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
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 (email@example.com) |_ _ _ |_
www.multimania.com/abrobecker/ |_)(_|(_|| ) of Arm's Tech