Interview with Vincent Scheib
Vincent Scheib, also known as aancsiid, is the founder of the Demoscene Outreach Group (DOG). This group was founded to organize demo presentations at major computer animations events such as Siggraph and the GDC. I've talked with Vincent about DOG, the American scene and his PhD thesis.
First, could you give a quick introduction to yourself so that the readers know who they are reading about?
Ok. Hi, I'm Vince Scheib, my handle is aancsiid. I'm 24 and from Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
I started following the demo scene in about 1992 when I was in high school. I'd already built a strong interest in computer graphics and was fairly certain I wanted to go into Games.
At the Ohio State University I picked up a degree in Computer Science Engineering, and worked at Electronic Arts as an intern on my first published game, NASCAR Rumble for the Play Station.
I went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a master's degree -- I only just finished that. While I was there I published a Siggraph and Eurographics paper.
Now I'm at Angel Studios for the summer working on R&D for games. In the Fall I'll decide if I'll do a PhD immediately.
How did you get involved with the demoscene?
Early on I was, quite frankly, intimidated by the scene. When I first tried a few times to make a demo I ended up only with a few effects and nothing close to the real thing. Speaking of which, that's where Mr. Geiss started working on what eventually turned into the Screen saver/Plug in "Geiss".
So, anyway, the demo scene really inspired me. It bothered me that so many people who are really into graphics and animation don't know about the scene.
Then I got to Siggraph. Siggraph is all about cool graphics. But wait, there's hardly any game industry or scene awareness there. This just drove me nuts.
The first parties I got to were Takeover2k, 2k+1, and Assembly`01. By then I was on a mission to bring demos to all those people who love them (but just haven't seen them yet).
So, I really got involved when I launched the Demoscene Outreach Group.
What about demos is fascinating for you?
It's a little crazy inside my head. The best representations of things in my head, that I've seen outside of my head, have been in demos.
I love techno music, I love mods, I love graphics, and I love animation. I'm impressed by the technical side of demos too -- and I know enough to be really impressed.
That was quite well said. :) You've stated that you started following the scene as early as in 1992. That's quite a long time ago, at least in terms of the PC scene. 1992 was the year in which the first demos were released which are still known today (such as Fishtro, Unreal,...), and in which the first diskmags appeared (Imphobia, Hoax). So you've probably gained quite an insight into the development of the scene? What has changed in the course of the years, what are the most important developments in your opinion?
Right, I wasn't checking every product that came out in `92, but I was aware of a lot. Also, I completely missed out on the C64, Amiga, demos that required GUS, and when zany VESA modes were "in" I missed quite a few of those.
Earlier demos were really boring. ;) They focused a lot on technology (which isn't what made them boring), and technology meant much more back then. Having a fast line rasterizer, circle, and poly rasterizer really went a long way. It was really noticeable.
The boredom came out of endless scrollers. Nothing new really happened, the colors kept cycling, the text scrolling.. but the impressive parts were still there. Plenty of demos had no sense of pacing... just, show an effect and let it sit there for a while.
The demo scene hit 3D graphics much faster than the game industry. This was really remarkable. Demos just looked more impressive than anything we were seeing in games. Specular highlighting, z-buffers, voxel landscapes, they all were seen in demos before games. That really gave the scene an elite feeling.
Of course, hardware acceleration broke that. We're really only just getting out of the turbulence of hardware acceleration. Now, demos don't require as much technical investment. Some of them still use it, but many demos are artistically complete with just simpler code.
We've seen demos focus much more on conceptual content than on technology. The demos that do show off technology also are generally not very responsible for the advancements, the 3D cards have just gotten better.
Do you have any relations to other American sceners? What's currently up in the US/Canadian demoscene?
Ha. ;) Mr. Paul Bragiel would say, "what American scene? There is none." He's one of the few I know. There are several X-sceners here, but very few currently active sceners.
I've only been meeting most of these guys after I started the whole d.o.g. thing. Before that, It was just me and some friends who really appreciated demos -- even coded up some effects occasionally -- but no one who actually made any.
It's mighty hard to really understand the scene from way over here. Sure, there have been pockets of people who got it, got going, and made some great stuff.
Mostly stuff is really spread out here. When I learned about the scene, I only knew one or two others from my area who knew what IRC was.
At the Game Developer's Conference it's much easier to find many Americans who really do track the demo scene. That seems to be mostly all that happens here.
What do you think are the reasons why the demo scene is much bigger in Europe than in the US, whereas the US is technologically more advanced?
It's a combination of things. One very important one is transportation and distances. The US is quite big. Ok, even throw out the US and think of just California (the most dense area of high technology). San Francisco to Los Angeles is roughly the same distance as Berlin to Munich. But, we have no trains. So, to go to a demo party, you need a car -- well, if you happen to already be in California..
Me, in Ohio, trying to get to the Spring Break demo party 4 years ago.. Ha, I'd have to fly over 3 time zones... a trip similar to Moscow to London... $250 ~260Euro is more money than I had to spend then.
Ok, why weren't there sceners in Ohio? Well, the density is just low.. and without a demo party to spark interest, very few young minds are going to get involved. This is sort of a chicken and egg problem.
Further, there's a difference in our education. Quite a few European countries specialize students much earlier. At ages when more free time is had, students are already much more focused on their specialty. This helps computer nerds get together early on.
Also, the US does have a very strong technical economy, but that doesn't necessarily reflect what people are doing from the ages 15-20. I think that's really a sweet spot to become addicted to and involved in demos. Remember, compared to other countries we specialize quite late.
That's not a complete conclusion, but it's my best guess. For me personally, if I had made it to just one demo party at age 18, you would have seen many demos made by me in the last six years.
What is the reason why you founded DOG? Could you tell us about the aims and activities of this group?
Like I mentioned, it was really founded out of frustration with people who should know about the scene, not knowing. I want anyone who loves short computer graphic animations to also know about demos.
What I really want is to get a demo into the Siggraph Electronic Theater. That's the premier international computer animation festival -- and is mighty selective. Only 2 hours to fit the best of the year from independent work, Film studios, Games, etc.
To do that, I need a few things to happen:
1. The Siggraph community to better understand and be aware of demos
2. The Siggraph community to really get hooked on more real time graphics. They've gotten a little stuck on pre-rendered graphics for the Animation Festival (the other components of Siggraph are very interaction based).
3. Higher quality 'modern' demos. Today's demos are different from those in the past .. and what they've become over the past 3 years is really something that has a place in the Electronic Theater.
In your opinion, how will the scene benefit from a greater awareness outside?
I'm not sure it will. I would like to think that sceners would enjoy a larger audience. I think there are still more people out there who would be impressed by demos and enjoy them. However, people who don't understand demos can do much but harm the scene.
With greater visibility, it will be easier to get scene events funded. We're already seeing this. I can show demos to nVidia, Intel, and Microsoft representatives and get a response. However, funding isn't necessarily a good thing either. The scene developed as a grass roots community -- it's a hobby, not a job. We're all too well aware of demo parties corrupted by money.
But, of course, I wouldn't intentionally do anything I thought would harm the scene. I think the scene will cling tightly to it's unique style, and I hope the larger audience will appreciate being informed of such a great community.
Who are the current members of DOG?
Aaron Foo, currently at Sony Computer Entertainment America, is a very strong contributor -- say, co-president of dog, or something like that. Then, we have the support of:
Philip Taylor, Microsoft
Jason Della Rocca, International Game Developers Association
Claus D. Volko, Hugi
Ohad Barzilay, CFXWeb
dEF bASE/HaVoK, tHE HaVoK
Soren Hannibal, Shiny Entertainment
Saku Lehtinen, Remedy Entertainment
Eric Haines, Discreet
Theo Engell-Nielsen, hybris/NEMESIS
Saxon, Block Software
Frank Michlick, anonym/padua
Alan Yu, Game Developer's Conference
Samuli Syvahuoko, Fathammer
What companies has DOG established contact with thus far?
Philip and Jason are our liaisons at Microsoft and the IGDA, we work closely with them. Fathammer involved us in some of their activities at Assembly`01. We've had discussions with Intel and nVidia employees, in fact for Siggraph 02 Intel may show scene demos at their booth.
The Game Developer's Conference is a for profit institution, and we are pleased that they have invited us back year after year. Siggraph is not for profit, but we have worked a lot with them.
What have the reactions to the presentations at GDC and SIGGRAPH been like?
We get a lot of enthusiastic people to show up. Many people thank us for our presentation -- they mostly have only limited exposure to the scene or are new to it. Several people were vaguely aware of it, but had lost track over the recent years. Generally, any sceners or X-sceners at a conference will show up too.
Our presentation at least year's Siggraph was outstandingly received. We packed the room, and had people watching from the hall way through the doors. Thanks to Microsoft for paying for the flyers to let people know about the event.
How difficult was it to organize the presentations?
It takes a lot of time. Aaron and I have put a lot of our personal time into making it all happen. Other than that, it's not so bad. It's just a matter of contacting people, and setting things up.
It also takes a while to, for example, scan convert an hour worth of demos. Just picking which demos to use is a tough job. For our presentations, we need not only good scene demos, but demos "accessible" enough to a crowd that isn't familiar with the scene. That really limits our options.
You're a PhD student in computer science. Could you tell us about your research project?
Sure. Well. I can tell you about a few of them.
dAb - Interactive Haptic Painting with 3D Virtual Brushes: This is a painting program -- with a 3D brush controlled with a haptic feedback arm. So, you hold on to the end of a robotic arm, you can move it about in every possible way, and it can push back at you to make it feel like you're touching a virtual object.
The cool thing about a 3D brush is that, well, it's 3D and it holds paint over a surface. The brush deforms when you mush it into the canvas, and it uses a bidirectional paint transfer model. Paint goes down, paint comes up, paint gets all mixed up, paint looks pretty nice.
sdsda - Efficient Fitting and Rendering of Large Scattered Data Sets Using Subdivision Surfaces: This is a terrain rendering project. It's more complicated than most terrain rendering -- because it is really about fitting a smooth surface to real data. The standard terrain rendering stuff out there doesn't worry about this, and when they do they generally use sloppy methods (like a regular grid, or a triangulated irregular network).
This paper deals with getting a smooth surface, always, fast, and for ridiculously huge data sets. It's not what you'd use in a game, it's more for heavy duty visualization needs.
Other stuff, like clay simulation and multiresolution painting are things I haven't finished yet, there's some info up at www.scheib.net/school.
What are your plans for your future?
The Demoscene Outreach Group has leveled off under my lead .. we're regularly active at Siggraph and the Game Developer's Conference. We also handle some smaller side projects, but that's about as far as we can go with the current number of volunteers.
(By the way, anyone who feels strongly and would like to help out, please speak up.)
Personally, I'm definitely ending up in the game industry .. there's just the question of should I grab that PhD first.
Is it common for game-developers in the US to have high academic degrees such as PhD?
I'm sitting in a company of about 150 people, and about 4 PhDs. No, most game developers I've met have only an undergraduate, and sometimes only partial undergraduate. They gave up school usually around 21 years of age.
Masters degrees are not uncommon, however. Often, lead programmers and other "sharp" individuals have Masters. I have self taught developers at the level of master's degrees. I'm still not sure which method is more efficient, economical, and a better investment.
Mostly, one must learn the way they do best -- if that is in a classroom or at alone with only books.
Do you have some final words to the readers?
Make demos. Make good demos. I'm so very proud to show off the best of the scene, and I couldn't be happier when I see a new demo that just knocks my socks off.
As this article has also been translated to Russian, maybe you also have a message to our Russian readers?
Ahhh, well, specifically for Russians? I haven't made it to Russia yet, but I know a guy, Kirill, who's there. ;) Hi Kirill!
Okay, thank you for the interview! ;-)
If you want to visit Vincent's personal homepage, go to www.scheib.net. The DOG website is located at www.scene.org/dog.
Adok/Hugi - 06 June 2002