Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

Skenet – Scenes

Antti Silvast
antti.silvast [a] iki.fi
Toimittaja (Editor)

Markku Reunanen
markku.reunanen [a] aalto.fi
Toimittaja (Editor)

See below for an English version of the editorial

WiderScreen 1-2/2014:n teemana ovat tietokoneharrastajien yhteisöt, joiden juuret ulottuvat 1970- ja 1980-luvun tietokonekulttuuriin: demo-, kräkkeri-, warez- ja chip-skenet. Viimeisten kymmenen vuoden aikana näistä yhteisöistä on tehty jonkin verran tutkimusta, mutta monet niiden piirteistä tunnetaan yhä huonosti. Tämä WiderScreenin kaksoisteemanumero tarjoaa uutta tietoa skeneistä ja nostaa esiin kansainvälistä tutkimusta niiden eri osa-alueista. Numeroon sisältyy kuusi vertaisarvioita tutkimusartikkelia ja kaksi katsausta, jotka kertovat osaltaan skeneihin liittyvän tutkimuksen jo saavuttamasta kypsyydestä.

Ensimmäiset skenetutkimukset olivat verrattain kuvailevia, mutta monet viimeaikaiset tutkimukset ovat tuoneet skenejen tarkasteluun laajoja empiirisiä ja teoreettisia näkökulmia. Olemme keränneet ja arvioineet näitä tutkimuksia verkossa olevassa demotutkimusbibliografiassamme, Demoscene Researchissa, vuodesta 2004 alkaen. Tähän erikoisnumeroon kerätyt artikkelit kehittelevät eteenpäin useita skenetutkimukselle tärkeitä aiheita, mukaan lukien tietokoneskenejen erilaisuus ja monimuotoisuus demo- ja kräkkeriskeneistä marginaalisempiin musiikki- ja Flash-demoskeneihin; eri skenejen vuorovaikutussuhteet; tietokoneskenejen kansalliset erityispiirteet ja skeneläisten kulttuurinen identiteetti; skeneteosten media-analyysi sekä niiden “autenttisuuden” ja “epäaitouden” tarkastelut; sekä – ei suinkaan vähäisimpinä – tietokoneskenejen jäsenten omat kuvaukset siitä, miten yhteisöt ovat toimineet käytännön tasolla.

Kahdessa ensimmäisessä artikkelissa käsitellään kotitietokoneskeneistä vanhinta, kräkkeriskeneä. Patryk Wasiakin artikkeli, “Amis and Euros.” Software Import and Contacts Between European and American Cracking Scenes, avaa tärkeitä näkökulmia eurooppalaiseen ja amerikkalaiseen kräkkeriskeneen sekä niiden väliseen vuorovaikutukseen mannertenvälisessä piraattipelien levityksessä. Wasiak osoittaa haastattelujen ja aikalaistekstien pohjalta, kuinka kulttuurinen identiteetti ilmeni piraattien toiminnassa: kummankin skenen jäsenet ylläpitivät selkeää jaottelua eurooppalaisiin (“Euros”) ja amerikkalaisiin (“Amis”). Toinen samaa aihepiiriä käsittelevistä artikkeleista, Markku Reunasen kirjoittama How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners, paneutuu kriittisesti usein toistettuun tarinaan demoskenen polveutumisesta kräkkeriskenestä kirjallisten lähteiden sekä haastattelujen kautta. Reunanen osoittaa, että kräkkeri- ja demoskenen eriytyminen oli siloiteltua syntytarinaa monimuotoisempi prosessi, johon vaikuttivat lukuisat rinnakkaiset tietoteknisen kulttuurin muutokset.

Doreen Hartmann käsittelee animaation eri merkityksiä sekä rooleja demoskenen historiassa artikkelissaan Animation in the Demoscene. From Obfuscation to Category. Hartmannin tutkimuksen perusteella reaaliaikaisten ja valmiiksi laskettujen animaatioiden raja on huomattavasti häilyvämpi, kuin miltä ensisilmäyksellä vaikuttaa, ja animaatioon liitetyt asenteet sekä käytännöt ovat jatkuvassa muutoksessa. Myös Canan Hastikin artikkeli, Demo Age: New Views, kytkeytyy elokuvan historiaan. Hastik on soveltanut visuaalisten aineistojen analyysiin kehitetyn kulttuurianalyytikan[1] (cultural analytics) menetelmiä ja työkaluja demoihin. Kirjoittaja tuo demoskenen teoksista esiin uusia, muuten vaikeasti havainnoitavia piirteitä, kuten toisto, rytmi ja värimaailma. Artikkeliin sisältyy lukuisia mielenkiintoisia visualisointeja, jotka tarjoavat uutta näkökulmaa demoteoksiin ja samalla kytkevät ne elokuva- ja mediatutkimuksen traditioihin.

Viides tutkimusartikkeli on Marilou Polymeropouloun Chipmusic, Fakebit and the Discourse of Authenticity in the Chipscene, joka käsittelee chip-musiikkia ja -skeneä. Chip-skene on muusikoiden yhteisö, joka luo tunnistettavaa retroesteettistä musiikkia joko alkuperäisillä laitteilla, kuten Nintendo Game Boyllä tai Commodore 64:llä, tai niiden äänimaailmaa mukaillen. Polymeropoulou lähestyy musiikin, aitouden sekä epäaitouden käsitteitä antropologian ja etnomusikologian avulla ja tutkii chipmuusikoita osallistuvasti, etnografisella tutkimusotteella. Erityisesti hän keskittyy “fakebit”-genreen, jossa moderneilla välineillä luodaan vanhoja äänipiirejä imitoivaa musiikkia. Teksti jaottelee chip-muusikot kolmeen eri sukupolveen, joilla on kullakin oma luonteenomainen suhtautumisensa fakebitiin ja aitouteen chip-musiikissa. Kuudes artikkeli on englanninkielinen käännösversio WiderScreen 2–3/2013:ssa ilmestyneestä Markku Reunasen artikkelista, jossa 4k-introja – pieniä reaaliaikaisia demoja – tarkastellaan eri näkökulmista. Eräs teemoista on pienten introjen musiikki, joka kytkeytyy teknisessä minimalistisuudessaan myös chip-musiikkiin.

Myös Ville-Matias Heikkilän katsaus, Käsittämättömät koodirivit musiikkina: bytebeat ja demoskenen tekninen kokeellisuus, käsittelee minimalistista musiikkia. Aitouden pohdinnan sijaan tarkastelussa on kuitenkin varsin erilainen aihe, bytebeat, eli äänen syntetisointi lyhyiden koodirivien avulla. Artikkelia voisi luonnehtia tiheäksi kuvaukseksi (thick description) innokkaasta yhteisöllisestä kokeilusta, jonka kautta bytebeat-ilmiö syntyi ja lopulta myös hiipui. Viimeinen artikkeleista on Jaakko Kemppaisen kirjoittama katsaus, Flash-demoskene: Reaaliaikaisten verkkoanimaatioiden esiinnousu ja hiipuminen, joka tarjoaa vastaavan kokonaiskuvan Adobe Flash -alustalla toimineen marginaalisen demoskenen synnystä, huippuvuosista ja suosion hupenemisesta. Oman aktiivisen osallistumisensa ja sisäpiiriläisten kokemusten pohjalta Kemppainen luo tarkan kuvauksen mm. niihin teknisiin seikkoihin, joita Flashin lukuisat eri versiot toivat tullessaan ja miten demoskene hyödynsi kohentuneita ominaisuuksia äänien ja visuaalisten efektien ohjelmoinnissa.

Kiitämme kaikkia kirjoittajia sekä arvioijia, jotka mahdollistivat tämän teemanumeron julkaisemisen. Seuraava WiderScreenin numero ilmestyy syksyllä 2014 ja käsittelee mediaurheilua. Vastaavana toimittajana toimii Riikka Turtiainen.

Scenes

The theme of WiderScreen 1–2/2014 are computer hobbyist communities that have their roots in the computer culture of the 1970s and 1980s: the demo, cracker, warez and chip music scenes. During the last ten years, such communities have been studied to a certain extent, but many of their properties are still not well understood. This double special issue of WiderScreen contributes to our knowledge on scenes by collecting together international research on their various aspects. We are happy to have the opportunity to present you six peer-reviewed research articles and two discussion papers that also demonstrate how scene-related research has already reached certain maturity.

While the initial publications on the topic were fairly descriptive, today, computer scenes have been widely discussed both in empirical and theoretical research. We have summarized this research and followed new studies in our online bibliography, Demoscene Research, since 2004. The new articles presented here deepen scene research by advancing important topics relevant to the theme: the variety of computer scenes and their practices, including not only demo and cracker scenes, but also more marginal music-based and Flash demo scenes; the dynamic and evolving interrelationships between different scenes; the existence of various national computer scenes and the cultural identity of their members; media analysis of scene artworks and the problematics of their “authenticity” vs. “inauthenticity”; and last but not least, rich insiders’ accounts of everyday practices in a computer scene.

The first two articles deal with the oldest of the computer scenes, the cracker scene. Patryk Wasiak’s article, “Amis and Euros.” Software Import and Contacts Between European and American Cracking Scenes, opens an important perspective on the European and American cracking scenes, and their interactions in the trans-Atlantic trading of pirated games. Drawing on interviews and texts written by contemporaries, Wasiak shows how the pirating activities expressed specific cultural identities: the sceners established and maintained a strict distinction between American and European sceners, naming each other as “Euros” and “Amis”. The second contribution, titled How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners, is written by Markku Reunanen. In his paper, Reunanen revisits the often-told story about the birth of the demoscene and its origins in game cracking. Referring to texts written by the two scenes, interviews and research literature, Reunanen argues that the demo and cracking communities were not as clearly separated as often suggested, and that their eventual divergence followed from a number of parallel developments in computing cultures.

Next follows Doreen Hartmann’s article Animation in the Demoscene. From Obfuscation to Category, where Hartmann discusses various meanings of the term “animation” and how the demoscene has seen its role over the years. She shows how the relationship between real-time and offline calculated animations is, in fact, significantly more complex than it initially appears, and that the opinions and practices concerning animation are subject to considerable change. Canan Hastik’s Demo Age: New Views is, likewise, linked to the history of cinematography. In her study, Hastik has applied tools and methods from cultural analytics[2] to demos in order to reveal their hidden patterns, such as repetition, rhythm and coloring. The article features several interesting visualizations that offer new perspective to demoscene productions, and connects them to the research traditions of cinema and media studies.

The fifth article, by Marilou Polymeropoulou, Chipmusic, Fakebit and the Discourse of Authenticity in the Chipscene, moves to the theme of computer music, the chipscene in particular. The chipscene is a community of musicians that develop music with distinct retro aesthetics, often resembling (and frequently using) the sound chips of original platforms like the Nintendo Game Boy and Commodore 64. Starting from anthropological and ethnomusicological perspectives on music and its “authenticity”, the article draws on long-term online and offline ethnography among the members of the chipscene. The specific focus is on the musical genre of “fakebit”: music that uses modern equipment to imitate the musical aesthetics of retro sound chips. The paper outlines three generations of chipmusicians that have distinct outlooks on the phenomena of “fakebit” and the notion of “authenticity” in chip music. The sixth article is a translated contribution by Markku Reunanen (originally published in WiderScreen 2–3/2013) and explores the practices of demosceners who produce very small real-time presentations, so-called 4k intros, from various perspectives. Reunanen also discusses the musical side of these intros, presenting a link to the technical minimalism of chipscene practices.

Ville-Matias Heikkilä, too, continues with the theme of minimalistic music. Rather than focusing on authenticity vs. inauthenticity, however, the article discusses sound synthesis using short lines of code, so-called bytebeat, and is titled Käsittämättömät koodirivit musiikkina: bytebeat ja demoskenen tekninen kokeellisuus (Incomprehensible Lines of Code as Music: Bytebeat and Technical Experimentation in the Demoscene). The paper could be described as a thick description of the collective experimentation through which bytebeat music emerged and vanished due to scene members’ enthusiasm. The final paper, Flash-demoskene: Reaaliaikaisten verkkoanimaatioiden esiinnousu ja hiipuminen (Flash Demoscene: The Rise and Fall of Real-Time Web Animations) by Jaakko Kemppainen, takes a similar view on the development, popularity, and the waning of the Flash scene, a marginal scene built around the Adobe Flash multimedia platform. Through his insiders’ views and active participation in the scene, very much like Heikkilä and Reunanen above, the author gives intricate details about the technical possibilities of different Flash versions and how those were utilized in graphics and sound programming by demoscene members.

We would like to thank all the authors, as well as the anonymous referees who made the special issue possible. The next issue of WiderScreen, edited by Riikka Turtiainen, will deal with media sports, and is expected to come out in fall 2014.

Notes

  1. Kulttuurianalytiikkaa ei tule sekoittaa humanistisiin kulttuurinanalyysin tai kulttuurintutkimuksen perinteisiin. Termi viittaa massiivisten mediakirjastojen automaattiseen analysointiin.
  2. A visual analysis method for massive media repositories, not to be mixed up with the academic cultural analysis or cultural studies traditions.
Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

“Amis and Euros.” Software Import and Contacts Between European and American Cracking Scenes

crackers, cultural identity, Europe, modem, software piracy, United States

Patryk Wasiak
patrykwasiak [a] gmail.com
Dr., Researcher
Institute for Cultural Studies, University of Wroclaw, Poland

Printable PDF version

This article explores the practices of so-called software import” between Europe and the US by the Commodore 64 cracking scene and reflects on how it was related to the establishment
and expression of cultural identities of its members. While discussing the establishment of computer games’ transatlantic routes of distribution with Bulletin Board System (BBS) boards, I will explore how this phenomenon, providing the sceners with new challenges and, subsequently, new roles such as importer, modem trader or NTSC-fixer, influenced the rise of new cultural identities within the cracking scene. Furthermore, I will analyze how the import of software and the new scene roles influenced the expression of cultural distinction between American and European sceners, referred to as “Euros” and “Amis” on the scene forum.

Introduction

The aim of this article is to provide a historical inquiry into cultural practices related to the so called “software import” between Europe and the US, within the framework of the Commodore 64 cracking scene. In the mid-1980s several crackers from European countries and the US established direct and regular contacts with the computer modem Bulletin Board System (BBS) boards. In the existing studies the cracking scene is considered primarily as a social world of crackers (Vuorinen 2007), a particular form of hacker culture (Thomas 2003; Sterling 1992). This study intends to broaden the existing academic work by considering how the transatlantic circulation of cracked software and its appropriation influenced the establishment of cultural identities. For the sake of this article, I will consider the transatlantic software import as a form of “circulation of commodities in social life” within the cracking scene (Appadurai 1986, 8). While doing so, I will explore two interdependent aspects of such social life related to the transatlantic import of software considered as a primary “commodity”. The first one is the emergence of the new cracking scene roles such as importers, modem traders, BBS sysops (Bulletin Board System board administrators), and TV signal fixers known as PAL- (Phase Alternating Line) and NTSC (National Television System Committee)-fixers. The second aspect of the cracking scene’s social life that I will further analyze is manifestation of the belonging to the European or American scenes on the scene forum.

Security gaps which came up after the AT&T divestiture in 1984 enabled American “phreaks” (Lapsey 2013) who were experimenting with obtaining free access to telephone lines to establish frequent connections with European crackers. Members of cracking scenes from both regions established “import groups” aimed at importing software from the other side of the Atlantic. Software artifacts circulated by import groups were not only made physically available but were also adapted to the local TV signal system with “PAL“ or “NTSC fix” Software import also influenced contacts between two different hacker cultures: the consolidated European cracking scene of the 1980s and the heterogenous American hacker cultures with both cracking and hacking/phreaking (H/P) scenes.

The practice of cracking, that is the appropriation of a software object and transforming it into a scene artifact (Vuorinen 2007), can be considered as an instance of “commoditization” (Kopytoff 1986) in which a generic object becomes a commodity with some new values relevant for the particular community. For the members of the scene, software import between the US and Europe was a further step in the commoditization. It meant that software had to be physically moved across the Atlantic with a modem and adapted to local TV signal systems. Such processes of commoditization became practices and further challenges. Rehn (2004) explained the mechanism of competition and challenge as a social structure that defines the internet warez scene, but his analysis is also relevant for the pre-internet cracking scene:

The scene is through this permanently engaged in a circle of challenges, a tournament where the reputation/honor of the participants is tied to their ability of keeping up with the competition. Consequently, participants are continuously recounting their history of releasing (i.e. participation), and working hard to maintain status. (Rehn 2004, 366.)

I will show below how the expansion of such logic of tournaments shaped the transatlantic software trade. The establishment of import groups was influenced by the prestige competition within the cracking scene, in which both the import and sending of cracked software outside the local milieus were considered as a significant merit. Such contacts also made the crackers express their opinions on other members of the exchange network through numerous articles in scene disk magazines. While reading sources produced by crackers themselves, I was struck by the frequent use of the word “European,” often abbreviated as “Euro”, used in relation to a member of a cracking scene from one of the European countries. The study of relations between “Amis” and “Euros” helps us to understand how members of the cracking scene shaped their cultural identities with reference to some broader values related to American or European culture.

This article is divided in three parts. In the first part I will discuss historical trajectory of the rise and demise of the transatlantic software import. I will also explore how the possibilities and constraints of information and communication technologies of the 1980s influenced the establishment of transatlantic software import. The second part covers the establishment of several new scene roles and cultural identities due to challenges related to the software import and fixing. The third part reflects on the role that the software import played in the shaping of cultural identities of the members of hacker cultures from the US and European countries. Discussions in crackers’ disk magazines concerning the practices of software cracking, import and calling the other side of Atlantic show how young computer users conceptualized the identities of “Europeans” and “Americans”. My historical inquiry includes content analysis of disk magazines, personal testimonies and interviews, as well as analysis of imported software artifacts. However, any study of American hacker culture of the 1980s encounters a serious difficulty. The forum of the European cracking scene were disk magazines which are carefully preserved in several online collections. The American scene included mostly BBS electronic communities (Sterling 1992). Documents circulated on BBS boards were ephemeral and are scarcely preserved. Only very limited number of BBS sources are preserved as “textfiles” archive (http://textfiles.com/). While writing this article, I studied the available crack intros released by American groups and very scarce American diskmags. Still, due to the vast availability of European sources compared to very limited number of American sources, this essay may seem to be one-sided.

Establishment and Demise of Transatlantic Import Routes

To understand the development of software import groups within the framework of the C-64 cracking scene, it is necessary to take under consideration a broader perspective of the home computer market of the 1980s. The C-64 introduced in 1982 was the first affordable home computer which became a market success in both the US and numerous countries in Western Europe (Bagnall 2011). Other hardware platforms were popular in specific countries or regions. For instance, the Apple II became a success only in the US while the ZX Spectrum only in the UK and in some countries of continental Europe. The popularity of the C-64 caused a quick growth of the software industry dedicated to this platform. The general context of the rise of recreational software market in that time was discussed by Martin Campbell-Kelly (2003, 269-301). In the 1980s home computer software industry, which was mostly publishing games, primarily included small companies with limited organizational and financial capacities not only related to conducting overseas marketing campaigns but even production of material copies of software. The growth of large software publishers began only in the next decade. In the early 1980s small companies had simply not enough resources and funds to enter foreign markets. In the US C-64 games were published by US Gold, Ocean, Electronic Arts (a small company at that time) and Microprose. In the UK games were published by Codemasters, Mastertronic and Virgin Games. Aside from the UK market, those companies distributed games in few other European countries only. According to some crackers, not only different games were published in the two regions, but European games had a different style. As Mitch from Eagle Soft Inc. (ESI), the most significant US import group (Figure 1), claimed: “What the Europeans got out of the SID and VIC-II (C-64 sound and graphics chips) […] some amazing demos, some amazing graphics. American games always had better game play […] but Euro games looked cool.” (Interview with Mitch in Jazzcat 2006.)

Figure 1. Eagle Soft Inc. crack intro, 1987.
Figure 1. Eagle Soft Inc. crack intro, 1987.

There was a significant technical constraint which influenced the lack of overseas marketing strategies. American C-64 was provided with a graphic chipset with an output display in NTSC television system standard, and the one available in Europe was adapted to PAL system, which differs from NTSC in the amount of displayed horizontal lines and television signal frequency. Computer games which extensively used advanced graphic display capacities of the C-64 were written for a specific display output. To run a game designed for a particular signal system on a TV set based on the other system, some extensive and time-consuming modifications were required. The lack of interest of software companies in foreign market as well as PAL-NTSC differences will have serious side-effects for the further competition in PAL and NTSC game fixing among crackers.

From the early 1980s the cracking scenes in Europe and the US were growing separately. European cracking scene is currently extensively documented by the Demoscene Research project, while American cracking scene is scarcely documented (Polgár 2008, 116-128). The only critical volume on American hacker culture (Thomas 2003) covers only hacking/phreaking (H/P) scene. As the memoir of Rob O’Hara (2011) shows, cracking and H/P scenes were overlapping, since the members of both cultures appropriated the BBS system as a basic infrastructure for information and software circulation, whereas in Europe snail mail was used by crackers until the late 1980s.

Contacts between crackers from Europe and the US were established in 1984-1985 when it became possible to phreak international calls after the AT&T divestiture in 1984 (Henck and Strassburg 1988; Mercer 2006, 95-103). The Commodore Scene Database (CSDb, http://csdb.dk/) data show the beginning and the quick growth of both import groups as well as NTSC-PAL fixing in 1985. The CSDb data show that during the 1980s in the US there were at least 168 import groups of which the essential activity would be importing pirate software from Europe. The most important American import groups were the ESI and the North East Crackers. It was common that such groups had well-thought-out names, with references to American culture or parodying corporate names, for instance: Supreme Importers Incorporated, Rowdy American Distributors, United Network of International Exchange, Kentucky Fried Importerz, Looney Tunes Importers, Hot Importing Team or Major Imports of America. It is difficult to estimate the number of such groups in European countries since, for example, a German import group might be importing software from the US or from the UK. According to the CSDb, games published by US companies were often distributed by European cracking scene groups shortly after the official release date in the US. In an interview, Jon, an American importer, talked about the volume of software imported by this exchange network.

I think we brought over more, by volume, from Europe. Import groups would often release 3-4 games per day. However, I think that US releases were brought over multiple times by Europeans. Sometimes ESI (Eagle Soft Inc.) games would be brought over multiple times by several European groups. (E-mail interview with Jon, Feb. 1, 2014.)

In the late 1980s several European high profile cracking groups used American BBS boards as the so called “group HQ (Headquaters) BBS” – a board where released crack was uploaded and further circulated among other groups. European elite groups such as Ikari + Talent used popular board Warez Castle established in 1987 (Interview with Wares King, Sex’n’Crime, Issue 13, 1990). Such boards were used to spread cracks much faster via snail mail, so such distribution provided the group with an advantage in the scene’s prestige game. After 1990, when American telecommunication companies started the “hacker crackdown” (Sterling 1992) and blocked the most exploited security gaps, some phreaking techniques were developed in Europe[1]. At the same time, the whole phenomenon of C-64 import groups started to disappear along with the demise of the hardware platform and the appropriation of the Amiga (Maher 2012) as the main platform for the scene activities. Transatlantic software trade within the framework of the cracking scene lasted for about seven years. Arguably, it was the most sophisticated and widespread system of grass-roots circulation of software with the use of information and communication technologies before the dissemination of the Internet-based platforms and the rise of the Internet warez scene (Rehn 2004).

Import Groups and New Scene Roles

CSDb together with crackers list other scene roles such as importer, modem trader, sysop, PAL and NTSC fixer. All aforementioned roles became considered within the scene as separate tournaments with relevant sections in the form of “charts” published regularly in disk magazines. While discussing “imagined communities” Benedict Anderson excellently pointed out the essence of belonging to an imagined community:

An American will never meet, or even know the names of more than a handful of his fellow Americans. He has no idea of what they are up to at any one time. But he has complete confidence in their steady, anonymous, simultaneous activity. (Anderson 1991, 31.)

To paraphrase this sentence, the belonging to an imagined community of “import groups” was based on the confidence that there is an ongoing competition within the import scene and one has to provide steady software import and fix new software releases as fast as possible. Rehn discussed how the imagined scene with constant competition with other groups provides a framework and a point of reference for its members.

The individual releases gain their symbolic values by being part of a group’s total releasing as compared to the actions of other groups […] and it is the valuation of the total releasing prowess of a group that establishes their social standing. (Rehn 2004, 368.)

In the late 1980s “releasing prowess” was related not only to cracking but also to several practices related to software import. The software itself was a commodity which was supposed to be manipulated in order to be accessed by others on BBSes, thus counted as “import release”. Jon explained that the quality of games didn’t really matter since it was merely a commodity, and a group would get a score not for the quality of the game itself but rather for the number of imported software.

I preferred American wares. Some of the games coming out of Europe were really quite good…. I could list off a lot of European games that I enjoyed, but there was a lot of garbage coming in as well. Our importers were dragging everything from Europe over here. …. There were a lot of budget titles as well. For every Ikari Warriors, there were two or three Intergalactic Cage Matches. Some of them were so laughably bad that I was amazed when I discovered that they were actually commercially released…. But for the most part, wares were wares. (E-mail interview with Jon, Feb. 1, 2014.)

All manipulations, such as fast import, NTSC or PAL fixing and providing access to it on a HQ BBS run by a group, were defined by the scene as activities with a socially relevant value. The logic of the scene – a community for which the competition was the core value – caused that every activity related to the software circulation could be considered as a challenge. A memoir of a Swedish scener shows how the rise of import groups in the late 1980s was a strategy aimed to “differentiate” from already established pan-European system of software circulation.

The only question that was left how can we get faster than before? Sending envelopes across Europe and typing cool greeting-lists is good but how can we further differentiate? Some of the groups were looking over the great ocean at the land of opportunities: the USA. The USA was an untapped market that was missing out on most of the releases. I remembered swapping with people in the US back in 1985, sending games they’d never see. NTSC-fixing was not part of releasing back then, so I never understood how they could enjoy some of the games I sent them. The USA also had a software-scene, with several releases coming out from giant companies. You all know them. The Activisions, the Microproses and the Cinemawares, bringing out giant games …. These were all great, groundbreaking games that needed to find a European haven, just like the European games needed to find an American one. In short the scene was up for a new conquest establishing fast, solid distribution-channels across the Atlantic. … There was no BBS’es initially so it was one-on-one trading, then the leaving it up to the American swappers or European swappers to secure proper distribution. (Newscopy 2006.)

For American sysops who were running their own BBSes, becoming a HQ for European group was apparently also the “to differentiate” strategy. O’Hara in his memoirs showed how important among American BBS scene was to have some contacts outside local area code (O’Hara 2011, 49-59). American scene was divided into such local BBS area code communities because of the prohibitive costs of long distance calls and modem connections. O’Hara clearly showed how prestigious was to have some contacts outside, which meant having an access to games unavailable locally. In such context sysops looked for an opportunity to establish contacts with European groups also to obtain European games, to have users from Europe and to gain prestige as “Euro hotspot”. Wares King, the Wares Castle BBS sysop in an interview emphasized his interest in running BBS for high profile European groups.

Q: When I read the user-list of your board I can see that there are sooo many Europeans! Can you explain why?

A: Yes, it’s the Euro hotspot… And most of these Euros call because I have been HQ for so many good Euro groups. (Interview with Wares King, 1990.)

In the late 1980s import became recognized as one of the “tournaments of value” on the scene (Rehn, 2004). Firstly, the imported games were provided with a second “import intro” including the date of importing software along with the original crack release date. Both the name of the group which provided import and the one who fixed it were included there. Moreover, several European diskmags, such as Mamba, included new rankings related to import in “charts” section such as “best euro-importers” and “best u.s.bbs’s” (Mamba, Issue 8, 1990). As magazine editors claimed, they were publishing “the all-american-charts from point of view by the europeans (top 10)” (Mamba, issue 9, 1990). Unfortunately, there are no records which could indicate that Americans were making any similar judgments on the European crackers and importers.

The practice of software importing became included in the scene’s competition for the quickest crack release. In a cracked and imported game, both dates of crack and import were given as the date of game release. Moreover, such game was provided with both an original crack intro and an import intro added later on. One of such import intros included not only “Euro greets” but also a world map with flashing points in the US and in Northwestern Europe, which shows a spatial location of American and European groups’ contacts (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. R-Type import intro, United Software Association (USA) 03, 1988. Source: http://intros.c64.org/
Figure 2. R-Type import intro, United Software Association (USA) 03, 1988. Source: http://intros.c64.org/

In some sources I have found statements claiming that in the time of American HQ BBSes for European groups, the day when the game was uploaded was considered the scene as the crack release. As Mamba editors stated: “the first 100% crack in the states counts, if a game need some days to be fixed, i count the first version sent by modem to the u.s. !” (Mamba, Issue 7, 1990). However, it is difficult to confirm if such rule was generally accepted among the whole cracking scene. The complexity of distribution and import of cracked software caused a problem from the point of view of the scene’s cultural values. The guide on crack scoring system in the Mamba magazine, which tried to provide crackers with a clear set of rules for its chart, gives us an excellent picture of such confusion.

note that the euro-crack and the ami-import will be treated as ’one thing’, that means the european group has to suffer if the importer group messes the release up, and the other way round. that also means that the american group and the european group will get 3 points for a proper release each, 2 points for a second fixed release etc, indifferent whose fault it was or why… (Mamba, Issue 20, 1991.)

The spread of the software import apparently caused a confusion. Who should gain more prestige from software commoditization? The one who cracked a game? Or rather the one who successfully managed to import a game through transatlantic route? On the one hand, it shows that importing became a part of the scene’s prestige game and importers and fixers became recognized as equal to crackers members of the scene. On the other hand, it shows that the scene constantly negotiated its rules of the “tournaments of value”.

“Euros” and “Amis”

As it was mentioned in the previous chapter, software was primarily considered as a commodity of which an exchange permitted a member of the exchange network to gain prestige in his own milieu. But how the establishment of the contacts between European American scenes influenced mutual perception of both communities? The case of software import touches the more general issue of interdependence of American and European computer cultures. In his recent paper, Frank Veraart (2014) discusses the impact of American hobby computing culture on the activities of the Dutch Hobby Computer Club. The case of the software import shows different trajectory of the development of contacts between Europe and the US. In the mid-1980s crackers from several countries of Northwestern Europe established a common cultural space and “the scene” referred to as a pan-European social structure. One of the most striking instances of such community is the appearance of “eurochart” – a ranking of crackers from the whole region. If the scene was defined by the eurocharts, then how the practices of American crackers could be incorporated into it? While browsing several disk magazines I have found that only Mamba regularly published both eurocharts and rankings of the American scene. However, in Issue 5 even Mamba editors claimed that they cease publishing American charts due to the lack of votes. There are no instances of high profile magazines which would publish a single chart in which members of both scenes would be mentioned together.

Transatlantic software exchange was commented in several European diskmags. From the point of view of a cracking scene’s researcher, such discussions provide an interesting testimony on the rise of self-consciousness of the European scene of which the members, while expressing their opinions on Americans, juxtapose them with the “Euroscene” – an imagined community with several positive features. In the late 1980s several diskmags included short stories on the American scene and interviews with American crackers with a typical set of questions on differences between the States and Europe. Unfortunately, it is impossible to find any records of discussions on this matter on American BBS boards. Scarce American diskmags included few sections with “euro update”. However, this section was rather ephemeral. Editor of Insight disk magazine explained why it disappeared from the magazine in Issue 2: “If you don’t see the euro update selection on the menu anymore, it is because we are not receiving enough info to put it on” (Insight, Issue 2, 1991). Another American cracker in his short article in European CCCP paper magazine on the currents in the US desperately asked for feedback: “So, what’s the European trading scene like? […] what else goes on? And whats your ranking for Usa groups? Write2me?” (Vision (JAY), The American scene, CCCP, Issue 5, 1989, 2).

When members of the European scene were commenting on Americans in diskmags, it was usually a list of complaints. Apparently, the aim of such elaborate complaints was to demonstrate the cultural capital of European crackers juxtaposed with inferior Americans who were not only unable to appreciate high quality cracks, but also lacked social skills while calling to Europe. Highly influential Illegal paper magazine included several elaborate claims on American cultural inferiority.

AMERICANS, only mentioning their names make me shiver, they’re the loudest, most waste people in the world, they think EUROPEANS still are around in animal-skins and live in tents. They used to be such a boy to get on the phone, they could arrange conferences… but when you think of it, you only spoke to your European friends which you had your American slave to call. Nowadays American groups consider themselves to be one of the world’s top 20 if they import a game every day. GIVE ME A BREAK! Nothing is so easy, as to receive something through a modem and put an intro on it […] they have completely spoiled our 64 scene, now THANX to the YANKS everybody wants the game super-fast, they don’t even look at the game, they just bang their intro on it […]. They have changed the way we EUROPEANS think, nowadays a lot of groups (no names) just make a fast low-quality crack just to send it to the states. (MAD ALL, I HATE AMERICANS!, Illegal, Issue 29, 1988.)

Similar statements were published in Illegal and other high profile journals several times. Discussing the differences between the sophisticated rules of the European scene and Americans who only want to get new software as soon as possible, played a role of expression of cultural distinction (Bourdieu 1984) for the European scene members. Typical disk magazine interviews with sceners would include a question on contacts between Europe and the US. Below are two examples of interviews from the same issue of Mamba.

Q: what do u think about americanos?

A: most americans are right assholes! (Interview with bod/ikari & talent, Mamba, Issue 6, 1990.)

Q: what do you think about americanos/euros ?

A: i heard that most amis aren’t able to fix euro-games, in europe are more capable people ! (Interview with chrysagon/x-ray, Mamba, Issue 6, 1990.)

Dozens of interviews from that time include similar statements. It is possible to conclude that this question and its predictable answer became a part of the scene’s ritual of manifestation of cultural distinction based on the belonging to European scene. Another scener recalled this as a general attitude towards American sceners at that time.

I must admit I kept the usual European arrogant attitude, which means, I couldn’t care less about the importers and the BBS’s except perhaps a very, very, very few. Many other Europeans just felt the same way about Americans in general. (Interview with Antitrack, 2006.)

Below is a claim from a memoir of another scener with a clearly expressed crucial distinction between imagined Americans who cared only about the speed, not the quality, and Europeans who respected the rules of “quality releases”.

Q: What do you think is the biggest difference between an American scener and a European scener?

A: An American scener cares about boards and first releases and doesn’t care about quality versions. A European scener cares more about getting a good version of the game that works and got a lot of trainers. Also they are known for having a lot of mail contacts. (Interview with Mason, 2002, Vandalism News, Issue 39.)

This explicit comparison between quality juxtaposed with quantity and fastness, has to be put in broader cultural contexts. As Victoria de Grazia showed in Irresistible Empire (2005) there was a unique Hass/Liebe relationship between the US and European countries in the the 20th century. The aforementioned juxtaposition excellently fits into the notion of difference between American culture of Taylorist production and fast-foods, and European tradition of paying attention to the quality, in this case to “quality releases”.

Remarkably, there are no similar derogative and generalized statements on the sceners from particular European countries. Crackers from Europe’s peripheries who actively tried to establish some contacts with high profile groups from Western Europe by asking to send them new releases without offering anything in exchange, were referred to as “lamers”. However, there are no statements that there are “Italian” or “Hungarian” lamers. They were mostly criticized as individuals since the scene’s understanding of “lamer” concerns some personal traits, not a national stereotype. Americans, as we have seen above, were mostly criticized in a different way, as an imagined community juxtaposed with the imagined, self-conscious community of “Euro” sceners.

Conclusion

In this article I discussed how the C-64 users from the cracking scene established transatlantic software import routes and how this phenomenon influenced cultural identities of the sceners. Considering the practices of the cracking scene as a form of commoditization and asking what cultural values were related to the particular commoditization stages, we can understand better how the scene was determined by a constant struggle for new challenges and “tournaments”. In the mid-1980s cracking scene, which included members from several countries of Northwestern Europe, managed “to differentiate”. This article showed how the stages coming after cracking – importing and fixing – provided members of the scene with the possibilities of new cultural identities by participating in relevant imagined communities. Charts from disk magazines provide interesting accounts on the scene’s cultural history, in which new scene roles were put into separate charts but always labelled European either American.

The circulation of cracked software was expanded to the US to seek both new sources of software and new partners for the reception of the software from Europe. This expansion caused the rise of a new category of “import groups” which became a significant part of the scene’s landscape of the late 1980s. This case shows that the exploration of possible channels for distribution of cracked software and obtaining software unavailable locally was a crucial factor in the geographical spread of the scene in the whole Northwestern Europe and other European regions, and further in the US.

Taking into consideration the relations between European and American crackers we can better understand how the cracking scene formed the imagined “Euroscene”. Numerous claims on the cultural capital of crackers from Europe and the lack of thereof among Americans provide us with unique accounts of a European-wide cultural community built rather from the bottom than as a result of top political agendas of the European Economic Community states.

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my gratitude to an anonymous reviewer, Markku Reunanen and Antti Silvast for comments that helped me to significantly revise and improve my article. Preliminary research output of this study was presented with a paper “Hacking Across the Atlantic: How Young Hackers ‘Phreaked’ Transatlantic Telephone Cables“ at the Society for the History of Technology Annual Meeting in Cleveland on November 4, 2011. This presentation was made possible by a fellowship and travel grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study and a travel grant from the SHOT.

References

Primary Sources

Insight, Issue 2, 1991. http://csdb.dk/.

Interview with Antitrack. 2006. Recollection, Issue 2. http://www.atlantis-prophecy.org/.

Interview with bod/ikari & talent. 1990. Mamba, Issue 6. http://csdb.dk/.

Interview with chrysagon / x-ray. 1990. Mamba, Issue 6. http://csdb.dk/.

Interview with Mason. 2002. Valdalism News, Issue 39. Republished on http://www.atlantis-prophecy.org/.

Interview with Mitch in Jazzcat. 2006. “The Eagle Has Landed.” Recollection, Issue 2. http://www.atlantis-prophecy.org/.

Interview with Wares King. 1990. Sex’n’Crime, Issue 13. http://csdb.dk/.

MAD ALL. 1988. “I HATE AMERICANS!” Illegal, Issue 29. http://www.triad.se/articles.

Mamba, Issue 7, 1990. http://csdb.dk/.

Mamba, Issue 14, 1990. http://csdb.dk/.

Mamba, Issue 20, 1991. http://csdb.dk/.

Newscopy. 2006. “Scenetown”. Recollection, Issue 1. http://www.atlantis-prophecy.org/.

“The Real Info`s About Blue Boxing in Europe & Other Countries!,” 1991. http://www.textfiles.com/phreak/BLUEBOXING/eurobbox.txt.

R-Type import intro, United Software Association (USA) 03, 1988, http://intros.c64.org/.

Shark. 2006. “May You Pirate In Interesting Times: A Peek into the North American C64 Scene (circa 1983-1990)“. Recollection, Issue 1. http://www.atlantis-prophecy.org/.

Vision (JAY) 1989. “The American scene,” CCCP, Issue 5: 2. http://csdb.dk/.

Literature

Alberts, Gerard, and Oldenziel, Ruth. 2014. Hacking Europe. From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes. London: Springer.

Anderson, Benedict. 1991 [1983]. Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Appadurai, Arjun (ed.). 1986. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bagnall, Brian. 2011. Commodore: A Company on the Edge. Variant Press, Kindle Edition.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Campbell-Kelly, Martin. 2003. From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog. A History of the Software Industry. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

De Grazia, Victoria. 2005. Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.

Henck, Fred, and Strassburg, Bernard. 1988. A Slippery Slope: The Long Road to the Breakup of AT&T. Westport and London: Greenwood Press.

Kopytoff, Igor. 1986. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process”. In The social life of things: commodities in cultural perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lapsey, Phil. 2013. Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell. New York: Grove Press.

Maher, Jimmy. 2012. The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

Mercer, David. 2006. The Telephone. The Life of a Technology. Westport and London: Greenwood Press.

O’Hara, Rob. 2011. Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie. lulu.com.

Polgár, Tamas. 2008. The Brief History of the Computer Demoscene. Berlin: CSW Verlag.

Rehn, Alf. 2004. “The Politics of Contraband. The Honor Economies of the Warez Scene.” Journal of Socio-Economics 33:359-374.

Thomas, Douglas. 2003. Hacker Culture. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Sterling, Bruce. 1992. The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. New York: Bantam Books, http://www.mit.edu/hacker/hacker.html.

Veraart, Frank. 2014. Transnational (dis)connection in localizing personal computing in the Netherlands, 1975-1990. In Hacking Europe. From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes, edited by Gerard Alberts, and Ruth Oldenziel. London: Springer.

Vuorinen, Jukka. 2007. “Ethical Codes in the Digital World: Comparisons of the Proprietary, the Open/Free and the Cracker System.” Ethics and Information Technology 9:27–38.

Notes
  1. For an overview of European phreaking, see The Real Info`s About Blue Boxing in Europe & Other Countries!, 1991, http://www.textfiles.com/phreak/BLUEBOXING/eurobbox.txt.
Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners

crackers, demoscene, home computers, software piracy

Markku Reunanen
markku.reunanen [a] aalto.fi
Lecturer
Aalto University School of Arts and Design

Printable PDF version

Numerous authors ranging from hobbyists to researchers have tried to explain the roots of the demoscene in their texts. Most often such histories have been brief and almost identical to each other: first appeared crackers with their crack intros, which then evolved into the demoscene during the late 1980s. In this article, I shall reiterate the canonical story and offer new perspectives to the events that led to the purported separation of the two communities. I approach the topic by looking at it from three different angles: first by dissecting the canonical story, then through the recollections of early hobbyists, and finally by comparing the two to the discussions found in contemporary texts. Based on the findings, the divergence between the two scenes was the outcome of a number of parallel developments, and was neither as clear-cut nor rapid as often portrayed.

Introduction

The history of the community known as the demoscene dates back to the mid-1980s when the first groups started to appear, and the first crack intros, shown at the beginning of a cracked game, were released. Here, “cracking” refers to the removal and circumvention of copy protection schemes that game companies tried to employ in order to stop users from duplicating the game media, such as tapes and floppies. The intros were preceded by simpler static screens that served the same purpose of telling the world who was behind the release. Later on, the early scene diverged, when some of the hobbyists became increasingly interested in just the intros, leaving software piracy and related activities aside.

Above, we have an example of a story that has been repeated and canonized numerous times in various publications ranging from disk magazines to academic papers (for example Leonard 1994; Gruetzmacher 2003; Saarikoski 2004, 191–192; Tasajärvi et al. 2004, 12–15). Most of the authors who have written on the topic were not part of the original scene themselves, so they have had to rely on second-hand sources where conflicting details have already been left out. My aim in this paper is to trace the origins of the story and offer a new perspective to the various reasons that led to the gradual separation of the two scenes.

As a matter of fact, even the too evident assumption that there ever was such a split should be brought into question, as several groups started with cracking and retained legal and illegal activities side by side for quite a while (Kauppinen 1991; Polgar 2005, 99–101). As another counterexample, during the last few years the demoscene has started coming into terms with its roots, and crack intros made by legal demo groups have started appearing again – although they should be considered more as nostalgic or ironic references to the wild past rather than to the realities of contemporary software piracy (see The Commodore 64 Scene Database (CSDb) for recent examples). Nowadays, one of the most active all-platform demo websites, Pouet.net, also features crack intros as one of its numerous production categories.

The concept of a “scene” requires some attention before moving any further. In this article, I shall use the word scene as an umbrella term that encompasses all the related activity and refer to specialized communities as the demoscene and the cracker scene (also known as the warez or illegal scene, among other names) for the sake of clarity. Arguably, the distinction is somewhat artificial, as the members of both have simply considered themselves to be in the scene. In other contexts, many other communities have been referred to as scenes, such as the graffiti scene, clubbing scene, or punk scene (for example, Straw 1991; Hitzler & Niederbacher 2010). Sociologist Michaela Pfadenhauer provides the following general definition for a scene in her article Ethnography of Scenes (2005):

Thus we refer to a thematically focussed cultural network of people who share certain material and/or mental forms of collective self-stylisation and who stabilise and develop these similarities at typical locations at typical times as a scene.

When applied to the demo and cracker scenes, Pfadenhauer’s definition raises some relevant questions: for example, what are “self-stylization” and “typical locations” in the case of networks that are largely virtual by nature? There is hardly any demoscene attire that would instantly reveal the identity of its members to others, unlike in many other scenes that are outwardly more pronounced. Therefore, the self-stylization must be mostly mental – which it is. As to the typical locations, virtual spaces, such as online discussion forums, need to be considered in addition to physical spaces. The flip-side of similarities inside a scene is that there must also be differences to other scenes that ultimately set them apart.

The demoscene has, at times, been discussed in terms of a subculture (for example Roininen 1998, 69–79; Saarikoski 2001). Omitting the elusive definitions of parent, counter-, and subcultures here, it is still evident as to how subcultural studies are a valuable frame of reference when discussing scenes, since the two concepts (i.e. scene, subculture) are so clearly related and, at times, even used interchangeably (cf. Pfadenhauer 2005). As a well-known example, Dick Hebdige, in his book Subculture: The Meaning of Style (2010/1979), traces the genealogy of British subcultures ranging from teddy boys to punks, and shows how they have preceded and influenced each other. Even though British subcultures seem spectacular and deviant when compared to demo and cracker scenes, the idea of evolution and lineage are equally applicable – scenes, subcultures and communities do not appear out of nowhere.

David Muggleton (2004/2002) has criticized the work of Hebdige and his peers[1], stating that they fail at understanding the indigenous viewpoints of actual subculture members (3). Valuable points made by Muggleton are that a subculture should not be seen only as a response to economic and social changes, as many earlier studies tended to view them (9–10), and that the role of an individual in a subculture may be fluid and fragmented (107–128). Both Hebdige (2010/1979, 92–99) and Muggleton (2004/2002, 131–154) recognize the importance of incorporation, where deviant subcultures are defined, trivialized, and turned into commodities by the parent culture in order to render them harmless. In the case of the demo and cracker scenes, such trivialization has frequently occurred in, for instance, newspaper articles dealing with demo parties[2]. However, Douglas Thomas (2002, 148–160) states that hacker culture has proven to be largely resistant to incorporation due to its technical nature and existence in a highly fluid electronic medium. Neither Hebdige’s nor Muggleton’s case studies included digital subcultures, so they do not mention technological change as something that affects subcultures, but in this study its role, quite obviously, cannot be omitted.

When thinking of the motivation behind the scene activities, Sarah Thornton’s Bourdieu-inspired concept of subcultural capital offers a useful theoretical frame of reference. According to her definition, subcultural capital defines an individual’s status in the eyes of the other members and can be earned through different means, such as attire, ownership of valued artifacts, subcultural knowledge and “cool” behavior (Thornton 2005/1995). Similar traits have been observed in studies dealing with digital culture, for example in Alf Rehn’s (2004) article, where he discusses the practices of the warez scene and refers to them as “honor economies”. Meritocracy is also heavily present in the related cracker culture (Vuorinen 2007) and the demoscene (Reunanen 2010, 33–35).

In the following sections I will explore the shared history of the two scenes from three different angles. First, the focus is on the origins and forms of the canonical story, which highlights how the scene has seen itself, presented itself to outsiders, and how outsiders, in turn, have interpreted the history. The second set of source material, consisting of interviews of first-generation sceners, brings forth rich details that have been lost in the standard story. Lastly, I will look at contemporary texts of the late 1980s and the early 1990s in order to illustrate how people experienced the ongoing developments, in contrast to later recollections that can easily be colored by nostalgia or belittling[3].

Reading the Story

The scene started to document its roots early on, when the first histories and personal recollections were published on diskmags (disk magazines) in the early 1990s, and a few years later on the World Wide Web. One of the best-known descriptions can be found in the PC Demoscene FAQ, originally written by Thomas “Tomaes” Gruetzmacher in 2003. Section 2.3 “Where does the demoscene come from?” starts with crack intros and software piracy, after which follows a description of the divergence:

In the late 1980s the legal part of the cracking and warez scene slowly drifted away from the illegal part. Intros became more advanced, (mega-)demos (several advanced intros linked together) appeared. The demoscene was born… sort of. A few individuals are still active in both, demoscene and warez/cracking scene.

The cracker scene is seen as the predecessor of the modern demoscene and, somewhat exceptionally, even the remaining link between the two is mentioned. There is no clear explanation as to why the two communities started drifting apart exactly, but the illegality of the warez scene is mentioned twice, which hints at one possible reason. According to the description, the demoscene “was born” and took the trade forward, which creates a distinction between old and new: crackers are portrayed as aging forefathers who are still alive but, at the same time, passé. Another similar account was provided by a long-standing demoscene activist, Jim “Trixter” Leonard, in PC Demos Explained (1994), where he wrote as follows:

Around this time, a gradual shift occurred, from people cracking games to writing graphic/sound demonstrations that showed off the computer they had just learned to program. Sure, cracking games was still popular, but some people decided that learning about the machine and using it as a tool for creativity was cooler” than cracking one dime-store game after another.

In this case, the legality of the hobby is not seen as an important factor. Instead, Leonard emphasizes the creative nature of demo programming as opposed to the repetitive cracking of low-quality games. Compared to the PC Demoscene FAQ, Leonard’s text is significantly earlier – the first version appeared already in 1994 and was updated until 1998. In the early 1990s the self-awareness of the demoscene was on the rise, which could be observed, among other things, in its attitudes towards computer games (Reunanen 2010, 29–30, 77). Early on, games were a natural part of scene activities, but became a taboo when the community started defining its borders and aggressively distancing itself from other communities occupying the same computer hobbyist domain (ibid.). In this light, the older description of the events resonates well with other sentiments of the time, whereas in 2003 there was already less need to emphasize the uniqueness of a firmly established community.

Several authors of demoscene-related articles and books have included a variant of the canonical story in their texts, which has further strengthened its status. When comparing the versions provided in four different publications (Roininen 1998, 30–31; Burger, Paulovic & Hasan 2002; Saarikoski 2004, 191–192; Tasajärvi et al. 2004, 12–15) it becomes evident how similarly the roots of the demoscene are described: first there were crackers with their intros that later – somehow, and we are never told exactly how – evolved into demos. The authors have not invented the histories; instead, they are based on first- or second-hand accounts provided by demoscene members themselves, which goes on to illustrate how deeply the community itself has adopted the standard story. Between the lines one can also sense nostalgia that colors the recollections[4].

There are two notable works that describe the early days of cracking and software swapping in detail. The first description can be found in Freax: The Brief History of the Demoscene by Tamas Polgar (2005, 40–62). Even if Polgar’s approach is rather informal, it provides relevant insight into the practices of the early hobbyists, such as copyparties, international swapping, and cracker magazines. According to an interview with Grendel[5], the separation of the demo and cracker scenes started as early as 1988–1989 and became stronger during the following two years (ibid., 57). The other notable peek into the history was written by Patryk Wasiak, whose Illegal Guys (2012) documents the rise and fall of what he called “the illegal scene”. Wasiak links the increased interest in legal demos directly to the West German police raids of the late 1980s, where illegal software collections got confiscated[6].

Owing to their common origin, early crackers and demosceners shared many traits, such as groups, handles, tools, parties, and communication channels. Therefore, it is easier to look at the differences between the two rather than the similarities. One deciding factor, indeed, is the relationship to law enforcement that started interfering with software piracy in the early 1990s, when copyright legislation started catching up with digital products (Saarikoski 2004, 319–337; Wasiak 2012). Such negative publicity and the fear of sanctions (Zine #2 and #3) can be seen as two probable reasons as to why the demoscene has emphasized its creative aspect and, at the same time, distanced itself from software piracy.

According to Vuorinen (2007), the cracker system can be seen as an offspring and a mirror image of the commercial model, clearly different to the open source movement that has its roots in the original hackers of the 1950s and 1960s (cf. Levy 1984). The cracker economy, in its purest form, is inherently linked to the commercial world, since it needs a constant influx of commercial software in order to function, whereas the demoscene is more self-sustained by nature because it produces its own artifacts: demos. Even though the modern warez scene, as described by Rehn (2004), differs from the pirates of the 1980s, the two can still be considered as parts of the same continuum.

First-Hand Accounts

As the second part of the study, I conducted six interviews with long-standing scene members who had started their career in the 1980s on the Commodore 64. It turned out somewhat difficult to recruit interviewees, as many of the pioneers are hard to locate after almost thirty years, and because there still seems to exist a certain veil of secrecy that makes it hard for an outsider to ask around. My own role as a demoscener and researcher – reflected on the title of the article, too – created a setting where I was regarded as an outsider by some representatives of the early cracker circles. The insider–outsider issue has been further elaborated by Rhoda MacRae (2007), who divides researchers’ approaches into three basic categories: outsider-in, outsider-out, and insider-in (see also Hodkinson 2005). Hebdige (2010/1979, 139), too, noted how subculture members were often opposed to any attempts to formally define them.

The interviews took place online, some by email and some on Internet Relay Chat (IRC). The respondents represented four different nationalities: two Finns[7], two Swedes, one German, and one U.S. scener who could provide a rare view to the otherwise chiefly Eurocentric scene. The personal recollections of O’Hara (2006) and Savetz (2012) shed some further light on the American BBS and pirate scenes, while most other authors appear to have focused on the hacker culture (cf. Levy 1984; Taylor 1999; Thomas 2002).

When compiling a typology of the answers, it soon became evident that the Eurosceners’ answers were mostly similar to each other, whereas Jon, the American interviewee, had rather different views on the events altogether. One notable difference was how software piracy went online in the U.S. earlier than in Europe, where mail-based swapping of floppies was still relevant in the early 1990s (cf. O’Hara 2006; Savetz 2012). Jon’s low interest in demos is in line with the common notion of the demoscene being a mostly European phenomenon. As another example of national differences, the small size and geographical fragmentation of the Finnish Commodore 64 scene was emphasized by both Finns, Grue and Micron. The search function of CSDb finds 188 Finnish groups which, indeed, looks like a modest figure in comparison to Sweden (571) and Germany (1,493).

Jon’s recollections go back as far as 1984, when the Commodore 64 scene was only starting to take shape. As a curious detail, he mentioned how his first group, Apple Commodore Connection (ACC), was modeled after some earlier Apple II crews. Apple II crack screens (see Figure 1 for an example), which could be described as messages and defaced title screens attached to pirated games, started appearing around 1981, and can be regarded as predecessors of later flashy crack intros. A large collection of the first screens can be viewed online at Jason Scott’s collection Apple II Crack Screens.

Destiny
Figure 1. The crack screen of Destiny (1985), an Apple II adventure game.

The interviewees described the 1980s scene as active, colorful, competitive and elitist. According to Grue, after the turn of the next decade, the community started becoming more organized, and small meetings grew into large parties. There was a constant influx of new people, and at the same time some first generation sceners already started to retire due to work, studies, family, and loss of interest – some even left after getting busted. As an external factor, the Commodore 64 was starting to disappear from the market towards the end of the 1980s and was getting replaced by the Commodore Amiga and IBM PC Compatibles, which affected the scene, too: all of the respondents recalled people migrating to another platform, mostly to the Amiga (cf. Saarikoski 2004, 134–140, 389; Polgar 2005, 99–111; Botz 2011, 107–114). Comparable migrations (Amiga–PC, MS-DOS–Windows) have repeatedly taken place ever since. What might appear as a simple case of purchasing a new computer is in reality a complex negotiation process that affects individuals and the community at large in multiple ways. Even though new hardware is “better” in absolute terms, it needs to be appropriated before it can be accepted. (Reunanen & Silvast 2009.)

Based on the interviews, there were no sharp borders between different activities before the 1990s: cracking, swapping, intro coding and demos coexisted side by side. While some programmers were involved with all of the above, it was also common to specialize in, for instance, cracking only. Thus, intros could be created by another specialist, not the cracker himself, which provides an interesting comparison point to the canonical story: sceners did not somehow “become” interested in pure audiovisual programming, as there were such people right from the beginning. The early 1990s saw the rise of legal demo-oriented groups and sections, but there had been such groups and individuals even earlier (cf. Polgar 2005, 57). Of my interviewees, Bacchus mentioned two groups, Horizon and Ian & Mic, as examples that were not involved in cracking, whereas Bitbreaker stated that he was not interested in the illegal side, and Grue told that his group at the time (Beyond Force) started focusing solely on demos towards the end of the 1980s.

Swapping was an integral part of the early scene and all of the respondents had, at least initially, been involved in it. So far, scene histories have mostly focused on the three main roles involved in demo creation: coders, graphic artists (“graphicians”) and musicians. The often overlooked role of active swappers in the success of a group was much more pronounced in these interviews:

There were a lot of us, and I would argue that we were the grease in the scene. (Jon)

The swappers role was really important back then (alltho it felt they didnt get the thanks they deserved). (Pantaloon)

The impression conveyed by these responses is that swapping, too, was a highly competitive trade where speed, quality, and the number of connections were essential if one wanted to gain recognition. Grue, who, according to his statement, did not even have a significant number of connections still stated that he had to spend “a terrible amount of time” to keep up-to-date. Likewise, Micron recollected sending a copy of the same floppy to around a hundred other swappers, and how some BBS traders eventually burned out and quit the scene altogether. Sceners involved in more creative activities did not necessarily regard swapping highly, as illustrated in the quote above and a statement by Micron, where he claimed that among artists swappers were “of course not appreciated”. The same schism still popped up in 1993 in R.A.W. #5, where Vastor lamented the situation in his article Are swappers lame? The reason for this disparity is most likely that a successful swapper could only demonstrate social instead of technical skills[8].

Police raids were already mentioned in the previous section, but the police was not the only institution that cast its shadow on swappers. As mentioned by Bitbreaker and Micron, it was a common practice for mail traders to “fake” (reuse) stamps for saving on postage, which could lead to trouble from the postal service. The busting of high-profile or close connections would send a shockwave throughout the community, as in the following cases:

These are sort of stupid to think about now, but there was always rumors of guys getting busted, phreakers ratting out other phreakers, or software houses demanding user lists from BBSes and all sorts of nonsense that a 14 or 15 year old would easily believe. So I would put my codebooks and warez collection up in my ceiling tiles “just in case.” (Jon)

But I happened to be a user at the JRC, so when it got busted I got the creeps. I hid all my floppies for a couple of months. (Micron)

The wealth of detail revealed in the personal reflections proves that there is still plenty that has escaped demoscene historians so far. In particular, the formation of the early illegal scene is little known, as well as the links between the U.S. and Europe. Another issue that is highlighted by the interviews is how sceners tend to focus on visible figures, such as well-known coders or swappers, and omit less central scene members, such as hangarounds (cf. Muggleton 2004/2000, 82–104). Scene researchers have often inherited the same practice from their interviewees and textual sources, and the less known borders of the community have, thus, remained largely unexplored.

Contemporary Discussions

One more way to go back in time to the late 1980s and early 1990s is to read contemporary discussions of the period. Probably the best source for them is disk magazines (diskmags for short) that could be described as scene journalism. Together with the scroll texts found on demos and intros, there is practically no other surviving and as easily accessible collection of contemporary thoughts. I have already used diskmags as a valuable source in earlier studies dealing with the adoption of different computing platforms by the demoscene (Reunanen & Silvast 2009; Silvast & Reunanen 2014). Similar, although paper-based, zines have been common among several subcultures, where they have served various purposes ranging from self-expression to social networking (see Duncombe 2005/1997).

SnC
Figure 2. Sex’n’Crime #10 (1989) main menu.

By reading two of the earliest diskmags, Sex’n’Crime (for Commodore 64, see Figure 2) and Zine (for the Commodore Amiga) it again becomes clear how games, piracy and demos initially co-existed side by side in the scene circles. Both of these mags originated in Germany, which was the center of the Euro scene at the time. Sex’n’Crime served the cracker scene and frequently featured game reviews, top cracker charts written by the editors, plus plenty of heated scene rumors. In Sex’n’Crime #3 from 1989 there is an interesting statement by OMG, well in line with the discussions of the previous sections:

A lot moved to the Amiga and the others stopped cracking as the police was cleaning Germany. So, many people started coding demos or they just decided to be legal forever and coded a few games.

Moving from cracking to demos, as seen from his perspective, was more of a necessity to avoid sanctions than strive for self-expression. Another possible coping strategy was to move into game programming, which I will shortly return to. Police raids and the busting of high-profile pirates were frequent topics also in Zine, which published several articles on the legal status of software piracy in different European countries[9] (see Zine #2 and #3). While Sex’n’Crime was mostly an illegal magazine, Zine represents a transitional diskmag where the shifting focus from cracking to demos can be observed. Already in 1990 and 1991 there were commentaries that would have seemed out of place only a couple of years earlier:

Very soon there won’t be any coders who are coding games, no software-companies who sell games on AMIGA, because it’s not worth selling them because none is going to buy them and so companies and coders don’t get enough money to continue their job. (Action, Zine #7)

Powerful Amiga-scene is the only thing that can ”cure” Amiga’s reputation and amount of programs. You should reduce (or stop) cracking programs. (Pasi Kovanen, Zine #11)

R.A.W. (for the Amiga, see Figure 3) and Imphobia (for the IBM PC compatibles) can be considered as two representatives of prime demoscene-oriented diskmags that were published just before the discussions started moving to the Internet in the latter half of the 1990s. Imphobia started as a mixed publication, but became demo-only by 1993. The increasing divergence between demosceners and crackers was aptly captured in the interview of Tom Jansen in Imphobia #4 (1992), where he stated: “I have no favorite crack groups, I dislike all of them.” A figurative generation gap was opening in the scene, when newcomers joined in and did not subscribe to the values of the pioneers[10]:

Newcomers are disease in the scene. They don’t know anything about the past, give a strange look if you say Pure Byte, Warriors Of Darkness, Megaforce, Fusion, Ikari or Ackerlight. They don’t respect the old guys or old groups. But…. The Scene would also wither without them.[11] (Grendel, Maggy #10)

The above disdain is clearly linked to two things: power and recognition. Even though the writer laconically acknowledged that the scene would not survive without new members, at the same time it was evident that they should respect the first generation for their accomplishments. Thornton’s (2005/1995) concept of subcultural capital is easily applicable here: the ongoing changes threatened to diminish the value of the capital acquired with hard work and years of participation. To despise something as seminal as cracking can be seen as an approach that let newcomers omit the existing “economy” and define one on their own.

RAW
Figure 3. R.A.W. #9 (1995) index view.

One more notable change, also related to the generation gap, is how in the mid-1990s’ demoscene mags computer games were an almost unacceptable topic. The demoscene had become increasingly self-conscious and independent, and drew the line between itself and other hobbyists. (Reunanen 2010, 29–30, 77.) In contrast, game development was a theme that did receive attention, as a number of demo authors started viewing it as a possible profession that would let them utilize their skills in the working life, which they had to face sooner or later (for example, R.A.W. #5). On the Commodore 64 the threshold to move into game programming had not also been high (Sex’n’Crime #5, #11). Many of the 1990s game companies do, indeed, have their roots in the demoscene (Saarikoski 2004, 205; Sandqvist 2012). Demosceners getting employed by and founding game companies was – humorously – even lamented, since many of them ceased their demo-related activities shortly thereafter (R.A.W. #9).

Moving from the scene to the working life can be considered as a form of incorporation. Applying the skills acquired as a cracker or demo coder in the IT industry renders underground activities harmless and comprehensible from the society’s point-of-view and returns them back to the mainstream. A deviant, or at least unknown, lifestyle is trivialized into a sort of pre-school leading to an honorable career. From a subcultural capital perspective, the currency gained in one context is turned into real money in another. The two are more closely related than what it might appear at first: Thornton (2005/1995) observed a similar conversion of subcultural capital into economic capital in her study; several people made their living out of the club culture as DJs, club organizers and clothes designers.

Based on the diskmag articles, it would seem that the demoscene had practically departed from its illegal roots by 1993. However, reading the contact/swapping ads found in their own section paints a somewhat different picture. Among other ads there are references to “hot stuff” or more directly to warez and illegal swapping (R.A.W. #5, #6). There were good reasons to not advertise illegal content publicly, especially if you provided your full contact information, but according to the interviews with former swappers, it was very common that the same people distributed both demos and warez at the same time. For some of the respondents even the whole concept of a legal swapping seemed contradictory[12]. As Bacchus put it in his interview: “Never heard of [a] legal swapper.”

The developments that took place between 1988 and 1995 are clearly reflected on the pages of the diskmags, even if in a condensed and edited form. The gradual emergence of a purely demo-centered community during the early 1990s is most evident in Zine and Imphobia, that both changed their orientation during the period. As a counterexample, swappers seem to have acted as nodes that linked the illegal and legal sides together at least until the middle of the decade.

Conclusion

I started by re-examining the canonical birth story of the demoscene and now, at the end, I shall conclude that it should be considered as a constructed narrative that ultimately serves purposes other than historical accuracy. Especially during the interviews it became clear that the purported split is a question of perspective: early cracker/pirate sceners perceived demos as a natural continuation of their early endeavors, whereas demosceners felt a need to distance themselves from the first generation.

Internal and external factors involved in the divergence are numerous, and no single one of them can explain the course of the events alone. Firstly, the market share of a computer or software platform is a strong external factor that cannot be controlled to any significant degree by the community, but needs to be reacted upon one way or another. The commercial demise of a loved platform, such as the Commodore 64, creates a junction point where an individual has to either stay aligned with the aging computer, or move over to another system and learn new skills – or even drop the hobby altogether. Crackers and swappers, in particular, were directly affected by the disappearance of new software and, thus, needed to reiterate their position. Another external factor is the tightening of the previously loose copyright legislation, which exerted pressure on software piracy that started becoming illegal in many European countries in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. On the other hand, as can be seen in the previous sections, wide-spread alarmism, coupled with unsettling news and rumors, probably had more effect on the community than the actual laws themselves.

The demoscene has often emphasized its creative nature; the best programmers, graphic artists and musicians have been held in high respect by the community. Seen in this light, it is hardly surprising that an increasing interest on creative endeavors has been proposed as a major reason for the split. It seems, indeed, valid to talk about generations here, since the newcomers of the 1990s did not necessarily share the same history with the 1980s pioneers, who often did not extend their scene career beyond a few active years. Real-life pressures and “growing up” popped up frequently as reasons for leaving the circles.

The rotation can be considered as an indigenous reason that explains why the practices of the community were in constant flux. For some, the changes appeared unwelcome or even threatening, since newcomers were not equally impressed by old fame – in other words, the existing subcultural capital. The split has been emphasized by demoscene members as part of a quiet power struggle over who gets to define the scene and decide what is valuable. One example of reiterating the practices is how “pure gaming”[13] started increasingly turning into a despised hobby in the early 1990s’ demoscene discourse, in dire contrast to the first generation, whose activities were inherently tied to computer games.

The pirate–demoscene split illustrates the complex mechanisms of how a community is born out of another, establishes its own practices and repurposes the existing ones. Having said that, it is also evident as to how such a separation is not a binary one: there have been links between the two communities as long as they have existed, and by time divergence can even turn back into convergence. Moreover, the fluidity of sceners’ identities lets willing members cross the border between different cliques and generations, and thus identify with more than just one group.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Kone Foundation for supporting the Kotitietokoneiden aika ja teknologisen harrastuskulttuurin perintö (Home Computer Era and the Heritage of Technological Hobbyist Culture) project, as well as Yrjö Fager, Tero Heikkinen, Petri Saarikoski, and Antti Silvast for their helpful comments.

References

Interviews

Bacchus, e-mail interview, December 31, 2013.

Bitbreaker, e-mail interview, December 31, 2013.

Grue, online interview, December 17, 2013.

Jon, e-mail interview, December 30, 2013.

Micron, online interview, December 17, 2013.

Pantaloon, e-mail interview, December 31, 2013.

Disk Magazines

Imphobia #4 (1992)

Maggy #10 (1991), #11 (1991)

R.A.W. #1 (1991), #5 (1993), #6 (1993), #9 (1995)

Sex’n’Crime #3 (1989), #5 (1989), #11 (1990)

Zine #2 (1989), #3 (1990), #7 (1990), #11 (1991)

Web Pages

Gruetzmacher, Thomas. 2003. “PC Demoscene FAQ.” Last modified June 26 2012. http://tomaes.32x.de/text/faq.php, 2003/2012.

Kauppinen, Jukka O. 1991. “Finnish Scene-history, 1986 to 1991.” Last modified 1996. http://www.byterapers.scene.org/scene-sfscene86-91.htm.

Leonard, Jim. 1994. “PC Demos Explained.” Last modified September 29 1998. http://www.oldskool.org/demos/explained/demos.html.

Pouet.net, http://www.pouet.net/.

Scott, Jason. 2003. “Apple II Crack Screens.” Last modified December 11 2013. http://artscene.textfiles.com/intros/APPLEII/.

Taloussanomat Digitoday. 2013. “Nörttien pyhä messu alkoi Areenassa (The Nerd Mass Started at [Hartwall] Arena).” Published August 1 2013. http://www.digitoday.fi/viihde/2013/08/01/norttien-pyha-messu-alkoi-areenassa/201310707/66.

The Commodore 64 Scene Database, http://csdb.dk/.

Yle.fi. 2012. “Hassuista nörteistä pelialan ydin (Funny Nerds Turned into the Core of the Game Industry).” Published August 5 2012. http://yle.fi/uutiset/hassuista_norteista_pelialan_ydin/6243488.

Literature

Botz, Daniel. 2011. Kunst, Code und Maschine – Die Ästhetik der Computer-Demoszene (Art, Code and Machine – The Aesthetics of the Computer Demoscene). Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Burger, Boris, Ondrej Paulovic, and Milos Hasan. 2002. “Realtime Visualization Methods in the Demoscene.” In Proceedings of the Central European Seminar on Computer Graphics 2002, 205–218. Vienna: Vienna University of Technology.

Clarke, Gary. 2005/1981. “Defending Ski-Jumpers: A Critique of Theories of Youth Subcultures.” In The Subcultures Reader, edited by Ken Gelder, 169–174. London: Routledge. 2nd edition.

Duncombe, Stephen. 2005/1997. “Community: The Zine Scene.” In The Subcultures Reader, edited by Ken Gelder, 530–540. London: Routledge. 2nd edition.

Gelder, Ken, ed. 2005/1997. The Subcultures Reader. London: Routledge. 2nd edition.

Hebdige, Dick. 2010/1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge.

Hitzler, Ronald, and Niederbacher, Arne. 2010. Lieben in Szenen. Formen juveniler Vergemeinschaftung heute (Life in the Scenes. Forms of Youth Culture Today). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.

Hodkinson, Paul. 2005. “‘Insider Research’ in the Study of Youth Cultures.” Journal of Youth Studies 8(2), 131–149.

Levy, Steven. 1984. Hackers. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

MacRae, Rhoda. 2007. “‘Insider’ and ‘Outsider’ Issues in Youth Research.” In Youth Cultures: Scenes, Subcultures and Tribes, edited by Paul Hodkinson, and Wolfgang Deicke, 51–61. London: Routledge.

Muggleton, David. 2004/2000. Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style. Oxford: Berg. Paperback edition.

O’Hara, Rob. 2006. Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie. La Vergne: Rob O’Hara.

Pfadenhauer, Michaela. 2005. “Ethnography of Scenes: Towards a Sociological Life-world Analysis of (Post-traditional) Community-building.” Forum: Qualitative Social Research 6(3).

Polgar, Tamas. 2005. Freax: The Brief History of the Demoscene. Volume 1. Winnenden: CSW Verlag.

Rehn, Alf. 2004. “The Politics of Contraband – The Honor Economies of the Warez Scene.” Journal of Socio-Economics 33(3), 359–374.

Reunanen, Markku, and Silvast, Antti. 2009. “Demoscene Platforms: A Case Study on the Adoption of Home Computers.” In History of Nordic Computing 2, edited by John Impagliazzo, Timo Järvi, and Petri Paju, 289–301. Berlin: Springer.

Reunanen, Markku. 2010. Computer Demos – What Makes Them Tick? Lic. thesis, Aalto University School of Science and Technology.

Roininen, Tarja. 1998. Demoscene: että tietyt aineettomat arvot ja tavat yhdistävät joukkoa ihmisiä (Demoscene: That Certain Immaterial Values and Customs Unite a Group of People). MA thesis, University of Lapland.

Saarikoski, Petri. 2001. “Valtavirtaa vastaan – Demoscene suomalaisen kotimikroilun historiassa (Against the Mainstream – Demoscene in the Finnish Home Computer History).” Lähikuva 3/2001, 54–65.

Saarikoski, Petri. 2004. Koneen lumo: mikrotietokoneharrastus Suomessa 1970-luvulta 1990-luvun puoliväliin (The Lure of the Machine: The Personal Computer Interest in Finland from the 1970s to the mid-1990s). Nykykulttuurin tutkimuskeskuksen julkaisuja 83. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä.

Sandqvist, Ulf. 2012. “The Development of the Swedish Game Industry: A True Success Story?” In The Video Game Industry: Formation, Present State, and Future, edited by Peter Zackariasson, and Timothy L. Wilson, 134–153. New York: Routledge.

Savetz, Kevin. 2012. Terrible Nerd. Portland: Savetz Publishing.

Silvast, Antti, and Reunanen, Markku. 2014 (in press). “Multiple Users, Diverse Users: Demoscene and the Appropriation of the Personal Computer by Demoscene Hackers.” In Hacking Europe – From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes, edited by Gerard Alberts, and Ruth Oldenziel. Berlin: Springer.

Straw, Will. 1991. “Systems of Articulation, Logics of Change: Scenes and Communities in Popular Music.” Cultural Studies 5(3), 361–375.

Tasajärvi, Lassi, Stamnes, Bent, and Schustin, Mikael. 2004. Demoscene: the Art of Real-Time. Helsinki: Even Lake Studios & katastro.fi.

Taylor, Paul A. 1999. Hackers: Crime in the Digital Sublime. London: Routledge.

Thomas, Douglas. 2002. Hacker Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Thornton, Sarah, 2005/1995. “The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital.” In The Subcultures Reader, edited by Ken Gelder, 184–192. London: Routledge. 2nd edition.

Turkle, Sherry. 1984. The Second Self – Computers and the Human Spirit. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Vuorinen, Jukka. 2007. “Ethical codes in the digital world: comparisons of the proprietary, the open/free and the cracker system.” Ethics and Information Technology 9(1), 27–38.

Wasiak, Patryk. 2012. “‘Illegal Guys’. A History of Digital Subcultures in Europe during the 1980s.” Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History 2/2012.

Notes
  1. Hebdige represents the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). According to Ken Gelder (2005/1997, 81–85), CCCS studies were founded on Marxist theories and tended to focus especially on working-class subcultures. See Clarke (2005/1981) for more discussion on their approach.
  2. Demo parties are typically described by the press, somewhat condescendingly, using expressions such as “the nerd heaven”. For some examples, see Yle.fi 2012; Taloussanomat Digitoday 2013.
  3. In my own fieldwork, I have frequently noted that former sceners are not always willing to discuss their past, which they may consider embarrassing or something that is best kept secret.
  4. For examples of early scene nostalgia, see Maggy #10, #11 and R.A.W. #1.
  5. Jukka O. Kauppinen, also known for his work in the Finnish computer press, especially the MikroBitti magazine.
  6. In Finland, similar procedures started in the 1990s and were targeted mostly at pirate BBSs (Saarikoski 2004, 330–335).
  7. The interviews with Finns were conducted in Finnish. Translation of the quotes by MR.
  8. Technical skill was highly appreciated already by the early hackers (Levy 1984). Another point of comparison is the concept of “hard mastery”, which, according to Sherry Turkle (1984, 101–115) is more typical for male than female programmers.
  9. The legal status of software piracy varied among different European countries. The reports found in Zine were often alarmist and speculative with plenty of uncertainty about legislation and its upcoming development.
  10. This kind of disdain is nothing new: for instance, Hebdige (2010/1979) mentions how newcomers were accused of trivializing the original mod style.
  11. A follow-up and a longer statement on newcomers can be found in Maggy #11.
  12. For an example of the hardships of legal swapping, see Maggy #11 and “How to Be Completely Legal” by Obligator.
  13. Note how the concept of “pure gaming” still leaves open the possibility that even the most devoted demoscener could play games at times, but doing only that would be considered inappropriate.
Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

Animation in the Demoscene. From Obfuscation to Category (Or: How to Demonstrate Skills without Adhering to the Real-Time Principle).

aesthetics, animation, CGI, community, demoscene, real-time, scene ethics, scene internal discussions, tradition

Doreen Hartmann
doreen [a] alterpolis.net
University of Paderborn
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Department of Media Studies

Printable PDF version

Animation is not described as a dichotomy, but as an essential part of demoscene practices and productions. Focusing on the stand-alone animation category and the related scene-internal discussions, the article will shed light on the status of animation and animation artists within the scene. As a starting point, I will have a look at some general definitions of animation as a term and a technique in order to show some parallels and differences between demoscene productions and other forms of animation. The following sections will shed light on the altered usage of the term animation in scene-internal text through the ages and trace back how animation developed into a stand-alone category. Based on these analyses, some conclusions about the role of animation artists for today’s demoscene can be drawn. Finally, I will connect animation-related demoscene productions to more general criterion of demoscene’s practices and attitudes.

Introductory Statement

This article aims to clarify the emergence of animation in the context of the demoscene, both as a term, technique and aesthetic artefact through the ages. Such an effort requires us to consider different data and material. Previous demoscene research on its technological history can explain which role animation played in the scene and why it was deprecated at times. But in order to understand the social circumstances and aesthetical development of demoscene animation, it is necessary to dig deep into the scene-internal discussions on the topic. Hence, these texts are used both as data and as a theoretical resource. However, this is well-founded in the fact that most of the demoscene research originates from demosceners themselves. Additionally, the related artefacts themselves, their rating, and the altered structure of the demoparties have to be taken into account.

Defining ‘Animation’

Most of the portrayals of the demoscene focus mainly on one of the aesthetic artefacts the scene produces, namely the demo itself. Public attention to the demoscene is connected to these “[e]xecutable programs which produce, in real time, engaging computer graphics and music”, as Vincent Scheib puts it as an answer to the question “What are Demos?” in his much-quoted Five Ws article (Scheib n.d.). As a matter of fact, the scene does not only produce demos, but also stand-alone graphics, music, diskmags and animations. This paper puts a spotlight on the different forms of animation produced by the scene both as part of the real-time executables and as stand-alone category.

‘Animation’ is an umbrella term for different kinds of imagery that are generated out of single pictures and played back at an adequate speed in order to make them move for the human perception. One of the simplest forms of animated images is the flip-book. The etymological roots of animation stem from the Latin word ‘animare’ meaning ‘to enliven’ and – closely connected – from the Latin ‘anima’ meaning ‘soul’.

Both traditional animation techniques and computer generated animation (CGI) follow the aim to entertain the audience, to make them laugh, cry and feel (cf. Lasseter 1987), mainly by focussing on the credibility of the animated characters. Thus, animators try to breathe life into the lifeless, giving characters empathy and emotion, for example, via facial expression (cf. Buchanan 2007). Demos, on the contrary, do not try to animate characters, but most often show abstract graphic effects and more-or-less lifeless material. Narration and realistic character design are not a primary intention of demoscene productions. Whether or not this is due to limited personal and temporal resources, this characteristic may count as valid to differentiate between demos and (pre-rendered) CGI animation or real-time tech demos.

Furthermore, in the CGI context the term ‘animation’ has an additional meaning. In the current academic discourse on digital filmmaking, it becomes obvious, that definitions of animation are often based on technical distinctions and thus are somehow tautological. Lev Manovich stated that “digital cinema is a particular case of animation which uses live action footage as one of its many elements” (Manovich 2001, 302). Accepting this statement means: “Animation is all film – since everything is technically possible in digital film, so all digital film is technically animation”, as Caroline Parsons pointed out (Parsons 2013). Demos, by definition, are not filmed; they show digitally generated moving images, animation if you will. In the context of the demoscene there seem to be some differences.

Thus, another definition may be instructive that is based on content rather than on technical distinctions. Philip Denslow asks “What is animation if not the desire to make real that which exists in the imagination?” (Denslow 1997, 4). Here, animation is neither seen as a technique nor as a narrative charged with emotions, but “a specific genre that privileges the unique characteristics of animated storytelling, for example metamorphosis, [or] the transgression of physical laws” (Parsons 2013).

Having these definitions in mind, I will take a closer look at the occurrence of animation in the demoscene and especially on the connections between real-time and pre-rendered animation in order to clarify the emergence of animation as a term, technique and (aesthetic) artefact in the context of the scene.

‘Animation’ in the Context of the Demoscene

It becomes apparent that a lot of the authors writing about the demoscene avoid using the term ‘animation’, when they are defining what demos are. Instead, demos are circumscribed as “real-time generated audiovisual works” (Carlsson 2009, 16), “real-time multimedia presentations” (Reunanen 2010, 46) or as “a small file that executes” (Montfort 2012). The reason for this is not only that these descriptions focus on the real-time demo artefacts (not on pure animations works), but – as I assume – that the term ‘animation’ has a somehow pejorative meaning in the context of the scene.

When explaining the term ‘executable programs’ of his aforementioned definition, Scheib states: “A program is different than just an animation. An animation is simply a pre-recorded set of images played back for you.” (Scheib n.d.) Animation in this sense indicates pre-recorded or pre-rendered images with real-time generated graphics as a counterpart. Evidently, most of the definitions strictly avoid to identify connections between real-time and pre-rendered animation. Lassi Tasajärvi points out: “It’s important to understand how demos differ from videos or 3D-animations. In a demo, the objects and effects you see on screen are created in real-time, calculated and generated by the computer as you watch.” (Tasajärvi 2004, 17). More recent descriptions do not adhere so rigidly to this ‘splitting of terms’, as the definition of demos as “real-time audiovisual animation[s]” (Hastik and Steinmetz 2012, 43) exemplifies.

The origins of this divide between pre-rendered, animated and real-time sequences date back to the early demoscene’s usage of 8-bit machines, which weren’t capable of handling animated sequences due to, for example, their limited memory size and processing power, as well as the fairly simple graphics chips, and small and slow mass storage. Real-time was considered the only option to bring moving objects onto the computer screen. Tasajärvi emphasizes this tight connection between real-time and the limited technological resources as characteristic for the production methods of the early demoscene: “The memories of the first home computers were laughably small. […] Besides, the same memory has to also have room for the code and the music. For this reason, anything with any degree of complexity to it had to be realized via code and in real-time” (Tasajärvi 2004, 17). Thus, the difference between the two is an ontological one: real-time demos are live, they are generated anew every time they are executed, whereas pre-rendered animations are just played back.

While it is import to draw this ontological distinction, it does not explain why the demoscene keeps it up so rigidly. One main reason may be that with today’s significant enhancements in hardware and programming interfaces, handling complex graphics animation in real-time became possible for the demoscene as well as for the professional CGI industry. The latter gratefully integrated real-time 3D animation into their production processes, whereas the demoscene adheres to their principle of minimizing the amount of animated sequences. Based on their surface, the artefacts may not be told apart and, thus, the viewer has to be made aware of the different kinds of production modes. Demoscener’s careful usage of the terms probably adheres to this concern.

Connections between Animation and Real-Time Presentations in the Demoscene

Knowing about these technological and historical circumstances, one could assume that the demoscene’s real-time principle excludes animation. But this is not the case: Animation is part of the demoscene almost since its beginning and it has appeared in different kind of forms, as previous demoscene research has already pointed out. For instance, early demosceners already cheated their audience with animated graphics that were pre-calculated in the background while other effects were shown (cf. Reunanen 2010, 47 and Leonard 2006) or with effects that were calculated only once and then played back as animations. Especially on the Amiga 500/OCS in the late 1980s and early 1990s this cyclic structure was commonly used without being disapproved by the scene (cf. Botz 2011, 293).

Because of the minimal RAM of the Commodore 64, animations initially did not seem possible on this platform. Daniel Botz pointed out that less spectacular text/logo animations can already be found in the cracktros of the late 1980s (Botz 2011, 110–111). However, it was not before the second half of the 1990s, when demosceners managed to realize fluid and thus plausible animations on the C64 with the help of mathematically complex compression and vector-based techniques (cf. Botz 2011, 291 and 301–302). At large, animation was used to show astonishing effects which the hardware system couldn’t handle in real-time. So, real-time and animation cannot be seen as a dichotomy, but as necessarily connected – at least for the early scene productions.

According to Tasajärvi, the “cheats and ‘magic tricks’” (Tasajärvi 2004, 25) were accepted as long as they were obfuscated for at least some time. This is why programmers are occasionally compared to magicians: both trick their audience, which in turn evaluates the magician by his/her skills in cheating and hiding his/her tricks for a maximal duration (cf. Botz 2011, 291). The aim of the magician as well as the programmer is to astonish their audience. In return, the spectators like to reveal how these effects are made. Therefore, Botz describes watching demos as a perpetual process of seduction and unravelment (cf. Botz 2011, 293).

Furthermore, the animations had to be combined with programming skills in order to be accepted. Tasajärvi writes: “By combining a suitable number of magic tricks and true programming prowess, you can generate controversy while remaining credible.” (Tasajärvi 2004, 25–26; cf. Botz 2011, 292–295). A well known example are the works of the Norwegian group Spaceballs. For their demo State of the Art (1992) they used pictures that were remixed on the basis of film or video material. These “3d vector graphics are fake – just an animation”, as Jim Leonard aka trixter put it (Leonard 2006). The video sequences were extensively edited in order to get this two-dimensional silhouette look. All pictures were laboriously vectorized by hand, which means that each single video frame was traced; one second of animation meant one hour of drawing (cf. Leonard 2006).

The demo led to controversial discussions. The main reproach against this production was that not enough programming work had been done. But this critique is not really valid. Although the pictures and animations were not computer-generated in itself, creating this demo meant digging deep into the platform specifics. Spaceballs had to hack the Amiga’s chip architecture in order to use the processing power of the hardware to full capacity. The demo used memory of an additional extension port rather than request memory from the original Amiga 500 platform (cf. Steapleton 2008, 77).

Additionally, State of the Art has to be seen as a pilot scheme to a huge programming project that the group started for their following demo, 9 Fingers (1993). The programmers of Spaceballs developed a vector drawing application that automatically vectorized the outlines out of the digitised video material. It is important to point out again, that these animations could only be produced with the help of elaborate programming techniques and thus, necessarily needed to be evaluated in relation to the technological restrictions of the hardware they were made for (cf. Botz 2011, 303). Regardless of that, the opinions oscillated between the positions ‘real classic’ and ‘no demo’ (cf. Pouet 2000–2013).

Animation as a Stand-Alone Category

Parallel to the pre-rendered add-ons to real-time generated demos, animation has developed into a stand-alone category. “Since the emergence of so-called wild compos (competitions with flexible rules) at parties the demoscene has increasingly produced video clips, with 3D animations and amateur short films being among the most common types.” (Reunanen 2010, 78). In the first years after their emergence (foremost at the Assembly demoparty in 1995), these ‘pure’ animation videos were released in the combined competitions which were called ‘wild’ or ‘animation’. This led to the following situation: A wide range of works were positioned next to each other.

Real-time demos on extraordinary platforms (e.g. gaming consoles, mobile phones, old home computers, LCD displays, cash machines etc.) were put right beside digital films with different degrees of post production, or fully animated works. So it came to pass that real-time productions, that did not fit into another competition and were shown in video format (only due to the lack of the specific hardware needed for running the real-time executable), had to be compared and voted for or against funny reports of the party events, traditional stop motion animations or digital generated imagery.

Demoparty organizers became aware of the situation and successively changed the competition categories and rules. First of all, the Assembly split up their ‘animation’-compo into two separate competitions. While it comprised pre-rendered animation as well as ‘wild’ platform demos before, these entries were separated into ‘animation’ and ‘wild demo’ in 1998. Surprisingly, they re-combined the compos (tagged ‘shortfilm compo’) again in 2004. In 2008 (until today) they returned to their split compo model for either ‘shortfilm’ or ‘wild demo’.

Nowadays, many demoparties maintain separate non-real-time animation competitions.[1] For instance, the German Demoparty Evoke (taking place in Cologne every August) separated the ‘animation compo’ from the ‘wild compo’ in 2005. Demodays (formely Buenzli, taking place in Olten/Switzerland) host a ‘Mini-Animation’ as well as a ‘Non-real-time’ compo since 2011. According to their rules, the entries have to be pre-rendered and non-interactive. In their compo descriptions the Demodays organizers stated whom they want to address with these categories: “You might have a whole story line for a demo in your mind, but you’re no programmer? Get your animation software started and create that production anyway” (Echtzeit n.d.). Based on this statement, one could ask if animation videos have become kind of storyboards for real-time demos. Probably the answer has to be ‘no’. But the scene is interdisciplinary, and two main activities involved in being part of the scene are contributing to its cultural archive of (aesthetic) artefacts and gaining reputation for their productions. Therefore, it was just a matter of time – or rather of technological enhancements – that animation artists started to release their solo works in addition to their participation in real-time demo releases; among graphicians (graphic artists) and musicians this was common practice for a long time already.

So, animation has its place in the demoscene today – not only as an obfuscated part in real-time demos but as well as a stand-alone competition category with a notable amount of releases. Hence, it seems interesting to have a look at how the demoscene’s perspective on the topic of animation has changed since its beginnings.

Altering Opinions throughout the Years

In August 2012, there was a discussion on the demoscene forum Pouet.net about the question “How about adding an ‘Animation’ Genre here?” (daXX 2012). The thread dealt with the problematic situation of the wild category mentioned above and its transfer into the patterns of the digital archive. The question was, if the non-real-time category ‘wild’ should be split up into (a) pre-rendered computer animated productions done with 3D tools and (b) digitally filmed productions made with a camera and different degrees of post production.

Concerning the available categories for the uploads on Pouet.net, the discussion does not seem to be so necessary, since there are already possibilities for separating the productions: pure pre-rendered animation videos can be grouped as type ‘wild’ and platform ‘wild’ and a demo coded on an extraordinary platform can be categorized as type ‘demo’ and platform ‘wild’.[2] However, apart from the remotely relevant question regarding the possibilities the archive offers, it is pretty insightful to have a closer look at this online discussion in order to get an idea of the current state of opinions on animation in the demoscene.

Do the animation-related discussions within the scene still oscillate between affirmation and rejection? Most of the sceners nowadays endorse good stand-alone animation pieces. There are only few demosceners arguing against animation.

Rudi B. Stranden (in the scene also known as rudi), one of the anti-animation-advocates, posted the following comment: “the point of real-time would be meaningless if pre rendered animation existed (as an important platform)” (Stranden 2012a). Further down he states: “doing things in real-time is such a big thing in the demoscene for it to take animation too seriously” (Stranden 2012b). Unsurprisingly, these arguments met opposition from most of the other sceners. The author of the PC Demoscene FAQ, Thomas Gruetzmacher, was right on target in answering: “Just because there’s cinema, doesn’t mean live theater is dead. Different mediums will always be complementary and coexist” (Gruetzmacher 2012a).

The dispute between the opponents and the advocates of animation is one of fairness of comparison. The demoscene is interdisciplinary and integrates a lot of disciplines which all have to cope with different limitations and challenges. The discussion quoted above put focus on the necessity to set up precise rules for any form and to steadily realise the distinctions of the creations. The point is not that some form will replace the other only because of technological developments. Both may coexist within the demoscene, but need to be judged differently in order to fit the scene’s competitive nature.

Maybe this criticism towards the narrow skills of the animators can be explained historically and again in connection to the demoscene’s real-time principle. In explaining the specific features of demos, Lassi Tasajärvi once stated that “[t]he viewer has to have an understanding of the real-time nature of the works, otherwise the viewer may demand the same things from a demo that they do from a video or animation” (Tasajärvi 2004, 20). Turning this statement upside down can give a hint on how some demosceners judge pure animation works. It could be that some expect non-real-time animations to show more complex and elaborate audiovisual quality, since they do not generate effects in real-time, as demos do, and thus have to consider fewer challenges.[3]

Obviously, there is a clash of opinions on the assumption, that animation is a possibility for people with less skill to participate in the demoscene. In the above-mentioned Pouet-discussion on demoscene animation, Thomas Gruetzmacher stated: “Learning to code is not in any way more expensive or time consuming than learning to properly use a 3d animation package […] there’s no reason to not take it [non-real-time animation] seriously or dismiss it, because ‘democoders are not into it’.” (Gruetzmacher 2012b). Actually, it is not very prudent to make generalizations about who has to be more skillful, since the works created are pretty diverse. More proper would be to say that both face different problems and do require different skills.

Oliver Borgardts, the creator of the non-real-time CGI animation The Lacquerer (2011) posted a quite long statement in the thread, which can give a first-hand insight, not just on the issue of skills, but as well into the working process and the status of animation artists in the demoscene. Borgardts states:

it was a one man production and – trust me – really hard work to do […] the techniques / principles of animation – the knowledge you need to create something like that – in real-time or rendered – are the same. please don’t get me wrong. i have the deepest respect of the coders and groups doing the greatest stuff in real-time. but… doing quality stuff prerendered […] is not less valuable than doing stuff in real-time. so show some more respect please – or you’ll end up without good gfx artists and welcome back to coder colors ;) (Borgardts 2012)

Disregarding the somehow abrasive undertone in his defense, Borgardts touches a central issue in his closing sentences: the important role that animation artists (and new sceners in general, who do not have a coder background) played for the development of demo design.[4]

On Some Peculiarities of the Demoscene’s Artefacts and Practices

At a first glance, the design of demoscene animations does not seem to vary so much in form, style, design, content or function compared to other CGI. Concerning the fully pre-rendered computer-generated animation works (and leaving out filmed party reports and the like), there are a lot of visual references to digital productions from outside of the scene that can hardly be told apart from each other.

Borgardts’ The Lacquerer has tight visual reference to Chris Cunnigham’s music video flex (2000) as well as to the morphing scenes of the character Mystique in the movie X-Men (2000). A lot of demos – due to their technological basis – do not distinguish from cutscenes or the game engine aesthetic of machinima films (see Dead on Que’s Fake Science (2002) or Tomislav Bezmalinovics Engine (2005)). And obviously, there are tight connections to the renowned CGI company Pixar, that is a sponsor of the scene’s server Scene.org. The people at Pixar Animation Studios do appreciate the work of the demoscene: they invited demosceners to visit the company in 2007, which is why demosceners gave the company’s mascot Luxo Jr. a ‘real-time life’ and brought it as a special gift. Finally, the visuals of the demo Elevated (2009) convinced Pixar to hire its programmer Iñigo Quilez for becoming ‘their gardener’, developing the scenery for the CGI movie Brave (2012).

As the references (may) illustrate, the skills of a demoscener are not only appraised and voted for inside of the scene but as well from the outside creative industries. This observation is accompanied by the conclusion that there is no aesthetic principle that counts as valid for the scene only and in its entirety. The demoscene is much too diverse and their productions are influenced by a whole lot of things. However, there are examples from the demoscene’s subcategory of animation that can unearth some general aspect of demoscene artefacts and practices.

Experimenting with geometric, abstract forms or typography and the physical (mis-)behaviour of these elements seem to be an essential ingredient in a lot of demoscene animations. Many demoscene animations make use of classic demo effects in order to ‘win the hearts’ of their audience, as e.g. the stop-motion works of Gaspode can illustrate.[5] In his productions, he uses demo effects as a topic by analogously re-building them (see Noodles (2010) or Sugar Shock (2013)). These productions are very popular within the scene, certainly for reasons of self-perception.[6] On the contrary, non-demoscenish computer-generated works and digital film productions put focus upon storytelling.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that a canonical set of effects has necessarily to be shown in demoscene-related animations in order to be appraised by scene members. The beforehand mentioned The Lacquerer, for instance, does not show demo effects but is without exception voted with ‘thumbs up’.[7] Rather, another aspect of successful demoscene animations seems to be operative in this case: synchronisation between audio and visual effects. This is perhaps the most central criterion for appraisal, which is hardly surprising since it is a main aspect of real-time demos as well. JCO’s animation work Visual Approach to the Aesthetics of Sampling (2013) may serve as an example here.

Another characteristic trait is non-commerciality and that animations have to be done for the scene only – thereby animations follow the overall demoscene ‘ethic’. This, too, marks a main difference to other CGI festivals (such as the Ars Electronica Animation Festival), where commercial pieces are voted side-by-side to amateur works. The problem, though, is not that demoscene productions cannot compete with professional works; albeit such an approach is somehow untenable. Instead, the social context of the community and the non-commercial DIY production method play a central role in the demoscene. Perhaps this is a central reason, as to why some CGI artists decide to release their animation videos in the demoscene and not elsewhere. The aim not to be subsumed by other real-time 3D animation scenes may count as valid for the animation antagonists as well. From their point of view, the wish to maintain the purity/clarity of the demoscene can be better achieved by sticking to the social circle/structure of the scene, than by fulfilling the historically necessitated aesthetic principles.

Summing It up

Real-time in itself is an important attribute for executable demos and intros, but – concerning the context of the scene – cannot count as an all-dominant criterion labelling the demoscene in its entirety. More than that, the eponymous demonstration seems to be the aim in effect here. All the demoscene works exemplarily show how the scene’s urge to continually outdo each other is constituted by at least three factors of demonstrating: demonstration of the maker’s technical skills, of their innovative concepts, and of exploiting the technological possibilities up to levels never seen before. Additionally, sceners like to see some ‘scene tradition’, for instance, canonical effects or insider stories or jokes. These are the things that demosceners appraise and that count in the positive or negative voting of a production – be it a pre-rendered or a real-time animation work. These are the parameters that serve as the demarcation of demoscene-related productions from other forms of digital animation.

References

Borgardts, Olli (aka cosmicollie). 2012, August 15, 4:11 p.m., comment on daXX 2012.

Botz, Daniel. 2011. Kunst, Code und Maschine: Die Ästhetik der Computer-Demoszene. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Buchanan, Andrew. 2007. “Facial Expressions for Empathic Communication of Emotion in Animated Characters.” Accessed November 31, 2013. http://journal.animationstudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ASADArt10ABuchanan.pdf.

Carlsson, Anders. 2009. “The Forgotten Pioneers of Creative Hacking and Social Networking – Introducing the Demoscene.” In Re:live: Media Art Histories 2009. Refereed Conference Proceedings, edited by Sean Cubitt, and Paul Thomas, 16–20. Melbourne: University of Melbourne, and Victorian College of the Arts and Music.

daXX. 2012, August 13. “How about adding an ‘Animation’ Genre here?”, http://www.pouet.net/topic.php?which=8956&page=1.

Echtzeit – Digitale Kultur. n.d. “Competitions.” Accessed November 31, 2013. http://demodays.org/en/competitions .

Gruetzmacher, Thomas (aka tomaes). 2012a (August 14, 8:35 p.m.), comment on daXX 2012.

Gruetzmacher, Thomas (aka tomaes). 2012b (August 15, 7:36 a.m.), comment on daXX 2012.

Hastik, Canan, and Steinmetz, Arnd. 2012. “Demoscene Computer Artists and Community.” In Proceedings of Collaborative European Research Conference 2012, edited by Patrick Bours, Bernhard Humm, Robert Loew, Ingo Stengel, and Paul Walsh, 43–48. Darmstadt. Accessed November 31, 2013. http://canan.hastik.de/science/cerc2012.pdf.

Lasseter, John. 1987. “Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation”. ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics 21(4), 35–44.

Leonard, Jim (aka Trixter). 2006. Audio comment on Voyage by Razor 1911. In Mindcandy Vol. 2: Amiga Demos. DVD, Fusecon.

Manovich, Lev. 2001. The Language of New Media. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Montfort, Nick. 2012. “Programming for Fun, Together.” Accessed November 31, 2013. http://elmcip.net/sites/default/files/files/attachments/criticalwriting/montfort_programming.pdf.

Parsons, Caroline. 2013, July 22. “Why we need a new language of cinema.” Accessed November 31, 2013. http://blog.animationstudies.org/?p=397.

Pouet. 2000–2013. Comments on “State of the Art by Spaceballs.”.Accessed November 31, 2013. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=99.

Reunanen, Markku. 2010. Computer Demos – What Makes Them Tick? (Licentiate Thesis). Accessed November 31, 2013. http://www.kameli.net/demoresearch2/reunanen-licthesis.pdf.

Scheib, Vincent. n.d. “Demos Explained; What are Demos? What is a Demo?” Accessed November 31, 2013. http://www.scheib.net/play/demos/what.

Steapleton, Carl. 2008. “The Art of Demos.“ In ApoV – Amiga Point of View, edited by Adrian Simpson, No. 3, 74–85.

Stranden, Rudi B. (aka rudi). 2012a (August 14, 4:22 p.m.), comment on daXX 2012.

Stranden, Rudi B. (aka rudi). 2012b (August 15, 0:08 a.m.), comment on daXX 2012.

Tasajärvi, Lassi (ed.). 2004. DEMOSCENE: the art of real-time. Helsinki: Even Lake Studios and katastro.fi.

Notes
  1. Whereas the Scene.org Awards dropped this category.
  2. Matt Westcott aka gasman, one of the makers of the new platform http://demozoo.org, said that they implemented an even better categorization ontology (in daXX 2012, August 14, 01:49 p.m.).
  3. In any case, this should not be mistaken as an apology for worse quality productions as – for example – the early machinima community argued.
  4. The same thing can be said about/on the influence that musicians have on scene productions.
  5. Interestingly, this even works the other way around: When 3D artists (by using tools as 3ds Max or After Effects) show visual effects similar to the kinds of demoscene effects, there is a good chance that sceners will like it (e.g. see the videos of Korean artist Ishu Yoon). Another example is the ‘import’ of works from fractalforums.com to the Evoke 2013 compo timeline.
  6. Party reports, that are as well released in the animation-category, are appraised for exactly this same reason.
  7. Voting behaviour at parties as well as the difference with regard to the forum could be a topic for a whole article, though I do not dare to say too much about it here.
Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

Demo Age: New Views

automated image analysis, cultural analytics, demoscene, visual effects

Canan Hastik
canan [a] hastik.de
Researcher
University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt

Printable PDF version

How would you explain demoscene artworks? One way is an euphoric individual statement, a personal story linked to a demo art production with an enormous amount of detailed technical background information. Another way is to browse through pouet.net or demozoo.org and show some representative works. For a clearer understanding of demo artworks both are necessary: the overview with as much contextual information as possible and some explicit details. This is how demoscene material should be accessible and explorable: in different levels of detail and through different views. The MEGA Demoage Project is dedicated to providing as many views as possible on the scene, to make the sociological and technological aspects as well as the artworks themselves searchable and comprehensible. This article wants to present some new distant as well as close views on demo art material to support communication about demoscene phenomena. Focusing on the aesthetic aspects of demos, a qualitative analysis has been done by examining visual effects, sequences, composition, and scene changes as well as other attributes like brightness and colour usage in demos.

Intro

The demoscene is a historically grown digital sub-cultural art scene producing highly elaborated real-time computer generated applications along with music and graphics. Demoscene productions can be seen as computer generated audiovisual media art. Today there are over 53.452 known demoscene productions (status 30th of December 2013), according to Pouet.net. The original source code of demoscene artworks is rarely available. Instead, different versions can be downloaded as executable binary or video files based on different compression algorithms. Particularly the demoscene is an example of networked collaborative artistic creation processes on the Internet taking advantage of technological opportunities, constantly producing new genres and promoting the development of trends. There are different types of demos. These types correspond to a sub-classification and represent specific characteristics of a demo like hardware platform characteristics, size and aesthetics.

Demos are representative for scene specific aesthetics, technical culture and the diverse usage of platforms, and they rarely communicate stories or messages (Reunanen 2010). The almost overwhelming variety of demo artworks illustrates the evolution of design principles and techniques. Until now demo artworks have not been thematically classified yet. It can be determined that demo productions are often inspired by science fiction, fantasy and comics (Borzyskowski 2000). Especially visual effects together with music shape the aesthetics of demo artworks (Botz 2011). The development of new elaborate visually and technically impressive effects depends on the underlying hardware and is one important technique for sceners. As a scene expert you have to know as many demos as possible and know at least the most important demos to get a feeling about the development of styles and aesthetics in the past.

There is no effect database you can access, and communication about demo effects is not simple. The term “effect” is used arbitrarily and a comprehensive definition of the term “demo effect” is still missing. One reason might be that digital art is still a young field and any effort to define terminology that is used within this discipline risks rapid obsolescence, is rather ambiguous or context dependent due to the fact that digital art is a mesh of many different disciplines like traditional animation, computer animation, image processing, photography, computer science, electronics, physics just to name few (Brinkmann, 1999). Another reason might be that certain technical platforms have their specific aesthetic dimensions (Monfort and Bogost 2009) which need to be opened up. It is well known that when artists develop their ideas further current definitions are often being replaced (Berger 1987), but the recognition of the particular structure of objects in visual arts is of fundamental importance. So how could someone, for example, find a certain effect in demos?

The research presented here contributes to the development of a multifaceted access to domain knowledge about the demoscene. Therefore a classical approach for generating access to content has been used and tested on demos. The goal is to develop an automated or semi-automated subject analysis methodology for demos to make scene knowledge easily accessible in the future.

Manual Subject Analysis

The classic method for generating a close view on the content of any media is manual subject analysis. The transcription in form of a protocol to transfer audiovisual content in a textual form is also necessary in film analysis. In particular, the listing of film sequences based on a timeline is used to describe the structure of a film (Faulstich 2004). Media objects are described or classified by representative terms or short annotations. These key terms form a controlled vocabulary for use in bibliographic records. For demoscene effects a collection of index terms exists (Reunanen 2010). In the field of digital composition a glossary is also available (Brinkmann 1999). With these terms typical notions of demos can be explained and described. Manual subject analysis needs to be done either by experts or professionals in the field of new media production. Ideally, artists index their demoscene productions themselves.

Within a sample case study a selection of 26 demos has been manually analysed and indexed by scene experts and games & animation students (Table 1). The visual effects of six Atari VCS demos have been identified by two sceners. The other fourteen Atari VCS demos have been analysed by students. Furthermore, six demos on different platforms have been described by students. In combination with an index term a screenshot and the exact timestamp have been documented.

Expert or Professional

Demo

Svolly

doctor, tom/jones, Minute and a Bit, Sicktro

JAC!

BeamRacer, ISO

Students

hectoByte, Saigon, Tricade, Trilobit, 2600, Noice, core, Reunaviiva, Lasertime, drip.bin, Bell hopper, Sphaera Stellarum, Stella Lives!

Human Traffic, Batman Forver, Chaos Theory, numb res, MGC 2011, Uncovering Static

Table 1. Selection of demos analysed by experts and professionals.

This case study shows diverse, heterogeneous and partially incorrect results. Some demos were analysed frame by frame instead of based on the individual runtime. Particularly the students’ results do not include appropriate index terms used to describe effects and effect compositions. Nevertheless, this case study shows three levels of how effects can and should be described. Integrating screenshots of effects exemplifies the technical term or description and supports comprehension. The time-exact definition of terms and screenshots is a major aspect in indexing demos. The underlying idea is to guarantee direct access to the designated effect. Therefore, the resource needs to be clearly identifiable and thus be archived because for example a single time shift in relation to wrong frame rates and runtime will result in incorrect indexes. In Figure 1 the screenshot shows one demo effect routine which can be described using one single term.

Figure 1. Doctor by trilobit, Atari VCS 8k demo, 2008. Caleidoscope dots, frames 112–124.

Several effects are often combined like in Figure 2. In this case, more than one key term is necessary to describe a certain effect composition.

hastik-demoage-02
Figure 2. Stella Lives! by Tjoppen, Atari VCS, 4k oldschool intro, 2012. Kefrens Bar, Raster Bar, time 1:32–1:37.

For more complex effect compositions a short annotation is necessary in order to describe demo graphics like in Figure 3.

hastik-demoage-03
Figure 3. Beam Racer by JAC!, Atari VCS, 4k, 2011. All 15 foreground raster colour bars are now active, moving up and down in double sine movement, z-buffering, time 01:36.

Manual subject analysis offers a close view on demoscene material. The subject terms are technical terms used in contemporary media art production. This makes these terms not generally understandable. Short annotations are useful to describe complex demo effects. Sound and music, too, should be considered in textual descriptions because only the combination of visual effects and music shapes the overall atmosphere of a demo. Unfortunately, this method is much too extensive when we think about retrospectively analysing all demos published so far. Experts or, ideally, producers need to support this approach to enable access to demos especially regarding the effects used. Maybe a crowd sourcing project like Metadata Games (Metadata 2014) could be an option, but how can this elaborate process be accelerated, simplified and maybe even automated?

Automatic Indexing

Automatic indexing of large scale born-digital material, especially images, audiovisual collections or user-generated content, has emerged as a new field of study, and is now predominantly occupied by commercial companies, such as Google (Lazer 2009). Primary sources are provided in research infrastructures for exploratory analysis and empirical research of multimedia, complex and user-generated content, dialogues and interpretations (Prescott 2012). The vast amount of cultural content like conversations, opinions and other cultural activities offer new opportunities towards a better understanding of cultural processes, models and the past. Therefore, traditional paradigms need to be expanded to make new approaches (Berry 2011). But there is still no solution to the automated indexing of computer-generated art like demo artwork.

Visualisation takes a key role in accessing big cultural data and helps to question specific cultural phenomena. There are already techniques to analyse massive visual collections of still or moving images. Especially the time-lapse technique for still images, first developed by Georges Méliés in 1897, and the concept of slow motion for moving images, invented by August Musger in 1904, are indispensable. Both techniques are changing the time scale of the underlying material and result in storytelling of another dimension (Becker 2012). While time-lapse offers new perspectives through a series of still images and makes slow changes, variations and modifications visible by increasing the frequency of images, slow motion is used for fast moving images to recapture key moments or to make certain phenomena visible and document them. As slow motion makes imperceptible changes visible the method can be described as a microscopic examination of time (Storfer 1911). It seems reasonable to convert demo videos into single images to make those short audiovisual effect sequences easier to process.

Certain tools for the exploratory analysis of massive cultural datasets have been developed since 2007 by Software Studies Initiative (Lab 2007), with example projects in the field of Manga books, painting or user-created art. So why not use the software ImageJ/ImagePlot by Lev Manovich to visualize demos and generate new views for finding basic approaches to the automated analysis of demos in the future? The analysis of digital images by Lev Manovich (Manovich 2007) provides possibilities to analyse different images and image sequences. Image sequences in the form of videos need to be stripped down into single images.

Demos are generally based on different frame rates (fps), such as 25 fps, 30 fps, 50 fps or even 60 fps. Therefore, each demo needs to be processed individually to ensure that the frame count of the resource is the same as the volume of all single images. As sources, if available, youtube videos published by the original authors and alternatively emulator recordings were used. Commercial software like Adobe After Effects CS6 (Adobe 2014) and free tools like VLC media player (VideoLan 2014) or FFmpeg (ffmpeg 2014) allow to convert video files into a sequence of single images or key frames. Key frames are images within a video stream that exist as a whole instead of a delta (changed areas only) of the last image and help to identify scenes within a movie. The rate of key frames within a video stream depends on the codec, bitrate of the stream, and other factors.

For complete image sequences, the higher the frame rate of a demo is, the more single images have been extracted. In this process some demos consist of several thousand images. These single images were reduced to a manageable size considering the original aspect ratio and have been imported into ImageJ. In the following process montages, orthographic projections and histograms were generated using ImageJ and ImagePlot.

Montage

ImageJ provides different possibilities to analyse images. One basic way for an analysis is to create montages of the image sequence. Each frame can be arranged in a chronologic order. The montage of a demo resembles a storyboard that displays the general composition of each demo. Instead of having access to 35 manually indexed or annotated screenshots, these montages make it is possible to capture hundreds or thousands single images of the demo at once.

The example in Figure 4 shows a montage of the Atari VCS demo Doctor. This montage allows identifying different sections, such as text scenes, used pictures and effects. The montage clearly shows the overall usage of shapes as well as colour settings. Breaks are represented by black images. In addition, the montage gives an overview of the demo concept and the time used for credits and greetings in relation to the total runtime. It can be seen how often certain scenes have been reused.

hastik-demoage-04
Figure 4. Montage of Doctor by trilobit (255 images out of 3.57 minutes at 50 FPS).

The montage of Stella Lives!, presented in Figure 5, shows how colourful this demo is. The saturation and colour gradients are changing over the total length of the demo. Especially the yellow-brown tone present in almost every picture is obvious. It also becomes clear that there are different sections in the beginning, which are introduced or separated by text scenes, and in the end there are different effects directly after each other as in a show reel. The relative length of the scenes and the transitions between scenes are recognizable.

hastik-demoage-05
Figure 5. Montage of Stella Lives! by Tjoppen.

Another montage view of Stella Lives!, as shown in Figure 6, displays only the key frames of the different scenes within the demo. The montage is reduced to a minimum of relevant frames. The composition of the demo gets transparent and understandable at a glance. The repetitions of scenes are getting clear. In addition, the arrangement consisting of effect scenes mostly followed by a textual or credit screen becomes obvious.

hastik-demoage-06
Figure 6. Montage of Stella Lives! to identify scenes.

The montage of Beam Racer in Figure 7 shows no certain pattern of composition compared to Stella Lives! It is recognizable that the demo is based on one single scene with a series of similar effects. The demo shows a massive presence of so-called “coder colours”, meaning the programmer of the demo probably chose the colour scheme and visuals himself instead of relying on a graphics artist. This often results in very colourful screens using the whole RGB spectrum. Most of the textual statements displayed in the demo can also be captured from the montage.

hastik-demoage-07
Figure 7. Montage of Beam Racer by JAC!.

The montage of Saigon, as presented in Figure 8, includes 3540 images. It illustrates how the screen animations are changing frame by frame. Slow animations with little movement are hardly traceable in this montage, whereas fast animations are clearly noticeable. Also text, blending effects and repeats become visible. It can be recognized that this demo is more monochromatic than, for example, Beam Racer. All the scenes, transitions and effects seem well balanced colour-wise while not appearing too colourful. The scenes are well determinable.

hastik-demoage-08
Figure 8. Montage of Saigon by Trilobit.

The montage of drip.bin in Figure 9 represents the individual atmosphere of the demo. Fast movements, turnarounds and gradient changes of the cascading graphical elements increase the psychedelic atmosphere of the demo. In the middle of the demo the interval of colour changes is shorter and the gradient changes up to 90 degrees. The montage is like a rainbow-coloured kaleidoscopic mosaic. Repeating sinus lines within an always similar colour space can be noticed. The whole demo is based on frequent and iterative use of different colours. It seems that the same program code runs in a permanent loop with just a slight colour shift. At the beginning and the end the composition changes slightly.

hastik-demoage-09
Figure 9. Montage of drip.bin by Ed Fries (30 FPS, 4.37 minutes).

Through the montage of Human Traffic, shown in Figure 10, a total of ten different scenes can be identified. Blue is the dominating colour in this demo, and there are only one red and two yellow-green scenes in addition. The montage indicates that the demo is quite sequential and follows a fixed rhythm. There are no big variations to the screen action.

hastik-demoage-10-small
Figure 10. Montage of Human Traffic by Ghostown & Loonies (3149 images, 3.33 minutes).

In summary, it can be said that the montage of a demo image sequence shows the general composition of the demo artwork. Patterns, such as scenes, text, blending effects, saturation, colour gradient and changes as well as graphical elements (e.g. sinus lines) and pictures can be identified and analysed in detail by zooming into the montage. Differences and variations can be noticed easily.

Orthographic Projection

Much more detail about the spatial relationships among objects within scenes can be extracted by visualizing demo material as sliced frames, which are then put together in an orthogonal XZ- or YZ-projection view. At first glance, this visualisation seems to be confusing. Orthographic projections are mainly used to represent three-dimensional objects in two dimensions and are useful for identifying how objects are building up and moving horizontally and vertically. An orthogonal projection gives an interesting perspective of the demo as you can clearly see changes of settings and transformations in relation to time and space. The orthogonal XZ-view uses one horizontal (X) slice from the centre of each image and adds every line underneath the last one in a chronological order along the Y-axis (Z). The YZ-view uses vertical lines (Y) from the source images to display the time (Z) along the X-axis.

The orthogonal XZ-view of Human Traffic, as presented in Figure 11, gives a good impression of each section of the demo. Again, each scene becomes clearly identifiable. It is traceable how the pictures within a demo are building up horizontally line by line. In addition, with the orthogonal XZ-view, the scrolling of 2D images can be identified.

hastik-demoage-11.thumb
Figure 11. Orthogonal XZ-view of Human Traffic by Ghostown & Loonies. Click for full image.

Figure 12 pictures the orthogonal XZ-view of numb res. The projection shows how particle elements are moved over the screen and then disappear. Especially the transitions of the organic objects become visible in this view. It becomes very obvious that the whole demo consists of particle effects. The movement of the particles along the X-axis can be recognized, but it is not possible to identify text or objects.

hastik-demoage-12-thumb
Figure 12. Orthogonal XZ-view of numb res by Carillon & Cyberiad (CNCD) & Fairlight. Click for full image.

The orthogonal YZ-projection, shown in Figure 13, reveals how long each scene takes. White particles on a black background a building up to images and text. Moreover, the text is clearly readable and the images are recognizable. This indicates that objects are built-up in a horizontal way.

hastik-demoage-13-thumb
Figure 13. Orthogonal YZ-view of numb res by Carillon & Cyberiad (CNCD) & Fairlight. Click for full image.

In summary, the orthogonal views give an interesting distant view of the demo composition. Scrolling through time also reveals the changes in the different settings at different points of the picture. With these views, demos can be analysed from a distance without watching the whole demo over and over again. Patterns, particular characteristics, styles and other technical features are recognizable.

hastik-demoage-14
Figure 14. Z-Projection Sum Slice of Saigon by Trilobit.

The special Z-Projection Sum Slice function shows which areas of the screen are mainly used for the demo. In the example case, Saigon, the centre of the screen is used most frequently. The scrolling text element uses the entire width of the screen. In particular, the lettering catches the eye. It is repeatedly used in the demo and functions as a watermark across the entire presentation (Figure 14).

Other Measurements

Besides methods, such as montage and projection, which are proven to be quite useful for a visualisation of demo features, there are much more possibilities which can be reasonable for individual analyses. Some functions calculate numeric results on properties, such as brightness or colour changes, or give values for the complexity of an image. These numeric results can be used to calculate and display colour density or grayscale calibration of demos in histograms.

Colour histograms visualize the used colour spectrum and settings within a demo. With the median function the average brightness and contrast values can be determined. In live mode, for example, the demo can be interactively analysed in several dimensions and with regards to motion.

Analysing Human Traffic regarding the brightness over time, as shown in Figure 15, indicates an organic gradient of colour and brightness with smooth transformations. Some scene changes are very dark. The highlights of the demo composition and the density of used effects become clearly visible with this view.

hastik-demoage-15
Figure 15. Gradient of colour and brightness over time in Human Traffic.

Summary and Results

Manual subject analyses of demo effects, based on a predefined corpus of descriptors using time stamps and screenshots, are a common method to enable access to media content and to support communication about media objects. It has to be pointed out that meaningful results are caused by the combination of controlled terminology with time-exact images. Descriptions vary between one or more key terms and short annotations explaining compositions. One advantage is that sound can be included in the analysis. A disadvantage is that the analysis is reduced to the perception and knowledge of the analyst. This can lead to misinterpretations and deficits. Furthermore, this method is far too time-consuming and should only be executed by experts.

At the moment there is no way to automatically analyse, extract, annotate and describe relevant features from demos. But automated image montage tools, such as ImageJ, offer promising functions to analyse demos frame by frame with regard to time, motion, composition, colour and more. Visualising these aspects provides a good overview about the general characteristics of a demo.

To sum it up, demos can be accessed quite efficiently by using automated image analysis. When analysing sequences of effects used in demos the most helpful functions of ImageJ are montage, orthogonal projection and a gradient histogram of colour and brightness. It is no longer necessary to watch the demo or video again and again to capture as much information as possible. The automated visualisation shows key frames, coherence, repetitions and sequences explicitly. Especially for longer demos, these functions are meaningful.

However, there are a number of issues when dealing with huge amounts of images. First of all, the process needs more preparation, because it is not possible to import video material directly into ImageJ and sound cannot be processed at all. Secondly, even if demos usually have a runtime of approximately three minutes, large amounts of data must be managed. Similar to the problem that the eye has limits when viewing video sequences over time, there are also restrictions in the perception of single images. As shown in the case of demos that feature light effects and smooth transitions, the montage visualization does not work very well. In particular, small objects as well as slight and irregular movements become better visible when watching video sequences.

Still, to understand these complex visualisations some context information as well as knowledge about the technical aspects of a demo and the underlying data is necessary. In addition to the form or visual characteristics, as Lev Manovich’s concept of automatic image analysis does, the production and presentation practices as well as the socio-cultural context of demoscene artwork are also relevant.

In conclusion, it can be said both approaches provide only conditionally meaningful results by generating distant and close views on demos. But both methods can complement each other perfectly. One possible use case could be to analyse scenes in demos and extract key frames automatically and then manually describe these key frames using index terms.

Anyhow, the visualisation of massive cultural data sets provides a general overview about the underlying material and presents new views which help us to question cultural phenomena. Manual subject analyses can be seen as high quality annotation of specific material and offers the possibility to research and compare demos regarding defined aesthetic aspects. Experimenting with automatic frame-based analyses is important for finding attributes and algorithms to support the development of future fully-automated analysis tools.

Still, neither of these methods is able to carry the whole atmosphere contained in a demo. To get the right impression which is mainly based on sound and tempo of a demo it is essential to watch that demo, preferably on the original hardware, not as a video.

Future Work

This paper is the first attempt at using ImageJ for the automated analysis of demos. It should be inspiring for others, from artists to analysts. A more elaborate analysis on the results will follow soon – there is plenty more that can be said about the projections.

In the context of the MEGA Demoage Project an ontology describing the production and presentation practices as well as socio-cultural structures of the demoscene culture has been developed (Hastik 2013). This model functions as a metadata schema for integrating and merging different heterogeneous sources which are relevant for the demoscene. It offers detailed terminology and can be extended with other glossaries or classifications. Furthermore, all objects within this ontology can be described in detail including demo effects, either processed with ImageJ or annotated manually.

Acknowledgements

I would like to express my special thanks to the games and animation students at University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt from the Technology and Society practical seminar in summer term 2013: Björn Biling, Stefan Horn, Pascal Bogensprenger, Lars Möller, Jörn Dürig, Sarah Schaack, Nicola Sebastian Pirker, Hendrik Großkurth, Felica Handelmann, Bianca Galloy, and the Atari sceners Svolli and Jac! who participated in this analysis.

References

Adobe After Effects. 2014. “Animation Software.” Accessed March 06, 2014. http://www.adobe.com/de/products/aftereffects.html.

Berger, René. 1987. “Der Künstler und die Maschine: Technologischer Wandel und neue ästhetische Dimension.” In Synthesis. Visual Arts in the Electronic Culture. Offenbach: Hochschule für Gestaltung.

Berry, David M. 2011. “The Computational Turn: Thinking About the Digital Humanities.” Culture Machine. The Digital Humanities: Beyond Computing 2, pp. 1–22. Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/440/470.

Borzyskowski, George. 2000. ”The Hacker Demo Scene and Its Cultural Artifacts.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.scheib.net/play/demos/what/borzyskowski.

Botz, Daniel. 2011. Kunst, Code und Maschine: Die Ästhetik der Computer-Demoszene. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Brinkmann, Ron. 1999. The Art and Sciecne of Digital Compositing. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

demozoo.org. 2013. “The new demoscene archive.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.demozoo.org.

Faulstich, Werner. 2004. Einführung in die Filmanalyse. Tübingen: G. Narr-Verlag.

ffmpeg 2014. “Cross-platform solution to record, convert and stream audio and video.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.ffmpeg.org.

Hastik, Canan, Steinmetz, Arnd, and Thull, Bernhard. 2013. “Ontology based Framework for Real-Time Audiovisual Art.” In 79th IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Singapore. Accessed March 06, 2014. http://library.ifla.org/87.

Lab. Software Studies Initiative. 2007. “Software Studies is a new research paradigm in the humanities and media studies.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://softwarestudies.com.

Lazer, David, Pentland, Alex, Adamic, Lada, Aral, Sinan, Barabási, Albert-László, Brewer, Devon, Christakis, Nicholas, Contractor, Noshir, Fowler, James, Gutmann, Myron, Jebara, Tony, King, Gary, Macy, Michael, Roy, Deb, and van Alstyne, Marshall. 2009. “Computational Social Science.” Science Magazine 323(5915), pp. 721–723. DOI: 10.1126/science.1167742.

Manovich, Lev. 2007. “Founder of Software Studies Initiative.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.manovich.net/index.php.

MEGA e.V. 2012. “MEGA Museum of Electronic Games & Art.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.m-e-g-a.org.

Metadata Games. 2014. “A digital gaming platform for gathering data on photo, audio, and moving image artifacts.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.metadatagames.org.

Monfort, Nick, and Bogost, Ian. 2009. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Pouet.net. 2000. “Your online demoscene resource.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.pouet.net.

Prescott, Andrew. 2012. “Consumers, Creators or Commentators? Problems of Audience and Mission in the Digital Humanities.” Arts and Humanities in Higher Education: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 11(1–2), pp. 61–75. Accessed March 05, 2014. doi: 10.1177/1474022211428215.

Reunanen, Markku. 2010. Computer Demos – What Makes Them Tick? Espoo: Aalto University.

Storfer, Adolf Josef. 1911. “Die Microskopierung der Zeit.” Der Kinematograph 242, p. 5.

VideoLan. 2014. “Cross-platform media player and streaming media server.” Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.videolan.org/vlc.

Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

Chipmusic, Fakebit and the Discourse of Authenticity in the Chipscene

authenticity, chipmusic, chipscene, ethnography, fakebit

Marilou Polymeropoulou
marilou.polymeropoulou [a] music.ox.ac.uk
State Scholarship Foundation (Greece) Scholar
St. Peter’s College, Faculty of Music,  University of Oxford

Printable PDF version

This article deals with chipmusic from an ethnographic perspective, regarding music as a socially meaningful activity whose significance extends beyond music itself. The aim of this paper is to communicate chipmusicians’ narrative(s) on aesthetic concepts related to the act of chipmusic creation. More precisely, the perception of authenticity is the focal point, a matter of great significance and ambivalence in the chipscene, embodied in the subgenre of fakebit. The findings presented in this study are based on digital and physical, multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, which took place during 2011-2013, among the ‘networked peoples’ of the chipscene. This article is a juxtaposition of the diverse evaluation systems found within the chipscene based on three generations populating and subdividing the scene. This complex system reflects values and beliefs shared within the chipscene.

Introduction

In October 2011 while I was conducting fieldwork in the chipmusic[1] community, or chipscene as it is referred to as, I had a conversation with a chipmusic event organiser about the status of chipmusic in Europe. During our productive discussion I felt the urge to ask about a topic that I had the impression it was almost like a taboo regarding authenticity in chipmusic: Fakebit. The response was immediately unenthusiastic, and as the organiser informed me, this was one of the main reasons he decided to quit ‘the scene’[2]. As he explained, he felt that chipscene was in a process of constant decay since the popularisation of chipmusic in the early 2000s. As a result, chipmusic has become a bricolage of commercialised retro sound elements reminiscing video games. He stressed that chipmusicians who are responsible for this ideological decline aim at attracting a wider, uninformed audience. As the organiser concluded, it is impossible to conceptualise chipmusic without the actual hardware; it would be like performing folk music without any folk musical instruments.

Following his thought-provoking arguments, I approached other chipmusicians in order to understand more about what can be conceptualised as chipscene ideology[3], as well as about the debate on fakebit, and furthermore, what is considered to be authentic chipmusic. The response was certainly interesting; some of my informants did not want to discuss this at all as it was a trivial subject, others were keen on defending fakebit whereas there was also a group of people sharing the event organiser’s perspective.

This article centres on chipmusic, fakebit, and the chipscene. In popular culture, chipmusic is mostly experienced as videogame music. It represents the muzak of 1980s videogames, as it was performed on gaming consoles. People who grew up in the 1980s may have recollections of the Nintendo Game Boy and its occasional bad loads followed by the need to blow on the inserted cartridge to make it work. In the last thirty years of popular music, 1980s platforms have occasionally been used for music-making. One such example is the synthpop band Welle:Erdball, whose members manipulated the Commodore 64 soundchip that brands their sound.

Chipmusic sound is characterised by square wave ‘bleeps’ which are often left unnoticed in television commercials, as for example, in Cathedral Chedds advertisement campaign[4] (2011). Structural elements and timbres of chipmusic are also found in pop songs, such as Black Eyed Peas’s The Time (Dirty Bit) (2010). In mainstream popular music, chipmusic’s stylistic elements are predominantly used to enrich the sound palette of a musical piece. It is a means of ‘funking-it-up’, making it more hip. For the informed audience, however, chipmusic has an entirely different meaning, extending beyond these practices.

Fakebit has been previously defined as “music which used the sound of 1980s chipmusic but is completely produced with regular modern samplers, synthesizers and sequencer programs” (Pasdzierny 2012, 180). In a sense, fakebit is seen as faking 8-bit music by using modern technology to emulate obsolete, 8-bit sounds, which, according to the previous definition, is a descriptive nomenclature. However, the suffix “fake-“ in fakebit bears derogatory meaning, embodying the decline of chipmusic ideology and thus, authenticity, an argument endorsed by my informant and shared by a number of chipmusicians.

In this article I attempt to find the distinction between fakebit and chipmusic by scrutinising diverse discourses related to chipmusic values as nuanced in the chipscene. Is fakebit considered to be chipmusic? What is ‘authenticity’ in chipmusic and how is it expressed? And how does ideology in the chipscene influence values related to fakebit and chipmusic authenticity? These are some of the key questions that will be answered in this article.

Methodological Note

Previous research reveals that there are local chipscenes in a number of countries around the world (Carlsson 2008, 160; Pasdzierny 2012, 173). In my doctoral research I have experienced the chipscene as a transnational collective of people whose practices extend beyond national boundaries (Polymeropoulou 2014). This group of people primarily interact on the Internet via online communities and social media[5].

I use anthropological tools with an emphasis on ethnographic methods in order to study chipmusic and the chipscene; ethnography is a useful tool to understand similarities and dissimilarities in a wide cultural context (Boellstorff et al. 2012). The purpose of anthropology and its sub-discipline, ethnomusicology, is the analysis of everyday behaviour, ceremonials, rituals, and economic, kinship, and other relations, engaging with the music phenomena and the elements that surround and contextualise music. Qualitative internet research methods[6] are also employed for the study of multiple meanings of chipmusic online. My task as an ethnographer was to inquire chipmusic meaning in chipscene discourse and explore its significance.

The findings of this article are derived from my doctoral research which is based on digital and physical, multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the chipscene during the period 2011-2013. During fieldwork I realised that the chipscene consists of a number of internet-supported networks that are structured at an individual and collective level. For example, the Italian chipscene comprises one collective, national network, but an Italian chipmusician’s individual network may extend beyond Italian boundaries. Thus, the Italian chipmusician can be connected with people from other networks, for example Japan, England, France, or other places, a connection which can be maintained through online communities and social media.

The structure as well as the dynamic character of networks makes chipmusic research rather challenging, and more demanding; in order to understand the social organisation of chipscene, one needs to follow as many networks as possible, whilst realising their fragility: some networks can be long lasting, others ephemeral, and in both cases, networks can be easily altered on an hourly basis[7]. To transcend such challenges I opted for multi-sited fieldwork, which is predicated on “multiple sites of observation and participation that cross-cut dichotomies such as the ‘local’ and the ‘global’, the ‘life-world’ and the ‘system’” (Marcus 1995, 95). Hence, I attempted to scrutinise multiple layers of cultural formulations in chipmusic as they are experienced in networks consisting of multiple digital and physical locations.

In this article, ethnomusicological as well as popular music perspectives[8] (for example, Merriam 1964, 7; Stokes 1994; Frith 1988, 249) are central to understanding chipmusic and the chipscene. Chipmusic is studied within its social-behavioural context examining practices, processes, and mediated politics that are culturally nuanced in chipmusic. Additionally, chipmusic is understood as a socially meaningful activity whose meaning extends beyond music itself. For example, meaning can be entrenched in the relationship between chipmusicians and their musical instruments used for chipmusic-making. Furthermore, meaning is thought of as an unheard[9] attribute of chipmusic that is found in the discursive context of the chipscene.

Chipmusic and Fakebit Representation Online

Figure 1. Online representation of chipmusic, fakebit, and related terms.
Figure 1. Online representation of chipmusic, fakebit, and related terms.

The above Google TouchGraph visualization represents web clusters of activity based on keywords ‘8(-)bit’, ‘chiptune(s)’, ‘chipmusic’, ‘micromusic’, and ‘fakebit’ (figure 1). As Hine explains, Google TouchGraph provides a visualisation of the “related” facility in Google (Hine 2007, 626). The “related” sites on the Graph are those that share keywords and are also inter-connected by third party sites (hence the emergence of YouTube et al. as primary hubs of activity). This visualization is not entirely representative, as firstly, it gathers information only from the Google search engine, and secondly, suggests that most chipscene activity is focused on YouTube, Twitter, and Last.fm. All in all, the figure offers us a relative but insightful perspective on how is fakebit connected to chipmusic and other terms online, as well as which sources Internet users find when searching for the term ‘fakebit’.

Websites connected to fakebit activity are YouTube, Last.fm, and SoundCloud. According to Google Statistics, users viewed MisfitChris’s Fake Bit Much video (July 2012), which was released by DataAirlines netlabel – also the see edge on the visualisation. There are fakebit groups attracting visitors on Last.fm (music tagged as fakebit, including artists Big Giant Circles, Lifeformed, Ato Kaihaku, Diode Milliampere, Fubuki, and others) and SoundCloud (a group of 145 members and 516 recordings, which include “[s]ongs that sound like or pay hommage (sic) to 8 bit music, but have not been created with original 8-bit hardware”). Tumblr also collects a number of posts that are tagged as fakebit.

Fakebit activity is also located on online communities such as chipmusic.org and noisechannel.org, where there are posts and threads on this sub-genre. Additionally, Ubiktune netlabel and its release Fakebit 2010 (2012) composed by Maxo, as well as Fakebit Polytechnic, a fakebit band, attract a number of fakebit enthusiasts. Finally, Internet users are directed to chipmusician Adventure Kid’s website where he has included a definition of fakebit as well as a statement about his music: “I don’t really care what I am but yeah I’m probably fakebit. I like pretending.”

Defining Discourses of Ideology and Authenticity in Chipscene

The definition of chipmusic and fakebit is a challenging task due to the diversity of people involved in the chipscene. The chipscene is nuanced by several competing and contradictory discourses as explained in the introduction. These discourses primarily embody chipmusic ideology i.e. what is chipmusic and how it should be composed. One generally undeniable characteristic of chipmusic is that it is culturally influenced; this can be achieved, for example, by employing diverse cultural characteristics in musical pieces, as demonstrated in Omodaka’s Plum song (2009) in which the lyrics of a traditional Japanese song are used (Ume Wa Saitaka, 梅は咲いたか) combined with reggaeton rhythmic patterns.

Similarly, chipmusic is influenced by other cultural contexts, not necessarily related to national elements as in the example outlined above. Chipmusicians are connected to cultures in the geographical sense, but at the same time, they are linked to other cultural forms such as punk, videogaming, or the demoscene, sharing ideology, customs and social behaviour shaped by the specific culture. As a result, chipmusicians embed some elements of these diverse ideologies in their music. Understanding how chipmusic ideology is nuanced, and thus, what consists authentic chipmusic, can also reveal significant findings about defining fakebit and understanding its meaning.

Other studies have noted (Pasdzierny 2012; Nova 2014) that the chipscene is divided to generations according to chipmusicians’ ideology. The remainder of my article follows this premise. Like any heuristic, the chipscene generations are abstractions and others may divide them differently[10]. Nonetheless, in the present context, the fundamental difference of these generations is the way chipmusic meaning is constructed and understood. The categorisation according to generation reflects the plurality of discourses as well as a set of values and beliefs related to what constitutes acceptable ways of making chipmusic. In anthropology it has been traditionally argued that one generation lasts for thirty years (Lisón-Tolosana 1966). In the chipscene, the generations have intricate relation with computer technology and its evolution, hence it can be assumed the generational timespan is limited roughly to one decade. Every generation stands as a knowledge-belief database for newcomers in the chipscene. For this reason, generation values are transferred to new people entering the chipscene. In the following sections, I explain how the chipscene is divided in three generations and how chipmusicians develop a different understanding of chipmusic and fakebit authenticity in them.

Demoscene, Chipmusic Ideology, and Fakebit Criticism in the First Chipscene Generation

The first generation is considered to be rather purist (Pasdzierny 2012, 179) as it is directly linked to the demoscene (Tomczak 2011; Carlsson 2008, 162; Pasdzierny 2012; Nova 2014). Demoscene is a computer subculture that emerged in the 1980s. The aim of demosceners was to push the technological limitations of 1980s computer platforms and demonstrate their coding skills by creating short audio-visual, non-interactive presentations called ‘demos’ (Reunanen and Silvast 2009; Tasajärvi 2004). As Menotti Gonring argues, “[e]ven today, such works [demos] are appraised not only by their plastic beauty, but also by their algorithmic elegance – which can be evaluated by their size in bytes. Upon creating a demo, the filmmaker does not only aim for the equilibrium of compositing and montage, but also for the efficacy of the subjacent code.” (Menotti Gonring 2009, 111.) Thus, evaluation of demos depended on aesthetic criteria tied to the technological aspects both of the demo and the platform.

Carlsson suggests that demosceners consigned to the concept of originality when it came to building a demo without borrowing another demoscener’s work:

Generally it was ‘better’ to do everything yourself, from scratch. Even if some people used parts of other demoscene works, they ran the risk of being called lame instead of elite. The romantic notion of the isolated author-genius was thus highly present in the demoscene. […] The practice of absolute measurements of quality dates back to cracking, as does the related distinction between the elite and the lamers. If you were elite you knew how to behave, how to talk (elite = eL17E), and how to produce (from scratch). (Carlsson 2009, 19.)

In principle, the concept of the elite genius as outlined above was a powerful attribute that a demoscener could possess.

According to the previous accounts, authenticity in demoscene was defined by technological and ownership criteria i.e. coding skills on limited platforms and original code. As previously stated, the first chipmusicians were demosceners who decided to focus on the musical aspect of their work. It is only natural then that such beliefs were passed on to first generation ideology in relation to chipmusic-making: the use of limited technology is fundamental, and one should aim at being an elite, using original elements. This originality could be translated in numerous ways: firstly, by avoiding musical plagiarism (an activity which is still denounced in chipmusic[11]); secondly, by using original platforms.

The principal problem of authenticity[12] is that it is a dynamic concept and its definition differs according to the specific cultural context it is found (Auslander 1998, Cogan and Cogan 2008, 70). Cogan and Cogan (2008) further this statement:

Musical authenticity may seem neutral, but the questions of who gets to define it and who gets to apply that definition are ideological ones that depend on the social position, and gender, of the person doing the defining (Cogan and Cogan 2008, 70).

As Stokes has also observed, authenticity is not an embedded property of music, musicians and their relations to an audience, rather, it offers a way of distinguishing one’s music (Stokes 1994, 6-7, perspective also shared by Frith 1988, 71 and Auslander 1998). As Frith (1988) underlines, authenticity is a social context wrapped around music properties, which is the result of prior musical or extra-musical knowledge and beliefs.

While in the field, I was interested to understand criteria as well as the music evaluation process when accepting and releasing a chipmusic album on a netlabel run by people who share first generation concepts on authenticity. The netlabel representative told me he releases anything that he finds pleasant (interview, 2011). In that particular context I was told that they release anything that is “good” chipmusic, and as they explained, as “good” qualifies anything that is composed on the original computers and not on sound chip emulators. Selection process based on personal criteria however, did not please chipmusicians. On the occasion of micromusic.net, some chipmusicians were dissatisfied that their compositions had to undergo approval prior to being published – a process which was nuanced by the owner’s aesthetic criteria. As a result, chipsceners searched for alternative online places where they could upload their music without any aesthetic filtering. And they found this in 8bitcollective.org (8bc) where anyone could have their music online in minutes. It is likely that the popularity of 8bc was attributed to this feature.

As a result, the first generation of chipmusicians who are the highly-positioned agents of authenticity in chipmusic, consider fakebit to be inauthentic as it fails to comply to any of the requirements: fakebit is not composed with the aid of limited technology (although there are some chipmusicians that would argue that any technology is limited in a sense), and certainly, original computer platforms are not used. As Tomczak argues, “‘authentic’ hardware plays an important role within the chiptune genre” (Tomczak 2008,) As he continues, chipmusic is related to a kind of intellectual challenge, an attribute borrowed from the demoscene (ibid). Consequently, fakebit is not regarded as chipmusic for the first generation.

Embracing Fakebit: Mobility, Imitation and Emulation in the Second and Third Chipscene Generations

As reflected in relevant literature, chipmusicians of the second generation are more open to conventions and communities of popular music (Pasdzierny 2012, 179; see also Dittbrenner 2007 and Yabsley 2007). The second generation of chipmusicians think of themselves as artists, rather than coders or gamers (Pasdzierny 2012, 180). In a sense, they redefine chipmusic aesthetics, as set by first generation’s cold, technological criteria (idea also endorsed in Nova 2014, 57-58). Second generation chipmusicians introduced the quick and efficient mediation of chipmusic in two ways: by the regular use of the Internet to communicate and exchange music, and by introducing mobility.

During the 2000s, chipmusic online communities thrived. After the emergence of micromusic.net in 1997, and the establishment of 8bitcollective.org in 2004, a number of online communities and netlabels appeared. During that period, Nanoloop, the software cartridge that turned the portable 8-bit gaming console, the Nintendo Game Boy in a musical instrument, was developed and released (1998). In the early 2000s, Little Sound DJ (LSDJ), followed on the same console. Mobility as mediated through the use of Nanoloop and LSDJ transformed the way chipmusic was composed. With a Game Boy and a software cartridge, one had the opportunity to compose and perform their music anywhere. As Sycamore Drive, a chipmusician based in Scotland, reminisces:

As a student, I spent about three hours a day on public transport and I always wanted to find new ways to use that time effectively. Chiptune has always been a shortcut, I didn’t need to sit and think about instruments, levels, microphone placement, etc. I could just sit down and write a song. That’s exactly what I needed. (Interview at noisechannel.org, June 2012.)

Music-making on Game Boy was indeed simpler and more straight-forward in relation to trackers[13], the specialised music-making software recognized especially by demosceners and game developers during the 1980s and 1990s. During the first decade of 2000, chipmusic was popularised (Carlsson 2008), and it became more available: firstly, Game Boy consoles were affordable and obtainable online and offline, secondly, they were easier to manipulate, and thirdly, they supported mobility. Chipmusicians could perform anywhere, and it was during the 2000s that even open street chipmusic performances (see Pasdzierny 2012) became popular – in some places, for example Indonesia, UK and, US more increasingly than others, for example Malaysia where legislation regarding public performances is strict.

As a result of the popularisation of chipmusic, several people became interested in chipmusic-making. The main source for someone who wanted to learn how to compose chiptunes was (and still is) the Internet. A variety of documents and video tutorials are available online: chipmusicians upload their own software tutorials (for example Sabrepulse’s LSDJ tutorial which is available on YouTube and on the Web in the text form), documents and discussion threads explaining how to compose chipmusic at several online communities (for example noisechannel.org, or chipmusic.org), and as recently Danimal Cannon pointed out at his talk at TedxBuffalo (2013), a number of workshops which aim at chipmusic education, are organized globally, where people can learn how to compose chipmusic. During my own private lessons kindly offered by Morusque at workshop in Paris, I learnt how to compose chipmusic on LSDJ using a Nintendo Game Boy. The learning process follows a specific pattern: one needs to copy[14] the tutor’s steps in order to learn how to manipulate software and then use their own musical ideas.

Copying – or rather, imitating – became an intrinsic characteristic of second generation chipmusicians. Chipsceners who were initially interested in composing chipmusic rather than programming and experimenting on software are found in this generation. Seeing creation as a process of imitation produces an interesting paradox. As Hallam and Ingold (2007, 5) observe, to create a cultural artefact means to produce something new, which did not previously exist. Every creation is bound to a previously existed ideology. If the outcome is new then it is creative according to the initial argument. The logical paradox would suggest that whatever is a copy, or an imitation, cannot be new, and as a result it is not creative. A possible interpretation of this paradox in chipmusic could be seen as follows: To a certain extent, the first chipscene generation instinctively attempt to avoid this paradox from happening by using original platforms and composing chipmusic from scratch. However, it seems that the second generation accepts this paradox (again, instinctively), embracing the concept of imitation as part of the creative process[15].

Second generation of chipmusicians are most known for establishing global festivals (for example, Blip Festival, Eindbaas, Micromusic parties) and also popularising chipmusic by sampling its aesthetic characteristics in popular culture (using audio samples in popular music, pixelating pictures and so forth). In this chipscene generation, information and communication technologies are adopted as methods of production and promotion. For example, crowdsourcing is a relatively new way of raising funds to support the organisation of events as well as music and video releases in the chipscene, by means of asking for financial support online addressed to Internet users. One such example is the documentary that overviewed the chipscene in Europe entitled Europe in 8 bits, whose director, Javier Polo, begun a crowdsourcing campaign on Verkami[16] raising more than 5,000€.

In popular music due to its volatile character, “sooner or later redundancy sets in, […] followed by bending or even breaking the rules” (Toynbee 2012, 168). The ideology of the first generation started to fade out following chipmusic’s popularity boost in the 2000s. More specifically, fakebit-making software for modern computers developed, in order to assist and encourage chipmusic enthusiasts to create chiptunes. This software primarily consists of emulators of 8-bit sounds. An emulator, to put it rather simply, is an imitator of low, 8-bit technology, on a modern computer environment (see Carlsson 2010; Nova 2014, 58). As Chip Sounds, an emulator advertisement suggests, “you DON’T need to deal with a small and hard to read interface”, “you can CHOOSE to be limited in terms of pitch and polyphony OR NOT”, and “you DON’T need to spend years hunting garage sales […] to gather a collection such as this one. We have done it for you :)” (Original emphasis). The use of mobile consoles and 8-bit emulators suggest that after the second generation, there was a turn towards the simplification of chipmusic-making. Simplification then, becomes a characteristic of chipmusic authenticity in this generation (see also Pasdzierny 2012, 181).

According to the third generation, the second generation has formed the characteristics of what they consider “original chiptune artists”. The third generation represents the newest chipsceners, who seem to subscribe to hipness ideology. This group of people is often humorously called ‘chipsters’ and adopts several hip behavioural patterns in the chipscene. In Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture (2013), Phil Ford outlines the characteristics of hipness as expressed in North America, tracing its history as early as the 1930s. I find three characteristics of hipness similar in the context of chipsters: a) the trickster character, or ‘trolling’, in Internet terms, b) post-modern unconventional ideology, and c) co-optation of chipmusic and fakebit.

The first hipsters, or tricksters as they were called, performed several manifestations of irony in their attempt to mislead. In the chipscene particularly, trolling is a form of hip tricking. As Donath (1999, 45) suggests, trolling is “a game about identity deception”. Originally it was a practice shared by Usenet users who wanted to deceive outsiders and newbies, or “noobs” as new members are commonly referred to as among online users. Chipsters find different ways to troll about in the chipscene: lying about their location online and setting it to the Antarctica and other unpopulated areas (example demonstrated on micromusic.net map, see Polymeropoulou 2014), mocking publicly mainstream media, or even trolling just for the sake of it.

One of the most prominent examples of chipness expression I encountered during fieldwork was the case of a fake tattoo that a chipmusician pretended he got. On April 24, 2013, Je deviens DJ en 3 jours shared a photo on his Facebook Page picturing a tattoo of the name of the largest monthly chipmusic festival in Europe, that he was about to have done, prior to his planned performance there. In the picture and caption, he appeared to have misspelt “Eindbaas” for “Eindbass”. When his mistake was pointed out, he appeared shocked and overwhelmed, and soon people started comforting him. To the online world, he was devastated.

The following day, and after hundreds of comforting comments on Facebook, JDDE3J published a YouTube video, revealing his completed “Eindbass” tattoo. The thirty-second video, featured him unwrapping his arm properly, as if he had a real tattoo done and covered with cling film, sonically framed by his music playing in the background. The revelation after a short countdown during which music became louder and gradually higher in pitch, was the scribble “IDIOTEN!” which was clearly written with black marker pen. The end of the video was an advertisement of his forthcoming Eindbaas performance. This trolling incident represents a marketing technique widely used in the digital domain, adopting do-it-yourself ideology (which is yet another attribute of the chipscene), the use of a brand (Eindbaas festival), tangled nicely with the music commodity (JDDE3J’s background music), aiming to advertise his forthcoming performance.

Chipsters also find themselves supporting unconventional beliefs. Once something is established, it needs to be changed. For example, first generation purists suggest that chipmusic should only be composed on 8-bit computer platforms, which are technologically limited, and thus, require more effort and tinkering. Complexity in programming is sought. However, for the chipster generation, purist ideology is conventional and thus, not appealing. Chipsters compose chipmusic – and of course, fakebit – on a variety of platforms, including modern computers, applying different criteria, based on popular music aesthetics rather than materialist approaches. Thus, cultural co-optation is the third characteristic found among chipsters. For Ford, co-optation “is a story that keeps us on the hook, looking for fresher and more appealing kinds of rebellion” (Ford 2013, 38). Chipsters find creative ways combining avant-garde and subcultural elements in order to break through to mainstream audiences, a practice which is criticised by purists.

The primary difference between second and third generation is that the latter combine acoustic instruments, hardware (either obsolete or modern) and computer software (Nova 2014, 59) without being concerned about technological limitations and purist criteria. This suggests another turn in chipmusic, towards more liberal characteristics.

Following the discussion with the chipmusic event organiser I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I asked one of my key informants (anonymised here as Informant 1) about his perspective on fakebit.

Informant 1: [responding at a previous question] I’m not really familiar with the sound synthesis formats on Amiga (so called real chiptunes) – I’m mostly a fakebit, remember?

Me: Where do your samples come from?

Informant 1: I’ve used a lot of drum samples that originate from Commodore 64. So they are sampled versions of chip-generated sounds. I think it’s just a big grey area.

Me: Tell me about the so-called “fakebit”.

Informant 1: Is there any relevant musical difference between chipmusic and fakebit? If music is taken structurally, there is no difference. It’s absurd to think of a music genre in terms of technical restrictions. “This is fake because it wasn’t produced with the same superfluous restrictions that I choose every time I compose” and it’s relatively easy to fake the restrictions. But then, why bother. […] In the beginning, technical restrictions were the norm, because of the machinery the music was produced with. There was no way to choose anything outside the restrictions (if you wanted to make music with computers that is). Nobody called it chipmusic though. (Synchronous chat discussion online, 2013.)

Summing up my informant’s key points, the issue arises from the definition of chipmusic. As previously explained, according to first generation chipmusicians, using others’ samples, even if they are composed on 8-bit computers and consoles, is not chipmusic. From this perspective, every sample needs to be made from scratch, by the composers themselves. However, second and third generation accounts on what constitutes a chipmusician suggest that the use of 8-bit platforms is sufficient – without clarifying any information about samples’ origin. One of my informants characteristically told me he did not see himself as a true chipmusician, because he started off with fakebit. He also claimed he was in process of learning how to use trackers on Atari.

During fieldwork, Roger Cruz, who runs Chip-Con International stressed that most people that become interested in fakebit come from video game communities such as OCRemix (interview, 2013).

Me: Is OCRemix retro-oriented?

Roger: Yeah, but it’s just old soundtracks made into more modern music. That’s not what chiptune is about, but we are getting a ton of people from that community, thanks to Chiptunes=Win and DJ Cutman, who came from there. As long as there’s some chiptune involved, it’s considered chiptune – doesn’t matter if it’s fake or not, the audience doesn’t care either, but there’s a preference for pure chip a lot more than mixed stuff. (E-mail interview, 2013.)

I asked Roger if he could distinguish the sounds of fakebit and other chipmusic. His response was that fakebit has a more “over-produced” sound, so if a chiptune sounds more polished, then it is most probably fakebit (asynchronous e-mail discussion, 2013). This is due to the use of high-end technology in contrast to low-level, 8-bit consoles. Roger suggested that such concrete examples of fakebit are found in Indonesian chiptunes, as the infrastructure of the local scene had the funds to invest on music production.

In terms of distinguishing fakebit from 8-bit generated chipmusic, one of my key informants (anonymised as informant 2) focused on the imperfections of a particular emulation of the soundchip[17] found in the Commodore 64: “As far as I’m concerned, the SID [C64 soundchip] is not properly emulated still. It doesn’t sound the same. And that’s even when the emu-nerds have spent sooooo much effort in trying to do it. I don’t know why they can’t do it perfect” (Informant 2, asynchronous e-mail discussion, 2012).

Following his suggestion, I contacted the High Voltage SID Collection (HVSC) team, who are specialists in relation to the SID soundchip and its emulations, to inquire further. Their representative commented on the digital and analog aspects that comprise the SID soundchip (in other words, he described it as a mixed mode chip with digital and analog logic parts). He argued that:

I believe that the digital side emulation is currently extremely close to correct, though there may be hitherto undiscovered interactions which nobody is aware of, and which may therefore be incorrectly modelled as well. […]The emulation of the analog side is arguably imperfect. What we have is something that sounds alright for the vast majority of the music, and we can reproduce a wide range of chip types by adjusting some of the electrical parameters of the simulation. (HVSC representative, e-mail communication, December 2013.)

Additionally, it seems possible to distinguish chiptunes composed on Nintendo Game Boy, using Nanoloop software cartridge, as I was told by a chipmusic event organiser, because the built-in tempo in Nanoloop slightly differs than tempo signature on any digital audio workstation (interview, 2012). Overall, it appears that if one were to analyse sound specifications of fakebit and chipmusic, they would find differences – although I may suggest, that such differences may not be easily distinguished by ear.

Looking deeper into the roots of the need for authenticity, I turned to informant 2, where I received an unexpected opinion.

Me: What about chipmusic originality?

Informant 2: Originality […] I think that chipmusic always (since the 80s) had this urge to be taken seriously by others. A …minority complex, towards whatever field you want to be accepted in. I suppose for the chipscene this was either pop or dance music and the art world. Originality was also quite important in the demoscene, but also in pop culture in general. Make something new and fresh! For chipmusic I guess this became as big also as an anti-thesis to the whole nostalgia discussion. “OK so perhaps I use old stuff but I make something new, God dammit!”

Me: Why is the use of 8-bit technology so important?

Informant 2: With 8-bit technology there are unquestionable qualities as well, which modern machines do not have. Control is one thing. The user has a sense of control, because the technology is simple and direct. It is easier to immerse into the tech. There are less options, so you actually grasp all the options, and you can also control them. There are not all these “layers of secrecy” (Kittler) that obscure the interaction between the bare metal, and the user. A user can control up 100% of the options that we know of. In a modern computer perhaps you can only control 10%, because it’s impossible to grasp all the features, or it’s illegal/very difficult, to get passed all the bullshit :-)

In informant 2’s account, using 8-bit technology transcends the problem of opaque technologies (for more on the subject, see Turkle 1995) as it gives the user full control, a need shared by most avant-garde composers who wished to push the barriers of limitations further (for example, The Futurists’, Edgar Varèse, Stockhausen, IRCAM-based composers). More importantly, however, informant 2 touches upon a sensitive but somehow truthful topic: that perhaps, first generation chipmusicians are being defensive about their music as a result of a minority complex, or the urge to be taken seriously[18].

Conclusions

In this article chipmusic and fakebit authenticity were examined through the perspective of the three generations found in the chipscene. Ideologies, values, and social-behaviours of all three generations were outlined. The complex system of evaluation, which differs accordingly by chipmusicians’ generational ideology, sets the limitations of what kind of chipmusic is considered to be authentic or not. As concluded, the first generation of chipmusicians does not recognise fakebit as a kind of chipmusic. With the most purist criteria, chipmusic authenticity is mediated in 8-bit platforms; from this standpoint, 8-bit technology and the challenges indicated by its technological limitations consist the raw, authentic sound of chipmusic. In contrast, chipmusic composed on modern computers with the use of emulators does not match the above aesthetic criteria, and hence is considered to be unoriginal or in derogatory terms, fakebit.

The second and third generations were found to be more open to seeing fakebit as a subgenre in chipmusic. In this particular context, authenticity is seen through the perspective of an artist, rather than a programmer: what matters is musical forms, melodies, music aesthetics, and non-technological criteria. The third generation of chipmusicians extrapolates the chipmusic horizon to more genres, styles, and techniques.

However, composing fakebit is often understood as shameful activity – belief which has been imposed by first generation purist criteria. The feeling of shame lingers in discussions on fakebit (like the example of my informant who confessed he is not a real chipmusician, but is trying to make up for it by learning how to use trackers). However, composing chipmusic using original platforms is considered by first generation chipmusicians – and others who subscribe to this belief – as an elite, appraised, and honourable activity, to juxtapose the example of shame with honour, as it is commonly found in the anthropological tradition.

Although the idea of technology shaping aesthetics is not new (Katz 2004; Collins 2008; Théberge 1997), the example of chipmusic and fakebit provides interesting insight into creative new ways of thinking about authenticity in digital music. To a certain extent, technology and chipmusic hardware are fetishized reminding us of Nettl’s observation: “The concept of the ‘authentic’ for a long time dominated collecting activities became mixed with ‘old’ and ‘exotic’ and synonymous with ‘good’” (Nettl 2005, 372).

While browsing chipmusic.org I read an interesting perspective on chipmusic and fakebit. This argument was a response to a thread entitled “GOOD INNOVATIVE FA—“MODERN-DAW-BASED” CHIPMUSIC” (note the avoidance of writing “Fakebit” in the title by the original poster): “Secondly, the limitation with chipmusic doesn’t lie with the software and hardware limitations per-se. The most striking limitation of chiptune, and the one that gives it its identity in my view, is timbre. When you write chiptune, “fake” and “pure” alike, you restrict yourself to basic waveforms – usually square, triangle, noise, maybe others […]. That is the main limitation in my eyes.” (Chipmusic.org member, November 2013.)

Judging from an overview of discussions on online chipmusic communities, it seems that the debate on fakebit and chipmusic authenticity slowly becomes a phenomenon belonging in the past. Chipmusic in the second decade of 2000s is defined by 8-bit timbre, regardless of the medium, and fakebit comprises a subgenre of chipmusic that is composed using modern computers and other digital equipment. Perhaps, as one of my informants suggested (e-mail interview 2014), the fakebit debate ended with MisfitChris’s song Fake bit much (2010):

Activating fakebit mode
Loading phony square synthesis
Loading stereotypical hipster house bass line
Loading terrible SID Chip Sound font
Fakebit initiated
All systems go
Fake bit mode
What are you doing to me?
CPR

Fakebit could potentially be a way of reviving or, refreshing chipmusic. As Microman and Buskerdroid suggest in their Europe in 8 bits interview from 2012: “the person sets their own limits” and “you always discover new things and it never ends; that is beautiful”.

References

Auslander, Philip. 1998. “Seeing is believing: Live performance and the discourse of authenticity in rock culture.” Literature and Psychology 44:1-26.

Barker, Hugh, and Yuval Taylor. 2007. Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music. London: Faber.

Blacking, John. 1967. Venda Children’s Songs: A Study in Ethnomusicological Analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boellstorff, Tom, Bonnie Nardi, Celia Pearce, and T. L. Taylor. 2012. Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Carlsson, Anders. 2008. “Chip Music: Low-tech Data Music Sharing.” In From Pac-Man to Pop Music: Interactive Audio in Games and New Media, edited by Karen Collins, 153-62. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Carlsson, Anders. 2009. “The Forgotten Pioneers of Creative Hacking and Social Networking – Introducing the Demoscene.” In Re:live: Media Art Histories 2009 Conference Proceedings, edited by Sean Cubitt, and Paul Thomas, 16-20. University of Melbourne & Victorian College of the Arts and Music.

Carlsson, Anders. 2010. Power Users and Retro Puppets: A Critical Study of the Methods and Motivations in Chipmusic. Master’s thesis. Lund: Lund University.

Cogan, Brian, and Gina Cogan. 2006. “Gender and Authenticity in Japanese Popular Music: 1980−2000.” Popular Music and Society 29:69-90.

Collins, Karen. 2008 “In the Loop: Creativity and Constraint in 8-bit Video Game Audio.” Twentieth-century music 4:209-27.

Cottrell, Stephen. 2007. “Local Bimusicality among London’s Freelance Musicians.” Ethnomusicology 51:85-105.

Dittbrenner, Nils. 2007. Soundchip-Musik. Computer- und Videospielmusik von 1977-1994, Osnabrück: Electronic Publishing Osnabrück.

Donath, Judith. 1999. “Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community.” In Communities in Cyberspace, edited by Marc A. Smith, and Peter Kollock. London & New York: Routledge.

Driscoll, Kevin, and Joshua Diaz. 2009. “Endless loop: A brief history of chiptunes.” Transformative Works and Cultures 2.

Fillitz, Thomas, and Jamie A. Saris (eds). 2013. Debating Authenticity: Concepts of Modernity in Anthropological Perspective. New York: Berghan Books.

Ford, Phil. 2013. Dig: Sound and Music in Hip Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Frith, Simon. 1988. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music. New York: Oxford University Press.

Graham, Gordon. 2002. Genes: A Philosophical Inquiry. New York: Routledge.

Grant, Elizabeth K. 2004. Unseen, Unheard, Unspoken: Exploring the Relationship between Aboriginal Spirituality and Community Development. Dissertation. Adelaide-Whyalla-Mount Gambier: University of South Australia.

Hallam, Elizabeth, and Tim Ingold (eds). 2007. Creativity and Cultural Improvisation, ASA Monographs 44. Oxford: Berg.

Hine, Christine. 2007. “Connective Ethnography for the Exploration of e-Science.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12:619-34.

Hood, Mantle. 1960. “The Challenge of Bi-Musicality.” Ethnomusicology 4:55-9.

Katz, Mark. 2004. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Khoo, Suet Leng, Ling Ta Tiun, and Lay Wah Lee. 2013. “Unseen Challenges, Unheard Voices, Unspoken Desires: Experiences of Employment by Malayisians with Physical Disabilities.” Majian Malaysia 31:37-55.

Lindholm, Charles. 2008. Culture and Authenticity. Malden: Blackwell Publishing

Lisón-Tolosana, Carmelo. 1966. Belmonte De Los Caballeros: Anthropology and History in an Aragonese Community. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983 edition.

Looseley, David. 2003. Popular Music in Contemporary France: Authenticity, Politics, Debate. Oxford: Berg.

Marcus, George. 1995. “Ethnography in/of the world system: the emergence of multi-sited ethnography.” Annual Review in Anthropology 24:95-117.

Menotti Gonring, Gabriel. 2009. “Executable Cinema: Demos, Screensavers and Videogames as Audiovisual Formats.” In Re:live: Media Art Histories 2009 Conference Proceedings, edited by Sean Cubitt, and Paul Thomas, 109-13. University of Melbourne & Victorian College of the Arts and Music.

Merriam, Allan, P. 1964. The Anthropology of Music. Illinois: Northwestern University Press

Nettl, Bruno. 2005. The Study of Ethnomusicology: Thirty-one Issues and Concepts. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, second edition.

Orgad, Shani. 2009. “Question Two: How can researchers make sense of the issues involved in collecting and interpreting online and offline data?” In Conversations about Method: Internet Inquiry, edited by Annette Markham, and Nancy Baym. Sage Publications.

Pasdzierny, Matthias. 2012. “Geeks on Stage? Investigations in the World of (Live) Chipmusic.” in Music and Game. Perspectives on a Popular Alliance, edited by Peter Moormann. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Polymeropoulou, Marilou. 2014. Creativity in Networked Digital Music: an Ethnography of Chipmusic and the Chipscene. University of Oxford: Dissertation Manuscript.

Reunanen, Markku, and Antti Silvast. 2009. “Demoscene Platforms: A Case Study on the Adoption of Home Computers.” In History of Nordic Computing 2, edited by John Impagliazzo, Timo Järvi, and Petri Paju, 289-301. Berlin: Springer.

Shifman, Limor. 2013. Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Stevens, Carolyn S. 2008. Japanese Popular Music: Culture, Authenticity and Power. Abingdon: Routledge.

Stokes, Martin (ed.). 1994. Ethnicity, Identity and Music: The Musical Construction of Place. Oxford: Berg Publishers.

Tasajärvi, Lassi (ed.), Bent Stamnes, and Mikael Schustin. 2004. Demoscene: the Art of Real-Time. Helsinki: Even Lake Studios & katastro.fi.

Théberge, Paul. 1997. Any Sound You can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology. New England, Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

Theodossopoulos, Dimitrios. 2013. “Laying Claim to Authenticity: Five Anthropological Dilemmas.” Anthropological Quarterly 86: 337-60

Tomczak, Sebastian. 2011. On the Development of an Interface Framework in Chipmusic: Theoretical Context, Case Studies and Creative Outcomes. Unpublished dissertation. Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide.

Tomczak, Sebastian. 2008. “Authenticity and Emulation: Chiptune in the Early Twenty-First Century.” Conference Paper at the International Computer Music Conference, 24-29 August, 2008.

Toynbee, Jason. 2012. “Music, Culture, and Creativity.” In The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, edited by Richard Middleton, Trevor Herbert, and Martin Clayton. London: Routledge

Turkle, Sherry. 1995. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.

Yabsley, Alex. 2007. The Sound of Playing: A Study into the Music and Culture of Chiptunes’. Unpublished dissertation. Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University

Notes
  1. Chipmusic is a kind of digital music characteristic of 8-bit sounds (see further in the article for a detailed definition). ‘Bit’ is a contraction of ‘binary digit’, and it represents the smallest unit of digital data (see further on 8-bit technology in Collins, 2008). An 8-bit home computer or an 8-bit console (a platform without a keyboard and meant to play video games) is built to process simultaneously eight bits of data. Platforms associated with chipmusic were primarily released worldwide in the 1980s. Some examples include the Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amiga, Famicom (NES), and the Nintendo Game Boy. Although ‘chipmusic’ is a term widely used in academic papers, one will also come across the terms ‘chiptune(s)’, ‘8-bit music’, and ‘micromusic’ that are all used to describe the same digital music category.
  2. The informant referred to the chipscene as ‘the scene’.
  3. I use the term “ideology” as is understood from an ethnomusicological perspective. The term primarily refers to musical ideology. As Nettl outlines, in order to organise the study of musical culture, one needs to extrapolate their research in “fundamental values or ideology” that are shared in a culture, as they provide the research with the opportunity to sensitize to relationships between music, society, culture, concepts, and behaviour (Nettl 2005, 226). In ethnomusicology, ideology refers to a set of values and beliefs that is shared among a musical culture. See also endnote 8 on definition on the anthropology of music.
  4. New Chedds TV advert (Statues) 2011, video, Cathedral Chedds, 30 August, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TruHBpRIAow.
  5. Some of the most notable online communities of chipmusic are micromusic.net, chipmusic.org, noisechannel.org, and μCollective.org. It is also important to mention 8bitcollective.org, which shut down in November 2011, but it was the largest ever documented online community with 33,936 registered members (this number is according to the last registered count in March 2011, but the founder, Jose Torres, told me that there were more than 50,000 registered members by the time 8bc was shut down). Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are some of the social media chipmusicians use to interact on a daily basis.
  6. For discussion of qualitative internet methods see Orgad 2008.
  7. Networks that are internet-enabled, such as online communities, are subject to constant changes, for example, addition of members, enrichment of available material, updates, and so forth. In certain cases, an entire online community can vanish, as happened with 8bitcollective.org, resulting in the loss of all information. However, backups of some 8bc.org-published material are available in the Internet Archive (http://archive.org/web/).
  8. Following Merriam’s argument, “[m]usic is a product of man and has structure, but its structure cannot have an existence of its own divorced from the behaviour which produces it. In order to understand why a music structure exists as it does, we must also understand how and why the behaviour that produces it is as it is, and how and why the concepts that underlie that behaviour are ordered in such a way as to produce the particularly desired form of organised sound” (Merriam 1964, 7).
  9. I consider that meaning is unheard in the same way that anthropologists suggest that meaning is often found in unseen, unspoken, and unheard patterns. For such studies see for example, Grant 2004 and Khoo et al. 2013.
  10. For instance, Nova (2014) describes five generations dating since the beginning of video game music. However, it seems plausible that only the last three generations are directly related to the chipscene.
  11. For the issue of intellectual property theft, see for example the list in http://chipflip.wordpress.com/plagiarism.
  12. Cultural issues of authenticity and inauthenticity are often discussed in anthropology (Theodossopoulos 2013; Fillitz and Saris 2013; Lindholm 2008). In musicological discourse, authenticity is predominantly an engaging topic in the fields of popular music and ethnomusicology, as well as their intersection (for some examples see Stevens 2008; Nettl 2005; Cogan and Cogan 2006; Stokes 1994; Auslander 1998; Frith 1988; Barker and Taylor, 2007; Looseley 2003). More specifically, in anthropology, Demian and Wastell suggest that creativity and authenticity are not so far apart, with creativity being “an inherent process of authentication against the threat of mass production” (Demian and Wastell 2007, 121). This property of authenticity is also found in the ethnographic study of music, particularly in the work of Cogan and Cogan (2006, 70) who see commodification and consumerism as negative elements attached to authenticity. From a different perspective, Stevens (2008) finds that Karaoke consumers in Japan evaluate musicians and music genres on how ‘authentic’ they are; the more authentic a musician or genre is, the better their quality.
  13. Trackers allowed visualisation and playback of music composition in an environment functionally similar to digital audio workstations. As described in the manual of maxYMiser, an Atari-based tracker, “a song is made up from patterns, and a pattern is a sequence of notes and commands”. Notes are coded in letters and octaves (e.g. C-4, C#4) and commands in hexadecimal systems, which use both numbers and letters (e.g. F05, A0F). The notes are represented in a sequencer where music melodies are organised in patterns that run vertically in the same fashion that code is written and read. In contrast, harmonic structures are realised horizontally. Trackers rely on the looping function (Driscoll and Diaz 2009) – a practice well-established in 8-bit music to save computer memory and “often a result of technological constraint” according to Collins (2008, 218). However, looping also serves to create sequences that allow melodies to play indefinitely and arguably, with 16-bit platforms and beyond, it is no longer solely motivated by technological limitations like lacking memory.
  14. The process of learning in several cultures is done by copying – or even more appropriately, by reproducing – actions that are experienced within the particular group. As Hood explains, “[i]n the early phase of training, traditional methods of imitation and role learning are far more rewarding in both time and retention than the usage of notation” (Hood 1960, 56). This is also observed by other ethnomusicologists (see for example Blacking 1967, 33; Cottrell 2007, 87) and anthropologists (Hallam and Ingold 2007, 6). Some anthropologists share the perspective that cultural development is shaped by biologically embedded imitation techniques. In 1976 Richard Dawkins introduced the term ‘meme’, modelled on ‘gene’, to describe small units of culture that spread from person to person by copying or imitation (Shifman 2013). As Graham explains, “[a] meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena” (Graham 2002, 192). Thus, copying the tutor aims at becoming like them in terms of achievement and knowledge.
  15. I do not assert that this is the case, nor I structure my argument upon this basis – rather, I suggest this as a possible interpretation.
  16. Europe in 8 bits campaign on Verkami, http://www.verkami.com/projects/1530-europe-in-8-bits.
  17. A soundchip is an electronic device found in computer platforms which handles sound properties.
  18. Pasdzierny also argues that second generation chipmusicians attempt establish Game Boy as a musical instrument rather than a handheld toy (Pasdzierny 2012, 182).
Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

Four Kilobyte Art

4k intros, algorithmic art, demoscene, programming

Markku Reunanen
markku.reunanen [a] aalto.fi
Lecturer
Aalto University School of Art and Design

First published in Finnish in WiderScreen 2–3/2013 as ”Neljän kilotavun taide”.

Printable PDF Version

The so-called 4k intros are real-time audiovisual presentations that fit in four kilobytes. They have mostly been created by the demoscene, a technically-oriented community that emerged in the mid-1980s. In this article I study the history and cultural importance of 4k intros as a marginal form of digital art.

Introduction

Two to the power of twelve, 4096 bytes, is a tiny amount of data: approximately as much as a row of pixels on a computer screen or a page of text. These days, when applications and media files consume gigabytes of disk space, it might be hard to think that one could fit something meaningful in just four kilobytes, or that there would even be a need for such compression.

4k intros, real-time audiovisual presentations created by the demoscene, a community formed in the mid-1980s, could be called miniatures of the digital age. In this article I discuss them, on the one hand, as cultural-historical artifacts that reflect the changes of the technological landscape and the demo culture itself and, on the other hand, as creative works of art that have let their authors exhibit their wizardry to others. In addition to a historical overview, I will focus on various tools and approaches that have been used to tackle the challenge of four kilobytes. Most of the discussion will revolve around intros created for IBM PC compatible computers due to their popularity, and because they illustrate the development of computing power and the graphical capabilities of mainstream computers starting from the early 1990s in the best way.

By definition, a 4k intro is an executable file that is at most 4096 bytes in length, including all the code, graphics and audio needed. In spite of their minuscule size, the best 4k intros are remarkably advanced, featuring several visual effects and music that sounds larger than its size, combined into a tightly synchronized audiovisual presentation (see Fig. 1). Two essential keywords that define the content are generativity and compression: both the graphics and sound are generated algorithmically and, in addition, the size of the code is optimized with special purpose-built tools.

nucleophile
Figure 1. “Nucleophile” by Portal Process and TCB (2008).

Full-blown demos have grown in size year by year, whereas tiny intros have rather taken an opposite direction. Traditional 40k and 64k intros have been followed by 4k and even smaller categories, such as 1k intros, where all the content must fit in 1024 bytes. Even smaller powers of two are common: at Pouet.net (http://www.pouet.net/), a popular demoscene site, there are also categories for 512, 256, 128, 64, and finally 32 byte intros. These extremely small productions typically feature only one seemingly impossible visual effect that has been painstakingly hand-optimized byte by byte. These clearly defined categories also highlight how important it is for the demoscene to classify its works. (Reunanen 2010, 52–57.)

All in all, computer demos are a marginal research topic and, judging by the existing publications, 4k intros are in the margin of the margin. As an example, the two largest demoscene books, Freax (Polgar 2005) and Kunst, Code und Maschine (Botz 2011) hardly mention the topic at all. In my own licentiate thesis (Reunanen 2010, 52–57) there are a few pages dedicated to size-limited intros, but in general there is little research on the intros. One of the most interesting texts published on the topic is the interview of Sebastian “Minas” Gerlach, published in the SCEEN magazine, where the author of several high-ranking 4k intros describes his working methods (SCEEN #2 2007, 72–75). In addition to Pouet.net, important source material was found in IN4K (http://in4k.northerndragons.ca/), a collection of tools and tips for 4k intro programmers.

My personal connection to 4k intro programming dates back to 2003–2005, when I created three intros with Antti Silvast. The first of them, Yellow Rose of Texas (2003), clearly required the most hours, whereas the following two, Je Regrette (2004) and Make It 4k (2005), were experiments built on the already existing foundation. All three were first released for Linux, after which they were ported to other hardware and software platforms. Some of the ports were made by other enthusiasts in the spirit of open source software. These projects provided me with plenty of hands-on experience on the numerous challenges that limited size poses to audiovisual programming and the tools used.

4k Intros Then and Now

Modest technical features, such as minimal processing power and memory, of the 1960s and 1970s computers severely limited the means available to early computer artists and, therefore, digital art of the time is marked by minimalism. In addition to technical reasons, such minimalism was also a conscious choice: according to new media theorist Lev Manovich, the roots of the esthetic can be traced back to the modernism of the late 19th and early 20th century, which steered all visual arts into a minimalist direction. The first overview of the emerging art form, Computer Graphics – Computer Art, was written by Herbert W. Franke (1971). The pioneering works by artists such as Charles Csuri and John Whitney appear, in spite of their age, somehow familiar when compared to 4k intros; mathematically generated graphics and limited resources produced a similar esthetic 25 years later (cf. Saarikoski 2011).

For today’s tiny intro programmer the size limit is a completely arbitrary rule set by the community, but similar constraints found in early video game consoles and home computers were due to their technical features. In their book Racing the Beam Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost mention familiar figures about the Atari VCS game console: the 6507 CPU could address only eight kilobytes of memory, many games fit in two kilobytes and the maximum size of a standard cartridge was four kilobytes (Montfort & Bogost 2009, 25–26). Just like with tiny intros, we are dealing with powers of two. In addition to their mathematical properties, such numbers are also a way of understanding the complex internal workings of the computer, which leads to repeating them even in contexts where there are few technical reasons for their use.

The demoscene was preceded by a few years by the cracker scene, which was first characterized by so-called crack screens, static images placed in pirated games. Later on, in the mid-1980s, the screens developed into flashy crack intros. An intro, shown before the actual game started, could be described as a business card of the group that had removed the copy protection and distributed the game. Crack intros served multiple social purposes, such as increasing the status of the group, as well as forming and maintaining the social networks of software pirates. (Polgar 2005, 40–70; Reunanen 2010, 22–23.) Limited storage and memory led, again, to a certain minimalism. In addition, cracked games were compressed in order to save precious disk space (Wasiak 2012). Another example of tiny executables is the so-called BBS intros, ads that were circulated in Bulletin Board Systems (Reunanen 2010, 52). Based on this, I argue that size optimization has been at the very core of the demoscene right from the beginning.

According to Pouet.net, the first actual 4k intros were created in the early 1990s. At STNICC, an Atari ST hobbyist meeting held in 1990, there was a 3.5 kilobyte programming competition with a nostalgic title “VIC Times Revisited” (A Commodore VIC-20 reports 3583 bytes of free memory after starting up). Some of the works were games and some intros, which reveals how the practices had not yet settled at that time. One of the participants was British Jeff Minter, better known for his unique llama and camel games. After the STNICC, the category was practically forgotten for a few years before it became part of competitions (compos) held at demo parties.

4k intros turned from a casual curiosity into a relevant competition largely because of Assembly’94, one of the biggest demo parties of the time. Already at the Bush Party of the same year there had been a 4k compo, but Assembly brought intros to the limelight. As was typical of the era, the competitions were split by the platform and, therefore, the category was called “PC 4k”. In the results (Assembly 94 results, pouet.net) there are only eleven intros, but there were other participants whose works did not make it past the jury. Stoned by the German group Dust came out as the winner. The intro features typical demo effects of the time, such as an image rotator, a tunnel and a Mandelbrot fractal, which was often seen in contemporary music videos, too (Fig. 2). The following year the rest of the big parties, The Gathering and The Party, included 4k intros among their competitions, and they became a permanent part of the demoscene canon.

stoned
Figure 2. “Stoned” by Dust (1994).

The ever-changing computer market and technological development affect 4k intros, but with a certain delay, since the demoscene does not adopt new technology instantly without criticism. Reunanen and Silvast (2009) discuss the topic in depth and mention a critical attitude toward mainstream computing and the purported ease brought by new computers as two reasons for the change resistance. Based on the competition results archived at Pouet.net, the gradual decay of the Amiga led to the dominance of MS-DOS based intros at big parties toward the end of the 1990s. Separate Amiga and PC competitions were combined into one. At the same time, 4k intros were adopted by retro computer scenes and started appearing for the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum. There had been plenty of small intros for both even earlier, but not as a clearly-defined category.

One of the most fundamental paradigm shifts in the history of the demoscene is the transition from low-level “hardware banging” to system-friendly programming around the beginning of the millennium, fueled by the popularity of Microsoft Windows that did not allow for direct hardware access anymore. The shift was by no means painless and it required several years of accommodation. One important factor was the rise of affordable 3D accelerator cards, since their interesting features could only be used through the programming interfaces provided by new operating systems. (Reunanen 2010, 92–96.) Likewise, other services, such as audio APIs (Application Programming Interface), changed the essence of tiny intros dramatically, as there was no longer a need to program everything from scratch if a suitable component was already offered by the system.

As of this writing, in 2013, 4k intros are still relevant for the demoscene. According to the statistics gathered from Pouet.net by Bent Stamnes (2013), approximately a hundred new intros are released every year, and so it seems that they will not disappear anytime soon. The audiovisual quality of 4k intros has climbed so high – “4k is the new 64k” – that the focus seems to be shifting towards the next, even more challenging category, 1k intros, that have not yet been explored in the same depth. For example, at Assembly 2012 there were significantly more works in the 1k competition than in the 4k (Assembly 2012 results, pouet.net). In addition to the joy of discovery, it seems likely that the workload involved in the creation of a full-scale 4k intro has become discouraging for authors. Another recent competition category, “procedural graphics”, where the aim is to generate an impressive static image in little space, can be seen as another example of the demoscene going back to its roots.

Tiny Effects

It is practically impossible to include media files, such as digital video, sound clips, pre-made 3D models or even static images, in four kilobytes, and so the typical working methods of the new media field do not suit this context. The most important means of creating impressive visual effects is to generate them instead: objects, patterns and movement can be created with the creative use of mathematical functions, random numbers and fractals. In the heart of this kind of process is the programmer, whose creativity and skill mostly dictate the quality of the outcome.

When creating the aforementioned 4k intros, we quickly discovered another strategy that was refined already when some of the effects were used for visualizing music at concerts and clubs a few years earlier. The strategy was parametrization. In the context of concert visuals parametrization refers to altering the same content progressively so that it is possible to prolong the performance without additional material. Likewise, in the case of 4k intros precious data and code can be reused in multiple ways to provide the viewer an illusion of multiple effects. Typical means for parametrization are, for example, changing the color palette, mirroring the graphics, modifying and copying 3D objects using mathematical formulas, changing the camera angle and filtering the output in various ways. In other words, the content is not hard coded, but its parameters are left open and modified during the execution of the program.

Computational generation of graphics produces a distinctive, recognizable esthetic that is marked by abstraction: organic figures, such as lifelike human models, are tedious to generate. Thus, it is not surprising that most 4k intros do not even aim at replicating real-world objects, but are rather based on abstract forms instead. As a counterexample we could consider the numerous 3D landscapes that may appear very convincing at their best. Other real-world objects and phenomena that lend themselves to algorithmic generation are, for example, regular plants (Prusinkiewicz & Lindenmayer 1990), waves, clouds, buildings and mechanical machines, which have all appeared in both tiny intros and procedural graphics.

In the history of computer graphics there are numerous examples of similar approaches to creating photorealistic images, especially since the 1980s (see Goodman 1987, 102–164; Foley et al. 1996, color plates 12–41). Karl Sims’ animations, such as Particle Dreams (1988) and Panspermia (1990) are based on algorithmically generated imagery, and their at least indirect effect on demos is easy to notice. Another well-known case of algorithmic art is the works by Laurent Mignonneau and Christa Sommerer, who have brought art and technology together since the early 1990s. The typical division of labor between a programmer and an artist is alien to Mignonneau, Sommerer and the demoscene: the role of code is not hidden, but it is considered as an experimental and creative tool on its own (cf. Mignonneau & Sommerer 2006)

Currently, the most popular 4k intro at Pouet.net is Elevated, released in 2009 by TBC and rgba. The intro serves as a good example of the algorithmic generation and parametrization of real-time visuals. A virtual camera pans in a believable snowy landscape shown from multiple angles (Fig. 3). There is water in the valleys, clouds in the sky, mist in the air and the sun reflects from the surfaces – all typical means of increasing realism in computer-generated imagery, but this time implemented in a minimal amount of bytes. Music plays in the background and supports the illusion with its echo and wind sounds. Iñigo “iq” Quiles, the other programmer of Elevated, discussed the technology and production process of the intro in his presentation at the Function demo event in 2009 (Quilez 2009).

elevated
Figure 3. “Elevated” by TBC and rgb (2009).

The development of mainstream hardware and software has undeniably affected the amount and types of content that can be included in 4k intros. Traditional MS-DOS and Amiga intros had to be self-contained, whereas modern PC operating systems are bundled with multiple useful components, such as libraries, fonts and compression software, which take some load off the programmer. As an example, in the case of 3D graphics the difference is radical: back in the day, everything had to be created from scratch, whereas these days equal or better functionality is available through standard API calls. The use of external components has transformed 4k intros and, at times, led to bitter arguments between the traditional do-it-yourself ethic and pushing the genre’s limits (Some thoughts on 4k competition rules, pouet.net).

Tiny Audio

Most 4k intros were silent until the end of the 1990s and, thus, rather ascetic compared to other demos; the tightly-knit interplay between visuals and audio is the main point of many productions. Still in the Assembly’98 competition rules (Assembly’98 Official Invitation Text, ftp.scene.org) the controversial situation was justified as follows:

NO MUSIC or other sound is allowed (this is because this a coders’ competition, not musicians’)

Behind this arbitrary constraint was apparently the idea that programmers, musicians and graphic artists should each have one dedicated individual competition, as full-blown demos are usually created by teams. After 2000 music finally started becoming an integral part of 4k intros, which increased the already high requirements of the category even further: in addition to visual effects you had to fit in a tune and a sound player routine.

Creating music in tight space heavily depends on the underlying software and hardware platform. Home computers of the early 1980s typically contained a sound chip with a few channels and different waveforms that would produce recognizable, characteristic sound. In the case of the Commodore Amiga and modern PC compatible computers, sound consists of digital samples, meaning that the waveforms have to be somehow generated first. Anders Carlsson (2010) deals with different sound chips from a composer point-of-view in his MA thesis. Here I will focus especially on software sound synthesis, even though it is not the only option: some 4k intros have utilized the speech synthesizer or MIDI playback provided by the operating system which, however, often leads to space-efficient but easily recognizable and plain sound.

My own approach in 2003 was also software sound synthesis. Syna, a minimal synth written in assembly language, took 1.5 kilobytes with a tune after compression, which was borderline acceptable, since plenty of other content had to be fit in as well. At its core Syna features four typical waveforms (square, saw, sine and noise) that can be played back at different frequencies, which is enough for simple beeps. The timbre is augmented by using envelopes that mimic real instrument behavior and a low-pass filter that smoothens the sound (cf. Tolonen et al. 1998). The music produced using these means still appears somewhat flat, so the output is fed to a delay loop echo that creates an illusion of space.

From a musician’s point of view, using Syna requires technical skill, patience and careful planning, since the composing is done by typing notes to a text file. Having said that, the modest feature set encourages creative problem-solving to overcome the limitations, as demonstrated by musicians that have created music with Syna. For example, adding distortion by increasing the volume or recycling the same melody with different instruments were not features that I had consciously implemented, but which emerged from real use and its needs instead.

As of now, the most popular tool used for 4k music creation is 4klang that was developed by the demogroup Alcatraz. Compared to Syna, it features multiple technical improvements, such as waveforms that can be modified and filtered more freely. One of the fundamental principles of 4klang is that simple building blocks, such as oscillators and filters, can be combined into complex instruments – a similar approach is used in a number of other so-called modular synthesizers. Instead of relying on a monolithic codebase that might contain unneeded features, 4klang outputs a playback routine that is optimized for the tune at hand and can be directly used by a programmer in an intro. Musicians’ workload has been reduced by creating a VSTi plug-in (Fig. 4) that can be used together with practically any common sequencer software. (Zine #14, 2010.)

4klang
Figure 4. The graphical user interface of 4klang.

The gradual improvement of tools and increasing standards have led to a situation where the best 4k intro tunes sound – as they should – rather massive in spite of their minuscule size of one or two kilobytes. In addition, visual effects and music are tightly coupled in order to create a carefully crafted show for the viewers. The algorithmic generation of instruments and limited space together restrict the realistically possible music genres to different types of repetitive electronic music that tend to be popular in full-scale demos, too. At times there is no music at all, but an ambient soundscape that supports the spatial illusion created by visual means.

Space Optimization Tools

In addition to their audiovisual content, 4k intros have their purely technical side, which needs to be understood when dealing with limited space. The correct use of tools, such as compilers and compression software, saves precious bytes for the actual content and reduces the programmer’s workload. Tools and approaches have improved gradually over time; the discoveries made by one programmer have been followed by others, and at the moment the workflow of creating 4k intros is already highly streamlined with its special methods and utilities. Ready-made examples help newcomers to get started by offering a platform on which own experiments can be built.

The executable files of the early 1980s home computers were simple: for example, a COM type program used in MS-DOS contains pure code with no extra headers, which has ensured its continuous popularity in the smallest intro categories. The primitive COM format dates back to the 1970s, when it was used in the CP/M operating system (see Digital Research 1983). In contrast, modern-day executables are considerably more complex and include various headers that, from an intro programmer’s point of view, can be considered as unnecessary overhead. One way of bumming bytes is, therefore, reducing the headers to a minimum. A Whirlwind Tutorial on Creating Really Teensy ELF Executables for Linux (http://www.muppetlabs.com/~breadbox/software/tiny/teensy.html) by Brian Raiter is an illustrative example of not just saving space, but also the effort that enthusiasts invest in their hobby.

My personal experience with system and code level optimization dates back to 2003, when Linux 4k intros were still in their infancy, much like their Windows counterparts. The beginning of the millennium was a transitional period, when intros had just started appearing on modern PC operating systems, as opposed to the traditional MS-DOS. A significant portion of the effort involved in the creation of Yellow Rose of Texas went to pure engineering, such as fine-tuning of compiler parameters, optimizing external library use, and finding suitable methods for code compression. With the two other intros the platform and workflow were already there, so we could mainly focus on the actual content production.

Perhaps the most mystic and hardest to control factor in byte bumming is dealing with compressed code. 4k and 1k intros typically consist of a small stub followed by compressed executable code that is decompressed and run by the stub. Thus, the original uncompressed program can be considerably larger than four kilobytes – for instance, in the case of Yellow Rose, 7632 bytes. Already the earliest intros created for the MS-DOS utilized PKLITE that can easily be recognized by looking at the beginning of the file. Because of its mathematical nature, the gains obtained by compression are hard to predict and the effect of small changes in the program code affect the size in an almost random manner: changing an individual number or even removing code lines, which would seem like a natural thing to do, may increase the size of the end result. In practice even small differences start to matter when approaching the hard limit of 4096 bytes.

The IN4K website (http://in4k.northerndragons.ca/) is a collection of tips and tools suitable for 4k intro programming. Crinkler, originally created in 2005 by Rune L.H. Stubbe and Aske Simon Christensen for Windows, serves here as an example of an advanced tool created for the needs of tiny intros. In addition to compression, Crinkler optimizes intros in multiple other ways, such as by loading the necessary libraries in a space-efficient manner. (The Crinkler executable file compressor, http://www.crinkler.net/.) The version history of the utility also reveals how system-dependent extreme size optimization is: new operating system versions and updates may render current methods useless, which results in unwelcome incompatibility when trying to view old productions.

Conclusion

The study of 4k intros brought up phenomena that are also relevant outside the demoscene. Tiny intros are an example of how early technical limitations have over time turned into a practice and tradition, which is only relevant to the community itself. There is no practical reason to limit executable files to four kilobytes on modern computers – the size counts because of the rules created and maintained by the community. The demo culture is strongly marked by the appreciation of technical skill and creativity, and to fit an impressive production in a few bytes requires both.

The demoscene creates tools, such as Crinkler or 4klang, for its own purposes in the do-it-yourself spirit. Painstakingly crafted utilities are often released for free, so that other members of the community may benefit from them. At the same time, the creation of advanced tools is one more opportunity to show one’s skills, and such development has taken the genre forward by allowing for more content in the same space. Another community-oriented trait is the publication of example programs that help others to get started. All in all, we may observe how the development at large has led to the automation of several trivial or tiresome steps, letting the programmer focus on what counts, namely the creative problem-solving tasks involved with audiovisual content production.

The two-decade history of 4k intros mirrors the evolution of computer hardware, software, and the practices of the community during the same period. In the historical perspective, new operating systems and hardware platforms have been adopted relatively slowly, often with considerable criticism. Especially in the case of old iconic platforms, demosceners have tried to “push them to the limit” and, on the other hand, have not been willing to lose the social capital they have gained – skills and a familiar community. Large demo events, in particular the Finnish Assembly, have had an active role in the construction of practices through their competition rules: which computers and operating systems are allowed, what kind of content is allowed and how a 4k intro is defined in the first place.

In the big picture, tiny intro programming can be compared to other art forms, such as miniature paintings, haiku poems, limericks or ships in a bottle. Their strict rules, which may at first appear arbitrary, require similar problem-solving and focus on the essential – wizardry and creativity often spring from limitations, rather than from a complete freedom of expressive means.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Kone Foundation for supporting the Kotitietokoneiden aika ja teknologisen harrastuskulttuurin perintö (Home Computer Era and the Heritage of Technological Hobbyist Culture) project, and Yrjö Fager, Anna Haverinen, Petri Isomäki, Antti Silvast and Mikko Heinonen for their comments.

References

All online sources checked on March 3, 2013.

Magazines

SCEEN #2, 2007.

Zine #14, 2012, disk magazine.

Web Pages

“Assembly 94 results.” http://www.pouet.net/results.php?which=7&when=94.

“Assembly’98 Official Invitation Text.” July 20 1998. ftp://ftp.scene.org/pub/parties/1998/assembly98/info/asm98inv.txt.

“Assembly 2012 results.” http://www.pouet.net/results.php?which=7&when=12.

“Main Page – IN4K.” http://in4k.northerndragons.ca/.

“Pouet.net :: your online demoscene resource.” http://www.pouet.net/.

Quilez, Iñigo. 2000. “Behind Elevated.” http://www.iquilezles.org/www/material/function2009/function2009.pdf.

Raiter, Brian. “A Whirlwind Tutorial on Creating Really Teensy ELF Executables for Linux.” http://www.muppetlabs.com/~breadbox/software/tiny/teensy.html.

“Some thoughts on 4k competition rules.” http://www.pouet.net/topic.php?which=9093.

Stamnes, Bent. 2013. “(NEW) State of the demoscene: 2012.” http://blog.subsquare.com/state-of-the-demoscene-1991-2012-new.

“The Crinkler executable file compressor.” http://www.crinkler.net/.

Literature

Botz, Daniel. 2011. Kunst, Code und Maschine – Die Ästhetik der Computer-Demoszene (Art, Code and Machine – The Aesthetics of the Computer Demoscene). Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Carlsson, Anders. 2010. Power Users and Retro Puppets. A Critical Study of the Methods and Motivations in Chipmusic. MA thesis. Lund: University of Lund.

Digital Research. 1983. CP/M Operating System Manual. Pacific Grove: Digital Research. 3rd edition.

Foley, James D., Andries van Dam, Steven K. Feiner, John F. Hughes, and Richard L. Phillips. 1996/1990. Introduction to Computer Graphics. Reading (Mass.): Addison-Wesley.

Franke, Herbert W. 1971. Computer Graphics – Computer Art. London: Phaidon Press.

Goodman, Cynthia. 1987. Digital Visions. Computers and Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Manovich, Lev. 2007. “Abstraction and Complexity.” In Media Art Histories, edited by Oliver Grau, 339–354. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.

Mignonneau, Laurent & Christa Sommerer. 2006. “From the Poesy of Programming to Research as Art Form.” In Aesthetic Computing, edited by Paul A. Fishwick, 169–183. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.

Montfort, Nick, and Ian Bogost. 2009. Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.

Polgar, Tamas. 2005. Freax. The Brief History of the Demoscene. Volume 1. Winnenden: CSW Verlag.

Prusinkiewicz, Przemyslaw, and Aristid Lindenmayer. 1990. The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants. Berlin: Springer.

Reunanen, Markku, and Antti Silvast. 2009. “Demoscene Platforms: A Case Study on the Adoption of Home Computers.” In History of Nordic Computing 2, edited by John Impagliazzo, Timo Järvi, and Petri Paju, 289–301. Berlin: Springer.

Reunanen, Markku. 2010. Computer Demos – What Makes Them Tick? Licentiate thesis. Espoo: Aalto University.

Saarikoski, Petri. 2011. “Kasarisukupolven teknoanimaation perintö (Heritage of the Eighties’ Techno Animation).” WiderScreen 1–2/2011. http://www.widerscreen.fi/2011-1-2/kasarisukupolven-teknoanimaation-perinto/.

Tolonen, Tero, Vesa Välimäki, and Matti Karjalainen. 1998. Evaluation of Modern Sound Synthesis Methods. Report 8. Espoo: Helsinki University of Technology.

Wasiak, Patryk (2012). “‘Illegal Guys’. A History of Digital Subcultures in Europe during the 1980s.” Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History 9/2012. http://www.zeithistorische-forschungen.de/site/40209282/default.aspx.

Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

Käsittämättömät koodirivit musiikkina: bytebeat ja demoskenen tekninen kokeellisuus

algoritminen taide, bytebeat, demoscene, hakkerikulttuuri, ohjelmointi, tietokonemusiikki, tilaoptimointi

Ville-Matias Heikkilä
viznut [a] low.fi
Päätoimittaja
Skrolli-lehti

Tulostettava PDF-versio

Bytebeat on tietokonemusiikin ja kokeellisen ohjelmoinnin muoto, jossa musiikkikappale toteutetaan muutamien kymmenien merkkien pituisena ohjelmointikielen lausekkeena. Artikkeli tarkastelee bytebeat-ilmiön vaiheita ja pyrkii luomaan sen kautta näkökulmaa siihen, kuinka tekninen kokeellisuus toimii demokulttuurissa.

Johdanto

Kaiken digitaalisen kulttuurin pohjalla ovat tietojenkäsittelyn alkeiselementit: bitit ja niillä operoivat konekäskyt. Valtavirran digikulttuurissa tämä taso hautautuu korkeampien abstraktioiden alle, mutta muutamissa marginaaleissa se on edelleen näkyvissä.

Demoskenestä löytyy monia sopukoita, jotka keskittyvät bittitason alkeiselementtien nypläämiseen. Pikseligrafiikka sommitellaan yksittäisistä pikseleistä etenkin rajoittuneemmilla alustoilla. Äärimmäisimmät demoteokset puolestaan kootaan yksittäisistä konekäskyistä – etenkin kategorioissa, joissa tilaa tai prosessoritehoa on tarjolla hyvin niukasti. Tällaisia luovan toiminnan muotoja ei voi ymmärtää kunnolla, jos alkeiselementteihin pureutuva tekeminen sivuutetaan.

Tässä artikkelissa keskitytään bytebeatiksi nimettyyn tietokonemusiikin muotoon, joka sai alkunsa demoskenen piirissä syksyllä 2011. Voimakas innostusvaihe kesti vain noin kuukauden, mutta tänä aikana se ehti käydä läpi monia demoskenen teoskategorioille ominaisia kehitysvaiheita. Näin sitä voi käyttää eräänlaisena laboratorioesimerkkinä siitä, kuinka tekninen kokeellisuus ilmenee demoskenessä. Koska idea sai aikaan aktiivista toimintaa myös demoskenen ulkopuolella, voi ilmiötä tutkimalla tuoda esiin demoskenen ja muun tietokonekulttuurin yhtäläisyyksiä ja eroavaisuuksia.

Artikkeli keskittyy ilmiön kulttuuristen kehitysvaiheiden läpikäyntiin, joten tekniikan esittelyssä keskitytään vain välttämättömään. Ilmiö esitellään yleisesti ja taustoitetaan sekä yleisemmän hakkerikulttuurin että demoskenen kautta. Tämän jälkeen sen vaiheet käydään läpi jotakuinkin kronologisesti etenkin aiheeseen liittyvää Pouet.net-sivuston keskusteluketjua seuraten. Tämän jälkeen kehityskulusta tehdään johtopäätöksia ja peilataan sitä toiseen demoskenen teoskategoriaan, VIC-20-demoihin.

Olen itse yksi Bytebeat-ilmiön alullepanijoista, ja olin aktiivisesti mukana tärkeimmässä kokeiluvaiheessa. Kirjoitin aiheesta vuonna 2011 myös kaksi tekniikkaan ja teoriaan keskittyvää blogikirjoitusta (Heikkilä 2011a, 2011b) ja akateemisemmin muotoillun artikkelin (Heikkilä 2011c). Tämä on tietääkseni ensimmäinen kirjoitus, joka keskittyy ilmiön kulttuurillis-sosiaaliseen puoleen.


Video 1. Music from very short programs – the 3rd iteration.

Tekninen esittely

Bytebeat sai alkunsa halusta tutkia, kuinka vähillä laskentaoperaatioilla on mahdollista tuottaa musiikilta kuulostavaa ääntä. Ensimmäiset kokeilut olivat C-kielisiä ohjelmia, jotka noudattavat seuraavaa muotoa:

main(t){for(;;t++)putchar(LAUSEKE);}

Tällainen ohjelma on ikuinen silmukka, joka laskee siihen sisältyvää lauseketta peräkkäisillä muuttujan t arvoilla alkaen yleensä arvosta 1.[1]

Lausekkeen voi ajatella matemaattisena kaavana, joka kuvaa äänisignaalin ajan funktiona. Funktion arvot tulostetaan merkkeinä standardiulostuloon. Tämä tuloste on uudelleenohjattava käsittelijälle, joka vuorostaan tulkitsee merkit PCM-muotoiseksi äänidataksi. Alkuvaiheessa käytettiin käsittelijänä Linuxin laitetiedostoja /dev/audio ja /dev/dsp, jotka käyttävät oletusarvoisesti tarkkuudeltaan 8-bittisiä näytteitä 8 000 hertsin näytteenottotaajuudella.

Mielenkiintoisia bytebeat-lausekkeita on koottu kolmeen Youtube-videoon, jotka ovat ehkä helpoin tapa saada yleiskäsitys bytebeat-musiikista (Youtube 2011a, 2011b, 2011c). Bytebeatilla on esteettisiä yhtymäkohtia chip-musiikkiin (ks. Marilou Polymeropouloun artikkeli tässä erikoisnumerossa), suositaanhan molemmissa esimerkiksi kantti- ja sahalaita-aaltoja, jotka ovat toteutettavissa hyvin yksinkertaisilla digitaalilogiikan rakenteilla.

Yksinkertaisin jotain ääntä tuottava lauseke on t, jota käyttävä ohjelma tulostaa peräkkäiset t:n arvot suoraan: 1, 2, 3, … Sarja ei kuitenkaan kasva loputtomiin, sillä putchar() käyttää saamastaan arvosta yleensä vain alimmat kahdeksan bittiä (eli 256:lla jakamisen jakojäännöksen). Tähän 8 bitin osuuteen eli tavuun viittaa myös bytebeat-sanan etuliite byte. Merkin 255 jälkeen tulostuu siis merkki 0 ja sarja alkaa alusta, joten ohjelma tuottaa tasaista sahalaita-aaltoa, jonka aallonpituus on 256 näytettä. Jos lauseke on esimerkiksi t*2, lyhenee aallonpituus 128 näytteeseen, eli sävelkorkeus nousee oktaavilla.

Lausekkeet rakennetaan C-kielen alkeisoperaatioista sekä lukuvakioista ja merkkijonoviittauksista. Laskujärjestystä voi muuttaa sulkumerkeillä. Suurinta osaa kielen ohjaus- ja tietorakenteista ei kuitenkaan voi käyttää – tämä on ehkä merkittävin bytebeatin rajoite.

Toinen tärkeä muotoa-antava bytebeatin piirre rakenteellisen rajoitteen ohella on bittitason operaatioiden runsas käyttö, joka on hyvin epätyypillistä perinteisessä ääniohjelmoinnissa (vrt. esim. Tolonen ym. 1998). Bytebeatin teknistä teoriaa rakentaessani en onnistunut löytämään ainuttakaan aiempaa esimerkkiä bytebeatille ominaisesta tavasta moduloida aaltomuotoja bittioperaatioilla. SuperCollider-musiikkiohjelmointikielikin lisäsi valikoimaansa bittioperaatiot vasta maaliskuussa 2012, uutissivunsa (SuperCollider 2012) koodiesimerkistä päätellen juuri bytebeatin innoittamana.

Bytebeatissa käyttökelpoisia alkeisoperaatioita ovat:

  • Tavallinen kouluaritmetiikka eli yhteen-, vähennys-, kerto- ja jakolasku sekä jakojäännös:
    + – * / %

  • Bitittäiset perusoperaatiot AND, OR, XOR ja NOT sekä bittisiirrot oikealle ja vasemmalle:
    & | ^ ~ << >>

  • Ehdollisen suorituksen mahdollistava ternäärioperaattori:
    ? :

  • Vertailuoperaattorit:
    < <= > >= == !=

Bytebeat-lausekkeita kokeiltiin alkuvaiheessa hyvinkin sattumanvaraisesti, ja teoria niiden toimintaperiaatteista kehittyi vasta jälkeenpäin. Tästäkään syystä ei ole kovin mielekästä käsitellä tekniikkaa tämän syvemmin. Tekniikkaan paneudutaan tarkemmin vuonna 2011 kirjoittamissani artikkeleissa (Heikkilä 2011b, 2011c).

Bytebeat laajeni melko pian alkuperäisestä C-kontekstistaan myös muihin kieliin, kun nettiin ilmestyi lausekkeiden kokeilemiseen tarkoitettu sivu. Toteutuksessa käytetyn JavaScriptin lausekesyntaksi ja laskentalogiikka eroavat jonkin verran C:stä, ja melko pian alkoikin ilmestyä lausekkeita, jotka toimivat oikein vain JavaScriptillä. Bytebeat-idea on poikinut myös sovelluksia, jotka käyttävät C-tyylisten lausekkeiden sijaan Forth-tyylistä pinosyntaksia. Tässä artikkelissa bytebeat rajataan kuitenkin käsittämään vain C-tyyliset lausekkeet, jotka tuottavat ääntä joko Javascript-sivulla ajettuna tai edellä annetussa C-rungossa.

Seuraavassa vielä näytteen vuoksi muutama erilainen bytebeat-lauseke, joihin ei tässä paneuduta sen syvemmin. Neljä ensimmäistä toimii sekä C-kielisenä että Javascriptinä, viimeinen vain Javascriptinä.

  • t&t>>8

  • (t*5&t>>7)|(t*3&t>>10)

  • (t&t%255)-(t*3&t>>13&t>>6)

  • (t/8)>>(t>>9)*t/((t>>14&3)+4)

  • (3e3/(y=t&16383)&1)*35 +(x=t*”6689″[t>>16&3]/24&127)*y/4e4 +((t>>8^t>>10|t>>14|x)&63)

Lyhyen ohjelmakoodin magia

Jo ennen mikroprosessoriaikaa laadittiin hyvin lyhyitä tietokoneohjelmia, hackeja, jotka tekevät kokoonsa nähden hämmästyttäviä asioita. Muutamia näistä on kirjattu HAKMEMiin eli MIT:n tekoälylaboratorion muistioon 239 (Beeler ym. 1972). Joukossa on mm. grafiikkaohjelmia eli display hackeja ja kaksi ääniohjelmaa (mt, kohdat 145 ja 168). Ääniohjelmat tuottavat melko lyhyitä, toistuvia äänisarjoja, jotka muuttuvat koneen ohjauspaneelin bittikytkinten mukaan. Niiden sovittaminen C-kielelle paljastaa, etteivät ne muodosta muita kun mikrotason musiikillisia rakenteita, mutta teknisesti niitä voisi silti pitää bytebeatin varhaisena esimuotona.

Hakkeriperinnettä dokumentoiva Jargon File (Raymond 1996, 2004) selittää hackeihin kohdistuvaa kiinnostusta käsitteellä hack value. Hakkerit arvostavat ohjelmissa hack valueta ja pyrkivät synnyttämään sitä omiin tuotoksiinsa. Vaikka käsitteen sanotaankin olevan enemmän kokemusperäinen kuin tiukasti määriteltävä, display hackien tapauksessa siihen vaikuttavat tekijät annetaan hyvinkin tarkasti:

The hack value of a display hack is proportional to the esthetic value of the images times the cleverness of the algorithm divided by the size of the code (Raymond 1996, 154).

Korkein hack value on siis ohjelmilla, jotka nerokkaan algoritmiikkansa avulla tuottavat eniten kauneutta lyhimmällä koodilla. Tähän ideaaliin sopivat demoskenen piirissä etenkin tiukkaan kokorajaan ahdetut teokset. Myös bytebeat-ohjelmissa pyritään samantapaiseen ihanteeseen: niissäkin tärkeitä tekijöitä ovat ohjelman tiiviys, sen tuottaman äänen estetiikka ja uusien teknisten temppujen löytäminen.

Demoskenessä ei juuri käytetä hack value -käsitettä – sanaparin haku Pouet.netistä tuottaa tätä kirjoitettaessa vain kaksi osumaa. Alakulttuurin pyrkimys aina vain näyttävämpiin ja kekseliäämpiin teoksiin aina vain pienemmissä kokokategorioissa osoittaa kuitenkin samankaltaisen ihanteen olemassaolon. Lisäksi display hackit on tunnustettu demojen esimuodoksi niin demoskenen kuin alkuperäisen hakkerikulttuurinkin piirissä.[2] 

Hackit ovat usein vaikeaselkoisia – kokeneenkin ohjelmoijan voi olla vaikea ymmärtää niiden toimintaperiaatteita. Tämä voi kuitenkin olla jopa toivottava piirre hack valuen kannalta. Käsite magic viittaa Jargon Filessä vaikeastiselitettävyyteen – äärimmäisessä tapauksessa jopa siihen, ettei ohjelman toimintaa ymmärrä kukaan (black magic) (Raymond 1996, 72). Samalla magic kuitenkin määritellään kaiken insinöörityön ja kehityksen korkeimmaksi päämääräksi viitaten Arthur C. Clarken kolmanteen lakiin (Clarke 1973, 21): ”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Käsittämätön koodi kutkuttaa hakkerien mielikuvitusta ja antaa vaikutelman tekniikan äärirajojen puskemisesta. Vuodesta 1984 järjestetty International Obfuscated C Code Contest kannustaa vaikeaselkoisen ohjelmakoodin kirjoittamiseen itsetarkoituksellisesti.

Bytebeateihin on alusta asti viitattu yhden rivin ohjelmina, onelinereina. Näiden ohjelmien kulttuurihistoriaa valottaa Nick Montfortin ja tämän kollegoiden kirja 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, jonka nimi on itsessään Commodore 64:llä toimiva yhden rivin grafiikkaohjelma. Hyvin lyhyet ohjelmat kiehtoivat jo 1960-luvulla APL-ohjelmointikielen ohjelmoijia, ja myöhemmin suosittuja toteutuskieliä ovat olleet mm. BASIC ja Perl. Yhden rivin ohjelmat on myös nähty taianomaisina: esimerkiksi Commodoren koneisiin erikoistunut RUN-lehti julkaisi onelinerinsä Magic-nimisellä palstalla. (Montfort ym. 2012, 148-152.)

Hyvin lyhyitä musiikkiohjelmia on julkaistu ennen bytebeat-ilmiötä esimerkiksi The Wire -musiikkilehden SuperCollider 140 -kokoelmassa vuonna 2009. Kukin kokoelman 22 kappaleesta tuotetaan Twitter-mittaisella eli enintään 140-merkkisellä SuperCollider-ohjelmalla. SuperCollider on erityisesti musiikkiohjelmointiin tarkoitettu kieli, jossa on runsaasti nimenomaan äänen ja musiikin käsittelyyn tarkoitettuja ominaisuuksia. Kokoelman ohjelmat käyttävät näitä ominaisuuksia laajasti hyväkseen, joten ne ovat bytebeatmaisesta kokoluokastaan huolimatta tekniseltä perustaltaan varsin erilaisia.

Miniatyyrimusiikkiohjelmointi demoskenessä

Demoskenessä bytebeat kytkeytyy etenkin pienimpiin teoksiin, joita Markku Reunanen käsittelee artikkelissaan Neljän kilotavun taide. Neljän kilotavun introt olivat alkuvuosinaan yleensä äänettömiä, mutta musiikki yleistyi niissä vuosituhannen vaihteessa. Nykyisten PC-alustojen 4k-introjen musiikki tuotetaan yleensä teoksiin integroiduilla ohjelmallisilla syntetisaattoreilla eli niin kutsutuilla softasynilla. (Reunanen 2013.)

Reunanen tuo esiin demoskenessä vallitsevan paineen siirtyä aina vain tiukempiin kokoluokkiin: esimerkiksi 4k-sarjan vaativuuden kasvaessa ovat yhden kilotavun teokset nostaneet päätään niiden rinnalla. Tämän kehityksen myötä aina vain pienempiin teoksiin halutaan myös musiikkia, ja musiikin toteuttamiseen on löydettävä uudenlaisia menetelmiä. Neljän kilotavun kokoluokassa käytetään yleensä melko perinteiseen tapaan rakennettuja soittorutiineja, joissa esimerkiksi synteesi, ohjauslogiikka ja nuottidata ovat selkeästi erillisiä moduuleja. Reunasen esittelemät 4klang ja Syna on toteutettu näin. Perinteinen rakenne muuttuu kuitenkin haastavaksi kokoluokkien pienentyessä – tilaa kovin moniosaiselle kokonaisuudelle ei yksinkertaisesti enää ole.

Bytebeat haastaa vallitsevat käsitykset siitä, kuinka soittorutiini on rakennettava: jo muutaman alkeisoperaation yhdistelmä pystyy hoitamaan kaikki tarvittavat osa-alueet ainakin hyvin karkealla tavalla. Tämä tekee siitä demoskenen kannalta mielenkiintoisen paitsi itsenäisenä kategorianaan, myös uusien tekniikoiden etsimisvälineenä.

Umpimähkäiset ensikokeilut

Bytebeat sai alkunsa PWP-demoryhmän IRC-kanavalla 18. päivä syyskuuta 2011, kun keskusteluun osallistuneet kokeilivat yksinkertaisten C-ohjelmien tuottamia ääniä. Alkuperäisenä innoittajana kokeilulle toimi toukokuussa 2011 julkaistu 23 tavun mittainen Commodore 64 -teos, Ate bit -demoryhmän 4mat-nimimerkin Wallflower, joka tuottaa yllättävän monimuotoisen audiovisuaalisen rakenteen muutamalla peruskonekäskyllä. (Heikkilä 2011a.)

Kokeilun tuloksena syntyneet ohjelmat lähtivät leviämään eri verkkopalveluihin (Twitter, IRC, Google Plus), jossa ne herättivät kiinnostusta. Ohjelmista koostettu video Experimental music from very short C programs ladattiin Youtubeen 26. päivänä (Youtube 2011a). Seuraavana päivänä Pouet.net-demoskenesivustolle ilmestyi uusi keskusteluketju, jonka otsikko oli sama kuin videolla (Pouet 2011).

Keskusteluketjun alussa keskitytään etsimään videon esittämille lyhyille musiikkiohjelmille demoskenerelevanssia. Ketjun aloittanut nimimerkki elfan ehdottaa näille omaa musiikkiohjelmakilpailuaan (executable music compo), jossa esimerkiksi lähdekoodin merkkimäärää olisi rajoitettu. Vaihtoehtoisena ideana esitetään perinteisempää, ajettavan tiedoston 256 tavun kokorajaan perustuvaa kilpailua, jollainen on järjestetty aiemmin ainakin Commodore 64:lle.

Ensimmäisenä päivänä vain muutama kokeilee tekniikkaa: ketjuun ilmestyy yksi uusi C-kielinen ohjelma, ja eräs videon ohjelmista ehditään sovittaa Atari 2600 -pelikonsolille. Monille kynnys ajaa ja muunnella ohjelmia itse on turhan korkea, sillä esimerkiksi Windows-käyttöjärjestelmä vaatii erilaista lähestymistapaa. Pioneerivaihe jää kuitenkin hyvin lyhyeksi, sillä jo 28.9. ketjussa julkaistaan linkki sivulle, joka mahdollistaa lausekkeiden kokeilun www-selaimessa.

Tämän käännekohdan jälkeen huomattava osa ketjun viesteistä on bytebeat-lausekkeita ja kommentteja niihin. Monet selvästikin kirjoittavat lausekkeita suhteellisen umpimähkäisesti – muutamat jopa toteavat, etteivät ymmärrä lainkaan mitä tekevät. Tätä käsitystä vahvistavat monissa lausekkeissa esiintyvät tekniset järjettömyydet kuten nollan tai yli sadan pituiset bittisiirrot. Myös lausekkeiden kokeiluavaruus laajenee: ensimmäisessä videossa esiintyvät lausekkeet lähinnä varioivat samaa perusrunkoa, mutta uudet ovat muodoiltaan monipuolisempia.

Kuva 1. Selainpohjainen testaustyökalu. Lähde: http://wurstcaptures.untergrund.net/ music/
Kuva 1. Selainpohjainen testaustyökalu. Lähde: http://wurstcaptures.untergrund.net/ music/

Tekniikan kesyttäminen

Syyskuun 29. päivänä ruvetaan ketjussa ihmettelemään, kuinka bytebeat-lausekkeet oikeastaan toimivat. Bittioperaatioita vähemmän käyttänyt ohjelmoija haluaa tutustua niihin paremmin. Eräs keskustelija toteaa, että vaikka hän ymmärtääkin bittioperaatiot, niin hän ei käsitä niiden roolia lausekkeissa. Lausekkeiden määrätietoisempaan rakentamiseen annetaan myös vinkkejä: xpansive kertoo, että XOR- tai AND-operaatiota kannattaa käyttää useamman lausekkeen yhdistämiseen.

Samana päivänä ketjuun ilmestyy myös lausekkeita, jotka eivät edes yritä olla C-kielisiä vaan kokeilevat rohkeasti www-testaussivun käyttämän JavaScriptin mahdollisuuksia. Viimeistään tässä vaiheessa testaussivusta on tullut konkreettinen pääalusta, eikä C-yhteensopivuudesta enää välitetä. Liukulukujen ja trigonometrian käyttö ei kuitenkaan miellytä joitakin keskustelijoita, jotka haluaisivat rajata ne pois kokeilun piiristä: ”sin/cos/floats are no valid micro-music functions.”

Bytebeat-ilmiö on siirtynyt ensikokeiluista uuteen vaiheeseen, jossa tekniikkaa yritetään oppia ymmärtämään, jotta sitä voitaisiin hyväksikäyttää määrätietoisemmin. Kutsun tätä vaihetta tekniikan kesyttämisvaiheeksi. Kaavat eivät ole enää niin umpimähkäisiä kuin aiemmin, vaan usein hyvinkin tarkoitushakuisesti rakennettuja. Ketjuun alkaa ilmestyä myös kommentteja, joissa asetetaan kehitykselle konkreettisia tavoitteita ja visioidaan sen mahdollisuuksia:

OMG, that’s sooo cool :D. I’ve been waiting for someone to create one that actually features harmonic progression of some kind. Now we’ve got cool basslines, percussion, melodies and harmonic progression. Won’t be long now until we have music in multiple parts that features all the elements of a ”normal” song :). (elfan, 1.10.2011.)

Lokakuun toisena päivänä julkaisen ilmiötä ja sen taustoja ja tekniikkaa käsittelevän blogikirjoituksen (Heikkilä 2011a.) Linkki kirjoitukseen leviää Reddit– ja Hacker News -uutissivustoille. Siinä missä demoskeneyhteisö innostui pelkästä koodia ja ääntä esittävästä videosta, laajempi hakkeriyhteisö nähtävästi tarvitsi perusteellisemman alustuksen ennen läpimurtoa. Heti seuraavana päivänä hackaday.com-blogin aiheena on AVR-mikrokontrollerilla toimiva bytebeat-ohjelma. Bytebeat on alkanut selvästi elää omaa elämäänsä myös demoskenen ulkopuolella.

Lokakuun neljäntenä alkaa ilmestyä tarkoitushakuisemmin rakennettuja bytebeat-lausekkeita, joihin on tallennettu lyhyitä nuottisarjoja luku- ja merkkijonovakioina. Eräs kokeilija pohtii, rikkooko tämä koko kokeilun henkeä, mutta on kuitenkin sitä mieltä, että tietoisen kontrollin määrää on hyvä lisätä:

i’m not sure if the shift-register-as-step-sequencer violates the spirit of the whole thing, but making it a bit more controllable seems like a good move overall. (ryg, 4.10.2011.)

Nimimerkki mu6k julkaisee parinsadan merkin pituisen lausekkeen, johon kuuluu harmoninen progressio bassolinjoineen, melodia ja rumputausta. Muut keskustelijat optimoivat pian lausekkeen pituuden alle 100 merkkiin. Analyysini perusteella tämä lauseke yhdistää sattumanvaraisella kokeilulla löytyneitä ja tietoisesti rakennettuja elementtejä. (Heikkilä 2011b.)

Kahden päivän päästä mu6k julkaisee yli 600 merkkiä pitkän lausekkeen, joka sisältää osittaisen sovituksen Conspiracy-ryhmän Chaos Theory -teoksen musiikista. Kyseinen 64k-intro on julkaisunsa jälkeen uudelleentoteutettu kaksikin kertaa 4k-kokoluokassa. Se oli ehkä tämän historiansa vuoksi houkutteleva lähdemateriaaliksi.

Osa keskustelijoista alkaa spontaanisti optimoida Chaos Theory -sovitusta merkkimäärältään lyhyemmäksi. Koodin tilaoptimointi on yleistä demoskenellä, mutta se on hyvin harvoin näin yhteisöllistä ja julkista. Seuraavana päivänä lausekkeen pituus on saatu 300 merkin pintaan laadun juuri kärsimättä.

Kuva 2. Flash-pohjainen vaihtoehtoinen testaustyökalu. Lähde: http://entropedia.co.uk/ generative_music/
Kuva 2. Flash-pohjainen vaihtoehtoinen testaustyökalu. Lähde: http://entropedia.co.uk/ generative_music/

Innostuspiikin jälkeen

Chaos Theory -optimoinnin jälkeen keskustelutahti hiljenee vähitellen. Mahdollisesti rima nousi sen myötä jo niin korkealle, että sen ylittämisen tai ylipäätään uusien temppujen löytämisen otaksutaan vaativan jo pitkäjänteisempää kehitystyötä. Ketjuun ilmestyy edelleen uusia lausekkeita, mutta niissä on harvoin kovin hätkäyttäviä niksejä verrattuna aiempiin tuotoksiin.

Ajatus träkkerityylisestä bytebeat-musisointityökalusta nousee esiin. Samoin pinnalle palaa ensimmäisten viestien idea musiikkikilpailun järjestämisestä demopartyilla. Tällaista kilpailua ei kuitenkaan tietääkseni ole tähänkään mennessä järjestetty missään tapahtumassa, ja tiedossani ei myöskään ole kuin jokunen pikkuintro, jossa tekniikkaa on käytetty tunnistettavasti. Yksi näistä on oma 125-tavuinen MS-DOS-teokseni Express Train 125, jonka tarkoitus on lähinnä osoittaa, että bytebeat-tekniikkaa pystyy käyttämään 256 tavun kokoluokassa.

Suurin osa kiinnostavasta bytebeatiin liittyvästä kehityksestä on siirtynyt tässä vaiheessa demoskenekontekstin ulkopuolelle. Tekniikka saa nimen bytebeat 8. päivänä joulukuuta, ja Kragen Javier Sitaker kirjoittaa pian sen jälkeen yhteenvedon ilmiön senhetkisistä rönsyistä: monet ovat käyttäneet bytebeatia elektroniikkarakenteluprojekteissaan, ja Applen mobiililaitteille on julkaistu joulukuussa bytebeat-tekniikkaa käyttävä Glitch Machine -sovellus (Sitaker 2011). Myös useita muita tekniikkaa käyttäviä musiikkiohjelmia ilmestyy myöhemmin mobiili- ja työpöytäkäyttöjärjestelmille (Bitwiz Audio Synth, Pytebeat, Droidbeat Synth). Bytebeatia on käytetty pohjana myös musiikkiteknologian tutkimuksessa, jossa uusia lausekkeita tuotetaan automaattisesti geneettisten algoritmien avulla (Kaliakatsos-Papakostas 2012).

Pouet-keskustelu hiljenee joulukuun 9. päivän jälkeen ja herää seuraavan kerran henkiin vasta kahden kuukauden päästä, jolloin mu6k esittelee uuden kokeilunsa. Pian tämän jälkeen keskustelu hiljenee taas. Koska ketjuun lisätyt lausekkeet saavat kuitenkin innostuneita kommentteja myös muiden uudelleenheräämisten yhteydessä, näyttäisi kiinnostus tekniikkaa ja sen kehitystä kohtaan olevan tallella. Sitä seurataan kuitenkin mieluiten sivusta, ja näyttämölle jää vain muutama tekniikalle pitkäjänteisemmin omistautunut tekijä.

Ilmiön luonne ja vaiheet

Bytebeat poikkeaa monin tavoin tyypillisestä demoskenen teoskategorian kehityskaaresta. Tavanomaisiin kategorioihin julkaistaan teoksia lähinnä kilpailujen yhteydessä, ja niiden kehitystyö tapahtuu poissa julkisuudesta. Bytebeat sen sijaan ehti käydä huippuhetkensä läpi ennen kuin ainuttakaan kilpailua ehdittiin järjestää, ja kehityksen kulku on jopa yksityiskohtiin asti seurattavissa julkisista viesteistä. Yhteisönlaajuisen viestinnän tiheys varmastikin myös nopeutti kategoriaan liittyvän tekniikan kehitystä verrattuna siihen, että yksilöt tai ryhmät olisivat kehittäneet tekniikkaa vain omilla tahoillaan ja vaihtaneet tietoja vain partyjulkaisujen yhteydessä.

Poikkeuksellista bytebeatin kehityskaaressa on myös runsas aiempien teosten käyttäminen uusien pohjana. Demoskenessä on perinteisesti katsottu pahalla toisten teosten hyödyntämistä, ja sama ilmiö näkyy myös sille läheisessä träkkerikulttuurissa (Lysloff 2003.) Pouet-ketjusta ei kuitenkaan löytynyt ainuttakaan viestiä, jossa joku olisi suuttunut oman materiaalinsa uusiokäytöstä. Osasyynä on varmaankin se, että etenkin alkuvaiheessa uusien teosten tuottaminen perustui suhteellisen vähän vaivaa vaativiin kokeiluihin, eikä niitä mielletty samalla tavoin omiksi hengentuotteiksi kuin pitempää rakentelua vaativat teokset mielletään.

Kilpailullisuus on demoskenessä keskeisessä osassa, ja se ilmenee yleensä muodollisten kilpailujen ja paremmuusäänestysten kautta (Reunanen 2010). Kilpailullisuus näkyy selvänä motivaattorina myös bytebeat-keskusteluketjussa, mutta se ilmenee vapaamuotoisemmin: ketjuun osallistuneet pyrkivät ”voittamaan” aiemmin julkaistut lausekkeet joko varioimalla niistä parempia, optimoimalla niitä lyhyemmiksi tai keksimällä lähestymistavoiltaan täysin uudenlaisia lausekkeita. Hyvät saavutukset saavat tunnustusta positiivisten kommenttien muodossa.

Bytebeatia käsittelevissä Hacker News- ja Reddit-keskusteluketjuissa ei tämäntyyppistä kilpailullista tekniikan eteenpäinvientiä juuri näy, vaan suurin osa niissä näkyvistä kaavoista on pelkkiä ensimmäisiä kokeiluja: ”Katsokaa, minäkin sain aikaan edes jotain!” Pouet-ketjussa nähty kilpailullinen asenne näyttäisi siis erottavan sen havaittavasti laajemmasta tietokonekulttuurista.

Bytebeat-kisailua voisi luonnehtia abstraktimmin pyrkimyksenä maksimoida hack valueta. Etenkin Jargon Filen display hack –määritelmän kolme muuttujaa vaikuttavat tässä erityisen toimivilta (Raymond 1996, 154). Algoritminen nerokkuus näkyy uudentyyppisten lausekkeiden esiin tuomisena mutta myös tavoissa yhdistellä ja optimoida lausekkeita. Esteettistä kehitystä saadaan aikaan sekä kokeellisen varioinnin että algoritmisen innovaation kautta, ja etenkin tietoisemmin rakennetut lausekkeet pyrkivät ylittämään aiemmat lausekkeet esteettisessä mielessä. Koodin lyhyyden ihanne puolestaan näkyy sekä aiempien lausekkeiden optimointikilvoittelussa että poikkeuksellisten lyhyiden lausekkeiden osakseen saamassa ihailussa.

Oma kilpailullinen alueensa liittyy selkeästi mitattaviin ennätyksiin ja niiden rikkomiseen, joka bytebeatissa näkyy etenkin pitkien lausekkeiden merkkimäärän optimointikilpailuna. Tämä rinnastuu suoraan esimerkiksi vanhoissa Amiga-demoissa nähtävään pyörivien 3D-kappaleiden kolmiomäärillä kilpailemiseen. Koodinpituuskilpailuista esimerkkinä mainittakoon Hugi-levykelehden vuosina 1998-2009 järjestämät Size Coding Compot, joissa tavoitteena oli useimmiten tuottaa tehtävänannon mukainen ohjelma mahdollisimman pienenä MS-DOS-ohjelmana.

Esteettisenä ihanteena bytebeateille näyttäisivät demoskenen piirissä olevan ”tavalliset” musiikkikappaleet, jotka noudattavat yleisempää demoskene-estetiikkaa tasaisine rytmeineen, harmoniakulkuineen ja synteesiteknisine piirteineen. Tämä ihanne näkyy etenkin mu6k:n tuottamissa pitemmissä lausekkeissa ja samaistuu esimerkiksi 64k- ja 4k-introjen musiikilliseen kehitykseen: mitä ”isommalta” kuulostavan kappaleen saa rajalliseen tilaan, sitä parempi. Demoskenen ulkopuolisessa bytebeat-kehityksessä näyttäisi keskeisempi rooli sen sijaan olevan satunnaiskokeiluille suosiollisemmalla glitch-estetiikalla, mikä näkyy esimerkiksi bytebeat-ohjelmistojen nimissä kuten Glitch Machine tai libglitch.

Sekä demoskenellä bytebeatiin sovellettu maksimalismi että sen ulkopuolella sovellettu glitch-estetiikka edustavat hakkeriestetiikkaa, jossa tietoteknisen alustan piirteet vaikuttavat teosten syntyyn hyvin voimakkaasti. Vaikka bytebeat häivyttääkin konkreettisen laitealustan piirteet, voidaan sitä pitää omana alustanaan alustatutkimuksen mielessä (Bogost & Montfort 2007). Chip-muusikoiden menetelmiä ja motivaatioita tutkinut Carlsson (2010) kutsuu kahta edellämainittua hakkeriestetiikan lähestymistapaa transgressioksi ja immersioksi. Transgressiossa pyritään venyttämään alustan rajoja ja aikaansaamaan sille epätyypillisiä asioita, kun taas immersiossa keskitytään siihen, mitä pidetään alustalle luonteenomaisena.

Teknisten ja esteettisten ihanteiden muuttumista voidaan havaita myös muissa ilmiöissä, jotka ovat levittäytyneet demoskenestä sen ulkopuolelle. Träkkerikulttuurin edustajille ”demo music” saattaa tarkoittaa lähinnä tietynlaista träkkerimusiikin tyyliä (Lysloff 2003). Yabsley (2007) puolestaan puhuu ”sukupolvikuilusta” modernin chip-musiikin ja demo- ja träkkeriskenejen välillä: demoskene on tekniikan kehittämiseen keskittyessään luonut sen infrastruktuurin, jonka päällä nykyinen chiptune-kulttuuri toimii (vrt. Polymeropoulou tässä numerossa).

Ihanteiden eroavuuksista huolimatta bytebeatin estetiikka on kuitenkin selkeästi minimalistista tavalla, josta Carlsson (2010) käyttää nimitystä ”Digital Economics”. Itseilmaisu vähäisellä resurssimäärällä tiukkojen teknisten rajoitusten puitteissa toimii niin chip- kuin bytebeat-muusikoillekin motivaattorina ja inspiraationlähteenä.

Bytebeatin kehityskaaressa näkyy myös ”tekniikan kesyttäminen”, joka tapahtuu apuvälineiden rakenteluna sekä teorian ja käytännön osaamisen kehittymisenä. Alkuvaiheessa vain pieni määrä tekijöitä askarteli bytebeatin parissa C-kääntäjää käyttäen, mutta www-pohjainen työkalu toi satunnaiset kokeilut jopa ohjelmointitaidottomien ulottuville. Kokeilut olivat alkuvaiheessa kaikilla osallistujilla melko umpimähkäisiä, sillä kokeneetkaan ääniohjelmoijat eivät voineet suoraan soveltaa ymmärrystään näin äärimmäisen lyhyissä lausekkeissa. Myöhemmin rakentelun tueksi syntyi teoriaa ja käytännön niksejä, ja osaamisella päteminen tuli mahdolliseksi.

Kuva 3. BitWiz Audio Synth, bytebeat-sovellus Applen mobiililaitteille. Lähde: http://kymatica.com/Software/BitWiz
Kuva 3. BitWiz Audio Synth, bytebeat-sovellus Applen mobiililaitteille. Lähde: http://kymatica.com/Software/BitWiz

Vertailu VIC-20-demojen kehityskaareen

Bytebeatin vaiheita vastaava kehityskaari on löydettävissä myös muutamista muista demoskenen teoskategorioista ja alustoista, esimerkiksi Commodore VIC-20 -demoista, joiden kehitykseen osallistuin aktiivisesti 2000-luvun alkupuolella.

Commodore VIC-20 ei kuulu ns. perinteisiin demoalustoihin, sillä VIC-20-käyttäjät ehtivät suuressa määrin siirtyä C-64:ään jo ennen alakulttuurin syntyä. VIC-20-demot olivat pitkään lähinnä kuriositeetteja: Pouet.netin tietokannassa on vain kahdeksan ennen vuotta 2002 julkaistua VIC-20-teosta. Laite nostettiin kuitenkin tietoisella työllä aktiiviseksi demoalustaksi vuonna 2002, ja kyseiseltä vuodelta onkin kannassa kaikkiaan 29 teosta. Vuonna 2003 julkaistuja teoksia on enää 13 ja vuonna 2004 julkaistuja 6. VIC-20:n kaari demoalustana voidaan siis jakaa bytebeatin tavoin pioneerikauteen, aktiiviseen innostuspiikkiin ja piikinjälkeiseen aikaan.

Suurin osa vuonna 2002 julkaistuista VIC-20-demoista on luonteeltaan yksittäisten uusien temppujen esittelyjä. Laitteen video- ja äänipiirin mahdollisuuksia tutkittiin ahkerasti, ja etenkin muiden alustojen demoista tuttuja efektejä uudelleentoteutettiin VIC-20:llä. Laitteiston tuntemattomia piirteitä kartoitettiin vielä myöhemminkin, ja niiden toiminnasta kehitettiin teoriaa. Tämä on verrattavissa siihen, kuinka suurimman bytebeat-innostuksen aikana etsittiin etenkin lausekkeita, jotka tuottaisivat ennestään tutussa musiikissa esiintyviä piirteitä, ja myöhemmässä vaiheessa alettiin rakentaa myös teoriaa etsinnän tueksi.

VIC-20:n ”kesyttämisvaiheessa” syntyi myös useita demontekoon tarkoitettuja kehitystyökaluja kuten musiikkieditori Fisichella ja grafiikkaeditorit Picasso ja Brickshop. Bytebeatin tapauksessa keskeinen käännekohta oli lausekkeiden testaamiseen sopivan www-sivun ilmestyminen, ja myös suoraviivaisempien musiikkieditorien kehittämistä sivuttiin Pouet.netin keskusteluketjussa monta kertaa. Erilaisten työkalujen ja valmisratkaisujen ilmestyminen madaltaa etenkin uusien tulokkaiden kynnystä teosten tuottamiseen.

Bytebeatin pääalustaksi konkretisoitui www-testaussivu, ja alkuvaiheessa käytetty C jäi taka-alalle. Vastaavasti VIC-20 -demoja oli aiemmin julkaistu eri tavoin laajennetuille laitteistoille, mutta vuonna 2002 pääkokoonpanoksi vakiintui muistilaajentamaton laite levyasemalla varustettuna. Alustan riittävän tarkka määrittely on tärkeää sekä tasavertaisen kilpailun mahdollistamiseksi että teosten yhteensopivuuden varmistamiseksi.

Vuonna 2003 julkaistuihin VIC-20-demoihin nähtiin jo enemmän aikaa ja vaivaa. Julkaisutahti oli hitaampi, ja suurin osa demoista julkaistiin demopartyjen kilpailuissa. Tämän jälkeen tahti laantui vuosi vuodelta, kunnes vuonna 2007 julkaisujen määrä lähti uudelleen nousuun. Vastaavaa aaltoliikettä on näkynyt myös bytebeatin aktiivisuudessa: satunnaiset uudet löydökset ovat innostaneet muitakin tekemään jotain uutta.

Lopuksi

Bytebeat ei muodostunut demoskenen piirissä kovinkaan vakiintuneeksi teoskategoriaksi lupaavasta alusta huolimatta. Tekniikasta kiinnostuneita harrastajia on kuitenkin edelleen, ja sillä saattoi hyvinkin olla vaikutusta pikkuintrojen musiikkiteknologiseen kehitykseen. Vaikutusta on kuitenkin tässä vaiheessa turhan aikaista arvioida. Bytebeat-tyyliset, perinteisessä hakkerikulttuurissa ”maagisiksi” kutsutut lähestymistavat tulevat kuitenkin joka tapauksessa demoskenessä aina vain relevantimmiksi, mikäli demoskenen keskittyminen aina vain pienempiin kokokategorioihin jatkuu.

Bytebeat sai aikaan myös monia mielenkiintoisia demoskenen ulkopuolisia kehityskulkuja, joita tämä artikkeli pääsi aiherajauksensakin vuoksi vain ohimennen sivuamaan. Erityisen mielenkiintoisena pidän mahdollista ideoiden ja tekniikoiden jatkokehittelyä kokeellisen musiikin ja musiikkiteknologian piirissä.

Aktiivinen bytebeatin suosiokausi oli monin tavoin poikkeuksellinen ilmiö demoskenellä avoimen kehityskulkunsa, matalan osallistumiskynnyksensä ja hyvin nopean ajallisen etenemisensä vuoksi. Se haastaa siksi monet alakulttuuriin liittyvät stereotyyppiset käsitykset: demokulttuurin teknisesti äärimmäisetkään osa-alueet eivät ole pelkkää vuosikausien ajan tekniikalle omistautuneiden huippuosaajien pitkäjänteistä puurtamista, vaan niissäkin on tilaa kevyemmille sivujuonteille.

Koska bytebeat-lausekkeiden maailma on teknisesti melkoisen yksinkertainen ja rajoittunut, voidaan sitä pitää monin tavoin lähestyttävämpänä kuin esimerkiksi alustatutkimuksen tähän asti suosimia konkreettisia laitealustoja. Bytebeat tuo selvästi esiin sen, kuinka alustastason alkeiselementit ohjaavat niistä rakennettujen ohjelmien muodostumista niin tekniikan kuin estetiikankin kannalta. Tämän sisäistäminen on hyväksi kenelle tahansa, joka haluaa ymmärtää tietoteknisten alustojen olemusta ja koko digitaalisen kulttuurin perustaa.

Lähteet

Aineisto

Beeler, Michael, William R. Gosper ja Rich Schroeppel. 1972. ”HAKMEM.” Memo 239. Massachusetts: Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.inwap.com/pdp10/hbaker/hakmem/hakmem.html.

Hackaday. 2011. ”AVR chiptune project turns this simple code into music.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://hackaday.com/2011/10/03/avr-chiptune-project-turns-this-simple-code-into-music/

Hacker News. 2011. ”Algorithmic symphonies from one line of code.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3063359

Pouet.net. 2011. ”Experimental music from very short C programs.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/topic.php?which=8357.

Reddit. 2011a. ”Algorithmic symphonies from one line of code – how and why?” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/kyj77/algorithmic_symphonies_from_one_line_of_code_how/

Reddit. 2011b. ”Experimental one-line algorithmic music.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/mbakl/experimental_oneline_algorithmic_music/ 

Sitaker, Kragen Javier. 2011. ”Bytebeat.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://canonical.org/~kragen/bytebeat/

SuperCollider. 2012. ”News in 3.5.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://doc.sccode.org/Guides/News-3_5.html

The Wire. 2009. ”SuperCollider 140. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://thewire.co.uk/audio/tracks/supercollider-140.1

Youtube. 2011a. ”Experimental music from very short C programs.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtQdIYUtAHg

Youtube. 2011b. ”Experimental one-line algorithmic music – the 2nd interation.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlrs2Vorw2Y

Youtube. 2011c. ”Music from very short programs – the 3rd iteration.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRPUv8V22o

Kirjallisuus

Bogost, Ian ja Nick Montfort. 2007. ”New Media as Material Constraint: An Introduction to Platform Studies.” Durham NC: Duke University, 1st International HASTAC Conference.

Carlsson, Anders. 2010. Power Users and Retro Puppets: A Critical Study of the Methods and Motivations in Chipmusic. Maisterintutkielma. Lund: Lund University, Department of Media and Communications Studies.

Clarke, Arthur C. 1973. Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible. New York: Harper & Row.

Heikkilä, Ville-Matias. 2011a. ”Algorithmic symphonies from one line of code – how and why?” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://countercomplex.blogspot.fi/2011/10/algorithmic-symphonies-from-one-line-of.html

Heikkilä, Ville-Matias. 2011b. ”Some deep analysis of one-line music programs.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://countercomplex.blogspot.fi/2011/10/some-deep-analysis-of-one-line-music.html

Heikkilä, Ville-Matias. 2011c. ”Discovering Novel Computer Music Techniques by Exploring the Space of Short Computer Programs.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.1368

Kaliakatsos-Papakostas, Maximos, Michael G. Epitropakis, Andreas Floros ja Michael N. Vrahatis. 2012. ”Interactive Evolution of 8–bit melodies with Genetic Programming towards Finding Aesthetic Measures for Sound.” Evolutionary and Biologically Inspired Music, Sound, Art and Design 7247:141-52.

Lysloff, Rene. 2003. ”Musical Life in Softcity: An Internet Ethnography.” Teoksessa Music and Technoculture, toimittaneet Rene Lysloff ja Leslie Gay, 23-63. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Montfort, Nick, Patsy Baudoin, John Bell, Ian Bogost, Jeremy Douglass, Mark C. Marino, Michael Mateas, Casey Reas, Mark Sample ja Noah Vawter. 2012. 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5 + RND(1)); : GOTO 10. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Raymond, Eric S. 1996. The New Hacker’s Dictionary. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 3. painos.

Raymond, Eric S. 2004. ”Jargon File.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.catb.org/jargon/

Reunanen, Markku. 2010. Computer Demos – What Makes Them Tick? Lisensiaatintutkimus. Espoo: Aalto-yliopiston teknillinen korkeakoulu, Mediatekniikan laitos.

Reunanen, Markku. 2013. ”Neljän kilotavun taide.” Wider Screen 2-3/2013. http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2013-2-3/neljan-kilotavun-taide/

Tolonen, Tero, Vesa Välimäki ja Matti Karjalainen. 1998. Evaluation of Modern Sound Synthesis Methods. Raportti 8. Espoo: Teknillinen korkeakoulu, Akustiikan ja signaalinkäsittelyn laboratorio.

Yabsley, Alex. 2007. The Sound of Playing: A Study into the Music and Culture of Chiptunes. Musiikkiteknologian kandidaatintutkielma, Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.

Loppuviitteet
  1. Ohjelmarunko ei ole millään tavoin korrekti oppikirjaesimerkki C-ohjelmasta vaan edustaa merkkimäärältään minimoitua koodia. Muuttuja t on minimointisyistä määritelty main()-funktion argumenttina, jolloin sen tyyppiä ei tarvitse määritellä, vaan se oletetaan suoraan peruskokonaisluvuksi (int, yleensä 32-bittinen). Ensimmäinen main()-funktion argumentti on ohjelman käynnistykseen käytetyn komentorivin argumenttien määrä, joka on normaalitapauksessa 1 (eli komentorivillä on pelkästään ohjelman nimi). Näin ollen muuttujan t alkuarvoksi tulee 1.
  2. Nykyisen Jargon Filen (Raymond 2004) ja Wikipedian määritelmät termille display hack mainitsevat perinteen jatkajaksi demoskenen. Samoin ohjelmalliseen taiteeseen keskittyvän displayhacks.org-sivuston takana on tunnettu demontekijä Bent Stamnes (Gloom/Fairlight), joka lainaa sivuston esittelyssä Jargon Filen määritelmää.
Kategoriat
1–2/2014 WiderScreen 17 (1–2)

Flash-demoskene: Reaaliaikaisten verkkoanimaatioiden esiinnousu ja hiipuminen

algoritminen taide, demoscene, Flash

Jaakko Kemppainen
jaakko.s.kemppainen [a] aalto.fi
Aalto-yliopiston taiteiden ja suunnittelun korkeakoulu, Medialaboratorio Tulostettava PDF-versio

Demoskenellä on aina ollut taipumusta ottaa haltuunsa uusia (ja vanhoja) teknologioita. Kun pääosa demoryhmistä toteuttaa harrastustaan yleisimpien kotitietokoneiden parissa, lähtevät erikoisuuksien hakijat historiassa taaksepäin vanhoihin pelikonsoleihin tai taskulaskimien ja metron aikataulunäyttöjen kaltaisten esoteeristen teknologioiden pariin. Tässä valossa Flash-teknologian ympärille kasvanut pieni alaskene ei ole yllättävä ilmiö. 1990-luvulla verkkosivujen animaatioita ja yksinkertaista interaktiota varten kehitetty teknologia on lähtökohtaisesti kuin tehty demojen toteuttamista varten. Flash-skene ei kuitenkaan saavuttanut demoihmisten hyväksyntää heti, vaan joutui etsimään paikkaansa demoskenessä melkein vuosikymmenen. Toisaalta Flash-demot saivat demoskenen ulkopuolella paljonkin huomiota. Ne osuivat aikaan ja paikkaan, jossa näyttävyys ja reaaliaikaisuus nousivat web-designin valtavirtaan. Demokoodaajien saavutukset huomioitiin verkkokehittäjien piireissä ja lopulta myös demoskene joutui myöntämään Flash-demojen olevan kelvollisia ”oikeiden” demojen piiriin. Tämä artikkeli käsittelee kronologisesti Flash-demoskenen kehityskaarta verkkoanimaatioista reaaliaikaisen verkkotaiteen edelläkävijäksi – ja hiipumista uusien teknologioiden ottaessa tilaa. Flash-demojen kehitystä sidotaan paitsi demoskenen yleiseen kulttuuriin, myös yhtä aikaa tapahtuvaan verkkomedian monipuolistumiseen ja Flash-teknologian kehittymiseen. Katsauksen tiedot perustuvat monipuolisesti demoskenen, Flash-skenen ja ohjelmoijien tuottamiin teksteihin, ja ne pohjautuvat myös kirjoittajan omiin kokemuksiin ja keskusteluihin Flash-skenen sisäpiiriläisenä

Johdanto: esihistoriaa ennen skriptejä

Demot ovat määritelmällisesti tosiaikaisia koodin, grafiikan ja musiikin yhdistelmiä (mm. Reunanen 2010, 1). Vaikka Flash tuli markkinoille jo 1990-luvun puolivälissä, saatiin siihen jossain määrin ohjelmoinniksi laskettava koodausmahdollisuus vasta neljännessä versiossa. Sitä ennen Flashilla (tai aiemmin Future Splashilla) pystyi tuottamaan lähinnä vektorianimaatioita. Macromedia osti Flashin alkuperäisen tuottajan, FutureWaven 1996 (Gay 2001). Grafiikkaohjelmasta yleisön kysynnän kautta helppokäyttöiseksi animaatiotyökaluksi laajentunut Flash tarjosi pienen ja kevyen vaihtoehdon Macromedian omalle Directorille ja sen web-laajennus Shockwavelle.

Hitaiden tietoliikenneyhteyksien aikana vektorianimaatiot olivat huomattavan suosittu verkkosivujen näyttävyyttä lisäävä formaatti, koska vektoridata vei käytännössä aina paljon vähemmän kaistaa kuin bittikarttoihin tai videopakkaukseen perustuva animaatio. Lisäksi vektorit skaalautuivat käytännössä rajattomasti, mikä mahdollisti tietyssä mielessä parempilaatuisen animaation tarjoamisen kuin esimerkiksi Quicktime- tai MPEG-pakattu video. Tästä syystä mm. Disney oli kiinnostunut Future Splashin käytöstä jo hyvin varhaisessa vaiheessa (Gay 2001).

Vaikka demojen tekemisen keskeistä osaa, ohjelmointia ei voitukaan käyttää, pyrkivät jotkut silti tuottamaan demojen kaltaista audiovisuaalista sisältöä. Tässä oli suuresti apuna erilaisiin grafiikka- ja 3D-mallinnusohjelmiin tuotetut lisäosat, joiden avulla ohjelmista pystyi tuottamaan Flash-animaatioita. Kolmiulotteiset pyörittelyt ja musiikkiin tahdistettu design alkoivat pikkuhiljaa tulla myös selainympäristöihin, mutta varsinkaan Flashin kohdalla kyse ei ollut alkuunkaan reaaliaikaisuudesta, vaan etukäteen lasketuista tai piirretyistä animaatioista (esim. Kuva 1).

Kuva 1. Different Web One (Melon Dezign 1998). Esirenderöityä demoestetiikkaa vektorimuodossa.
Kuva 1. Different Web One (Melon Dezign 1998). Esirenderöityä demoestetiikkaa vektorimuodossa.

1990-luvulla Java-appletit olivat internetin multimedian teknistä eturintamaa. Eräällä tavalla ”oikeana” ohjelmointiympäristönä Java keräsikin demoihmisten huomiota Flashia enemmän ja aikaisemmin. Koska Javalla pystyi piirtämään kuvia pikseli kerrallaan, oli demoihmisten vuosia tai jopa vuosikymmeniä kehittämien 3D-pyörittelyjen ja kuvanpiirtorutiinien toteuttaminen Javalla kohtalaisen helppoa. Java tulikin kunnolla demoskeneen viimeistään 1997, jolloin Assembly-demotapahtumassa pidettiin ensimmäinen Java-demoihin keskittynyt kilpailu.

Ohjelmointimahdollisuudet tulevat

Jotta voisimme paremmin ymmärtää, kuinka Flashilla tehtiin tuohon aikaan (ja toisinaan nykyäänkin) animaatioita, on syytä tutustua pikaisesti Flashiin kehitysympäristönä (Kuva 2). Flash-ympäristö on alkujaan kehitetty animaatiotyökaluksi. Siksi se hyödyntää muutamia tyypillisiä animaatio- ja grafiikkaohjelmien ominaisuuksia. Tärkein ja näkyvin näistä ominaisuuksista on ”näyttämö” (stage). Se on käytännössä ohjelman ruudulla näkyvä alue. Tälle alueelle voidaan sijoittaa joko käsin tai ohjelmallisesti graafisia elementtejä.

Kuva 2. Flash-kehitysympäristö. Alareunassa näyttämö (stage), yläreunassa aikajana. Työn alla Summer Is Here (Kellari ja Inapt 2004).
Kuva 2. Flash-kehitysympäristö. Alareunassa näyttämö (stage), yläreunassa aikajana. Työn alla Summer Is Here (Kellari ja Inapt 2004).

Nämä graafiset elementit sijoittuvat samalla myös ohjelman aikajanalle. Aikajana toimii paitsi animaation tai ohjelman ajallisen etenemisen indikaattorina, myös graafisten elementtien piirtojärjestyksen määrittäjän. Aikajanalla ylempänä olevat elementit piirretään alempana olevien päälle ja saattavat peittää ne. Lisäksi graafiset elementit voivat sisältää omat aikajanansa, joilla voi sijaita muita vastaavia graafisia elementtejä. Näitä voidaan animoida tai ”komentaa” objektin sisäisellä aikajanalla.

Oletuksena Flash-toistin siirtää ”toistopäätä” kaikkien objektien aikajanalla eteenpäin, suorittaa objektien graafiset siirrot ja muunnokset ja piirtää objektit ruudulle. Ohjelmallisesti ”toistopää” voidaan pysäyttää tiettyyn kohtaan aikajanalla ja käskeä toistamaan tiettyä koodipätkää, kunnes päätetty aika on kulunut, tai soittoa päätetään jatkaa jostain muusta syystä. Näin Flash-demojen eri osiot voidaan rakentaa aikajanalle peräkkäisiin kohtiin, jolloin voidaan helposti kelata demosuunitelmaa edes takaisin ja samalla säätää näyttämöllä olevien grafiikkaobjektien ominaisuuksia.

Toukokuussa 1999 silloinen Macromedia toi markkinoille Flashin nelosversion. Tämä oli merkittävä askel Flash-demoskenen kehittymiselle, sillä nyt kehittäjien oli mahdollista suorittaa pienimuotoista ohjelmointia. Aiemmin Flashin ohjelmointimahdollisuudet olivat rajoittuneet nappuloiden toiminnallisuuksiin ja hyppäämiseen tiettyihin animaation kohtiin. Nyt mukaan saatiin ehtolauseet ja ohjelmaluupit. Lisäksi skriptillä pystyi liikuttamaan ruudulla nähtäviä grafiikkaobjekteja, jotka Flashissa tunnettiin nimellä MovieClip.

Nelosversion uudet ohjelmointimahdollisuudet kiinnittivät valveutuneimpien demontekijöiden huomion. Vaikka varsinainen demo-ohjelmointi Flashilla oli vielä rajallista ja hankalaa, alkoivat jotkin demoryhmät kokeilemaan myös Flashilla toteutettuja demoja. Hyvin usein nämä tuotannot olivat joko puolipiloillaan tehtyjä huumorianimaatioita, tai perinteistä, varsinkin Amiga- ja C64-aikojen demoestetiikkaa matkivia animaatioita.

”Virallinen” skene syntyy

Elokuu 2000 oli Flash-demoskenen kannalta käänteentekevä kuukausi. Assembly-demotapahtumassa järjestettiin ensimmäinen Flash-demoihin keskittyvä kilpailu. Kilpailuun osallistui kymmenen demoa, joista voiton vei Alpha Designin huumoria ja retroestetiikkaa yhdistelevä Party People (Kuva 3). Kilpailussa oli nähtävissä myös Flash-demojen tyyli, jossa heikkoja teknisiä mahdollisuuksia korvattiin visuaalisella designilla.

Kuva 3: Party People (Alpha Design 2000)
Kuva 3: Party People (Alpha Design 2000)

Omaa kilpailuaan, eli ”kompoa”, merkittävämpi askel oli Flashin viitosversion julkaisu, joka tapahtui myös elokuussa 2000. Nyt teknologiaan oli lisätty miltei täydellinen oma ohjelmointikieli, ActionScript. Flash-ympäristön uudet ja merkittävät ominaisuudet sisälsivät paitsi mahdollisuuden grafiikkaobjektien liikutteluun ruudulla, myös niiden pyörittelemiseen ja skaalaamiseen. Vaikka Flashissa ei ollutkaan mahdollista esimerkiksi piirtää viivoja tai käsitellä yksittäisiä pikseleitä, keksivät luovat koodaajat nopeasti keinoja vektorigrafiikan tekemiseen ja jopa alkeellisen pintakuvioinnin lisäämiseen vektoriobjektien pinnalle. Nämä innovaatiot eivät tosin tulleet demoskenen puolelta, vaan web-designin ja pelikehittäjien suunnalta.

Koska grafiikan manipulointimahdollisuudet olivat Flashissa hyvin paljon muita alustoja rajallisemmat, kehittyi Flash-hakkereiden ja demokoodaajien piireissä omanlaisensa estetiikka. Haastavassa ympäristössä mahdollisiksi havaittuja efektejä kehitettiin eteenpäin ja iteroitiin askel kerrallaan hienommiksi toisten perinteisten efektien jäädessä kokonaan paitsioon. Tämä perustui tekijöiden haluun tuottaa toinen toistaan vaikuttavampia visuaalisia efektejä rajatuilla työkaluilla. Tässä mielessä Flash-demot muistuttivat hyvin paljon mitä tahansa muuta vanhanaikaista tai esoteerista alustaa, joilla demoja tehtiin.

Uutena alustana Flashin rajat olivat vielä lähes kaikkien ulottuvilla. Innostunut ”fläsäyttäjä” saattoi kohtalaisen helposti keksiä keinon tehdä jotain kyseisellä alustalla ennen näkemätöntä. Vähän väliä joku keksi uuden tempun, jonka avulla voitiin toteuttaa jokin vanha tuttu demoefekti. Samaan aikaan varsinainen demoskene uhkasi jumittua 3D-kiihdyttimien helpottamaan mahdollisuuteen kolmiulotteisten maailmojen esittelyssä uusien innovaatioiden sijaan.

Samalla kun visuaalisesti ja pelillisesti suuntautuneet designerit ja ohjelmoijat olivat innoissaan Flashin uusista skriptausmahdollisuuksista, ottivat käytettävyyden asiantuntijat Flashin silmätikukseen. Lokakuussa 2000 käytettävyysguruna tunnettu Jakob Nielsen otti kovaäänisesti kantaa Flash-designin käytettävyysongelmiin. Hänen mukaansa Flash rikkoi miltei kaikki mahdolliset web-sivujen käytettävyysperiaatteet ja osan selaimeen rakennetuista perustoiminnallisuuksista, kuten Back-napin logiikan (Nielsen 2000). Kirjoituksella oli suuri vaikutus Flashin yleiseen hyväksyntään, eikä myöhempien versioiden parannettu käytettävyystuki saanut aikaan mielipiteiden muutosta.

Vuosien 2000 ja 2001 aikana Flash-demoja alkoi hiljalleen ilmestyä kilpailuihin ja demoyhteisön tietoisuuteen. Samalla Flash joutui osittain kilpailemaan paikastaan internetin demoalustana esimerkiksi Javan kanssa. Takeover-demotapahtumassa vuonna 2001 järjestettiin ensimmäinen selaindemokilpailu, johon voi osallistua kaikilla selaimessa toimivilla teknologioilla. Tuohon aikaan JavaScriptin mahdollisuudet olivat paljon Flashiakin rajallisemmat, joten varsinainen kilpailu käytiin Flashin ja Javan välillä. Miltei kaikki tuon ajan Flash-demot olivat edelleen enemmän tai vähemmän animaatioita. Noilta vuosilta eniten perinteisten reaaliaikaisten demojen kaltainen flash-demo lienee ollut Pixel:Engine (Esko Ahonen 2011), joka yhdisti erilaisia ohjelmallisia skriptejä animoituihin grafiikkaobjekteihin.

Kuva  4: Pixel:Engine (Esko Ahonen 2001)
Kuva 4: Pixel:Engine (Esko Ahonen 2001)

Pixel:Engine toi Flash-demoihin vanhan tavan todistella efektien reaaliaikaisuutta ja tehokkuutta alkutekstien muodossa. Koska Flash miellettiin edelleen vahvasti animaatiotyökaluksi, koettiin koodilla tuotettujen efektien korostaminen reaaliaikaisiksi tärkeäksi. Sen avulla demojen tekijät pyrkivät erottumaan animoitujen demojen joukosta ja korostamaan perinteisten demojen tapaan omia kykyjään ohjelmoijina. Tämä reaaliaikaisuuden todistelun ja koodin tehokkuudella ylpeilemisen trendi on jatkunut Flash-demoissa miltei näihin päiviin saakka.

Piirto-ominaisuudet tulevat

Flashin viitosversio oli käytössä maaliskuuhun 2002 saakka. Tuolloin julkistettiin uusi, kuutosversio, joka sai nimekseen Flash MX. Kuten aiemmatkin Flash-versiot, myös kuutonen sisälsi merkittäviä parannuksia ja uusia mahdollisuuksia demojen ja pelien tekemiseen. Näistä tärkeimmät olivat mahdollisuus vektoriobjektien piirtoon ohjelmallisesti, ohjelmoitavat maskit ja äänen soittamiseen liittyviä ominaisuuksia.

Ennen vektoreiden piirtämismahdollisuutta Flash-hakkerit olivat joutuneet keksimään erilaisia kiertoreittejä kolmiulotteisten objektien rautalankamallien piirtämiseksi ohjelmallisesti.[1] Uuden Flashin vektoripiirtotyökalut muistuttivat jossain määrin Logo-ohjelmointikielen ohjauskomentoja. Käyttäjä pystyi määrittelemään viivan värin ja paksuuden, sekä täytettävän alueen värin. Piirrettävän viivan alkukoordinaattiin päästiin moveTo-komennolla. Tämän jälkeen ohjelmoija pystyi piirtämään suoria ja kaaria lineTo- ja curveTo-komennoilla. Uuden viivan alkupiste sijaitsi aina edellisen viivan loppupisteessä, ellei käyttäjä siirtänyt ”kynää” moveTo-komennolla uuteen sijaintiin. Tällä tavalla pystyttiin piirtämään jo oikeita kolmiulotteisia objekteja, joiden sivut pystyttiin värittämään esimerkiksi valonlähteiden etäisyyden ja suunnan mukaan.

Vektoriobjektien piirto on hyvin tyypillistä perinteisen demo-ohjelmoinnin toimintaa (esim. Reunanen 2010, 50-51). Tässä suhteessa Flash seurasi aiempia teknologioita jäljitellen niitä varsin suoraan (vektorien rasterointi eli ruudulle piirtäminen itse jäi edelleen ohjelmoijan ulottumattomiin). Vektorien piirtäminen yhdistettynä Flashin uusiin ohjelmoitaviin maskeihin sen sijaan tuotti monia Flashille ominaisia graafisia efektejä, joista tosin niistäkin suuri osa pyrki jäljittelemään vanhoja demoefektejä.

Yksinkertaisesti selitettynä maskit määrittelevät, mitkä osat maskin peittämistä grafiikkaobjekteista piirretään ruudulle. Maski on ikään kuin ikkuna maskattujen objektien maailmaan. Aiemmissa versioissa maskeja ei voinut manipuloida ohjelmallisesti. Flash-ohjelmoijat keksivät kuitenkin käyttää maskeja yhdessä motion tweenauksen eli grafiikkaobjektien liikeanimoinnin kanssa yhdessä. Kun kapeaa maskia liikutettiin aikajanalla alaspäin, pystyttiin näyttämään alle jäävästä kuvasta alaspäin valuva ”siivu”. Kun tällaista siivutettua kuvaa monistettiin ja ohjelmallisesti siirrettiin lukupää eri objekteissa eri kohtiin, pystyttiin luomaan kuvasiivujen kokoelma, jota voitiin ohjelmallisesti liehuttaa lipun tapaan manipuloimalla siivujen sijaintia ruudulla.

Kun maskien kokoa ja muotoja päästiin viimein ohjelmallisesti muuttelemaan, avautui aiemmin esiteltyyn ”imageslice”-tekniikkaan aivan uusia ulottuvuuksia. Vaikka perusperiaate pysyi samana, pystyttiin nyt toteuttamaan monipuolisempia aaltoiluita ja kuvien vääristelyjä. Imageslicestä muodostuikin yksi kekseliäimmistä ja keskeisimmistä alkuaikojen Flash-demoefekteistä.

Kuutosversion esittelemä dynaaminen äänen soittaminen ja äänen kokonaiskeston ja soitetun ajan käsittely mahdollistivat tarkan äänisynkronoinnin. Audiovisuaalisena taidemuotona demot ovat yhtä riippuvaisia musiikista kuin kuvistakin, joten tarkka ja saumaton tahdistus on yksi demotaiteen keskeinen ominaisuus.

Tätä päästiinkin kokeilemaan elokuussa 2003 Assembly-demojuhlien selaindemokilpailussa. Aiemmasta Flash-kategoriasta luovuttiin ja Flash-demot sijoitettiin samaan kilpailuun muiden selainteknologioiden kanssa. Kilpailuun osallistuikin Flashin lisäksi niin Java- kuin JavaScript-demoja. Suurin osa Flash-demoista oli edelleen humoristisia teoksia tai retroestetiikkaa lähinnä animoimalla toistavia tuotteita. Sivuhuomautuksena mainittakoon, että selainkilpailuun osallistunut Java-demo diskattiin esikarsinnassa, mutta toisaalta Java-demot kilpailivat jo perinteisten alustojen rinnalla 64 kilotavun intro-kilpailussa (scene.org 2003).

Assemblyn selaindemokilpailun voitti jo useina vuosina vahvasti esillä ollut ryhmä Rave Network Overscan (RNO) yhteistyössä Damonesin kanssa tekemällään demolla Super Fantastic Gaydisco All Night Long (RNO ja Damones 2003). Demo perustui vahvasti huumoriin ja toistuviin animaatioihin, jollaisten tekemisessä Flash oli ominaisimmillaan. Demossa oli kuitenkin myös teknisempiä demoefektejä, mikä osaltaan kertoo myös perinteisempien demojen tekijöiden halusta kokeilla uutta alustaa (Kuva 5).

Kuva 5: Super Fantastic Gay Disco All Night Long (RNO ja Damones 2003). Esimerkki imageslice-efektistä.
Kuva 5: Super Fantastic Gay Disco All Night Long (RNO ja Damones 2003). Esimerkki imageslice-efektistä.

Flashin reaaliaikaisia demomahdollisuuksia ei vielä tässä vaiheessa tuntenut kunnolla edes innokas Flash-harrastajien joukko. Esimerkiksi Inaptin Diip (2003) jäi Assemblyn selaindemokilpailussa viimeiseksi (Kuva 6). Osaltaan tähän vaikutti varmasti viimeistelemätön ulkoasu, mutta myös se, että Flash-koodaajat luulivat demon olleen puhdas animaatio, eivätkä siksi äänestäneet sitä. Lähdekoodien julkistaminen kuitenkin loi yhteisöön uskoa Flashin mahdollisuuksiin demoalustana. Lähdekoodi toimi myös monen Flash-ohjelmoijan innoittajana ja esimerkkinä Flashin ominaisuuksien luovasta hyödyntämisestä. Diipin ja kaksi vuotta aiemmin julkaistun Pixel:Enginen kaltaiset vahvat esimerkit innostivat Flash-yhteisöä aloittamaan Flashin mahdollisuuksien tutkimisen ja uusien ja innovatiivisten efektien ja hakkerointien kehittelyn.

Kuva 6: Diip (Inapt 2003). Ylävasemmalla motiontweenillä animoituja grafiikkaobjekteja monistettuna kolmiulotteiseksi siniplasmaksi". Alavasemmalla vektoripiirto-ominaisuudet käytössä. Alaoikealla "imageslice"-tekniikkaa pyöreillä maskeilla pallovääristymän luomiseksi. Yläoikealla imageslice yhdistettynä kahden sisäkkäisen grafiikkaobjektin avulla toteutettuun vääntämiseen.
Kuva 6: Diip (Inapt 2003). Ylävasemmalla motiontweenillä animoituja grafiikkaobjekteja monistettuna kolmiulotteiseksi siniplasmaksi”. Alavasemmalla vektoripiirto-ominaisuudet käytössä. Alaoikealla ”imageslice”-tekniikkaa pyöreillä maskeilla pallovääristymän luomiseksi. Yläoikealla imageslice yhdistettynä kahden sisäkkäisen grafiikkaobjektin avulla toteutettuun vääntämiseen.

Seuraava Flashin versio ei tuonut varsinaisia suuria muutoksia demojen tekemiseen. Syyskuussa 2003 julkaistu seiskaversio eli MX2004 lähinnä päivitti Flashin ohjelmointikielen, Actionscriptin moderniin aikaan. Actionscript 2:ssa mukaan tulivat muusta ohjelmoinnista tutut luokkarakenteet ja mahdollisuus käyttää Flash-kehitysympäristön ulkopuolisia ohjelmointiympäristöjä luokkien tuottamiseen. Uudistuksista huolimatta Flashin perusominaisuutena säilyi edellisen version ohjelmointityylin pysyminen uusinta versiota nopeampana suorittaa. Tehokkuuteen ja näyttävyyteen pyrkivässä demotaiteessa uudistukset eivät siis tuoneet juurikaan etua, joskin vanhemman version mukaan kirjoitetun koodin suoritusaika nopeutui useita kymmeniä prosentteja.

Kuva 7: Kontrast (Pyrotech 2004). Varsinainen tekninen demoefekti on pienessä osassa kuvan oikeassa laidassa graafisten elementtien täyttäessä suurimman osan ruudusta.
Kuva 7: Kontrast (Pyrotech 2004). Varsinainen tekninen demoefekti on pienessä osassa kuvan oikeassa laidassa graafisten elementtien täyttäessä suurimman osan ruudusta.

Vuonna 2004 Flash-demoilijat alkoivat asettaa itselleen entistä suurempia haasteita. Enää ei riittänyt, että toteutettiin aiempien aikojen efektejä uudella alustalla (Kuva 7). Uuden estetiikan kehittäminen ei ole helppoa, joten Flash-skene alkoi kokeilla työkalunsa soveltuvuutta pienikokoisten introjen tekemiseen. Helmikuussa 2004 Sector One osallistui Synthesis-demopartyilla neljän kilotavun introkilpailuun Flash-introlla (Kuva 8). Intro jäi kilpailussa viimeiseksi, mutta osallistuminen oli tärkeä askel Flashin tiellä kohti yleisesti hyväksytyn demoalustan asemaa.

Kuva 8: 4screen (Sector One 2004)
Kuva 8: 4screen (Sector One 2004)

Assembly 2004:n selaindemokilpailussa nähtiin Plinc-demoryhmän 64 kilotavun Flash-intro, Kuutioprojekti. Useista osista koostuvan, graafisesti vaatimattoman intron kiinnostava piirre oli musiikki. Perinteisistä demoalustoista poiketen Flashilla ei päässyt käsiksi äänipuskuriin, joten kaikenlainen äänen syntetisointi oli mahdotonta. Ainoa mahdollisuus äänen sisällyttämiseen Flash-demoihin oli mp3-pakattujen äänitiedostojen käyttö. 64 kilotavun introssa kokorajoitus aiheutti merkittävän haasteen musiikille, koska CD-tasoista musiikkia mahtuu 64 kilotavuun vain kolmasosasekunti. Luovana ratkaisuna musiikki tuotettiin neljästä alle sekunnin mittaisesta luupista, jotka pakattiin mahdollisimman tiiviisti, eli huonolaatuisesti. Introon ohjelmoitiin sekvensseri, joka soitti musiikkisilmukoita ennalta määrätyssä järjestyksessä niin, että musiikkiin muotoutui selkeä rakenne ja dynaamista vaihtelua.

Taiteellisesti Kuutiopojekti oli kaukana perinteisestä demoestetiikasta (Kuva 9). Se kuitenkin herätti demokansan pohtimaan kilpailukategorioiden sääntöjä. Koska Flash-demot pyörivät Flash-toistimessa tai selaimen liitännäisessä, alettiin miettiä voiko niillä osallistua esimerkiksi varsinaiseen 64 kilotavun introkilpailuun. Toisaalta Windows-demot ja introt olivat jo vuosikausia nojautuneet vahvasti DirectX- ja OpenGL-kirjastoihin, joihin on sisäänrakennettuna suuri määrä valmista grafiikan piirtämiseen tarkoitettua koodia. Tästä huolimatta Flashin ja muiden virtuaalikoneessa pyörivien demojen edellytyksistä osallistua yleisiin introkilpailuihin käydään edelleen keskustelua.

Kuva 9: Kuutioprojekti (Plinc 2004). 46 kilotavua mp3-pakattua musiikkia vei valtaosan 64 kilotavun introsta.
Kuva 9: Kuutioprojekti (Plinc 2004). 46 kilotavua mp3-pakattua musiikkia vei valtaosan 64 kilotavun introsta.

Suomalainen Flash-demoskene järjestäytyi noihin aikoihin #flash.fi IRC-kanavalta myös flashscene.org-verkkosivustolle. Muutamien seuraavien vuosien aikana yhteisön jäsenet raportoivat uusista Flash-demoista ja efekteistä, kirjoittivat ohjeita efektien tekemiseen ja järjestivät muutamia demo- ja introkilpailuita. Näihin kilpailuihin osallistui demokoodaajien lisäksi myös demoskenen ulkopuolisia kehittäjiä ja ryhmiä. Valitettavasti palvelimien hajoamisten ja domain-nimen rekisteröintien takia tämä materiaali on saavutettavissa enää osittain archive.org-sivun verkkosivuja arkistoivan Wayback Machinen avulla (ks. flashscene.org 2006).

Pikselien esiinnousu

Elokuussa 2005 Adobelle myyty Flash oli demokoodaajan unelmien toteutuma. Alustan kahdeksas versio toi mukanaan mahdollisuuden päästä käsiksi piirrettävän ruudun yksittäisiin pikseleihin. Tätä ominaisuutta oltiin odotettu ja pyydetty niin demo- kuin designerpiireissä vuosia. Flashin kehitys onkin ollut ainakin kehittäjän näkökulmasta varsin takaperoista moniin ohjelmointikieliin verrattuna. Kun perinteisemmät ohjelmointikielet lähtevät liikkeelle perusasioista, kuten pikseleistä ja biteistä, rakentaen helpommin käytettäviä kirjastoja ja infrastruktuureita grafiikan tuottamiseen ja manipuloimiseen, lähestyi Flash audiovisuaalista rajapintaa täysin valmiiden objektien helposta käsittelystä edeten vasta lopuksi pikseli- ja bittitason ohjelmointiin.

Pikselitason kuvan käsittelymahdollisuuksien lisäksi Flash 8 sisälsi lukuisia muita merkittäviä graafisia ominaisuuksia. Pseudosatunnaisia lukusekvenssejä tuottava Perlin noise -funktio lienee yksi aliarvostetuimmista ja vähiten käytetyistä uusista ominaisuuksista.[2] Graafisten elementtien uudet suodattimet, kuten pudotusvarjot ja hohdot, ovat puolestaan olleet yleisessä käytössä. Taitavasti käytettynä esimerkiksi Glow-suodattimen avulla voi toteuttaa vaikkapa grafiikkalementin ulkoreunojen rajauksen.

Merkittävänä uutena ominaisuutena demokoodaajat ottivat mielissään vastaan grafiikkaobjektien ”blend modet”. Nyt objektien piirrossa voitiin käyttää esimerkiksi additiivista piirtoa, jolloin uusien objektien väriarvot lisättiin alla oleviin väreihin. Tämän avulla voitiin toteuttaa esimerkiksi tulenliekkien simulointi partikkeliefektinä. Väriarvojen kertolaskuun perustuva multiply-blend puolestaan mahdollisti kuvien kunnollisen sävyttämisen (Kuva 10).

Kuva 10: Lightweight (Inapt 2006). Taustalla kahdella multiply-blendatulla Perlin noisella toteutettu revontuliefekti.
Kuva 10: Lightweight (Inapt 2006). Taustalla kahdella multiply-blendatulla Perlin noisella toteutettu revontuliefekti.

Viimeinen merkittävä demokoodaukseen liittyvä uusi ominaisuus oli graafisten elementtien muutosmatriisit. Aiemmin graafisia elementtejä pystyttiin vain skaalaamaan eri akseleiden suhteen sekä pyörittämään niitä. Nyt saatiin käyttöön muutosmatriisit ja niiden peruslaskutoimitukset.[3]

Uudet ominaisuudet eivät ehtineet vaikuttaa Assemblyn selaindemokilpailuun, jonka merkittävin ominaisuus oli JavaScript-demojen yleistyminen. JavaScript- ja Director-demot veivät kilpailun neljä ensimmäistä sijaa Flashin täyttäessä viimeiset kolme. JavaScript koettiin tuolloin haastavaksi demoympäristöksi, mitä se toki olikin. JavaScript paini samojen rajoitusten kanssa kuin varhaiset Flash-versiot: pikselinkäsittelyn hankaluus, suorittamisen hitaus ja äänenkäsittelyn vaikeus.

Seuraavan vuoden aikana Flash-skene tuotti uusia demoja harvakseltaan. Uusien ominaisuuksien rajoja koeteltiin kunnolla Flashscene.org-verkkosivuston järjestämässä neljän kilotavun introkilpailussa helmikuussa 2006. Skenen pienuuden huomioiden kilpailun taso oli yllättävän korkea. Mukaan mahtui moniosaisia ”megaintroja” ja myös ääntä sisältäviä tuotteita. Tämä oli merkittävä saavutus, koska kaikki äänet täytyi vieläkin upottaa ohjelmaan valmiissa mp3-muodossa (flashscene.org 2006).

Uusi inkarnaatio

Pikselitason hallinta ei ehtinyt miellyttää skeneä vuottakaan, kun Adobe päätti uudistaa koko Flash-alustan. Kesäkuussa 2006 julkaistiin Flashin yhdeksäs inkarnaatio: tässä kohtaa nimitys on osuva, sillä Adobe oli laittanut teknologian perusteet uusiksi. Koko ohjelmia pyörittävä virtuaalikone oli uusittu, koska yhdeksännen version mukana tuli uusi Actionscript 3 -ohjelmointikieli. Demojen kannalta tämä tarkoitti koodin suoritusnopeuden paranemista moninkertaisesti. Vanhojen ohjelmien ajamiseen uusi moottori ei vaikuttanut, sillä niitä varten mukana oli edelleen erillinen virtuaalikone.

Uuden ohjelmointikielen ja virtuaalikoneen lisäksi myös Flash-kehitysympäristöä uudistettiin. Perinteisempään ohjelmointiin käytettyyn Eclipseen perustuva Flex-ympäristö toi Flashiin ison annoksen ”koodaajauskottavuutta”. Käytännössä Actionscript 3 -ohjelmointi poikkeaa merkittävästi aiemmista Actionscriptin versioista. Suuret muutokset ja varsinkin Flex-ympäristöön ja ohjelmoijalähtöiseen kehitykseen panostaminen saivat kaksijakoisen vastaanoton. Toisaalta ohjelmointitaustaiset kehittäjät olivat innoissaan uusista mahdollisuuksista. Samalla kuitenkin designerit ja multimediatuottajat, joiden ohjelmointitarve oli lähinnä verkkosivujen nappuloiden toiminnallisuuksien säätämistä ja animaatioiden kontrollointia, joutuivat opettelemaan työrutiinejaan paljolti uusiksi.

Tämä oli selvästi nähtävillä myös joulukuussa Brightonissa järjestetyssä Flash on the Beach -tapahtumassa, jonne Flash-kehittäjät ympäri maailman kokoontuivat kuuntelemaan esitelmiä ja tapaamaan toisiaan. Web-kehittäjien ja designereiden lisäksi mukana oli myös mediataiteilijoita ja Adoben edustajia. Flash-demoskene sai tapahtumassa yllättävää näkyvyyttä, kun Branden Hall näytti esitelmässään Evoflashin Who Killed Travolta -demoa kehuen uuden Flashin mahdollisuuksia jopa ”oldschool-demojen” tekemiseen (Kuva 11). Myöhemmin kyseinen demo pääsi myös ehdolle parhaaksi 3D-tuotteeksi Flashforward-tapahtumassa (PRWeb 2007).

Kuva 11: Who Killed Travolta? (Evoflash 2006)
Kuva 11: Who Killed Travolta? (Evoflash 2006)

Flash on the Beachissa oli nähtävillä paljon demoskene-tyyppistä innostunutta hakkerimielialaa. Ohjelmoijat ja designerit tutkivat Flashin mahdollisuuksia ja innostuivat esimerkiksi ruudulla liikkuvien kappaleiden eli partikkelien lukumääristä. Branden Hallin esitystä lukuunottamatta demot kuitenkin loistivat poissaolollaan niin esitelmissä kuin kävijöiden puheissa. Demokoodaajat saivat hymyillä keskenään voidessaan todeta muiden olevan efektien toteutuksessa kaukana heidän saavutuksistaan. Demoihmisten läsnäolo konferensissa sai tästä huolimatta muutamat designerit ja ohjelmoijat tutustumaan demoskeneen. Muun muassa mr.doobina tunnettu Flash-konferenssien vakioesiintyjä innostui ohjelmoimaan muutaman yhden kilotavun intron ja kokeilemaan perinteisten demoefektien tekemistä Flashilla (Cabello 2006).

Huipun tasaisuus

Evoflashin Who Killed Travolta? saavutti nopeasti merkittävän aseman paitsi demoskenessä myös sen ulkopuolella. Demoskenen ulkopuolisen huomion lisäksi se onnistui viimein vakuuttamaan myös suuren osan kriittisistä vanhan koulukunnan demoihmisistä. Perinteisten demoefektien ja värikkään designin yhdistelmä sai ihmiset myöntämään Flashin olevan uskottava demoalusta. Laajemmassa kontekstissa Flash oli edelleen joidenkin piirien väheksymä. Esimerkiksi suljetun ympäristön maine nousee toistuvasti esiin puhuttaessa Flashin käyttämisestä sovelluskehityksessä tai demokoodauksessa.

Vuoden 2006 jälkeen Flash-demoskeneä johti vahvasti Evoflash-demoryhmä (mm. Cruz 2013). 2007 oli Flash demoskenen kirkkain vuosi. Teknologia oli kehittynyttä ja demoharrastajat olivat löytäneet alustan ominaisuudet. Samalla kuitenkin JavaScipt, HTML 5, WebGL ja Microsoftin Silverlight tulivat vahvasti markkinoille. Vuoden 2008 Assembly-tapahtumassa selaindemo-kategoria lakkautettiin ja Flash ja muut selainteknologiat siirrettiin kilpailujen Wild-kategoriaan sellaisten teknologioiden kuten taskulaskinten ja oskilloskooppien kanssa. Vuoden 2008 kilpailussa Evoflashin 99er oli ainoa Flash-demo muiden ollessa toteutettuja mm. Microsoftin Silverlight-alustalla (Scene.org 2008).

Lokakuussa 2008 julkaistiin Flashin kymmenes versio. Demojen tekemisen kannalta olennaisimmat uudistukset olivat sisäänrakennettu 3D-tuki, itse tehtyjen suodattimien teon mahdollistava Pixel Bender -ohjelmointikieli ja dynaamisen äänen luominen pääsemällä äänipuskuurin. 3D-tuki ei vielä sisältänyt laitteistotason kiihdytystä mikä oli tässä vaiheessa 3D-ohjelmoinnin standardi, vaan se oli tarkoitettu kappaleiden kolmiulotteiseen pyörittelyyn ja ohjelmistopohjaiseen piirtämiseen ruudulle.

Demoskene-hengen mukaisesti ”fläsäyttäjät” pyrkivät jatkuvasti toimimaan nopeammin, komeammin ja pienemmin. Äänipuskuriin käsiksi pääseminen mahdollisti ohjelmistopohjaisen musiikin tuottamisen ja siten myös kunnollisen musiikin käyttämisen pienissä introissa. Skenessä oli aiemmin nähty joitakin 64- ja 4-kilotavun kokoisia introja, mutta niiden musiikit olivat varsin yksitoikkoisia ja puuduttavia.

Kuva 12: Proof of Concept (Evoflash 2009). Flash-skene joutui edelleen muistuttamaan katsojia alustasta.
Kuva 12: Proof of Concept (Evoflash 2009). Flash-skene joutui edelleen muistuttamaan katsojia alustasta.

Vuonna 2009 Assemblyssä Evoflash osallistui yleiseen 64-kilotavun introkilpailuun Proof of Concept-introllaan (Kuva 12). Sijoittuminen toiseksi johtui varmasti osittain eksoottisen alustan tuomasta äänestysedusta. Samana vuonna Evoflashin Severity of Grey oli ainoa karsinnasta läpipäässyt Flash-demo vapaiden alustojen Real Wild -kategoriassa. Muut tuon kilpailun tuotteet olivat mm. JavaScript-, Nintendo DS- ja PocketPC-demoja (Scene.org 2009). Monet aiemmin Flashilla demoja tehneet ryhmät, kuten Wide Load ja Pyrotech olivat siirtyneet muille alustoille, joten varsinaista Flash-skeneä oli jo hankala hahmottaa.

Demotietokanta  Pouet.netistä löytyy vuodelta 2007 26 Flash-demoa tai introa, kun taas vuodelta 2009 niitä on enää 13 (pouet.net 2014). Microsoftin Silverlight näytti jossain vaiheessa Flashin pahimmalta kilpailijalta, mutta loppujen lopuksi JavaScript ja HTML 5 ovat vieneet mukanaan monia kehittäjiä niin demoskenessä kuin yleisestikin. Pelien tekeminen on siirtynyt valtaosaltaan Unity-alustalle, mikä on osaltaan syönyt kykenevien koodaajien kiinnostusta Flashia kohtaan. Seuraavana vuonna Evoflash meni vieläkin pidemmälle osallistuessaan Assemblyn yleiseen 4 kilotavun kilpailuun. Eksoottisesta alustasta ei enää ollut hyötyä ja intro jäi kilpailun kymmenenneksi.

Vaikka demoskenen puolella kiinnostus Flashia kohtaan väheni, Adoben ja muiden sidosryhmien kiinnostus Flash-demoja kohtaan sen sijaan kasvoi. Evoflash oli alkanut tehdä 3D-grafiikan toteuttamiseen tarkoitettua ohjelmistokirjastoa, 3d engineä, Flashille kehittävän Away 3D:n kanssa jo vuonna 2007. Vuonna 2010 Away 3D ja Evoflash toteuttivat yhteistyössä Disconnected-demon, jonka avulla Adobe esitteli uuden Flash versionsa mahdollisuuksia Adobe MAX-tapahtumassa (Away Studios 2010). Sama yhteenliittymä toteutti myös vuoden 2011 Adobe MAXiin Sparkle a Moment -demon (Away Studios 2011). Tuolloin esittelyvuorossa oli Flashin versio 11, jonka keskeisin demoskeneen vaikuttava uudistus oli 3D-piirron laitteistokiihdytys.

Vaikka laitteistokiihdytetty 3D oli ollut jo pitkään Flash-kehittäjien toivelistan kärkipäässä, ei sen toteuttaminen loppujen lopuksi saanut demontekijöitä innostumaan Flashista uudestaan. Flash-ohjelmointi ja kehitys oli tullut niin lähelle perinteistä ohjelmointia, että kehityksessä ei ollut juurikaan eroa. Samalla muut teknologiat olivat tulleet Flashin alueelle eli rikkaan multimedian tuomiseen selainympäristöön. Teknologia oli menettänyt eksoottisuudesta ja tekemisen helppoudesta saadun etunsa.

Viimeisin koettelemus Flash-demojen tekijöille oli Adoben 2012 julkistama ”nopeusvero”. Kehittäjien olisi pitänyt maksaa erillistä lisenssimaksua tehokkaimmista ja parhaimmista ominaisuuksista (Cannasse 2012). Tämä ei kelvannut kehittäjäyhteisölle ja vaikka Adobe myöhemmin perui suunnitelmansa, oli vahinko ehtinyt tapahtua. Tunnettu Evoflash-ryhmä hajosi pian nopeusverokohun jälkeen eivätkä ryhmän jäsenten uudet ryhmät ole suuntaamassa Flash-kehitykseen. Pouetista löytyy vain muutamia vuoden 2011 jälkeen julkaistuja Flash-demoja tai introja. Vaikkei tilanne olisikaan lopullinen, on se kuitenkin selvä osoitus Flash demoskenen hiipumisesta (Kuva 13).

Kuva 13: Brain Muffin (Pasmas 2013). Paluu Amigademojen estetiikkaan.
Kuva 13: Brain Muffin (Pasmas 2013). Paluu Amigademojen estetiikkaan.

Yhteenveto

Flash-demoskene on jossain mielessä kuin tiivistelmä demoskenen historiasta ja olemuksesta. Se syntyi uuden audiovisuaalisen tuotannon mahdollistavan teknologian luovasta kokeilusta. Demoskenelle tyypilliseen tapaan kehittäjät alkoivat tutkia Flashin mahdollisuuksia reaaliaikaisen audiovisuaalisen sisällön tuottamiseen. Alkuaikojen puhtaista animaatioista edettiin Flashin kehittyessä kohti ohjelmointiin perustuvia reaaliaikaisia efektejä ja lähemmäs perinteistä demoestetiikkaa.

Jatkuvasti muuttuvana ja kehittyvänä alustana Flash osoittautui paitsi kiinnostavaksi demoalustaksi, myös aikansa ilmapiiriä yleisesti peilaavaksi teknologiaksi. Demopiireissä se saavutti kunnollisen aseman vasta lähes kymmenen vuotta ensimmäisten demojulkaisujen jälkeen. Skenen ulkopuolella Flash-demot saivat kohtalaisen paljon näkyvyyttä teknologian nousun osuessa aikaan, jolloin audiovisuaalinen hakkerointi ja reaaliaikaiset tuotannot saavuttivat myös ei-demoihmisten mielenkiinnon. Selaimessa pelattavien pelien vahva yleistyminen 2000-luvun alkupuolella nosti myös web-designereiden kiinnostusta demoskeneä kohtaan.

Ajan myötä Flash jäi kuitenkin muiden teknologioiden jalkoihin. Microsoft yritti vahvasti korvata Flashin omalla Silverlight-teknologiallaan siinä kuitenkaan onnistumatta. HTML5-standardin kehittyminen ja yleistyminen sekä avoimien JavaScript- ja WebGL-ympäristöjen vakiintuminen vei kehittäjät pois yhden yhtiön ohjaaman Flash-teknologian parista. Ilmeisesti Flash ei ole enää tarpeeksi nykyaikainen tai tarpeeksi vanhentunut ollakseen kiinnostava demoalusta.

Kirjoittajasta

Kirjoittaja on demoryhmien Inapt, Plinc ja Evoflash perustajajäsen. Hän toimi pääohjelmoijana Inaptin ja Plincin Flash-demoissa. Lisäksi hän on ollut aktiivisesti mukana #flash.fi- IRC-kanavalla ja mukana perustamassa ja ylläpitämässä Flashscene.org-verkkopalvelua.

Lähteet

Demot

4screen, Sector One. 2004. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=15358

99er, Evoflash. 2008. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=51118

Brain Muffin, Pasmas. 2013. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=61489

Different Web One, Melon Dezign. 1998. Tarkistetu 8.4.2014. http://www.melondezign.com/

Diip, Inapt. 2003. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=10605

Disconnected, Evoflash. 2010. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LAN5GHm5eM&hd=1

Kontrast, Pyrotech. 2004. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=13530

Kuutioprojekti, Plinc. 2004. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=14050

Lightweight, Inapt. 2006. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.inapt.org/~blind/lightweight/

Party People, Alpha Design. 2000. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=27734

Pixel:Engine, Esko Ahonen. 2001. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. https://www.scene.org/file.php?file=/parties/2001/assembly01/flash/pixel_engine_by_esko_ahonen.zip&fileinfo

Proof of Concept, Evoflash. 2009. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=53656

Severity of Grey, Evoflash. 2009. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=53633

Sparkle a Moment, Evoflash. 2011. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=57868

Super Fantastic Gay Disco All Night Long, Damones & RNO. 2003. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=10582

Who Killed Travolta?, Evoflash. 2006. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=25802

Verkkosivut ja kirjallisuus

Away Studios. 2010. ”Disconnected.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://awaystudios.com/projects/disconnected/

Away Studios. 2011. ”Sparkle a Moment.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://awaystudios.com/projects/sparkle-a-moment/

Cabello, Ricardo. 2006. ”AS: Tunnel!” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014.http://ricardocabello.com/blog/post/222

Cannasse, Nicholas. 2012. ”Adobe Announce Speed Tax!” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014.  http://ncannasse.fr/blog/adobe_announce_speed_tax. Lähde tarkastettu 10.12.2013

Cruz, Philipe. 2013. ”History of Web Browser Demos.” Esitelmä Assembly 2013-tapahtuman Art Tech-seminaarissa.

Flashscene.org. 2006. Verkkosivujen arkistoitu versio. Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://web.archive.org/web/20060404093546/http://www.flashscene.org/ 

Gay, Jonathan. 2001. ”History of Flash.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014.  http://www.adobe.com/macromedia/events/john_gay/index.html

Nielsen, Jakob. 2000. ”Flash: 99% Bad.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.nngroup.com/articles/flash-99-percent-bad/

Pouet.net. 2014. ”prodlist.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.pouet.net/prodlist.php?platform%5B%5D=Flash&page=1

PRWeb. 2007. ”Flashforward Announces Film Festival Finalists and Opening of ’People’s Choice’ Voting.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2007/08/prweb544972.htm

Reunanen, Markku. 2010. Computer Demos – What Makes Them Tick? Lisensiaatintutkimus. Espoo: Aalto-yliopiston teknillinen korkeakoulu, Mediatekniikan laitos.

Scene.org. 2003. ”Assembly 2003 Results.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. https://www.scene.org/file.php?file=%2Fparties%2F2003%2Fassembly03%2Fresults.txt&fileinfo

Scene.org. 2008. ”Assembly 2008 Results.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. https://www.scene.org/file.php?file=%2Fparties%2F2008%2Fassembly08%2Fresults.txt&fileinfo

Scene.org. 2009. ”Assembly 2009 Results.” Tarkistettu 8.4.2014. https://www.scene.org/file.php?file=%2Fparties%2F2009%2Fassembly09%2Fresults09.txt&fileinfo

Loppuviitteet
  1. Tyypillinen kekseliäs vektorien piirtokeino oli tehdä grafiikkaobjekti, jonka sisältönä oli yksi diagonaalisesti alaoikealle suuntautuva vektoriviiva. Objektin leveys ja korkeus säädettiin sataan pikseliin. Tällaisia viivaobjekteja monistettiin jokaista kolmiulotteisen mallin reunaa varten, joten kuutiota varten tarvittiin kaksitoista viivaobjektia. Kun kolmiulotteista mallia pyöritettiin ohjelmallisesti, saatiin selville reunan päätepisteiden x- ja y-koordinaatit. Tämän jälkeen kyseistä reunaa vastaava grafiikkaobjekti sijoitettiin ensimmäisen pisteen koordinaatteihin. Sitten grafiikkaa skaalattiin kolmiulotteisen mallin reunan päätepisteiden koordinaattien erotuksen verran (prosentteina, jolloin jokainen prosentti vastasi yhtä pikseliä), jolloin grafiikkaobjektin viiva vastasi kolmiulotteisen mallin reunaa.
  2. Fraktaalimaisten pilvikuvioiden lisäksi Perlin noisea voi käyttää esimerkiksi kuvan vääristelemiseen (Displacement Map -suodattimen kanssa) tai partikkeliefektien fraktaalisen turbulenssin tuottamiseen.
  3. Erillisten pyöritys- ja skaalausfunktioiden (rotate-, xscale- ja yscale) sijaan nyt voitiin elementille antaa 3×3 muutosmatriisi, joka mahdollisti myös kuvan väännöt (samoin kuin leikkaukset, eng. shear). Aiemmin elementin väännöt jouduttiin toteuttamaan kahdella sisäkkäisellä grafiikkaelementillä, joista sisempää kierrettiin ja ulompaa skaalattiin. Näin toteutettiin aiemmin myös isometristen 3D-objektien teksturointi.