The art of creating demos – non-interactive, animated digital bragging rights – has its roots within the cracking subculture of yore. Upon cracking a piece of software, pirates would often add their own intro or “crack screens” which initially were quite plain, eventually evolving into increasingly technical and impressive animations.
The first crack screens were seen on the Apple II, and before long groups started to release their demos individually, not just attached to cracked software. Thus, the demo scene was born and has pretty much run riot on every major computer (and console) platform since the 70s.
Thanks to the power of emulation, we can enjoy the incredible number of demos produced over the years on our shiny new PCs.
A Brief History
Simply put, demos (in this sense) are custom written animations designed to show off programming, modelling, music tracker and drawing skills.
The demoscene is still very much alive, with dedicated groups still regularly meeting up for demo parties and competitions; still celebrating a wide array of platforms to this day. This does of course mean modern creations designed to run on up to date hardware.
Restrictions imposed on coders by hardware made up much of the challenge involved in the original demo scene. Some writers would even exploit known hardware errors in order to achieve effects that the system was never meant to deliver.
As these restrictions became a thing of the past (thanks to our speedy modern processors and bucket loads of RAM) many groups simply focused on creating beautiful, real-time artwork – something which divided the demo scene somewhat.
The traditional scene has lived on however, with many competitions insisting on PC demos of 64Kb or 4Kb (intros) in size and dedicated classes for classic demos from platforms like the Amiga, Atari ST and Commodore 64. Believe me when I say there are a lot of demos in existence, many probably sitting on old floppy disks waiting to be rediscovered.
In order to enjoy these demos you’re going to be needing a handful of emulators (or Compatibility Mode for Windows demos). I’ve already run through a lot of different emulators for many of the classic systems featured here in this article. For quick reference, here are a few you’ll probably want to hand:
DOSBox (MS-DOS, PC) – Stupidly simple ready-to-go DOS emulation. simply mount a folder as your “C: drive” with the command ‘mount c: <path>’ and run the executables as you would any other DOS program. Here is a fairly detailed look at DOSBox and its use with demos.
Where To Find Demos
Unfortunately a lot of websites that were once home to a bounty of demos have since disappeared and the domain squatters have moved in. Luckily there are still a few good resources for all your demo needs.
Featuring a lot of Windows and DOS demos; Scene.org is an easy way to stay up to date with the latest and greatest releases from the demo scene. In addition to the Scene Awards which are held once a year, Scene.org still delivers news updates and a constantly expanding library of demos that are free to download.
The archives are huge, there’s a forum and plenty of info about parties and competitions.
Probably an even larger archive than Scene.org, Pouet.net has the added bonus of being sorted and categorised exquisitely. This makes it an absolute cinch to find something particular, either by searching directly or choosing a demo size or platform to peruse.
There are demo files for everything from DOS to the Dreamcast and each demo is given a description, can be rated and often contains a link to an embedded video of the demo on YouTube or similar (should it exist).
All your Amiga demo prayers answered in one tasty package. If Amiga demos are your thing then don’t forget to check out the Amiga Music Preservation website which features thousands of MODs for chiptune fanatics.
It’s like YouTube but solely for demos. Lots of embedded videos for watching old (and new) demos in your browser, without the need for original hardware or an emulator.
A surprisingly good collection of outstanding demos from 1996 through to 2007. The site is mainly focused on DOS and Windows, but also features an interesting history, FAQ and other information about the demo scene.
I’ve scattered a few personal picks amongst the sea of links here to keep to the usual Stuff to Watch formula, but I’d really recommend you explore the demo scene and find your own favourites. There are so many creations out there that broke new ground, pushed hardware to new limits and have left a lasting impression on many computer users and they still deserve to be seen, shared and appreciated.
Do you have any favourite demos, groups or websites? Have you been to a demo party? Recommend and share links, demos and your thoughts in the box below.