The Old Atari (Demo)Scene

Written by N.r.t.h.

Makke gave me this good idea: to write about something I was involved in many years ago but that is still alive through all different demoscenes (and it's one of the first of course!). Hopefully you'll learn interesting things here; but since many articles about the oldschool scenes have already been written, it won't be that easy for me. :) However, I think the Atari-scene is less known than the Amiga one for example, even if they seem to have been quite the same kind of a friendly and close scene; we were fighting each other with demos. It was a pleasure for both of us, wasn't it, Amiga freaks? Great fun together!

First, like most people, I found a French cracktro on my disks (swapping was really one of the best things at the time; read the article from Hugi #13 about that). It was not even a kind of intro, but only a text file displayed in the first sectors of the disk.

The text included many things I didn't understand at the first glance (for one thing due to my bad English, and for another because I was a poor 12-year-old boy). However, I learned the handles, the X groups that were facing other Y groups, and finally how they cracked their games... (another story!).

As a French guy, the group I heard about was The Replicants (yes, it comes from the movie BladeRunner... so says the legend!). At the beginning, most games that were spread in my country were cracked by them, but a lot of other groups were formed later on: The Empire (with an awesome cracker called Yoda; he later joined a game company to work on the copy protection of games!), Vmax (with the famous Altair who coded one of the best packers at the time: Atomic Packer, a kind of ancestor of PKZIP's), The Overlanders (read more about them later on)...

Some other groups started doing crack-disks, with great intros, including games, demoscreens, or slideshows. Here in France, mainly two groups were competing: Fuzion and Pulsion. I belonged to Pulsion as a GFX-man and official swapper. It was great fun to reach C.D. #128! (... Which reminds me that the last TraxWeekly I read was #119.) The Pompey Pirates did that as well. Automation was maybe most active on that area. Besides, there were also the Medway Boys. (Check out the links at the end of the article if you want to get the Atari emulator PaCiFiST and some games or demos for it.)

A few years later, Animal Mine appeared in Germany. It consisted of its founder Penguin, the German guy from the snow, some members of Xenex (Titan, almost the only one with whom I still have some contact 6 years after that, and his brother Sethos... but we don't forget your sister! Hello!), and lots of talented artists that linked different demoscreens and the best intros on a demo-disk. Animal Mine also coded a Sidsound Designer for chipmusic and some dentros. (If someone has a megademo from them that runs on PaCiFiST, mail me please!)

Let's move to some more ancient times...

The Replicants were members of a well-known and wonderful alliance of demogroups called Union. Other membergroups of the Union I can remember were: TNT-Crew (Swedish? German?), The Carebears (Swedish for sure :), The Exceptions, and TEX. The Union was joined later on by the Overlanders and Omega. The latter made me discover the "techno" style The Black Lotus are now doing. They didn't code a 3D-engine except some 3D effects, but the 2D-effects were amazing and the music fabulous. The demo was called Grotesque, and even now, this name makes me crawl!

TEX had one world famous musician, Mad Max. He is the first tracker-hero of all scene-times. TEX as a group ARE actually the real inventors of demo on Atari. In 1987, they released some demos and sound-disks with Mad Max' great chips. Many trackers remixed them later, with better programs, but the melodies remained the same! A scene myth!

In my humble opinion, the main scene war was the one between The Carebears and The Lost Boys, English demomakers. The pixeler of TLB (Spaz) even kills a Carebear member in the fabulous "Ooh Crickey What A Scorcher" demo. After walking in a dungeon (with nice parallax scrolling, sprites... that's what I call ambience!), he turns on his chainsaw to do the cut! This demo certainly contains one of the most amazing main menus in which you drive your starship through fractal mountains and land on different demoscreens. You could even pee through the window of the ship without landing! Their first demo, MindBomb, was impressive, too, but I think not as much as than this one (even if they coded some 3D-balls like Red Sector Inc. did on Amiga as well).

So The Carebears answered with their talent too: impressive GFX by Tanis, with maybe the man who mastered his Atari's MC68000 best, Nick (seems that Nick-coders are born to do impressive demos!), and with their megademos: Cuddly, Sowatt,... This group is considered one of the best demomaking groups on Atari.

Here are more details about some groups at this time (1988-199?):

DELTA FORCE: A German group. They made some famous megademos such as Syntax Terror and in cooperation with lots of other groups Punish Your Machine that was released at the end of Delta Force's well-known (code)party, the I.C.C.#2. It was a 2-disk megademo including screens by Legacy, Electra (broke the balldots number record there!), Black Monolith Team (reached a resolution that was thought to be absolutely unfeasible on this computer), Naos (great graphics, I can still remember their logo),...

OVERLANDERS: Surely the best French demogroup and surely also the biggest one when it reached its size. :) OVR looked like great groups from the PC demoscene of nowadays, with lots of members everywhere. I was lucky to live near the three guys who, I suppose, were the core of The Overlanders: Speedlight, Mr Bee, and Furyo. Speedlight was a good friend. We went to many codeparties together. It's a pity he had to leave the world of computers because of his work. The Overlanders released the Ultima Megademo. Everything was coded in GFA-Basic, which made most people think: "How the fuck did they code that in this language?" They coded two or three more megademos (in Asm this time!), screens for the Union and for Delta Force. OVR's last release was The Ventura Demo with a size of two disks. It had a great intro where you could see Eddie (the monster of Iron Maiden) walking on the streets (the graphics looked like those Iron Maiden used in Somewhere In Time, for those of you who know what I'm talking about...) and a great slideshow (256 colours on Atari, kind of seldom at the time!) from Beetlejuice. And that's my personal pride: Pulsion did a demoscreen for this megademo, with a diagonal distorted-scroll effect!

NEXT: French guys, too. They did the biggest megademo ever, four 1.44 MByte disks full of demoscreens by many different demogroups: the Phaleon Demo. The intro was something like a non-interactive emulator of a NexT workstation. Regarding the main menu - well, have you played Shadow Of The Beast on Amiga? If yes, you may know that the Amiga version was faster than the Atari's one (a thing that seems to be good for some laughs!). Next coded the thing as good as the Amiga version, by which they proved that scene coders were better than games programmers. As if a proof had been needed for that...

After years of megademos, the scene changed its way of acting and presentation. More and more groups released what is called dentros, like hEMorOĜds, Legacy,... They consisted of some single screens, longer than a sole demoscreen, but not as big as a whole demo. In fact, the famous design became more present in demos. Equinox made a great one with fast 3D routines called Vodka! (I just can't forget that name - don't know why...)

In fact, it's what the demos on our Pentium computers are closest to today (with more 3D, of course).

Step by step, people stopped their scene activities. Some of them bought a Falcon, a PC, some of them died... (no, I hope not!). Legacy, Overlanders, and Dnt-Crew released a good-bye megademo. The three legendary groups stopped with the Froggies Over the Fence.

As the Replicants had been quite silent for a long time, the French scene fell asleep, most groups split, Pulsion stopped its activity, and I finally sold my Atari to buy a guitar! (Stupid boy I was, I would have lots of fun today watching some demos on Atari, and if I still had one, I would like to be part of its scene.)

Old members of the Union planned to do games, but not in the way sceners are accustomed to nowadays, because they founded their own games company, Thalion Software. I guess they got some help, but I think it's what they made later that lead to the awesome games lots of us played and liked : "Wings of Death", the most beautiful Kill 'Em All (means shoot'em up game on Atari), "No Second Prize", our Moto Racer with a whole 3D-world and a music by Big Alec/Delta Force, "Leaving Teramis", "Enchanted Lands",... As far as I remember, it was a kind of Super-Mario-2-NES-like game but - I don't really need to write this - with better graphics. If I got it right, Nick/TCB did the code, Tanis/TCB and ES/TEX did some of the graphics, and Mad Max/TEX composed the zik for most of those games.

Thanks to Nils, I can tell you who makes the Atari scene now (and twice thanks for Nils, because his words seem so right that I just plan to do a poor cut-paste thing now!!), here they are:

"Dead Hackers Society" is the name of a Swedish Atari Crew. They are releasing a lot of stuff, as musicdemos, demos, 4k-intros, and and and. They also maintain the best scenepages at http://dhs.atari.org.

"Reservoir Gods" are from Great Britain and are working on a lot of games and little demos for Falcon. (Update here: They are now the editors of the diskmag Maggie.)

"Mystic Bytes" are some hyperactive demomakers from Poland that release a lot of cool stuff for Falcon and soon for ST.

"Falcon Users Netherlands" (FUN) are the most active demogroup from the Netherlands. They will release their second Falcondemo next Easter.

From France, a crew named "LouD!" released their first ST-megademo this summer, and we surely can expect more stuff from here. (Update here: They now edit Toxic Mag together with Typhoon. It seems that diskmags are important in this scene.)

Probably "Escape" is the most active German democrew. They have released several Intros and Demos since 1996.

(Note: It doesn't seem that the old groups are really active today... :( Well, live in your time!)

Those 6 crews are in my opinion the most active demo groups today in those different countries.

There are a lot of other crews beside them, but nobody knows when their next production will come.

For example there is:
Cobra Team (Poland / ST & Falcon)
Cream (Germany / ST)
Mind Design (Sweden / Falcon)
New Beat (Sweden / Falcon)
Paranoia (Germany / STe & Falcon)
Popsy Team (France / Falcon)
Sector One (France / ST & Falcon)
Sentry (Netherlands / Falcon)
Syntax (Poland / ST)
Therapy (Germany / Falcon)
.tSCc. (Germany / ST & Falcon)
Whelpz (Poland / ST & Falcon)
Wildfire (Sweden / STe & Falcon)
YesCrew (Slovenia / Falcon)
..and many others.

I (N.r.t.h.) am back again, and finally! Yes, I've also heard about Popsy Team (first because of their PC activity, I must admit), Sentry, Sector One,...

As regards diskmags, there are St-News by Richard Karsmaker (I've done an interview of him, for DBA, I can still think of that when I want to be happy! I hope the second guy in this history remembers it!), Maggie (still releasing... #26 or more), DBA-Mag by the Dutch Disk Busters Association, Toxic Mag, Undercover MagaScene, and many others.

A few links for the interested ones:

A demogroup: http://rzserv2.fh-lueneburg.de:8080/

It's the homepage of a well-known German demogroup: ACF Design Team. Their Just Buggin' demo was great! Search engine, chat room,... Pleasant site, Jacky!

A demoscene's history: http://www.informatik.tu-muenchen.de/~brandtf/ataridemos.html

Done by a Delta Force member. This one is much more accurate than what I could ever write.

A PaCiFiST (Atari emulator): http://www.pacifist.fatal-design.com

You need a TOS too, but you'll find it there. Other emulators exist, too.

Atari demoscene's memory: http://www.scriba.org/stnews/

Richard Karsmakers and his friends, lots of things. I hope their I.C.C.C. 2000 will be a success even if 10 years of St-News was already one.

That's it! Let's go back to the PC demoscene now. :)

Writing articles is part of it, but there are many other things, too!

- N.r.t.h./Headcrash

P.S.: I probably made some mistakes in these lines, so I'd be pleased if you mailed corrections to me or to Hugi.

And I want to ThanXx: Nils Feske, Tommy/CP, Makke/CP and Adok for their help this time.