What Is A Demoscene?

KansasFest Report:

Andy Molloy presented a session about the Demoscene of the 1980s. The “Demoscene” refers to programmers who created software that demonstrated the graphics and sound capabilities of various computers. Some of the original demos of this type appeared for the Commodore 64, but in essence it had its origins in the Apple II.

Interestingly, some of the impetus for this arose out of the method that published used to try and prevent piracy. The copy-protection methods motivated some to find ways to break or “krack” that protection. Many of these software crackers wanted to sign their work, and they took the startup screens and inserted their names (hacker names), or BBS phone numbers. This became more elaborate with time, with the inclusion of pictures, and even with time, simple animations.

These methods moved onto the Commodore 64, and with the better quality graphics and sound available they pushed the abilities of that machine to its limits, going beyond what it was thought was possible. And for the software crackers, their interests passed on to creating animated demos that were made just for the sake of showing them off to their friends. With the release of the Apple IIGS in 1986, interest rose in pushing the abilities of that machine. Going beyond the limits placed by Apple with their tools, these programmers worked “on the metal”, and groups like Ninja Force, FTA (Free Tools Association), and Brutal Deluxe created Demoscene-type displays for the IIGS.

Some of these were distributed online, via the major online services (CompuServe, GEnie, America Online, Delphi), and some were distributed on physical disk media, which was particularly necessary for those who did not pay the money for access to those services. Certainly in Europe (particularly in France, where some of those above-mentioned groups were based), phone access was more expensive, and it was more common to have “demo parties”, where crackers would get together and share and copy software with each other, sometimes mailing it back and forth to those who were further away.

One of the other points to make about the Demoscene is that it was an intersection between those who could write software and those who were also artistically capable. The video Moleman 2 shows a fascinating look at this world:


A recent entry in the Demoscene world for the Apple II was the Drift disk that was included in the latest issue of Juiced.GS. Created as a collaboration between Krue (music), Wade Clark (music), Antoine Vignau (code) and Melissa Barron (ascii art), Drift works on any Apple II — that is, it is not GS-specific. On Melissa’s Tumblr site (the link by her name) it tells about the process of creating some of the project.

6 Comments on “What Is A Demoscene?

  1. Bob Bishop’s “Apple-Vision” from 1978 deserves a hallowed place in demoscene history. Animation, music, procedural graphics, technical wizardry, even scrolltext! It’s got it all.

    • I had not previously considered it, but I believe you are correct. Though not as sophisticated as the efforts that appeared in later years, Apple-Vision does fit somewhat the definition of demoscene software.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.