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Alive 8
: Demo review
:    Illusion
:    by Dune 1993 - 2003

They say that there's no bad kind of publicity. They say that any
publicity is good publicity. And if you look for a an Atari ST-
demo that is the most rumoured, spoken about and hyped demo of the
past 10 years, you might as well put this demo on your top-ten list.
Those who have wittnessed its original appearance 1994 have been
considered blessed, those who were supposed to have it on a disk
somewhere soon had to admit that they don't and it looked like this
is one demo that might become a legend without ever having been
Then, all of a sudden, Dune returns to the Atari demo scene
and this demo is remembered. Soon, the people of Dune, are asked
and nagged about this demo and finally, they started to recycle
their work, re-sort their routines, re-read their disks and the
almost dead master-project Illusion starts to breathe again.

And if you want to see your good old 1040 ST breathe again, too,
you better download this dual-disk demo, get some popcorn and get
ready for the a trip into another reality ... or so it says.

The demo starts with a colourful logo and a rotating Dune-logo
besides it while the demo loads the introductory cartoon.
This tells the story of an era where dreams end, of a tower
where reality turns into an illusion and vice versa and about
a man named Joe who is considered a lost man, and who uses
his computer to finally flee this reality and enter the world
of illusion. The comic-strip is accompanied by small text in
yellow boxes telling the story, and several pictures of the
comic-strip appear on one screen usually before they all
disappear to clear the screen for the next round. Also, the
whole comic-strip is accompanied by either a mod or a sample,
very classical instrumented, to support the story.
The comic ends with a screen saying "Reality is what you see,
Illusion is what you live".
But the cartoon does not end yet. On the contrary, those who
have played Space Fighter by Frontier Software know the
movie-sequence that follows pretty well because it's just the
same. A space-ship disembarks a huge space-port, travels
through space to reach a mystical city on a very green planet.
The spaceship and all surrounding space-ships consist of
filled-vector 3D, the surrounding graphics are carefully
pixelled but are static though.
This little film ends as the space ship approaches a large
The following screen is very real though as you are prompted
to insert disk two.

While disk 1 is obviously meant to contain the introductory
sequences only, disk 2 is containing the demo.
Which starts by a freely rotating starfield made of little
ball-shaped bobs while the credits are faded line-wise onto
the screen and removed again, applying the same effect
Right after the credits, little colourful square pictures
zoom in on the dedicated viewer, saying "here", "we" and
then "go" - And indeed, watch them go. A large Dune-logo
in soft golden shades appears on screen, which soon turns
out to be on a large square 3D object, very similar to the
screen called Sabatier Mapping in the famous Flip-o-Demo,
but on a much larger object.
But this golden logo doesn't stay on screen very long, it is
replaced by an interlaced logo with smooth shades rather
quickly. Not for long, though, as some 3D dots, forming a
very original and so far unseen shade, appear on screen,
also applying the effect that where many points overlay
each other, the dots are brighter than where they do not
conjunct. This object made up of dots hovers and moves
on screen for a moment, but soon moves off screen to make
room for a wireframe cube applying the same overlay effect
on the lines and containing some more 3D dots behaving just
the same in it. And while this cube is being removed, a little
logo appears saying "realtime bezier curve", but this curve is
also located in a wireframe-cube and all lines plotted on
screen once again feature the effect of additive brightness.
Time for another Dune-logo, the makers of this demo thought,
and then maybe some more 3D-objects. This time, it's a a cube
again, but the lines of this object are drawn a few sprites
that seem to consist of 2 bitplanes. Also, the cube contains
some more sprites as well. But obviously, the programmers
didn't expect too much cheer for this effect, so they made it
move off screen and instead, another nice graphic appears
with a vertical scroller advertising the group moves on the
right side of the graphic.
Well, why not have some more dots on screen ? The last ones
very obviously very popular, so now, 1200 dots in several
bitplanes appear, moving in a pattern which is advertised
as "strange sinus pattern". But obviously, not strange
enough yet, so here goes something very strange: A realtime
dot-fractal, being rotated and zoomed out in realtime on
screen, in soft blue colours.
And while we're at it, how about some glenz vector ? But
this wouldn't really be a Dune-demo if it wasn't
presented with a twist, so you get a rubber-glenz vector
cube for a change, which is indeed twisting on screen.
A little less twisted, but semi-transparent just the same
is the large glenz-dodecaeder which is then rotated on
screen for a while.
Maybe it's time for some balls again. This time we get a
some eye-balls, one semi-photo realistic, one carefully
sketched, being exchanged more rapid as time goes by ...
... and as the next effect is brought onto screen. This
time, it's a rotating spiral in 2 colours, accompanied by
a Dune-logo on its side. To prevent the viewers eyes from
going all funny, the effect is being replaced by the effect
called Dragon Ball, a wobbling ball with little stars
mapped on it and a colourful Dragon Ball logo besides it.
In a similar environment, another 3D object appears, a gem-
stone with many faces in different colours, creating the
impression as if it was gourraud-shaded, which it isn't.
Again, this effect is not kept on screen for very long.
Instead, the viewer is presented a little screen that might
be animation as well as realtime of blue plates, displayed
as solid vector objects, moving and rotating diagonally over
the screen.
But not even this transition is applied very long. Now, Dune
presents an effect they themselves call Psycho-Plasma which
seems to consist of overlaid 1 bitplane plasma effects, resulting
in very original plasma-patterns. And because bitplane effects
are always good for a funky transitions, the viewer now is being
shown 4 transparent discs, just to overlay them in the end and
displaying a very nice picture of a tree in the resulting disc.
Another effect that has been reused every so often follows now,
the multiple screen rotating cube which is being displayed in
3 rows, 5 times per row, with different colours per row and a
background pattern, but this time, the cube moves out of it
just to explode in the middle of the screen.
Back to some other odd stuff: The 1-frame filled tunnel. In
contrast to the "new-school" tunnels, this one consist of
filled 1 bitplane vector patterns that actually form the
texture of the tunnel. Quite detailed for this technique
and moving very fluently.
And while speaking of vectors, why not have some more space-
ships like in the intro ? Here comes the spaceship from one
of the famous E.K.O. Falcon demos, moving and rotating
over the screen. However, this 3D object is not half as
flexible as the cube, which re-appears on screen as a
rubber vector cube, moving and bending quite quickly on
screen. To spice things up a little, the cube also appears
mirrored on a moving and rotating plane afterwards, and
even accompanied by filled circles, and to top everything
so far, the circles even get a solo and appear without the
Time for an interlude with one of Mic's famous pictures
and time to rest a little before the final part of the
demo. We had various specimen of spaceships, but here
comes a textured spaceship. The 3D object is a bit simpler,
similar to the spaceships using in Elite, but fully
textured. But as well all learned through this demo that
Dune likes cubes a lot, the spaceship is soon to be
replaced by a textured cube in high resolution, meaning
in a physical screen resolution of 320 x 200 instead of
the now so usual 160 x 100. The cube itself does not fill
the screen fully though. The cube as 3D object appears
again as plasma-cube, represented by a rotating cube with
a plasma-effect in it, but the plasma is not projected on
the faces of the cube, it's more a re-use of the psycho-
plasma from before, just this time the bitplanes do not
overlay permanently but only where the shape of the cube
allows. Finally, before the curtain falls, we get to see
a lens-effect on a hires picture.
A rather simple vertical end scroller ends this demo.

Well, as you can guess from the length of this review,
the demo features quite a lot of effects. The whole
demo is accompanied by various chip soundtracks by
various musicians, but most of these musics seem to have
been composed before everybody used the SSD in perfection.
The average standard of graphics is very high due to the
excellent graphicians in Dune. Typical for Dune are
also their wide variety of transitions, which range from
simple fading over scrolling, bouncing and flashing up to
their typical moving, zooming and rotating rectangle.
However, it is very hard to describe the average style of
this demo because it's so hard to grip. The introductory
comic with its gloomy style and dark colours contradicts
a little to the overall style of the demo, which is rather
colour- and cheerful.
This way or other, this demo is a bit hard to judge anyway.
It might have been a fantastic success at a party on the
big screen, it also might have been a smash entry of Dune,
it does feature some excellent effects and graphics, but it
should also be noted that it hardly bears any effects unseen
when it was presented and also that the effects shown are,
despite the length of this demo, a bit limited: An awful lot
of basic 3D effects, mainly cubes, some bitplane effects, a
few dots and sprite-effects, but the demo is definetly
dominated by the cube. Next to that, despite the fancy
transitions and excellent in-between graphics, the sequence
of effects does obviously follow no rule and no story-board.
This does not really harm the demo as it is, but a demo that
begins with such an extraordinary introductory comic-strip
would have done well with an equally well chosen sequence of
effects, which it doesn't feature though. Then again, time
hasn't stood still before the first presentage of this demo
and its release, and story-boards of demos is probably rather
new- than old-school. Also, the demo should still be
considered as a "roughly overworked party-release" because,
like the end-scroller says, the demo has never been really
completed and definetly hasn't been compiled anew as all
effects were finished.
So, to sum it all up, the demo has been vanished for far too
long - it had basically no chance of earning the same respect
now that it did when it was first shown. Now that it has grown
a legend in the past 10 years, people's expectations have
rather increased than decreased and Illusion has very little
chance to match these high expectations. But seeing Illusion
as a demo from 1993, seeing it as a demo and not as a legend,
seeing it as what the makers have wanted it to be, not what the
hype has made out of it, it is a good demo and definetly
worth a look.
I, personally, am also slightly disappointed. While i simple
love the first part of the introductory comic, already the
second part, the story with the space-ship, disappoints me
slightly as it doesn't really match the excellent beginning.
The demo itself features far too many cubes for my personal
taste, spoiling the more original effects featured in this
demo to a measurable extent. I don't really wonder why this
demo was never released in time because there has still been
an awful lot of work to do to make this demo a really
excellent one. Nevertheless, Illusion is really not a bad
demo. It is a good demo, and i am happy that it has been
released in the end, but there are too many "flaws" in this
demo to call it outstanding.

Sorry about that, Dune ...

The Paranoid/Paradox

Alive 8