From the inside and out: Outracks
Written by Magic of Nah-Kolor and Duckers of Outracks
This article is about Outracks, the Norwegian group that won The Gathering 2007 demo competition. Read about Outracks from the inside and out here in Hugi#34.
Introducing Duckers and Outracks
The demoscene group Outracks has been around for around 5 years now. Mostly releasing productions on the annually held The Gathering party. In 2006 they, Outracks, became the runnerup before the first placed winning demo by Andromeda Software Developement. In 2007 Outracks even won The Gathering democompetition. Time for Hugi to point its arrows on Outracks and contact Duckers of Outracks who is the coder and organizer of this group to give us some information about Outracks and himself: "Hello world :). My real name is Anders Lassen, I'm a 22-year-old Norwegian student and I go by the handle Duckers. At age 11 I started coding adventure games in Turbo Basic with a childhood buddy, and I later moved on to Borland Delphi. Around junior high I met several other programming enthusiasts over IRC, including later Outracks members Tesepe and Xargoon. Together we made huge plans and naively spawned countless ambitious projects, which of course never got finished. Under the label 'Freestate software', later renamed to 'Outracks' in 2001, we tried everything from making 3D MMORPG's to our own operating systems, none of which ever became particularly complete nor useful, but we learned an awful lot in the process. Our first encounter with the demoscene was at the Norvegia party in 2002. Tesepe and I both went there by coincidence and that way we met for the first time in person. Norvegia had for several years hosted a small demo competition, and we met several demosceners from Excess and Progress there, among others. I had some brief experience in graphics programming from earlier, and we worked hard for the full length of the party to complete our first demo, 'Xenon'. This is the only Outracks demo featuring music made by me :) And hopefully the last. We met Irvin at The Gathering the next year, and he made the music for our third demo 'Heartbeat'. After 'our.demo' in 2004, he joined Outracks as our regular musician. Several other friends have contributed to Outracks-demos over the years, but as of today, Irvin and I are the only particularly active members", Duckers enthusiastically explains. But why did Freestate software rename to Outracks? And why was the name Outracks chosen? Duckers comments: "We had a brainstorming session and picked it because it sounded different and didn't contain any haxz0r clichés. I've personally got several possible interpretations of the name, yet I'd like to leave that as an 'exercise' for the reader :)"
Outracks and the Norwegian demoscene
Outracks is a Norwegian demogroup. The year 2007 has been a strong year for the Norwegian demoscene in our humble opinion. Nice productions on Solskogen and Kindergarden 2007. And of course Andromeda returned on the demoscene with a great demo at Breakpoint 2007 and the Zine #12 headlines intro. We asked Duckers his opinion about Andromeda's return and of course about the Norwegian demoscene in general. Duckers: "The Norwegian demoscene is great and has a core of very skilled and resourceful coders and musicians in particular. We also have a handful good graphicians, but they are not available in bulk. We have a nice mix of both oldschoolers and newbie wimps like myself, and we are attracting new groups and people at a comfortable rate. To me, the annual social highlight of the Norwegian scene is Solskogen, which is always loaded with good spirit and takes part during the best time of the Norwegian summer. It's what I picture to be the perfect demoparty, although I haven't been to too many abroad parties yet. I'm too young in the scene to have established emotions for the legendary Norwegian demogroup Andromeda. You see, I only know them as legends :) But I'm always thrilled by new initiatives and good productions emanating from of demoscene elders. Their comeback at Breakpoint 2007 was a delightful surprise." Talking about Kindergarden 2007, the winning demo of this party 'Revolver' by PlayPsyCo was really nice! Duckers (partly) agrees: "A lot of nice stuff in there. Code, graphics and music are all in the top league. The PlayPsyCo guys are awesome at what they do. When they are not doing it together. My problem with that demo is, as with many other demos today, the lack of coordination and common chemistry between the elements of the demo. Sound, graphics and direction must link better in order for me to be sucked into it. May I suggest an overdoze analyzer-sync and erratic camera movements? ;) However, it's absolutely among the better demos released this year and worth watching. Several times."
Not many demoscene parties Duckers has visited. He mainly stayed loyal to his own soil, visiting parties in Norway. What has been his favourite party? The party with the nicest memories and the warmest feelings? "Solskogen is a thrill every (second) year ;), as I'm sure I already pointed out. In addition, I actually have quite a few good memories from the early years of Norvegia, which I attended long before I started making demos. Too bad Norvegia is no more. There was something magical about going to computer parties when I was in my early teens. From The Gathering I have a lot of COLD memories from the ritual beer drinking in the complex tower. Cold, but nice, in its own way", Duckers explains to us. And how do you see the Norwegian demoscene compared to the rest of Europe? "As Scene Event is the only party outside Norway I've ever visited it's hard to answer but my general impression is that demosceners are very similar in spirit no matter what country they are from. It's like they all find together as a big family no matter if you've ever met them before", Duckers concludes.
All Outracks productions can be found at pouet.net of course. See this link. But wouldn't it be nice to hear Duckers' personal top 5 of Outracks productions? Not only based on the quality but on his personal feeling(s) and memorie(s) on them. We asked Duckers this question and this is what he answered: "Hmmm... Hard call. But I guess it would look something like this: On the first place 'Synthematik', second 'Gamma', thirth 'My boobs are 4k', fourth 'The Gathering 2007 invitation' and finally on the fith spot 'Blockbuster'. I have to put Synthematik on the top of this list. It's probably because it was our first/only production that received any noteworthy recognition, and because Irvin's soundtrack is absolutely legendary! It has been remixed and remade in several awesome variants, and I kinda regard it as Outracks' theme song. It's also the demo I have the best memories from making, and it defined the logo and 'branding' for Outracks as a group. We've been criticized for trying to 'remake' Synthematik in several of our proceeding demos, and yeah, maybe we have. Why change a 3rd place concept? :) Gamma and the TG07 invitation makes up the most 'up to date' demos, which I am also quite pleased with. The Solskogen 4k was not a big hit, but it made me discover the fun of making 4k's. Running out of ideas I also list Blockbuster, mostly because I tend to get an erection when the soundtrack reaches 3:37 :)! irvin <3."
In our research for this article we noticed that almost all Outracks productions have been released at
The Gathering party since 2003. We wondered why Outracks never tried to release a production at Assembly
or Breakpoint. Afterall they would reach a bigger audience. Duckers comments: "Yes, we have considered that
indeed. But going to The Gathering has been an important tradition for Irvin and me for a long time.
To me the annual easter road trip to Hamar with my hometown friends has been a social event which originally
wasn't motivated by my affiliation with the demoscene. Also, the TG-scene community has maintained a small,
yet patriotic core until the bitter end and upheld its own kind of demoscene spirit I have appreciated for
many years. However, after the low attendance in 2007 and the increasing lack of enthusiasm for creativity
and learning exercised by the KANDU host organization, we will probably not attend The Gathering again next
year. For the easter 2008 I'll be on the far side of the globe for an Asian round trip with my university
but I think Breakpoint and/or Assembly is a natural next step for us."
Gamma, the winning 2007 The Gathering demo
Seeing Gamma for the first time I could not stop but wondering why the demo had a 'black and white textmode' (see this demo and you know what I mean here). It made this very nice and outstanding demo just a little 'less'. So the obvious question on a personal basis perhaps was to ask Duckers what the purpose and idea behind this was. Perhaps a new version of Gamma without this 'black and white textmode' would be nice to be released? Duckers explains: "The purpose is to make 'Gamma' less sterile and give it a digital, harsh and synthetic edge, which I love. I actually think it looks good, but it should obviously have been used with more variation. It's a matter of taste perhaps, and I adore digital distortion and noise. Although this effect might not be very pleasing to the sensitive eyes, it gives a lot of sync and drive the demo would lack otherwise. If I weren't too lazy, I would have introduced other distortion effects for variation. But all in all, I don't regret using it. It's just my style. So no, you're not getting a wimpy edition :P"
Now we got that clarified (thanx! :) -ed) we asked Duckers if he could tell us in a nutshell how Gamma was made: "Gamma is yet another Outracks-demo completely stripped of visual artist content. The data set can be summarized by a sphere blob, a spiky box and a tetrapod. And of course more envmaps than you can eat. Not having a graphician to whip around forced me to relay solely on coded effects to entertain for four minutes, as in several demos before. Although this is very exhausting and drains a lot of time, it is indeed effects I really love to make. Just being an engineer trying to reproduce artist content in real time doesn't really feel like being creative to me, although it is a comfortable way to quickly fill up the time line. Irvin usually sends me early previews of soundtracks among which I pick one that suits what I have going on of visual effects and ideas, and thats exactly how it was done this time too. Sync is very important to us in our demos. For this I have made an in-demo editor where we can fly around in the scenes and add keyframes for camera and various parameters using the analog sticks of an xbox 360-gamepad. This system works really sweet and allows us to entertain with the same scenes for longer periods of time ;) The demo and soundtrack was finished at the party, after which followed the usual 10 hour marathon to get it to run on the compo machine. Which this time turned out to be a bug caused by not having a 360-gamepad plugged in :)", Duckers tells us.
Outracks 'going 4k' in the future?
What will Outracks be doing on the demoscene next? What future releases can we expect?
We decided to ask Duckers about this and hopefully he could give Hugi#34 some nice scoops.
For example about the new Outracks demo? Duckers: "What demo? :) The release of 'My boobs are 4k'
at Solskogen 2007 might be a sign that I've grown a bit tired of doing regular high-end demos, as
these are very time consuming to do without graphicians. For the last six months I've primarily been
working on the Frontend project (see www.frontendapi.com -ed) and on a game project for a
Norwegian game development competition due in May 2008 with the Illuminatics crew. This means there
probably won't be any Outracks demo at easter 2008. However, I really loved doing the 4k, as this can
be done much quicker and gives a fun technical challenge unparalleled in demos. The Ulyd synthesizer
made for boobs4k is ready for more action. I'm hopefully using it myself for another intro and considering
to release it as a stand alone demotool. As for demos, we'll have to wait and see what inspiration comes
around for Assembly 2008." With mixed feelings we accepted his answer on this topic. Bummer! Probably no new
demo by Outracks at The Gathering 2008. Perhaps a 4k? The Ulyd synthesizer tool sounds great. But what
is this tool exactly and why release it to the public in the end? "Ulyd is a synthesizer and
playback routine for music in 4k intros, including a GUI for making patches and songs. I wrote it this summer
and used it in the 'My boobs are 4k' intro. A thank you to Gargaj for support btw :) I don't know how good it
is compared to other 4k synths, but I'm quite pleased with the soundtrack lug00ber produced with it for
our Solskogen 2007 production. I'm convinced it can perform even better in the future too with some improvements.
It's quite big though, so I'll have to put in some work to shrink it down a couple of notches before there
is any point in releasing it. I put in a lot of work in making a usable GUI for it with knobs and sliders in
a fashion musicians are used to. I think this is helpful in order to make musicians take 4k music seriously.
There is still room for improvements on the interface though. I want to release it because I think it's fun
to spread the art of demo/intro making to others who want to learn, and in order to receive feedback and
hints from others on the code. I've had a lot of positive responses after releasing the source of our latest
demos", Duckers comments and continues: "The cool thing about programming is that the possibilities are infinite.
I will never be the one claiming that the peak is ever reached in any discipline. I think the level of today's
4k's are very high, but there is a tendency to prefer slow, boring yet technically impressive visuals-oriented
intros at the expense of music, sync and show factor. I hope to be able to provide some fresh impulses into the
4k scene in these areas. Working with tight restrictions such as a size limit forces out the creativity in the coder, and brings back the oldskool demoscene feeling of doing the impossible."
What was the motivation for making the Frontend API, and what advantages does it have compared to other graphics APIs? Duckers says: "In order to make demos or games, even on a hobby basis, there are certain framework components every coder should identify. That is, code that can be reused from demo to demo, and should therefore be designed with some degree of care and thought, so you don't grow annoyed with it and start from scratch again every time. 'Frontend' started as an attempt to purify my own demo framework by separating it into a distinct library.
I held two 'Demomaking for dummies' seminars at The Gathering in 05 and 06. For these seminars I used a quick and dirty package called GLWrapper to hide away the most dirty setup/loading code and thus be able to demonstrate some simple rendering in a short time with simple code. The package was made available afterwards and I've seen it used in demos by several newbie and not-so-newbie groups later.
After the seminars and a lot of nagging for support on the sucky GLWrapper framework, I decided to generalize Frontend so it could act as a replacement for GLWrapper. Several other coders and groups have shown interest and collaborated to evolve Frontend further into a versatile and portable API and utility framework for graphics, sound and input on win32/linux/mac. Today, we use Frontend for internal purposes mostly, but we also provide free download. Readers who are further interested should visit frontendapi.com."
To conclude this article we asked Duckers of Outracks how he sees the future of 'his' demogroup. After all he told us highend demos by Outracks might belong to the past and he sees more challenges in making 4k intros. Could it be that Outracks already is, perhaps, past their highlight? Duckers comments: "It's been 5 years of rapid development and change for me. Not only in terms of technical skill, but on the personal side. I've had a lot of fun, and gradually grown my interest in computer graphics into one of my greatest passions. Today, Outracks is basically Irvin and me. Irvin is still doing music on a high level, but has a lot of different projects going on, not only in relation with the demoscene. However, he tends to be ready for demos when I'm ready. This means that the future of Outracks depends very much on how much time I, as the single coder, am willing to put into it. Clearly, I will continue to work with computers, programming and graphics, but I've realized that my love for the art doesn't limit itself to demos and disciplines governed by the demoscene. As mentioned earlier, I'm currently working on a hobbyist game project. It's great fun and forces me to think different than when doing demos, and allows me to experience teamwork in a way I never did with demos. I won't say the best days of Outracks are necessarily over, but I'm trying out other things under different labels. Who knows, in some months I might receive some pure old demoscene inspiration right in my face :)" And here, as a ending, Hugi wishes Duckers and also Irvin and the group Outracks as a whole a good future! Live long and prosper!
Magic of Nah-Kolor and Duckers of Outracks
Links related to this article
Official Outracks website
My boobs are 4k