The C64 Demoscene

It’s 1985, and millions of Commodore 64 computers are connected to millions of television sets around the globe. The sole purpose of these 1-megahertz, 16-color marvels is simple. Games. No question about it – the C64 runs the coolest video games this side of the local arcade, but from the darkest corners of the home computing landscape oozes something new, something that few people will ever see. A curious and passionate computer subculture is forming that exists purely to push this humble machine to its very limits for the purposes of self-expression. 1985 sees the birth of the demoscene.

The demoscene (more commonly known as “the scene”) was made up of fiercely competitive groups of programmers, computer musicians, and computer graphics artist who collaborated to create real-time presentations called demos. A demo doesn’t do anything – it’s just a collection of visual effects set to music – kind of like a bad 80’s music video where all the effects are generated on-the-fly via some hardcore maths and bags of technical wizardry. A demo had to look awesome, it had to sound awesome, and most importantly of all – it had to be technically astonishing, bordering on improbable. The demo was about making the machine do things it was never meant to do.

The scene itself emerged from the dodgy world of the “crackers” – people who would take commercial video games, remove the copy-protection schemes from them and then illegally release the copyable games to the public. Cracking games required expert programming skills – and the crackers where not shy about vaunting their talents via small messages that displayed while the game loaded. Over time the introductions became more and more elaborate. The simple messages were replaced with flashy graphics, original 8-bit music scores, and impressive programming tricks – combined with scrolling text that praised the group’s allies and ridiculed their rivals: fuelling the competitive spirit and raising the bar for computer-based design, music and technical accomplishments.

Eventually the demos expanded from small game ‘intros’ into epic standalone productions of art direction and mathematical genius that consumed entire floppy disks! As the culture spread, the best demo groups attained celebrity status. Huge parties were held where thousands of pasty nerds would gather from all around the world (but mostly Europe) to create demos and see their heros.

If you care to revisit the old Commodore 64 demos you’ll find a treasure-trove of poor grammar, juvenile sci-fi drawings, and seizure-inducing special effects. But the awesomeness of the demoscene laid in the spirit of pushing the home computer beyond imposed limitations and not for money, just to see what might be possible, making it an endeavour into the realms of pure 80s art.

Now feast your eyes and ears on this!

earlec

Comments

4 Responses to “The C64 Demoscene”
  1. henrytapia says:

    Nice one… RT @mrspeaker: My article on the C64 demoscene is up on the Powerhouse’s “The 80s are back” site: http://bit.ly/4tszAo – 313373!
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. Dan Monceaux says:

    Nice demoscene roundup there, Earle… and sizzling hot Youtube reel you found there to boot! Ah, makes me all nostalgic… might have to go draw some more fresh pixel art…

  3. Awesome to see this article and awareness.

    The scene is alive and still strong around the world. Still a few guys around on the scene in Australia including the c64.

    An excellent party is in November called Syntax. check the website.
    http://www.syntaxparty.org/

    check out the latest c64 and other platform releases including c64 – Amiga and PC from the latest BREAK POINT 2010 PARTY in Germany from the Easter long week end.
    website here:
    http://www.pouet.net/party.php?which=450&when=2010

    Check out what CREST has done on the c64 with an expansion card “AMAZING”

    http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=54575

    YOU TUBE video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-qEzv_IxuU

    We have just formed a new group in Sydney called DEFAME. PC and c64 group.

    We are looking for interested sceners or ex sceners to get back involved in the scene.

    if interested please contact us:

    reload@defame.com.au

  4. warlock says:

    and also presentation from OzViz 2010 about demo scene, enjoy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmS6LtNwMcE

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