Comments on Assembly '99

Written by Adok

My first impressions on Assembly '99 as an "outsider" who did not attend the party and only talked to people who were at the party via IRC were first published in DemoJournal #51. Here is a new, extended and revised version of my article, which, judging from the feedback I received, proved to be pretty controversional.

It's really strange for this major party that almost no major groups have participated in the competitions this time. Instead, it is mainly local Finnish groups such as the joke-crew tAAt and p (formerly called pdg, which stands for "paranormal demo group") who dominate the party results file.

Bomb, Nomad and other stars originally wanted to take part in Asm '99 with demos, too. But as you could learn in Hugi #16, they were not sure whether they would manage to finish their productions in time. And as you see, they didn't.

Other modern and popular groups like Purple did not intend to take part in Assembly at all; as Thorsten told me some weeks ago, their only plan was to make a demo for Summer Encounter '99 in Denmark, which they did within a week and with which they placed second. For Assembly, nothing was planned by Purple at all.

The main compo at Assembly '99 was the PC 3d accelerated demo competition. As you can see in the results, it was won by Mature Furk with "Virhe". There has been a lot of confusion about this in the scene, mainly because most of the members of Mature Furk are employed at Future Mark, a professional benchmark company known for "3D Mark 99". Some people felt inferior to these "professionals" and wanted to forbid professionals from participating in demo compos. However, this is not only a pretty lame argument because it goes against the scene's philosophy of competition and quality improvement by competition. But these people forgot that Mature Furk were or even are sceners themselves. Among them are, for instance, eetu aka Frank/Orange, the main coder of the demo, and Visualize, a widely appreciated graphician.

This is, however, not all. Some people were also suspicious because of rumours that Future Mark was a part of Remedy Entertainment, a company partly owned by Gore of Future Crew, who was after all a member of the same group as the party main organizer, Abyss. After they heard that Mature Furk could enter their demo twelve hours after the deadline, they jumped to the conclusion that they collaborated with the organizers.

But these accusitions are probably only pure accusitions. As Abyss stated in the newsgroup, people handing in their entries after the deadline were tolerated in several cases. It can be assumed that this was due to the relatively low number of quality entries (you will learn more about this later). Also, eetu himself told me after me confronting him with the widespread rumours: "Gore owns a bit of Remedy. Remedy owns a bit of Futuremark. Maturefurk is a group that consists for the most part of Futuremark employees who like to do demos in their sparetime." I feel nothing wrong with that.

The second place went to Trauma. No surprise either, since this group won the demo competition at Assembly '98 and can hence be considered experts at triggering the emotions of the Assembly audience - even if most of the sceners find their productions rather boring. Third came Komplex. And that was all groups of an international range.

The winner of the non-accelerated demo compo is Recreation, followed by the Finnish Damones, which are known from the Boozembly festivals that are held annually at the same time as Assembly. Also the group Doomsday, or at least a part of it, has released another demo in cooperation with kooma (formerly COMA) and pyy. Nice comeback of a group that was declared dead by its organizers a year ago.

So what does the scene think of these productions? Not much. Most people on various IRC channels such as #coders, #pixel and #coders.ger said that the demos were not of a very high quality this time.

Same goes for the music entries. A member of the music jury at Assembly'99 told me that "90% of the tunes were just unbearable" and commented it with the sentence: "The Euro music scene is going down the toilet." As you can see in the results, the music compo is also the one with the highest number of disqualified entries (that is those who got 0 points).

But the worst compo was probably the PC 4k intro competition.

After the release of Picard's revolutionary smash-hit Mesha at Assembly'98, which according to Nix/TBL easily beat most of the 64k intros presented at that party, the expectations were very high. And all of us who expected another great achievement in the development of the 4k intro art were disappointed just as badly.

I was first pleased to see that five people who had taken part in some of the Hugi Size Coding Competitions had made entries for this Assembly's 4k intro compo: Digimind, Juippi, hiteck, Itchi, and Viznut. Juippi, who placed 4th, even greeted me because of there had not been the Hugi Compos, he would not have bothered to learn coding in Assembler.

Then I started the intros. Orinoco by Digimind and Pygo by Viznut, placed second and eleventh respectively, did not work on my PC at the first attempt. Well, okay, I'll try them again with another config later, I thought. First I decided to watch hiteck's "The Answer" (7th place), which worked fine immediately. A story-based intro. A simple fantasy story is displayed in 3d letters, and after each text-page you can be a ball hopping around in a 3d world. Looked nice. Same goes for Itchi's "Nature", which mainly showed water effects and plasmas. Really good, however, I found "Radiant" by Juippi. It is the only intro that played sound on my SB 16 PnP. Lots of 303-style sound effects. And all in all nicely designed with colourful effects.

Now I was very excited to see the winner intro, "matriisi". If it was rated better than Radiant, I thought, it had to be comparable with Mojo (2nd place at Asm '98) at least. Maybe it had even the quality of Mesha, Void 3, Omniscent, the Little Big Demo saga or Outline. Or perhaps it was better!

I had never heard of the author of the intro, mooze, before. In addition, the size of the intro was less than 3 kbyte. Phew, what cool effects were in that intro, I wondered; in a 2567-byte .com file that beat all the highly size-optimized 4096 bytros, whose authors tried to pack as much as possible in this small limit?

So I was extremely excited when I slowly typed in the name of the executable... Enter.

I could not believe what I saw. A ugly picture of a "Mokia" handy appeared on my screen, all in bright green on a black background like in the times of XT computers. Then two ASCII faces appear, one of them being Keanu Reeves, the star of the movie Matrix. On the top of the screen, some short conversation is displayed. I don't understand it, since only the first sentence is in English language - the rest is all in Finnish. The conversation is interrupted by the effect of the Matrix screensaver, some random zeroes and ones falling from the top of the screen down to the bottom, and a rectangle saying "LSD". Finally the watcher gets to see a really lame tunnel effect; it is either not synchronised with the vertical retrace or uses a buggy algorithm, as you can spot many pictures which do not belong to where they are. Fortunately, the even lamer Matrix effect is displayed again in the foreground, so at least you do not have to watch the incorrectly set pixels all the time. Then a last picture of a Matrix with zeroes and ones is displayed, with the text: "Matrix has you!" The End.

I was surprised. How could this piece of crap win the 4k intro competition? Besides, I was angry that as a result of this several productions of a higher quality had not got what they deserved. Immediately I logged onto IRC to express my rage; something I, being a calm person, rarely ever do, as anybody who knows me personally can confirm.

The first person I met, Partikle, told me it was a very funny intro, and that was why it got that many votes. I had also already thought that there had to be something especially funny in that intro, but as I don't understand Finnish it was not funny for me at all.

As I later learned, the coder of this intro apologized in front of the audience for winning the compo. He said that the others would have deserved it more. I also got a final version of the intro, featuring sloppy translations to English, German and Swedish. Still I wasn't able to discover what was that funny about that intro. Maybe the Finnish people have a different taste of humour than the rest of Europe, and it was also supposed to be some sort of humour that the EU reports during the Finnish EU presidency have neither been published in English nor in German but in the dead language Latin.

Anyway, no matter whether the intro was funny or not, I still think that a 4k intro competition is not a joke compo. On the contrary, this is the very compo where coders have to show off their technical and designing skills. A 4k intro is something every demo coder can easily create alone. But creating a good 4k intro requires a lot of knowledge and work. Not only do you have to know how to code effects but you also have to optimize them in size. Furthermore, you need a clear concept of your intro before you start coding. Otherwise you cannot optimize straight from the beginning, and you will have a lot of code between the individual routines to set up registers that will blow up your .com file's size.

That this intro, matriisi by mooze, won shows two things.

Firstly, it shows that Assembly is definitely Finnish dominated. According to the organizers' official statements, 80% of the visitors last year were from Finland. For this year's Assembly, no comparable summary has been released yet. But party visitors I talked with on IRC confirmed me that the majority was from the country or even local, and that this year their share was perhaps not 80% but even 90%.

The party results confirm this impression. At least in the major compos (demos and intros), there was hardly any group from outside the country in which Assembly was held.

Conclusion: Assembly is not the big international scene event any more it was in the past years, but rather a local or national one.

Secondly, it shows that there are a lot of people at Assembly who do not care about the technical or the quality aspect of the presented productions. In other words, the majority of the visitors and, for that reason, also the voters is probably non-sceners.

That Assembly is not only focused on the scene but is rather a general computer event for young kids and old people also becomes obvious when you take a glance at the Assembly '99 e-zine ( Non-sceners, scene newbies, and girls form the editor staff. That's nothing bad, as it allows a fresh view on the happenings. But when you take a close look at the articles posted in that electronic magazine, you will find out that most either deal with the party action in general, which is fine, or people that are obviously not related to the scene. There are interviews with "famous" people - famous just because they are well known on some IRC channels. And the party-related articles focus on topics like a full WC hall, which, again, is okay to report about and certainly also interesting to read; but there is nothing about the compos, for instance.

The fact that big scene parties are dominated by "game-lamers" and the like is nothing new of course. Also it is completely understandable that it is necessary to have many visitors in order to pay the expenses for the party place, electricity and the compo prizes; the sponsors won't cover all, and after all, every party organizer also wants to earn a bit money as a recompensation for his efforts.

But it is no wonder why Assembly gets less and less attractive for the demo scene. If you get beaten by a lame fake intro although you invested a lot of time and work in creating a technically excellent production, you will think twice before you will enter a production at this party again.

In addition, for foreign sceners outside Scandinavia, travelling to Finland is very expensive. Even thought you can earn quite a lot of money if you win a compo (about $1650 for the PC demo compo, for instance), there is not much of an incentive to attend the party with a compo entry that required a lot of sweat to create.

It should be clear who is this year's winner of the "largest international demo scene event" battle fought between Assembly and The Party.

But I think I should end this article with a positive statement. For a change, a rather good aspect of Assembly '99 was the GFX compo. Even though the subjects are not always my taste, the technique in general looks fine to me in the best rated entries. And interestingly, the top three entries were all made by people who are active on IRCNet #pixel.

Since Assembly's main organizer, Abyss/FC, is not satisfied with the "number" of compo entries this year himself, he and his team are "creating a couple of new *SCENE ONLY* ideas for next year". Up-to-date information can be retrieved from the Assembly web-site.