Text Mode Demo Compo - Retrospective

Written by Adok/Hugi

Who remembers text mode? Back in the days of MS-DOS this was the video mode that appeared when you booted the operating system. A raster of 80x25 characters, each sized 8x16 pixels, with 16 colours - that was text mode. While at first glance this video mode seems unsuitable for animated graphics, there actually are some demos utilizing text mode. And there has been an own contest for such text mode based demos. On January 9th Sol/Trauma released The Complete Text Mode Demo Compo Collection, a pack featuring all the releases from all the 10 Text Mode Demo Compos (TDMCs). On this occasion I decided a little retrospective on the TDMCs would be appropriate.

The first TDMC was in 1996. The next competitions were in the two years that followed. From 1999 to 2001, there was a break; TDMC 4 was held as late as 2002. I asked Sol why there wasn't a TMDC in the years 1999-2001. He answered: "Can't exactly remember, but there are several factors to consider. First off, DOS was dying, and TMDC was pretty much a DOS demo compo. Second, I had started working full time, and felt that TMDC took quite bit of my time. Then there's the compo organizer fatigue syndrome.. I've talked with some other people who have been organizing contests, parties, or whatnot, and it's actually quite common to try to stop just about every year, but something keeps dragging you back. I think I've tried to stop organizing TMDC about seven times so far =) In 2002 I wasn't even supposed to organize the thing, only help along a bit as other folks in tAAt ry were doing it, but eventually I ended up doing pretty much everything, so I thought what the heck."

Every competition attracted between four and eight entries. A total of 90 demos were produced, including the invitation demos and the couple of disqualified entries. Judgement was done by a jury. I wondered what made Sol decide to stop TMDC after the recent 10th event, which was held in the year 2007. Sol's statement is: "In the past few years we've seen that the amount of demos that we receive was growing smaller, even though general interest in the compo was still decent - the invitation demo was downloaded about 3000 times this year as well. In the end, there are only a handful of groups interested in making textmode demos and new ones don't seem to be popping up, so we figured it doesn't make any sense to hold a contest of this magnitude anymore."

The challenge with text mode demos is to make them actually look good. It is harder than with regular graphic mode demos. You have to use special techniques for anti-aliasing, among other things. So text mode demos are something both for beginners and already experienced demo coders. In the course of TMDC, a library that offers several of these techniques was created - the LibCaCa.

In fact it's possible to overcome many of the problems with text mode with some tweaking. For example, it is possible to reduce the font height to one pixel and create a custom charset which enables one to display pixel graphics although formally still being in text mode. (In contrast to real graphic modes, each block of 8x1 pixels has to be the same colour, so it's only practical for black/white graphics.) Alas, tweaking was not allowed in TMDC; the contestants had to use pure text mode.

Asked about what he thinks he achieved for the scene with TMDC, Sol says: "Heh, I could go into questioning the definition of 'the scene' here, but let's not.. I know that several new folks have entered the demoscene because of TMDC. Some of them entered TMDC as their first compo, for some others TMDC demos were the introduction to what demos are. Other than that, we managed to produce (about) 90 demos, some of which are actually pretty darn good, and offered a different kind of challenge to people."

And Sol has also told me: "We have some ideas of other kinds of 'alternative' demo contests we could hold. We'll see if any of those actually happen =)"

Let's stay tuned!

The Complete Text Mode Demo Compo Collection can be downloaded from pouet. A few more words by Sol can be found at taat.fi.