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24 - Interview with Preacher

on Sat 25 Aug 2007 by Axel author listemail the content item print the content item create pdf file of the content item

in ZINE powered by BitFellas > ZINE #12

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Interview with Preacher

by Runaro and Axel of Brainstorm

Familiar Beginnings

The small Finnish municipality of Nurmijarvi, a 30-minute drive from Helsinki, is the epitome of quiet, middle-class, suburban life. The year is 1994, and 13-year-old Martti Juhana Nurmikari has been growing up here for the past 10 years. Bullied in school and the older of two siblings, he is an introverted, reserved and passive teenager. His life thus far has been "normal", uneventful, and like that of "most other geeks". Except for today.

Today, he has borrowed a Gravis Ultrasound driver CD from his friend Heikki, because it has some shareware games on it. It's exactly the type of CD that friends will readily lend without too much fuss, and yet provides hours of fun just looking around trying out the various goodies. On this particular day, Martti doesn't have anything better to do anyway.

In one of the directories, called "CD2", he finds a program that won't run unless he changes his config.sys to disable EMM386 and reboots his PC. How annoying. Most games don't need a clean boot anymore. But very well, he makes the changes, reboots, and tries again. First, an Icosahedron. Then a torus. Then the words "Crystal Dream II". The driving Lizardking tune starts blasting out of his crappy speakers. Martti is instantly hooked.

"I remember staying up very late that night, just watching the demos on the CD. My father came at least twice to tell me that I should go to bed, but I just kept running Second Reality over and over again. I still don't know what really drew me into the scene, but I guess most sceners know the feeling. There's just something magical in it," says Preacher, now 26, living in Helsinki. 13 years later, he is making a name for himself as one of the Scene's most talented coders.

Exactly how Martti came to be known as Preacher is something he won't tell us. So ZINE did what anyone would do: ZINE asked his sister. "I have a slight hunch that it comes from a Magic: The Gathering card", Preacher's sister Helena explains. She's also an active scener, having contracted the bug from her brother, and goes by the nickname Owli. She's a regular visitor/contributor to Assembly, even sitting on the Wild Demo Competition jury at asm03.

Hot and Cold

Now famous in demoscene circles as Preacher/Traction, Martti has recently joined up with the elder sceners of Brainstorm Productions (BRS) to produce four demos: "Old's Cool", which got 3rd place in the demo competition at Buenzli 15, "Fascination", a co-op between BRS and Traction submitted to the Ultimate Meeting 2006 demo competition, "Fairytale" which scored 4th place at Breakpoint 2007 and the recent Fascination 2 which ranked 2nd at Buenzli 2007. But Preacher says it took him a while to get good at making demos.

"After seeing demos for the first time, I instantly decided that I wanted to make some myself. I begged my father to buy me a book on programming -- Jesse Liberty's Teach Yourself C++ Program- ming in 21 days. I still have it. And I got a compiler, Borland Turbo C 3.0, from a friend." Preacher spent a while with basics like writing classes to represent animals, learning how strings work, and basic syntax. Then, for some reason, he gave up. "Probably it was both the lack of intrinsic motivation and the amount of stuff you need to learn before you get to do the cool stuff."

Preacher still has a problem working when he's not motivated: "I guess the best and saddest example is No Way Back, one of the Traction productions for Breakpoint '06. I hated the thing the whole time I was working on it. It felt very wrong, and look how it turned out."

After initially giving up on programming, Preacher got curious again when he found out about mode 13h and graphics programming. He downloaded some sundry source code from a BBS and fooled around for a while. He picked up some assembly language, and started to gradually improve his creations.

His first group was Psycho Circus Unity (PCU). "No, I don't know or remember anymore what that was all about," says Preacher about the name. PCU never released anything. It was followed by NoID, which had practically the same members: former schoolmates from both Nurmijrvi and Janakkala, to where Preacher had now moved. NoID released a demo for Assembly '99, Viping, which had a "certain Traction feel to it already." This was followed by a "horrible piece of crap" for Assembly 2000. After that, Preacher lost the interest in the Scene.

That is, until a year later. "I almost missed Asm '01, but for some reason ended up going anyway, and witnessed the first Traction demo, called Forsaken." This demo, coded by Vulture, somehow "got the spark back" for Preacher, and he ended up making a couple of effects for the Traction demo for Asm '02: NET.

Motivation came in the summer of 2003, and he started "really learning OpenGL". The result was "A Study in Lines and Textures", Preacher's "first real demo". Since then he has been quite active with Traction. Of the original NoID members, Disk0 and Vulture remain in Traction as well. Disk0's real name happens to be Heikki, the same friend who lent the GUS driver CD that started it all. More recently, they have been joined by Rale, who according to Preacher "shook things around a bit, with good results."

Inward Exorcism

The demoscene seems to have a larger portion of intensely introverted people than the general population, and Preacher is one of these introverts. He is awkward in social situations and finds it hard to talk to people sometimes. He blames his lack of natural sociality on being bullied in school. "I'm pretty reserved and passive, and like to observe instead of participating. At some net forums, I use the nickname Elsewhere, which I think describes me pretty well."

Even so, Preacher is comfortable at demoparties, once he gets to know people. He has visited Assembly every year since 1996. But a life-changing event, and his first "real demoparty", was Breakpoint '05.

Gargaj/Conspiracy had insisted that he needed to come to Breakpoint. Even after arriving in Germany, Preacher stayed in Frankfurt, just sightseeing for a few days before going to Bingen where the event was being held. At Breakpoint, he just wandered around for a few hours at first, looking at what other people were doing. Finally, he managed to muster up the courage to approach Gargaj, who intro- duced him to a number of people Preacher had heard of but never met. After word got out that Preacher was at Breakpoint, people started approaching him, wanting to meet him. "After that, I don't think I was alone for an instant."

"When I left Breakpoint, I was a lot richer than when I arrived. I made a lot of new friends, gained new experiences, confidence and even some insight on what had been wrong in my life", says Preacher. "I'm no longer that reserved after I get to know people a bit better. Now I could even say that I am eager to meet more people, which is something that would have been out of the question three years ago."

A Preacher of Principle

Preacher drives Traction's demos to be minimalist, conceptual, and individual. "Even though it might not appear so to an outsider, almost every single Traction production I've been involved with has a different idea or concept behind it. Minimalism is in many ways natural to me. It has the sense of purity which I appreciate in everything from music (minimal techno, minimalist post-punk, goth rock), to architecture (Bauhaus, Art Nouveau, Modernism), to cuisine (sushi). I am more interested about ideas than implementation, and if an idea cannot be represented in a simple way, I don't necessarily consider it valuable. I understand that my way of thinking doesn't appeal to some people, but I can't really see, or want to see, the world in another way."

"I think we will see Traction productions in the future that are not quite so minimalistic or idealistic, since Vulture has woken up from his torpor and is coding effects again, and Rale has a lot of motivation, ambition and skills." Laughing, Preacher says: "Still, I think I will keep on making my monotonous techno things, as side projects at least."

Preacher doesn't necessarily strive to make his productions artistic. While understanding that there's some sort of difference of opinion between what he calls "the art people" and "the cool tech- stuff people", he considers himself to be in both camps, even though he hasn't made many "complex" or "corder porn" effects that would impress the latter crowd. Ever the individualist, he draws the line at trying to entertain people on purpose: "I think that doing what others want is intrinsically bad. I am happy that some of my work is popular, but it's never been the main motivation for me."

To Preacher, such motivation would spell "a barrage of worthless, pointless, mass-produced and readily chewed stuff," and he intimates that there's a lot of that in the Scene. "But that's how everything always goes. Just look at rock music. It turned from a rowdy, shocking, nasty phenomenon to harmless mass-marketed money maker almost overnight. That doesn't mean that the art side is lost though, because for every Take That, Limp Bizkit and your latest MTV hit wonder, you have Pink Floyd, The Cure and the obscure uncompromising band you love but your friends have never even heard about."

Out of Traction's productions, he thinks that Onwards belongs in the lesser category: "I personally consider it pretty much worthless, and I find it both amusing and kind of sad that some people consider it to be my best work. But of course opinions differ."

What this coder-poet wants from his demos is to express what he calls the internal world inside his head. "I haven't gotten it right yet, in a demo, but I'm getting better at conveying the feeling. Traction (the demo) was pretty close, as were Interface and Ante Dominum." The unique Traction style that we know, comes from this motivation. And Preacher will keep trying, until he gets bored with it, or is satisfied. Satisfaction might be unlikely, as he almost always starts his code over from scratch for each demo, each time striving to get it just right.


Axel | 2007.08.29
Comments: 164

Registered: 2006.05.17

I updated some info in the interview slightly, since productions like Fairytale and Fascination 2 have been released since the interview was made.

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