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                :::::::        [ beams ]       :::::::ltk

              A cyberpunk romance in digital song and media!

With the majority of demos on Atari,  ST and Falcon alike, you tend to know
what  you  are  getting even before you watch  to  some  extent.The  normal
parameters  recognise  coding,  especially  some kind  of  hardware  limit-
breaking,  over  story telling or 'design' (THAT word!) The more derivative
releases  (on any scene) tend to fall into a "me too!" trap  following  the
last  time that someone had an original idea,  so you get string of  fairly
similar releases for a time.

But now and then,  a rare production manages to breach the stale consensus,
bringing a blast of freshness into an enclosed scene.  'Beams' is just such
a demo. We consider why.

Several  people  were involved in the making of this demo.  Apart from  the
great  and good of tSCc,  one of the people involved in the conception  and
design stage was that reclusive Dead Hacker,  Gizmo,  who we never see, but
whose  name  often  turns up in some of the best demos ever  made  for  the

cxt: Sorry CiH, i think its gizmo/Farbrausch who was involved with beams, not
the DHS guy. :)

So  what do those big-brained people at CERN do,  when they're not smashing the
wotsits out of tiny molecules to gain the inner secrets of the universe? Well
here's a partial answer!

Beams is not a small demo,  it downloads to around three and a half meg.  A
large  part of this is down to the two .mp2 soundtracks.  Yes,  there is at
least  one 'new' technique being used here,  and that is probably  favoured
because of the unique nature of the soundtrack.

It can run on a broad swathe of Falcon hardware, and it is especially proud
of  advertising  its  compatibility  with a 4mb  baseline  Falcon.  As  the
infoscreen  at  the beginning of the demo confidently states "No  14mb,  No
CT60,  no  Coldfire,  no  FPU," and a whole list of other things that Beams
doesn't  need  in  order  to  run.  I get the feeling that  a  lot  of  the
protracted development time went into making this part happen properly.

To  cut a lot of dancing around the facts short,  Beams is a tribute to the
William Gibson 'Neuromancer' novels.  The demo takes you into the immersive
cyberspace experience depicted in his books. tSCc have pulled off something
of  a  master-stroke  here.  The abstractness of normal demo  objects,  the
cubes,  pyramids, and more complex twisty blobs, has a natural affinity for
a  cyberpunk themed demo.  You really don't have to make your design  ultra
realistic,  or  ultra  natural,  for  that gets away from the point of  the
exercise. You might even say that 'Beams' is "computer art" at its purest.

It's  been  a long time since I last read the Neuromancer books,  but  I've
always  imagined  it as an almost silent place.  Lotek upsets  expectations
once more,  and comes up with this fantastic soundtrack for the demo.  With
the additional flexibility of the .MP2 format,  we have lyrics in the song,
no  thumpy drum and bass mods for this demo!  There are places in the  demo
which almost encourage the viewer to sing along, so this could be a Karaoke
demo in the wrong hands!

So we click and run,  we start by seeing the defiantly pround infoscreen at
first glance,  "1 VBL,  no panic,  no 14mb, no CT60, no FPU..." Ok, I'm not
     |        I am riding on a beam        |
     |     a digital clean data stream     |
     |  travelling with bits & bytes along |
     |       binary encoding zero one      |

It starts gently,  with a tunnel which you are running back from,  overlaid
with  flickering strands,  like an old celluloid film reel playing.  Then a
status panel with a non-random IP address on it scrolls up on the left part
of  the  screen.  The opening lyrics "I am riding on a beam" quiver on  the
screen  in  a bold white futuristic textual form,  at the same moment  that
they are sung on the soundtrack!

This  alternates with a classic zoom and rotate background,  you could call
it  a 'datazoomer' as it is made up of the lovely zeros and ones  which  do
all the heavy work in our digital world.

Anyway, back to the song..

                 |     the beams are gonna blind me    |
                 |      the data streams behind me     |
                 |     the beams are gonna blind me    |
                 |    the lights are gonna guide me    |

We get to a title screen next, a fairly static part of the demo, apart from
the  blue  'Beams' shining back from the middle part of each  line  of  the
chorus.  There is a neat background picture in there two,  but that is kept
strictly under control!

Ray hits us with the first of his 3D treats.  This is a rapid transit along
a  maze  of angular polygon tunnels,  all done in a glorious green  gouraud
mood, we get the benefit of this freescape world for the 21st century for a
little time, before it fades out gently.

In  the  distance,  a  tubular  tunnel spins  around,  with  glowing  blobs
pulsating  through  it,  in corpuscle fashion,  the life blood of this demo
flows on.

A  swift  pixellator leads to another tranquil still graphic  moment.  This
shows  the 'pyramids of IBM',  which we will see some more of shortly,  and
also  the obligatory namecheck for the people who brought you  this  lovely

                 |    much more clusters passing by    |
                 |          Fujijamatari signs         |
                 |     and in the distant digiland     |
                 |         the pyramids of IBM         |

The next part is filled with some of those great abstract 3D objects,  in a
metallic  cold  enviromapped way.  Of course,  you get their version of the
fuji logo, just as the song comes to "fujiamatari" signs and in the distant
digilands, there are the pyramids of IBM!

                       Metallic Lotek sings the blues!

The next part of the chorus is taken over by one of the demo masterstrokes.
This  is the metallic lipsynched singing robotic replica of  Lotek's  head!
The  lips and eyes really seem to move in time to the sung words.  It could
be argued that this sequence,  when first seen in 2003, may have influenced
certain later productions? The 'Elvis is still Dead' demo shuffles guiltily
forward at this point!
                 |     the beams are gonna blind me    |
                 |      the data streams behind me     |
                 |     the beams are gonna blind me    |
                 |    the lights are gonna guide me    |

Another major set piece?  Yup,  Ray virtually tours a cityscape rendered in
green,  against  a  green shaded sky,  and the black mountains or  pyramids
lurking in the distance. It is really this bit that benefits from any extra
power you can throw at it, but still, a great effort!

In  case the viewer is still in doubt about the identity of the demo,  a 3D
enviromapped  'Beams'  logo darts onto the screen for a  short  time,  then
discreetly nips off down the bottom and is gone.

A final still moment before we start in on the end,  with a tentacled alien
head leering out of the screen.

                 |     a database, my journey ends     |
                 |  all panther moderns are my friends |
                 |  we break the ice with no problems  |
                 |  we gonna steal the whole contents  |

There  is a final run of bluey enviromapped objects to fit the lyrics,  but
we ask,  just how friendly are the Panther Moderns? And shouldn't they have
been updated to "Jaguar Moderns"?

(You're fired! - Weak humour editor) (You're reinstated! - Pendantry editor)

(Surely  it  should  be Tiger Moderns?  - Obscure jokes about  AppleMac  OS
versions editor!)

Of course, the final chorus is taken up by metallic Lotek once more!

                 |     the beams are gonna blind me    |
                 |      the data streams behind me     |
                 |     the beams are gonna blind me    |
                 |    the lights are gonna guide me    |

And  thus,  the  main  part of the demo ends.  But it is quiet only  for  a
moment. A harsh metallic voice grates "DSP activated", and we are into the

There  is  a change of music,  which much more mellow and slower paced,  in
contrast to the liveliness of the demo soundtrack.  Then a 3D metallic blob
appears, then one, and another divide from it, and they playfully merge and
diverge across the screen.

Like  naughty children,  they dart off to the left and disappear,  then the
endpart proper begins.

A  leftward  running scroller with a huge picture shows many  of  the  demo
themes on it. Various crew names fade up, are spoken by the soundtrack in a
deep electronic voice, then fade down again. This goes on for the best part
of a couple of minutes, ending on the final text onscreen ''.

Thus  the demo is totally concluded.  We have just been a witness to one of
the all-time great moments of Falcon demo-dom.

We can't avoid mentioning the very long development time.  Many of you will
have  first seen Beams at Error in Line 3,  back in 2003.  It has only been
released  now,  some  two  years  later.  The  story of  being  trapped  in
development  hell is typical of the Atari scene at large.  There are  grand
plans,   some  half-realised,  and  then  insufficient  time  and  changing
circumstances get in the way to halt completion.

We  seem  to  have lost many of the promised Outline '05  demos  that  way?
Between EIL 3 and now,  we've had the loss of one of the main coders, Remo,
and  a  period of military service for Ray.  Then there are all the  normal
motivation sapping things like persistent bugs and the sheer fatigue with a
project  stuck for this long.  Keeping fresh and interested must have  been
one of the hardest jobs for Ray.  Still,  he stuck at it,  and got there in
the end.

Beams  is  a  real rarity among Atari demos,  where you  get  high  quality
effects,  but the temptation to showcase these on their own has been firmly
resisted. For once, they have been subordinated to the storyline. This type
of  demo is more typical of the current Amiga or PeeCee scene.  I'd imagine
we will see more of this kind of demo on the CT60 in the future,  but for a
base level Falcon, this is a considerable achievement.

Beams is defiantly oldschool.  A basic 4mb Falcon is enough.  I'd almost go
as  far  to say it is indifferent to the likes of CT60.  A  dedicated  '030
booster  like  the  CT2 does make the 3D parts move more  slickly,  and  if
you've got a booster of any capacity,  then this demo will love you for it.
At the same time, the overall design is so strong that it still looks great
on the standard machine.

There  is one small technical issue,  which takes the form of some  monitor
weirdness.  Beams  has  across the board compatibility on different  screen
types,  but  on  some  VGA's,  major  screen adjusting may  be  needed.  My
flatpanel  LCD showed the demo on the top 2/3 of the screen,  which  looked
strange.  It did behave normally on an RGB screen,  so score one for having
two Falcons then!  A subsequent check running my CT60 machine as a standard
Falcon,  revealed that this was only a problem on the accelerated mode,  so
not such a big deal then.

In  our view, Beams has definitely got a place in the all-time hall of fame
for  Atari  demos.  It does transform our expectations of how demos can  be
made  on  the Falcon,  and even two years after the release date it  should
have had,  it still looks and sounds fantastic!  But is this is the last of
the great demos for the unexpanded Falcon?  I'd like to think not,  but the
4mb requirement (or straitjacket?) has been quietly dropped by most  people
now, and more releases are happier with some kind of acceleration. And that
is even before I even mention the CT60 word!

Still, I'm blinded by this excellence, so I won't worry anymore today!

A great storyline!
Cool effects.
Perfect blending of the first two above.
Polished until it squeaks!
The music rules, a demo you can sing along to!
It all runs on a '93 era unexpanded machine!
It also runs on accelerators nicely.
Lovely slow contrasting endpart.
A definite all-time classic!

Behaves strangely with some monitors on CT60.
Possibly a little sluggish in a couple of the larger 3D set pieces.

CiH, for Alive Mag. April '05.

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