25 Mar

Some Cool Demoscene Stuff

Here are some of my favorite demoscene products with a short review of each.

Matt Current (The Shitfaced Clowns/Breakpoint 2007)

Gameboy Advance

You could say Matt Current features two demos in one. The first part features 3D stuff very familiar to anyone who has seen mid-1990s demos and the second half is a complete change in style with one of the best tracks I have heard in a demo (with lyrics), effects with more focus on the presentation than the technology and hip hop. I love the short flashes of video captured footage of skateboarders in synch with the music and the 2D parallax field of graffiti.

Atrium (TBC & Loonies/Breakpoint 2008)

4KB/PC/Win

There are a lot of very impressive 4K intros that have come out in the last few years but this one caught my attention. It is funny how the pacing — the single most important thing outside the content itself — is much better than of those in many multi-megabyte demos. The growing building effect also is pretty much equal to the 2006 Assembly demo by Fairlight shown below.

The Secret Life of Mr. Black (Orange/Assembly 1997)

PC/DOS

Orange demos have a very distinct style. Even simple things like fade ins and fade outs are tweaked, mainstream effects are avoided (notice the complete lack of Phong shaded polys and other common stuff) and the demo generally has a weird atmosphere (just listen to the soundtrack).

Inside (CNCD/The Gathering 1996)

PC/DOS

CNCD’s Inside has one of my favorite soundtracks, the fat track suits the demo well. While some of the 3D stuff in Inside is a bit out of place (how do you segue from rappers to spaceships is beyond me) and looks dated, the remainder of the effects still look absolutely fantastic.

And now for the best of the bunch…

9 Fingers (Spaceballs/The Party 1993)

Amiga

Take a look at Spaceballs’ 9 Fingers and think about the fact it was done on the Amiga and that it features streaming video of sorts. The demo came on two 800 KB floppies and only lasts for less than three minutes, which was unheard of (well, Spaceballs already did the same with State of the Art but I bet you know what I mean). Ironically, the demo takes far more data when converted to an inferior quality Youtube video.

The captured video footage is converted into a polygon mesh which allows for good compression ratio (you need to store only the mesh points and the polygon color). Of course, the more important thing is that it allows sufficiently fast decoding the video and other effects such as the rotating cube with “texture mapping”. The Atari ST demo shown below employs a similar trick as it streams the precalculated polygon data (or rather the horizontal line data) from disk.

You might also want to take a look at the making of 9 Fingers.

4 thoughts on “Some Cool Demoscene Stuff

  1. Great post, komet. My favorite has to be Track One (the Fairlight demo). Thought the others may be equally impressive technologically (for their time), the atmosphere in T1 blew me away. The music is great, too.

    I had a interest in the demo scene about 7-10 years back (not sure), when I started tracking using ScreamTracker, and then moved on to ImpulseTracker. There was some great music around then.

    In a way, the demoscene is what drew me in to programming, and tied in my interest in music, design and programming. I used to spend hours downloading stuff from x2ftp (I had a dial-up back then), and going through them.

    Of course, the most I’ve done is a Jetpak clone (the ZX Spectrum game) in Allegro, and a 3D spectrum visualization for Sonique, both lost now. But I had a great time.

  2. Whoa, x2ftp. The memories… I too spent way too much time reading the docs during recess in school. And the same stuff at home via BBS’s. I don’t know why but demos were probably what I wanted to do when I was introduced to programming. Looking back, it’s a bit weird how pre-90s demos made a bigger impression to me than games. Similarly, my first favorite tunes were from demos. I remember even taping a module and playing it to others at school. :)

    I tried to pick demos that would appeal to the masses. I wanted to include so many old demos I had on the Atari ST but they are even more about the code than the art. I think the very modern demos like Track One are so close to music videos that people can find them serious art rather than a curiosity for nerds. But I still hope nerds too find this kind of stuff inspiring and learn programming (like you and me did!).

  3. Yeah, x2ftp, wasn’t it something? :) I could rattle off a few things that leave me feeling uncomfortably warm inside: RBIL, cubic player, NeHe’s tutorials.

    True about the inspiring stuff. But in a way, I’m worried that these days, with all the advances, it’s getting harder to just ‘jump in’. In the old days (just listen to me, I’m only 24 years old :)), all you needed was a copy of RBIL and Turbo C++/TASM/gcc, and you could mess around to your hearts content.

    YOU wrote the 3D engine, you programmed the sound-blaster. It was your framework.

    Now, ironically, with all the libraries and abstraction and techniques out there, it’s hard. A toddler geek just starting off will find it harder to understand code when it talks about resource and contexts, shaders and pipelines, than if it just talks about calling interrupt 13h to set video mode.

    Or maybe I’ve just not programmed in long enough. When you get into that zen state of mind, maybe it doesn’t really matter. The closest I’ve gotten in two years is bits of perl, PHP and (ech) SQL.

    An aside: The demo called Inside actually reminded me of an old module called inside.s3m by Purple Motion of Future Crew. I used to love that track. Just downloaded it again, it’s still amazing the stuff he’s done with 8 channels.

    Also downloaded viewer2, will check it out soon. The video looks extremely interesting. Think it can replace IrfanView? :)

    Sorry for this EXTREMELY long comment, but this post took me back to simpler times.

  4. Well, I’m 26 and tend to nostalgize far too much as well…

    I have thought of what it is like to start coding now and I think one pretty important difference is that nowadays it’s easier to make something that is practical, as opposed to doing something only for fun. For example, in 2008, you would create a simple blog with PHP but back in 1991 you would try to make some sprites fly around the screen. There were confusing libraries out there back then. So, you can still sort of jump in easily, but it’s a different train.

    But then again there is no example source code in the instruction manuals for a modern computer. Nor are there any programming languages out of the box. I do agree that the bar is quite high so it’s easy to give up, especially if you want to create a game that doesn’t look amateurish. Hell, even creating a good looking demo takes a lot of effort.

    PS. Purple Motion did a 2-channel module, too. :)

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