It’s no secret I’m a big fan of the demoscene. I’ve been introduced to it through cracktros on games and magazine articles that wowed me on the idea of pushing computer hardware to its limits and publishing beautiful audiovisual works of art on absurdly small memory sizes. I’ve written a university paper on the demoscene, and all the stories I ever hear about its demoparties really make me wish to see what one was like. The Portugese Youtube vlogger psenough regularly covers demoparties and chats with demoproducers on his Mystery Demoscene Theatre 9000 podcast, which I’ve been casually following and has given me an idea that demo producers are not(for the most part), an elitist cabal of antisocial programmers as many would be inclined to believe, but an international family who for the most part share the same passion for technology and the arts, whose only point of worship is the limitless capacity for self-expression of the humble CPU.
Every demoparty has what’s called a “compo night”, shortened from “competition”, It’s the evening segment at a demoparty where an audience gathers in a hall with a large cinema screen and impressive sound-system, and where all the demos submitted through the past year are premiered to the world at large for the first time, on real hardware. Audiences can vote for the best demos on their smartphones by allocating points, and by the end of the compo night, with the top three winners receiving the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes and getting their creations forever immortalised on demo aggregate sites such as pouet. Compos are usually divided into several categories. Besides the usual demos being made on contemporary platforms, there are some that put a strict limitation on the memory size of the demo, including 64Kb, 4Kb, 1Kb or even the breath-taking 256 Byte categories. There are categories for specific platforms, many of which are rooted in the classic demoscene such as the Commodore 64 and Commodore Amiga, a game development category, and for those for whom coding is too high of an aspiration, demoparties host music, photography, artwork, and even video compos.
I’ve always toyed with the idea of visiting a demoparty just to feel that sensation of witnessing a brand new, never-before-seen demo with hundreds of other participants, see that history in the making, the oohs and aahs and spontaneous applauses cheering for every work that’s been exhibited, all of them validating every single gem that’s been painstakingly handcrafted for all the computers of the world to play. There are many demoparties around the world, with the majority of them firmly anchored in central Europe. The biggest ones include Revision in Germany and Assembly in Finland, right in the heart of two of the world’s probably biggest demoscene exporters, with Poles, Hungarians and other Nordics following not far behind. There are other many other demoparties in plenty of European countries, including several in the USA and one in South Africa, and here the availability of these parties globally sadly ends, mostly due to lack of interest and a lack of an ingrained programming culture in many of the world’s countries. There has been only one demoparty in Brazil for one year, and to my knowledge, no major demoparty has ever been held in the wide span of Asia save for one short-lived party in Israel during the 90s. None of the former Yugoslav countries ever held a demoparty, although I had the chance to see the next best thing: The Function demoparty in Budapest, Hungary, in a neighbouring country and just a stone’s throw away from where I live.
In a year wrought with terrible tragedy, that of losing my mother and being forced to live by myself, and having limited dietary options due to a chronic ailment, I needed change in my life, and a way to get out. I dyed my hair and started skateboarding, and increasingly with the knowledge that I was taking control of my life, I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and travel to a foreign country, for the first time in about six years. It would be a test bed to see if I can thrive outside my home with my new dietary habits, and seeing Budapest for the span of 10th-to-12th of September seemed ideal enough.
It was the first time I was visiting Budapest but for just three days I thought it’d be good enough to travel light. I figured I could get by with just a single large backpack and my skateboard, for mobility. I wanted to travel on a budget and didn’t mean to spend more than 100 euros for this voyage, and so I wanted to cut costs wherever I could with regards to travel. As it turns out, this was a great choice! I’ve spent 60 euros for a van trip to Budapest and back, 10 euros for the admission price at Party and just around 30 for other amenities. It’s been a resounding success!
Coming into Budapest like
The van was kind enough to drop me right in front of the Csokonai Cultural Centre where the immediate concern of currency was stopping me. I was greeted by the host and the main organiser, a tall, strong dude by the name of Maugli, and he kindly let me leave my backpack and let me find the nearest exchange shop. A passer-by who just entered kindly offered me to pay for my ticket, although in the awkward conversation we had my initial impression was that he was willing to exchange my euros for Hungarian forints, which I refused on impulse. A day later this guy resolved this misunderstanding and I was surprised to learn he would be, of all people, Gargaj, from the demo group “Conspiracy”.
Home away from home
The Csokonai center had a large venue for compos, a small coding room where everybody brings their laptops, an upstairs “sleeping” room that was just big and barren, a cafeteria for food and drink(everything from soft drinks, spirits and coffee, to peanuts, sandwiches, candy bars and a set of fish and chips), and a big lawn with picnic benches for hanging around in and playing music. Skating around Budapest and finding the occasional small-scale skate park, I found a little supermarket where I bought some peanuts to sustain myself, returned, bought my 10-euro ticket, and immediately proceeded to the outdoor lawn and to sit with whatever cool-looking English-speaking people I could.
What’s surprising to me is how I was immediately put at ease, and I’ve made a name for myself by entering as new blood. Everybody was amazed to hear how I got here, and very quickly I realised that most people here, those who belong in the scene, all know each other and see each other regularly at various demoparties. Going to another one like Function was just tuesday to them. I didn’t know anyone here, but everybody was deeply welcoming and helpful, answering whatever stupid questions I had. And most of all what put me at ease was the language that we shared: All the famous demos we’ve seen, the computers we love, the creators we envy, and that one specific moment in “Edge of Disgrace” for the C64 where everybody who saw it immediately wept. I wept, too. It was weird learning this experience was not singular just to me.
The “sleeping room”, really just a large hall for dance and music practices and piano. The hard wooden floor was super uncomfortable to sleep on in spite of everyone bringing their sleeping bag and mattresses!
The coders’ club, making their last-minute additions before the deadline. They all seemed very busy and I was too nervous to bother them.
I sat at one of the benches munching on some fruit that I brought(a grapefruit, a nectarine, and some apples) and joined a group of Slovaks having a fun time and talking about similarities in our cultures. There was a beautiful blond girl called Daniela who led me through all of the party etiquette and who was so welcoming and attentive, and her beautiful boyfriend Hrobky who was a fun-loving party guy full of infectious optimism. Also sitting with them was a tall, proud and bearded guy involved in some coding on his laptop, making his last-minute preparations for the 4Kb demo compo. His name was Citrus, and together these three were part of the Slovak-Polish-Romanian demo group “Aberration Creations”.
Pictured here are Hrobky(to the left), Daniela, and the tall guy behind them is Citrus. The fellow on the right is Moritz, from Austria and my immediate bedroom neighbour.
A pear spirits from Hungary and a citrus-flavored soft drink from Slovakia.
Being with these people stuck in a foreign country all alone and in a city I’ve never been to before, normally I would be tense, but instead I’ve felt an indescribable sense of calm. I knew that I could just exist here on my own terms and that people weren’t out there to get me. Daniela described the demoscene as a family and it truly felt like that, and it truly felt like everybody could be my friend.
I told everyone I was a comic artist and not a coder, and that my dream was to be able to participate in a demo group and make artwork for a demo. I had wished I could join a demo group on the fly as they were making a demo, but that wasn’t really feasible, so I was encouraged to try my hand at the handdrawn graphics combo. But there was one problem: I brought my tablet, but I had no laptop!
Fortunately, a friend of mine from Budapest, called Kornel, came up to me on his nickel board with a laptop in his backpack, and that was the first time we’ve met in person. Seeing Kornel was actually one of my primary motivators for visiting Budapest, and sadly due to commitments he couldn’t attend the demoparty with me. I was very grateful for the laptop and I could immediately begin making a small handdrawn digital drawing just before the deadline tomorrow.
Receiving the laptop, I heard banter at the front entrance that sounded familiar. Those were three Croat guys I had never seen before, but immediately I was compelled to introduce myself to them, since it was a relief to hear fellow Yugoslavs around. The trio of sceners were led by a chill, friendly demo coder named Vlado Banda(in the demoscene known by the name of “Bonefish“), and he helped explain to me much of the ropes on the party, and reminisced about the huge, impressive screen at Revision and the many times he won awards at music compos for his Amiga tracker songs.
On the first night I was sitting with Banda and we were watching a “demoshow”, a small selection of favourite demos by the party’s organisers. In the center stage is Maugli, the party’s chief organiser.
Many classics were played there, from C64 and Amiga demos, to “Heaven Seven” and “Starstruck”, but the one that made us both go hog-wild was “Terminal 7” and its insane drum-and-bass soundtrack. It was a moment so powerful I had to capture it on video:
After that impressive show, we went to the cafeteria as I was trying to install drivers for my tablet, but in my endless stupidity I got the wrong ones and had major malfunctions trying to get certain features. While I was struggling, I was having a wonderful time chatting with the three fellas as they were brainstorming their next demo and described their scenes in visual motifs and were drawing storyboards, which for me was a revelation into demo pre-production, unsurprisingly a lot similar to producing a movie!
The tablet worked, but it had no pen pressure and it was stopping me from drawing smooth streaks, and instead gave me straight, jittery lines. Knowing how some of the coolest artwork was done with random limitations, I decided to take this as a challenge and begun drawing a cyberpunk-ish anime girl that was my vague attempt at fitting the demoscene “iconography”, so I amped up the technological breakdown, the edge, the femininity, and the dystopia and made a drawing with no tentative title, except that “Flow Coma” by 808 State was on my mind the whole time I was drawing it. So I just decided to name it “flowcoma”, signed under my most ancient Internat alias, Clownboss. Upon completion, you are required to provide three additional “in-progress” images of the artwork:
I still can’t tell if she is supposed to be a nurse, an office lady or a schoolgirl, or all at once.
It is undeniably a really horny piece of artwork and I tried my hardest not to succumb to my usual anime stylings but to no avail. This is the best I could do in four hours with no plans and a driver that just really hated me, but I was really glad I was able to partake at all.
When the compo night hit, I was relieved by the huge applause it got, and even more impressive, I won an award for it! I won the 3rd place at the handdrawn graphics compo, although I think the competition wasn’t really tight since there were only 5 entries. Still, I was very happy with it, and a Twitch stream of the compo night shows two key moments:
-My artwork being displayed and receiving a round of applause(as well as questions poking whether the tits can pass the contest and Twitch guidelines) at 2:39:16.
-Climbing up on stage to recieve the prize and give a small speech at 9:04:23.
My heart was racing for both of these moments, and I’m very glad the reception has been so good and supportive. I really wish I was informed enough to make a better illustration much earlier, and next time at the very least I’ll have a whole year to concentrate on that, if I want to go to Function again. Hopefully it’ll be work for an actual demo.
For my efforts I recieved a medal with the Function logo, as well as a nice big number “3”, detailing the category which I’ve received it in.
Thank you, Function!
A String of Bad Decisions
Aberration Creations, a demogroup of which Citrus and Daniela are a part of, have also released a demo on that day in the 4Kb category, called “A String of Bad Decisions“. It was chiefly coded by Citrus on an online platform called “Shadertoy”, where he did his coding magic and made a wonderful brutalist composition with chord-heavy music. The sad bit is we’ve all missed it because the 4K category zips by so quickly! But according to the Twitch stream, the people loved it, even though it only ranked #3 of three of the total submissions on that category.
Even weirder was that there was only one entry for the 64Kb category, so they got to recieve all top 3 of the prizes.
Citrus was so kind to indulge me in a lengthy video where he explains the core principle behind the 4K demo he’s coded, where it uses raymarching technology, that’s much more convenient and less demanding than raytracing, but carries its own set of caveats.
Rainbow Clash: Presence
The compo night had a slew of many other interesting demos, all of them mind-boggling, or quirky, or funny in their own way. The compos featured included a music category, a game category, freehand and freestyle graphics, oldschool graphics, “wild” demos, 256 byte demos, 4k demos, 64k demos, oldschool demos and limitless demos.
Music compo. pic.twitter.com/kQg64KsAus
— Nik Gothic (@Clownboss) September 15, 2021
Bad Apple on the C64? You bet! pic.twitter.com/h5TdPEgLKx
— Nik Gothic (@Clownboss) September 15, 2021
“Bad Apple” is such a meme in the demoscene community, since every retro platform tries to make a video player where it uses Bad Apple as its testing video. Many people, especially the older ones in the demo scene have gotten so sick of seeing Bad Apple everywhere, every day, but I relish every time I see it and just feel immense happiness this vital part of weeb culture managed to intersect with the demoscene.
trouwfuif by Royal Belgian Beer Squadron pic.twitter.com/kQnuy7T1rD
— Nik Gothic (@Clownboss) September 15, 2021
The chicken one on the C64 was really random, and that’s the kind of randomness you tend to expect from the demoscene.
The winner of the oldschool compo on the other hand, did things a little differently. At the demoparty, everybody was given free craft beer from Germany, with an eye-catching, graffiti-style artwork of a cat, octopus and a monkey riding a convertible. It was called “Atlantis: Thir(s)ty Mega Lager” and I must suppose it was decent, though it’s hard to tell when you’re not allowed to drink alcohol.
Little did I know it would be a sign of bigger things to come. At the compo the “Thir(s)ty” demo was out which was really impressive and complex compared to the other demos, but then one of the pixel art there made me go “hey wait a minute…”
The madmen in Atlantis saw an excellent opportunity to tie-in their demo with an actual craft beer series and that to me was one fascinating bit of self-promotion, if not bribery. This beer was bloody everywhere at the compo. But the “Thir(s)ty” demo was genuinely impressive and deserves all the accolades it could get. It was filled with ancient imagery, Alice in Wonderland nods and the occasional sexy which is all you could ask for from a C64, and the epilogue confirms they printed about 700 of these cans for the compo.
The #1 for the limitless demo category was a DOS-based “cöncept“ by Ümlaüt Design, better known as Gargaj in the demoscene, who as fate would have it, was also the guy who I met when I first entered, who offered to buy me my ticket fee! It was an amazing coincidence and I never would’ve guessed the guy making an offer to me was from one of my favourite demo groups, “Conspiracy“, the pride and joy of the Hungarian demoscene,
“cöncept” has impressive filters and 3D shaders for a 20-year old computer running DOS with no GPU, and it likely deserves the award, since there is doubtless programming mastery that went into it that my puny mind can’t comprehend, but to me it was just a bit too downbeat, too smooth. It lacks that punch that I like in truly memorable demos. I was happy instead that I got to witness what is now one of my most favourite demos I’ve ever seen.
The #2 demo at Function was Rainbow Clash: Presence by United Force & Digital Dynamite and it is just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
"Rainbow Clash: Presence" at Function 2021. Seriously one of the most life-afirming moments in my life and a beautiful thing to see on a film screen. What I shared there with a 100+ visitors here was spellbinding. pic.twitter.com/DrlwNrpvsy
— Nik Gothic (@Clownboss) September 16, 2021
The bright, rainbowy synths and the fluffy psychedelic imagery really hit the spot for me, and it’s so rare to see this kind of unabashed sweetness in the demoscene. That moment when the monologue hit at 1:19 means everything to me. “I feel as if I’m the noise itself. Before all I heard were joys. I just want to be part of all sounds. That’s why I need the presence.” What I didn’t know at the time was that Function demoparties tended to be really saturated with a whole series of likewise abstract demos with bright music, all helmed with the “Rainbow Clash” moniker. One of those even won the last year’s Function. The Rainbow Clash demos are the lovechild of SlySpy on the audiovisual front and the composer of this marvellous piece that’s now probably my most favourite song of the year, and, to my delight, BoyC as the coder of this multi-use demo tool which SlySpy’s gladly adopted time and time again.
BoyC is a Hungarian coder and another one in the line of the legendary demo group “Conspiracy”, Conspiracy have plenty of famous demos to their name, but nothing compares to the stark, infinite, primal energy and terrifying vastness of “Chaos Theory“, a 64Kb prod with a furious, droning drum and bass track and the cool establishing shot reminiscent of “Halo”.
I was beside myself when I got the opportunity to talk to the three people who collaborated and made this wonderful demo that won #2 at Assembly at 2006. I was interviewing BoyC, Gargaj and ZooM here, as they were reminiscing about the times and life they had when they were coding “Chaos Theory”, and share loads of fun stories. Gargaj(center), the guy behind “cöncept” and the compo winner of the year was, as it turns out, the lead composer of Chaos Theory, and he is a wonderful person full of laughter and optimism, cracking jokes in my company any time he could. BoyC(left) was chill, passionate, and doesn’t like to take a lot of credit, and ZooM(right) was very shy and unobtrusive.
To keep me sustained, Function had a barbeque grill serving pork, chicken, ćevapi and a whole ton of chips, all for free. It’s a lot more than I could’ve asked for, and even though I normally shouldn’t eat potato chips, I took what I could and I managed to live off available food for no price, and for this I’m endlessly grateful, Function covered all my needs and it honestly felt like I would live there. The only thing that annoyed me was that sleeping was nigh-impossible due to my allergies, although the way the wooden floor was hard didn’t help matters, and all the guys called dibs on all the available sofas. I had such a serious nasal congestion problem I had to resort to the nasal spray I brought with me in crisis situations like these.
Other than that, Function was a beautiful, beautiful experience and I’m endlessly thankful for Maugli for hosting it, all the organisers who secured all the ammenities and kept everything rolling, and to the wonderful friends I’ve met who introduced me to the scene. Shoutout to Daniela, Hrobky, Citrus, Moritz and Banda, who were my companions for all of this duration.
The rest of Budapest
With a heavy heart I left the Csokonai on a sunday morning, after it became deserted and only me and Moritz were left. Moritz had to take a train downtown and he kindly offered me to go together, to show me which trains to take and how to buy a ticket. He’s allowed me to use his Internet to come into contact with one of my longtime Internet buddies living in Budapest, Kornel.
Kornel is a designer living in just the nicest little flat with an impressive collection of games, vinyls, books and other geek memorabilia. I gave him his laptop back, right as I was skating towards him and fell spectacularly(thank goodness for pads) and at home he offered me his couch to nap in and make up for the lost sleep, some snacks from the supermarket, He was kind enough to print me out a whole list of sights and spots to see in Budapest, and I could take the remainder of the day to check them out. Sadly I couldn’t see a lot and even sadder, Kornel and his girlfriend were way too tired to oblige me, but I did ride out in the open streets on a skate with the few precious hours I had left and went to experience the best Budapest could offer me. I got to see three fantastic spots.
At Radnóti Miklós u. 18, 1137 you can find the pinball museum, where the price of admission is equivalent to about 12 euros. For the whole day you can scour the impressively large museum hunting all sorts of pinball machines by Williams, Midway and Gotlieb, as well as other arcade delights and also many famous arcade video games. Among the pinballs I had to take a shot at “Bride of Pin-Bot”(which Don Casanova from EZA made an entire ode to), a really old Beatles-inspired Midway table, and an arm-wrestling machine.
The Flippermuzeum had tons of vintage tables like this one, and this was the first time I ever saw those oldschool bumpers on a pinball table.
Arm wrestling. Try as I might, I could not reach the “Piano Mover” score.
And of course there was the inevitable “Shrek” and “Family Guy” pinballs tucked together in a corner, which I had to try out. It’s like they know me.
The Flippermuzeum had its other surprises, too…
I had my shot playing OutRun, Arkanoid, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Street Fighter II: Turbo, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros., Phoenix, Space Invaders, Ms. Pac-Man, and Galaga. All wonderful arcade titles I was quite bad at and require a lot of practice.
These guys even had the six-player, dual-screen X-Men cabinet! Incredible!
The Flippermuzeum is a ton of fun and for the admission price you can spend a whole day here having free play on all the arcades. That’s a wonderful format to try out and it makes me want to really practice these games on MAME before I return one day in the early morning to give them all a fair shot on the actual arcades. The splendour and shining lights of the arcades make the real experience a whole other league than recapturing any of the games on MAME. It’s that impactful.
Next, time to eat some pizza!
This was a cute little pizza joint called the “Local Korner“, at Semmelweis u. 17, 1052. You can only order whole pizzas instead of slices, but the brilliant thing with Local Korner is how you can dictate what kind of toppings you like on pizza and custom-made it to your delight. You wanna combine ham, bacon and pepperoni? Sure thing! You wan’t pineapple with corn? Go ahead! I’m normally not supposed to eat pizza due to health, but I thought I’d treat myself just this once, and as far as I can see now, I didn’t have any after-effects at all. I’m grateful I managed to taste real pizza once again.
Lastly I wanted to check out the skate park. I had to hightail it since it was getting late, and the distance was huge, and I skated all the way just to avoid having to resort to trams and buses. I took more than a few photos along the way.
At the skate park, I met just the nicest group of kids, and immediately they were taken by my conspicuous Nyanners shirt and thought for a moment I was Australian(apparently everybody thought I was Australian). This is the first I’ve met people who wanted me to slow down cos my accent was very thick, which I’ve happilly obliged. The most experienced dude here, Almos, showed me all kinds of sick tricks he could do on the miniramp, including various nose-stalls, rock ‘n’ rolls, and was eagerly explaining me how to ollie, which at the time I still found too advanced for me. It took him two years to learn to ollie, and meanwhile I had only been skating for two months, and I really wanted to take things easy. The skate park has been lovingly designed with really huge ramps and quarter-pipes, and it was a nice opportunity to practice how to do 180 pivots on an incline… and eventually move to flatground 180 pivots. There was literally only an hour left before my van should arrive to pick me up back to Belgrade, and these kids then showed me which tram to take to get back to Kornel, which was amazingly helpful. I actually sneaked in without paying a ticket, but I got back to Kornel at lightning speed and had enough time to pack for the return trip.
I got back to Belgrade at 6AM without a hitch and left dizzy with a compact, three day experience in Budapest that I’ll never forget. I’m really sad I haven’t seen much of the city itself, or all the sites, and at most what I got to bring home was a fridge magnet(although the medal and the trophy were also nice), so I still think there’s a lot of unfinished business in Budapest I need to address, some other time. I hope I can get back to it and I hope someday I can be asked to work and contribute to an actual demo group. I’m glad the people in the scene were very positive and that I was accepted, but I’m still kind of afraid for my lack of imagination or technical abilities, or if I’ll have the time to commit to the demoscene(I already have way too many passions I indulge in), and I’m just praying it all works out, somehow. It’s a place that was very good to me, and I want to return this, somehow.