Just Do it!
The tricky subject of demo's on the CT60, coder motivation and all...
In the June edition of the MyAtari webzine, there was a rare article by the
Atari demo scene 'daddy' Evil, which went quite a way to explaining the lack
of major productions for the CT60 thus far. It also gave some good
indications as to what could be happening next.
Evil identified a couple of significant problem areas. Firstly, there is
still a fundamentalist mindset among some Falcy coders, even some of those
who have got a CT60. In their view, the only "true" coding should be done on
a bare machine, ideally a 1993-spec 4mb box, maybe grudgingly allowing for
the 14mb ram expansion. Secondly, and more significantly, Evil pointed to
people looking askance at a stunningly high standards bar for '060 based
productions, which has been raised by long years of Amiga coders getting to
code the wotsits out of that chip, and with the help of a huge support staff
of good 3-D artists, texture experts and so on.
So we have two huge mountains to climb, let's take them one by one.
The coder mentality is one which has always defied easy psychological
profiling, and is worth a PhD to someone brave enough to take on the job.
The 16-bit Atari version of that psychosis is a rather puritanical mindset,
that deems any hardware enhancement as unworthy. This is a leftover from the
early ST/Amiga rivalry, where the fact that "they" used custom chips where
"we" had to hard-code, was deemed to be fairly gay on their part back in
those days when we all thought like fifteen year olds.
The good part of this viewpoint, is that miracles have been accomplished
with the base model Falcon. A key word at this point is "DSP". I am
personally ecstatic at the fact that Tat's retirement didn't mean the end of
massive DSP-based 3-D exploits on a stock Falcon. I still think that there
is more to come, if people can be bothered. This is where the downside kicks
in. It has been a historical annoyance that a lot of the people who
complained bitterly about breaches in Atari demo coding protocol were not
active themselves, that is, not a drop of code, or constructive assistance
to remedy the situation.
There has been a lot less outright moaning recently, which comes as a relief
to us all, but it seems that those people who are opting out of the CT60, to
keep the faith in the stock system, are proceeding on their chosen path very
quietly and slowly? There may be good reasons for this, of course, and I'm
sure we'll be hearing more in a positive limit-busting light from them
before too long?
Moving onto the lower slopes of the second mountain now, the Amiga demo
Atari coders, new to the '060, are dazzled by the coding and design
perfection seen in modern top Amiga demos, and they will be reluctant to
release anything that falls far short of these high standards. Evil
perceptively commented that 'spiky balls wouldn't cut it anymore' in this
brave new world of 3-D excellence, exemplified by the likes of TBL and
Ephidrena. Indeed, if it wasn't for the pre-existing Amiga scene, more
people would have been motivated to release something early, but the quality
would have been equivalent to the very early days of Falcon demos which used
rewarmed STe code with the odd texture mapped cube thrown in, albeit in a
vastly superior form to that of course.
Evil did say that there seemed to be two ways to address this problem.
Firstly, some people were coding with an eye on the standards raised by the
Amiga scene. That there would be productions released, but not until they
were sure that anything being done could hold up reasonably well to the high
Amigascene quality level. Alternatively, another solution being investigated
was the outright porting over of some Amiga demos, by the Atari sections of
a couple of well-known Amiga groups, although the participation of one of
these must be in doubt now? This latter approach would save some time, and a
lot of donkey-work in creating code from scratch, getting hold of thin-on-
the-ground artists and demo designers and so on. I would personally favour
this approach for porting applications, games and emulators to save time
there, but it would be cool to see at least one big demo made this way.
I might be so bold as to suggest a third option. This is the 'Damo'
approach, which is to avoid being too derivative of other forms of demo
making, and being inhibited by their technical excellence for once, and do
something, well, different? Go back to the core reason for coding in the
first place, which is for fun, do what damn well pleases you, whilst
remembering to release something fairly frequently for the benefit of an
appreciative audience! That way, we might even be in danger, over time, of
building something which is refreshingly different from the rest.
And speaking of the man himself, he has now got a CT60, so we're waiting
keenly to see what follows on from 'Grimey' and 'Comfort' on the '060!
I've got a final suggestion for those coders who might feel overawed by the
vast and impressive heritage of what has come before on the Amigascene. As
reviewers, we can make allowances if this is your first time on '060. We are
well aware that the heights of Black Lotus can't be reached overnight. You
will find us remarkably understanding in fact! If fear of falling short is
holding you back, then stop worrying!
I've got a feeling that there will be a lot of articles about advanced demo
design, and how to do this on '060 coming real soon, so I'll stand out of
the way for now!
Anyway, whatever path you choose, don't sit around, JUST DO IT!
CiH for Alive Mag,July '04