[History of realtime raytracing (part #2)..............]
Who needs raytrace, anyway?

(let me be proud of being Italian, just for one second, please)

The "optimizing" phase (mid 1997 - mid 2001) is the second era of demoscenic raytracing. Up to here, we've seen blocky slow spheres, really more similar to blurry squares, going nowhere on infinite parallel planes. Casting shadows. And all of this at fps-es you can count on the fingers of a hand.
Then, an intro came, out of nowhere, an intro that changed the state of things. Its name was obscure and ermetic: "Gamma" (no, not this one).

Let me make a SoLo-stylee description of "Gamma":

black screen
synth demo music
gamma logo
vertical and horizontal pipes with flares between
flashy metaballs
more flashes
psychedelic palette cycling
morphing and reflecting cube
end credits

(memo: write a Polygen grammar to generate automatic SoLo demoreviews)

The incredible raytracing engine of "Gamma"
"Gamma" has a unique trance-ish feeling. Differently from before, you can't say at the first glance that this production is raytracing. Fps-es are too high (it runs flawlessly on a 233mhz pentium), and, more then any other thing, there are no reflecting spheres and checkerboarded planes. Finally, mfx abandoned the mode-x scanlines and that blobby blurring we've seen in the "Transgression" series, and let pure raytracing powa flow outside of our screens.

The other groups will be astonished for a long period, and continue making raytraced planes and spheres for some time more... but! Let me open here the Italian parenthesis in raytracing's history!

Those guys have seen "Amici miei" too many times
Italian groups have made mainly "mainstream" and "one 'human' character show" type of demos.
But two groups were making raytracing instead: Spinning Kids and Bug2Fix.

Bug2Fix reached the aphex of their career in the first phase of raytracing history, when they brought "Just like Antani" at Assembly 1997 (making out an honorable 5th place in the intro compo - just behind mfx, by the way). "Just like Antani" is quite a good intro, but it belongs, as said, to the "inception" phase or raytracing history, with black/white floors and so on.

Spinning Kids hit the scene in 1997, with two contributions: one totally raytraced intro ("I feel like I could"), and one "not-so-realtime-but-beautiful" raytraced scene in their "Back to the mansion" prod (otherwise almost forgettable). The IFLIC engine is still phase-1 raytracing, but shows some nice innovations, like the dynamic resolution switcher (from 80x50 up) and the (forgettable) dithered mode.

Raytracing in *cough* "realtime"
Then, things evolve into "Sviluppo insostenibile" ('unsustainable development', but it sounds better in Italian). It was september 1998.
Dixan, Spinning Kids' musician, says something about the technical features of this one: "'Sviluppo Insostenibile' was coded at Pan's place, in Venice, and on the train, while we were going to Abort98. The most relevant feature is Pan's texture generator, clever coding exercise that had its own virtual machine, technologically advanced 2d filters and a highly optimized memory management scheme, so optimized that, at the end, we managed to put only *one* texture in the intro".

Maybe they've seen too many b-movies instead
Their raytracing engine really evolved, anyway, and lead to "Taint", presented at "The Trip '99", the (*last*) real Italian party (yeah, you've heard well, 1999; that's where I stop being proud of living in Italy :). "Taint" remains probably the higher expression of that technology, with its volumetric lights (maybe a primer in a demo) and atmosphere. I remember that the Spinning Kids guys had filled the Trip '99 party hall with black and white photocopies of one scene of "Taint", and everybody was asking what that blurry thing was.

Yeah, Italian history of raytracing, sadly, ends here (but with pride).

And then, on the 24th of April 2000, raytracing disappears from the scene.

Yes, that's the date when "Heaven seven" by Exceed was shown at Mekka & Symposium 2000.
"Heaven seven" was the fastest raytracing seen up to there. This intro became in people's imaginary like an icon of design and demo-crafting. Even many years after M&S, people have taken the binary of "Heaven seven", like a fetish, and expanded it, upgraded it. We can see now "Heaven seven" in 1080p HD. And it still runs as fast as a polygon rasterizer.
"Heaven seven" is still number 3 in the "pouet's top ten" of all time, and it's almost a decade old. Many young people have got in touch with the scene seeing that intro for the first time. We can't really explain why "Heaven seven" exploded like that. The only suggestion we can give is "watch it".
Blocky jagged spheres were forgotten forever after the 24th of April 2000.

The trancey atmosphere of 'Fresnel 2'
As said, after that date, raytracing disappears from the scene.
We still have some other examples of good raytracing intros or demos around 2000.
Suburban was perfectioning their rtrt engine (*then* "Heaven seven" came).
Kolor produced the "Fresnel" series, FAN brought us "Nature still suxx".
But "Nature still suxx" is already something different from a demo, something that pushes its bounds more towards a benchmark (and "Nature still suxx" will really become a benchmark).

The daemon of ray tracing will sleep from here after under the demoscenic beds.
posted by friol at 8/22/2009 10:22:00 PM - under: , - comments? here (2)

the Tunnel - demoscene blog(c) friol 2o18