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Making a scene about demos

May 9th, 2011 by

Up until the age of eleven, I had two main interests, learning to program and furiously masturbating over a rain sodden copy of Razzle after school in the woods. Putting aside my sexual deviance, my experiences of ‘coding’ primarily revolved around replicating hundreds of lines of text from Commodore Format into C64 Basic and typing ‘run’ only to see my six hours of data entry rewarded with ‘Syntax Errors’. Still it was better than my own attempts at creating code, which never got much beyond:

10 Print ‘’Hello sugar tits’’
20 Goto 10

Sadly things didn’t progress much further when – as I mentioned in my previous Schoolboy Pirate ramblings – in 1992 my dad bought the Amiga. All efforts to improve my programming skills were side tracked for six months to make way for drawing an ever expanding array of cocks jetting seamen animations using the cycle function in Deluxe Paint II and playing the sixteen bit precursor to Total War, North and South, with friends.

Quite by chance though that all changed one fine summers afternoon when I facilitated an exchange with Mark ‘Cats Died’ Mitchell, an exchange which would introduce me to a mysterious new underworld. I should probably explain before going on, the name ‘Cats Died’ evolved from Marks insistence of sporting trousers which were far too short for a chap of his stature, emphasised further by the wearing of fluorescent green Umbro socks. This procured suggestion from his peers that he was flying his trousers at half mast in honour of his cats death. Having exchanged my pristine Cheeta 125+ joystick (the ‘+’ denoting autofire) with him for ten used blank disks, I recall pondering on my way home ”would he sell it and procure some britches of an appropriate length?” In reality though it was not an issue of cost, Marks parents were quite wealthy, he was just a scruffy twat.

I fired up the Amiga and checked each of the disks to see what they contained before the inaugural formatting ceremony. There’s always a slight air of tension when using untrusted disks from friends for the first time in case the metal slider came off in the drive. Disks one and two were blank, I inserted number three and suddenly the amber disk drive light went into a frenzy. What would it be!?! Please god, not Marks feline porn. Deluxe Paint self portraits of him being mounted from behind by a large cat wearing fluorescent Umbro socks over its paws was significantly more than my teenage mind could have rationalised.

Thirty seconds later the drive light expired and I was staring at the screen in absolute awe. The ”Wicked Sensation” demo by TRSI. I had absolutely no idea what this was but sitting there watching scroll text going bat shit crazy on my screen, and incredible multi-faced light sourced 3D vector objects spinning around in real time, I was totally entranced by the whole show. My ears rhythmically massaged by the supporting symphony of phenomenal chip music.

It was all over in five minutes but I was hooked.  I desperately wanted to see more but had no idea where to find them, so watching the demo for the twentieth time and scribbled down one of the four addresses at the end.  I put four blank disks,  five English pounds and a pleading letter in a jiffy bag,  wrote the German address on the front and posted it off,  anticipating its return like a six year old on Christmas eve hoping for a new Raleigh Burner from Santa.

I knew it would be a while before I got a response so in the interim I had interrogated ‘Cats Died’ as to where he had got the demo and he took me to meet a lad in Sheffield, Sean, who was a UK courier for TRSI, he was having a copy party and we were invited.  We arrived early afternoon and were escorted into a nice detached house. Clutching my carrier bag full of blank disks I experienced my first ‘demo copy party’.  I had been expecting mass duplication of disks in a nondescript building on an industrial estate but in reality it was me, ‘Cats Died’ and two other lads who called in whilst I was there all sat in Seans bedroom watching a fuzzy VHS copy of Robocop whilst X-Copy clicked away in the background.  Not quite what I had expected but it was a brilliant afternoon, I returned home triumphantly with a whole new library of demos and I made a friend of Sean for life that day.

Six long weeks passed by since posting the letter and I had resigned myself to hearing nothing back until one evening I returned home from school and out of the blue my mum came into ‘l337 haxors HQ’ (my bedroom) with a letter from Germany!  Suffice to say she was a little alarmed but having explained it was a computer pen pal and I was not exchanging hard core animal pornography or cocaine her panic subsided.  It was my jiffy envelope relabled containing the four disks with some new demos on and a dot matrix printed note which said  thanks for your interest,  spread these demos everywhere you can.

It was a total revelation, somehow I had totally missed out on the C64 demo scene but now here I was swapping ‘demo warez’ with guys in Germany and forging new friendships closer to home with people who shared my love for demos.

In truth Im not sure what it was about demos that grabbed my attention, maybe feeling part of a community which was not mainstream, but I think more significantly the technical feats they demonstrated.  Knowing how hard it was to get a simple ‘Basic’ program to run, it was easy to appreciate the unbelievable ability and skill that these guys had.  Big names at the time such as Scoopex,  Red Sector, Rebels and Fairlight all competed at demo parties,  developing code routines which excelled anything you would ever see in commercial games.  What made it all the more incredible was there was no financial gain, it was all about outdoing the routines and code of other groups, it was about notoriety not money.  They made the Amiga do things that Commodore had never envisaged it would or could do, and whilst most groups had an affinity to the piracy scene and cracking of commercial software,  I loved that these demos were something quite separate.  For me and others like me who appreciated the time and skill put into producing them they were an absolute work of art.

Sadly very few demo parties were held in the UK,  certainly nothing close enough for me and Sean to commute to so we were resigned to getting our demo group news from scene ‘Disk Mag’s’ like my favourite Grapevine.  To be honest though just jumping on the bus and heading over to Seans when he received his fortnightly jiffy bag full of demos and music compilation disks from Germany, and distributing them onwards made us feel like part of something underground and special.

My school friends had very little interest in the demo scene,  they had difficulty understanding why I would waste hundreds of disks collating demos when they could be used to copy cracked games.  They had no interest in watching sine scrollers, and copper fields and couldn’t care less that the new Fairlight demo had 20 more ‘bobs’ on the screen at once than the last.  But the truth is they should have cared as many of the scene coders in the 90′s secured jobs within the mainstream games industry and are probably now working on the stuff you are playing on your 360 and PS3.

My love of demos continues to this day, as does the scene and the demo parties.  Its probably been the saviour of my Amiga, the only pre 1999 machine I have thats not resigned to the loft.  I have hundreds of disks and DVD’s full of demos and whilst the mainstream is now all about the PC and much more focused on immersive and expansive production values rather than technical feats, there are still to this day groups doing awesome things with the  C64 and Amiga.  What some of these people can do within the confines of a 100k file is out of this world. If you get ten minutes to spare, Google it and amaze yourself!

This Community Content article was created by ShatnerzBassoon, a member of our community. Community Content is your way of getting long-form writing and opinion out to the Midlife Gamer audience, an open platform to get something off your chest. For full guidelines on our editorial standards and how to create your own post, click here. The views expressed within are those of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the Midlife Gamer Staff.

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2 Responses to “Making a scene about demos”
  1. avatar starscreme says:

    Nice blog. Brings back memories of stuffing a bit of card in the spectrum cassettes so they could be copied only to find after 20 mins of (anything but) therapeutic loading noise they didn’t work. The Amiga haxorz didn’t know how easy they had it!

    It’s funny how you never gave a shit about piracy as a naive kid but now I find myself preaching against it to anyone I hear advocating copying games.

  2. avatar Bob Lehat says:

    we used to get bags of amiga disks from an uncle, then spend hours testing and labeling all of the disks, i am going to have to get the a600 out tomorrow i think!

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