Up & Coming: Horology

Written by Adok


Horology is a new Swiss demogroup. They were very successful already with their first production, the 64k intro "Wheels within wheels", which won first place at Demodays 2012. They also entered a 4k intro, "Blaurauch", and at Revision 2013, they came second with their 64k intro "Tensile". These great successes, especially considering it is a new group, made me get interested in Horology. So I decided to contact Westlicht and ask him for an interview. Fortunately he agreed, and so I sent him questions, which he and the two other members, Nooboody and Algoris, answered. Here you can read the full interview.

Following the Demoscene

First of all I was interested in how long the members of Horology had been following the scene and what initially made them get interested in it. Algorias told me: "My first exposure to the scene happened somewhere around 2002, watching .the .product over someone's shoulder. I got more interested a couple of years later when I was teaching myself to program and playing around with fractals, but I was living in Chile at the time and there were no parties to go to, so it remained a casual interest. When I moved back to Switzerland to start studying, the first thing I did was look for a nearby party, which happened to be Demodays 2011. I even participated in the mini-animation compo there."

Westlicht: "I first encountered the scene more than 15 years ago, when I was looking for realtime graphics stuff to run on my 286. I was mostly interested in the technology, as I just started programming myself. Because I shifted more towards game programming, I only followed the scene from a distance until I got into demo programming with Horology. Demodays 2012 was the first party I attended and it has been a very nice experience! My only complaint may be the constant noise in the hall, which was a bit too much for my taste, especially when trying to write a track for our 4k party production. :)"

Noobody: "I only discovered the scene about two years ago when a friend of mine linked me to the Elevated 4k. At the time, I could barely understand how any of it worked in such a small space; I'd been doing a lot of computer graphics programming before, but doing the same in a handful of kilobytes looked like pure wizardry to me. As you could probably guess, Demodays was my first party, and I didn't really know what to expect. I'd imagined it to be a lot more chaotic and crowded, but was pleasantly surprised to find a relaxed atmosphere, good food, cheap beer and great people. Definitely not a bad party to start with!"

"The idea for 'Wheels Within Wheels' did really only fall into place about two weeks before the party."

Wheels within wheels

I was also interested in how long the group worked on their contribution to Demodays 2012, who had the idea behind the intro and what were the main difficulties in creating it. Algorias answered: "It wasn't planned at all really. After Demodays 2011 I started playing with distance fields and showed some of my first experiments to Noobody. It just happens that he also discovered distfields at the same time, and was trying to reverse engineer Farbrausch's The Cube. Westlicht had always wanted to build his own synth and just needed an excuse, so given that the mutual interest was there and we had all the ingredients we needed, we started talking about making a demo. Around easter we really got serious and set our sights on releasing something for Demodays 2012. Westlicht built the entire framework and the synth, and we made tons of nice scenes and effects, but the concept of the demo didn't really fall into place until the week before the party."

Westlicht continued: "As Algorias already pointed out, the idea for 'Wheels Within Wheels' did really only fall into place about two weeks before the party. But it took quite a bit of effort to get there. I started working on the synth around a year before the party, first featuring a simple tracker-like interface. I later turned it into a VST plugin, as I wanted to use a proper sequencer to write the music. Developing the synth and writing some music with it took almost half a year. When we decided to go for a 64k, I started working on the demo framework, which had to be cross platform as we all worked on different platforms. A few weeks before the party I also implemented a simplistic GUI together with an editor which we used to sequence the demo, edit cameras and tune the post effects. In retrospect this was probably the hardest part, because it lots of rather boring work and we were already facing the deadline. But it turned out to be a very good investment when we finally put together our demo in the last few days before the party!"

And Noobody added: "Development on the demo began about a year before the party, although at that point we didn't know what exactly we were making, when it would be done or whether we'd even finish it. Starting the demo just sort of happened - I'd been playing with Shadertoy at the time (reproducing The Cube with distance fields, as previously mentioned) and somehow bumped into Algorias, who too was playing with distance fields. Luckily, westlicht was burning to write a synth at the time, so we informally formed a group and sporadically exchanged random screenshots of cool scenes or effects through Skype. That was pretty much it until a few months before Demodays, when we slowly realized we'd actually have to put something together if we wanted to participate. Up until a week before the party, Westlicht was quite far into finishing the synth, track and framework, Algorias had quite a few cool scenes and I'd been building up the renderer and postFx, but we had no timeline, polish or concept to speak of apart from 'let's show a bunch of scenes'. I don't know how it happened, but in those last few days we somehow finished it (ahead of time!)."

Moreover, Noobody wrote: "Making a demo was definitely a first for me; I'd been doing a few years of graphics programming/physically based simulation before just for my personal enjoyment - which did help - but working on a demo was quite a learning experience! The main problem I encountered during the development process was probably working entirely without a plan. I remember spending weeks on writing a GPU based water simulation for a scene I had in mind which we ultimately ended up not using because it didn't fit the concept."

Then I asked the members of Horology about their reaction on winning the combined 4k and 64k intro competition. Algorias: "I already knew from last year that small parties often suffer form a lack of entries, so with a solid prod in our hands we went in expecting to win, but didn't think we would make such a splash! Right after we tested the demo on the compo machine, rumours of an up-and-coming Swiss demogroup started floating around. A couple of people approached me to ask about the demo before it was even shown! We hadn't realized that a new group showing up out of the blue was such a rare thing."

Westlicht: "When we got serious about our production we set our goals quite high. We knew that it would be hard to compete against the bigger names, but at the same time we also didn't expect many of them to show up in Switzerland. During the party Noobody and I were quite isolated, writing our first 4k production, but we already figured out that we had a worthy production when we showed the demo to some people during testing on the compo machines. Watching the demo on the big screen was a great moment for all of us and we were very pleased the crowd liked it too."

And Noobody: "While I did hope to win, I was still quite surprised to actually place 1st on our first party. Even more than that, the amount of positive feedback we got at the party and later online was overwhelming and definitely worth all the effort. Unfortunately I did not get to talk to many of the other party visitors; I spent most of the time throwing together a GPU fluid solver for our 4k party prod and stuck to my PC."

Professional Life

Finally I wanted to know what the members of Horology are doing in their professional lives and their plans for the future. Algorias explained: "We're studying computer science at ETH together, it'll be another 2-3 years until we're done with our master's degrees. As for future demos, unfortunately there are a lot of things competing for our time, it's really hard to squeeze democoding in there. I have quite a few ideas in the proof of concept stage right now though, so you should definitely keep an eye out for the next horology demo!"

Westlicht added: "Before studying at ETH, I have been working as a software engineer for a few years, mainly developing embedded systems in C/C++. This knowledge came in handy when writing the codebase for our 64k production. We're all willing to do another 64k and have also been working on and off on various new technologies, but time doesn't always allow it. Still, we all hope to release another demo sometime at one of the bigger parties."

Noobody: "As Algorias mentioned, we will all be spending our next few years at ETH. On the demo side of things, we're all up for producing a next 64k should time allow it. We've all individually been working on a few new effects and ideas, so hopefully you'll see our name turn up again in a future 64k compo."

I hope the threesome will successfully complete their studies and we will get to see some more interesting examples of their skills.

Why they joined the scene

In a second round of questions, I asked the members of Horology why they wanted to be sceners and start a group. Noobody answered: "I don't think there was any specific reason, to be honest! I had just started watching demos/intros at the time and simply thought 'I wanna do that too!' and then just happened to come across two like-minded people."

Westlicht's answer was similar: "As Noobody pointed it out, this was more of a happy accident than anything else. I started working on the codebase for our first production mainly for the technical challenge. We didn't have a clear vision back then, it all started out in a pretty random manner."

For Algorias, "the demoscene is a place where I can combine several of my passions: art, programming and math".

The Demoscene

Then I asked the members of Horology about their general opinion on the demoscene. Noobody: "While at this point I've only experienced a fraction of what makes the demoscene, I've found it to be an extremely friendly and creative community. (Admittedly though, after Revision I've started to grow a bit tired of the 'Amiiiigaaa' chants - especially at 5 in the morning.)"

Westlicht said: "We're still very new to the scene. I just attended my second party, Revision, but could only stay there for the last day, which was a bit unfortunate. I think it's an incredible community with so much diversity and creativity. Also people seem to be very open in general, so it's a great place to exchange ideas and knowledge."

And Algorias added that the thinks "rumours of the demise of the demoscene are greatly exaggerated".

Tips for New Sceners

As a last question, I asked the members of Horology what they would recommend to other people who want to become sceners, form a group and create productions.

Noobody's answer: "This is a very general question, but I think as long as you're having fun, you're on the right path - in the end, that's what making a demo is about. Make sure you use all the great resources the demoscene has to offer about beginning your first prod and also, if you're doing PC productions: Good PostFX make any scene at least twice as cool, so make sure you spend some time adding them to your prod!"

Westlicht stated: "In my opinion, becoming a scener should be a natural process. People who enjoy spending their free time with any form of computer art, be it music, graphics, paintings, programming or anything else should probably come to a party to meet other people having similar interests. Working in a team is always more fun than working alone, so forming a new group or joining an existing one seems like a logical move. Also I think you need to be ambitious in your undertakings and be dedicated, there are times when working on a prod can seem more like a job than a hobby, but going through with it and being able to show your finished work to the community is an awesome reward!"

And Algorias replied: "You should honestly assess your own strengths and weaknesses, and team up with people that complement you well, that you enjoy working with and who also know how to have fun! You should also think really hard about how much time you're willing to sink into demomaking and set realistic goals based on that."

Links related to this article

Horology at pouet.net (all releases, links to YouTube)