The demoscene is an international computer art subculture that specializes in producing demos: small, self-contained computer programs that produce audio-visual presentations. The main goal of a demo is to show off programming, artistic, and musical skills.
The demoscene's roots are in the home computer revolution of the late 1970s, and the subsequent advent of software cracking. Crackers illegally distributed video games, adding introductions of their own making ("cracktros"), and soon started competing for the best presentation. The making of intros and stand-alone demos eventually evolved into a new subculture, independent of the gaming:29–30 and software file sharing scenes.
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 800 or 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.
Recent computer hardware advancements include faster processors, more memory, faster video graphics processors, and hardware 3D acceleration. With many of the past's challenges removed, the focus in making demos has moved from squeezing as much out of the computer as possible to making stylish, beautiful, well-designed real time artwork – a directional shift that many "old school demosceners" seem to disapprove of. This can be explained by the break introduced by the PC world, where the platform varies and most of the programming work that used to be hand-programmed is now done by the graphics card. This gives demo-groups a lot more artistic freedom, but can frustrate some of the old-schoolers for lack of a programming challenge. The old tradition still lives on, though. Demo parties have competitions with varying limitations in program size or platform (different series are called compos). On a modern computer the executable size may be limited to 64 kB or 4 kB. Programs of limited size are usually called intros. In other compos the choice of platform is restricted; only old computers, like the 8-bit Atari 800 or Commodore 64, or the 16-bit Amiga or Atari ST, or mobile devices like handheld phones or PDAs are allowed. Such restrictions provide a challenge for coders, musicians and graphics artists and bring back the old motive of making 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 computers 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.
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 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 (Ratt), 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.
The visitors of a demoparty often bring their own computers to compete and show off 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.
Large parties have often tried to come up with alternative terms to describe the concept to the general public. While the events have always been known as "demoparties", "copyparties" or just "parties" by the subculture itself, they are often referred to as "computer conferences", "computer fairs", "computer festivals", "computer art festivals", "youngsters' computer events" or even "geek gatherings" or "nerd festivals" by the mass media and the general public.
Demoscene events are most frequent in continental Europe, with around fifty parties every year—in comparison, the United States only has two or three each year. Most events are local, gathering demomakers mostly from a single country, while the largest international parties (such as Breakpoint and Assembly) attract visitors from all over the globe.
Most demoparties are relatively small in size, with the number of visitors varying from dozens to a few hundred. The largest events typically gather thousands of visitors, although most of them have little or no connection to the demoscene. In that aspect, the scene separates "pure" parties (which abandons non-scene related activities and promotion) from "crossover" parties.
Demoparties started to appear in the 1980s in the form of copyparties, where software pirates and demomakers gathered to meet each other and share their software. Competitions did not become a major aspect of the events until the early 1990s.
Copyparties mainly pertained to the Amiga and C64 scene. As the PC compatibles started to take over the market, the difficulties in easily making nice demos and intros increased. Along with increased police crackdowns on copying of copyrighted software, the "underground" copyparties were gradually replaced by slightly higher-profile events that came to be known as demoparties. However, some of the "old-school" demosceners still prefer to use the word copyparty even for today's demoparties.
During the 1990s, the focus of the events shifted away from illegal activities into demomaking and competitions. The copying of copyrighted material was often explicitly prohibited by the organizers, and many events also forbade the consumption of alcohol. However, illegal copying and "boozing" still continued to take place, although in a less public form.
Three well-known and appreciated large-scale demoparties were established in the early 1990s: The Party in Denmark, Assembly in Finland and The Gathering in Norway. Taking place every year and gathering thousands of visitors, these parties used to be the leading demoscene events in this period. Assembly still retains this status today. The Gathering continues to be organized yearly as a generic "computer party", but most of the demosceners now prefer Revision in Germany, which takes place at the same time.
The emergence of high-profile demoparties gave rise to phenomena that were not always well welcomed by the scene. The events started to attract unaffiliated computer enthusiasts who were often generally referred to as "lamers" by the original attendants. A particularly visible group in the large gatherings since the mid-1990s have been the LAN gamers, who often have very little interest in the demoscene and mainly use the party facilities for playing multi-player computer games. However, many of today's demosceners received their first interest for demos and demomaking from a visit to a large demoparty.
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 barbecueing 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.
(Note: Year ranges might include years when the party wasn't organized, but was organized both before and after.)
|7DX Party||Istanbul, Turkey||2002–2013||7DX is an annual demoparty that has been held since 2002 in Turkey. It is Turkey's first demo party that consists of demo-oriented competitions.|
|Alternative Party||Helsinki, Finland||1998–||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.|
|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. 1994 in Nijmegen, rest in Etten-Leur.|
|Blockparty||Cleveland, Ohio, USA||2007–2010||During its run, the largest stand-alone demo party in the United States.|
|Breakpoint||Bingen, Germany||2003–2010||Formerly the world's largest "scene-only" demoparty, successor of the Mekka & Symposium party series. Followed by Revision.|
|Chaos Constructions||Saint Petersburg, Russia||1999–||The largest demoparty in ex-Soviet countries, successor of the Enlight parties.|
|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.|
|Demobit||Bratislava, Slovakia||1995–||The biggest multiplatform party in Slovakia. Ressurected after 20 years in 2017.|
|DemoJS||Paris, France||2011–||The only demoparty strictly focused on open web technologies.|
|Demosplash||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA||2011–||Hosted by the Carnegie Mellon University Computer Club.|
|DiHalt||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|
|Forever||Horná Súča, Slovakia||2000–||8-bit party, C64, Spectrum and Atari|
|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. It currently is the only 100% pure demo scene event in Italy.|
|Icons Artparty||Helsinki, Finland||2007, 2008, 2012–||Demoparty and a festival of electronic art.|
|Kindergarden||Haga, Norway||1994–2014||Used to be the oldest pure demoparty in the world, hasn't been held since 2014.|
|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.|
|NVScene||San Jose, California, USA||2008, 2014, 2015||Held in conjunction with Nvision (an nVidia conference) in 2008.|
|Pilgrimage||Salt Lake City, Utah, USA||2003–2005|
|PixelJam||Cleveland, Ohio, USA||2011–||Runs concurrently with Notacon.|
|QBParty||Sulysap, Hungary||2015–||On the first weekend after 10th 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–||The only annual demoparty in Belgium.|
|Saturne Party||Paris, France||1993–1997|
|Somewhere in Holland||Nijmegen, Netherlands||1993, 1995||Demoparty in The Netherlands.|
|Sundown||Exeter, UK||2005–||The first UK-based party since 1999.|
|Syntax Party||Melbourne, Australia||2007–||Melbourne's biggest and (currently) only demoparty.|
|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 only pure demoscene party still ongoing in France.|
|X||Someren, Netherlands||1995–||Commodore 64 party, currently held every second year. Last one was on October 24–26, 2014.|
The demoscene still exists on many platforms, including the PC, C64, MSX, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, Atari, Dreamcast and Game Boy Advance. The large variety of platforms makes their respective demos hard to compare. Some 3D benchmark programs also have a demo or showcase mode, which derives its roots from the days of the 16-bit platforms.
There are several categories demos are informally classified into, the most important being the division between the "full-size" demos and the 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.
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.
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?]
Sometimes a demoscene-based production may become very famous in technical contexts. For example, the 96-kilobyte FPS game .kkrieger by Farbrausch uses procedural content generation algorithms that are quite common on today's 64K intros but largely unknown to the computer games enthusiasts and the US-based game development community.
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 Entertainment, Techland, Lionhead Studios, Bugbear Entertainment, Digital Reality, Guerrilla Games and Akella.
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.
The so-called demoscene has laid a foundation for the active and internationally astonishingly successful Finnish games industry.
and visitors can also learn more about today’s demo scene
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