The Demoscene

The demoscene represents one of the oldest digital artforms, and is still very active.

It takes its name from our so-called demos, small real-time rendered audio-visual artworks that combine intricate graphics and music, facilitated by highly efficient computer code. When watching a demo, you may be reminded of a music video with computer-generated visuals.

But how does one get the idea of creating such things?

It’s the 1980s. Home computers emerge in households, and quickly kids and teenagers discover them for themselves. A whole new generation, directing their spirit of discovery towards computers quickly learns that mere consumption is by no means all this new landscape has to offer.

With computer games on the rise, piracy doesn’t wait long to follow after. Teenagers and young adults break the copy protection of their favourite games, first to share them with friends, later in ever-more complex distribution schemes that soon start to cross national borders.

Of course, this creates competition amongst the so-called crackers. Who is the fastest, who can spread his copies the widest?

So the teams start to set themselves a signature – along with developers’ and publishers’ intros, colourful animations would appear when starting the games, naming the crackers responsible, greeting or mocking others and impressing with more and more intricate animations and effects. The cracktro is born.

Over the years, it’s own art form developed and broke free of its legally questionable roots. Cracktros became so elaborate that they would ship on their own disks, and eventually started “demonstrating” their creators’ artistic and technical skill, now being called “demos”. 

Demoparties emerged in Switzerland and all over Europe, where the young scene met, showcased their latest work and eventually started competing against each other in different disciplines. 

And… this is pretty much where we are at today! 

The PC came into our lives, eradicating limitations (and equal ground for competition) the C64 and Amiga still posed. The scene developed size-coding to continue to challenge ourselves, many demos compete in categories limiting file sizes to 64kb, 4kb or even just 256b. This is only achievable by e.g. programming effects and music, instead of storing and calling assets that would take away valuable storage space.

In the last years, Shader Coding (programming straight against the GPU of your computer) found its own sub-community, hosting code-along streams and tournaments, in which programmers compete live on stage who can create the better effect within 25 minutes.

In 2020, the UNESCO chapter of Finland pronounced the Demoscene the first digital Intangible Cultural Heritage. Germany nominated us in the same year, a decision is planned for early 2021.

Echtzeit is the Swiss National Point of Contact and is part of the Art Of Coding initiative that facilitates applications all across Europe.

And there is so much more! 

We can’t anticipate what the next big thing is going to be for us, many members are avid 3D-printers, VR gives us opportunity to experiment and the accelerated technical evolution leaves us with more canvas for our art than we can even anticipate.

Only one thing is for certain: the future holds more to explore, and our scene will be on the frontlines of it.