The wheels on the bus

So it’s that time of year again (or one of them at least) when I clamber aboard a National Express coach and trundle my way southwards in search of family and friends. As with the journey this time last year (but oddly, not the one between those two) there’s a partial wifi service onboard… partial in the sense that it’s working enough for me to check in on at least some of my social media and post to this ‘ere blog, but other services aren’t working including pretty much all of Google.

The problem appears to be certificates getting mangled by the Cisco Umbrella-based filtering again, with the result being that pretty much anything that isn’t Google’s search or, for some reason, translate seems to be mangled by the time it gets to me. That’s something of a pain because, along with occasionally checking emails, I would’ve liked to use YouTube videos in order to kill some of the journey time and aAs it stands I’m instead making my own entertainment by posting from a coach whilst listening to the soundtrack of Thunder Force 3 and then probably firing up Steam and playing a little Gridrunner Revolution or Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved.

Speaking of YouTube, since I’m away from my desk (and more specifically, the battered HP desktop with a half decent video card and Vegas Pro installed and all of the raw video files) for the best part of a there won’t be a post or associated video going up this coming Saturday. Sorry to my myriad fans who will doubtless be heartbroken…!

Watching Contribution (C64)

Over thirty years ago, Contribution by Super Swap Sweden was released and competed in the Rebels and Agile copy party’s demo competition, taking the first place and beating entries from other C64 luminaries including Science 451 and Agile in the process. That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise since the group behind Contribution would soon go on to merge with Thundercats to form Horizon, but this particular release before that merger had a fairly specific impact on me personally which I’ll get to in a couple of paragraphs.

Including the humming intro at the start there are six parts with each showcasing a couple of nifty routines; there’s some “3D” raster bars with a bi-directional, colour split ROL scroller (the latter was the inspiration for my own routine in Koalatro over twenty eight years later), another ROL scroller with some vertical motion – making for some odd but interesting diagonal text whilst being surprisingly hard to explain – running over a thirty two point, bitmap-based plotter, a DYCP scroller which has multiple speed and wave presets, a picture mover using 56 sprites per image together with an eight sprite scroller which both seem to be ignoring the borders and to round things off there’s a pre-calculated logo animation and another sideborder scroller.

I don’t remember having seen a DYCP scroller before this demo so that was doubtless fascinating to me at the time, but what I found to be the most impressive part of the show was seeing the series of ESCOS-style, 56 sprite pictures swinging around the screen and into three of the four borders with the scroller taking up the remaining one. I barely understood what was happening in a regular ESCOS routine or indeed the enhanced ones in things like the NWCUG demos so seeing pictures whizzing around freely like that was sheer magic!

Contribution has a special place in my heart; it was the first Super Swap Sweden demo I ever saw – one of the earliest demos I mail traded with a contact in fact, and it arrived with one of the other entries from the same competition which is on my “to do” list – but that doesn’t change how impressive it was and, in some senses still is. It might seem relatively simple now even if the comparison were to be limited to the developers’ later output, but it still holds together very well and, along with the other Super Swap Sweden demos, is certainly worth watching.

Watching Little Demos (Atari ST)

“Robb says wow!” We’re going back to the early releases of Atari ST legends The Exceptions for a quick squint at the two demos which followed on and indeed evolved from Readme.prg – this would all lead to The B.I.G. Demo in early 1988 but that’s probably a post for another time (along with quite a bit of recording since the name isn’t exactly ironic).

The first of these two releases is Little Sound Demo and the large scrolling message with palette rotation in the background returns for another outing, but this time the picture has some raster bars through the TEX logo instead of the background and some decorative palette rotation around the indicator saying which piece of music is currently playing. There are twelve tunes in total which are mostly conversions of Rob Hubbard’s work from the C64 – hence the picture of a Breadbin getting lamped in the back of its “head” by the music emitting from an ST – with a couple of pieces composed by new group member Mad Max who also did the conversions and wrote the music driver.

That handle might not be familiar to those outside the Atari ST scene, but a few folks might recognise his real name Jochen Hippel since he was the musician for several games including Wings Of Death and the ST versions of Turrican and Turrican 2. He also released an album mostly consisting of reworked versions of his game tunes called Give It A Try and I’ve got a copy of that CD knocking around… somewhere?

Little Color Demo continues where its predecessor left off in expanding on what Readme.prg did and wedging more colour and action into the display like the barrel scroller between the two pictures of Rob Hubbard, more palette rotation under the tune list and some serious colour splitting on the lower scroller. One feature that wasn’t carried over from the previous release however is Mad Max’s compositions, there’s only eight tunes in this demo and everything is a Hubbard cover apart from the version of Axel F.

It’s fascinating to see the code mutate and evolve as the coders learnt more about their machine of choice but, whilst the bespoke music driver and converted tunes are a major plus, the hyperbole around them is probably pushing things a little; the tunes are good if sometimes missing elements – or large chunks in the case of Flash Gordon and International Karate – but the sounds being used don’t really hold a candle to their C64 equivalents. Rob himself was already doing Atari ST tunes in 1987 including a reworked version of Human Race tune 4 for Goldrunner, which was coded by the well-known game developer Steve Bak who, by a sad coincidence, passed away a couple of days ago whilst this post was being written.

Looking at these two as a whole, as with Readme.prg they were a little underwhelming to the teenage version of me waiting for the Atari ST to really offer stunning graphics and sound – hearing those covers of older Rob Hubbard tunes was cool but nowhere near enough to entice anyone away from the C64 in that respect – but the early works from Mad Max did offer some promise for the future and both demos are significant milestones in the Atari ST’s scene history.