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Demoscene

From Academic Kids

(Redirected from Demo scene)

The demoscene is a computer subculture that came to prominence during the rise of the 16 bit micros (the Atari ST and the Amiga), but demos first appeared during the 8-bit era on computers such as the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

Demos began as software cracker's "signatures". When a cracked program was started, the cracker or his team would take credit via an increasingly impressive-looking graphical introduction called a "cracktro". The first time this appeared was on the Apple II computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Later, these intros evolved into their own subculture independent of cracking software. These were not initially called demos but rather letter, message, et cetera. Ironically, quite a few of the young talents that spent their time "coding" demos and thus gaining in-depth experience programming computer graphics later ended up working in the games industry, whose products they had initially cracked.

The main aim of a demo is to show off superior programming, artistic and musical skills over other demo groups.

Contents

Concept

PC-Demo: Interceptor by .
Enlarge
PC-Demo: Interceptor by Black Maiden.

Since any given computer platform before the PC age meant every computer of a given line had identical capabilities, a comparison between demos on earlier platforms was directly possible. This created a competitive environment where demoscene groups would try to outperform each other creating amazing effects. Demo writers went to great lengths to get every last ounce of performance out of their target machine. Where games/application writers were concerned with stability/functionality of their software, the demo writer was typically interested in how many CPU cycles a routine would consume and how best to squeeze as much effects and activity onto the screen. This went so far as to exploit known hardware errors to produce effects that the manufacturer of the computer had not intended, giving the demo-groups a feeling of having gone into extremes that nobody else had reached before.

Recently, computer hardware advancements include faster processors, more memory, faster video graphics processors, and hardware 3D acceleration. With many of the past's challenges removed, the focus in making demos has moved from squeezing as much out of the computer as possible to making stylish, beautiful, well-designed real time artwork - a fact that lots of so-called "old school demosceners" seem to disapprove of. This can be explained by the break introduced by the PC world, where the platform varies and most of the programming work that used to be hand-programmed is now done by the graphics-card. This gives demo-groups a lot more artistic freedom, but can frustrate some of the old-schoolers for lack of a programming challenge. The old tradition still lives on though. Demo parties have competitions with varying limitations in program size or platform. Different series are called compos. On a modern computer the executable size may be limited to 64 kB or 4 kB. Programs of limited size are usually called intros. In other compos the choice of platform is restricted. Only old computers, like Commodore 64 or Atari ST, or mobile devices like handheld phones or PDAs are allowed. Such restrictions provide challenge for coders, musicians and graphics artists and bring back the old motive of making a device do more than it was intended for.

One of the best known demoscene productions outside the demoscene is "fr-08: .the .product", made by the German group Farbrausch. fr-08 is a 64 kB intro. Some of its technical merits were far above most earlier productions -- for instance, it features a full seven-minute sound track (using a full-featured real-time software synthesizer) and lots of 3D environments within the given 64 kilobytes. This is a good example of demoscene mentality: breaking the rules by doing something everyone thought was impossible.

Competition

The demoscene is a largely competition-oriented subculture, with groups and individual artists competing against each other in technical and artistic excellence. The major competitions are organized at demoparties, although there have been some online competitions as well. It has also been common for diskmags to have voting-based charts which provide ranking lists for the best coders, graphicians, musicians, demos and other things. However, the respect for charts has diminished since the 1990's.

Party-based competitions usually require the artist or a group member to be present at the event. The winners are selected by a public voting amongst the visitors and awarded at a prizegiving ceremony at the end of the party. Competitions at a typical demo event include a demo compo, an intro compo (usually 64K), a graphics compo and a music compo. Most parties also split some categories by platform, format or style.

There are no criteria or rules the voters should be bound by, and a visitor typically just votes for those entries that gave the greatest impression to him or her. In the old demos, the impression was often attempted with programming techniques introducing new effects and breaking performance records in old effects. Over the years, the emphasis has moved from technical excellence to more artistic values such as overall design, audiovisual impact and mood.

The demoscene constitutes the most part of its own audience, with the opinions of the community itself considered the most valid. For example, it is often considered lame to win large events with works that appeal to the non-demomaking masses but do not adhere to good demoscene esthetics. However, most of the demos regarded as the best of all time have appealed both to the demomaking community itself and a larger audience.

In the recent years, an initiative to award demos in an alternative way arose by the name of the Scene.org Awards. The essential concept of the awards was to avoid the subjectivity of mass-voting at parties, and select a well-renowned jury to handle the task of selecting the given year's best productions on several aspects, such as Best Graphics or Best 64k Intro.

Parties

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Bp2005_outside.jpg
Breakpoint 2005: The real party is outside.

A demoparty is an event which gathers demomakers and provides them competitions to compete in. A typical demoparty is a non-stop event lasting over a weekend, providing the visitors a lot of time for socializing. The competing works, at least those in the most important competitions, are usually shown at night, using a video projector and big loudspeakers.

Many visitors bring their own computers for finishing and showing off their works. For this purpose, most parties provide a hall containing tables, electricity support and usually a local area network connected to the Internet. In this respect, many demo parties resemble LAN parties and some of the largest events also gather gamers and other computing enthusiasts in addition to demosceners. However, a major difference between a real demoparty and a typical LAN party is that demosceners spend more time socializing (often outside the actual party hall) than in front of their computers.

Demoparties started to appear in the 1980's in the form of copyparties where software pirates and demomakers gathered to meet each other and share their software. Competitions did not become a major aspect of the events until the beginning of the 1990's.

Demoscene events are most frequent in the continental Europe, with maybe fifty parties every year. For comparison, there has only been a dozen or so demoparties in the United States in total. Most events are local, gathering demomakers mostly from a single country, while the largest international parties (such as Breakpoint and Assembly) attract visitors from all over the globe.

Some notable parties include:

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Evoke_2002_3D_Brillen.jpg
Evoke 2002: Spectators at one of the demoshow rooms watch computer animations in 3D.

Demo types

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Bolognese_-_Alpha_Design.jpg
PC text mode demo: Bolognese by Alpha Design.

The demoscene still exists on a lot of platforms, for instance the PC, C64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga and Game Boy Advance, although the large variety of hardware makes it harder to compare demos. Several of the 3D benchmark programs also have a demo or showcase mode, which also derives its roots from the days of the 16 bit platforms.

There are a number of categories into which demos can be informally classified; while intro generally refers to a demo where all action is endlessly running and based around a single graphical screen (although this definition has extended to include any demos written within a strict size limit, regardless of presentation style), a megademo consists of many independent parts in sequence, usually with a separate soundtrack for each part and often requiring user intervention to skip from one part to the next. Less common variants of these terms include kilodemo (a multi-part demo considered too small to be called a megademo) and dentro (a hybrid of an intro and a full-scale demo). Since the early 1990s, however, the predominant demo format has been the trackmo, in which visual effects follow a set timeline, synchronised to a continuous soundtrack, much like a music video. To be called a trackmo, the demo should run from a diskette and use a custom-made trackloader for reading data from it. The loading should be unnoticeable by loading while running the demo. The first trackmos ever made are "Enigma" (1991) by Phenomena and "Mental Hangover" (1992) by Scoopex. Both are on the Amiga computer. A mobile demo is a demo written for mobile platforms, such as PDAs, graphing calculators, handheld game consoles, and mobile phones.

It is also quite common to classify demos by style and content rather than technology. Storydemos, for example, are based on a story line, while ravedemos share the musical and visual esthetics of rave parties. The most experimental, unusual and controversial demos are often referred to as art demos or avant-garde demos. Many groups have a distinctive style of their own, and sometimes a demo can be described by referring to a well-known group cultivating a similar style, e.g. mfx style or melon style.

Impact

Although demos are still a more or less obscure form of art even in the traditionally active demoscene countries, the scene has had an impact on areas such as computer games industry and new media art.

A great deal of European game programmers, artists and musicians has come from the demoscene, often cultivating the learned techniques, practices and philosophies in their work. For example, the Finnish company Remedy Entertainment, known for the Max Payne series of games, has been founded by the PC group Future Crew, and most of its employees are former or active Finnish demosceners. Sometimes demos even provide direct influence even to game developers that have no demoscene affiliation: for instance, Will Wright names demoscene as a major influence to the new Maxis game Spore, which is largely based on procedural content generation.

Certain forms of computer art have a strong affiliation with the demoscene. Tracker music, for example, originated in the Amiga games industry but was soon heavily dominated by demoscene musicians. Nowadays, there is a major tracking scene separate from the actual demoscene. A form of static computer graphics where demosceners have traditionally excelled is pixel art; see artscene for more information on the related subculture.

The demoscene's unique ability to create amazing things on limited capability hardware also lives on nowadays: since handheld consoles and cellular phones have comparable processing power or capabilities as "oldskool" platforms (such as low resolution screens which require pixel-art, or limited storage and memory for music replay), many demosceners develop games for these platforms for a living.

Some attempts have been made to increase the familiarity of demos as an art form. For example, there have been demo shows, demo galleries and demoscene-related books, sometimes even TV programs introducing the subculture and its works.

Sometimes a demoscene-based production may become very famous in technical contexts. For example, the 96-kilobyte FPS game .kkrieger by Farbrausch uses procedural content generation algorithms that are quite common on today's 64K intros but largely unknown to the computer games enthusiasts and the US-based game development community.

See also

Specific platforms

Related topics

External links

Popular demoscene portals

  • pouet.net (http://www.pouet.net), Comprehensive demoscene database containing links, screenshots and reviews of many demos for all sorts of platforms
  • ojuice.net (http://www.ojuice.net), Demoscene community and information portal
  • scene.org archive (http://www.scene.org), An expansive and comprehensive FTP archive of demos and demoparty releases
  • slengpung.com (http://www.slengpung.com), Pictures from parties and demoscene related events
  • 256b.com (http://www.256b.com), The 256bytes demos archive. Demoscene productions under 256-bytes in size for various platforms
  • demoscene.tv (http://www.demoscene.tv), Demoscene Television
  • demoo.calodox (http://demoo.calodox.org), A sortable collection of impressive PC demos throughout the ages
  • Amiga demoscene (http://ada.planet-d.net)

National demoscene sites

The scene explained

  • pc demoscene FAQ (http://tomaes.32x.de/text/faq.php), Frequently Asked Questions about the present-day demoscene
  • DEMOing: Art or Craft? 1984-2002 (http://www.acid.org/images/sfdemo04/IA4_1demosceneshoreval.pdf) (PDF), Write-up by Shirley Shor about the demoscene
  • Principles of Demo Spirit (http://www.cfxweb.net/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=215)
  • The Demoscene (http://www.digitalekultur.org/files/dk_whatisthedemoscene.pdf) (PDF), Flyer by Digitale Kultur e.V. about the demoscene
  • What is the Demoscene? (http://pilgrimage.scene.org/demoscene.html), What is the Demoscene? by Rich Thompson
  • Definition of the demoscene (http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=demoscene) Everything2.com demoscene definitions by multiple authors
  • demoscene.info (http://www.demoscene.info), Information about the demoscene

Other demoscene-related pages

de:Demoszene es:Demoscene fr:scne dmo ja:デモシーン pl:Demoscena fi:Demoskene sv:Demoscenen

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