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.

Workprint – February 2019

So that’s January out of the way and, after the rush of throwing things out the door over the “festive” period, I seem to have come to something of a halt. I’m not sure what I actually want to work on right now and part of me is pondering the switch to game code… although Rassilon alone knows which project at this point. I have a few which are ridiculously close to finished and there’s a couple in the pending pile which need more attention but even choosing from those – including a few that have never been spoken of, apart from in hushed tones with other members of Cosine – will doubtless prove difficult.

There are a few less sensible ideas on the “to do” list that might get some attention as well though, most of them are partially complete projects filed under the “I wonder if” category and are more proof of concept than anything else. On top of that there’s a range of platforms I want to play with at some point, but those are going to require further research so probably aren’t going to go anywhere in the short term. Perhaps I need to take a couple of days to sit down and think about it…

Watching NWCUG Demos (C64)

As the name might suggest, the North-West Commodore User Group – or NWCUG for short – wasn’t actually a demo or cracking crew in the same way that contemporaries like the Mean Team or Borderzone were, it was instead a user group which covered, perhaps unsurprisingly, the north west of the United Kingdom. They also had a presence on UK-based online service Compunet and a few of their members produced a cluster of demos in the group’s name for release on said service so, as a “bumper” post to get back up to speed after a few weeks off, here’s a look at the three demos bearing the NWCUG brand in their name.

To begin with we’ve got The NWCUG Demo, a two parter which starts with an intro whizzing some square blocks around the screen and running a scrolling message across the bottom; nothing special but it’s fun to watch and has a good, upbeat tune playing as well. The main part has a large scrolling message at the bottom of the screen where each character in the font has been scaled up to eight times its regular size and there’s an area at the top where a series of pictures dissolve in and out. There’s also a NWCUG logo built from expanded sprites which sits in the lower border and a couple of tunes available from the function keys including a solid cover of Dire Straits’ Walk Of Life.

As with the first demo, NWCUG 2 opens with a scroller and sprite sinus, although everything has been overhauled since the previous demo’s intro; the sprites this time are defined as hearts rather than just blocks and their movements are more interesting, with the latter also being true for the excellent multi speed, direction and colour scroller which is, for me at least, only marred by the short length of the text especially since this is probably my favourite piece of music in all three of these demos as well.

Pressing the space bar will start the second part which has some Max Headroom animations originally drawn by Bob Stevenson and reworked via ESCOS to use the upper, lower and side borders whilst dancing to some appropriate David Whittaker music. A tap of the Restore key from there brings up a simulation of the NWCUG page on Compunet, accompanied by some classical music and a scrolling message where the “duck shoot” menu would usually be and, when the music ends on this part it, hands over to a simulated test card entirely built from colour splits.

NWCUG Demo 3‘s first part has some raster bars in the side borders, although sadly they’re not properly timed so there’s some “sparkling” on a C64C or C128. The expanded sprite logo and scaled up scroller from the first NWCUG demo make a return, except with the former cycling through different colour schemes and the latter sporting cool-looking shadow effects. Hitting space gets another ESCOS-style part which this time reproduces the demo Power Windows but in all four borders, allowing the user to move the picture up and down under joystick control.

Finally, slapping Restore pulls up another sprite sinus part to finish the show which this time updates sixteen sprites with eight being displayed on each frame. It might be flickery – I was surprised that the YouTube video comes out as well as it does – but the routine comes with several presets to choose from and the option to play with various settings once they’re in motion. It also features my second favourite tune from all of the NWCUG demos playing behind it, a wonderfully laid back piece that fits the sedate, almost hypnotic movement of those sprites very well.

Almost all of the music in these three demos are original and enjoyable, the graphics are good throughout in part because there’s a couple of “borrowed” Bob Stevenson works in there and the code is for the most part solid. I remember originally watching the second and third NWCUG demos as a teenager after a friend downloaded them – I didn’t see the first until some point in the 1990s if memory serves – and being completely blown away at the time. All three have a unique style throughout despite their being collections of parts and, for me at least, still hold together well now.