Megatron's Memoirs 2: Part 1
See that kid on the left hand side, well that's me peeps, yup before I got my growth spurt and my hair surrendered and I turned into what now resembles a football hooligan I was once the happy go lucky gamer you see here.
Over the 25 years that followed I like to think that I have gained a decent insight into the games industry, I made games myself, know people that still do, worked in the games retail market and even owned my own indie games shop, been a collector, been a gamer, now I'm a retro nutcase and co-founder of a website, life certainly hasn't been dull.
The second memoir will introduce you to a time when I was not the best friend of the Gaming scene, I was a Pirate. The chappy you see to the left who is about to be hit in the face by an OCEAN Robocop 2 bag soon had the scare of his life shortly after this picture was taken....
Piracy...The Next Generation!
Every single thing I‘m about to type is fresh in my mind, chances are it will be the thing that flashes before my eyes just before I die, that’s a really sad way to start a feature of course but give it time and the reasons I chose those words will eventually become clear.
Ladies and gentlemen…. The Amiga 500!
For the console lovers out there this was the home computer that bitch slapped your mega drive and Super Nintendo around that you probably never played, don’t hate on me for saying that because I loved those consoles and if you don’t believe me read the intro’s I wrote to them on the main HOME page of this website and let my statement sink in some more. The Commodore Amiga was so far ahead of it’s time that in theory the people that made it should have either been arrested for breaking time travel laws after bringing such awesome technology back to the late 80’s or given the keys to the planet because quite simply…… YES!
A 16-Bit does everything computer is the easiest way to sum it up, a multi-tasking thousands of colours on screen audio treating gift from the heavens is how I describe it and if you disagree then wait for me after school in the playground and we will handle this like gentlemen. Everyone who looks into it and those who owned one and even those who grew up with it will always love it, to play one is to understand fun, to appreciate real quality, to quite frankly be in love. All sentimental gushing for sure but also all true.
But this feature is not about the games, oh no, that would be too easy because the Amiga simply rocked at those and that is another chat for another time, this week I’m going to try and convey memories I wouldn’t trade for all the money in the world. This week I want to begin to talk to you about my personal favourite part of the Amiga and it goes a little something like this…
Rise of the Pirate King!
Two words, Public Domain, here’s another two words for you that link in… Action Replay, want Two more, baby I got this covered how about 2-Bit Productions. Right now everyone reading this is thinking the exact same thing..WTF does any of this mean? well calm down, sit down, put your feet up and let me go… But first, some backstory, hey it is me after all right?!
I had owned my Amiga for a while, the entire summer holiday worked to obtain such a prize is something to be shared in another feature down the road, I loved it, the look of it, the feel of it, the sheer power of the games that made my poor old master system limp into the shadows like a dog that knows it’s about to be taken round the back of the barn and shot, this wasn’t the case of course because I loved my Master System and I still do (calm down Transbot, easy tiger). But as my trusty old Spectrum 128k +2A had found out, times had moved on, there was indeed a new sheriff in town. After seeing this beast of a machine running around a work friends house, name drop (David Cochraine) my life was completely focused into having my own however after seeing how much they were that dream was simply that, a dream.
As I said though, I had now owned one for about a year-ish and during that year or so I had discovered the many joys of pirating games and the wonders of a program called X-Copy, for those not in the know this was a piece of software that allowed you to bypass a lot of copy protected games to make back-ups which of course for a Geek like me was simply mind blowing, the fact that I copied my copy of it on the sly from another friend whilst he was having his family dinner is another tale that makes me chuckle to this day. X-copy had made me the King of Kings in both my neighbourhood and my school because I’m one of those people (or at least I used to be lol) that knew everyone and liked to talk to anybody who simply walked past me, a real people person if ever there was one.
Because of my ability to make new friends finding gamers with Amiga games was easy, swapping them was even easier and thanks to X-Copy I would always have my own disc to play once the original or pirate had been given back, over the space of about 6 months I had built up a massive library of games, by late 1991 my collection of copied games was so large that it filled 2 suitcases, yup you read that right 2 suitcases, disc boxes were for pussies, I rolled with the big dogs!!!
And they came from far and wide...
The facts about F.A.S.T.
Who the hell are these guys you ask? Well if you ever purchased a games magazine during the 8-Bit through 16-Bit era there was a time when this organisation were in every issue, they were essentially a national group backed by law that worked in tandem with the local trading standards to police the huge piracy problem from places like Market Stalls and dodgy games shops and also events like local clubs. Somebody had called them and sold us all down the river, to this day there are people who still think it was me because I was one of only a handful of people who was not there that evening however considering this effectively was my main source of games for me to have done that would be simply insane, young kids however see what they see, put 2 & 2 together got 168 and ran with it, idiots!
The call I received was from the guy who ran the club who had spent hours at the local police station the previous evening and was making sure that anyone who was not there got the heads up to wipe their discs although I also suspect the more I think about it that he was probably also seeing who sounded guilty as to spot the traitor who ended our fun. I was one of those who did not sound guilty, I actually swore about 20 times in the space of under a minute which got me even more stressed after hearing the news and a right old smack round the head form my mum who was disgusted I even knew such words let alone could string them together to form such vocal poetry. You have to understand that most kids this age (16-17 ish) were not the same as those that exist now who if they were in my shoes would utter phrases like ’I don’t care’ or ‘can’t do shit to me I’m under 18’ because honestly kids at the turn of the 1990’s were much more meek and less full of bad habits.
I panicked would be the nice way to describe what happened next, I shit myself is more like it, I fucking lost it would be closer, I fell apart and lost bodily functions would be the truth. I was a geek for sure, a nerd without doubt, the class clown, the funny one who made everyone laugh was the description most used to describe me, what I wasn’t was rich enough to pay the fines these people threw around or able to take the beating my mother would hand out if the police knocked on the door, out of her 3 sons I was the good one, the nice boy, this news would snap her followed by her snapping my neck.
Panic on planet Amiga...
This news if I remember rightly hit me at about 6 ish on a Thursday and after rubbing the back of my now very red and very sore head from the smack it had just rightly received for the swearing exhibition downstairs I retreated to my bedroom to work out exactly how I would get out of this massive deep hole I had gotten into, I remember having intense panic attack anxiety feelings like my heart was in my mouth and dreading the front door going, you see on the phone Gordon (the guy’s name who ran the club) had informed me that everyone there had all their computers, monitors and discs confiscated and that everyone was questioned about others who went but were not there that evening and asked for their details as in where they lived.
As a person I’m very guarded about certain things and this remains to this day, mainly because of habits that formed into serious trust issues and so even though Gordon told me he hadn’t mentioned me at all I had no idea that none of the other 20 or so people there had not passed on things like my full name etc.
As I sat in my bedroom in sheer and total panic my mum thought that was the perfect time to come into my room and further discipline me regarding my emotional outburst mere minutes before, now this part I’m really not proud of but as she proceeded to apologise for smacking my head because that’s the reason I was shaking etc which of course it wasn’t, it was because my teenage mind thought I was going to get arrested for piracy, have a massive fine then get bummed in jail.
I spoke a few words in an order that was not cool. Right now I know for a fact most of you are thinking it would be shouty shouty bravado swear words and anger fuelled teenage boy rage but that’s because you have never met me, you absolutely need to understand my brain does not work the same way yours probably does, it is capable of just running away on a tangent that I myself am completely not prepared for so when I come out of the foggy haze I’m quite often left with a situation so bizarre my waking mind wants to beat me, with a stick.
After being told all this bad news, having spent less than 5 minutes convincing myself I was going to be bubba’s soap bitch in jail and being confronted by a parent with no time to even think properly this is the phrase my brain thought was best to use….MUM, I can’t deal with any of this right now, Robert just died!
The fall of the Pirate King...
I know…….. You don’t have to tell me, shitty move! And the worst part of all of this was that Robert wasn’t even a made up name, it was someone I knew through another friend that had visited my house a few times and had actually met my mum, bad situation was now amplified to ridiculous situation, obviously I feared at some level my mum’s response to the piracy thing after lying to her for ages regarding why I even needed 2 suitcases full of discs in the first place and so didn’t want another smack or that look of disappointment I had only even seen once before which is the story of the first time I saw the real Darth Vader and a Vectrex…..And had been arrested! (long story, tell another time)
So now I’m in my room and my mum is in tears, it’s getting worse! I have guilt tripped her into thinking she smacked me for a terrible reason and now on top of having to deal with the 2,000+ plus amiga discs problem I’m suddenly aware that at some point I may have to produce evidence of a dead body, Awesome!
To help bring this back on point the short version here is that after a while of being quiet and teary eyed for completely different reasons as to why my mum was acting the exact same way she got up hugged me again and left the room, before she left however she turned to me and said don’t think about school tomorrow take the day off and at this point a felt the light bulb fire up in my mind, I had the beginning of a way out of this. The Robert being very much alive problem, was on the back burner, first up was the discs. I know what your thinking here folks. Your wondering why I didn’t just throw the discs in the bin, firstly shame on you for even allowing such a rubbish cop out to spring into your head and shame on you for thinking so low of me in regards to my Amiga love. I had spent a fortune on these discs and rolls of labels there was no way I was going to throw them all away and what if the police and F.A.S.T came around and checked the bins before the rubbish men came to take them away, come on people….Think.
My solution was to keep the discs themselves but erase the games however I knew from reading the articles in my Amiga magazines that a quick erase through the Amiga itself wasn’t enough to erase evidence of the games being there in the first place, in order to make it as hard as possible for them to prove pirated games were ever on there they had to be completely wiped through a program such as X-COPY, and I had that. This is all sounding easy as pie now right? Wrong! Because once again I would like to remind you that to erase a disc on the Amiga this way took about 2-3 minutes per disc, I have many, so many in fact that they need 2 sodding suitcases to hold them, as I said easily more than 2,000
Doing the math right now this tells me that 2,000 discs at 2 minutes per disc would mean more than 66 hours of sitting next to my amiga simply wiping pirated games but as I said I had more than the number just given and sometimes they took longer, don’t ask me why some just did. I started on my quest to delete these games immediately, all the previous thoughts of telling people I would always have them vanished in a micro second, F.A.S.T in their day were not to be trifled with or so I thought because of what I had read about and that evening been told.
I started blanking these discs that Thursday evening and sure enough the next day came and when my mum came into my room Friday morning and saw me all white and pasty she thought it was because I was in shock and of course nothing to do with the fact that I had been up all night and hadn’t even been to bed, I must have looked like real crap, I got another hug (no time to feel guilty) and was told no school for me and that she was on her way out to do my paper round for me ( I know, at this point I look like the biggest tool ever) I carried on however showing nearly no emotion simply out of panic and fear from any noise outside the house that could be the police coming to get me.
By Friday late afternoon My eyes couldn’t keep open and I fell asleep at my computer desk, when I awoke late evening I went back to the wiping of discs, this continued through the night and on Saturday I phoned in sick to work this time using a sensible excuse like having the shits, which sounded perfect until I returned to work the following Saturday and everyone pointed and laughed at me for the first few hours. Through the weekend I carried on doing the same thing I was doing and on Monday I again missed school, by this point I was so far through doing it that I had began to calm down slightly and now the whole Robert being dead thing was weighing on my mind more, what on earth had I done.
Blanking the remaining discs took me until the middle of that week, I had spent nearly 6 days simply erasing discs or sleeping, I was an emotional wreck and had lied my arse off to my mother however now I was certain no jail time for this fellow so at least there was that, now I just had to work out how to solve the Robert being dead lie. At this point a normal person would simply confront the mother tell her the reasons and assure her there was no danger of getting into trouble, that I had learned my lesson and to accept the obvious anger and shouting thrown at me and also accept my deserved punishment…… Sigh, It’s like you have never even met me isn’t it?
Cover up capers...
So, here’s what I did…
I spoke to my friend who was best friends with Robert and I told him what I had said and he agreed that although stupid and crappy of me I had no way out that didn’t involve being grounded, smacked and probably having my mum simply bin my Amiga out of that crazy mum logic they sometimes have (Hi ladies x) He then talked to Robert for me and explained that this was a forever thing and that as me and him were not really proper friends and that as I was getting out of the pirated games scene there was nothing to loose, I’m told he thought it was hilarious and later I would find this out for myself.
I was for now at least completely in the clear, sure the guilt I felt over the awful lie nagged at me for weeks although I secretly paid for the crime by doing so much housework and chores that she though I had become a new person, the further kick was when she gave me £10.00 to go get a game to cheer me up, you have no idea how terrible that made me feel and as I returned home with my new thing designed to cheer me up with a look of total devastation on my face, I know it affected me as I still to this day can’t remember what game it was. I had gone from the game king who always had something to play to a teenager who felt rubbish about stuff with 2 suitcases full of blank Amiga discs.
At this point I don’t want any sympathy, I was totally out of line for my actions both in pirating so many games, helping to spread them around, not getting caught red handed with them when people with less than 20 discs had their machines taken away from them permanently and of course the guilt of the dead friend lie, in many ways I think I would have preferred the fine and the smack round the head.
I may not have served jail time (of course at that age I wouldn’t have, but I wasn’t really aware of that stuff then) but I absolutely did time, time of regret.
This is the end of the road... Megatron!
My once loved and adored Amiga now rarely saw any real attention and in all honesty I was starting to play on my Master System more again considering the games were going down in price and I no longer wanted to have anything to do with piracy at all, on the spectrum it was a case of not knowing any better and simply not being able to afford anything original for certain periods of it’s lifespan and for the Amiga it was an explosion of my OCD mixed with loving the center of attention it gave me being the central kingpin of a large network of small groups of friends who linked together through their friendship with me.
I’m also pretty sure the sheer number of games I got for the price of a blank disc made up for all those times I walked into shops and had to simply watch others get stuff whilst all I had was time playing the demo machines but this is of course how a young mind rationalises bad behaviour and doing the wrong thing, I know better now as an adult, it hasn’t completely stopped me at other points however when I feel I’m more wrong than right I check out my original collection and re-assure myself every developer on this planet has had a lot of my hard earned cash at some point.
Back on topic and sorry if this is far too long or boring but honestly you clicked a page called Megatron’s Memoirs so what exactly did you expect? If you want 2 paragraph features cut and pasted from Kickstarter you know which website to go to , we don’t roll that way here, this is a new way of retro archiving. So about 8 weeks after the ‘Incident’ I finally think it’s safe to contact Gordon again who informs me the Amiga Club is absolutely dead and that he himself lost his Amiga 500 with external drive and about 200 discs and got a fine although he never told me how much, I explain to him once again it was not me who made the call to the police/ F.A.S.T but that now it’s all over I feel like a part of me is numb and what exactly is the point of having this Amiga anymore, he then say’s the 2 words that bring about the biggest change in direction for me as a gamer ever…….Public Domain!!!!!
The rest is history, the rest helps in part redeem me as a human being, it’s the very first example of what a REAL community is all about and is I expect the main reason such things as Indie game developers exist now, it’s reach to this day still exceeds it’s grasp, it was a vision that existed in such perfect execution that it didn’t even need the internet, in fact it was better because of having no internet. Sometimes I wonder if the lack of even a thanks but no thanks simple e-mail return when we go after interviews are a clear example of how much things have changed, you would not get that in the Amiga Public Domain days, everyone talked to everyone, people even did things like putting their home address and home telephone numbers on their work, they wanted to be contacted.
I am of course jumping ahead again now, giving sweeping declarations before explaining my case for such things however once you read part 2 of this feature I’m sure you will agree, this was something quite simply never to be repeated, a product of it’s time in ever sense of the word, see you back here for another round of gaming memories very soon. Before you decide I truly am as evil as my username suggest I beg you to just give me a little more time because life is not simply Black & White, it’s many shades of Grey.
Am I proud of being a pirate to this extent, nope, not really however I was still in my teens earned less than 20 quid a week thanks to a Saturday job and a paper round and wanted to buy all the games magazines as well as original games, something had to go and because I didn’t own my own industrial photocopier to duplicate magazines that meant pirating games was the way forward. I had thousands of discs with hundreds and hundreds of games and so that’s how it was, that’s who I was for a while, the kid with all the games, the kid everyone wanted to be friends with because I held the keys to the game shop, a game got from one source would be shared with several more and their games back through me would go to others, I had a right little network going on, no money changed hands just games which I know isn’t right, it was massively against the law however I told myself that as I wasn’t selling them I wasn’t harming anyone, most of the stuff I got I kept for archive reasons not because I actually played them and everyone I traded with still bought original games, myself included but we were all young and poor so the most we got were a couple of full price ones a year and lots of budget titles on payday lol.
Right now I’m not coming off that well and I get it what I have been doing though is building up the picture of just how into the gaming side of my Amiga I was, so much so in fact that all the programming and games making and demo creating that myself and a friend had done on the spectrum for a good couple of years simply vanished the second my Amiga rocked up into my world. I had gone from gamer to games maker and back to gamer again in what felt like a heartbeat and also I had become the very worst kind of gamer as well, the hoarder pirate kind, I had so many games it would have been impossible to enjoy them all, My OCD had kicked in and I had invented Pokemon because I had to have them all.
During these dizzy heights of illegal piracy I along with a couple of friends met through other friends had started going to what was called an Amiga club, it was held in a local scout hut one evening a week (Wednesday I think) and it’s original purpose was to get together and just have fun playing games and talk about all things Amiga and be all geeky and crap, the guy who ran it was a clever git because he used the opportunity to sell blank discs to loads of kids as he knew we swapped pirate games and even took a few each there every week, he made a fortune out of me alone who purchased bundles of 50 discs for the then bargain price of £20.00, like I said I had more than 2 thousand discs all purchased through him so he as you can imagine was always really nice to me, I was the only kid never to get charged the weekly £1.00 entrance fee which of course was just because I was the one that got all the others there to share in my weekly piracy spoils.
During the few months I attended this club I sure did make lots of new friends and got tons of games however it was at this point I became aware of something that would later turn out to be quite magical, it was known to many under the simple phrase of DEMO’S however it’s real term was that of Public Domain. Every so often when nobody had any games I didn’t already have I would copy a few of these from again the guy who ran the club who was massively into them and go home and really enjoy watching them as I guess at a certain level they spoke to my creative side, the side nurtured through my spectrum years. If I’m honest with myself this would have been all they ever would have been had it not been for one fateful day when a young Megatron who was too ill to attend the weekly meeting who had stayed at home received the next day an alarming phone call that changed his teenage life forever, the Amiga Club had been shut down, it had been raided and everyone’s property seized by F.A.S.T.