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Demo History by Trixter
Demos have been around as long as personal computers have been popular, but they didn't become a regular occurance until about 1983. Demos started as a small program that, sadly, was used to identify who had cracked the game you were currently (illegally) playing. They were a good test of the programmer's abilities, because they had to fit in a *very* small space, usually 256 to 1024 bytes. Obviously, they were all coded in either assembler or machine language. Around this time, they mainly started showing up on the Commodore 64, and the Apple ][ computers, being the most popular home computers at the time.

Around this time, a gradual shift occured, from people cracking games to writing graphic/sound demonstrations that showed off the computer they had just learned to program. Sure, cracking games was still popular, but some people decided that learning about the machine and using it as a tool for creativity was "cooler" than cracking one dime-store game after another. Around this time, in 1984-1985, the first demos were born, as people willing to show off their computer and programming skills learned new ways to wrestle more power and speed out of the computer. Early demos showed up on the C64, the Apple ][, and the Atari 400/800/XL computers. And then came the Amiga.

When the Amiga computer from Commodore hit the home-computer scene in 1985, it was not very well received initially in the USA, but it took off like wildfire in Europe. It was manufactured and sold primarily in Europe, and made its way into many households. The Amiga, however, was different: It was the first low-cost, home computer built for multimedia--which, back then, was a term almost unheard of. It had incredible sound and graphics capabilities, and shipped with a multi-tasking operating system. In fact, here's how many home computers ranked in 1985:

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  Sound Graphics
  ~~~~~ ~~~~~~~
Apple: single timer (beeper) 16 colors, low res, two video pages
8 colors, high res, two video pages
Apple ][/gs 15-channel digital
sound (stereo)
Low-Res: 16 colors, 2 pages, 40*40
with 4 lines of text
High-Res: 4 colors (8, but some
repeat), 2 pages
Double-High-Res: 16 colors, 2 pages
Super-High-Res (][gs only): 16 colors
per scan line, out of 4096 colors
IBM: single timer (beeper) 16/64 colors, low res, two video pages
16/64 colors, high res, one video page
C64: three-voice synth 16 colors, low res, multiple video pages
Mac: four-voice digital
sound, mono
Black & White, high res, one video page
Amiga: four-voice digital
sound, stereo
32/4096 colors, low res, multiple video

64/4096 colors, mid res, two video pages

4096 colors, mid res, one video page

Clearly, the Amiga was the machine to program anything graphical on, like games and presentations, offering the best well-rounded graphics and sound and speed. It was the clear upgrade path for many people wanting more from a computer than the aging C64 could give them.

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The demo "scene" flourished on the Amiga, mainly due to the fact that the computer was fast and chock-full of "cool" hardware tricks, like multiple video pages, multiple resolutions, four-channel digital stereo sound (music sounded like *music* for a change), and nearly complete control over the graphics hardware--down to the point of offering multiple resolutions on the same screen! The Amiga demo scene pumped out revolutionary products from 1988-1990. For a while, there was a surge of products from the Amiga and the Atari ST (which had its own successful demo scene) because the two "sides" were at "war", constantly trying to out-do the other. (Editor's note: I have little info on the ST--can someone please write this section?)

After this time, the PC scene was born:

Around 1990, people on the IBM side of the computing world were noticing the cool things an Amiga could do and wanted to create a demo scene of their own. Initially, it was fairly easy to write demos on the IBM: the machine had more CPU power, and the graphics weren't too bad (EGA was fast but only 16 colors; VGA was slow but had 256 colors). In fact, demos went pretty well in a minimal fashion, but there was one problem: the sound was terrible. There were four (young and shaky) sound "standards" at the time:

  • Adlib (9 voice synth)
  • Sound Blaster (9-voice synth, 1 voice digitized)
  • PC Speaker (beeper)
  • LPT DAC (also known as "Covox")
The PC Speaker was attacked first, being the only sound device that everybody had on their PC. All results, while sometimes clever (creating chords from quickly arpeggiating three notes in the chord), sounded terrible, for the most part. One good attempt is found in the file YO!.ZIP by Future Crew. (A small note--that's *text mode* you're looking at. Many groups *today* would have a hard time doing that! :-) The LPT DAC was attacked next, and was very popular--you could get good sound out of it, and you could build one yourself for about $10.

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And in the beginning of 1990, a couple of talented people realized a clever trick: The IBM was fast enough to mix, via software, the four channels that an Amiga could output natively. People got to work on it, and the earliest attempts were primitive, but new:

  • Future Crew Slideshow (1990)
  • ScreamTracker by Psi/FC (1990)
  • SpacePigs' MegaDemo (1990)
  • TrakBlaster by Voltar Zinke (MOD Player) (1991)
  • VectDemo by Ultraforce, (1991)
Trivia: Some of the above people have gone on to make games or commercial products:

  • Tetra Compositor, Octa Compositor (A former member of Ultraforce)
  • Pinball Fantasies PC (SpacePigs)
  • Jazz Jackrabbit (Arjan Brusse, a former member of Ultraforce)
  • TrakBlaster Pro (Voltar Zinke)
(This history is constantly being added to. I take contributions, if anyone's interested in continuing from this point...)

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