Some Acorn Archimedes and Risc PC Demos sampled.
One of the major reasons why I got into RiscOS hardware was Starfighter 3000
(grin!) Another compelling reason was for the fact that there was a demo
scene for it, with quite a range of material, sort of shadowing what the
Amiga and PeeCee scenes were doing.
Almost since the idea of coding demos became respectable, back in the late
eighties, someone, somewhere was kicking out an equivalent on the Archie.
This activity continued, right through to the present day, if at least one
person is to be believed, albeit at a lower level of activity now. Checking
out the demo server at www.icebird.org I found a more or less complete
archive of Archie and Risc PC demos, a huge range of material. Surely I
should be able to run all this with my newly acquired Risc PC?
In practice, the amount that will run successfully reduces down for various
Some very old demos may well need the first generation RiscOS, v2.00. This
is considered now to be as out of date in Acorn circles, as say, TOS 1.01 is
to us. A "modern" Archimedes will have an OS starting at v3.1. The Risc PC
came in at v3.5 - 3.7 (I've got v3.6) and the newest generation RiscOS is at
A feature of the Risc PC design, is that with additional Video RAM, it could
display a number of extended screen resolutions and enhanced palette modes.
A lot of later Risc PC demos make use of this, and guess what, Acorn often
supplied hardware without this useful extra preinstalled. This includes my
machine, and a lot of demos get excluded for lack of this. VRAM would be the
one essential extra I'm getting, right after I've recovered from the CT60
spend-out, even if I don't do anything else to this machine.
Still, that leaves quite a lot which will be able to run perfectly okay. so
I started with some of the Archie demos that I collected when my A4000 was
running, and were archived for safekeeping on my Falcy hard drive. If these
were able to run on a RiscOS 3 machine, then they shouldn't have a problem
with this later model.
These are (mostly) written around a RiscOS 3 based Archimedes, typically an
A5000, which had a 25mzh CPU not a lot slower than my RPC. One or two demos
may well have been older generation, and I could tell as they ran very very
quickly indeed. The other point of interest is that these sort of demos were
a lot more likely to work with my default monitor setting in place, and
without fiddling to set up a 'fake' 100hz screen mode.
'Funky demo' - JSG (1992).
This is probably the nearest thing to a rave demo you're going to see on the
Archie. A huge dancing chromium effect stick figure dominates the screen, to
a pulsating soundtrack, the screen splits in various weird and wonderful
ways, there is a crazy gyrating starfield in the background, and some madly
spinning spectroscopes. After two or three minutes, the demo loops. There is
also a second Funky Demo, called "Funky Demo 2", which carries on with this
Minutes of harmless fun for all the family. - 65%
'Spaceballs' - Paranoia Complex (199?)
We are into something Amiga-ish, something oldskool here, with the
Archimedes take on the 3-D Vectorbob demo. You may well scream "Red
Sector!", or even "Mindbomb Demo!" Or perhaps not? They don't imitate the
two famous demos exactly, there's no mirrored watery bottom half, but the
impressive profusion of vectorbob objects, a nice starfield and galactic
backdrops, plus the fact it is running in 256 colours, not to mention the
decent runtime length of this demo, go some way to make up for that. There's
even a little Xmas themed bonus screen buried deep in there.
Did anyone say Amiga? - 75%
'Damn!' - Arms Tech (199?)
You will hear the name 'Arms Tech' again, when it comes to the Risc PC
section, a bit later on. This demo runs on all flavours of Archie though,
assuming there is at least a 12mhz CPU there. What you get, after a neat
shatter-effect title screen, is a walk-through, or more accurately, a fly-
around tour of a 3-D world. This is a world not unrecognisable to fans of
the EKO System demo concept, where lots of angular polygons predominate. My
memory of running it on the A4000 suggests that there was an option where
you could take control yourself by the keyboard? There is also a windowed
desktop version (rather like the GEM Demo idea) which works perfectly well,
and prefers a 256 colour screen mode although it will run in a fast but
grotty manner in 16 colours.
Quite a slick and user-friendly production. - 80%
'Fishtank' - DFi (1996).
Dfi are another crew who mainly coded on the Risc PC, tending to specialise
in higher-end demos. However, this little demo is a perfect example of what
is called a 'screensaver demo'. It runs on non-Risc PC RiscOS as well, and
consists of a huge polygonal fish or shark swimming constantly around the
*inside* of a torus which is light-shaded, the light source following the
big fish around. Also in the same tank there is a shoal of little fish.
There is a slight element of interactivity here, as pressing the space bar
disturbs and scatters the shoal. I have fond memories of this, as it was the
first demo I got to run on the A4000, and it even works on the LCD screen of
the A4 laptop, as we proved at the 3rd Alternative party back in January.
Very impressive for a small demo - 85%
DFi ("Digital Fish International") Old style demo (Early 1990's?)
This is DFi again, in a very early production, and subsequently patched to
work on later series machines. This is completely oldschool in design and
inspiration. The opening screen is a classic compilation of sineous scrolly
texts, wobbly logos and strange little hand-drawn grapics and a mirror image
of all of this for the bottom half of the screen. It is running very
quickly, as you might expect, being originally written for an 8 or 12 mhz
computer. I dread to think what this would be like on a StrongARM based
Other highlights of this multi-part demo include a nicely done 256 colour
title zoomer screen, there's also a big scroller in the B.I.G demo sense of
the word. A heavily self-satirising shadebobs screen ("Yawny yawny yawn, you
can press space to get out of here ANYTIME!") gets in there, and there are
some mad many-coloured plasma screens right at the end. This demo shows its
age, with hours of quitless end and no escape route back to the desktop,
until you decide to turn the machine off.
What might have happened to Tex,TCB etc in a parallel coding universe? - 75%
'Philosophers Song demo' - Topix (1993).
You remember the ancient and crusty sample demo format, where people would
use their brand new sound sampling cartridge to grab a chunk of their
favourite tune, stick a lame menu on it, and release it on floppy disk as a
sample demo. Well the Archie didn't get away with avoiding this format I'm
afraid! To be fair, this is one of the better members of the genre. The
choice of song is the Monty Python "Philosophers drinking song", sung by our
heroes in an Australian bushman's setting. It does the decent thing in
getting the whole song down. There is a little bit of a screengrab, which I
haven't worked out the best way to display yet (That old VGA inspired cock-
up again.) But the sound is what is important, and that works just fine.
I drink, therefore I am! - 60%
'Jojo' - Archiologics (1996).
Here we have a modern style demo, with authentically new style effects. This
first saw light at the 1996 Yelling Jam Party where it won. It is intended
to run on anything from an Arm2.5 - Arm3 processor upwards, and functions
pretty well on a standard Risc PC. Many effects will be instantly
recognisable to the Atari coding fraternity, such as a fully 3-D spinning
texture tunnel. Dead Hackers in the audience may also be keen to learn that
the Archiologics coder has added an extra layer wth cut-out panels, so you
get a 'double tunnel' effect. The 3-D dungeon walk-through is more
impressive than normal, with some icy looking Sub-Stationesque visuals
enhanced by a travelling downwards perspective, that owes a lot to the PC
game 'Descent". There is a nice screen, a cross between a flight over an icy
landscape, with glowing star-sprites spinning above and lighting up the
ground immediately beneath them. A fancy still graphic endscreen rounds it
Archie does new school nicely! - 85%
'Insanity 64ktro' - Expression (1996).
Also seen at the Yelling Jam Party was this respectable 64k effort. The
effects are straightforwardly presented, a cow distorter, a texture-mapped
cow-cube, various gouraud shaded objects, and a little bit of a phong torus,
culminating in a brisk roll around in a 3-D Wolfenstein style dungeon.
Another good release from what looks like a vintage Archimedes supported
Cow-a-bunga! - 75%
'Metamorphosis Megademo' - Zarquon (1994).
It's a rare beast on the Archie, a menu-demo! Zarquon wrote three major
parts, the first of which is a 3-D morphing screen very much like the tSCc
4k entry for the Symposium '96, but done in Amiga red and white chequer-
vision. Following that is a very wobbly distorting screen, and lots of 3-D
bobs that look a lot like the DNA structure of the coder concerned. It's
also worth mentioning the menu transformation, which resembles the 'spinny
boxes' in Apex media.
A well-presented if not groundbreaking demo - 70%
Code Craft 3 small intros - Various (2001).
This was a competition hosted by Icebird, and consisting of various 1k and
4k intros. There were several small demos, most notable of which included a
4k from Exoticorn of Icebird. An everlasting flame effect blazes behind a
Commodore 64 resolution girly piccy. What interests me most, personally, is
that the Archie has been made to play some sort of chip music with a
reasonable SIDdish twang. Jeffrey Lee did a little demo called 'Voxie',
which distorted the desktop for starters, and then generated a crude but
quick 3-D voxel landscape which you could tour with the help of the cursor
In the 1k section, you are invited to drag a load of balls, joined up by
string, courtesy of Arms Tech. Topix and Icebird hit back with 'Demo 6401',a
double scrolly, starfield, and soundchip tune, all in 1k. The winner, for
me, is a 1ktro called 'Pins in Space' by Topix, which replaces the dull grey
default desktop, with a starfield. This is remarkably immune to most events
that take place on your Archie or Risc PC, until you run another little
proggy, to kill it...
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RISC PC DEMOS
It took a bit more time and effort to get anywhere with these. I hit upon a
lot of non-runners when I dearchived the competition entries from the
Relevation '98 party. A lot of these represent the very best RiscOS demos
written at the time, but they also excluded any machine that didn't have a
StrongARM installed. Where I was able to get demos running, there was
initially a problem with screen modes displaying in a 'smear-around' fashion
on my VGA screen. I managed to find a monitor type (Acorn AFK92) which was
able to display correctly, which looks like how my Falcon does a 100hz
'Infinity' - Reactive (1997).
This starred at the 1997 Revelation Party, and was this groups first venture
into Risc PC coding, using the enhanced video chip. It runs reasonably, if
slowly on some parts, on this RPC 600. This demo really prefers a StrongArm,
as it positively chugs in places. Some solid wall tunnels, morphing figure
of eight phong shaded objects, a smart bump-map, and a 3-D flight sequence
all feature here.
Nice, but not too exciting on slower hardware - 70%
'Reactivity' - Reactive (1998?)
This was the follow-up to the Infinity demo. No date was given, but the
style of coding looks distinctly like it has evolved from the previous demo.
I think this appeared at the Revelation '98 competition? The flight sequence
is back, but looks more like a version of Starfighter 3000 with smart
graphics, there's a walk-through a 3-D dungeon which is a 1-2 frame per
second slideshow, some amazingly simple but effective dot-based effects, and
a heavy preponderance of radiation warning logos, some of them light-shaded
and bump-mapped. Smart transformation sequence from the desktop and back
again, by the way.
Less appealing on slow RPC boxes again - 75%
'Miss Tech' - Arms Tech (1996).
This production is a pre-version of a demo intended for showing on the
StrongArm, and written just before that machine came out. It is a bit
crudely thrown together, but shows some impressive effects, which even just
about work on a bog-standard RPC. There's some objects made out of what look
like 3D bobs, Amiga style, but these are very large, very high resolution,
and are almost certainly genuine 3D objects. There are some equally high res
3D fractals, which evolve in their own time on my machine, but are probably
realtime, or as nearasdammit on a StrongArm machine. Some very complex 3-D
objects follow that, more fractals, and we end up with the fiery death of an
Arms Tech logo.
Chuggy but promising, did they ever do that reworking they promised? - 75%
'!Jan 3D' Demo - Arms Tech (No year, or textfile).
I've written about this crew before, but this small and serviceable 3D demo
adds to their reputation as an extremely good RiscOS demo crew. This little
demo comes as a stand alone app. No documentation, or fancy sprite file, and
when you run the demo, not much there either, no sound or background, just a
bunch of pleasingly complex 3D objects which are lightsourced, texture
mapped, environment mapped, phong lit, any bloody way you want them really!
You do get a frame counter in the top left corner of the screen, so you can
see how fast, or chugging it gets. As I've got a machine which is as slow as
it gets, the frame rate on the more interesting objects might drop down to 3
to 4 frames a second. Sometimes it can be a bit quicker. Amazingly, it works
quite well! A lot is down to the coolness factor of the 3D objects, no
boring old cubes or toruses (torii?) for them, but horses heads, human
skulls, and china-glazed effect cartoon bears rule in this 3D universe!
Simple and to the point - 80%
'Xtreme' - Various (1994-96).
Here's a mystery for you. A multi-part demo, pulling together some of the
finest talents on the RiscOS demo scene, able to run on almost any machine,
from a reasonable RiscOS 3 Archie upwards, but including some special bits
that use the Risc PC's video hardware, starts off very promisingly. It runs
very slickly through the intro, loads in the next bit.. Crashes!!! It might
be down to a fault on my copy on the Acorn World CD-ROM, It may be the
peculiar configuration of my machine? But it's a four meg download, so I'm
reluctant to go through that for something which only *might* work, second
Better try this one again when I've got some video RAM...
'Vox!' (The consolation prize from Xtreme!)
However, there was one bit of that demo that Arms Tech managed to prize free
from the grasp of the main code. And that was a gorgeous 3D Voxel landscape.
This rather looks like one of the Risc PC specific bits. The shading,
lighting and mist effects are to die for here! It is fully user-
controllable, you can fly around the place with your mouse as the
controller. Hurtle around the hills, splash around in the lake, and check
out that hilltop temple or fortress whilst you're there. It maintains a
reasonable frame rate in the order of 8 - 12 frames a second.
Gives 3D landscape gardening a new lease of life! - 85%
'Era' - The Xperience (1997). (Top Demo!)
I've saved the best (for now at least) until the end. This demo by Xperience
was the winner of the 1997 Siliconvention Party. This demo was thus
occupying the same big screen as the almighty Sonoluminescenz! Any of you
Sili-goers remember this one at all? According to the Coders Revenge
diskmag, this was the best all-time demo for the Risc PC, at least until the
1998 crop of releases came along. Going hugely in its favour is the fact
that it works (relatively) smoothly on my humble RPC 600 without VRAM. It
is one of those rare productions that can be considered an authentic full-
blooded RPC production, as opposed to an enhanced Archimedes demo.
You know that you are in for a major treat right from the opening sequence,
which is a 3-D chinese style logo which motion blurs across the screen to
join up. What follows, is about five minutes worth of classy effects,
including some of the bext bump-mapping seen anywhere, combined with a zoom
and rotate. There's a gorgeous semi-transparent 3-D tunnel, a brilliant
bump-or texture mapped planet. There are also some of the slickest meta blob
effects ever, including a totally perverted solid looking 3-D version! There
is more, and the finale of the main part of the demo seems to have been
lifted from the movie 'Independence Day', with a fleet of solid poly flying
saucers cruising through space.
The whole demo reeks class, even the inbetween effects and transformations
keep up the quality, and the fact that it works well on lower end machines
(running at 60hz if you are lucky enough to own a StrongArm) suggests a
thoroughbred coding heritage. This is definitely one to show off to impress.
A real "Wow!" demo!
May well be the best, at least for this level of hardware! - 92%
My all too brief look at the RiscOS scene shows a long and fairly prolific
history. In terms of general quality, the original and later model
Archimedes were more than adequate in holding their own against contemporary
Amiga 500 demos. The Risc PC took Amiga AGA and PeeCee demos as their model,
and from the screenshots that I've seen of the StrongArm demos in the Coders
Revenge diskmag, look utterly fantastic. But with a level of power such as a
233 mhz Risc processor, then so they should, I hear you cry. Even my
limited RPC 600 is capable of hosting some class acts. The Era demo would
stretch existing Falcon hardware, but it would not be impossible to
replicate by any means with a bit of thought.
But I'm left wondering what is coming next? Any material relating to the
RiscOS demo scene seems to refer to it in the past tense. The internet
information sources that I have been able to find all seem to stop dead
around a couple of years ago. A lot of links to individual demo crew sites
are long gone as well. I get the feeling that the demo scene here suffered a
huge body blow when the Risc PC 2 or Phoebe was cancelled, and a lot of
crews who were looking forward to coding on it, gave up at that point. At
least some people are still out there, one of our favourite German groups,
tSCc has got a healthy cross-fertilisation going with the RiscOS group
Icebird. We know very well what they are up to on Atari, but on RiscOS? This
deep silence from the RiscOS demo scene may also have something to do with a
lack of focus and motivation. I don't think there have been any recent
coding parties for this format. This serves as a useful warning to those of
us who wish to see more Atari demos in the future!
Anyway, one correspondent, who expressed their thoughts about the recent
Mekka Symposium party on the Alt Party website, described the RiscOS demo
scene as "Small but still alive." If anyone who is closer to the centre of
it than I am can tell me what is going on at the moment, I'll be more than
happy to share the news with the readers of Alive! in the next issue.
CiH - For Alive! Mag, April-May '02