Re: We Need More Newbies

Written by rednight

The following article is a reaction to the article "Opinion: We need more newbies" by Adok, which was published in Hugi #36.

The North America problem

I live in North America, where there is no demo scene at all. We almost had one, but when the PC clones took over in the late 80s, early 90s, it rapidly started dying. The few people interested in actually doing anything with their computer other than playing games started boards, did ANSI art, wrote door games etc. Then 95 happened and the DOS was replaced with Windows and BBSes died in favour of the Internet. In a about a year the last hold out of what could have been a scene here disappeared.

Before 2000, there almost never were computer parties here at all, everything here was by modem. There is a reason for this, if you were a fifteen-year-old kid in the late 80s, early 90s and you wanted a computer, you had to give up getting a car. North America has effectively no public transportation, and what little there is, is extremely expensive. Computer freaks rarely ever got to meet in person, it just wasn't possible to do so.

All in all, between the need for telecommunication between computer freaks and the fact that it is substantially more difficult to get started programming music and graphics on a PC than it is on an Amiga, our scene was heavily dominated by text.

The transportation issue still exists, and is still prohibitively expensive even as an adult. It would cost the same amount of money to fly to a party in Europe as it would for me to fly to the little demo event surrounded by a predominately telecommunications convention. I also can't sleep there, have a beer, or BBQ my own food, etc (not much of a party) making it even more expensive. As things are now, it's cheaper to go to a party in Europe than to go to one here, and if I could afford to do that, I'd be going to Europe.

The only way I can see getting more North Americans into the scene, and especially teens, is to have online compos, events, and talks. There is also a real lack of any mid-level tutorial type stuff, on graphics programming, audio programming and music theory, the stuff online tends to be either really basic or really advanced.

A More Noob friendly Demo Format

Modern demos are dominated by 3D graphics on really high res screens, both of which are huge jump to go to. When most of you started doing this it was on Amigas, in standard PAL resolution, and predominately 2D effects. Learning to do 2d effects on a standard def display is a lot smaller of a barrier to entry than it is to 3D effects on high res displays. There is also no shortage of documentation on how to do graphics, audio, and all the common effects programming on the Amiga.

I don't believe separating the noobs from the pros really generates a welcoming atmosphere at all, instead I would recommend a format that is in itself has a smaller barrier to entry. My format suggestion is as follows:

Resolution for entry: 640x480 or Standard Def

Size: one standard sized removable media for chosen platform, e.g. it would fit on a 1.4" floppy for the PC or 800k disk for the Amiga.

No true 3D effects, fake 3D like tunnels are ok. 3D is really hard, the first releases by groups on the Amiga were all 2D.

Recruiting Noobs and Retro Gaming

I also frequent a lot of retro and home brew gaming stuff. The number of people getting into it is growing, and growing fast. What is really surprising though is there are a lot of kids getting into it. Even more interesting is the teens today that are buying old C64s, Amigas, Nintendos, etc are also interested in home brew gaming, and writing their own games. Even more important is these kids believe they actually can.

Along with the retro gaming, projects like the C-One, the Natami, and FPGA arcade boards are actually making progress. Interest in home computing is returning. Between HTML 5 returning the web back to being standards based, and the many FPGA projects, it has a real chance of returning. The whole concept of a home computer that is simple enough that one person can reasonably understand, complex enough to do something cool, and above all openly documented and not buried in lawyers and NDAs is gaining interest.

The PC gamer crowd is a terrible crowd to look for new people in, these kids think they know everything in the universe if they can put a light bulb in a case, and press enter through the Windows installer. They have no interest in anything other than becoming professional PC gamers. Interest in computing amongst kids is out there, but it's not within the PC gamer crowd.

A Little About Me

I got into computers when I inherited a C64 from a relative when I was 13 in 1989. Pretty much the tail end of the 8bit era, you could still buy C64 software at this point, but it pretty much so disappeared the following year. I learned Basic on it, and a little tiny bit of Assembly. I knew one other person at my school that was into computers, he had an Atari 800XL, we sort of competed with each other writing Space Invader clones, basic text adventure games, and D&D character creators. It was a lot of fun.

A year later we both got new computers, I got a Macintosh Classic, he got a 386SX16. I also got a copy of Learning Macintosh C Programming, and Inside Macintosh 1-5. I kept trying to make games, and with some success. My best was a game where you control a dragon with the mouse and fried knights before they stole your treasure. My friend couldn't even get the stuff he was doing on the Atari to work with the BASIC that came with DOS. He later got a copy of Turbo C, and tried with it for several months to make a very basic game work, he eventually gave up on it.

When I was 17 I saw Wolf3D for the first time, I had to have it. I traded my Mac for a 386DX25. I got about half through the shareware version of it and got bored with it. I tried for months to rewrite my dragon game on the PC, I never could get the large dragon sprite to work. I didn't really understand how to do double buffering on the PC, and neither did anyone else I knew.

Fortunately I also got a summer job at a computer store that year. I met a guy that had an older elusive Amiga he wanted to sell, and cheap too. (Amigas where really hard to find North America, Commodore had this retarded dealer programme, you couldn't just buy them anywhere like the C64, or PCs, or even to a lesser extent Macs.) I also got a copy of Blitz Basic for the A500, my games worked on it. Too bad no one else had an Amiga.

I was also fairly active in the BBS scene, thanks to the boards I did get to see a couple demos, and listen to a lot of mods. I was aware of the parties that happened in Europe, and how common the Amiga was over there. I was very jealous.

I've continued to dabble with writing software. I don't really know anyone else that does, or even has any interest in it all. Most of the stuff I've done was never finished, and I don't think anything I've written is really worthy of releasing at all. I know some Assembly on the C64 and Amiga, have a working knowledge of C. I don't really know how to use any of the newer graphics libraries though. All the stuff I've done with graphics has been 'shoot the sprite' type games.