News Team Current issue History Online Support Download Forum @Pouet

01 - 02 - SE - 03 - 04 - 05 - 06 - 07 - 08 - 09 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14

Alive 6

     The Story of the Acorn demoscene 
          by baah of Arm's Tech 

In  1987,  good fairies leaned over Acorn Archimedes' cradle and gave it the
famous  ARM Risc processor (smartest  assembly  language ever,  Forget 68000
and  PowerPC),  and a very stable and efficient operating system (Basic+Asm,
Bezier  curves,  multitasking all in rom and fast).  Alas the wicked fairies
were  jealous and set a curse upon the Archimedes:  it will be dedicated  to
the British educational market!

These oddities influenced the demo scene, too. Since basic and assembly were
mixed in the same interpreted program,  the sourcecode was also released and
the  general code quality improved.  But there were never many people buying
the  machine,  so  the  demo scene was always confidential and  could  never
compare  with  c64/cpc/Atari/Amiga ones.  In fact, we barely had a chance to
have a demo scene at all!

1987-1993: The old timers

Quite fast some programmers showed the power of the ARM Risc processor. Most
of you know about Zarch  (aka Virus on Spectrum,ST etc...)  by David  Braben
which was very stunning,  to say the least (and the fill routine is not very
optimised:  he draws bytes only,  while he could draw longwords). Some crews
popped  here  and  there,  and started  making demos.  We will mention  John 
Kortinck  and some other greek pals  who made a 3d demo (same problem as  for
Zarch)  and many cool tools.   Also Brothers In Arm (BIA),  a northern crew
IIRC  made  some demos:  the most stunning was BIA^2,  featuring  a  Jelly 3d 
icosahedron,  bouncing  inside a cube.  Pal,  once you've seen this demo, you
cannot  forget it!

From  Switzerland   came  Arc Angels  with  some  interesting  realtime  IFS
fractal,  gouraud  (Spinguin),  and  later  a remix of BIA^2 jelly but  with
texture mapping (i've patched it for RiscPC,  so just ask).  We must mention
the  Belgian Archimedes Software Society (BASS)  which never  released  much
stuff except compression, code and music tools (Crunch, Dissi and Symphony),
but  the  parts of "not to spread" code that i possess  clearly  demonstrate
that these belgians were at the top.  Last and least,  the infamous froggies
of  Arm's Tech released a  picture viewer (FYEO),  a game (Quark), and  some
small demos.

The overall was quite positive.  Coders had nice ideas,  and the machine had
enough kicking power to allow all mathematical fantasies.  Alas,  there were
neither  musicians nor graphicians to tell those coders that the demos  were
attractive  only  to  coders!  Really,  you  should  look  at  those  demos:
technically wonderfull, but really ugly! Nothing to compare with Amiga demos
which were at the top by the time.

1993-1997: Golden Age

This period saw huge changes in the Acorn community:  some people joined the
Archimedes  scene,  leaving  their cpc  (Face Hugger...),   c64 (Expression, 
Daydream  Software...),   or  Atari ST (baah ;).   Most of them were based in
Germany  where  Acorn  had made some advertising,  and thus  it  became  the
leading country in demo scene. Then the Acorn RiscPC computer hit the market
and  was a relative (remember it's  for educational market ;) success.  Then
the StrongARM with its kicking 200MHz, wow!

The  demo  scene  also was kicking in this period,  and the  visual  quality
increased with no technical loss.  The demos were too numerous to list,  and
i'll only mention some below (sorry for the ones I forgot). But first i must
praise  the  over-active  Archiologics crew  (now ICeBird)  which  made  all
this  possible:  with a very  motivated boss (Mr Hill)  and very good  ideas
such  as the Coder's Revenge  disk magazine,  they  gave a new breath to the
acorn demo scene! Thanks a lot pals!

The  biggest  demo was X-Treme with  very,  very impressive 3d by  Jan/BASS
(his  3d  routs  were  always slightly better than mine,  argh...  ;p  ),  a
fantastic  voxel  by  Gil/BASS (creator of  the  OutCast  game  on  PC)  and
stunning  ideas by ArmOric/Arm's Tech.   Then we'll  mention cool demos such
as Metamorph  by Zarquon  (3d mapping not as good as Jan's though), Insanity
by Expression  or  Jojo by ICeBird.   The  England was not very active, only
Quantum  with  design  demo  (but their only stunning code was  their  music
player IMO) and DFI with  a good technical level.  Not many crews in Acorn's

Now for the last crew:  The eXPerience.  They  made good  demos such as Era,
but  were talking big,  saying all demos on the Acorn were lame...  Beware a
crew  with such a mentality,  it is to be destroyed!  Of course they had the
best design,  but their technical level was not so good (eg far below Jan in
3d,  and  most people mentionned above were coding better) and their critics
are useless,  to say the least... It might harm people doing their best (and
improving). All crews then backfired on TXP with parodies (haha :) or so...

At  least we had a view of what the Amiga scene was like,  not so  pleasant!
And the worse is that the individuals (i had contacts with the coders  only)
in the crew were quite cool. I imagine one asshole in the crew decided their
demos  will  spit on everybody and called that "design".  That was the  only
negative point during this period.

Ok,  now on the optimistic side again:  Later,  we saw other big demos,  but
requiring a StrongARM.  They were quite impressive,  but since i don't own a
SA,  i  keep  forgetting  their  names.  There were demos by  DFI,  ICeBird,
Nutters,  Quantum and also MissTech by Arm's Tech (this one again with weird
&  original  ideas  by ArmOric).  Jan also made a 640*480 Quake  engine  (no
monster,  no  dynamic  lighting) running at 25fps on a SA,  sit down  before
watching. All this showed that the RiscPC was keeping pace with the PC.

1998-2001: last show

The Acorn world was not going well,  their next project, the Phoebe computer
was  cancelled,  the  StrongARM was bought by intel,  and the new  operating
system  was  almost cancelled (by chance it was finished by  an  independant
attention,  by  chance  signifie  par hasard,  utilise by a stroke  of  luck
company). So Acorn is dead, though some companies still create new hardware.

In the demo scene, it was some time since we had fresh blood coming, and the
sad  news from Acorn destroyed our hopes to get going very longer.  The only
noticeable  events   were  the CodeCraft contests.  Back in 1996, ICeBird
made a 1Kb demo/game contest within their Coder's Revenge magazine, and this
was  a  very good idea.  In 1999 i had an unlimited internet access,  and so
decided  to  organise  a big 1Kb/4Kb competition with some  chocolate  as  a
prize, called CodeCraft 1. The community needed that, and we had 33 entries,
some of them stunning considering the size!  A big success, quite refreshing
considering  the  overall  gloom.   One year later  Pervect/Topix  organised
CodeCraft  2,  and again it was a big success with again a very high quality
and the same amount of entries.

Again  one  year,  and  now it's ICeBird  turn to organise CodeCraft  3.  As
usual they were present when something positive is organised! Alas for them,
alas for us,  it was a failure.  We at Arm's Tech didn't even code for this,
we  just  checked our HDs to find something to send.  The quality was  quite
low, and i bet it was the same for almost everybody.

That's  not  so sad.  From 1993 to 2001 the same people were active  on  the
scene, some even longer (and ArmOric is our doyen ;p ). Of course we can not
find the same motivation coding demos as in the golden age, but the thoughts
CiH gave are not totally true. Ex-Acorn enthousiasts are not bound to the PC
world. At least, we in Arm's Tech are not interested by those lousy computer
(erk,  i've made a demo on 80386...  Never again!).  We are quite happy with
our   Old   fashioned  RiscPCs:   they  can  run  scientific  text   writer,
spreadsheets,  TeX  and  other  unix  applications,  and  if  we  need  some
applications we just write them in basic+asm (ArmOric has bought a synthe so
works  on  midi).  Who needs stupid games or skinneable windows?  (Have  you
noted  even  puzzle  games disappeared in the PC  world?  They  are  totally
brainwashed!  :) We still are interested in code, but are a bit old to write
100  lines a day (at the moment i have a raytracer and a  portable  assembly
like language able to handle big numbers in mind). Some other people are now
working  in game/software companies.  Most are working with a PC (or for the
lucky eXoTiCorn,  on GameBoy Advance :),  but they probably have a very good
opinion of their years in the Acorn scene.

To  sum  up,  we  are proud of those years,  very proud!  Regretting them is
stupid,  though you can remember them with joy. I hope you will live similar
experiences,  and when your time is over,  then fill your head with all nice
memories,  go  on  to something else and try to have as much fun as  before,
it's always possible!

baah/Arm's Tech, 31jul2002

PS:  You can find Archimedes emulator on the net, and the biggest acorn demo
database  is  maintained by ICeBird (again!).   Maybe  i'll consider  making
some diskimages of very impressive and small demos.

Alain Brobecker ( |_  _  _ |_         |_)(_|(_|| ) of  Arm's Tech

Alive 6