Art of the scene
A few months ago, in August AFAIR, Metamorf (Zden/Satori + Raiden/Aural Planet) was released. And that release sparked off a small discussion on comp.sys.ibm.pc.demos (CSIPD) on the initial subject of the importance of the design of demos. I do of course realize that there are many more productions in the same category as Metamorf, and I'm not intending to give a summary of that thread. Zden puts it in a Metamorf text file: Fuck demos. Let's art.
"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 [This quote was taken from scene.org]
I disagree. Demos aren't about doing the impossible anymore. There was a time when demos were lightyears ahead of computergames. When plasmas were new, 256 colours was standard and scrollers were common. They could do amazing things, but as we got more and more used to special effects, cutscenes and 3D in games, the demos being produced became less and less incredible. Not because the code quality deteriorated, but it was no longer innovative and fresh. Games took the lead.
This eventually resulted in a dying scene. Some people felt it was futile to continue watching and making demos, as games had mostly better graphics. Plus there was no longer a need for small, tight, size-optimized code; games were being sold on multiple CDs and harddrives were bigger than ever before. I remember having followed many discussions about a dead scene. (Though, we still have 4k intro and 4 channel music compos!) But this is what has happened to it. The focus has shifted from the raw effects to the overall experience. An ordinary plasma may be boring by itself, but when it's a part of a great design.... As an example, Blasphemy - though they were probably not the first - used glenzed polygons in Moral Hard Candy from 1999. Old effect, but it felt as a natural part of the demo, because it was in the demo for a design purpose, and not because they wanted to show off their coding skills by drawing glenzed polygons.
So my point is, that demos aren't created for the effects alone anymore. Integration of music and visuals has become the most important aspect of demo production. Not that today's coders can't do great effects; it's not that they can't be innovative. They are innovative in a different way. But more importantly, their motivation is different. I think that nowadays, most demos are born when inspiration comes to a designer/coder/etc, and not when a coder has gathered a big enough collection of new effects. Indeed, many demos now have not only coders, graphicians and musicians. They also have the designer(s) listed in the credits.
You might say the scene has gone through a metamorphosis. Not overnight and not this week. It took a long time, and it started years ago. You might even say Metamorf is a symbol of the metamorphosis of the scene ... but I think that would be overdoing the metaphor, since it wasn't the first of these new 'art'-demos. I'm not talking about a revolution in demo design. It is common evolution that has brought us this "new" scene.
And the way of demos today seems to be going towards making works of art. We've already seen lots of demos with texts: Sung or written lyrics or a poem scrolling across the screen, and these are some of the demos I refer to when I talk of art demos. It is the ones which have a central theme, and perhaps a message; be it political or otherwise. When a designer can combine graphics, music and effects into one, then it's truly art. Unfortunately, these demos vanish among the (many) hardware accelerated productions. IMHO this is not art. It may be demos by the old definition, because they exploit the hardware to its full. But then, so do games. We have to face we're not ahead of the game industry anymore. We have to accept we're no longer developing the new technologies.
On the other hand, we can do things they can't. We can customize visuals and effects, and we can synchronize the same visuals to the music. And this is "only" the technical aspect of demos. We also have the power to convey a message or an emotion. Demos can do so much more than games. We can express an opinion. And what a powerful medium of expression a demo is. All of the things we combine, are individual art forms in the real world. And all of them are used in demos cumulatively.
Demo design is all about keying everything together. What a blessing it is to have coders/designers like Zden who understand it's not enough to code great effects. Fuck demos. Let's art.