Watching Demo Factory (C64)

Let’s do something a little different and look at one of my own demos, specifically Demo Factory on the C64 from 1987. The original idea came about from a brainstorming session with friends and was intended to be a less than serious response to the plethora of bog standard demos around at the time which usually included a bitmapped picture, some music and a sprite-based ROL scroller in the border. We all found the idea of an automated factory churning these similar-looking demos out on a conveyor belt amusing so I set about programming, pausing only to work things out on paper first – something I haven’t bothered doing since – and to read up on how the hardware sprite priority registers worked from the C64 Programmer’s Reference Guide.

Looking back now the code itself is embarrassingly simple – even more so than I remembered it being in fact – but in my defence I was still learning assembly language and indeed the C64 at the time. The music is Rob Hubbard’s Hunter Patrol theme which arrived as a file he’d uploaded to Compunet that had the music located low in memory and started an IRQ to play it before dropping back to BASIC; my code calls that and executes behind it, using timing loops rather than actually waiting for a rasterline or anything sensible because I didn’t know better. I’m tempted to call this my first “real demo” because, despite there being a few releases prior to it including Past Shock, this was the first time I managed to get action on the screen with someone else’s music playing.

The “logic” was, if I recall correctly after three decades, that a parody didn’t have to be particularly well programmed because shonky code could be passed off as part of the joke; similarly, the lack of a scrolling message was absolutely part of the “protest” against bog standard demos and not in the slightest because I couldn’t get one working or anything like that… honest! There’s also a healthy whiff of irony and very probably hypocrisy about me of all people railing against the bog standard demo as a format since I’m incredibly fond of it as a format, was inspired to start coding demos by releases like Future Shock and have since programmed several releases over the years which stick to that tried and tested formula.

I’ve considered doing a remixed version of Demo Factory on a couple of occasions previously which would be an overhaul of the graphics and actually running from interrupt with all the benefits that would entail; it could perhaps animate all of the elements of the demo making machine that I wasn’t able to handle back in 1987 as well and, just for the sake of irony, would probably include a scrolling message as well…?

Watching Crazy Demo (C64)

Crazy Demo by the Norwegian Crackware Company was released way back in 1985 and the style is reminiscent of other releases around that time like the titles page of the Flying Crackers’ game Crackers Revenge; it’s bright and delightfully cluttered with multiple scrolling messages poolting past, some elements pulsing through the C64’s five shades of grey and a sprite logo pushed into the lower border. All of this is accompanied by Rob Hubbard’s Crazy Comets soundtrack, which works well regardless of which tune has been selected via a prod of the space bar.

This is a fun one-parter which came up during a Facebook discussion about the origins of the demo scene a couple of days ago, with former NCC member Stein Pedersen – currently a member of Offence, Prosonix and Panoramic Designs -posting a link as the topic slowly suffered a little bit of “feature creep” and drifted off into the realms of early demos. It was subsequently accompanied by a further tangent about classic Doctor Who titles sequences because they look a bit like demo tunnel effects, so that was me pretty much happy for the rest of the day.

It’s always interesting to see where people started out and, whilst it isn’t a C64 milestone in the same way that a couple of the other demos I’ve been squinting at recently like Readme.prg was for the Atari ST, Crazy Demo is still an early step in a fantastic demo programming career and a lovely example of C64 releases from that time. On a related note, I’m now stuck with the Crazy Comets theme rattling around my head for the rest of the day. Again.

Watching Readme.prg (Atari ST)

I’ve previously mentioned The Exceptions’ early Atari ST demos in passing when talking about Demons Are Forever on the Amiga and was… well, a little less than charitable about them. The first one was Readme.prg – it may have had other names but that seems to be the consensus now – which came out in March of 1987 and was essentially a “bog standard” picture, scroller and music demo of the variety that C64 owners had been seeing since the previous year.

Visually, there’s a very nicely drawn and very colourful picture with the focal point being a dragon clutching the TEX logo and torching a boing ball with its breath, a not-so-subtle dig at the Amiga and there’s another in the parallax scrolling message. Sound was pulled from the Holger Gehrmann game Extensor – there’s a couple of pieces in there and one is very noticeably his style, but I found that changing tunes would sometimes break things so only did so sparingly whilst recording – which are nice but, to my mind at least, don’t really fit with the graphics.

In 1987 we were all waiting on truly staggering things from these incoming 16-bit systems which at least some of the game developers were struggling to deliver on, so a scrolling message with a picture didn’t really sit well next to those expectations; yes the graphics were of a better quality than we were used to from the 8-bits but that’s what the next generation of hardware is supposed to bring to the table and, whilst the music is reasonable, it didn’t really scream “bleeding edge sound” either, being more reminiscent of the Amstrad CPC or AY-equipped Spectrum than anything else.

I’m aware that sounds rather harsh because it probably is all things considered, but these write ups aren’t reviews so tend to be coloured by my personal preferences and indeed emotions; putting on my rather fetching objective hat for a moment, I know that Readme.prg represents a hugely important scene milestone as one of the very first demos released on the Atari ST – possibly even the first scene-produced production in fact – so should be lauded for that and it’s a reasonably solid production for what it is, especially if you leave it running with tune 1 playing as I’ve done whilst writing.