A curious characteristic of the demoscene is that it is constantly dying. This fact is usually proclaimed by older sceners, who see that newbies change the scene in a way they don't like. Some reasons to announce the imminent death of the scene (usually in a diskmag article) have been:

  • Newbies don't code in 100% assembler anymore.
  • Newbies use sound libraries instead of supporting every soundcard with self-written routines.
  • Computers have gotten so powerful that any effect can be coded without requiring any skill.
  • Microsoft is killing MS-DOS support, forcing everyone to learn to code for Windows.
  • Newbies use 3D cards instead of coding their own software polyfillers.
  • Newbies focus only on design and not on effects.
  • Newbies focus only on effects and not on design.

Luckily there is a constant instream of newbies who are unaware of these facts, and who will happily create killer demos using the latest technology, thereby continuously prolonging the life of the demoscene.

demoparty = D = dentro

demoscene /dem'oh-seen/

[also `demo scene'] A culture of multimedia hackers located primarily in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Demoscene folklore recounts that when old-time warez d00dz cracked some piece of software they often added an advertisement in the beginning, usually containing colorful display hacks with greetings to other cracking groups. The demoscene was born among people who decided building these display hacks is more interesting than hacking - or anyway safer. Around 1990 there began to be very serious police pressure on cracking groups, including raids with SWAT teams crashing into bedrooms to confiscate computers. Whether in response to this or for esthetic reasons, crackers of that period began to build self-contained display hacks of considerable elaboration and beauty (within the culture such a hack is called a demo). As more of these demogroups emerged, they started to have compos at copying parties (see copyparty), which later evolved to standalone events (see demoparty). The demoscene has retained some traits from the warez d00dz, including their style of handles and group names and some of their jargon.

Traditionally demos were written in assembly language, with lots of smart tricks, self-modifying code, undocumented op-codes and the like. Some time around 1995, people started coding demos in C, and a couple of years after that, they also started using Java.

Ten years on (in 1998-1999), the demoscene is changing as its original platforms (C64, Amiga, Spectrum, Atari ST, IBM PC under DOS) die out and activity shifts towards Windows, Linux, and the Internet. While deeply underground in the past, demoscene is trying to get into the mainstream as accepted art form, and one symptom of this is the commercialization of bigger demoparties. Older demosceners frown at this, but the majority think it's a good direction. Many demosceners end up working in the computer game industry. Demoscene resource pages are available at http://www.oldskool.org/demos/explained/ and http://www.scene.org/.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

Even if it apparently lost its appeal for some persons, and got diluted into the huge number of internet scenes, the demo scene is here to stay. It still is a group of weird people, from all around europe mostly, obsessed by art, performance and friendship. They form groups, demogroups, with friends where they, as coders, trackers or graphicians try to do the best of themselves to amaze the audience.

In the early days it started as cracking groups on the c64 put nifty effects in the loaders of the pirated releases.. More and more people got interested in this early demoscene, and soon they separated demoparties from the copyparties.

It propagated then on platforms such as the Amiga or the Atari where legendary demos were produced. The first demos were just a sequence of screens and effects. Then groups focused on doing original transitions, and as the competition improved, they pushed the machines to their limits using many tricks.

Quickly, some groups like melon design focused on what is known in the demoscene slang as 'design'. Pastel colors and arty screens and music where the main characteristics of this new style.

While the demoscene matured on the Amiga, some groups tried to create a scene on the pc. It was a challenge in itself, since in 1991 the pc was a brain dead machine for everything related to realtime graphics or sound. The focus on the pc was on the performance and the demo coders where light years ahead of the game coders while they were trying to imitate the effects and demos released on the Amiga. From this period came the illusion that one the scene's goal was to beat games.

Soon, as the amiga died, and the pc scene matured, the demos became what they are today: depending of the groups and individuals more or less focused on design or performance. The true tao of the scene.

Thanks to groups embracing new technologies and to new compo rules at demo parties, we may see a huge renewal of the demo scene. This year (2000) already we had two amazing demoparties, Assembly'2k and LTP4, which permitted the new school and the old school to meet. And new demo forms and vocabularies are finally been created! (metamorf/zden, antimoney/3state, just a touch of funk/digital murder)

It's about using computing devices to express our identity and pride. It's about being a producer and not a consumer. It's about sharing. Sharing our work, and our values. It's about doing things hard, lean and fast. It's about having fun. It's about motivating each others with our creativity and arrogance. It's about invading places we are not supposed to invade. It's about doing things useless with what is supposed to be only functional. It's about caring about what you do, not who you are.

The demo scene stared back in the early 80s with 8-bit machines such as the Commodore VIC 20, Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Dragon 32 and of course the legendary Commodore 64. With the C64 in particular, people realised that they could make the machine do some very interesting things, using creative programming, an in-depth knowledge of the hardware and undocumented features.

There are generally four types of people who are part of the demo scene:

  • Coder
    Programmer and often designer of the demo. Usually has a complete knowledge of the available hardware and knows the timing of each assembler instruction by heart.

  • Graphics artist
    Responsible for all images and textures in a demo, as well as some design. Their favorite tool is DPaint.

  • Musician
    Creates all the music for the demo, traditionally with a tracker in MOD format, but now usually in MP3 format using whatever instruments they choose.

  • Swapper/Trader
    These guys were responsible for distributing demos in a variety of formats. Nowadays, the internet makes their job almost redundant, but back in the day they were and essential part of the scene. Mail traders used the normal postage service, while modem traders operated with on BBS. A trader's most valuable possesion is his contact list.

These groups of people (recognised individually by their handle) typically organise into groups, with exotic names such as Scoopex, Quartex, Sanity and Razor 1911.

The demo scene really took off with the release of 16-bit home computers such as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. These machines offered more powerful hardware than the 8-bit systems and the Amiga in particular had very flexible hardware. However, the real explosion of the demo scene can be put down, to a large extent, to three factors:

Soundtracker was the first in a long line of music "tracker" programs for the Amiga. Basically, each hardware sound channel has a track in the program, which can contain notes sounded with different sound samples. Soundtracker supported four channels of 8 bit sound. Before Soundtracker, musicians often needed to know some programming and could only use synth sound, rather than sampled sound. The relative ease of use of Soundtracker let many new musicians enter the scene.

DPaint was bundled with many Amigas, and was basically a paint package similar to Microsoft Paint, but much more powerful. Unlike Photoshop it was more concerned with the manipulation of single pixels using a small (32 colours maximum) palette. Again, its ease of use allowed many people to enter the scene as artists, and to create some truly beautiful works.

Finally, the introduction of the floppy disk as the standard medium for games allowed companies to use more advanced copy protection than had typically been available before. Many tape based games could be copied by anyone with a reasonable tape deck. Because it was not possible to reproduce protected floppy disk games by the standard methods available to the user, large numbers of groups sprung up to crack the protection and release unprotected versions. While similar groups had existed before, only now were they operating in such large numbers. Thus, the 40k intro was born, and demo effects were seen at the start of every pirate game. This helped produce a mass of coders and bring the demo scene to a wider audience.

In this golden era of the scene, hardware was mostly fixed. Most home computer owners did not upgrade their computers much, if at all. Thus, there was a level playing field for everyone, and thus one of the key aspects by which demos were judged was born. Doing something new, unusual or clever with the available hardware was highly respected. That could include a new programming trick to put a few more dots on your vector ball, some clever shading to mask the fact that your picture only used 32 colours, or the clever use of samples to produce high quality music. The level of competition was high, and many innovative techniques were developed.

Since the end of the Amiga era, the demo scene has slowly moved away from this idea. Now, demos are more like multimedia presentations, often telling a story or showcasing some graphical effect. Because no two PCs are exactly alike, it is impossible to code at the low level required by the old system. Indeed, most demos are now written in C rather than assembler. Some people say this is a good thing, some dislike it, but the good old days of copper effects and four channel MOD music are definitely more or less over.

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