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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 audio-visual presentations. The purpose of a demo is to show off programming, visual art, and musical skills. Demos and other demoscene productions 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 late 1970s, and the subsequent advent of software cracking. 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. Through the making of intros and stand-alone demos, a new community eventually evolved, independent of the gaming:29–30 and software sharing scenes.
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Prior to the popularity of IBM PC compatibles, most home computers of a given line had relatively little variance in their basic hardware, which made their capabilities practically identical. Therefore, the variations among demos created for one computer line were attributed to programming alone, rather than one computer having better hardware. This created a competitive environment in which demoscene groups would try to outperform each other in creating outstanding effects, and often to demonstrate why they felt one machine was better than another (for example Commodore 64 or Amiga versus Atari 8-bit family or Atari ST).
Demo writers went to great lengths to get every last bit of performance out of their target machine. Where games and application writers were concerned with the stability and functionality of their software, the demo writer was typically interested in how many CPU cycles a routine would consume and, more generally, how best to squeeze great activity onto the screen. Writers went so far as to exploit known hardware errors to produce effects that the manufacturer of the computer had not intended. The perception that the demo scene was going to extremes and charting new territory added to its draw.
There are several categories demos are informally classified into, 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.
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.
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 late 1970s and 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. These programs were initially known by various names, such as letters or messages, but they later came to be known as demos.
In 1980, Atari, Inc. began using a looping demo with visual effects and music to show off the features of the Atari 400/800 computers in stores. 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. 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. 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?] as the earliest demo groups. Whilst 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. On the ZX Spectrum, Castor Cracking Group released their first demo called Castor Intro in 1986. The ZX Spectrum demo scene was slow to start, but it started to rise in the late 1980s, most noticeably in Eastern Europe.
The demoscene is mainly a European phenomenon, and is predominantly male. 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 licensing) the works of others, having good contacts within the scene, and showing effort rather than asking for help. Both this competitiveness and the sense of cooperation among demosceners have led to comparisons with the earlier hacker culture in academic computing.:159 The demoscene is a closed subculture, which seeks and receives little mainstream public interest.:4 As of 2010[update], the size of the scene was estimated at some 10,000.
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. These days, there are organized competitions, or compos, held 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 1990s.
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 4 kB and 64 kB), 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 made the biggest impression on them. In the old demos, the impression was often attempted with programming techniques introducing new effects and breaking performance records in old effects; the emphasis has moved from technical excellence to more artistic values such as overall design, audiovisual impact and mood.
In 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. This award was canceled in 2012.
Demosceners typically organize in small, tightly-knit groups, centered around a coder (programmer), a musician and a graphician (graphics designer). Various other supporting roles exist and groups can grow to dozens of people, but most demos are actually created by a small number of people.:32–33
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".:31–32
A demoparty is an event that gathers demosceners and other computer enthusiasts to partake in competitions called Demoscene compos of demos (short audio-visual presentations of computer art). 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. The most important competition is usually the demo compo.
Parties usually last from two to four days, most often from Friday to Sunday to ensure that sceners who work or study are also able to attend. Small parties (under 100 attendants) usually take place in cultural centers or schools, whereas larger parties (over 400–500 people) typically take place in sports halls or concert halls.
Entrance fees are usually between €10 and €40, given the size and location of the party. During the 90s it was common practice in many countries to allow females to enter the party for free (mostly due to the low concentration of female attendees, which is usually under 20%), albeit most parties still enforced an "only vote with ticket" rule, which means that an attendee who got in free was only able to vote with a paid ticket. This practice was largely abandoned in the 2010s.
Attendees are allowed to bring their desktop computer along, but this is by no means a necessity and is usually omitted by most sceners, especially those who travel long distance. Those who have computer-related jobs may even regard a demoparty as a well-deserved break from sitting in front of a computer. For those who do bring a computer, it is becoming increasingly common to bring a laptop or some sort of handheld device rather than a complete desktop PC.
Partygoers often bring various senseless gadgets to parties to make their desk space look unique; this can be anything from a disco ball or a plasma lamp to a large LED display panel complete with a scrolling message about how "elite" its owner is. Many visitors also bring large loudspeakers for playing music. This kind of activity is particularly common among new partygoers, while the more experienced attendees tend to prefer a more quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
Those who need housing during the party are often offered a separate "sleeping room", usually an isolated empty room with some sort of carpet or mats, where the attendees are able to sleep, separated from the noise. Most sceners prefer bringing sleeping bags for this, as well as air mattresses or sleeping pads. Parties that do not offer a sleeping room generally allow sceners to sleep under the tables.
Partyplaces often become decorated by visitors with flyers and banners. These all serve promotional reasons, in most cases to advertise a certain group, but sometimes to create promotion for a given demoscene product, such as a demo or a diskmag, possibly to be released later at the party.
A major portion of the events at a demoparty often takes place outdoors. Demosceners usually spend considerable time outside to have a beer and talk, or engage into some sort of open-air activity such as barbecuing or sport, such as hardware throwing or soccer. It is also a common tradition to gather around a bonfire during the night, usually after the compos.
In recent years, many parties were available for spectators through the Internet: This tradition was first started by the live team of demoscene.tv, who broadcast from the event live or created footage for a postmortem video-report. This has since been ostensibly replaced by the SceneSat radio crew, who provide live streaming radio shows from parties, and larger parties now offer their own dedicated streaming video solution.
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.
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. 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. 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. Jerry Holkins from Penny Arcade claimed to have an "abiding love" for the demoscene, and noted that it is "stuff worth knowing".
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 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. Origins of creative coding tools like Shadertoy and Three.js can be directly traced back to the scene.
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. One particular example is Angry Birds, whose lead designer Jaakko Iisalo was an active and well-known demoscener in the 90s.
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.[original research?]
Video games industry
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, 49Games, Remedy, Techland, Lionhead Studios, Bugbear, Digital Reality, Guerrilla Games and Akella.
Software used for making demoscene productions
- FastTracker 2
- Schismtracker, http://schismtracker.org
- GoatTracker, for Commodore 64 music
- CheeseCutter, for Commodore 64 music, http://theyamo.kapsi.fi/ccutter/
- BambooTracker, https://github.com/rerrahkr/BambooTracker
- HivelyTracker, http://www.hivelytracker.co.uk
- "About the Demoscene". Demoscene - The Art of Coding. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
- Reunanen, Markku (15 April 2014). "How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners". WiderScreen. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- Markku Reunanen (2010). Computer Demos—What Makes Them Tick? (Lic.). Aalto University.
- "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.
- Raymond, Eric S. "display hacks". The Jargon File. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
- Green, Dave (1 July 1995). "Demo or Die!". Wired. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
- "Atari In-Store Demonstration Program by Atari, 1980". YouTube.
- "Atari 1985 CES Demo". YouTube.
- 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.
- Turner-Rahman, Gregory (2013). "the demoscene". In Chris, Cynthia; Gerstner, David A. (eds.). Media Authorship. Routledge.
- Hartmann, Doreen (2010). Computer Demos and the Demoscene: Artistic Subcultural Innovation in Real-Time (PDF). 16th International Symposium of Electronic Art.
- "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.
- Scheib, Vince. "The Hacker Demo Scene And It's [sic] Cultural Artifacts by George Borzyskowski - Vince Scheib". scheib.net.
- "Demoparty". catb.org.
- Williams, Jeremy (2002). "Demographics: Behind the Scene". archive.org. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
- Scheib, Vince. "Demos Explained; What are Demos? What is a Demo? - Vince Scheib". scheib.net.
- David 'Fargo' Kosak (14 March 2005). "Will Wright Presents Spore... and a New Way to Think About Games". GameSpy. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
- 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.
- Bobic and Axel (1 August 2010). "Demo Effects in Games". Bitfellas. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
- Bobic (18 January 2007). "Sceners in the Games Industry". 4players.de. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
- "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.
- Dave 'Fargo' Kosak (14 March 2005). "Will Wright Presents Spore... and a New Way to Think About Games". GameSpy.
- "QuakeCon 2011 – John Carmack Keynote". YouTube. 5 August 2011.
- "Lickr". 13 April 2012.
- on YouTube
- NVScene. "NVScene 2015 Session: Reinventing The Wheel - One Last Time (Ricardo Cabello)". YouTube.
- "Edge Magazine – GamesRadar+". edge-online.com.
- "scene.org file archive :: browsing /resources/media/". scene.org.
- "Linköping – Do & See – Datamuseet It-ceum".
and visitors can also learn more about today’s demo scene
- Bobic (18 January 2007). "Spielkultur | Special | 4Sceners". 4players.de. p. 1. Archived from the original on 21 September 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
- Bobic (18 January 2007). "Spielkultur | Special | 4Sceners". 4players.de. p. 2. Archived from the original on 21 September 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
- Bobic (18 January 2007). "Spielkultur | Special | 4Sceners". 4players.de. p. 3. Archived from the original on 21 September 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
- Green, Dave (July 1995). "Demo or Die!". Wired. No. 3.07. Retrieved 31 December 2007.
- Pirtola, Pilvari (2008). "Introduction to the Demoscene". Mustekala.
- Polgár, Tamás "Tomcat" (2005). FREAX: Volume 1. CSW-Verlag. ISBN 3-9810494-0-3.
- Reunanen, Markku (2010). Computer Demos – What Makes Them Tick? (PDF) (Licentiate). Aalto University School of Science and Technology.
- Reunanen, Markku (2017). Times of Change in the Demoscene: A Creative Community and Its Relationship with Technology (PDF) (PhD). Aalto University School of Science and Technology.
- Shor, Shirley; Eyal, Aviv (Winter 2004). "DEMOing: An Emerging Art Form or Just Another Craft? 1984–2002" (PDF). Intelligent Agent (4.01). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2004.
- Tasajärvi, Lassi (2004). DEMOSCENE: the Art of Real-Time. Evenlake Studios. ISBN 952-91-7022-X.
- Vigh, David; Polgár, Tamás "Tomcat" (2006). FREAX Art Album. CSW-Verlag.
- Vigh, David (2003). "Pixelstorm" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 August 2008.. Selected artworks of demoscene graphicians; bugfixed 2007.
- "The Demoscene" (PDF).. Flyer by Digitale Kultur.
- "Demoscene Research".. Bibliography of academic publications about the demoscene.
- on 's channelYouTube. A seven-part documentary series about the Finnish demoscene.
- CRACKED, a Stories From The Eastern West podcast episode about the birth and rise of Finland's demoscene.
- About the Demoscene
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