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The Demoscene -- an Overview (rhizome.org)
70 points by jgv on May 19, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

In the 90s the demoscene was really quite exciting. Second Reality was groundbreaking and opened my eyes to what was possible on our pokey old 486s (plus it was awesome to show off to your friends). Going to demo events and realising there were plenty of fellow hackers in Australia doing cool stuff, and having a chance to hack along with them was also a lot of fun. Good times.

I remember the feeling I had when Unreal came out.

I was hacking the VGA registers to optimize my bitblt to the maximum, all in assembler, and I felt I knew pretty well what was going on inside my computer. Then I ran this demo and it did stuff that I knew wasn't possible with my hardware. Quite mind blowing..

Great link. I love the part at 4:30 where it says "Apparently this is possible."

The story behind this is that there was an article in Scientific American in the early nineties featuring Clifford Pickover's procedural computer graphic images of "alien life forms". These consisted mainly of a series of spheres along a path: http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/high.jpg

In the article, he said that these graphics were generated on special hardware, and that such images would be "impossible" on commodity PCs. Naturally, this chafed several people in the demoscene -- who set out to prove him wrong, in real-time.

Yes thats true. It was a really cool time but now as you attend a demo event you just realise that we are all outdated guys who know each other and everybody know in what you are specialised and what you will do. And there are those who just do demos serialisation (demos look like the one you just made before) with neat tools and top algos which is becoming boring. and you realise that their is no young flesh bringing new life and spirit to the whole thing.

we all grow old.

Aussie demo coder here. I've just rejoined the scene after 10 years away, and we are creating our first PC release for Syntax 2010 (Melbourne) in November. I went to Syntax 09 to immerse myself in the scene culture after a decade away. It was a really fun evening. I met a bunch of geeks, drank beer and talked/toyed technology.

When I was young, it was all about the technology.. then I met beer and girls... now I'm married with kids and it's all about the technology.

See you at Syntax 2010.


Apparently it's possible with 1 Mhz, 3 voices and 64 KB ram. :-)


I'm watching Second Reality on youTube now, and I'm amused how much poorer the quality is than it was on my 286. :)

Growing up in the scene in the U.S. was quite hard. I was lucky to grow up on the East Coast where most of the little U.S. parties were in the 90s. Drove all the way up for NAID 95.

Good times.

It's been great to see the demoscene roar back to life these last few years....some amazing stuff to watch on http://www.demoscene.tv/

Tl;dr: European teens and 20-somethings who sprinkle 68000 opcodes on their Müsli each morning create elaborate real-time visual hacks and general awesomeness -- now, thanks to the demise of the Amiga and the rise of (not-so) DirectX, considered something of a lost art.

Sad, really. Nothing else -- not even the game projects I work on and don't quite finish -- comes real close to the raw visceral fun of programming, the reason why I got so deeply involved with these infernal machines in the first place.

"The demoscene" can also refer to the largely overlapping subculture of tracker [1] musicians. There're a few well known electronic artists still using trackers today, like Venetian Snares [2], Bogdan Raczynski, and enduser.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracker_(music_software)

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjAwxG3q3Yo

Writing music in trackers is like using a great programming language. A super fast way to get your thoughts into something you can listen to. I've never found a more efficient mechanism since.

Who could forget FastTracker 2! I was about 13 or 14 when I discovered it. There is something intoxicating about composing with the computer in that way. Granted, there was and are a ton of corny .mod files out there but I feel like mod tracking is where I fell in love with the aesthetics of editors and code.

Thanks so much for bringing this to attention! :)

FT2 and Impulse Tracker were amazing pieces of DOS software. Impulse Tracker somehow eventually supported DirectSound audio output when running in a Windows 98 DOS box, IIRC. IT did all of its graphics in pure text mode by reprogramming the VGA card's font table.

I used to help organise the (very small) demo scene in South Africa many years ago and it was so much fun. I recently watched some old classic favourites of mine and dang if the bug didn't bite me again. So now I'm working on my real instrument synthesizer that must fit into 16k. Pure asm, fourier transforms, impossible tricks - this is coding at it's most fun.

There's something really beautiful about demos and the demoscene. I'm glad they're being preserved and seen as an art form, was afraid that they'd be forgotten.

The scene is remarkably strong today. It kinda died off in the late 90s but has really seen a strong resurgence I think. There's some amazing new stuff coming out these days.

The problem is that everyone doing demoscene stuff got jobs and is getting paid for it now. Look at crysis, etc. No one cares about programming dick waving contests anymore, it's all about who can get a job at Microsoft. If it doesn't benefit your resume, no one cares for it. I personally became a computer science major because I wanted to write demos. After about four years is when I really started to get it as far as graphics goes and even though now I have an idea how effects are done, I feel like there's still so much to learn to keep up with what guys in these demo groups like farbrausch and fairlight do. The learning curve for doing this kind of stuff is pretty high. Not only do you have to know programming, but some kind of library like DirectX or OpenGL, shader languages and all the linear algebra behind the effects.

I got my first paid programming job without having studied, without any references but a video tape of one my old Amiga demos.

I was very pleased to find recently that the Kosmic/KFMF music archives started working again, after a number of years of being down. I was considering writing some software to brute force fix the CR/LF translation issues in the web.archive.org copy of the .zip files before I saw the return of the original archives.

I still get nostalgic when I think about Future Crew's music and demos, too. I believe Skaven of Future Crew put up a big archive of FC music a while ago, though Purple Motion was my favorite FC musician. Second Reality running on a 486 absolutely blew me away -- alpha blending, 3D, realtime mixed music, 60fps.

Block Party is the longest-running demoparty in North America, ever. It's been running four years. Kinda sad. You can see what the North American demoscene is like: archived live video from BlockParty 2010 part 1 http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/6264966 part 2 http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/6267675

Some recent PC demoscene stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON4N0yGz4n8

Farbrausch's "debris." shows just how much you can pack into 200k (including the audio, btw). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqu_IpkOYBg&fmt=22

For the webby crowd: "Masagin" features animated, recursive SVGs with antialiasing and motion blur at high rez and high frame rate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbQhgEJuExY&fmt=22

Or, you could download both demos from http://pouet.net/ and run them on your own PC.

Two more by Farbrausch

the.popular.demo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBpo5GHcmsE

and Candytron (64K) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svGk_pF67gc

For some newer releases

blunderbuss by Fairlight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezltebzdgjI

is very different is style but still very cool and two post about the particle system behind the demo http://directtovideo.wordpress.com/2009/10/06/blunderbuss/ http://directtovideo.wordpress.com/2009/10/06/a-thoroughly-m...

Elevated by Rgba & TBC http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YWMGuh15nE

is a great example of what people can do in 4K, and they even have a presentation about the technical details http://iquilezles.org/www/material/function2009/function2009...


State of the Art by Spaceballs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5kuYfTCGLg is a highpoint of the amiga scene

(edited to add, which I should have clicked on the link to see it had already been embedded)

Direct to Video have a post about the technical details if people are interested


Fairlight and CNCD never cease to amaze me. I watched this demo at least a dozen times after it was released and every single time, I sat with my jaw on the floor. I'm really happy they put this out for the final BP; couldn't have gone out on a better note.

I totally agree, they went out of a high note, lots of good stuff all round.

Loved your demo a week BTW

Thanks very much. I've failed pretty miserably at the "a week" part; things are crazy with my startup at the moment, so I have a new engine, simple synthesizer, a packer, etc... and no actual content. Hoping to fix that soon.

Cool, I'll look forward to the next release

What I think lots of people outside the scene don't realize is that something like this has to run in real-time. As in, dozens of frames per second.

Take that Adobe!

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