Got Bored, Went Home

I tidied up yesterday’s song. Here’s the result:

Got Bored, Went Home

It’s a ridiculous thing, only held together (barely) by sellotape and the stupid amount of reverb on that guitar part. It also very much shows up the limitations of our ‘record a bit, then another bit, then stick them together’ approach to songwriting. I think the reason Sunshine Starlight (needs a better name)’s my favourite thing that we’ve done is because the structure’s far more organic – it has a flow and an internal logic that isn’t forced. Anyway, I should probably do more to this one but I think I’m probably going to leave it as it is, unless Craig has other plans.

Following on from yesterday’s post, I figured I should maybe post a better introduction to the demoscene, so here’s the relevant paragraphs from my thesis (click ‘more’):

More… Starting with the demoscene subculture – one of the original inspirations for this project – the wikipedia definition is:

“The demoscene is a computer art subculture that specializes itself on producing demos, non-interactive audiovisual presentations, which are run real-time on a computer. The main goal of a demo is to show off better programming, artistic and musical skills than other demogroups.”

The demoscene has its roots in the software piracy of the 1980s, and is based in particular on the exploits of the programmers – known as crackers – who would work to defeat the copy protection implemented in commercial software so it could be freely copied, and distributed to a wide network of people unwilling to pay for the software. Initially the ‘cracked’ software would be distributed with a simple text screen with the name of the programmer who cracked it, displayed on startup. Eventually, however, crackers started to display their programming prowess with more complicated intro screens with animation and sound. With the limited amount of disk space available, and the limited computing power of the machines used, such intros required the programmer to push at the limits of what was possible on the system, and an in-depth understanding of the computers used was essential. As increasing numbers of these more complex intros were released, different cracking groups started to actively compete with each other, and attempt to squeeze the most out of the limited resources at their disposal. Eventually, the programmers responsible for these intros broke away from the illegal cracking scene, and started releasing their productions independently. These productions became known as demos (short for demonstrations), which led to the term demoscene being used to describe the subculture in general.

As alluded to in the previous paragraph, demos are generally the product of demo groups. A group will typically consist of (at least) a graphic artist, a composer, and a programmer. Those involved in the demoscene tend to meet up at large events known as demoparties, where there are competitions for different types of demos, and which provide a chance to meet other people involved in the scene. The competitions maintain the competitive element of the artform, with the party-goers voting for their favourite productions, and some kind of prize awarded to the winners. As a subculture, the demoscene is relatively closed off, in that the intended audience for a demo is other members of the demoscene. As such, the scene has developed its own aesthetic rules, and works which appeal to a wider audience while disregarding those rules tend to be looked down upon by those within the scene. Before the (originally IBM) PC became the dominant general purpose computer worldwide, demos were produced for systems with fixed, standardised hardware (such as the Commodore 64, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga etc.). As a result, programmers all essentially started from the same position, and the demoscene’s competitive aspect was focused on how much performance they could squeeze out of their machines, with specific records being set and subsequently broken (for example, how many moving sprites could be displayed on screen at any one time). As the PC gained marketshare, however, its open-ended, expandable hardware (where the owner can easily upgrade their graphics and sound cards, etc.) meant that demo makers found themselves producing demos for an audience with widely-varying hardware. In order to produce the most impressive graphical effects, some programmers would tend to buy expensive, high-end graphics cards, with the result that their productions would only run on this high-end hardware. As such, recent demos tend to be distributed as videos, in addition to the executable (which will usually not run on an average PC). This shift has meant that such demos tend to be judged now more for their artistic merit (still according to the demoscene’s particular aesthetic rules) than their technical achievements. It has also resulted in the establishment of particular types of demos (termed ‘intros’ within the scene), which, for example, seek to squeeze the most content into a 64kB executable (you can also find 4kB, and even 256-byte intros), and which therefore retain the aspect of technical competition. A relatively famous example of this kind of programming prowess is ‘.kkreiger’, an entire FPS (First Person Shooter) game contained within an executable of 96kB, quite a feat when compared to similar games which may require entire DVDs full of data.

There are perhaps two main criticisms to be made of the demoscene. Firstly, the emphasis on technical prowess could be seen as being to the detriment of any artistic merit. Through their focus on displaying the most flashy, spectacular graphics, it could be argued that demos are the equivalent of big-budget, hollywood blockbusters; all style and no substance. Secondly, though demos are an audiovisual medium, the connection between sound and visuals rarely appears to have had much thought applied to it. For the most part, demos tend to display fairly simplistic audiovisual connections, with, for example, the camera jumping to a new position on every beat, or basic audio amplitude to visual parameter mappings. And while visually, demos encompass a wide range of styles and aesthetics, the music used tends to be almost exclusively nondescript dance music.

I’m less sure about that last paragraph now. I’ve been trawling through demoscene.tv the past couple of days, and I’ve definitely seen things which contradict it, though I’ve still yet to hear any music that I would ever choose to listen to in a demo.

Here’s some more videos I liked:

Muon Baryon: Youth Uprising/Umlaut Design/outracks. This is a 4k demo. To get an idea of how impressive that is, the text alone for this post comes to about 8k of data. It’s not just the equations needed to create those 3d objects, you’re looking at all sorts of complicated lighting and reflection calculations to get it to look that good. And it fits into an executable smaller than all but the most minimalist of webpages. Serious business…

Rupture: Andromeda. The more I see of Andromeda’s work, the more I like them. This is just gorgeous. And it’s got a train! Trains are great…

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