Screen it! Demo Reviews

Reviews written by Navis/ASD and KeyJ/Kakiarts
Screenshots taken by KeyJ
Prologue written by Magic


Welcome to a new review extravaganza of the Screen it! series. Started in Hugi #34 by KeyJ/Kakiarts and Duckers/Outracks, Screen it! provides high quality reviews with a rating system from 1 to 6 for graphics, music, effects, concept and overall. For Hugi #35 nobody but Navis of Andromeda Software Developement is reviewing some of the best demos of 2008 which have been released till now. KeyJ of Kakiarts was so nice to return with his reviews for this 35th issue of Hugi. Personally, having read the reviews myself already, I find the contrast between Navis and KeyJ as reviewers very interesting. It gives a look on the demo from different angles, which is a good thing in my oppinion. The demos which are reviewed this time are: Stargazer, Panic Room, Texas, Falling Down, Inflorescence, Linger in Shadows, Into the pink, Only one Wish, Masagin and Within epsilon. Have a nice time reading the reviews. Note: Click the name of a demo for a link to a video capture!

Andromeda & Orb - Stargazer
[demo, Windows, DirectX 9, 1st at NVScene]

Stargazer is the ultimate coder's demo, one that every one of us will eventually envy for its presentation of some awesome, never before seen special effects. However, Stargazer's only vice may be that being a "mega" demo (and hence segmented into parts) it seems slightly disconnected and so one may feel that it is a lesser demo than the sum of its parts. But is this a problem? With such a bombardment of effects, tight pace and a killer soundtrack, no.

Graphics: 6/6, Music: 6/6, Effects: 5/6, Concept: 3/6, Overall: 5/6

Infinite zooming seems to be all the hype; two democrews that are very dedicated to this kind of effect: paniq does it in 2D, and Andromeda already showed a very impressive 3D zoomer in their comeback demo "Noumenon". Now, in their second demo after the legendary "Nexus 7", they teamed up with Orb and picked the zooming topic again as a basis for two remarkable scenes. The first one zooms into screenshots of scenes of the demo, revealing that these screenshots are in fact built of smaller screenshots, zooming into these again. I really wonder why nobody did that before, because it's a simple concept and not too hard to implement. The other zooming effect really made my jaw drop, though: A perfectly smooth rendition of and flight though cantor cube fractals - must be seen to be believed. Oh, and that's only the two last scenes of the demo. Before that, there is already the best "Abyss"-style water worm ever seen in a demo, some amazing fluid effects, a liquid tunnel, falling cubes that reflect the environment nicely and some other exciting stuff. The whole demo is a really great effects show in tradition of old Amiga/Atari demos, and the soundtrack also fits into that style with its rough breaks and chippy, but not too cheesy sounds. "Stargazer" is in my opinion the perfect example of how to do a good newschool demo with oldschool-inspired design.

Graphics: 4/6, Music: 4/6, Effects: 6/6, Concept: 4/6, Overall: 5/6

Fairlight - Panic room
[64k intro, Windows, DirectX 9, 1st at Assembly]

After a mediocre 2007, the 64k offerings from 2008 are topped with Panic room, the latest effect extravaganza from ever so popular group Fairlight. Panic room is basically the definitive 64k in the sense that it is not only a technical tour de force (there must be so much hard work behind most of the effects) but it is also packed with a fantastic soundtrack (check those samples!) and a narrative curve. Thumbs up all the way.

Graphics: 5/6, Music : 6/6, Effects: 6/6, Concept: 5/6, Overall: 6/6

In 2006, Smash decided never to make a 64k intro again. Roughly at the same time, Reed decided never to make any demoscene music again. Now imagine everybody's surprise when suddenly a 64k intro by Smash and Reed appeared on the Assembly bigscreen! And in typical Fairlight tradition, it was again an intro that raised the bar by a mile. The graphics are just awesome, with extremely nice and detailed textures, lots of shader effects and astonishingly good models. The intro is also very well put together; some of the transitions are just ace. The best part, however, is the music: Not only did they manage to have some not-too-bad electric guitars, there are also voice samples. I'll just say that again, to avoid misunderstandings: Not a voice synthesizer, but real voice samples. OK, the voice is distorted to the point of being barely intelligible, but in a 64k intro that's good, voice samples are really the icing on the cake.

Graphics: 5/6, Music: 5/6, Effects: 5/6, Concept: 5/6, Overall: 5/6

Keyboarders - Texas
[4k intro, Windows Vista, DirectX 10, 1st at NVScene]

The Norwegian group Keyboards basically came from nowhere to steal the show at nvision 08 with their masterpiece 4k space-opera intro called Texas. You may have heard the rumours that it is the best 4k ever made - the rumours are true. Texas doesn't feel like a 4k at all: it combines some gorgeous effects, technically very challenging (like, for example, the perfectly executed screen-space ambient occlusion), with a blend of unique soundscapes and a story that does make sense. These qualities are rather hard to find in the tiny space of 4k. Keyboarders have done so and they should receive all the praise they can get.

Graphics: 5/6, Music: 5/6, Effects: 6/6, Concept: 6/6, Overall: 6/6

Almost every time a new trick is discovered for making 4k intros more awesome, a new discussion about whether these tricks are legal or not begins. This year, the intro "Texas" by Keyboarders is the source of highest controversy, for two reasons: First, it's the first intro that makes use of the DirectX 10 API and therefore requires Windows Vista, and second, it uses excerpts from an example song that comes with the operating system as the source for the samples it makes music from. Especially the latter fact has been aptly described as "coming as close as possible to the border of cheating without crossing it". These discussions aside, "Texas" is actually a very remarkable intro: Simple, but effective graphics that seem to use DirectX 10's geometry shaders, a dark, MFX-ish mood and soundscape, and even a story. Or at least, kind of. To be honest, I neither understand nor like the story and style of this intro, so it's not going to be one of my favourites but it will certainly be remembered as one of the two most remarkable 4k intros of 2008. I'd just say that it's a little bit below "Atrium", not above it.

Graphics: 3/6, Music: 2/6, Effects: 4/6, Concept: 2/6, Overall: 2/6

UK Scene Allstars - Falling down
[demo, Windows, DirectX 9, 4th at Breakpoint]

Falling down is the latest offering from UK supergroup "ukscene allstars". Coder Smash of Fairlight has the chance here to display a range of effects taking place inside a humourous, surreal world that follows the story of a suicidal man contemplating his fate. I can see the distinction between this and Fairlight demos in the sense that, although some of the visuals and music are recycled, yet the overall feeling is more lightweight and fun; and this is what makes it a very enjoyable, clever little demo. It will be remembered for its music and its use (for the first time in a big production) of vertex/pixel-shader based motion blurring.

Graphics: 4/6, Music: 5/6, Effects: 5/6, Concept: 5/6, Overall: 4/6

If the lead coder of a demo describes his work as "the most appallingly unfinished thing [he has] worked on in ages", expectations tend to be low. But the man who has written these words is Smash, and he's talking about a UKScene Allstars demo, so this translates roughly to "Smash isn't satisfied, but the demo is still cool as f*ck". And that it is indeed. Last year's "Route 1066" was already awesome, but "Falling Down" is a class of its own. Everybody who likes the rough, dirty urban graffiti style will love this demo. The excellent and extremely catchy soundtrack by Keito just makes it perfect. Codewise, Smash uses mostly his standard set of effects; there's nothing really new except the cool motion blur in the "silly walk" scene. It must be noted that the visual quality is not always optimal, though. There are artifacts visible every now and then and some textures have really poor quality. I can easily live with that, though.

Graphics: 4/6, Music: 5/6, Effects: 4/6, Concept: 4/6, Overall: 4/6

MFX - Inflorescence
[demo, Windows, OpenGL, 4th at Intel Demo Competition]

I absolutely love this demo. Top notch code (running smoothly even on low-end machines) and fitting soundtrack, this presentation was what I came to expect from mfx over the years. There is simply no other group that can depict space themes with such efficiency, time after time. The mfx universe is captivating from the opening scene (with that flowing particle effect) and won't let you go until the end, when the camera zooms out and away from that enormous spinning monolith. Scary stuff!

Graphics: 4/6, Music: 5/6, Effects: 6/6, Concept: 5/6, Overall: 5/6

I absolutely, utterly and completely dislike the recent MFX demos, and this one is no exception. Some people describe it as art, but I just call it boring and strenuous to watch. In my opinion, it's wasted potential, because from the technical point of few, "Inflorescence" and its predecessors are actually pretty good. You can't see much of the effects under all the layers of distortion and flashiness, but they seem to be very solid and original. The artwork is decent, too, but the sound is already too much connected to the concept of the demo, which means I don't like it at all.

Graphics: 3/6, Music: 1/6, Effects: 4/6, Concept: 1/6, Overall: 1/6

Plastic - Linger in shadows
[demo, PlayStation 3, OpenGL|ES, first shown at Breakpoint, but released via PlayStation Network (PSN) on October 9th]

Essentially a very similar demo to "Into the pink", "Linger in shadows" is an epic in terms of length and scope. The craftmanship is, as expected, impressive: I enjoyed the use of brown/green hues, the building up of the suspense, the amazing organic models. My only regret is that I cannot distinguish the music from this demo and "into the pink".

Graphics: 6/6, Music: 3/6, Effects: 6/6, Concept: 4/6, Overall: 6/6

It might be the hugest and longest-awaited project in the history of the demoscene: For almost two years, the popular demogroup Plastic secretly produced a demo for Sony's PlayStation 3 game console, officially endorsed by Sony itself. Finally, at Breakpoint 2008, Plastic let the cat out of the bag - quite literally: The story of the demo is centered around a deserted city, a dark shadowy organism, a mechanical tentacle thing, a dog that is ultimately turned into stone and, well, a cat. I can't make any sense of all that, but Plastic's typically excellent visuals and the awesome soundtrack make up for that. It lacks some of the technical perfection seen in former Plastic demos, though - but stuff like blurry textures, low resolution and some artifacts might be due to platform limitations rather than coders' and artists' skills. So what we have is a beautiful demo that actually looks like a movie, mainly because of good direction and great modeling.

Graphics: 6/6, Music: 4/6, Effects: 3/6, Concept: 3/6, Overall: 4/6

Plastic - Into the pink
[demo, Windows, OpenGL, 2nd at NVScene]

Plastic makes a demo for the PC after a long break during which they were preparing the epic "Linger in shadows" for SONY. I suppose they use more or less the same technology in both demos. Everything we came to love about Plastic demos is here: pixel perfect, photorealistic shading over detailed organic, animated models, accompanied by epic music. The story here doesn't make all that sense on first viewing but I quite like the building up. The drawbacks that I can find is that the end credits/greetings drag on for too long and the music is not really my taste.

Graphics: 6/6, Music: 3/6, Effect: 5/6, Concept: 3/6, Overall: 5/6

This demo has been made in only eight weeks before NVScene, which is in stark contrast to the two-year development time of "Linger in Shadows". This does not mean that the demo is bad or looks rushed, though. Quite the contrary: it is a very solid work showing the typical qualities of the other Plastic demos like a great orchestral, cinema-like soundtrack, superb modeling, high quality textures and shader effects galore. However, it also follows the tradition of being a hardware eater, requiring a very powerful machine even for the lowest detail level. At the content side, we have some hordes of unpleasant animals (read: bugs and rats), a wire mesh, marble spheres, a few thousand small torii and a baby doll that is burst into pieces. There might also be some kind of story, but I didn't figure it out yet. However, I don't belong to the "a good demo must have a story" camp, so I'm fine with that.

Graphics: 5/6, Music: 4/6, Effects: 4/6, Concept: 3/6, Overall: 4/6

Fairlight & TBL - Only one wish
[demo, Windows, DirectX 9, 2nd at Intel Demo Competition]

What a mouthwatering combination: Fairlight teaming up with The Black Lotus to make a demo for the latest Intel demo competition. Their offering is essentially a collage of different, rather unrelated, parts that showcase their technical and artistic ability. My favourite part is the one with the exploding heads: it is such a simple yet effective idea (on first viewing one really doesn't expect the model to disintegrate as it does). I was also very keen on the uplifting d&b music which in a way unites the demo.

Graphics: 5/6, Music: 5/6, Effects: 5/6, Concept: 4/6, Overall: 5/6

If two of the most famous groups of the demoscene unite to make a demo, you expect a masterpiece. From that point of view, you might be a little bit disappointed, because "Only One Wish" is not a revolution. It is "only" a very good demo with excellent effects. The visual quality is nearly perfect, and almost every scene is based on a fresh new idea not seen before. The introduction is done with colourful glossy buttons, the next scene paints typical Louie500-style text artwork onto pipes, then we have some high-detailed models that burst into triangles, a number of different pseudo-2D effects reminiscent of the title scene of the last James Bond movie and later on we get some very cool smoke and cloud effects. The only real letdowns are the somewhat inconsistent pacing of the scenes (some are too long, some are too short) and the bland and too repetitive music.

Graphics: 4/6, Music: 3/6, Effects: 5/6, Concept: 4/6, Overal: 4/6

Farbrausch & Neuro - Masagin
[demo, Windows, DirectX 9, 1st at Breakpoint]

What a breath of fresh air! This extremely polished demo is the definition of "relentless". It just goes on and on, and just when you think they cannot possibly have put more content in it, it surprises you with more minutes of panning, zooming, twisting, exploding, motion-blurred 2D layers flashing a myriad of messages on your screen. There are many little details and change of styles to watch: Masagin is so packed with material that it feels like a 4 minute demo when in reality it is close to 8. Music is the best of 2008 bar none.

Graphics: 4/6, Music: 6/6, Effects: 5/6, Concept: 4/6, Overall: 6/6

"Die Ewigkeit schmerzt", the winner demo of Evoke 2006, followed a totally new concept: It was completely based on 2D vector graphics, zooming into words within words of text. In the one and a half year inbetween, the creator of this demo, paniq, refined the concept and put it onto a whole new level. He has completely rewritten the engine, now featuring nice motion blur and antialiasing, and built a great 2D demo of almost epic dimensions on top of it. It is not longer about zooming into text, but general 2D and fake-3D graphics, and there's a very large repository of ideas in this seven-minute demo. I counted sixteen different scenes, all of which are connected to each other with nice and smooth transitions. The music is a typical paniq track, except that it's very much fitted and synchronised to the demo and loses a lot when listened to without the visuals it has been designed for. But who would do that anyway? :)

Graphics: 4/6, Music: 4/6, Effects: 3/6, Concept: 5/6, Overall: 4/6

Pyrotech - Within Epsilon
[demo, Windows, DirectX 9, 1st at Assembly]

Strictly speaking there is not much that stays in the memory after watching this one. It is divided into many different scenes that feel disconnected as there is no progression, urgency or even a feel of purpose. Maybe the programmers overdid it with the use of bump mapping and glow which looks out of place in a demo from 2008. Music is likewise blant and without soul. I really wanted to like this much, but I'm afraid there were much better demos this year (even at Assembly!).

Graphics: 2/6, Music: 2/6 Effects: 2/6, Concept: 1/6, Overall: 2/6

The demo compo at Assembly '08 was very unusual: It had only very few entries, all of them were decent, but there were no absolute killer demos like in the previous years. Thus, even the winner of the compo, "Within Epsilon", is not a typical winner demo, or at least not the type of demo that usually wins at Assembly. But it is not a bad demo either - it has everything that makes a demo interesting and pleasant to watch. Nice graphics? Check. Cool soundtrack? Check. Good selection of scenes and direction? Check. Fancy effects? Only few, but let's give it a check here, too. Summed up, it's a pretty good demo, but I doubt that it will be remembered much in the future.

Graphics: 3/6, Music: 3/6, Effects: 2/6, Concept: 3/6, Overall: 3/6

KeyJ, Navis and Magic