DemoNews.314 - What is true?
When I recently read through Imphobia #12 once again, I stumbled across an article called "DemoNews.314". Apparently this article contained a fake issue of DemoNews, the legendary demo scene newsletter that was released by Hornet from mid 1992 to early 1998. It pretended to be a DemoNews issue from August 28, 1998 and contained a fictitious party report about Assembly '98, the fake review of a tracker called UGtracker v1.89 by Threesome, a review about a computer system with the P7 processor, besides an editorial and the list of new uploads to the Hornet Archive.
This issue immediately caused my interest, especially as now it actually was the second half of 1998, i.e. the period this fake newsletter was predicting. At once I decided to write an article comparing the predictions and what 1998 turned out to be from the scene's point of view in reality.
First, however, I asked Phoenix/Ex-Hornet for background information. He told me that the DemoNews #314 was released around February 1996, and it "was sort of a joke issue, created by Snowman/Hornet and sent around to a few people like Hornet members and Darkness. I think GD may have helped with some of the 'ratings'. [...] DN314 was a very optimistic prediction of what DemoNews would be like in 2.5 years, around Assembly '98. I guess we came close in some cases, but not in others - like, first, we assumed the North American scene would continue its growth in activity it had as of 2/96, which it didn't, and we assumed we would have the energy to release an issue every 1 or 2 weeks for another 2 years, also rubbish. :)"
So, what does DemoNews #314 look like? In general, some minor details differ from the real DemoNews issues. The Hornet group is called "Hornet USA+", Snowman has renamed to "Snow", and the Hornet Archive is now located at ftp.galatron.com. DemoNews already has 8274 subscribers, which it has never reached in reality.
We learn a few details about the fictitious time the newsletter is set at. The Future Crew has made a final effort called "Unreality"; it is described at a great demo, whose "Human Plasma" effect is so breathtaking that the author doubts he will ever understand it. And neither does he think PSI understands it.
A famous Finnish group of that time is Timeclock. They are the winners of Assembly '98 with their demo "Gorge Dropoff". We will learn more about it and the controversy regarding it later on.
The state-of-the-art CPU is the Intel P7; the state-of-the-art OS is Win97. SuperVesa is the current graphic standard, and coders use Watcom C 14.8. We will hear more details in the article about "The Behemoth P7-410U".
Finally, Microsoft has lost Bill Gates, and they have a new compaign: "fatter with features(tm)"
DemoNews #314 begins with the Introduction, written by Snow. It resembles the editorials of the real DemoNews issue. Mainly Snow summarizes the articles of this issue. He concludes with: "We've invited many of the old demo hands back who have contributed to DemoNews in the post-present. This is an issue of DN you won't forget."
Next comes the "Review of UGTracker v1.89", signed with "GD". This tracker was written by the American group Threesome, is shareware and intended for commercial use. A sound system package comes with the registered version, which "has made it a true success". Two of its largest customers are Origin and Epic. Many bugs were fixed after the companies had complained about lost data. Quote: "Several _dozen_ flaws were found in the memory allocation and data retrieval portions in the code. 'After examining this flawed code,' Kneebiter told me, 'I am surprised that we didn't hear about it sooner.'" UGTracker, whose name comes from "Underground Gamers Tracker", uses an own UGTracker Module format (UTM) and is the first tracker to support the latest soundcard, Sony Dreamwave. Some special features are CDROM sample extraction through Dreamwave, Software reverb, and Timeclock Sample Detection. The volume channel will precalculate all volume fades and insert the number into the volume column according to the sound speed and tempo. Thus even less processing is needed during the playing of the song.
"Trixter" was impressed by the first machine with a P7 CPU, "The Behemoth P7-410U", and introduces it to the readers. Its configuration looks as follows: 128 MByte RAM, 8 PCI slots, configurable between 128 and 256 bits per cycle, 4 P7 cpus running at 240 MHz, 12 GB hard drive space, ISDN V2 and AMB "ZoundZystem" electronics built onto the motherboard, ATI SuperVesa "MegaTrue" video board, Sony DuoQuad CDROM jukebox. You see, in most regards the real hardware of today can easily cope with these predictions and sometimes even outdoes them. Initial observations follow. As most of DemoNews #314, they are written in a serious voice. Only if you read carefully, you will notice the subtle jokes and allusions.
Concerning compatibility, Win97 applications ran "incredibly fast, thanks to the extra 64 MB of RAM". Older Win96 and Win95 apps ran "just fine" while Trixter could not get a single Win 3.x program to run. Linux was easy to install. Trixter praises it for requiring only 16 MB of RAM to run. Unfortunately, there was no support for the Sony CDROM yet, "but considering that there's only 15,000 programmers working on Linux", Trixter is sure he "won't have to wait long".
Finally and most importantly, he writes about the compatibility with demos. Unfortunately, almost all demos from 1995 and before were initially broken. But the solution turned out to be easy: SuperVesa allows setting the screen refresh rate. Decreasing it from 160 Hz to 70 Hz helped. All demos after 1995 worked fine, and "Unreality" had finally "enough horepower to run". To sum it up, Trixter thinks this machine is worth every penny. And now he sees how the "Timeclock controversary" - we will learn about it shortly - occured: With a P7-410U as the prize, he would "do almost *anything* to win as well"!
With no doubt, the next and final article "Assembly 1998 wrapup" by Snow is the highlight of DemoNews #314. Two weeks ago Hornet USA+ went to that party, which, even though its popularity has dropped the past few years (which corresponds to reality!), "had many good showings" so that overall he was "very happy to have gone". He took extensive notes on his handy P5/100 notebook and will throw sampled quotes in DemoNews #315. So he advices the readers to configure their default MailScape .wav device correctly.
Instead of reporting day by day about what happened at the party, Snow lists just the highlights. More than two dozens of Hornet USA+ members attended the party. In total slightly less than 5000 people showed up, which made it the second most attended party so far that year. The sleeping areas consisted of four huge halls which were divided into little mini-rooms by thousands of sound-proof partitions. A wall with lockers, bathroom and shower facilities was located in the opposite corners of each room. Each hall features a snack/food shop. The hall names, by the way, confused Snow a little, because two of them were called "The Purple Cow" and "Spitting Dog".
The main hall had place for 9000 people. Sony, the main sponsor this year, showed off its new JumboTron 2 as the primary viewing display; the screen had a size of 50x24 feet. In such a huge hall, however, a problem occured which Snow had never reflected on before: "Sound projected from the front of the room takes nearly half a second to reach the back of the room." The "audio wizards" solved it by actually dividing "the room into 64 sectors, each with its own sound system. At the corners dividing these sectors were boxes that emitted modulated sound that directly interfered with the music."
As, like in all large modern parties (which corresponds to the truth as well), alocohol and drugs were forbidden, Snow had to walk 200 metres to the outside each time he wanted to smoke a cigarette. Half in jest he comments that in this way one pack of cigars lasted him the entire five days.
One thing he found interesting was the registration: Everyone was photographed with a digital camera so that you could log into the local network and look for just about anyone - "when they had arrived, where they were staying, and who else was there from their group". Snow hopes that next year, Assembly "expands this system to include a short voice sample along with everyone's photo." The parties of reality, on the other hand, yet have to implement the photo feature.
There was a new compo Snowman found especially interesting. It was called TrAnsi (Transparent Ansi). Everyone who wanted to participate in it got a paper with a thin black 80x50 grid and had to colorize the squares with 16 markers. Even non-graphicians entered and placed well.
Finally we get to the sub-headline "Timeclock and the 'Gorge Dropoff' Incident". We learn that the top prize of the demo compo was a P7-410U system. Over the next two days at Assembly, the 78 entered demos were screened by the jury and the 15 best selected. All files were stored on a protected network drive.
"Gorge Dropoff" by Timeclock was showed to the audience last. It was a great demo, the best demo at the party - and it was placed 1st. This demo showed the life story of a man named Jobe, from his birth over his childhood, how he morphed to a man and to an elder, all the while running down a long black road, and how he finally leapt from the edge of the cliff. Snowman describes this demo in detail. Not only was this demo sophisticated from the technical point of view but it looked rather like a movie, worked with symbols and was a "religious experience" - in other words: it _meant_ something. That is what Snow and the audience found most impressing.
In the real world, we already have demos of this kind, too, for example Pulse's famous "Tribes". However, in contrast to what DemoNews #314 predicted, the greatest demos were not shown at Assembly '98. Other parties such as The Party, Mekka & Symposium, Wired or Summer Encounter have surpassed it creative-wise.
Now what was the controversy about "Gorge Dropoff"? The fictitious Assembly '98 rules said the maximum runtime size of demos was not allowed to exceed 6 megs. However, Gorge Dropoff originally did. So Timeclock's main coder "Karma", who is described as an intelligent man, applied a trick: Two other demos that were entered by friends of his did not use all the allowed space. Karma convinced his friends to store parts of the data of Gorge Dropoff in their demos. Hence, as the Assembly organizers did not delete any demo after watching it, Gorge Dropoff could access to a total of 16 MByte of demo data.
"An official docket (Assembly Organizing vs. Jared Trasan) has been initiated in the Demo Scene Tribunal. Hopefully we won't have to wait more than a couple of weeks for the verdict. Hopefully this won't have to go to 'real' court."
Hopefully we won't ever have to install such a Demo Scene Tribunal in reality.
According to DemoNews #314, a similar incident happened at The (fictitious) Gathering 1997. A 4k intro took advantage of the fact that the rules stated DOS 6.31 would be installed at the compo machine: It accessed to c:\command.com and displayed 8k of this file in a slightly modified fashion, which produced a neat looking background. The intro got the 3rd place.
Gorge Dropoff and the two demos that are required to run it are available bundled together on the fictitious Hornet Archive in the file /alpha/1998/g/gdropoff.czw. Its size is 11 MByte compressed, making it the biggest demo they have online. - In reality Shad from Wired 1998 is the largest demo they have with a size of 9 MByte packed, which is quite close.
In the "Closing" section, Snow announces that the next issue will contain an interview with Griff/Hamlet, yet another update on Music Contest 8, and some talk about graphics in the commercial sector by Stony.
At last there is the list of new uploads to the Hornet Archive. As there has been a bug in the cataloging software, most of the files cataloged that week had screwed up descriptions. Hornet "tried to fix most of them up" but unfortunately they ended up in being able to list only about 4% of the new uploads.
About 40 new fake uploads follow, containing lots of allusions again. There is, for instance, a music file called "My last mtm ever!" by Maelcum/Kosmic, which got a rating of two stars out of five. And at the very end there is Imphobia #20, the anniversary issue, with a size of 6015 KByte. The rating, four stars and a half, corresponds with the ratings of Imphobia #6 and #12 - the latter one being the last issue for a while.
All in all DemoNews #314 is a well-made fake issue with many subtle jokes! For example, Snow writes in his Assembly 1998 report that HQ of Timeclock has been his friend for a year. He met him at the party on the first day. And his song which took part in the Asm'98 music compo was called "Friends Until Tomorrow".
So if you ever happen to get hold of Imphobia #20 - err, #12 - or the original DemoNews.314, read it!