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The demoscene is a computer art subculture that specializes in producing demos, which are audiovisual presentations that are run in real-time on a computer or other platform. Artists try to push systems' capabilities to the max trying to make their demos look technically and/or artistically as impressive as possible while usually trying to have catchy and memorable music in the background.
Originally started as cracktros, which were made by groups who managed to remove Copy Protection from software and added an intro to brag about it. Simple cracktros were gradually replaced by more impressive ones. Finally, demos started appearing without being attached to games or other applications.
Technical capabilities of older demos and cracktros were limited by graphic and sound chips and available memory... but due to the ersatz programming demoscene authors invented, often to nowhere near the same degree as actual games software on those systems.
Demos are often categorized into different groups based on their size and platform. The most common platforms of demos are PC (meaning MS-DOS until around 1999 and mostly Windows thereafter), Amiga, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Atari home computers (both 16/32-bit (ST-compatible) and 8-bit (400/800-compatible)). There are demos for almost any platform though.
PC and Amiga demos are usually divided by size. There are demos which have very loose size restrictions and where the demo is only limited by creator's imagination, then there are demos restricted by size. Size-restricted demos are usually called intros. The most common categories for size-restricted demos are 64 kilobytes and 4 kilobytes, although there are even smaller quality demos and competitions like 1-kilobyte, 256-byte and even demos which take 32 bytes and less space. Smaller demos usually rely heavily on procedural generation where assets such as 3D objects and textures are generated using simple algorithms.
When used as a genuine examination of how well a new system is expected to perform (for attracitng interest at trade-shows and the like), such processes are typically referred to as a technology demo. Technology demos are usually made by the hardware companies themselves, however; not the demoscene.
Demoscene productions aim for and include the following tropes:
- Bigger on the Inside: A video recording of any demo would be much bigger than the program itself.
- Chiptune: A staple of the music, even when more natural sound is an option.
- Disney Acid Sequence: Too many demos to count.
- Eldritch Location: Particularly 3D demos.
- Genius Programming: Pretty much the entire point. Try finding a Demo that doesn't use this. We'll wait.
- Mickey Mousing: Demos are often as zealous at doing that as older cartoons (sometimes even more so).
- MOD Formats: Extensively used for music by Demoscene composers. The Demoscene is also the origin of a number of them, too.
- Serial Escalation: The natural result of the demoscene's competitive nature, and its penchant for restricted platforms. A 3D scene with 5000 polygons in 1993? The next demo to come along will have 50000. A realistic universe in 64K? Expect to see the same thing in 4K shortly. Written a landmark PC or Amiga demo? Just wait, and someone will remake it scene-by-scene to the C64.
- Scenery Porn: Background effects made in older platforms are often very impressive.
- Shout-Out: The spaceship chase and explosion at the beginning of Second Reality is based on the Praxis destruction scene from Star Trek VI the Undiscovered Country.
- Sinister Geometry
- Take That: Demo creators are usually direct about it: sending greetings to people, companies and other things they like, and "fuckings" to the ones they don't.