Review: Pain #8/98
Written by Adok
Month of release: August'98
RAR-packed size: 475,796 bytes
Related URL: http://www.space.ch/scene/pain/
Main editor: fred/calodox
Co-editors (text): $hinigami, cockroach, furball, j-freak, shock, dake, p. doom, nema, chicken, pyromaniac
Code: furball/fake that, zpider/cdx
Design: fred, asc/nwd, kingpin
Another issue of the well-known "Swiss Lamer Intrigues [supposed-to-be] Monthly" magazine has been released in the middle of August 1998, two months after the last issue.
The delay has a simple reason: Furball has coded a new interface with help of Zpider, from whom the Vesa routines came. The interface still isn't completely as it was supposed to be, but it is ready enough so that it could be used in Pain 8/98. Check out the "Interface/Design" part for more information about the new outer appearance of Pain.
Actually this issue was supposed to be released on August 15th, but due to work on the new interface and a loss of articles the magazine was delayed for exactly a week.
In this way the Pain staff had time to motivate more people for writing articles, and in the end they have managed to gather at least 150 kbyte of articles, mostly dealing with the Swiss scene this time. But read more further on.
Whole Switzerland and some Pain readers from other countries were curious to see the new Pain interface. In fact, not much has changed for the reader yet.
As already mentioned, Furball coded the interface using Vesa routines from Zpider. Moreover, the Useless Module Player (USMP) by FreddyV of Useless was used, which supports IT/XM/S3M modules and again fails to autodetect my soundcard under DOS. Fortunately, manual configuration works here, too. Furthermore, the interface uses the usual PMODE/W extender by Tran.
There are some new command line parameters in the new interface. Unfortunately, the list of these parameters gets displayed only for a few seconds when you start Pain. So if you don't press Break or PrtScr in time, you won't ever find out what they are, unless you are reading this article now. ;)
/c runs the manual soundcard configuration
/bpp6 switches to a grey-scale graphics mode (nice!)
/bpp16 switches to 16-bit-color mode
By default the interface is displayed in a 32-bit-color mode with a resolution of 640x480 pixels.
In any case you need to have VBE 2.0 or UniVBE resp. to run the interface. If you don't, the interface will start but only a black screen will appear, and all you can do is exiting to DOS by pressing ESC. Moreover, the interface doesn't run under Windows 95. You have to reboot in DOS mode.
So, let's come to the outer appearance of the interface, the actual interesting part! And that's also the disappointing part for those of you who expected a brand-new styled Pain: The screen layout is very much the same as in the old Pain!
On the top there is a text line containing name and author of the current article and an indicator telling you on what of how many pages in this article you are. Then 25 lines follow where the text is displayed. On the bottom there are three text lines containing, from the left to the right, a list of keys with which you control Pain, the article selecting menu and on the right a not-yet-working clock and a small Pain logo.
That's exactly the same as in the old text-mode Pain interface.
But if nothing has changed, why does the new Pain interface use a VBE mode, you may ask now? Well, because there are new features! They are mostly details, however:
The background graphics are not built by costumized ascii characters any more but are pixelled now. Moreover, the new interface allows to display a picture in the background of the articles. But not only one static picture, no - it's possible to specify a background picture for each text-page! In this way also embedding pictures in the text can be realized, which has already been done in the Wired '98 Report in this Pain issue. Pixelled pictures in the background also look nicer than ascii pictures in the background, like this was done in former Pain issues e.g. in the polls section.
However, this doesn't mean that Pain has given up ansi at all now. In fact, there's still a title ansi like in the previous Pain issues (this time made by KingPin), and many ansi graphics are used in the articles, for example in the charts section. This combination of ansi and pixelled art is something pretty new and is definitly a nice-looking experiment.
The texts are still very colourful, which makes them more lively. The colours also have a different effect than in the text-mode. However, sometimes you get the feeling that there are already too many colours which do not fit into the design. For example, the characters next to the left or the right screen edge are often in a darker colour than the rest. This effect was also used in previous Pain issues and was supposed to give the text a little 3D look. However, in the new interface this looks especially lame. You cannot read these characters too well because the background is very dark, too.
Let's come to the more boring but important part of the interface, the control. Almost nothing has changed compared to the previous Pain issues. You still have to use the keyboard. With the cursor keys up/down and Enter you select an article in the article menu, and with left/right you browse through the current article.
In the previous Pain issues, ESC exited the whole mag. Now due to a new feature, ESC has two functions. The new feature is that there are submenus. When you start Pain, five top-level headlines (or section headlines) are displayed in the article menu. After selecting one of them, the headlines of the articles in this section are displayed in the article menu.
With ESC, you exit the current section and get back into the main menu. If you are in the main menu and press ESC again, the mag quits to DOS.
I personally don't think these submenus are practical. It might be practical in a huge diskmag, but as Pain has a little number of articles, splitting them in submenus is superfluous in my opinion. The negative effect is: You always have to press ESC to get back to the main menu after reading 2-6 articles. That gets disturbing after a very short time. If it was possible to exit the current submenu with Backspace it would be better, but ESC is too far away from the cursor keys.
The Save option, which could be activated in previous Pain issues by pressing S, has not been implemented yet in the new interface. Neither is it possible to display older Pain issues in the new interface. However, these two features are an object to be implemented soon, as Furball writes in his article about the new interface. Moreover, the following features are planned:
- supporting 8/15/24 bpp. mode, selectable in a menu
- JPEG background picture support [at the moment the pictures are stored in GIF]
- a working clock and an oscilloscope
- sound volume adjustment [the tune in this issue gets played in a very low volume!]
- fadeover/scroll routine [currently, text-pages are displayed without any effect]
- jump to a certain text-page by pressing F11 or F12
- packed data
- ports to Linux (in progress) and Win (when TBL has finished porting USMP)
A lot of work is coming upon Furball. Good luck, dude!
Let me close the interface part with some words about the text-design. As I have already said, still a lot of ansi is used, as well as colourful texts. However, also the negative parts from the old text-design have been kept. The texts are with only few exceptions left-bound, which doesn't look nice. There are some sloppy designing errors, for example in the charts, where the editor's comments of one charts section start one line below where the comments usually start. But in general, as long as good colours have been chosen, the text is well readable.
In total there are 18 articles which make up about 150 kbyte text (ansis included). That's an average of slightly more than 8 kbyte per article, which indicates that some articles are quite large. In fact there are quite a few regulars among these articles, like the Swiss Charts or "Swiss Releases Reviewed", which are naturally a bit longer. The exact table of content looks like the following:
Pain Stuff.. Read it! Editorial by Fred New Pain? by Furball Credits The Swiss Scene Corner The Swiss News by Chicken The Swiss Charts by Cockroach Swiss Releases Reviewed by Furball The Swiss Link List by J-Freak Party Reports Buenzli #7 on DRS 3 Radio by J-Freak The Wired '98 Report by Dake Thoughts about Coven by Shock The Buenzli #7 Report by $hinigami The Escape Party Report by $hinigami The Official Buenzli #7 by Furball Articles and Co. International News and Rumours by Dake The US Scene by Pyromaniac The Polls by Cockroach Technical Corner Nema's Code Corner by Nema Shaded 3D Blobs by P. Doom
Nothing special in the Editorial. As usual there is one page written by Fred, this time stating that the Swiss scene is alive as the group Nowadays shows and demanding the others to wake up, too.
The article "New Pain?" is the article about the new interface written by its coder Furball which I have already mentioned in the Interface/Design section. He apologizes for the "horribly slow", "far from being finished" interface that "fucks up if your equipment doesn't support 16 or 32 bit colour modes under Vesa 2.0" (which it didn't do on my PC for some strange reason ;), has "empty spaces", a "quite ugly" selector font, no "nice cool fine beautiful sound/gfx selector" etc. What follows is a list of the new features and those that are planned to be implemented in the next issues, i.e nothing new for you readers of this review.
The common stuff closes with the credits, in which the readers are again asked to send "bugreports and flames" to email@example.com.
Next comes the Swiss Scene Corner, started with two text-pages of Swiss News, collected by Chicken. Some of these news are pretty old, though. For example, the news inform about a change of the Buenzli #7 location, which was already over for more than two weeks at the release of this Pain issue. Many other news have also already been published in the country.switzerland newsgroup at news.scene.org. So there don't remain many interesting things.
The most surprising news is probably the little notice at the very end of the news section that The Lycaeum will shut down at the end of the year. All sourcecodes and other files will be moved to the new Swiss scene FTP server. The Lycaeum has been Switzerland's most famous board for a couple of years. It was run by Chicken, the official Pain HQ and supported many Swiss and international groups. It also had the largest source archive for coders in Switzerland.
Recently The Lycaeum has lost popularity because the Pirate BBS by Radio 24 has become the new number 1 in the Swiss BBS charts. A lot of sceners have also moved to the Internet and therefore aren't that interesting in BBSes any more.
An era has ended in the Swiss BBS scene. Strange that Pain didn't donate a larger part of its content to the shutdown of The Lycaeum. An overview of the history of this board and the Swiss BBS scene would have been very interesting.
The next article are the Swiss Charts. For the first time Cockroach hosts these charts. There have been 20 voters, mostly from Switzerland but also two German and one Austrian dude (guess who ;) appear in the voters' list.
The layout of the charts has slightly changed. Now it features more ansi graphics, made by $hinigami, Cockroach's favourite artist. They look very good in my opinion and improve the atmosphere a lot. Sadly, some little layouting errors by Cockroach decrease the good impression. I know these errors - I pointed out some in the text design part of this review - are very small and you usually wouldn't take notice of them, but they create a too big contrast to this nice ansi decoration.
Nothing special has changed about the charts. Dake, Fred and their group Calodox still rule. There is a new section, scene web-pages. The Pain homepage has won. What a conicidence.
You can still vote only for Swiss people and productions, except for the web-page section. In the votesheet for the next Pain issue a diskmag editors section has been included. Still only for Swiss diskmag editors? I don't think that would make much sense when there's only one really active Swiss diskmag.
As usual, Furball lists the new Swiss scene productions together with a little description, the file-size and a rating in "Swiss Releases Reviewed". This time the Organic Intro by Calodox, a 64 kb intro that got the second place at Wired '98 although it "should have been 1st", has been declared the Swiss release of the month. And what about the Swiss release of the previous month, when no Pain issue was released?
Finally the Swiss Scene section ends with J-Freak's brand-new Swiss Link List. Of course, as the name says, only homepages of Swiss groups, people and diskmags are listed. By the way, what has happened to Dake's Swiss Sceners' E-Mail List?
As you can see, this time the Party Reports section is the biggest section in Pain and makes up a third of the total number of articles. Half of these party reports deal with the Swiss home-event Buenzli.
J-Freak comes up with the English translation of a program about Buenzli #7 that was sent on the Swiss German radio DRS 3 - of course in the hardly understandable Swiss German dialect. As J-Freak himself writes, the translation is more "J-Freak English" than proper English, but it is good enough to understand in any case. It's mostly a rough translation with some short comments by J-Freak here and there.
Disappointingly, the DRS 3 people hardly introduced the scene to the radio listeners. The radio program mostly consisted of stupid chitchat interrupted by short interviews with some of the party-attenders, which probably rather confused than informed the listeners.
I know it is hard to explain someone what the scene and scene-parties are all about, especially in a short radio program. But it is possible: the authors of the German computer magazine "PC-Magazin" explained the terms scene, demos, parties etc. very well in their report about Mekka & Symposium 1998. I liked the article in the PC-Magazin a lot indeed! It can really be used as a guide to the demoscene for people with a little knowledge about computers!
Compared to that, the Buenzli #7 report on DRS 3 is very disappointing.
Well, moreover, we have a Buenzli #7 Report by $hinigami and an official note by the Buenzli-organizer Furball. The latter contains a short note about the number of attenders (which was about 70), statistics about the used food and the success of the party from the viewpoint of the organizers, followed by the official results. We also learn that Buenzli #8 is planned for either a weekend in early January 1999 or, if that's not possible, May 1999.
$hinigami's party report is more extensive and describes the atmosphere of the party from the viewpoint of an attender quite well. There's even an ascii graphic showing the party place. Good article, $hini!
Strangely this party report is placed in the article menu in front of the Escape party report, although $hinigami wrote that he first wanted the readers to read the latter report.
Compared to Buenzli, Escape was a smaller party with less competition and less activity. But $hinigami liked it nevertheless, as he wrote in his report, and is of the opinion that it is good to have more than one party in Switzerland.
$hinigami also announced to publish an ansi-comic about his weird train trip to Buenzli #7 in the next Pain issue. Those of you who know $hini's ansi comics from older Trip! issues know what to expect. Stay tuned!
"The Wired '98 Report" comes from Dake. It's the only article in Pain that really makes use of the possibility to embedd pictures in the articles. However, there are only two small pictures which even overlap. Apart from the pictures, this report contains four text-pages, which mostly deal with the competitions and their entries.
Furthermore, the Party Report section contains an article with "Thoughts about Coven", compiled by Shock, which also contain Clef's, Jestyr's and HB's opinions. Nice to see that Pain doesn't just focus on Switzerland but also gives the Australians a platform.
There is a second article written by a non-Swiss in the "Articles and Co." section. It's a report about the US demoscene by Pyromaniac from Chicago. With a length of six text-pages, this article is quite large. At first Pyromaniac explains the reasons why there is no real PC demoscene in the USA, which are in his eyes the lack of popularity of the Amiga in the US, the dominating Ansi scene, the growing of the music scene, the influence of the game industry, and, most of all, the popularity of the Internet. Then he tells us about some of the 'larger' demo groups in the USA. As there are some two-member groups among them, the US really seem to have no serious demoscene.
There are two more articles in the section with the extraordinarily creative title "Articles and Co.". One of them is the "International News and Rumours" by Dake/Calodox, all in all four text-pages. Quite interesting and also containing some surprising info, although party outdated and very far away from being complete. For example, the musicdisk project by Ethos9 Salami was working on was stopped short before the release of Pain 8/98.
The second article is "The Polls" by Cockroach, containing the individual answers to the polls in the votesheet for this Pain issue. As usual it's rather boring to read because of the banal questions like "Why do/don't you smoke?". What is so interesting about whether people smoke or not? The answers to this question can be categorized into two types: people who smoke for some stupid and dull reason - this is the minority - and people who don't smoke since they "don't want to destroy themselves", "it costs money and makes you ill in the head", "it is deterimental to the health" etc. Questions where you can write longer and more individual answers would be more interesting.
By the way, one text-page of The Polls is displayed slightly wrongly on my PC, namely a part of the logo is overwritten by other ascii characters, and a white bar made of ascii 219 characters is displayed in the right part of the screen. Is the reason a bug in the new interface or some mistake in this article?
Finally, the mag ends with a "Technical Part" containg two coding-related articles. "Nema's Code Corner" this time deals with a simple morphing effect which they (Extern) used in their production "Wild". A little ASM source code is included.
The other article by P. Doom is for experienced coders. It deals with "Shaded 3D Blobs". You already have to know how to do blobs and how to shade 3D objects to understand that article. If you fulfil these presumptions, this rather large (6 text-pages) article will explain you how to combine the two techniques and get a good-looking result.
That's all for the content of the articles.
As for the quality of the texts, there are like usual many English spelling and grammar errors. If the editors have corrected the text at all, they have probably done it only superficially.
And, like in some other diskmags which I reviewed in this Hugi issue, I also spot some Windows-ascii characters in Pain: to be exact, one German umlaut in the Official Buenzli #7 results is in Windows format and therefore displayed incorrectly! :)
The new interface offers a lot of possibilities to Pain. With it, Pain could manage to find its way to the technical standard of international diskmags again.
It's not bad that the general screen layout with its special way of selecting the articles, the use of ansi pictures etc. has been kept. Those are unique features of Pain which distinguish it from the mass of other demoscene diskmags. However, Pain has to make more use of pixelled, high resolution graphics in the future to get a connection to the level of international diskmags' interfaces.
As regards the articles, Pain is still far away from being an international diskmag. Only two articles written by non-Swiss people is far too few. The charts section still allows to vote for Swiss people and productions only, only Swiss releases get reviewed, only Swiss links are listed, the international news corner is only twice as large as the small Swiss news corner, two thirds of the party reports deal with Swiss parties, Fred talks only about the Swiss scene in his tiny Editorial etc.
It seems as if the Pain staff, except Dake, isn't really willing to become an international diskmag. Well, if they aren't, I won't care about it either. It's their mag.
The matter is just: with the new interface, the almost regular release and the fact that the name "Pain" is well-known, Pain would have the potential to become an international diskmag if the editors were a bit more careful and invested more time.