Low Level All-Stars--Linus Walleij/TRIAD

[To coincide with the exhibition "Kingdom of Piracy"
(http://kop.adac.com.tw/) RSG and BEIGE have entered into a head to
head, 8-bit computing battle in search of what we call "the low level
all-stars." First round goes to Cory Arcangel of BEIGE who contacted
Linus Walleij of the legendary Swedish demo crew Triad
(http://www.triad.c64.org/). In the following interview Linus describes
his craft: the art of the cracker "intro." Part demo, part graffiti,
intros are the animations that appear at the start-up of a cracked video
game. Designed to showcase the cracker's talent, these mini projects
also shed an interesting light on computer art…and where it came

+ + +

Cory Arcangel: How did you get started in the intro scene?

Linus Walleij: You know, intros were around. Intros gave you the
impression of following an old tradition, just like the groups that the
intros were for. They made the impression of having existed forever.
They all portrayed themselves as organizations as old and powerful as
the Freemasons, and their art was just as serious-looking. So intros
stuck to my mind, they followed their own code of beauty.

Cory Arcangel: Would you consider intros to be graffiti, art,
information? Some combination of the three?

Linus Walleij: Intros are graffiti and both intros and graffiti are art.
It is graffiti-like in the sense that intro makers want to be seen, and
want to belong to something. Just like intro makers, graffitti creators
live under the impression of being a part of something much bigger that
has been around for ages.

That both things are art is obvious, intros are deeply human in
character, they reflect on classical symbolism and beauty ideals and so

Cory Arcangel: I am interested in how the architecture of a specific
machine effects the aesthetic of the work produced on that machine. For
example, Mario is a square because the Nintendo Entertainment System
displays graphics in groups of 8*8 pixels. How did the architecture of
the Commodore 64 (C64) effect the look of the intros?

Linus Walleij: Characters are displayed in groups of 8x8 pixels just
like on the Nintendo. This had profound influence. Also the groups of
8x8 characters are just 256 different "characters" so, for example, a
logo was never bigger than to fit in 256 characters (including some
empty character).

The C64 had 8 sprites which are graphics blocks in 24x21 pixels. These
could float over other graphics, making it a popular feature. They could
be expanded twice along X and Y axis, which was used for some nice
blocky logotypes (see old Hotline intros for an example of this).

Fading color: this seems obvious, but flashes and the like actually had
to be invented from scratch. The Commodore 64 had 16 colors which had to
be arranged by luminosity in order to "fade" things in and out.

Rasterbars were invented on the C64 (also called copper-bars on the
Amiga). It was common to just change the color at a certain raster
scanline using raster IRQ and color registers.

Hardware registers for scrolling lead to smooth scrollers. "Bugs" in the
hardware that made it possible to delay the drawing of a certain
charcter line (40 8x8 characters) were used to created whole blocks of
graphics moving smoothly in sinusoidal Y-patterns over the screen. And
so on.

Cory Arcangel: I am also interested in the idea of space limitations.
Today it is easy today to get a 90 Gig firewire hard drive for a few
hundred dollars. Size is no longer a constraint when making work on a
computer. What were the common size limitations when making an intro,
and how did the size limitations effect the look of the demo?

Linus Walleij: Each C64 intro was only a few K. Perhaps 6-8k if it was a
big one. When you only have 64k to play with this is quite natural. Also
it was hard to use more memory: what should you use it for? A full
character on the C64 is 2k, you can have 2 of them, some sprites, a tune
may be 2-3k. That is 7k. It is actually hard to use more memory without
going to high-res graphics and sampled music, or entire sprite character
sets. And the Intro-form didn't usually include that. This would often
be used in stand-alone demos however, but NOBODY would attach that to
some game.

Cory Arcangel: In what way were the disks commonly traded?

Linus Walleij: The most common way was "swapping," i.e. people sent them
in the mail. A "swapper" was a special member class in the group and an
active swapper had up to 500 contacts that he constantly mailed and got
mail from.

Cory Arcangel: How much effect do you think the disk distribution
network had on the development of the intro?

Linus Walleij: Well it was vital, When you coded an intro you never knew
who was gonna see it and how big the network was. Perhaps you lived in
the imagination that hundreds of thousands would see your intro, and
then you'd be like a pop star, see. But I guess not more than a thousand
at most would actually see your intro, usually a lot less than that

Cory Arcangel: What are the hallmarks of a good intro, and who do you
think the best groups were?

Linus Walleij: Hard to say, what is good art generally? Something that
touches on the human condition in one way or another, something that
affects you emotionally–that is good art.

Cory Arcangel: Can you briefly explain the idea of training a game, and
how it got started [I understand Triad invented this…]

Linus Walleij: I don't know if this was how it happened generally, but
in Triad, a cracker named Mr Z always created cheat backdoors in the
games in order so that he could himself play through the games and test
them, so that we hadn't f**ed it up somehow in the cracking process.

So he actually left the hooks in, and in the games you could usually
press "C" (for "Cheat") in the intro screen instead of the usual
"space." This activated "Cheat mode." At some point Ixion started
mentioning this in the scroll texts, and then later it became a part of
the art of cracking for a lot of groups.

I don't know if this is the whole story about how the "training" came
along, but it is definately part of the story.

Cory Arcangel: Do you have any favorite intros?

Linus Walleij: Yep, Ikari, Hotline and C64CG intros from the late 1980's
are the best.

Cory Arcangel: Do you still code in 6502?

Linus Walleij: Absolutely. I'm learning MIPS assembler right now, but my
heart will always be with the 6502.