Demoscene

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The demoscene is an international computer art subculture focused on producing demos: self-contained, sometimes extremely small, computer programs that produce audiovisual presentations. The purpose of a demo is to show off programming, visual art, and musical skills. Demos and other demoscene productions (graphics, music, videos, games) are shared at festivals known as demoparties, voted on by those who attend and released online.

The demoscene's roots are in the home computer revolution of the early 1980s, and the subsequent advent of software cracking.[1] Crackers altered the code of video games to remove copy protection, claiming credit by adding introduction screens of their own ("cracktros"). They soon started competing for the best visual presentation of these additions.[2] Through the making of intros and stand-alone demos, a new community eventually evolved, independent of the gaming[3]: 29–30  and software sharing scenes.

Demoscene productions can be made with the latest consumer technology or with vintage home computers and consoles. Often terms "newschool" and "oldskool" are vaguely used to describe products for newer and older computers. In the oldskool department techniques of the past like ASCII/ANSI art, pixel graphics, chipmusic are constantly being used.

Demos are informally classified into several categories, the most important being the division between freeform demos and size-restricted intros, a difference visible in the competitions of nearly any demo party. The most typical competition categories for intros are the 64k intro and the 4K intro, where the size of the executable file is restricted to 65536 and 4096 bytes, respectively. In other competitions the choice of platform is restricted; only 8-bit computers like the Atari 800 or Commodore 64, or the 16-bit Amiga or Atari ST. Such restrictions provide a challenge for coders, musicians and graphics artists, to make a device do more than was intended in its original design.

History[edit]

The earliest computer programs that have some resemblance to demos and demo effects can be found among the so-called display hacks. Display hacks predate the demoscene by several decades, with the earliest examples dating back to the early 1950s.[5]

Demos in the demoscene sense began as software crackers' "signatures", that is, crack screens and crack intros attached to software whose copy protection was removed. The first crack screens appeared on the Apple II in the early 1980s, and they were often nothing but plain text screens crediting the cracker or their group. Gradually, these static screens evolved into increasingly impressive-looking introductions containing animated effects and music. Eventually, many cracker groups started to release intro-like programs separately, without being attached to unlicensed software.[6] These programs were initially known by various names, such as letters or messages, but they later came to be known as demos.[citation needed]

In 1980, Atari, Inc. began using a looping demo with visual effects and music to show the features of the Atari 400/800 computers in stores.[7] At the 1985 Consumer Electronics Show, Atari showed a demoscene-style demo for its latest 8-bit computers that alternated between a 3D walking robot and a flying spaceship, each with its own music, and animating larger objects than typically seen on those systems; the two sections were separated by the Atari logo.[8] The program was released to the public. Also in 1985, a large, spinning, checkered ball—casting a translucent shadow—was the signature demo of what the hardware was capable of when Commodore's Amiga was announced.

Simple demo-like music collections were put together on the C64 in 1985 by Charles Deenen, inspired by crack intros, using music taken from games and adding some homemade color graphics.[citation needed] In the following year the movement now known as the demoscene was born. The Dutch groups 1001 Crew and The Judges, both Commodore 64-based, are often mentioned[by whom?] among the earliest demo groups. While competing with each other in 1986, they both produced pure demos with original graphics and music involving more than just casual work, and used extensive hardware trickery. At the same time demos from others, such as Antony Crowther, had started circulating on Compunet in the United Kingdom.

Culture[edit]

The demoscene is mainly a European phenomenon.[9] It is a competition-oriented subculture, with groups and individual artists competing against each other in technical and artistic excellence. Those who achieve excellence are dubbed "elite", while those who do not follow the demoscene's implicit rules are called "lamers"; such rules emphasize creativity over "ripping" (or else using with permission) the works of others, having good contacts within the scene, and showing effort rather than asking for help.[9] Both this competitiveness and the sense of cooperation among demosceners have led to comparisons with the earlier hacker culture in academic computing.[9][10]: 159  The demoscene is a closed subculture, which seeks and receives little mainstream public interest.[3]: 4  As of 2010, the size of the scene was estimated at some 10,000.[11]

In the early days, competition came in the form of setting records, like the number of "bobs" (blitter objects) on the screen per frame, or the number of DYCP (Different Y Character Position) scrollers on a C64.[citation needed] These days, there are organized competitions, or compos, held at demoparties, although there have been some online competitions. 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.

In 2020, Finland added its demoscene to its national UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.[12] It is the first digital subculture to be put on an intangible cultural heritage list. In 2021, Germany and Poland also added its demoscene to its national UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.[13][14]

Groups[edit]

Interceptor by Black Maiden.

Demosceners typically organize in small groups, centered around a coder (programmer), a musician, a graphician (graphics designer) and a swapper (who spread own and others' creations by mail).

Groups always have names, and similarly the individual members pick a handle by which they will be addressed in the large community. While the practice of using handles rather than real names is a borrowing from the cracker/warez culture, where it serves to hide the identity of the cracker from law enforcement, in the demoscene (oriented toward legal activities) it mostly serves as a manner of self-expression. Group members tend to self-identify with the group, often extending their handle with their group's name, following the patterns "Handle of Group" or "Handle/Group".[3]: 31–32 

Parties[edit]

Assembly 2004 – a combination of a demoparty and a LAN party

A demoparty is an event where demosceners[15] and other computer enthusiasts gather to take part in competitions, nicknamed compos,[16] where they present demos (short audio-visual presentations of computer art) and other works such as digital art and music. A typical demoparty is a non-stop event spanning a weekend, providing the visitors a lot of time to socialize. The competing works, at least those in the most important competitions, are usually shown at night, using a video projector and loudspeakers.[17] The most important competition is usually the demo compo.[18]

Concept[edit]

The visitors of a demoparty often bring their own computers to compete and show their works. To this end, most parties provide a large hall with tables, electricity and usually a local area network connected to the Internet. In this respect, many demoparties resemble LAN parties, and many of the largest events also gather gamers and other computer enthusiasts in addition to demosceners. A major difference between a real demoparty and a LAN party is that demosceners typically spend more time socializing (often outside the actual party hall) than in front of their computers.[19]

List of demoparties[edit]

Party name Location Years Description
7DX Party Istanbul, Turkey 2002–2015 7DX was an annual demoparty that has been held since 2002 in Turkey. It is Turkey's first demo party that consists of demo-oriented competitions.
Abstract Gliwice, Poland 2001–2005 A demo party organized annually with lots of demos, intros, chiptune music.
Alternative Party Helsinki, Finland 1998–2013 An alternative party visited mostly by demo scene veterans.
Arok Party Ajka, Hungary 1999– 8-bit party, held each summer.
Art Engine São Paulo, Brazil 2012 The second Brazilian demoparty ever organized.
Assembly Helsinki, Finland 1992– One of the longest-running demo parties in the world. Associated with Boozembly.
@party (Atparty) Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA 2010– Annual demo party in Massachusetts.
BIRDIE Uppsala, Sweden 1993- Oldest LAN Party of Sweden with a Demoscene
Bizarre Etten-Leur, Netherlands 1994–2000 First PC demo party in The Netherlands. The first edition was held in Nijmegen, all others in Etten-Leur.
Blockparty / PixelJam Cleveland, Ohio, USA 2007–2010, 2011–2012 Both parties held in conjunction with Notacon.
BCN Party Barcelona 2000-2007 The only demoscene party in Barcelona.
Breakpoint Bingen, Germany 2003–2010 Formerly the world's largest "scene-only" demoparty, successor of the Mekka & Symposium party series. Followed by Revision.
CAFePARTY [ru] Kazan, Russia 1999– Main oldschool party in Russia. «Only demoscene, without bullshit!».
Chaos Constructions Saint Petersburg, Russia 1999– The largest demoparty in ex-Soviet countries, successor of the Enlight parties.
Cookie Paris, France 2016- The demoparty in Paris succeeding to DemoJS, but leaving out the focus on web technologies.
Coven Adelaide, Australia 1995–2001 Started at Adelaide Uni then later changed venues to Ngapartji Multimedia Centre. Organised by local groups POP and FTS.
Datastorm Gothenburg, Sweden 2010– Amiga/C64 copy party.
Deadline Berlin, Germany 2014- Annual demoparty/computer arts festival in Berlin, organized by Computerkunst e.V.
Demobit Bratislava, Slovakia 1995– The biggest multiplatform party in Slovakia. Resurrected after 20 years in 2017.
DemoJS Paris, France 2011–2014 The only demoparty strictly focused on open web technologies. Followed by Cookie.
Demosplash Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA 2011– Hosted by the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club.
DiHalt [ru] Nizhny Novgorod, Russia 1999– Second largest demoparty in Russia (after Chaos Constructions).
DreamHack Jönköping, Sweden 1994– World's largest LAN-party, which later became more of Gaming party / E-Sports event.
Evoke Köln, Germany 1997– Demoparty organized by Digitale Kultur
Flashback Sydney, Australia 2011–2015, 2019–
Flashparty Buenos Aires, Argentina 1998-2001, 2003-2005, 2007, 2018- First Demoparty in Latin America
Forever Horná Súča, Slovakia 2000– 8-bit party, C64, Spectrum and Atari
Function Budapest, Hungary 2003–
Gardening Patras, Greece 1995–1997 First demoparty in Greece.
The Gathering Hamar, Norway 1992– Norway's largest demoparty, which later became more of a LAN/game-party.
Hackerence Härnösand, Sweden 1989–2000 Organized by the youth club ComUn (Computer Union).
Horde Udine, Italy 2007 A result of a split from the computer event Codex Alpe Adria to focus on demo scene only.
Icons Artparty Helsinki, Finland 2007, 2008, 2012– Demoparty and a festival of electronic art.
Inércia Demoparty Portugal 2001-2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2018-2022 Oldest running Portuguese demoparty.
Kindergarden Haga, Norway 1994–2014 Used to be the oldest pure demoparty in the world, hasn't been held since 2014.
Last Party Opalenica, Poland 1997-2003, 2017 Winter Atari copy party.
Lato Ludzików Opalenica, Poland 1999-2002 Summer Atari copy party.
LayerOne Demoparty Pasadena, California 2014– Newish demoparty held every year at the LayerOne Security Conference
Lost Party Licheń Stary, Poland 2019– Summer 8-bit demo party.
Lovebyte Netherlands 2021– Demoparty dedicated to sizecoding
Mekka & Symposium Fallingbostel, Germany 1996–2002 One of the most respected demoparties. Part of the organizing staff went on to create Breakpoint.
Movement Ashkelon, Israel 1995–1998 The yearly demo party of the demoscene in Israel.
NAID Longueuil, Quebec, Canada 1995–1996 The first, and to date, largest demoparty in North America.
Nordlicht Bremen, Germany 2012– First pure demoscene party in Bremen since the Siliconvention in 1997.
NOVA Exeter, UK 2017–
Nullarbor Perth, Australia 2006–2008
NVScene San Jose, California, USA 2008, 2014, 2015 Held in conjunction with Nvision (an nVidia conference) in 2008.
Optimise Johannesburg, South Africa 2000 - The primary SA demo party.
Pilgrimage Salt Lake City, Utah, USA 2003–2005
QBParty Sülysáp, Hungary 2015– On the first weekend after 10 May in each year.
Revision Saarbrücken, Germany 2011– The world's largest "scene-only" demoparty, successor of the Breakpoint party series.
Rewired Hasselt, Belgium 2008–2014 The only annual demoparty in Belgium.
Riverwash Katowice, Poland 2007-2018
Saturne Party Paris, France 1993–1997
Silly Venture Gdańsk, Poland 2000, 2010–2014, 2016–2019, 2021 Originally exclusively for the Atari scene, since the 2020+1 Summer it has become multiplatform
Solskogen Flateby, Norway 2002- Started in Ås, Norway, but moved to Flateby in 2013. Close to 200 participants.
Somewhere in Holland Nijmegen, Netherlands 1993, 1995 Demoparty in The Netherlands.
Sundown Exeter, UK 2005–2016 The first UK-based party since 1999.
Syntax Party Melbourne, Australia 2007– Melbourne's biggest and (currently) only demoparty.
Takeover Eindhoven, The Netherlands 1997-2001 The first instalment was named X'97 Takeover, as it was held together with the X party.
The Party Aars, Denmark 1991–2002 One of the oldest and largest parties; abandoned by the demoscene in its final years due to lack of support.
The Ultimate Meeting Griesheim, Germany 1999– One of the biggest German demoparties, initially thought as a warm-up meeting for The Party. It finally moved to the same date as The Party when it was clear that The Party became obsolete.
VIP Lyon, France 1999– Organized by PoPsY TeAm, this is the oldest pure demoscene party still ongoing in France.
Wired Mons, Belgium 1994–1998
X Someren, Netherlands 1995– Commodore 64 party, currently held every second year. Last one was on 2–4 November 2018. In 1995 and 1996 also a PC demo party, in 1997 combined with Takeover.
Xenium Katowice, Poland 2019- Successor of Riverwash event.

Influence[edit]

Although demos are still a more or less obscure form of art even in the traditionally active demoscene countries, the scene has influenced areas such as computer games industry and new media art.[20][21][22]

A great deal of European game programmers, artists and musicians have 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, was founded by the PC group Future Crew, and most of its employees are former or active Finnish demosceners.[23][24] 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 on the Maxis game Spore, which is largely based on procedural content generation.[25] Similarly, at QuakeCon in 2011, John Carmack noted that he "thinks highly" of people who do 64k intros, as an example of artificial limitations encouraging creative programming.[26] Jerry Holkins from Penny Arcade claimed to have an "abiding love" for the demoscene, and noted that it is "stuff worth knowing".[27]

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; producer Adam Fielding[28] claims to have tracker/demoscene roots. Currently, 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.[citation needed] Origins of creative coding tools like Shadertoy and Three.js can be directly traced back to the scene.[29]

Over the years, desktop computer hardware capabilities have improved by orders of magnitude, and so for most programmers, tight hardware restrictions are no longer a common issue. Nevertheless, demosceners continue to study and experiment with creating impressive effects on limited hardware. Since handheld consoles and cellular phones have comparable processing power or capabilities to the desktop platforms of old (such as low resolution screens which require pixel-art, or very limited storage and memory for music replay), many demosceners have been able to apply their niche skills to develop games for these platforms, and earn a living doing so.[citation needed] One particular example is Angry Birds, whose lead designer Jaakko Iisalo was an active and well-known demoscener in the 90s.[30] Unity Technologies is another notable example, its technical leads on iPhone, Android and Nintendo Switch platforms Renaldas Zioma and Erik Hemming[31][32] are authors of Suicide Barbie[33] demo for Playstation Portable console released in 2007.

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.[34][original research?]

The museum IT-ceum in Linköping, Sweden, has an exhibition about the demoscene.[35]

Video game industry[edit]

4players.de reported that "numerous" demo and intro programmers, artists, and musicians were employed in the games industry by 2007. Video game companies with demoscene members on staff included Digital Illusions, Starbreeze, Ascaron,[36] 49Games, Remedy, Techland, Lionhead Studios,[37] Bugbear, Digital Reality, Guerrilla Games and Akella.[38]

The Tracker music which is part of Demoscene culture could be found in many Video games of the late 1990s and early 2000s, such as the Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Deus Ex, Crusader: No Remorse, One Must Fall: 2097, Jazz Jackrabbit and Uplink.[39]

See also[edit]

Platforms[edit]

Software[edit]

Websites[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "About the Demoscene". Demoscene - The Art of Coding. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  2. ^ Reunanen, Markku (15 April 2014). "How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners". WiderScreen. Archived from the original on 24 May 2021. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Markku Reunanen (2010). Computer Demos—What Makes Them Tick? (Lic.). Aalto University.
  4. ^ "Slashdot's "Top 10 Hacks of All Time"". slashdot.org. 13 December 1999. Retrieved 25 December 2010. Second Reality by Future Crew – Awesome, Mindblowing, Unbelievable, Impossible. Some of the words used to describe what this piece of code from demoscene gods Future Crew did on 1993-era PC hardware. Even by today's standards, what this program can do without relying on any kind of 3D graphics acceleration is impressive. As if the graphics weren't impressive enough, it can even playback in Dolby Surround Sound.
  5. ^ Raymond, Eric S. "display hacks". The Jargon File. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  6. ^ Green, Dave (1 July 1995). "Demo or Die!". Wired. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Atari In-Store Demonstration Program by Atari, 1980". YouTube. Archived from the original on 18 November 2021.
  8. ^ "Atari 1985 CES Demo". YouTube. Archived from the original on 18 November 2021.
  9. ^ a b c Reunanen, Markku; Silvast, Antti (2009). Demoscene Platforms: A Case Study on the Adoption of Home Computers. History of Nordic Computing. pp. 289–301. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-03757-3_30.
  10. ^ Turner-Rahman, Gregory (2013). "the demoscene". In Chris, Cynthia; Gerstner, David A. (eds.). Media Authorship. Routledge.
  11. ^ Hartmann, Doreen (2010). Computer Demos and the Demoscene: Artistic Subcultural Innovation in Real-Time (PDF). 16th International Symposium of Electronic Art. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2016.
  12. ^ "Breakthrough of Digital Culture: Finland accepts the Demoscene on its national UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity". Demoscene - The Art of Coding. 15 April 2020. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  13. ^ "Demoscene accepted as UNESCO cultural heritage in Germany".
  14. ^ "Demoscene in Poland gets accepted as national immaterial cultural heritage".
  15. ^ Borzyskowski, George (1997). "The Hacker Demo Scene And It's [sic] Cultural Artifacts". Curtin University.
  16. ^ "Demoparty". catb.org.
  17. ^ Williams, Jeremy (2002). "Demographics: Behind the Scene". archive.org. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
  18. ^ Scheib, Vince. "Demos Explained; What are Demos? What is a Demo? - Vince Scheib". scheib.net.
  19. ^ "Breakpoint 2010 - Like There's No Tomorrow // Bingen am Rhein, Germany, Easter Weekend 2010".
  20. ^ David 'Fargo' Kosak (14 March 2005). "Will Wright Presents Spore... and a New Way to Think About Games". GameSpy. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  21. ^ Moses Grohé (15 October 2006). "Warum Informatiker Demo-Codern mit offenem Mund zuhören - und was Will "Sims" Wright der Demoscene schuldet". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  22. ^ Bobic and Axel (1 August 2010). "Demo Effects in Games". Bitfellas. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  23. ^ Bobic (18 January 2007). "Sceners in the Games Industry". 4players.de. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
  24. ^ "Jaakko Lehtinen appointed as a Professor in the School of Science". 28 September 2012. The so-called demoscene has laid a foundation for the active and internationally astonishingly successful Finnish games industry.
  25. ^ Dave 'Fargo' Kosak (14 March 2005). "Will Wright Presents Spore... and a New Way to Think About Games". GameSpy.
  26. ^ "QuakeCon 2011 – John Carmack Keynote". YouTube. 5 August 2011. Archived from the original on 18 November 2021.
  27. ^ "Lickr". 13 April 2012.
  28. ^ Artist Feature: Adam Fielding on YouTube
  29. ^ NVScene. "NVScene 2015 Session: Reinventing The Wheel - One Last Time (Ricardo Cabello)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 18 November 2021.
  30. ^ "Edge Magazine – GamesRadar+". edge-online.com.
  31. ^ Nutt, Christian (29 February 2012). "Unity's Future In High-Definition". www.gamasutra.com. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  32. ^ Nutt, Christian (5 January 2012). "How Unity tackles Android support, straight from its lead developer". www.gamasutra.com. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  33. ^ GitHub repository for Suicide Barbie a Playstation Portable demo, The Black Lotus, 3 January 2021, retrieved 3 January 2021
  34. ^ "scene.org file archive :: browsing /resources/media/". scene.org.
  35. ^ "Linköping – Do & See – Datamuseet It-ceum". and visitors can also learn more about today’s demo scene
  36. ^ Bobic (18 January 2007). "Spielkultur | Special | 4Sceners". 4players.de. p. 1. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  37. ^ Bobic (18 January 2007). "Spielkultur | Special | 4Sceners". 4players.de. p. 2. Archived from the original on 13 October 2013. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  38. ^ Bobic (18 January 2007). "Spielkultur | Special | 4Sceners". 4players.de. p. 3. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  39. ^ Game Development and Production by Erik Bethke, page 341

Further reading[edit]