wants to hear! The last time I'd seen Mop, he was writing for ROM on the Amiga while I was part of the rival Seenpoint staff. It was quite surreal to think that we were now working together on a music disk, but we really clicked.
Mop let me handle the artistic side of the production and if I asked him to try something, he'd often get a preview to me the very same day. However, I soon realised that he is a very creative guy and had some great ideas of his own. As a matter of fact, it was his idea to use individual logos for each track rather than a list-based selector and I think that was a really nice touch. I enjoyed working with Mop and I sincerely hope we will work together again at some point.
As for the music, we obviously have some incredible musicians in our ranks and when I started hearing some of the tracks there was no doubt this would be a very special music disk indeed. It was a shame that Powl and Brainbug were unable to contribute at the time, but the musicians who were involved gave us their all.
A major part of the demo scene today (on the Internet) surrounds pouet.net and bitfellas.org. What is your opinion about these two websites? Please air your thoughts.
Starting with Bitfellas, I think it's a good site, especially for scene music. I know a lot of ex-sceners from the early 90s who visit this site and recapture old memories. The discussions there are more civilised and more scene-orientated than Pouet and it has a good feeling.
I also like the database of past interviews and their diskmag section, which I hope will grow larger and more comprehensive with time.
I would like to see the graphics section get more focus with a more extensive database, however, similar to the music section. There has been talk of this, but that was a long time ago. Maybe there's not enough love for still images and logos any more, but it's something I would personally enjoy as it's very difficult to find scene graphics since Gfxzone.org stopped updating its pages.
Turning to Pouet now. If you can look past the childishness of many users, it really is a fantastic concept - an ever-growing collection of demoscene productions where demo-makers can get instant feedback. It has become a hub of scene activity and I think the demoscene would be an emptier and less inspiring place without it. On the other hand, I feel the site is swayed too much by scene politics and many visitors are more concerned with pleasing the in crowd than expressing their opinions as individuals. Sadly that affects the sincerity of the feedback.
Whether it's good or bad, I always give honest feedback on productions because that's what I want in return. I wouldn't want someone praising my work just because I'm a nice guy. That's patronizing and doesn't help me to develop. I know my comments can be quite harsh at times, but if I see someone has made a genuine effort I try to be constructive. I guess some sceners think I'm spiteful, but I'm always glad to help anyone who asks and have invested a lot of time making tutorials for budding artists and designers.
On the whole, the scene really needs sites like Pouet and Bitfellas and they're a good way to keep in touch.
What do you mean with 'swayed too much by scene politics' and 'pleasing the crowd'?
If you have lots of friends on Pouet or you get drunk with the moderators at parties, your prods will receive plenty of thumbs up, people will laugh at your silly BBS threads and you'll always have back up if you get into any online arguments. If you're on the outside of these cliques, however, you have to kiss some ass or earn your reputation the old fashioned way, with hard work and talent.
As an example, let's take Hugi and Pain. According to Pouet's statistics, the most thumbs down Pain has ever received is 6, compared to Hugi's 79. Even if we overlook the controversy of the last issue, Hugi still received 57 thumbs down for a previous issue.
There have been good and bad issues of both mags, but the quality difference in general is not that vast. If you check the Pain credits, however, you'll notice the writing staff comprises moderators of Pouet and their drinking buddies.
Which sceners do you look up to? Could you also mention, in your opinion, which sceners made and/or are making a difference in today's demo scene?
I grew up in the scene idolizing many 2d pixel artists such as Facet, Made, Danny, Ra and Uno, each for different reasons. Today's scene is different, however, and the graphic artists I most admire are those who take charge of a production's visual direction, from aspects of design, to 3d modelling, materials and textures. This is something I had neglected until recently, but something I'm much more aware of these days.
Fiver2 is a perfect example, having designed some of the best demos of recent times. He has really come a long way since his days as an Amiga pixeller. Contrary to the criticism he receives, I still admire the work of Visualice. I like the fact that he has developed a trademark style and I love the atmosphere he conjures in his demos. They're like an insight into his dark world of dreams. The same applies to Nytrik, whose sinister style, detailed models and textures always impress the hell out of me.
It will probably surprise him to read this, but Xenusion is another artist I have great respect for. His work is always so polished and professional, whether it's his 2d pictures or more functional demo work. Not forgetting Mime, Witja and Rork, of course, Plastic have come up with some real epic productions that really appeal to my tastes.
I really like oldschool touches in the work of H20, Raven and Critikill too and don't think I will ever tire of their style.
I could go on forever listing artists, coders and musicians that I look up to, but when it comes to who is most influential in today's scene, I'm thinking Fairlight are leading the way when it comes to cutting edge design as Smash really has a sharp eye for what looks good and knows how to make it happen. Farbrausch are at the forefront of any major breakthroughs and significant trends and I think (and hope) this will continue for years to come. ASD are behind some of the most imaginative and well directed releases I've seen in recent times and one of the most interesting groups around today. I can't say I am a fan of every production Navis comes up with, but I respect the variation in his work and I'm in awe of his creative vision. In my opinion, these are the 3 most influential groups around today.
Could you describe what you mean with oldschool touches? And, in your opinion, what exactly are the style of H20, Raven and Critikill like?
By oldschool I mean, their work has a likeness to traditional pixel graphics that originated in the demoscene. It's a style which you don't really see in mainstream art or media and which is unique to the demoscene. That said, each of these artists manages to bring this style up to date, with more detail and depth than was possible in pixelling times.
As you have a huge experience in the Amiga diskmag scene please describe your thoughts on the last few issues of the PC diskmags Zine, Hugi and Pain.
In terms of design and presentation, the last few issues of Zine have been outstanding! Easily the best looking magazine ever. Hugi and Pain have dated engines, but have had some excellent title pictures that I really appreciate. The music varies a lot, but I favour the Hugi selections most as they remind me of classic Amiga magazines and are very easy to listen to while reading.
When it comes to articles, I'm sorry to admit I don't read many these days. I usually just skim over the contents looking for articles that relate to scene friends. There are some talented writers behind these mags, but I'm not really captivated by the contents of PC diskmags the way I was with Amiga magazines.
There was just more passion in Amiga magazines - you could almost feel emotion in the words. The best writers, in my opinion, always have a good reason to write, an issue they need to address or a subject that really interests them, whereas these days it seems like editors rely too much on writers who don't really have any issues in mind.
I don't mean that as an insult towards PC editors. Times have changed and it must be so difficult putting a magazine together. With the Internet at our fingertips, we don't need to wait for magazines to get something in the open; we just open Pouet or Bitfellas and let it flow.
Earlier in this interview you mentioned your girlfriend. What does she think of your demo scene hobby and the time you spend on it?
I don't discuss the demo scene with my girlfriend as she really doesn't care for computers. All she knows is that I paint pictures and design graphics and sometimes I make money from it. It would be nice if she showed more interest, but then I'd have to go shoe shopping with her and I'm really not ready to make that compromise! :)
Please tell us, in general, something about your group Alcatraz. What makes Alcatraz so special for you? What releases can we expect on the long run? And did you attend your groupmate Sting's wedding? :)
Alcatraz is quite different from other groups I've been a part of. Some of our members are relatively new to the scene, others are returning after a long hiatus so there's a lot of enthusiasm. Many of us are learning new skills and we're all helping and encouraging each other along the way.
A lot of the members meet at parties and seem to have a close bond. Unfortunately, I don't have the time or the money to meet with them at the moment, but I hope I will some day soon.
As for releases, I can't really give any specific details. There are a lot of plans and a few surprises in line, but it's too early to make any promises.
As to be concluded from your previous answers you have been active on the demo scene for a long time now. In retrospective and from a personal point of view, how do you see the demo scene today?
My favourite scene days were during the early 90s on the Amiga. I think it was because I was just discovering the scene and the creative outlet my computer had to offer. I also enjoyed sitting back and watching demos and seeing what could be achieved.
Unfortunately I started losing my love of demos when we entered into the era of chunky 3d. Polygons were angular, graphics were indistinct and messy, effects were slow and I found demos very ugly and unappealing. Worse still, as an artist, it could be so disheartening spending hours on some slick textures or design, only to have it turned into chunky sludge when it reached production. This is why I turned my attention to diskmag editing rather than designing any demos during this period.
These days things are a lot more promising. I guess we are well into the "next generation" of computer graphics and I feel it's a very exciting time to be involved. High end demos are looking awesome, with high poly objects and scenes, sharp textures, particles, physics and a host of sweet looking shaders. What's more, today's hardware and software are making creativity fun again.
In previous years I found that many aspects of demo making - such as 3d modelling and texturing, vector painting and directing demos generally – grew deeply complicated and technical. No longer could someone like me just pick up a mouse and make something at will. There were values, scripts and co-ordinates to consider, and a whole bunch of other stuff I will never understand.
I'm now finding that I have more creative power in my hands again. 3d objects can be sculpted and painted by hand, vectors can also be painted by hand, and with the advent of user-friendly engines, even demo making is becoming less technical.
In terms of activity, I think the scene took a bit of a blow this year with so few quality demos at Breakpoint and The Gathering, but the scene has always had its highs and lows. A lot of the groups I see around today are brimming with talent and potential, and there may come a time when they hit us with something amazing.
Do you have an explanation why there were so few quality demos at Breakpoint and The Gathering in 2009? And can you name some of the groups you mentioned which are brimming with talent and potential?
It's very possible that the recession is taking its toll on the scene and everyone is having to work harder and think more about money than ever before. I would love to spend my days designing graphics for demos, but I have to give priority to commission work and my regular job because that's what's paying my bills, and I'm sure a lot of sceners are in the same situation.
I think there are a lot of groups waiting to show us their full potential. Alcatraz is one of those groups, and I also see huge potential in Brainstorm, Loonies and Still. They've done some great stuff already, but I don't think we've seen their best work yet. I see other groups, like PlaypsyCo and Quite who have massive coding talent, but just need a bit of work in the design department to become one of the leading groups. Another group that springs to mind is Speckdrumm. They've shown incredible skills, ideas and originality, but maybe their image as a fun group distracts from their true abilities.
Thank you Wade for participating in this article. Please use this opportunity for some last words and greetings.
It's always a pleasure! :) As a final note, I just want to greet all my scene friends and thank all the hard working sceners who give up their time to contribute to the scene. Take care!
Magic & Wade