Watching NWCUG Demos (C64)

As the name might suggest, the North-West Commodore User Group – or NWCUG for short – wasn’t actually a demo or cracking crew in the same way that contemporaries like the Mean Team or Borderzone were, it was instead a user group which covered, perhaps unsurprisingly, the north west of the United Kingdom. They also had a presence on UK-based online service Compunet and a few of their members produced a cluster of demos in the group’s name for release on said service so, as a “bumper” post to get back up to speed after a few weeks off, here’s a look at the three demos bearing the NWCUG brand in their name.

To begin with we’ve got The NWCUG Demo, a two parter which starts with an intro whizzing some square blocks around the screen and running a scrolling message across the bottom; nothing special but it’s fun to watch and has a good, upbeat tune playing as well. The main part has a large scrolling message at the bottom of the screen where each character in the font has been scaled up to eight times its regular size and there’s an area at the top where a series of pictures dissolve in and out. There’s also a NWCUG logo built from expanded sprites which sits in the lower border and a couple of tunes available from the function keys including a solid cover of Dire Straits’ Walk Of Life.

As with the first demo, NWCUG 2 opens with a scroller and sprite sinus, although everything has been overhauled since the previous demo’s intro; the sprites this time are defined as hearts rather than just blocks and their movements are more interesting, with the latter also being true for the excellent multi speed, direction and colour scroller which is, for me at least, only marred by the short length of the text especially since this is probably my favourite piece of music in all three of these demos as well.

Pressing the space bar will start the second part which has some Max Headroom animations originally drawn by Bob Stevenson and reworked via ESCOS to use the upper, lower and side borders whilst dancing to some appropriate David Whittaker music. A tap of the Restore key from there brings up a simulation of the NWCUG page on Compunet, accompanied by some classical music and a scrolling message where the “duck shoot” menu would usually be and, when the music ends on this part it, hands over to a simulated test card entirely built from colour splits.

NWCUG Demo 3‘s first part has some raster bars in the side borders, although sadly they’re not properly timed so there’s some “sparkling” on a C64C or C128. The expanded sprite logo and scaled up scroller from the first NWCUG demo make a return, except with the former cycling through different colour schemes and the latter sporting cool-looking shadow effects. Hitting space gets another ESCOS-style part which this time reproduces the demo Power Windows but in all four borders, allowing the user to move the picture up and down under joystick control.

Finally, slapping Restore pulls up another sprite sinus part to finish the show which this time updates sixteen sprites with eight being displayed on each frame. It might be flickery – I was surprised that the YouTube video comes out as well as it does – but the routine comes with several presets to choose from and the option to play with various settings once they’re in motion. It also features my second favourite tune from all of the NWCUG demos playing behind it, a wonderfully laid back piece that fits the sedate, almost hypnotic movement of those sprites very well.

Almost all of the music in these three demos are original and enjoyable, the graphics are good throughout in part because there’s a couple of “borrowed” Bob Stevenson works in there and the code is for the most part solid. I remember originally watching the second and third NWCUG demos as a teenager after a friend downloaded them – I didn’t see the first until some point in the 1990s if memory serves – and being completely blown away at the time. All three have a unique style throughout despite their being collections of parts and, for me at least, still hold together well now.

ICSRTU (C64)

Looking through my “schedule” I knew December was going to be a busy month, but one delightfully unexpected release which appeared a few days ago from Sean Connolly was a new C64 demo called ICSRTU-FM. The demo’s code was built around a rendition of I Can See Right Thru You by Supercharge created with Sean’s work-in-progress FM music editor and driver, which means it requires an expansion to run and for the best results that should be either an FM-YAM cartridge or the SFX Sound Expander with a YM3812 modification.

The latter device can be emulated by VICE – look for “SFX Sound Expander settings” in the Cartridge/IO sub menu and change the YM chip type whilst there – and those of us who are just “slumming it” with a stock SFX Sound Expander can still enjoy the music even if it doesn’t sound exactly as intended. My test machine is currently equipped with one and has been happily humming away to itself in the other room for over an hour now.

I did play a teensy part in this release, Sean sent me a scan of the record’s cover art which I converted to the C64. The results are rather “lo fi” because the original image is deliberately grainy and I only took the liberty of tidying some of the edges and adding a few dabs of colour here and there. The logo down the side was actually borrowed from the 1993 Cosine release Lethargy, which means it’s a quarter of a century older than anything else on screen and, on a completely unrelated note, I now feel almost painfully old.

Watching Backlog (C64)

Since I’m in an intro-y kind of mood right now I decided to have a ponder about “past glories” and loaded Backlog, a collection of intros I wrote for various people during the 1990s that were thrown together into a single file at the end of 1999. Perhaps unsurprisingly the show starts with an intro, although this one was written specifically for the job; it has a logo by WHW Design, music from 4-Mat – one of his earliest tunes as a member of the group if memory serves – and the design was based on a Cosine intro Hookie used during the 1980s.

The first actual intro in the collection was written in 1991 for Chancer when he was a member of Babygang and is one of two I coded for them. It saw a fair amount of use in part because it was designed to be compact, with everything bar the music being crammed into the first 4K of memory and there are even a few cases of this in the wild where the music was removed entirely in order to save even more space. I’m told that it also compresses rather well, although that’s more by luck than design on my part!

The Derbyshire Ram intro that comes next in the collection hails from 1992 and is pretty simple stuff with a swinging logo, scroller and some cosine-following sprites but, because I’m thoroughly disorganised and it took a little too long to code, so Barry had already left Deadline by the time everything was finished! And there’s a similar story behind the Success intro that follows as well, it was commissioned by Mistri in 1993 and I spent some time cramming the logo and larger character set into a ridiculously small amount of space only to find out that they’d just joined forces with The Ruling Company and my code would therefore remain unused.

Next is the only other Cosine intro included in this collection, which was first used for the Electronic Music System V7.03 in 1997 and subsequently linked to a couple of Cosine games around the same time. The main “design choice” was to work within a reduced area of the screen by drawing a box around everything apart from the logo and this is the primary inspiration for Refix 2017. The final intro in the collection was coded in around five hours to go in front of A Lil Bit Of, a three part demo by Carcass again put out in 1997. The music in the final release was composed by Necrophobic, but I didn’t realise there was a new tune being supplied so the intro is timed around the Replay tune included on this release. Once space has been pressed we get to the finale, another 4-Mat tune accompanying a large “end” logo that swings onto the screen.

There are a couple more intros that could have been included including the second Babygang intro mentioned earlier – there’s an extremely good chance that I actually forgot about it when compiling the collection – and one I did but, if memory serves, never quite finished for Rebel Alliance around the time I was coding Pink Elephants In Lemonade. And because of those two the idea for Backlog 2 has been stewing pretty much since the first one was released although, unless I’m forgetting something else, there’s not much to go into it after those and the more recent Cosine intro used for GR9 Strike Force