Groups In Focus: Northern Dragons

Adok interviewing Polaris


Group name: Northern Dragons
Type: Demo group
Founded in: 2001
Geographical background: North America, mainly Canada

Current members according to Orange Juice:
Barzoule, Cerror, Drunken Hyena, Guybrush, Hawke, Joshua, Patrick Groove, Polaris, S_Tec, Soul D, Syntax, Umdesch4.


When was Northern Dragons founded?

Northern Dragons was officially founded on January 12th of 2001. The group started without a name, it was a few months before we decided to call ourselves the Northern Dragons. We wanted to highlight our Northern [Canadian] roots, and Dragons sounded cool. The first Northern Dragons logo was created by Polaris, inspired from a Chinese food placemat. Since then we've attracted far better artistic talent. Our first goal was to attend and participate in Assembly 2001.

How many members did Northern Dragons have when it was founded?

The group started with three members. Polaris was the founder, with Hawke [code and modeling with Rhino], and Joe doing music.

Where did Northern Dragons gather its first members?

The group's first members were friends of Polaris. Hawke and Polaris had a regular "night" to go to a local watering hole ("Kings Head pub" in Winnipeg). So the first conversations around forming a demo group and attending Assembly were started there.

Did any of them have previous scene experience?

Polaris is a demo scene fanatic. He was involved in the demo scene from the early 1990's, as a fan ... and a coder of un-released DOS based productions. However, that was the extent of it. Joe had slight knowledge about the demo scene from Polaris, and Hawke had even less. For Hawke, traveling to Helsinki was a good excuse for an adventure and a good time... we traveled to Germany in the same trip.

How (by what means) was the communication within Northern Dragons done at the beginning? How did it change?

Our first meetings were really simple... conversation during our weekly night at the Pub. We also used egroups to host files, calendar, and provide a mailing list with archives. We used MSN messenger a little bit... but minimally. Since that time we've grown up... and out of being centered in Winnipeg. Currently, we have more remote members than local, and we have several outside of North America. Being in a more distributed team, we have moved away from egroups. Egroups were good but yahoo started throwing a lot of advertising into them... and limiting other features.

What kinds of internal communication media do you use now (e.g. IRC, email, mailinglists, web-based forums, traditional BBS, snailmail, phone, real meetings,...)?

We created our own member portal to provide our services. The cornerstone to that is a mailing list. Our mailing list is quite chatty and many would say overwhelming. Some have suggested we move to web-based forums... but we have steered clear of that. The concern is... web passed forums are passive in participation. You need to remember to visit the site. Mailing lists are active most people remember to check their mail. To help "sort the fodder" we've taken to using very descriptive headers in our mailing list. Things like [PILINV] (for the Pilgrimage 2004 Invitation) etc.

Most of us are using Yahoo IM. When we started to get more members and more distributed... we had to change the way we communicated. We were really interested in doing VoIP during meetings. We had a lot of technical challenges getting multiple people working in a VoIP environment. Almost all products are based in 1-1 rather than many-to-many. We have succeeded however we now have access to Teamspeak sever on a T1 that one of our members runs. Teamspeak works very well even for members over dial. The quality is reasonable and we are able to make mp3's out of our meetings for people to catch up on the meetings they have missed.

We do have an IRC channel on Espernet. IRC is hard to direct often, and work to collaboration. The resulting transcript can become a serious jumbled mess where people "but in". You also loose tone which means it's hard to sometime know if someone is kidding, or serious... etc.

We still have regular meetings but on a schedule based on need rather than "monthly" or what have you. Often near a project deadline we will meet at least once a week. Some members are confused about why we have regular meetings as well as decide things in the mailing list. Mostly, we use meetings to brainstorm ideas in a directed fashion; as well as plan things that might be controversial. Often ideas in the mailing list are so much of a "slam dunk... that makes sense"... that we just go forward un-contested. If something is a really touchy subject we will often vote on it.

Our biggest challenge with meetings is finding a good time for everyone. This is freaking impossible... due to the nature of our distribution. In the end, we try to find a reasonable time for most people. Our meetings start around 10:00 PM EST these days; making it possible for someone on the coast of North America to join us at 7:00 PM. It's the lesser of all evils; unfortunately our Sweden based musicians end up having to get up at wonkey hours if they want to participate in the meeting.

We do have a BBS home as well; but use it more for a public face, then for internal messaging; file sharing; todo list; member roster [etc etc]... features of the members portal we've put together. We also use CVS for source code versioning.

How has Northern Dragons developed after its foundation until now regarding number, skill and nationality of members?

We've grown a lot. We are still North American centric for the most part... With two members in the USA, many members in Canada, and three members around the world. We've grown in skill, both expanding and learning ourselves.... as well as attracting new talent. Most new members have stronger skills then we had when we first founded the Dragons. We've never had a conflict that resulted in a member leaving the Dragons. [However, there is one that came close]. We've had members that had trouble finding their groove, or the time to work on our projects... and left because of that. For the most part they simply go inactive. We have 15 active members currently, and 5 that have gone inactive. Joe and Hawke, our first two members, are now inactive.

What describes Northern Dragons best: international, national or local?

North American centered with a few internationals. We are such a small scene in North America, that we try very hard to reach out here. Most of us were probably too "un-elite" to participate with European demo groups anyway; together we are giving each other a chance. Oddly, we've had to turn a some new member requests away; [first time ever!]... as there was too much of a skill gap between the ND of Today, and the new member request. We just don't have enough time to do all the mentoring required.

Do the members of Northern Dragons know each other in real life? If so, where have they met (e.g. demoparties, school)?

Personal connections do matter. Most members were invited by Polaris to join Northern Dragons. We've performed campaigns to get in touch with NA sceners, based on Ojuice profiles. Things start to avalanche, members breed members. Getting that critical mass is a great challenge however.

Is there a kind of central figure (e.g. "leader")?

There is one central figure Polaris. This is more a function of him funding the website [hosting fees], founding the group, acting as public officer etc. It's just kind of fallen into place this way. We organize everything else based on projects.

Who plans and organizes new projects?

Northern Dragons has a repository of ideas for projects called the "Idea Jar". Periodically we review these ideas and decide what we can implement. It's a question of resources / time mostly. The originating idea came from someone internally and that person becomes the "king pin" of the project. We are trying to make it to their vision. We've had problems with this approach however.

Some people aren't cut out to be project managers. They are more interested in the technical / artist / * insert what have you * aspect here... then working go get all the players involved. We had one member that was interested in project management - but having a dedicated "project manager" for our stuff didn't really work out [time problems]. In this respect, Polaris has taken on most management of the projects. Things like "Game Plan" documents, timelines etc.

Who decides whether a member may release a new production (e.g. solo prods such as music tunes or co-prods of a little amount of the members) using the group-name Northern Dragons?

This has been an issue of debate recently. The group name is something all members have some ownership of. We've moved to a "majority rules" vote scheme, to say if something is "production ready". The challenge is trying to keep a consistent vision of the group. What's our focus? We've thought about creating "divisions" or "departments" to allow us to have more options on how we want to present ourselves... but we are afraid of fragmenting the group that way.

Do you plan your projects for specific parties, or do you finish them first and then see where they could be released?

We plan for specific parties; or projects just for fun. Most of the time deadlines for parties spur us on. We may decide to move one project from one party to another... for various reasons,... but most of the time we have a party in mind.

What are the conditions a scener must meet in order to be permitted to join Northern Dragons? Who decides who may join and who may not?

Most important is a good attitude. Since we've grown.. we are getting a pickier. We are looking for someone with moderate skills, or the ability to grow them fast. We favor members joining that know current members [internal recommendation]. Often we'll look over a portfolio or website / details, and discuss. With ND there is usually a key player in Music / Art / Code. For each new member ... if they pass the inspection of one of these key members they are in.

Is it like this that people ask whether may join your group, or does it happen more often that you or someone else from your group asks people to join?

Most our new members are connected by some other member.

Has it ever happened that someone wanted to join and was rejected?

Yes. We simply did not have time to mentor the skill gap.

How are new members introduced to your group?

We have a new member faq process. The first document details what ND is, and some history. The second describes our core philosophy and resources. These pdf documents [now on their 5th version] give orientation to new members.

What happens to inactive members?

Like chemists, they don't die... but fail to react. We don't have much reason to abandon inactive members. They don't really suck resources; or cause problems... they just aren't around. Voting is based on timelines ... so we aren't chasing them down to "vote". (Ie... voting ends in one week!) If you don't participate, it's your loss.

What's the average age of your members? Are there great differences in age or are all members about the same age?

Most members are in their very late twenties; with a smattering of members in their early 20's. Age is something that we don't really ask more something discovered co-incidentally in discussion. However, there is a harder challenge for those married; and those with children to find the time to participate with us. Some of our members are task masters to the school year as students; others as teachers. Often participation is cyclical.

What languages do your members use to communicate with each other?

English is the primary language of ND. Some members speak French fluently; so it's possible that 1-1 conversations might be in French.

Does every member have direct contact with everyone else?

Most members have Instant Messaging, and we keep a roster of addresses for that. We also have email addresses as part of that roster. Most members however talk in the mailing list. This is the preferred option as it gives everyone the chance to voice their ideas, and know what's going on.

Production List

Production: Toybox
Type: Demo
Event: Assembly 2001
Place: Un-ranked
Created By: Hawke, Joe and Polaris.
Nutshell: First production of the group. Too ambitious to be good; too far at the base of the learning curve. Music is cool. We founded the Dragons in making this production - for release at Assembly 2001. [Polaris & Hawke Traveled from Canada to Assembly]

Production: Trees
Type: Intro
Event: Assembly 2002
Ranked: 8th
Created By: Polaris, Syntax
Nutshell: First OpenGL prod, designed with MASM. First 4kb prod of Nothern Dragons. Will not be the last. It's fun, but lacks a technical edge as it does not use a file dropper.. or similar technology. This is out of respect for (now revised) Asm 2002 Rules.

Production: 0x0F is a 16 byte intro
Type: 16 byte intro
Event: Pilgrimage 2003
Ranked: 6th
Created by: S_Tec
Nutshell: S_Tec showing off his mad assembler skillz, in 16 bytes :-)

Production: Forests
Type: Intro
Event: Pilgrimage 2003
Ranked: 5th
Created By: Polaris, Syntax
Nutshell: Builds beyond Trees for a slicing-and-blending lod technique. Created mostly just before Pilgrimage, on the way to Pilgrimage, airports, hotel rooms etc. Still expect a bug fixed version - Polaris has new hardware and might be able to reproduce some of the problems.

Production: Web Distortion
Type: Webtro
Event: Assembly 2003
Ranked: 10th
Created by: Patick Groove
Nutshell: A cool webtro by our man Patrick Groove.

Production: Arcadia
Type: Wild (Coin Operated Code for PS2, runs on MAME)
Event: Assembly 2003
Ranked: Unranked
Created by: Syntax
Nutshell: Showed us that Assembly thinks wild means "video clip", when they stripped the code and details out of this wild prod... releasing only the video clip. Expect GBA goodness or other things similar - released at other parties.

Production: The Etherium
Type: 4kb Intro
Event: Assembly 2003
Ranked: 14th
Created by: Ken, Moon Runner , Polaris , S_Tec, Umdesch4
Nutshell: Very sweet 4kb, with very good music. A coders production, this one shows our increased prowess in 4kb technology.

Production: Northern Dragons Christmas Greeting '03
Type: Macromedia director demo.
Event: None... just 4 fun.
Ranked: N/A
Created by: Umdesch4, Patrick Groove
Nutshell: Just a friendly xmas greeting for all our screener friends.

Production: Zero
Type: 4kb Text Mode Intro
Event: TDMC, Released at Altparty 2004
Ranked: 3rd
Created by: S_Tec, Spencer, ClassiclyZero, Umdesch4.
Nutshell: Something cool put together with some of our framework code. [Audio system etc]. Has a great old school vibe.

Production: All of Moi
Type: Chip tune [10kb]
Event: SOTA 2004
Ranked: 1st
Created by: C_Error
Nutshell: Chiptune goodness. Plans are in the works for a music disk at some point. Keep your eyes on around late September for announcements.

Production: Polaris Birthday
Type: Birthtro
Event: Polaris's 28th Birthday
Ranked: We thought it was cool!
Created by: S_Tec, Patrick Groove, C_Error (mostly), and all the other Dragons
Nutshell: Great boost of moral for Polaris, who as working long hours on the Pilgrimage invite. Decided to release it publicly.. in the hopes to inspire others to "have fun with stuff!"

Production: Pilgrimage Invite
Type: Demo / Invite
Event: Pilgrimage 2004 Invitation
Created by: Marauder, Cerror, Soul D, Syntax, Patrick Groove, Ethelion , Polaris, Guybrush , Umdesch4, S_Tec, ClassiclyZero, Barzoule, Drunken Hyena
Nutshell: Supporting the local demo scene. Ambitious; and a successful demo. This demo isn't for everyone, it's made by sceners for sceners. Lots of references and tributes to other productions in this "fly through" of a demo scene museum.

Production: Evolutio
Type: 4kb Intro
Event: To be released at Assembly 2004
Created by: BarZoule, Polaris
Ranked: ... Pending ...
Nutshell: A little prod, 4kb with music. Not a coder intro, his one is more geared towards a cute story line and fun :-)

Want to introduce your own group in this article series? Then feel free to contact me (Adok/Hugi) at! I'll then send you a structured question sheet. However, you may also simply freely tell about your group, not following a certain pattern. (And you certainly don't have to write as much as Polaris, though it's of course always more interesting if you learn about more details.)

See you soon!

Polaris/Northern Dragons & Adok/Hugi