Hey everyone this is my first guest blog at Wraithkal’s Retro ‘n’ Indie Gaming Corner and I planned to post about the links between Indie games of today and the Demo scene of the 1980’s to 1990’s that I was a part of, in the way that I ran a BBS system that hosted Demo-scene content in the early 1990’s.
I’ll post about my experiences in the demo scene that really started for me with the PC platform. While I’ve seen some on other platforms before that, the experiences for me really started with the PC demo era, which is more or less the end of the era.
Once upon a time..
Back in the day there were big publishers and while not as big as today, they did have more work to do, as games not only had to be put into boxes for store shelves, they also had to be trimmed down for a shareware release. But there was no digital distribution service to publish through, and the Internet wasn’t widely available yet either. So what the demo scene coders did back in the day, was release their demos at competitions such as Assembly, and from there they were sent onto BBS systems around the world. The demos they created were made with several purposes in mind, including showing what they could do (like a CV), or simply to expand their knowledge.
The demo scene back in the day is pretty much the indie scene today, since it’s still the “little guy/gal” that make the software and then release it, without the help of a publisher.
Innovation today in mainstream titles seem to be more focused on eyecandy than anything else, where the indie community instead has games like Minecraft, World of Goo and VVVVVV to name a few, that emphasize gameplay over shiny graphics. During the demo scene era, what was released usually pushed hardware to its limits, but today – thanks to technological advances – some of these can be found on YouTube; it doesn’t explain the feeling of watching a demo back then, but imagine having a high-end PC (a 486 or faster CPU!). With that you could run the demo “Second Reality” by Future Crew, without any playback hiccups. I’ll embed the video so you can see it here.
There were many great demos before that one however, found both on the Amiga, Commodore 64, Atari and many other home computer formats, but the demo above was the first real milestone on PC’s, as it did a 3D flyby in the city. While it looks crude by today’s standards, back in the early 1990’s this was high tech. It’s also worth noting that the size of the demo is just 2MB, a video of that filesize today will get you next to nothing. It won first prize at the Assembly demo competition in 1993, the same year Day of the Tentacle was released by LucasArts, which in turn was released a month before the first Doom game. Before it, vertical 3D was unheard of, horizontal – as seen in Wolfenstein 3D – was all you got, and that wasn’t even the real deal, more an optical illusion created from the player’s point of view. Before the demo above, many of them looked like this:
I also enjoyed the following demo (it has good music, humor, boobies, and I was like 17-18 when it was released!). It’s called Vivid Experiment, by Doomsday productions:
So in short, the demo and indie scene both push the boundaries of what was commonly accepted in general, and if you mention the demo scene today, very few people have a clue as to what it is. So maybe in another 20 years, it will be indie games that make people go “huh? what’s that?” instead. Many demo scene artists and coders are now part of big mainstreamstudios – part of the Future Crew team has continued their work on graphical demos that push the hardware to its limits, as the Futuremark Company that makes the 3D Mark software.