Good Night, Scene.

Written by ryg


Okay. Hello world. Or better: Hello scene. Although: Am I allowed to say that? Somebody might feel somewhat offended. Because he might be reading this diskmag while not regarding himself as a scener. Perhaps he is even a part of the scene but does not feel like that. He might be a newbie, for instance. Although this can be considered a dying species nowadays. Because an ordinary newbie is flamed and called "lamer" by everyone. Oh my God. A lamer, is that something you can eat? I think the answer is no. It's probably something with a negative meaning. At least I think so. Anyway. The situation is: Mr. Joe Newbie has huge talents and an enormous potential. Of course. Doesn't every newbie have that? After all, every newbie is the same and equally motivated. After all, every human being is worth the same. And if something is worth the same as something else, it's of a comparable quality, isn't it?

Mr. Joe Newbie now gets in touch with the scene. Usually that does not hurt him much. It's rather interesting for him. He watched some demos and now wants to create demos himself. That's a nice thing, isn't it? Well, in some way he has decided to enter this business, joins a "scene channel" on IRC and now meets the real ones - the sceners, that is. Okay. There's just one snag to the matter: as a newbie, he isn't very popular. Everybody calls him "lamer". Just because he posed a question. But he has soooo much talent, soooo much potential for the scene. And then this potential gets lost. Because our poor expelled pimply-faced newbie starts crying, leaves the channel and decides that he never wants to have anything to do with this scene again, because all these sceners are so nasty. That's what the situation of newbies in the scene is like. Isn't it?

You got it. It isn't.

Now comes the real introduction, because I wanted to start this article with that little story. This is for a good reason. Okay, the story is pretty fictional. But in some certain newsgroups people nowadays loooove to describe the newbie as a member of a dying species, liked by nobody, rejected by everybody, lonely and treated by life like an ass-hole.

Those who have recently read (further referred to as CSPID) have certainly noticed the thread with the subject "Scroller Source?". It started with a posting from some "Chris" who was looking for a scroller for his demo. The important point: He didn't want to code it himself. He was rather looking for some sourcecode ready to paste in his demo. "Why, what's the matter, that's okay!" some of you might now think. Well, I feel quite the opposite, and I'm not the only one. And to make my view clearer, I'll explain why a posting like this is shit in my opinion. For all the human right activitists, idealists and people who always support the minority among you: Skip the next sections and hate me for what will follow. Thank you. Ah, another thing. I don't want you to think the topic of these sections is that I can't stand that my opinion is not shared by everyone. It's still some kind of introduction, but a good introduction. However, the really interesting part will follow a while later, ok?

Well, what's the problem?

Why it is shit to ask for a scroller-sourcecode in CSIPD:

1. A scroller is the cheapest effect I know. Almost every coder has made one. People who aren't able to imagine how a scroller COULD work should better not even try to start coding. Become a window cleaner instead. But that's not even the main problem.

2. The main problem is enitirely different as I don't want to imply Chris such a low intelligence that he can't imagine how to code a scroller. The problem is his mentality. He probably thought: "Well, why should I try to think about how a scroller could work? I didn't find a related sourcecode at Hornet. So what? I'll just ask. Actually I don't want a description of the effect because that would force me to do something myself, and why should I invest time in coding if I can get everything I need from them." It is neither hard to find out how to implement a scroller oneself nor to find a tutorial on the web nor to find a finished scroller (e.g. a Java scroller) and understand the way it works by watching it. (I don't really like the last way either but it's up to you whether you use it.) But our dear Chris apparently didn't even try one of these ways. He just wants to have a finished demo, get famous in the scene with it - okay, he won't become famous if the demo consists only of effects like scrollers, but that's not the point here -, and do nothing for it. That is the problem.

Reactions to the Posting

Okay, that was my opinion on the issue. The first reply to the posting came from Tammo aka KB, who roughly stated the same as I did.

You are probably more interested in Chris' answer to KB's posting. He played the upholder of moral standards and delivered a lecture on the suffering of the lamers and the decay of the scene. My little story at the beginning of this article was constructed according to his point of view.

I think you'll agree that Chris' picture of the scene isn't quite correct. In order to stress it once again, here's what Chris thinks: It is 1999 AD. The whole world is ruled by newbies. Really the whole world? Nope. A village occupied by indomitable sceners doesn't stop putting resistance to the intruders. And the life of the recruits isn't easy. They... Okay, let's stop it. I think by now everyone of you knows Chris' opinion: The scene is inside, the newbies are outside (and of course every newbie is better than the whole scene), and in between is a huge wall of flaming nobody can pass. And if someone asks a question he is immediately regarded as a lamer and you stop talking to him. That's how our dear Chris sees the situation. Now let me list some facts to disprove him objectively.

The scene today is bigger than it was ever before, there are several thousand productions every year, and every year more newbies join (and more, the quality of the productions falls every year as well, but let's discuss this matter later). Now you have to ask oneself, if every newbie is dissed, expelled and hated, why are there so many? If it were like that, the scene would certainly not exist any more. Apart from that, Chris isn't even a newbie according to his own statement because he has been active as a musician for eight years. Okay. Now we knew that Chris was just a lazy ass and the matter would have been closed - had not lots of people responded, thinking that they had to protect Chris as he was still as good as a newbie. Which was wrong in my opinion, but more about that aspect will follow later. They started ranting about the general rejection of newbies and the decay of the scene, even though bow that was pure nonsense. Why do they think so, I asked myself. In order to explain my reply and to state what the real problems of today's scene are, this article exists. So, let's start.

About the decay of the scene

...or, rather: Why does everybody think nowadays that we have reached this point?

You certainly know that elderly people love talking about their childhood and the "good old time". And then a sentence like "It was really better then than today" comes. Interestingly enough, this sentence appeared in CSIPD several times, too. "Then everybody helped each other, everyone was friendly, it was peaceful, a happy atmosphere dominated,..." Statements like this are never really sensible because it has been proven that the human brain tends to forget negative things. In addition to that there is an aspect which also shapes our real lives and which is even faster in the scene: globalisation. Six years ago the demoscene was still BBS-oriented, everybody had a favourite board, some boards exchanged messages with each other, but you had hardly any contact with boards which were not connected to your own one. The atmosphere was pretty much like a village, and when a newbie was dissed (for instance, because he wanted to create his own demo from other people's sourcecodes), this news wasn't spread outside one's own board because nobody regarded it as that important.

The development continued with Fidonet. Nowadays we have the Internet, including IRC, where everybody can see that someone is dissed and which is of a more public kind than the older ways of communication. It is similar to the development of newspapers: At the beginning all newspapers had a more or less local range but with time you got increasingly more news from the whole globe. Since outstanding news is preferred, one learns a lot more about disasters. I don't think that there were much less natural disasters 50-100 years ago than today. It's just that nowadays you also learn about disasters that happened outside your residential area.

These people who think that the scene is as good as dead have been active in this "business" for a longer time and hear more flaming from others than five years ago so that they get the impression that you flame more today than five years ago. That's, in my humble opinion, wrong, and I don't think that lack of fresh blood is the problem of the scene. Nevertheless I think that the scene is in a crisis.

Why the scene is in a crisis

To answer this question you only have to look at the quality of today's releases and compos. The code of demos and intros is optimized worse than ever because the fast CPUs of today apparently make this effort unnecessary. Besides, every demo has the same effects, if they contain effects at all, and the remaining stuff is pure boring 3d which does not only look the same all the time but makes me believe most of the time that the design of the demo took two minutes at most.

A nice example is Nomad's demos. I know better engines. Design they don't have anyway. And, pure 3d as a demo? No, thank you, I can do without it. In this case I prefer to watch wild compo entries, at least they're rendered and don't have these embarrassing clipping bugs (now that's not related to Nomad but you often see things like this, too).

And if I look at the source of the current Smash Designs demo system, I think, great, a Lightwave player. But it's not more. (For the record, the Smash engine contains good code at least, something I haven't seen for a long time.)

Okay, that was about the good groups. Now to the rest. If I see what some people regard as a demo I have to puke, really. Somehow it's pretty disappointing to see rotozoomers again after five years, only with the difference that they are ten times as slow. Not to mention the people who think that they can be proud of such shoddy efforts... argh. I feel nothing more than pity for people who still show off mode 13h effects today. The same applies to those who write a flickering scroller in VB or Delphi and think they are good. Sorry people, you haven't understood what democoding is all about, and you won't probably ever do that. The people who you can laugh at most are those who dig out Denthor's VGA-tutorials from 1993 and then complain about Microsoft, but not about their marketing etc., but because

 _asm {
   mov  ax, 13h
   int  10h

crashes their PC in Windows 95 with VC++. (No, I have nothing against people who make these mistakes, how should they know what they've done wrong? But before writing "VC++ sucks, it can't even assemble this small code passage without bugs" you should do some more research. At least that's the way I think.)

Now the main question: What are these people lacking? Intelligence? I don't think so. The average intelligence of mankind has increased during the last centuries, and I doubt it has decreased to the IQ-level of a potatoe within five years.

Are they lacking the creative mood? Don't think so either. If they were not in the mood to make demos (or what they think to be demos) they wouldn't do it, as simple as that.

The standard? That's a reason I could imagine. About two years ago the demoscene stopped really developing and has been stagnating since. I haven't seen any innovative ideas or effects for too long a time. And, at least in my opinion, a newbie needs some kind of elite (or how you want to call it) as idols. If he sees that he can attain the standards without doing a lot of effort he will have no motivation to be better and try something new, too. Why should he?

If the demos do not resume developing soon then the scene will be dead. At least I don't want to be a member of a scene in which performance doesn't count. I am not motivated to take part in compos if I know that I am neither better nor worse than my competitors. Likewise the good groups won't have any motivation to participate because there is no competition anyway, and it is no fun to win due to "competition is none".

So, my point of view is that there is no real high standard. That was about the symptom, now let's get on with its origin. (No, I am not really keen on becoming a Ph.D. in sociology for this article.)

How it happened

We know know when it happened. This means that we only have to check what happened at this point in time. If you do it you'll soon realize that the "decay" of the demoscene started with the beginning of the friendship movement. Don't misunderstand me, no, I am not opposed to friendship in the demoscene. But the idea of friendship in the demoscene is like salt for humans: You need it in order to survive, but too much of it is unhealthy. And some day in the last 18-24 months the toxic dose was reached. In other words, the attitude that even those people who weren't good were also respected became too common. (To the readers: Please don't take everything literally but try to read what I mean. I'm fed up with arguing about formulations when the crucial point of the message should be clear for everybody.)

Usually I approve of respecting everybody, especially in the competitive society we live in today in which every human is rated according to how well and reliably he executes his working duties. But the demoscene is not a competitive society in this sense. There is no danger of being sacked. Nevertheless the scene needs performance and achievements, it relies on them. If something has driven the scene in the last 10-15 years it was always the fact that someone was better than oneself at the beginning. That was the point when you started to learn and experiment simply to show the world that you are able to do it too or even better. Only in this way was it possible that outstanding demos like Future Crew's Second Reality and Dope by Complex saw the light of the day.

I feel that this ambitious attitude has gradually got lost after the beginning of the friendship movement. Had there been changes in the quality of demos visible to everybody involved there might have been a different development. But since companies like Intel created more powerful chips all the time the quality of the demos seemed to have remained constant even though it was actually a step back.

In the course of the time we came to the situation of today: Somehow creates a flickering, slow zoomer in Visual Basic (on his P3-500 MHz, of course) and feels seriously proud of it because it is "almost as fast as the zoomer in Second Reality and runs in a better resolution". Two and a half years ago you would have laughed at this guy, and he would have tried to improve his work. But if the friendship mentality leads to lots of people telling him that he has done a great job, how should the quality of releases increase? How should the scene develop?

The answer to these questions is equally simple and sad: not at all. Since we are at this stage now I think you should guide the scene out of this swamp. And according to the motto "If you want something to be done, do it yourself," I started writing this article. So, let's get to my main message.

The solution

Before I start, one note: If you want to send me a comment on this article please include a sentence like "I have carefully read through this article". I'm not kidding, this is very important. There are certainly loads of people who only read the beginning of this article and think they have to flame me. I don't even want to read such mails, so please mark serious criticism (no matter whether it is constructive). If I get enough replies to this article I'll write more about this topic as it is an issue that really concerns everybody. That's why I even refrained from my usual sarcasm. I'm looking forward to your mails.

All people who expected that I'd now say something like "Give up your friends! Declare war on eachother! Get enemies!" will be disappointed. I won't do that. All in all friendship is a great achievement, and it is no use to stop it. I can only make some general suggestions, which I'll do now.

First of all, don't be satisfied with what you've reached and don't rest if you've been successful. Always follow the attitude "Okay, what I've done isn't really bad, but it could certainly be improved somehow, so let's see if it's possible." If you see that someone is better than you don't just try to get to his level. Try to be better.

Second, try the "impossible". Let me quote the Chaos Computer Club: "Impossible isn't possible." If someone claims that something can't be done it usually means that he can't think of a solution at the moment. Show him that he is wrong. At least try to do so.

Third, if the first attempt at doing something isn't successful, try it again and again, until you finally succeed. If you always give up when you encounter a problem you haven't thought about you'll never reach anything. Try to improvise. If you see someone else's solution don't be satisfied with it. Think, and you might get an idea he or she didn't have.

Fourth, believe in yourself. If you face a problem with the attitude "I can't solve it anyway", you won't solve it. If a problem appears to be unsolvable, try to solve it just for that very reason. It is no disgrace if you don't succeed because you lack knowledge or don't have the right idea. But please don't let the idea of your life fade away just because you are afraid of not being able to implement it.

Fifth, it's okay to be proud if you've really achieved something. Pride is no sin. You have the right to enjoy having solved a problem after working on it for a long time. How long you exactly worked and how difficult the problem was isn't important. What counts is that you've managed to solve it by yourself.

Sixth, don't allow anybody to intimidate you. Try to establish your ideas. Man is often afraid of the new and unknown.

Seventh, don't be afraid of asking. It's never wrong or silly if you ask how something works. But if you do that, please don't do it so often that you go on the nerves of the entire environment. And never ask for sourcecodes. You know my opinion on that.

Eighth, have your own style. Everybody will watch a demo that is simply different than the others. And you'll remember such a demo longer and better. And if this demo is of a good quality (code, graphics, music) you'll have the chance to set new standards (and then others will copy your style... that's life.)

Ninth and most importantly: Don't release unfinished productions! If you consider something incomplete don't present it to the public! It will either not work due to tons of bugs or end too soon or whatever. Nobody will be pleased at getting something the authors aren't satisfied with.

Okay, that was all for now. If I discover that there is something to add you'll read it in Hugi #17.

Closing words

I have to thank my conscience and KB of Smash Designs who encouraged me to write this article; my lack of will-power that was so easy to defeat; Adok, who translated this article to English (it was originally meant for the German scene but I now think it concerns the whole scene); my hairdresser who made it possible that I can now see clearly again after a long time; all you guys and gals who get upset at this article: YOU ENCOURAGE ME A LOT MATES! And my family because they are completely unrelated to this article.

Furthermore, I greet everybody who knows me or can get stuffed (although I regard greetings in diskmags as a childish waste of space). And if someone now needs a photo of mine for his darts disc - or wants to mail me his opinion - or wants to tell me that I have a really cooool writing style - or wants to send me blueprints of nuclear missiles - or whatever:

SnailMail-Addy: ... nobody needs it anyway.


-ryg/teklords/chrome design/chroma desire/xpiriax demo division, 22.07.99 2:30