Where The Scene Spirit Has Gone

By EP / CosmiK

Part One

In reaction to the Hugi 28 article about where the scene spirit has gone, I have written this article.

When I entered the scene in 1992, I was a pure computer customer: just one year before, in 1991, I had bought my Atari 520 STE, and for more than 8 years before that, I had just bought a few games, copied a lot of them, played a lot and had not been introduced to the scene. Of course I had started to program a bit in Basic on my own, had tried to make some music using a Basic program, had tried to create some animations, and had even trained the Arkanoïd game using poke. This was the good time of my MO6 Thomson - a 8 bit with a really low resolution and just a little memory capacity. This was also the time of the Amstrad CPC 6128 of my cousin's, which I used a lot. Those days I was living in the home of my parents, and everything was given to me for free: the food, the bed, the laundry, the school. I was not very productive because when I showed my parents what I did with my computer, they showed no interest at all, and love and interest is something really important and necessary to build something up. I never met people interested in programming, nor graphic or music creation before I got to own an Atari, and so I was not really motivated to create something. Morever, here in the south of France, the weather is fine, and I was a fisher during the summer holidays as the river Lez was at the end of my house ground, and a computer addict in the winter when there was wind, rain, and snow outside. At this time, one important fact is to be remembered: All computers were sold with several interesting things. These was a computer language - almost the time it was some sort of Basic -, and there was a technical documentation that enabled you to understand how to use it and to learn to program them at a simple level using Basic. There were drawings and clear explanations. Everything was done with quality in mind.

But in 1992 a lot changed for me: Firstly, a guy gave me an Atari STE demo done by MCS. Then I met some young men interested in coding, gfx, music. I had actually already met some of them years before but they had then not be as skilled as they were now, when I met them that year. They were part of an Atari crew that still exists today, called MJJ Prod. It was composed of great coders like Bill, Joker, BigFoot, Mikou, and others. Niko of Pulse, now coder and graphician in a Montpellier Team of Ubi Soft, was one of their graphicians, and I was really astonished at what he was able to draw with only 16 colors. With these guys I got the tools to code in Assembly: devpac. This time Niko introduced me to demos by giving me dozens of them: OverDrive By Phalanx, Vodka By Equinox, Union demo, Crikey wot a sorcher by TLB (The Lost Boys),... I also found a lot of tools here and there on compilations spread. There were a lot of tools on these disks, to train games by cheating their save files like Mutil, to copy disks like FastCopy Pro, to draw pictures like Dega Elite, Spectrum 512, to make music like Equinox SoundTracker, Quartet. Please note that at this time, there was no Internet, and the modem was not really known. So it was really important that there were guys around me who supplied software for me and I was really important for them to supply software for them too :) One interesting point was also that at that time, almost all of the Atari games were either straight arcade conversions or conversions of the Amiga versions. Games were of medium to lame quality compared to the Amiga versions. But demos were great: there were things in them that didn't appear in games, such as hardware scrolling, parallax scrolling, tons of sprites, 50 fps and fast effects, no slowdown.

But as the Atari was not great at all for sound compared to the Amiga, and as I really was a big gamer, I moved to the Amiga 6 months after my discovery of the scene. On the Amiga, I was really pleased because:

1) The music was really great in comparison to the Atari: the Atari used the CPC 6128 sound chip and even if the music was very well composed, it became a bit boring with time.

2) The effects were greater, nicer but in fact different due to the superior hardware.

3) The AmigaDos was really a great, powerful and interesting system to play with. I was really interested by the Disk Operating System, batch files, file handling, and the Amiga OS was a great thing for me with all its strong capabilities such as multitasking.

All the machines I have just talked about have one thing is common: There are a lot of programs, music files, pictures which have been created on these machines with love, with time, with a spirit of discovery. That was great because there was mistery, there were hardware tricks to do undocumented effects like overscan on the Atari or Hardware scrolling. There was also something especially interesting: every time people discovered new features that extended the capacity of the machines. Once this was how to get more colors displayed on screen at once, another time it was how to output some digitized speech, yet another time it was something like how to display tons of sprites without slowdown, and finally it was how to use pictures from other universes like heroic fantasy,... Well, in short, there were ideas, imagination, news, and in one word: life.

Then I started to study computers at school and everything began to become really boring and uninteresting: PC was not something I had really used before. In fact MS-DOS / Windows 3.1 weres not great things for a guy who came from the A1200. Doom, Quake, and this kind of games (3D games) were not at all exciting at all for me: too boring and too realist. What I searched for in computers was evasion and how to get something totally new and different from reality. When you have something which is too close to reality, you don't get the crucial ingredient called "escape". Yes, the computer was for me an escape from reality and when the computed representations tended to be as close as possible to reality, the interest for computer stuff was really reduced. Morever, on the PC (sorry to all PC users :)) there were virtually no hardware tricks as it was impossible to get something to run on all the different configs. I felt that everything was done to make money.

Soon, my Pentium 133 became obsolete. Windows NT was really great from the point of view of stability but not from the point of view of possibilities. There was something left. I think this was something as elegance in hardware choice; there was no time to master anything as everything was changing all the time like CPU, RAM technology, HardDrive speed and capacity, Video Hardware powers, and so on... On the Amiga, even on the A500, I was able to move whole windows full of texts or pictures without interrupting music playback for example, but under Windows, even with my Matrox Mystique this was not the case, and I found that really annoying. Morever, there was no programming language supplied along with the PC nor a really well done or complete doc: the doc's given with my old motherboard were badly translated and too short and simple to be really interesting. Even the special ROM options to speed up the PC via the BIOS Setup were not documented. Everything was designed for a low consumer usage, i.e. if you want to do more, you must buy something else. On the PC I knew some guys but not a lot. So for me the scene was really far away during those years: x86 assembly was really difficult compared to mc68000, the Windows system and BIOS interrupts appeared to me as being really old stuff, not at all as great as the AmigaOS. And in fact on the PC I understood that we were prisoners of the system and we spent most of our time searching for the great functions which would do the job we wanted, which was not really as interesting as coding everything oneself.

With the appearance of the Internet, the social component of the scene and especially swapping became like the PC hardware: virtual!!! That means you don't see guys, you talk to them, but you don't see them, nor can you touch or feel them. This was also a bad thing and LAN games were what finally made me quit of being interested in computers as a hobby.

Nowadays I mend computer all the day, and it's annoying to do computer stuff for 35 hours a week and after that do something else on the computer, except perhaps communicating. Now I have to make some purchases, wash my clothes, cook my meals, and tons of other things I didn't do when I was living in my parents' house. These things cost me a lot of time and I'd rather use my spare time for doing sports, reading, or watching movies at cinema than doing even more computer stuff. But if I might be able to help somebody, I'll try to do it: when I find a bug I send a bug report, when I find some improvements I send an email with them to get something better with the next release. I don't tell programmers that their program is a big shit if there is another which is better. If something is better for me than another one, I always choose the best I can take. If I use a tool a lot and registration is not too expensive (30€ max, 60€ for a game), I buy it, as I know how much time and energy it takes to build something from scratch and I respect the coders of my favorite programs. I involve myself in the projects of others to give them feedback and let them improve their product / creation.

Continue reading here...