Scening Today And In The Past

Written by Gamma Wave

Hi everybody - this is another "the state of the scene"-article... hope you'll survive this one too...

When I started writing this article, I didn't really know in what direction it would go. I had a lot of opinons, fears and contemplations about the scene I wanted to ventilate... and I'm not really sure how well I've managed to get my message across. I'll let you be the judge of that.

First, some brief personal history. I have been "aware" of the scene for about ten years. Ever since I got my Amiga 500 in 1989 (when I was eight years old) the scene has been there. Not long after I had got my Amiga, I saw my first cracktro. It was Red Sector's Speedball 1 crack. I remember reading the long scroller, and how intrigued I was by the mysterious world I had been granted a glance at.

Like all the other Swedish Amiga owners, I read "Datormagazin", and during the pages, looking for the game reviews, I passed by the demo screenshots, read the scene rumours... I glanced through Assembly language listings, C listings... and finally I got to the games section. I saw some games I had to have, and I had some friends that could get hold of them. More cracktros. More scrollers. More hypnotizing sine-wave patterns. More wonderful chip-music. I remember trying to figure out how those cool things were done... and I think I've wanted to code a demo ever since I for the first time saw a screenshot from Phenomena's "Enigma" in Datormagazin... that was in 1991.

Five years later, I found Denthor's demo coding tutorial series, and started realising my long forgotten dream. I read the texts, got hold of a lot of old A500 demos I had never had the opportunity too see. I knew what was ahead of me. Having grown up with the demo coding and assembly programming tutorials in dmz, I was prepared to face the challenges of demo coding. I had read most issues of the old Amiga diskmag RAW, and thought I had a pretty clear picture of the scene, although I had never actually been part of it. It seemed to be a magical world, with mysterious heroes, mindblowing talent, and rivalry and intrigues reminiscent of a 70:ies soap opera. I also thought I had a clear picture of the ideals of the scene. You code quick & dirty Assembler, and you push the hardware to its limits. You try to "bodly go where no freckle-faced little computer nerd has gone before"... and, at the same time you show off your own mathematical skills.

After going to my first demo party in the summer of 1998 I realised a lot had changed. I just didn't get that feeling I had gotten watching old Amiga demos and reading old diskmags. It wasn't at all like the parties I had read about... now, a year or two older, and hopefully wiser, I think I'm in a position to sum up what doesen't feel right about today's scene:

It's too accessible.

"What the f**k - isn't that a good thing?" Well, allow me to explain. The reason the scene was so fascinating and mysterious was that nobody really knew how to "get in". You had to prove yourself by coding one hell of a demo. And that wasn't easy - only a very small percentage of those who tried ever got that far... If you were in the scene, that meant you really were good.

Today, it's ridiculously easy to become part of the scene. All you need is a web browser and the URL then you just join the appropriate channel, and start talking to people. After a while most people will know who you are. Another way would be to, say, write an article for a diskmag (hrm...). But to get really famous you still have to produce a demo. So you get to work: you surf around, starting at, and after a few hours you probably have everything you need to make a decent demo. Now search for some 3ds-scenes... shouldn't be all that hard to find. Now scan some weird pictures from books and magazines (Playboy will work fine). Alpha blend them over the effects you've "coded". Now you have both code and design. Add some music (you've probably already downloaded a suitable player) and you're off for fame and fortune in the name of hard work, true talent and genuine scene spirit. Go ahead - call me cynical, say I'm exaggarating. I won't argue. I'm not saying the above is a truthful description of how the standard demo group operates - but it's way too common.

There's too much accumulated knowledge and the resulting lack of innovation.

When the scene was young, there was an atmosphere of exploration. It was in the beginning of the c64 era, and nobody really knew what the machine could do. Everybody probably started by plotting a little dot on the screen. And slowly, the groups made progress after progress, constantly raising the standard of the productions. When the Amiga was introduced, all the knowledge of the c64 sceners was passed on to the Amiga scene. The same happened during the shift between the Amiga and PC scene. And the PC pepole have had quite some time to assemble some techniques of their own. The result is that a coder that enters the scene today has some 15 years of accumulated knowledge to catch up with. Luckily, he doesn't have to spend 15 years testing everything by himself - he just reads the docs. That's why learning to code demos today isn't nearly as fun as it was before. Instead of experimenting, creating, and finding own solutions, the newbie coder is checking off the techinques he has mastered. "Okay - I've done gouraud shading... What's next? Ah - texture mapping... Now where did I put that doc..." So much for creativity. I know from recent experience that when you're trying to catch up on all of this you hardly have any energy to create something new.

No scene "culture"

Nothing ever happens in the scene. Apart from demos being released. No wars, no threats, no philosophical discussions. I've alwasy seen the scene as a balance between fantasy and real life. It all just seemed like a big role-playing game... the people were real, the demos were real... but still, it was another world. Now, there's a paradox. The Internet has brought us new means of communications, and apparently brought us closer together. The paradox is that it has also removed the "human touch" from the scene. You don't get disks with demos in your mailbox that have the fingerprints of a fellow scener. You don't get a handwritten mail that indicates that your contact really is a physical entity capable of handling a pencil, and not just some random ascii-codes combined into an IRC nickname. Sure - we still have demo parties... but they're not really what they used to be either. The feeling is missing. Or maybe I'm expecting too much.

As you've seen, I don't provide suggestions on how the problems should be solved. I don't really know if they can be solved. The world changes around us, and we must go with the flow. Or do we?

- Gamma Wave / Alpha Millennium