Computing History – the early 8-bit years
I have been interested in computers since the early 1980s. My father brought home the old rubber-keyed marvel, the ZX Spectrum, from Lasky’s (a pre-cursor to the Dixons brand) from Kingston-Upon-Hull.
The fun we had (honest!) going through the Horizons cassette that came free with it. My brother would sit and play the Brick In The Wall game until he could get that ‘just right’ move of the bat in order to remove the final brick from the screen. These days he uploads videos of his gameplays onto YouTube via his BarthaxDravtore channel, as well as being a participant/referee within the Twin Galaxies hi-score website.
In 1987, I did the Spectrum & Amstrad CPC graphics port of the C64 graphics from ‘Out Of This World’ for Reaktor. It was a shameless rip off of ‘Fantasy Zone’ on the Sega Master System, but it was my one and only bit of paid graphics work. It also required me going to/from the offices of Paragon in Clapham Junction to see how far it had got. This accidentally included late night trips to their office to use their phone connection to download the latest C64 demos from Compunet.
Paragon (Programming Ltd) went on to bigger and better things – compared to their bread and butter Spectrum & Amstrad ports of C64 titles for US Gold – via a name change to Revolution. Yep, the very same software house that created Beneath A Steel Sky!
I digress .. I was lucky enough to get a nice score of 92% for the graphics in Amstrad Action #28 at the time! Because I was only 17 at the time, I was paid for the work in cash. Erm .. hello HMRC .. in my defence, it was 30+ years ago and that’s how things were done back then!
16-bit era: Atari ST
However, the cash didn’t didn’t last long once I’d bought a new 14″ colour TV and a Atari 520STFM (single-sided drive) setup. I soon realised afterwards that, with the higher resolution and multiple colours, a career in graphics design/pixel-painting just wasn’t for me. I didn’t mind fiddling about and tweaking screens, but that was about my limit.
Programming, though, via the medium of GFA BASIC (and a little bit of 68000) was much more interesting. I could use a BASIC similar, but way more powerful, than what I’d learned on the ZX Spectrum. It wasn’t long before I was churning out utilities and some (quite awful) demos in GFA BASIC v2.
Unfortunately for me, most of these demos have been preserved on DemoZoo by Lotek. Believe me when I say that the sampled demos *are* awful. If you’re really unlucky, I think I still have the source code for them knocking about somewhere. So they could end up being available here – but only if you want a laugh that is 🙂
Later on, when Magnetic Fields (Super Scramble Simulator and Super Cars creators) were leaving the 16-bit scene, I was given their Atari developer’s MegaST setup with a huge (for the time) hard-drive. A whole 65Mb of space spread across 5 separate partitions!
My development / turnaround time increased dramatically around this time. No more swapping over of floppy disks when compiling or assembling (and hacking) code!
Some of the demos I created in the latter years were quite good though, especially the Synthetic Delights (100+ Amiga ‘chip music’ modules on a single disk, selected from a mouse-driven menu) and Pinball Illusions demo – music ripped from the Amiga game that would just about fit onto a Atari ST disk with an extended format.
Both of these demos used Terry King’s Spriteworks as well as my own GFA Linker.
My linker enabled all of the data files to be stored inside a single larger file, which automatically ensured that the demo would run from a hard-disk. It would also allow those ST owners with larger memory configurations to load all of the data into memory, if there was space available. Not that I’d learned about link-filing from my time as a demo-compilation disk creator whilst being part of The Source 🙂
Why do I call myself Mug UK?
It’s an old school nickname from when I attended Wandsworth School for Boys in Southfields, London (1981-1986). I was a late import into the first year due to failing to get into another school, so I was fresh-faced, and with my Brummie accent, the butt of quite a few jokes. Especially when my voice was recorded for a French lesson and a thick-accented “Ooo Eh Laa Booos” came out instead of the expected “Où est le bus”!
The school was closed in 1999 and all of the comprehensive buildings were demolished and the existing grammar school buildings were converted into a new school. It’s very sad to see the sites of my youth left in ruin, I can even see the walls where we used to play pat-a-ball at lunchtimes! This same old building is also where I broke my wrist at the age of 14. Four years later, it was operated on to help ‘fix it properly’ at St. George’s Hospital in Tooting – and I still have a metal bar inside my wrist since 1988.
I have gone off on a tangent somewhat but in my classroom colleagues’ eyes I was marked down as a “Northerner” and I therefore only drank tea. Which I did anyway every break time. I also, in my more energetic youth, played football every break time. Hence Mr ‘Mug O Tea’ was created, but due to me wearing Dr Maarten’s shoes whilst playing football, I was renamed ‘Mugger Boot’ and I just shortened it.
Other pseudonyms (all from the Atari ST days)
Because I was the author of a commercial piece of software at the time – The Professional Virus Killer – I had to ‘hide’ the interesting stuff in plain sight as it were.
If you look at the list of the productions that I created, or had a hand in, there are some other scene names that I went by:
a) I Wonder Who Wrote This Trash Industries (IWWWTTI) was a separate nickname that I used whenever a new executable or data file packer was released. I would rewrite the standard Trap #1 loader source that I had to use the new packer’s file format and then release it on a disk via The Source menus.
Later on, when myself and MSD of POV reverse engineered and improved a link-filer by Orion/Fusion, each new depacker was added to this routine too.
b) Mentor of Special FX – one of my nicknames (along with Eqqyfump) when I worked on the dodgier side of things in Special FX. It made the group seem a lot bigger than it actually was.
c) Structure of Adrenalin – Another UK group that specialised in Amiga .MOD compilations. I had a super Amiga set-up at the time, so ripping/converting .MOD files was fairly easy. They also did PD compilation disks (after the death of The Source, I worked on some of these disks) and some not-so-PD disks. I helped out when and where I could. The trained versions of commercial games that I did were under this moniker, whereas the PD game hacks were released under Mug UK.
I also have two other websites that I set up and try my best to look after:
- My Word Toolbox – a Word add-in that helps you to fix common Word problems in your own documents – www.mikestoolbox.co.uk
- My scans of some ~1200 slides that I bought from a car boot back in 2015. It’s still in the early stages, but for now there’s a collection of slides scanned in from the late 1960s through to the late 1970s from various parts of Britain – www.oldslidescans.co.uk. There are four boxes in total that need to be scanned in.