[A short story about bbstros..........................]
Aka: 'things that ran fine on a 386sx'

Bulletin Board Systems: something everybody already forgot.

Something nobody will remember in 50 years, except for Wikipedia.

Manga-style ad for some old Italian BBS
To your nephews you'll tell: 'Yes, we used those, like photographic film or books'. BBSes were the grannys of the Internets, most of the time used in a serial-way, accepting just one user at time.
And sometimes, the sysop (yeah, maybe Wikipedia will keep memory of him too) came out of nowhere, breaking your intimate and private feeling of leeching files or, badly, some early porn pics, and greeted you or talked to you when the last thing you wanted was to talk.

So next time you logged in, you were like a thief with your paranoid eyes spinning around, fearing the sysop would appear from nowhere, again.

But demoscene, which is everywhere there is shortage of space, bytes, screen resolution or bandwidth, soon started to sponsor BBSes, basically for the selfish need to advertise its productions, or just to spread, well, you know, good old 'stuff' (legal and illegal). Laws were really slow to realize what was happening, so there was a short timelapse where 'hackers' lived in an happy limbo of anarchy.

So, 'bbstros' were born. What are those? Well, take a demo. Make it 3 or 4 kilobytes long. Add music. Add some text talking about telephone numbers, forums and warez and one or two demoscenic effects. There you are. This kind of productions sneaked easily into the 'big' zipfiles containing warez legal software, just like a sort of benign virus.

You can fit ASCII art there, 4k are spacious
Even well known groups of the demoscene made bbstros.

Maybe the most well known BBS ad is 'Starport 2' by the Future Crew. Yeah, that mythical group that made the original Second Reality (not the C64 remake).

I remember reading the (printed) source code of STARPORT.COM in my uncle's bathroom. You could find many coding tricks there, not only size related ones, and I couldn't agree more upon the quote by Psi 'Making a small intro is not hard. Making a small intro with a nice feel is very hard'. Because you know, Starport 2 was made in 1993, and was 1993 bytes long. Yeah, things like that counted in 1993.

bbstros showed off cryptic and mysterious acronyms like 'V32bis', 'DGI',' GSN' or talked about forgotten places like 'The Asylum', 'The Lounge', 'Blastersound', 'Digital Nightmare', 'The One', 'Virtual Light', 'Equalizer' and so on. And exotic international prefixes you would be afraid (or not so) to call. But at the end you would make that call, attracted by that '3 Gigabytes' of downloadable software or by the luxurious 'free email'.

A.C.E. BBS ad from Karl/Nooon
There is another couple of mythical intros made for the (as much as mythical) french A.C.E. BBS. Both are productions of Karl/Nooon.

One (ACE2.COM) is 2.221 bytes and shows a 3d voxel rotating 'ACE' logo. The second falls in the 'things that ran fine on a 386sx' category (I should write a post just on that concept, someday). It's only 2.465 bytes long, and has a nice big scrolling font and a background rotozoomer with the then famous 'Intel Outside' motto.

If you wanted 'the latest warez' for (no less than) HP48, you had to call 'The One', back in 1994. 'The One' had a nice ad, made by Eclipse, that is very Amiga-ish in its colours, effects and in the font. Pointless to say, this ran fine on a 386 too.

Italy had BBSes as well.
Many were demo-related (it's 1995, remember). Something of them still exists, if you look closer. Somewhere on this page you can find old vestiges of that time appearing as modern-day .png files. If launching again those reliquiae makes your DosBox sound strange and metallic, you should be aware that many DOS BBS intros exploited the old 'Adlib' (or OPL2, integrated into the SoundBlasters) chip/soundcard, because an Adlib player routine is much more simple and small than a full digital replayer. Some BBS intros have ASCII graphics also, because that's tiny (and colorful).

Amiga style on PC
Oh well, that was just the tip of the iceberg for bbstros.

There were sub-scenes of BBS intros on Amiga, C64 and Atari too. Still, someone in a moment of nostalgia makes a bbstro for Windows.

That makes no sense, you may say. But what is this if not an expression of something measured in kilobytes, reduced to 32 colours, four channels and with BBS telephone numbers that start with "+", called demoscene?

Edit: apparently, BBS-fever infected Pouet too:

posted by friol at 2/08/2015 08:07:00 PM - under: , , , - comments? here (0)

[Forgotten pearls of the demoscene...]
One or two demos you could have missed so far

Let's face it: modern demoscene sucks.

Too many hexagonal lens flares, too many trilinear filtered polygons.
Too many satori demos and too few TBL DOS intros.

But, you know, as the title says, there is still hope in the past: maybe there's something to discover again in that beautiful period of our lives called "the nineties", when we listened to 2Unlimited and Snap, lens flares were just circular and to run some DOS intro you had to cross your fingers and hope that you had free enough of those 640k that should be enough for everyone. Or maybe those demos I'll speak about just suck, so you can just stop reading here and leave an angry, sarcastic message in the comments.
I don't care.

Modern demoscene is too involute.
Back in the nineties, you could have shown a torus (or the inside of a torus) and just ruled by doing that.
Today, you have to show 9 raytraced meta-toruses merging into each other, and you barely suck.
Yeah, your 12-part 4k with music isn't that bad for a firstie.

So, let's go back to the 90s and see some jewelry hidden in there.

Jive 2/Sublogic (1998)

We vote for pictures in 64k
That jazzy music (a mythical lo-fi .xm by lone wolf called "the funky corner"). Some spinning clouds in blue and purple. Some raytraced spheres and cylinders. The effects change every 4 patterns, and it's never the same effect. And music follows the intro's flow perfectly.
And then, the music stops, and, what's that? An image. Not a crappy, B/W pixelated image, but a full colour image.

This is Jive 2, aka charlie chong.
This is "the second part in the famous 'Jive' intro series".
Oh, how much I love that nonsense feeling demoscene had in the 90s? Modern demoscene takes things too seriously. And it sucks.

Fyvush/Jamm (1994)

Who the heck was fyvush finkel, btw?
Who does remember Jamm? What are the Jamm members doing today? Maybe they are just old farted house-men, growing up children that just want to chat on Whatsapp and don't know what IRC is. I'm talking about an intro that squeezed each clock cycle out of your dusty 16Mhz 386sx. Come on, who does that today? Just Trixter, that, as everybody knows, is an old farted house-man of the 90s.

Ok, OK, Fyvush has some strange coder/psychedelic colours, makes more than one effect with palette cycling (THAT is so nineties), but, damn, which modern intro has upside down characters at the end? None. And NOT because no one makes DOS intros anymore.

Fyvush made a FAST rotozoomer years before all that cache shit by Pascal.

An please, PLEASE, watch that spinning hellraiser cube move smooth on a 386. Just buy a 386 to watch it, dude. It's cheap.

Overtone/Suburban (1999)

You *want* that, right?
Fast forward to the end of the nineties.
I bet nobody remembers Suburban anymore. I do. They were the last defenders of Pmode/W, the wizards of bilinear filtering, the masters of DOS-era and 320x240 design. I have seen this intro live at The Trip 1999 and it rules. No that's not for nostalgic reasons. This post is not nostalgic. Shut up.
Overtone has everything you'd love in a DOS intro: 3d with overlayed wireframe lines, free directional tunnels and that lightray effect you'll drool on.

And music by pete e, one of the best (and forgotten) musicians of all time.

Now go hear all his modules. And then go watch all of Suburban productions.
Then return here and continue reading this.

Mother lode/fudge (1997)

That scaring 3d object you'll dream tonight
Ready to have a bilinear filtered orgasm?
Yeah, probably someone still remembers fudge, but maybe for their "the clone" series. Nah, that's too mainstream.
Fudge invented the "super bon bon" effect (that's a trademark). The Fudge guys are soo cool that they decided to name a demo "planet groove" (what's more 90s than that?).

Mother lode features an aggressive music from croakr/TPOLM, and as said all effects are bilinear filtered (no, you don't need a Geforce GTX 690 for that). Mother lode has blue objects on a red background and red objects on a blue background. Mother lode is the prodrome to all the orange, TPOLM, TBL and everybody else's intros of the second half of the nineties.

Mother lode has that stylish, linear, fire-esque fudge logo you'll envy forever.

Pandemic/Byterapers (1997)

Sucho's copyrighted effect
Pandemic: adj. 1. widespread; general. 2. Medicine: Epidemic over a wide geographic area and affecting a large portion of the population.

You want to watch this just for that chick's picture. Yeah, that chick with the alien skin.
You want to watch this just for that underwater scene.
You want to watch this just for the [B] logo in 256 colours, even if the demo is in truecolor.
If you watch Pandemic, you'll appreciate 1bit animations and two overlapped, alpha blended free directional tunnels.
You would have never said that.

Space/Euthanasia (1997)

Space mushrooms
Euthanasia is probably more a forgotten group than the maker of forgotten demos.
A little is known of this Hungarian demogroup, but one thing we remember is the absolute consistency of their productions, starting from the *names* of those production (always a one-letter word). Each production had also a powerful 3d-engine (640x400, not bad for 1997), capable of filling your screen with advanced software-rendered scenes. Each demo had also a little "story" in it.

"Space" is worth mentioning for the smoothness of its scenes and for the spacey killer-plant.

Only downside of this otherwise mythical group: re-releasing "Spirit" in the mobile demo compo at Assembly 2004.
But you know, no one is perfect and we can forgive Euthanasia for this. And love them.

Stream/mfx (1996)

Analog feeling in that mfx demo
Mfx, aka the most ermetic group in the demoscene.

"Stream" is full of symbols, strange writings (maybe because they are just upside down) and strange pictures.
And it has an astonishing lens flare (not hexagonal) running through an hyper-smooth tunnel.

Music is pounding, obsessive.

You don't have to try to understand mfx's demos. You just have to let them flow through you and be assimilated.

Blind/eufrosyne (1996)

*hexagonal* *lens* *flares* !!!
With only six productions in the timespan of 2 years, eufrosyne is nothing less than a legend.
In 2 years, they managed to win Assembly, place in the higher slots of the most important parties, and write a masterpiece like "time zone + 13:00".

Blind *has* hexagonal lens flares. Yeah, almost 20 years before.

Blind has the usual circular distortions that are a watermark of Sucho (the same coder of Pandemic). And that "water" effect. You have to see it to belive and never forget it (again).

Public demand/purple (1999)

Watch the inside of a sphere...through a sphere
This intro has 4 metatoruses. Not 9, but 4 is good for old 1999.
And an impressive goa-ish module by rez, that compresses down to 21kb (size counts).
I don't know what's appealing in this one. Maybe the danish-style pointillized background or such. For sure, travelling through two concentric spheres filled with particles is trippy. We want purple and danish style back, that's for sure.

Probably there is more of this. Write about your personal, forgotten pearl in the comments.
In the mean time, I'll go watch Stash for the 124th time, just to hear that synth bass resonating in my subwoofer again.

(Greetings to sublogic, purple, euthanasia, fudge, blasphemy, soopadoopa, inf, quad, acme, cryonics, excess, tpolm, dubius, cubic team, $een, complex, jamm, moottori, eufrosyne, orange, japotek, deathstar, coma, nooon, wildlight, valhalla, psychic link, realtech, astroidea, capacala, mfx, bug2fix, camorra, doomsday, trauma, TPOLM and everyone I forgot - you made the 90s rule, guys)

(pssst: as always, we've packed those 9 gems here for your pleasure and your laziness. Watch with dosbox)

posted by friol at 6/22/2014 09:40:00 AM - under: , , , - comments? here (4)

[The timeless way of building a 64k...]
A strange story and a masterpiece intro

"Do you know how many of these you can fit on a 1.44Mb diskette?"

Yeah, you probably do. The answer, by the way, is 1.474.560/61.952=23,8. Or maybe 42. Or maybe you have to take into account the space allocated for the boot sector, the FAT and the root directory. So that would really be 1.457.664/61.952=23,52. But I'm just digressing. The truth is that we want to talk about this 61.952 bytes intro (sometimes known also as "64k") that threw millions of coders into panic since the first frame appeared on the megascreen.

Yeah, because Mercury has *hexagonal* *lens* *flares*!

Yeah, because Mercury has *dust* *on* *the* *camera*!

(Did I say they have hexagonal lens flares?)

Hexagonal church
Well, ok. But let me tell the real story of how the masterpiece that flattered the entire demoscene was born.

There were those two coders, urs and cupe, that had nothing to do that day, and were greedly devouring their copy of "The timeless way of building", a book by Christopher Alexander that explains how to create beautiful buildings using design patterns and blue screens of death.
Suddenly, urs said: "Hey, why don't we do a 64k for Revision, a 64k that has nothing to do with this book except for the title?!". Cupe answered: "Yes, that's a great idea! People will try for ages to understand what this book has in common with the intro, except for the title!!".

Unfortunately, in the next days, ideas were lacking (as usual).
But why inventing something when you can copy?
Yeah, that's a design pattern! That's the beautiful truth Christopher Alexander taught us!
So they started with an ocean scene, copied from NeHe's tutorial number 12, but adding *hexagonal* *lens* *flares*. Then urs came with a great proposal: "14 years have passed from fr-08: the product. It's time for another church scene, with multicolour glass and, obviusly, *hexagonal* *lens* *flares*". But cupe said: "Hey, I think people still remember that scene...". And urs: "Nah, just add more dust on the camera and that will be fine".

Things were going on steadily.
Urs added three or four camera paths "a-la-Elevated", one Still-esque scene with nonsense trapezoidal buildings, some more dust and, obviously, *hexagonal* *lens* *flares*. Then, the stroke of genius hit cupe: "Urs. Hey urs. I've got it. I've got our main scene for the intro. People have never heard of this". Urs said: "What's that?". And cupe: "Get ready: a *city* *scene*". Urs: "You mean... a scene with buildings, shadows, fog, reflections, hexagonal lens flares and all the rest...?". Cupe: "Yeah! That's fantastic! A scene where the buildings move like in Incep... err, where the buildings move!!! Isn't that insane?". Urs: "Yep...".

Trapezoidal buildings
Time passed fast, and Revision was approaching. Cupe decided "platipus" by Incognita was a demo noone remembers today ("It's a 1999 demo, you morons"), and added a scene with marble textures on the walls and some beautiful columns. Then he made the columns distort like in Incep... yep, the columns distort.
Only one thing was missing: one majestic closing scene. Cupe&urs where out of ideas (as usual). In that precise moment, las came out of nowhere and said: "Guys, I've got your definitive, psychedelic, groundbreaking final scene! Listen: think of Times Square at night, think of the lights, the illuminated signs, the cars running and their lights reflecting on the wet asphalt!!! Think of that!". But cupe&urs said: "Are you joking? One scene with *cars*? What is this, some sort of 1992 Amiga prod? Or "Rush Hour" by nextempire???". And las: "But you know, this night scene, with some hexagonal lens flares...". "Oh, shut up and go back to your framework, you silly framework coder!". And las sadly went away.

Glared sunset stoups
April 2014 arrived, and Revision was there.

The entire Mercury team was adding the last bytes to the intro. And a couple of hexagonal lens flares here and there. Deadline fastly approached. Then Okkie announced their 64k. Lights went out, strangely there was silence in the hall in Saarbrücken.

"The Timeless" started running on the screen.
Two coders committed suicide just as the first sea-wave rolled in. All of cupe's and urs' lives were passing in front of their eyes.
At the 10th hexagonal lens flare, many heads exploded just thinking of how the hell did they do that.

"The Timeless" was a milestone.

And at last, the final scene, some night city with cars, yes cars, and neon signs glared on the screen.
Las said: "But... you put this scene... this was my scene...", to whom urs&cupe answered:
"Shut up, you silly framework coder!".

You silly framework coder!
When the intro finished, the two coders were overwhelmed by the crowd, and brought all around Saarbrücken in triumph.

That's how a successful 64k is born.

Because, you know, it's not important if you copy 10 thousand times from Debris, it's not important if your scenes have no logical link, it's not important if a city scene has been seen in 4879128 different intros.

No, that's not what counts.

What counts, dear friends, is *hexagonal* *lens* *flares*. All of them.

Remember that.

posted by friol at 4/23/2014 01:00:00 PM - under: , , , - comments? here (6)

[Life of a demoscene..........................]
Italy and the (forgotten) C64 scene

Page 109 of "Freax", the only book* (I'm aware of) on the demoscene, reads:

"There was some C64 scene in Italy but it was the weakest of all European countries. The only group worth mentioning was F4CG's Italian section but they were mainly importers, rarely releasing a few cracks".

That's all the book has to say about Italian scene (C64 and Amiga**).

I don't know, or better, I didn't know C64 Italian demoscene before (my activity in the scene starts around 1997), but that sentence triggered some serious doubts in my mind. Italians are usually full of ideas and a resourceful kind of population, so it seemed strange to me that all that remains of C64 Italian scene is a group that was made mainly of "importers". So I started to delve into that years (somewhere between 1984 and 1992), speaking with Italian sceners that lived that era in first person, watching all the material that is on CSDb, staring at hypnotic scrolls on black backgrounds that last for ages.
The result isn't so far from Tomcat's sentence, but this post may be seen as an "addendum" to what isn't written in "Freax".
And, trust me: 8 years of C64 scene deserve more than 2 rows in a 300-pages book.

Maybe what I'll write may not be 100% accurate (since almost 30 years have passed from that days, and traces are fragmented and unclear sometimes). Maybe some works (intros) could be just reuse of international material (I'm no C64 expert, after all). Also, 1985s were the years when it was not unusual to pick a .sid from some game and put it straight into a cracktro. Copyright laws were fuzzy at that time, and pouet threads on "ripped commercial music in demos" were still years to come.

Italian C64 scene shows mainly two phases (that merge into each other):

1) A "cracking/swapping/trading" phase, from around 1984 to 1989

2) A "maturity" phase, from 1989 to 1992, when we start to see typical products of the demoscene: demos, intros, music disks, diskmags and so on - and, consequently, the demoscene becomes also self-aware (yep, as Skynet does in Terminator)

Early tries at PETSCII graphics
"Happy" nature of the Italian people and fuzzy laws on copyright of digital material were fertile ground for a bunch of crack groups born around 1984-1985. Memories of that period speak of coders with "incredible skills", like the people behind 2703, NIWA, PM and so on. Mystery and funny anecdotes remind of mythical figures, like Piersoft "the hairdresser" that (legend says) had a swapping/trading-base in the back of his barber shop. Or Wildcat, the "cracker" of ICS that is flagged as a lamer, a "re-cracker" and a ripper by almost every group of that period.

Those were the days of "the Wizard", a copy-protection mechanism for floppies that, if forced, made your 1541 vibrate so badly that, after five or six unsuccessful tentatives, you had to buy another disk drive.

Some open borders trickery (ripped? :) from ICS
Cracker groups spread in the whole "boot" (Italy is a big boot, did you know?). Crackers were so fearless that put shamelessly their private phone numbers in their crack-intros, sometimes asking to "call them call them call them" to get the latest and freshest software. Naples was the homeland of "software collections", big compilations of 10-15 commercial games on a single cassette, each game often dubbed with strange Italian names. Importing games and cracking them became a real business, with people organizing trips to London or other european cities to catch the latest warez. Yep, we would see a "serious" law (as an Italian law can be) for copyright only in 1993, but for that date crackers were already far away.

With the decline of C64 in favour of Amiga and other computers, the C64 cracking scene went disappearing (even if there are trainer/cracker "nostalgia" groups even at the time I'm writing this, in 2013!); what remained was the beginning of the "real" C64 Italian demoscene. This scene was, indeed, a prologue to the Amiga Italian demoscene.

We can do nice logos too!
Some interesting groups started to walk the scene, like Gax777, Demons, ARM, The Force (an italian-hungaro-israelian-australian collaboration) and Air Design. As said, groups started to produce more serious demos, not only one-screen intros, but charts, original music compilations, graphic packs and disk magazines. One for all: the funny-named (funny just for the few among us that understand Italian) "Coolface" (a beautiful joke on a word that sounds like "cool" in Italian). This C64 diskmag reached even 5 editions, mainly composed of flames towards (yep, again) Wildcat/ICS and reviews of Italian cars.

Relevant coders and graphicians emerge, like gi 909 of the Force and Zagor and Zoris of Gax777. Graphicians are now capable of drawing nice logos and pictures, and coders can open the borders of a C64 like a child opens his presents at Christmas time. At the same time, some (unfortunately not long-lived) game companies were starting to produce software, and some demosceners worked there as coders or artists.

More advanced graphics from Zagor&Zoris (Demons)
And then, the Italian C64 scene starts to fade away.

The first "real" Italian party, in 1994, and some early "crackdowns" by the police mark the end of an era. F4CG and a few other groups still produce intros and scene-related material, but after 1993 the main targets of Italian scene will be PCs and Amigas.

(The Italian Amiga&PC scene produced, in particular, world-class demos and sceners, winning international parties and writing pages of demoscene history)

Italo-sceners on C64 gave us hundreds of cracks/trainer intros, kilometers of cassette tape and tons of insults towards Wildcat/ICS. And still, survivors of that strange and obscure period are proud of what your imagination and will could produce in a world that still had no Internet, wi-fi or broadband, where the only way to swap software ("swap", a term that lost its significance, today) was sending a real paper mail into the void and waiting for an answer.

* People pointed out that there is at least another printed book (in English) on the demoscene: Demoscene: the art of real-time. I haven't read it, but since it has only 72 pages, I hardly think it talks about Italian demoscene.

** At page 327 "Freax" dedicates 9 lines (yes, nine) to the Italian Amiga scene of the 90s. That's all.

posted by friol at 6/05/2013 10:46:00 PM - under: , , - comments? here (4)



the tunnel - demoscene blog - (c) friol 2k10