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The Demo Scene :: still alive
by Maverick, with portions from 'What is "The Demo Scene"?' by Rich Thomson
"A demo is a program that displays a sound, music, and light show, usually in 3D. Demos are very fun to watch, because they seemingly do things that aren't possible on the machine they were programmed on." - Trixter's PC Demos Explained

Ever since networks and computer communication existed, hackers have lurked amongst us. In the early 1980's, when computer software was exorbitantly expensive, hacking groups originated and organized to thwart the ever increasing complexity of copy protection preventing game duplication and distribution. The Demo Scene originated from this hacker subculture. The hacking groups were in competition with each other to see who could crack the protection the fastest. At first, these groups just signed each of their crack releases with a text file tag, but as time went on, the hacking groups started adding small graphical snipets to promote their group and their technological expertise. These credit animations were simple at first and were just promotional for the group, then began to include sound and became longer and more complex.

The animations were sometimes called "cracktros" or "intros", and as they became more sophisticated, they began to attract their own group of designers and coders focused more on the "intros" release and creation than the crack itself. Somewhere around this time, as the "intros" got longer and more impressive, the "intros" were renamed to be "demos" and continued to be a demonstration of their creator's skills. The demo scene started to attract some attention, and a new art form was born and designed. Around this time, the demo scene separated itself from hacking and software piracy. The demos began to become standalone pieces of software and were no longer attached to the pirated software distribution package.

nemesis :: self-titled
1st place
64kb competition
the gathering 2004
"Real-time" rendering

It is important to realize that demos aren't animations like Macromedia Shockwave or animated movies like Toy Story. Demos are rendered in real-time, which means that a demo creates all the designs, skins, movements, and wireframe models right as you are watching. "Real-time" means that the images are drawn fast enough to simulate motion; a frame rate of 60 to 70 frames per second is quite common for a demo. None of the images are precreated; you are watching something that is created by algorithms that are being processed as you view it. If you watch your processor usage while the demo runs, you'll see how processor intensive the demo truly is. With the power of personal computers ever increasing, demos have come a long way from their humble beginnings. At first a good way to display a person's programming prowess by showing a stream of seemingly random effects and tricks, demos have now become more sophisticated with synchronized music and complex graphics. Demos have evolved into something more than 'parlor' graphical tricks; demos telling a story or having an overall cohesive design are becoming more commonplace.
Today's Demos
Early on, demos relied on software rendering or direct access to video hardware in order to perform correctly. Early demos were created on the Commodore 64, Amiga, or the Atari ST. Now, since the personal computer market has matured and 3D video hardware is standard issue, a majority of demos are created to work in Windows or Linux, although demos are still created on the original classic platforms, as well as special demos created for XBox, Macintosh, Playstation 2, and even some homebrewed custom hardware solutions.
spinningkids :: pk is dead
4th place
mekka symposium

While a 3D accelerator means that coders don't need to write their own renders anymore, it doesn't mean that creativity has gone down. A very common competition in the demo scene is to create an interesting demo while being bound by a technical limitation. One common limitation is the total size of the demo executable, which is commonly limited to 256 bytes, 4096 bytes, or 16384 bytes. While the executable can be however big the coder wants it to be, these technical limitation competitions force the authors to use ingenious methods to shave off bytes from their demos, forcing many of the coders to use assembly as their language of choice. For size reference, a typical icon on your desktop takes up roughly 4096 bytes. Think about that fact when you watch a demo. You'll notice in some demos there are phrases or sentences displayed on the screen. Some coders actually have algorithms that print out these sentences, then use random letters from these sentences to seed other randomizing functions used later on in the demo. Techniques like these help to reduce the overall size of the executable demo by reusing variables and making the most of previous executable space. Another common technical limitation is making demos work on small mobile devices.
Demo Components
Intros or demos can be made by a single person or a group of people. Typically groups consist of coders, musicians, and graphic artists. In most cases, the coders deal with how the camera angles and movements work. Coders also generate the algorithms used to create the models within the demo. The musicians create the soundtrack that accompanies the demo. The soundtrack consists of a synthesizer sequence combining multiple samplings of instruments arranged into tracks. These tracks are compact in size yet can be easily manipulated for a dynamic performance. Lastly, the graphic artists contribute things like still images and 3D models to the demo. The artists are commonly responsible for storyboarding the demo and maintaining cohesiveness.
farbrausch :: poemtoahorse
1st place
mekka symposium 2002
Final Thoughts

When I was first introduced to the demo scene years ago, I wasn't that impressed with what I saw. Sure the graphics were cool, but couldn't anyone do that? Now that I've reacquainted myself with things, I'm blown away by the advancements. How could a 3 minute demo be under 4096 bytes? 4kb! And how could all those textures fit in there as well? What surprises and astounds me most are the musical scores to the demos. Most, if not all the scores are originals and created primarily for the demo they appear in. If you have read kUltnacht's music artices, you are probably already familiar with the styles of music common in demos. In some cases, the coder of the demo also serves as the graphical artist and the musician. In short, the demo scene is still quite alive and kicking, and there are literally terabytes of demos out on the Internet (and in the links below) that you can download and watch. I definitely encourage you to check them out.
recommended links for starters
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related links
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