School of Science and Technology

Faculty of Information and Natural Sciences Department of Media Technology

Markku Reunanen

Computer Demos—What Makes Them Tick?

Licentiate Thesis

Helsinki, April 23, 2010

Supervisor: Professor Tapio Takala

AALTO UNIVERSITY ABSTRACT OF LICENTIATE THESIS School of Science and Technology Faculty of Information and Natural Sciences

Department of Media Technology

Author Date Markku Reunanen April 23, 2010 Pages 134 Title of thesis Computer Demos—What Makes Them Tick? Professorship Professorship code Contents Production T013Z Supervisor Professor Tapio Takala Instructor

This licentiate thesis deals with a worldwide community of hobbyists called the demoscene. The activities of the community in guestion revolve around real-time multimedia demonstrations known as demos. The historical frame of the study spans from the late 1970s, and the advent of affordable home computers, up to 2009. So far little academic research has been conducted on the topic and the number of other publications is almost egually low. The work done by other researchers is discussed and additional connections are made to other

related fields of study such as computer history and media research.

The material of the study consists principally of demos, contemporary disk magazines and online sources such as community websites and archives. A general overview of the demoscene and its practices is provided to the reader as a foundation for understanding the more in-depth topics. One chapter is dedicated to the analysis of the artifacts produced by the community and another to the discussion of the computer hardware in relation to the creative aspirations of the

community members.

The purpose of the thesis is the documentation of the demoscene and its numerous practices. In the current void of demo-related research the study can serve as a stepping stone for other researchers. Among the most important findings are the highly self-reflective nature of the community, the connections between technology and expression, and the positioning of the underground activities in a wider historical context. A large part of the community and its

artifacts still remain uncharted, suggesting several possibilities for further studies.


Computer demos, Digital Culture, Home Computers, Multimedia

AALTO-YLIOPISTO LISENSIAATINTUTKIMUKSEN TIIVISTELMA Teknillinen korkeakoulu Informaatio- ja luonnontieteiden tiedekunta

Mediatekniikan laitos

Tekijä Päiväys Markku Reunanen 23.4.2010 Sivumäärä 134 Työn nimi Computer Demos—What Makes Them Tick? (Tietokonedemot mikä saa ne hyrräämään?) Professuuri Koodi Sisällöntuotanto T013Z

Työn valvoja

Professori Tapio Takala

Työn ohjaaja

Tämä lisensiaatintutkimus käsittelee kansainvälistä harrastajayhteisöä, joka tunnetaan nimellä demoskene. Yhteisön toiminta keskittyy reaaliaikaisten multimediaesitysten eli demojen tekemiseen. Tutkimus kattaa aikakauden, joka alkaa 1970-luvun lopussa edullisten kotitietokoneiden ilmestyessä ja jatkuu näihin päiviin saakka. Toistaiseksi aiheesta on tehty vähän tieteellistä tutkimusta ja muunkin kirjallisuuden määrä on lähes yhtä vähäinen. Muiden tutkijoiden tekemä työ kartoitetaan työn alussa ja tukena käytetään muuta materiaalia mm.

tietokonehistorian ja mediatutkimuksen aloilta.

Tutkimuksen materiaali koostuu pääosin demoista, aikakauden levykelehdistä sekä verkkomateriaalista, kuten yhteisön verkkosivuista ja demoarkistoista. Yleinen johdatus aihepiiriin auttaa lukijaa muodostamaan kokonaiskuvan ennen syvällisempiin aiheisiin siirtymistä. Kokonainen luku on omistettu yhteisön tuottamille artefakteille ja toinen luku

tietokonelaitteiston suhteelle yhteisön luovaan ilmaisuun.

Tutkimuksen tavoitteena on kuvata demoskeneä ja sen lukuisia käytäntöjä. Vastaavien julkaisujen vähäisyyden vuoksi tässä tehty työ voi toimia pohjana muille aiheesta tehtäville tutkimuksille. Tärkeimpiä tehtyjä havaintoja ovat yhteisön vahva itsereflektointi, teknologian ja ilmaisun väliset yhteydet, sekä alakulttuurin toiminnan sijoittaminen laajempaan historialliseen kontekstiin. Suuri osa yhteisöstä ja sen artefakteista on edelleen kartoittamatonta aluetta, mikä

tarjoaa lukuisia mahdollisuuksia jatkotutkimukselle.


Tietokonedemot, digitaalinen kulttuuri, kotitietokoneet, multimedia



The background work for this thesis started back in 2004 as an attempt to collect together all the academic pieces of text dealing with the demoscene. Little by little the hobby project evolved into more serious research, which eventually led to a desire to write something about demos myself. Most of the text was written during the spring of 2009 in Mexico

during my half-a-year leave of absence from The Helsinki University of Art and Design.

Being a rather active demoscene member since early 1991 and participating in dozens of productions have had a significant impact on many aspects of my life. As a byproduct of a hobby I had the opportunity to learn valuable skills such as programming and groupwork. Largely because of demos I found the interest to study software science and new media, which eventually have led me to my current venues. Last but not least the friendships originally formed in the scene circles have lasted for years and still do. So, in addition to an academic piece of work, the thesis can be considered a testament to those nineteen years

spent as a member of the community we call the scene.

The thesis was completely produced using free tools such as LyX, [ATEX and The Gimp. The efforts of the creators of these tools are highly appreciated. To encourage the same culture of sharing the text of the thesis is published under The Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (see creativecommons.org). The screenshots of software remain property of the

original artists.

Pd like to dedicate some thank yous to the people who have helped me along the way. Thanks to my busy supervisor Prof. Tassu Takala for his encouragement, and to my former workmate Tommi Ilmonen for helping me to get started in the art of academic writing. A collective thank you to all the people who commented on my work or helped me to find material, especially Antti Silvast, Mikko Heinonen, Petri Lankoski, Daniel Botz, Marko Ohra-aho, Doreen Hartmann and Petri Isomáki. Finally Pd like to thank Delia for her support in the good old non-digital world.

Helsinki, April 23, 2010, Markku Reunanen



1 Introduction

2 Material and Methods of the Study




2.4 25 2.6

Existing: Works: Lit a AA ee Kn 2.1.1 Research Publications «ss. 2.1.2 Other Publications on Demos .................04. 2:1:3 «Related Research isn s r o ni RA eones 2.1.4 Diffusion of Innovations Theory ..................., Contemporary Textual Resources . ..... o... e 22l; TExtfles e od La a ed a 2:2:22 Disk Magazine S i ol a eGo eda tana Online Resources «e 2.3.1 Community Websites . ........ e 2:3:2 “DemovArchives “i 2005 o e aa 2:3:3. Usenet NEWS» casudo o Ee AA o Selected Demos e So ee bad tee ey Roa E aa Secondary Artifacts «sk KK ee ee Content. Analysis: 200: Gwin A a MA Sy dwt el ee

3 Demoscene Characteristics


3.2 3.3


Historical Frame «se 3.1.1 Microcomputer Revolution . . ss e. 3.1.2 Models of Scene History . . < «ss e. Demographics esn ca e e ee Relationship to other Digital Communities . . . «s. 3.3.1 Hackers or Not? «LVV 3.3.2 New Media Art ... nn 3.3.3 Computer and Video Games . . «sn. Handles and Groups . «e


3.4.1 TakingaName KVL. 31

3.4.2 Group Dynamics ......... e... 32 3.5 Competition and Fame esse 33 3.5.1 Striving for Fame . . se 34 3.5.2 Elite and Lamers 0. sole. 34 3.6 Social Networking «e 36 3.6.1 Parties = 2 224 2 IA ia kka kia Kuutoset A 37 3.6.2 Swapping, Trading and Spreading .................. 39 3.6.3 Online Interaction .. . oaa 41 3.6.4... Länguäpö <a be ek PS NN KON PS es 42 3.7 Self-Reflectivity + covers. ee ee 43 Demoscene Artifacts 45 Al: DEMOS anata 4 A etapa ear ROS 46 4.1.1 Megademos and Trackmos ......... o... o... . +... .. 47 41.2 Demo narratives. ui a AR deca 48 4:1:3; TOMES a eel ad 48 4.1.4 Development of Effects . .......... 0... oo... +... .. 49 4.2 Size-LimitedIntros .................. e... 52 421: “G4K MGS: imss ar li da anes 52 4:27:27 "AK INEOS: iisa a o Ek taa Eat 54 4.2.3 1kIntros and Beyond . . «hans 56 4:37 ~Demo-Aesthetics: i marsit oi so Bk SB ah a emma! lee e 57 4.3.1 Hardware-Dictated Early Years ............. o... .. 58 4.3.2 Appearance of Demo Design .......... o... o... ... 59 4:3.3. Frames of Reference. = sak. sary a ee N Road kunta 60 4:47 Misual Artifacts ssi v2 Sa EMS a Aa a Sk omal VN s 62 4.41: Stl images msn tandem eaa Kaa leven: Gone ayaa 62 4:4:27 ID ODJECE oy eee Soe bab ee ek ee Oe ee a 63 4.4.3 ASCII and ANSI Art ......... o... e... e... e... 64 44-4 Disc Cover AT sk sn eine Se LA na as hae weed et 8 65 A Scene MUSIC a A eines 66 4:3:1 Cp MUSIC os ss A A KR a 67 43225 - Modüles ye) soe ase ee a ay NEN 4 BORA Rida a ea 68 4:5:3- Sample MUSIC- oia aves Be Oe A TN eS da 69 4.5.4 Software Sound Synthesis «se. 70 46. Disk: Magazines: aeo o KOET Pa A Ja kA ees a ai a a 71

4.6.1 Selected Disk Magazines ....... o... .. e... . +... .. 71

4.6.2 Topics Of Interest .......... o... e... e... +... .. 76 Hardware and Software Platforms 79 5.1 8-Bit Computers .......... 0.0... 0000000002 eee eee 80

SAL” Commodore 64 «20k a tes a WA eb eae Ää asta 81

5.1.2 Less Popular 8-Bit Computers ..................-.. 83 5.2 32/16-Bit Computers .............. 0000200000 00004 84

5.2.1 Commodore Amiga. ...............2. 02000000045 85

5:22 Atari ST familys 20s ed A ware A san a 86

5.2.3 Early PC Compatibles .............. o... ...... 88 5.3 True 32-Bit Computers ............... 0020000000004 90

5.3.1 Amiga 1200 and 4000 .......... o... o... ...... 90

5:3:2 The Improving PC: oe ss vsk sc da oe Ree as 92

5.3.3 Other 32-bit Demo Platforms. .......... oo... o... .. 94

534 ID Acceleration: ca e ie Phe RP Hon 95 5.4 Roles of Software «e 97

AL TOOLS R. eon A RA OS Rime 97

54:27 “Algorithms: +. 008 s A a a dd Naa 99 5.5 Effects of Changing Technology ........... o... ..... e... 100

5.5.1 Patterns of Diffusion «se. 100

5.5.2 Digital Heritance of the Scene 0. «Kn. 102 Conclusion 104 References 106 Demo Content Analysis Form 116 List of Demos Analyzed 117 Themes of Disk Magazine Articles 121



API Application Programming Interface Artpack A collection of images and/or music, sometimes containing an interactive viewer

BBS Bulletin Board System, also known as a board. A system offering services such as

messaging and file retrieval using a modem.

Blitter A co-processor whose purpose is to assist the main processor in graphics generation

by copying image data blocks and filling regions C-64 Commodore 64

C2p Chunky to planar conversion: the reordering of byte-per-pixel data to separate bit-

planes Charts Ranking lists of demos, programmers, tunes etc. Chippack A collection of chiptunes

Chiptune A musical style that resembles the sound produced by 8-bit computers. Also

refers to the small size of a sound file.

Chunky Graphics data stored so that each pixel corresponds to one or multiple consecutive

bytes Coding Programming

Color clash Bleeding, an unwanted effect on 8-bit computers where colors would be dis-

played incorrectly due to character block attribute limitations Compo A competition Copyparty A party focused on copying the latest productions and illegal software

Crack intro A welcome screen containing messages to other groups, shown at the begin-

ning of cracked programs

Cracking The removal of copy protection from commercial software


Crowdpleaser A production that specifically tries to appeal to the audience at a party Demo A program showcasing the programming and artistic skills of the author(s)

Demomaker A program that enables one to create demos with little or no programming skills

Disk image A single file containing all the information stored on a medium such as a diskette

Diskmag A disk magazine: an electronic magazine originally published on diskettes. Also

known as ”mag” and ”maggy”.

Emulator A program that lets a computer run software originally written for other plat-


Faking May refer to one of the following: cheating in voting, reusing stamps in mailswap- ping, or programming a demo effect so that it looks more advanced than it actually


Fast compo A competition where a production (demo, music or picture) has to be created

in limited time from scratch Flyby A flight across a 3D scene Fps Frames per second Fuckings The derogatory opposite of greetings Gfx Grafix, graphics Graphician A graphic artist Greets Greetings Infofile A text file that describes the content of an archive Intro A size-limited demo, for example four or sixty-four kilobytes Invitro Invtro, an invitation demo made for a party or a competition Joke group A group that creates mostly low-quality tongue-in-cheek productions Lamer A derogatory term used to describe non-skilled people Leet Elite, at times written with numbers: ”1337”

Leetspeak A style of writing where words are twisted and letters replaced by numbers and

other symbols


Metaballs Polygonal approximation of an implicit surface, spheres melting together when

they are close to each other

Mod A module: a piece of music containing both the score and the instruments in the same

file. In the context of computer games refers to game modifications. Musicdisk An interactive collection of tunes Music syne The synchronization of music and visual effects Mzx Muzax, musax, music

Newbie A newcomer, other forms like ”newb” or ”noob” also exist

Nuskool New school, modern hardware and style

Object show A demo consisting mainly of 3D objects that are displayed (usually rotated)


Oldskool Old hardware and software or audiovisual style

Otaku The Japanese counterpart of geek/nerd, an overdevoted hobbyist Pixeling Drawing an image laboriously at pixel level

Prod A production

Reset demo A hidden demo screen that appears when the user resets the machine in the

middle of a demo Ribbon An effect involving a polygonal stripe or tube Ripping Using material made by others without permission Rotozoomer Rotating and zooming an image Scene The demo community, demoscene Scroller Text moving across the screen Shader A user-programmable unit in a graphics processor Slideshow A demo displaying still images, often with music Soft synth A software sound synthesizer Song A tracker music file containing only the notes but no samples Spreading The publishing process of a production

Sprite A small image moving independently on top of the background


Swapping Interchange of demos, pictures, music and other productions among community

members SysOp BBS system operator

Tracker A program for music composition based on the concept of placing notes on indi-

vidual vertical tracks

Trackmo A demo that loads its content directly from the diskette tracks. Also used to

describe the related continuous style. Trading Modem-based swapping Trainer A game modification that provides features such as unlimited lives or ammunition

Trolling Posting of controversial statements to heat up online discussion, also know as

”flamebaiting” Votedisk A diskette used for voting at a party Warez Illegal files

Wild compo A competition allowing almost any kind of entries without limits on the plat-

form or size Wobbler An effect based on deforming a 2D image, typically by sine curves

Writer An effect where text is written on the screen

Chapter 1


The demoscene—or simply the scene, as it is known by its members—is a worldwide com- munity of hobbyists interested in computer demos. A demo in this context can be defined as a short, most often non-interactive program that displays audiovisual content in real-time. The demo community has its roots in the late-1970s home computer revolution that made the technology widely accessible to households and hobbyists for the first time in history. Pirate groups that spread copies of illegal software (mostly games) attached screens known as crack intros with their messages to the programs, which ultimately lead to the forma- tion of a different community focusing on the programming of such demonstrations alone (Polgar, 2005, pp.40-61; Saarikoski, 2004, p.192; Tasajarvi et al., 2004, pp.12-15).

The motivation for this study springs from the current lack of existing research on demos and the demoscene. The shortage can be explained in many ways, but the bottom line is that a diverse hobbyist culture has largely remained an unstudied piece of history for over twenty years. Introductions to the phenomenon have appeared in a small number of academic publications and some individual aspects have received further attention (Section 2.1.1), but in general such works are scarce. Outside the academic world the number of publications is somewhat higher (see Section 2.1.2), but the writings often lack either width,

depth or reliability.

The research problem can be crystallized into a question: what are the forms and practices of the community known as the demoscene? The aim is to document the community and link it to a wider historical scope by utilizing different sources such as community discussions, artifacts and research literature. The time frame of the study starts from the late 1970s with the appearance of the first crack intros and popular microcomputers, and extends to cover the past thirty years. The geographical point of view is Finnish and Nordic, but all effort is taken to impartially discuss works from all the countries where significant activities have taken place. While the demoscene should not be considered a monoculture, its international

nature makes the results easier to generalize.

It became evident early on that a study on a community, such as the demoscene, could be placed in numerous contexts. Certainly it is part of the history of computing in gen- eral and the domestication of technology, but such an approach alone was not considered satisfactory—the contexts of art or media research would be equally valid. Moreover, the strong social aspect of the community would warrant a youth culture, subculture, or gender study approach as well. Finally, due to the recurring theme of technological change and its interplay with the community, the main context of the study turned out to be the history of

home computers and their use.

My personal relationship with the subject deserves some discussion, since it has inevitably affected the approach taken, as well as the analysis. The positive sides of a lengthy in- volvement with the community are a large amount of first-hand experience on the matters, an understanding of the practices and the language, and existing connections inside the community. Achieving the same level of expertise starting from scratch would require a significant amount of time. However, the very same familiarity also introduces challenges to the study. How to step outside of the community and question one’s learned points of view? How to investigate the things you ”already know”, so that the criteria of credible research are met? How to treat people and artifacts neutrally without the bias of likes and dislikes formed during the years of personal involvement? It is impossible to completely discard one’s personality from the process, but the use of established research methods and the focus on the large-scale phenomena instead of details, such as individual persons or their

works, help to alleviate the bias.

The source material and the methods used in the analysis are discussed in chapter 2. The chapter starts with a survey of the existing written works, after which the primary sources are presented. Chapter 3 serves as a broad introduction to the scene and its cultural practices, providing a frame of reference for the later chapters. Various artifacts such as demos, music and visual works produced by the scene are discussed in Chapter 4. The following chapter, number 5, walks the reader through hardware generations from the first 8-bit machines to the modern multimedia computers. In addition, the major shifts that have taken place in the software domain are presented. Examples of contemporary demo effects are provided to illustrate the relationship of technology and the creative aspirations. The final chapter

provides concluding remarks about the study and some future directions.

Chapter 2

Material and Methods of the Study

Due to the multi-faceted approach of the study, no single primary source was sufficient to provide answers to the research problem. Various materials such as disk magazines, online forums, demos and text files were chosen in order to document different aspects. Each of these primary sources required a specific approach to the analysis, since they differ from each other considerably. The most important method was content analysis, which was ap- plied to the material in different ways, depending on the type of source. Additionally, exist- ing work conducted by other writers was examined in order to reflect on their observations,

and to strengthen the theoretical backbone of the study.

2.1 Existing Works

During the five years of collecting demoscene-related written material it soon became ev- ident that it hardly exists. The bibliography page of Demoscene Research (Reunanen & Silvast, 2004) contains all the directly related works encountered, excluding occasional newsflashes found in newspapers and magazines. Currently the bibliography contains close to forty printed works such as articles, theses or books. Not all the publications can be con- sidered analytical or research-oriented, which brings the amount of academic works found

down to about twenty.

It is an intriguing question why exactly the community has attracted so little public in- terest. In comparison, a variety of publications is available on other contemporary digital phenomena. To elaborate the situation we should consider the probable, tightly intertwined

explanations to this invisibility:

e Underground nature of the scene. Partly due to its illegal roots and partly due to its closed youth culture nature, the community has intentionally kept itself away from

mainstream visibility.

e Small market segment. While several hobbies such as video games and music feed multi-billion dollar industries, the demoscene is hardly a significant market that could

be specifically targeted.

e Low visible effect on society. Demoscene is not affiliated with negative phenomena (such as violence, vandalism or computer break-ins) that would attract interest. The

positive effects do not necessarily differ from those of any computer hobby.

e Low commercial significance of productions. The community creates productions for

its own uses that typically do not have immediate commercial value.

e Technological nature of the scene. A good understanding of computers, programming and digital media is required to analyze the artifacts and the related practices of the


e Geographical location of the scene. Concentrated mostly in North and Central Eu- rope (see Section 3.2 for further discussion) the demoscene has been out-of-sight of

American media researchers as well as away from the roots of computer history.

These generalizations obviously do not come without exceptions. As an example, the un- derground nature of the scene has been on the decline. A small number of books has been published lately (Polgar, 2005; Tasajarvi et al., 2004; Vigh & Polgar, 2006), demos have appeared in art exhibitions (Digitalcraft, 2002; Tasajárvi, 2003), and there even exists an advocacy group with the name Demoscene Outreach Group (Scheib et al., 2002). Likewise, the historical link to software piracy, described by Polgar (2005, pp.40-62) among others,

can be taken as a counter-example in the case of the social effect.

2.1.1 Research Publications

The most relevant publications on demos so far have been a few theses, conference papers, and chapters in books dealing with a related topic. The majority of the publications originate from the Nordic Countries, which appears to be a natural consequence of the strong local

demo community in relation to the overall size of the population.

Among the earliest scene-related articles published, and therefore among the most refer- enced, is the demoscene overview The Hacker Demo Scene and lts Cultural Artifacts by Borzyskowski (1996). The study took place in 1992-1994, so it already represents the sit- uation fifteen years ago. Notable in the title alone is the recognition of demos as cultural artifacts. The most interesting part of the article is the 21-item list of demo characteris- tics that provides observations on the total of 743 demos viewed. Borzyskowski presents statistics on the origins of the demos, thus providing material for the analysis on the geo- graphical distribution of the groups of that time. Numerous references to cyberpunk more

likely reflect the discourse of the time than the contemporary scene reality.


So far, the most extensive study on computer demos, their aesthetics and development ap- pears to be the unpublished (as of September 2009) doctoral thesis by Botz (2008). With an art/media history approach Botz walks through the different eras of computer demos with the intention of building a big picture of their aesthetic development in relation to the tech- nological and cultural currents of the time. Unfortunately, the themes and claims presented

in the thesis are hardly represented here due to the language barrier.

Both Lónnblad (1998) and Roininen (1998) have written a master’s thesis on a demo-related topic (available in Finnish only). Lónnblad approaches the scene from the point of view of musicology and discusses the structure of demo music, based on a few examples of the time. Together with her other published article (Lónnblad, 1997), the thesis still remains the only study of demo music in such depth. Roininen’s thesis provides an equally rare approach: her focus is on the social dynamics of the scene. Her outsider view to the community is both a benefit and a hindrance: she makes sharp observations on the social dynamics but lacks the technical mindset that would be required to understand the phenomenon completely.

Both theses also provide a typical overview of the community.

As part of a gender study oriented doctoral thesis The Net Is not Enough: Searching for the Female Hacker Nordli (2003a, pp.71-91) analyzes the Norwegian demo party The Gather- ing’99. In addition to scene-related content, her thesis provides valuable tools for under- standing the role of women in the chiefly male-dominated computer hobbyist circles. The same theme also appears in another article by her (Nordli, 2003b). Another relevant doctoral thesis was written by Saarikoski (2004). Koneen lumo (The Lure of The Machine), includes a section on the demoscene. Saarikoski provides an overview of the phenomenon from a Finnish standpoint and connects it to the developments of the time. The general topic of the thesis is the history of the Finnish home computer culture starting from the 1970s, and demos are treated as part of that larger framework. The thesis is a continuation of his earlier licentiate thesis (Saarikoski, 2001b), which contains similar analysis of the demoscene in

chapters nine and ten.

The bachelor’s thesis by Kurki (2002) provides a comparison between the practices of the demoscene (a boy culture) and the decoscene (a girl culture). The thesis treats both com- munities as postmodern tribes and imagined communities that exist only through their man- ifestations. Another comparison between two youth cultures was written by Faler (2001),

who used the graffiti scene as his reference.

2.1.2 Other Publications on Demos

The first book published about the demoscene was Demoscene: The Art of Real-Time by Tasajarvi et al. (2004). The book was closely connected to the demo art exhibition held at Kiasma, The Finnish Museum of Contemporary Art (Tasajárvi, 2003). The book contains

an introduction, articles and an illustrated list of works exhibited at the museum. The most

interesting contribution is the proposed tripartite model of scene history, which will be discussed in more detail in Section 3.1.2. Overall the amount of content is limited and the

selection of demos represents only a small fraction of Finnish groups.

So far, the most ambitious demo book project was realized by Tamas Polgar, the author of Freax: The Brief History of the Demoscene (Polgar, 2005). The first volume contains an introductory part and a history of the Commodore 64 scene, followed by a history of the Amiga scene. It is evident that the target audience of the book is the scene members them- selves, since the text requires a good understanding of related terminology and practices to be understood. Certainly the amount of material is massive, but the content should not be taken as is without criticism: at places factual content and scene rumors are blended heavily to create narratives. Polgar’s work is still going on and the next volume, dealing with the IBM PC and alternative platforms, is expected. Between the two volumes the writer partici- pated in another Freax book project dealing with the visual art of the scene (Vigh & Polgar, 2006). The other author, David Vigh, had already published an online collection on the same topic at an earlier date (Vigh, 2003). While both art books are visually rich and serve as a cross-section to the styles and themes of a number of scene artists, they struggle with the problem of selecting a balanced set of works that would represent the whole timespan

and different genres.

Articles discussing demo-related issues have appeared in a few books [see Carlsson (2008); Inkinen & Salmi (1996); Shatz (1993, 1994)] and numerous newspapers. A typical news- paper article is a short newsflash about a local party, as observed by Saarikoski (2001a) as well. Usually the point of view is that of an outsider, and the article reveals more about the attitudes towards the hobbyists than about the actual people in question. In addition to newspapers, media-related magazines have occasionally covered demos on their pages. Two examples of comprehensive introductions published in magazines are Green (1995) and Saarikoski (2001a). Also the game magazine Edge covered PlayStation 3 demos in an article (Edge, 2008). The most active publication in this respect is SCEEN, which has already in its first two issues featured several articles describing demo parties, groups and exotic platforms (Barbat, 2005; Cruz, 2005; Scholz, 2007a,b).

2.1.3 Related Research

This section deals with the publications that were used for widening the theoretical frame- work of this study. Among the most important sources of inspiration and points of compar-

ison were media research, digital art and computer history.

Computer history related studies were a fundamental source when trying to position the de- moscene in a larger temporal context. Factual information helped to answer questions such as ”Why did microcomputers appear at homes in the early 1980s?”, and ”Why did Com-

modore dominate the home computer market?” The doctoral thesis of Saarikoski (2004),

which describes the Finnish computer hobbyists starting from the 1970s, was used in par- ticular for finding out about the early phenomena of the home computer age. The central theme of the thesis is closely related to the research problem as well: Saarikoski focused on the different forms the domestication of computers took in youth culture and mainstream


Basic facts concerning technical specifications and release dates of game consoles and home computers were mostly collected from the book Game.Machines by Forster (2005), which provides a comprehensive, although brief, overview of popular gadgets, coupled with high- quality illustrations. The Chronology of Personal Computers, a detailed timeline collected by Polsson (1995), was another reference used when connecting scene activities to the his- tory of computing. The history of Commodore, arguably the most influential company in the 1980s home computer business, was studied by Bagnall (2005). While the book is writ- ten more like a story and appears at times rather opinionated, the amount of insight into the

company history alone makes it a valuable source.

The work of Sherry Turkle on the psychology of computer users has certainly influenced this study. Her observations on different types of computer users made in The Second Self (Turkle, 1984) sheds light to the intimate relationship between the machine and the user, also apparent in many demoscene-related phenomena. Turkle divides the computer users into two categories: hard masters who approach problems on the basis of their technical skills, and soft masters who are creatively oriented and use technology as a tool. While the division is not likely to be as clear-cut in practice, the concept could be utilized when studying the creative processes of the demosceners. Turkle’s more recent book, Life on the Screen (Turkle, 1997), continues the earlier work and focuses on the identities people assume in the Internet age. Quite a lot of material is shared with the former book, and the Internet technologies of the time seem archaic from today’s perspective; one could say that the increased focus on technology has made the content age more rapidly. The most useful findings in the latter book are related to the complex interactions between the real

and assumed personalities of computer users.

The artistic uses of computers were studied in order to proportionate scene activities with mainstream ones. The earliest history of computer-based art was documented by Franke (1971), a pioneer of the field himself. The crude minimalism dictated by technological limits and the lack of established practices in the works of the 1960s may seem outdated to the contemporary reader, but, on the other hand, there are interesting similarities to size- limited intros (see Section 4.2) that are based on the algorithmic creation of visuals. Modern day media art classics have been discussed by for example Wands (2006) and Tribe & Jana (2007). In practice both books are mainly annotated collections of artworks with photos and screenshots. A more research-oriented approach is available in Media Art Histories (Grau, 2007), with articles covering a wide range of topics from historical milestones to

philosophical essays on the essence of new media.

The observations of Manovich (2001) on the connections of new and old media can be applied to demo research as well: the narrative structures and visual language found in demos most likely owe a lot to methods originally developed in the context of cinema. As an example, the section on compositing (pp.136-160) discusses the layering and combining

of different image sources, a technique also used in numerous demos.

Youth culture, subculture and gender studies would be realistic frames of reference for de- moscene research. In the scope of this thesis, however, such approaches are largely omitted. So far, the only demoscene-oriented publications conducted in relation to those disciplines appear to be the writings by Nordli (2003a), Kurki (2002) and Roininen (1998). The hacker culture books by Levy (1994) and Thomas (1991) were used for comparison between the Europe-centered demoscene and the hacker culture originating from the United States. The historical content of the two books also provide insight to the very birth of computer use as a hobby and a way of life, also discussed to some extent by Turkle (1984, pp.165-195, 202-207). The closely related cracker culture was documented by Rehn (2004) and Vuori- nen (2007). The cracker/warez scene publications provide opportunities for reflection with

the characteristics of the demoscene.

2.1.4 Diffusion of Innovations Theory

Diffusion theory, originally formulated by Everett M. Rogers in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 2003) is the framework for the analysis of the technological changes that have affected the demoscene throughout the years. The theory provides a wide range of tools for understanding the different phases and mechanisms of innovation adoption, mak- ing it a lucrative choice when discussing the effects of new hardware or software on the community. Innovation and diffusion are defined by Rogers as follows: ”An Innovation is an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption” (p.36), and "Diffusion is the process in which an innovation is communicated through cer-

tain channels over time among the members of a social system” (p.5).

Rogers divides the diffusion process into five phases: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation. In the first phase the individual first learns about the innovation and its functionality. In the persuasion phase the individual forms an attitude towards the innovation, which leads to the decision phase, where the innovation is either accepted or rejected. In the implementation phase the individual starts to use the innovation. Finally, in the confirmation phase the individual evaluates whether the decision made was correct and may still revert back to the old practice. A related concept is re-invention, referring to the unexpected ways of adapting an innovation to a practical situation. (Rogers, 2003, pp.168-218)

The adopters, likewise, are divided into five categories based on the time of adoption: in-

novators (2.5% of all the adopters), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late

majority (34%) and laggards (16%). Each type has its own characteristics based on socioe- conomic factors, personality and communication behavior. The innovators are described as venturesome persons who have the most connections outside of the local community, but who may not be held in high regard by the community. The early adopters are the respected opinion leaders of the community and therefore crucial to the adoption of the majority. The first big group, the early majority, has the tendency to adopt, but not hastily and not with- out the consultation of their peers. The late majority is skeptical about the innovation and adapts because of necessity and/or peer pressure. Another characteristic of the group is the conformance to the community’s norms. The last group, the laggards, are the last ones to adopt, the most skeptic, and have their frame of reference in the past. The diffusion process and the positions of the adopter categories is often presented as a bell curve (p.281) or the cumulative S-curve (p.11). (Rogers, 2003, pp.267—299)

Other important concepts of the diffusion theory are the change agent, properties of inno- vations and diffusion networks. The change agent refers to the external instance that wants to diffuse an innovation to the community. The methods and connections chosen by the change agent are seen as a crucial factor in the success of the process. (pp.365—+401) The properties of innovations such as their relative advantage, compatibility with the community practices and complexity are discussed in chapter six of the book. Together with the type of innovation decision, communication channels, social system and change agent’s efforts they determine the total rate of adoption (p.222). The concept of a diffusion network comprises a variety of themes ranging from interpersonal links to the homo/heterophily of clusters of people, which all affect the diffusion process to a certain degree (pp.300-364). (Rogers, 2003)

The diffusion theory has also attracted criticism, part of which is presented in the book, together with advice on how to overcome the particular problem (Rogers, 2003, pp.105— 130). To avoid the possible pitfalls the criticisms need to be taken into account in this study

as well. 1. Pro-Innovation Bias. The implication that an innovation should be diffused rapidly and completely, as-is without re-invention.

2. Individual-Blame Bias. The tendency of researchers to side with the change agencies

and blame the failures on the adopters.

3. Recall Problem. The researchers rely on the inaccurate data reported by the respon- dents of the study.

4. Issue of Equality. The omission of the negative effects of an innovation, especially

the widening of the socioeconomic gap in the developing nations.

The first two issues are not significant to the study, since they largely follow from the link

between the researcher and the body funding the research. No such link exists in this study,


so a neutral point of view can be more easily maintained. The issue of equality is not highly relevant either, since this study is not about economy or developing countries. However, if we consider honor and fame as the scene ”currency”, issue number four appears to be more relevant: does a new innovation favor the already respected and hurt the lowest ranks? The recall problem is clearly the most important in the context of this study: how to ensure that the data is not skewed? Certain factors of the material and methods chosen help alleviate the problem. First of all, the data collected is based on sources such as contemporary texts of the time instead of interviews. It should be noted that the recall problem can affect textual sources as well, especially if they were written years after the actual events. In general, the focus on contemporary sources largely removes human factors such as nostalgia and bad

recall, with the downside that it does not allow for valuable personal reflection.

2.2 Contemporary Textual Resources

The self-documenting nature of the demoscene is a great benefit for a researcher trying to find material on the past. Already from the late 1980s, there exists quite a rich variety of textual sources describing contemporary events, artifacts, and other topics that were of interest to the community. This section deals with traditional textual sources such as disk magazines and various types of text files, whereas more modern on-line sources appear in Section 2.3.

2.2.1 Text files

Among the most useful text files are the documents related to demo parties (see 3.6.1 for more discussion on parties). In pre-Internet days, it was a common practice to send out an invitation to a party as a text file that was distributed by all possible means to get participants to the event. Typical themes of an invitation were the date, the location, the facilities, the entrance fee, and the competitions of the party. After the party, equally important files were the compo results, containing the rankings and respective points of the works that took part in the competitions. These two types of text files are basically informative by nature, whereas the third related type, party report, serves a completely different purpose. In party

reports we can find first-hand experiences and subjective opinions of the writers.

When demos are distributed by a means or another they are usually accompanied by a short piece of text, an infofile, containing at least the name(s) of the author(s) plus contact information. A more condensed form of info files is the file_id.diz file, intended for Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) where they were displayed in the file listings. Another category of

text files are the tutorials that contain help on programming tricks for beginners.


The text files described here are mostly used as a secondary source, for checking the facts. Questions such as What was the winning demo of the Motorola Inside party