Decoding Art
A Critical Analysis of the Demo Scene

By Ashton Simmonds 2001

- Introduction -

"Thousands of Demos have been written during the past 15 years, but we still don't really know what Demos really are."
Tim Juretzki. April 21st, 2001. Hugi #22 Diskmag. Principles of Demo Spirit.

"Programming Technique + Art = DEMO"
Petri Kuittinen. October 26th, 2000. Computer Demos - The Story So Far.

"Demos are an art form. They blend mathematics, programming skill, and creativity into something incredible to watch and listen to."
Trixter / Hornet. September 3rd, 1994.
A Guide to the PC DEMO Scene.

"Demos are executable programs which produce in real-time, engaging computer graphics and music. Programming, Art, and music Composition skills are stressed. Demos are similar in some ways (but are not equivalent) to music videos or short Films."
Vincent Scheib. Demos Explained; what are Demos? What is a Demo?

This paper investigates an area of electronic collaboration called a "DEMO". The word Demo is derived from "Demonstration", meaning in this case to be a show or an expression.

In brief, a Demo is a form of converging New Media which predates the Internet. Demos are visual shows designed to be watched on a computer screen. Productions run in a linear form like a Film but have a generally abstract approach to storytelling. Music plays an integral role in driving the display, by immersing the viewer and underpinning overall graphic style.

People who make demos (mostly males) call themselves "Sceners", this is because watching a demo is like observing a scene or environment, much like a play. (Ed.: This is not quite true; sceners call themselves sceners because they belong to the scene. //Adok) Demos are generally made as a group collaboration between Artists, Musicians and Programmers. These groups are thus defined as the "Demo Scene".

Although this form of media is well established (with a rich 15-year history), due to its technologically demanding nature, little mainstream information is available regarding it. A lack of information even within closely related circles like Computer Games, highlights the underground and low key nature of the subject.

The lack of hardcopy information regarding the topic is due to the Demo Scene being hidden deep within the larger Computer Culture. From reading amateur literature about the Demo Scene, most people involved are males who come from a technical/programming background. This inadvertently makes the Scene inaccessible to outsiders to understand and appreciate in general. The quote below explains this further,

"I wanted to write about the Demo Scene because I really think it could be considered as a product of nowadays culture. We are the children of mass consumption and a Demo is a kind of visual concentration of all messages culture gives us. This was refused because the Demo Scene is really unknown and considered as the hobby of some frustrated teenagers. Now you know why nothing concerning Demo has been published."
Nichols. Guillaume (personal communication, May 15th, 2001)

From the onset of my research the point of view has been from an outside perspective looking in. The research has been considered in terms of presenting an understanding of the Demo Scene to a reader in a way which does not require the reader to be computer literate. The subject is presented from a visual perspective, with the intention of raising points of interest for creative people who wouldn't necessarily conceive the possibilities of such a technologically dependent form of Art. These are important points as the Demo Scene exists in one of the most computer literate areas of the technological revolution i.e. Computer Programming.

In the past Demo making has been controlled by Programmers who have focussed on visual effects rather than a visual concept or story. The Artist was used in most cases to add pretty pictures after the production was finished rather than being integral to the design of the overall production. An understanding of this relationship is intrinsic to identifying the characteristics of Demos which separate them from other mediums.

Apart from encouraging outside interest, this paper studies the Demo Scene with a graphical eye. It does not aim to re-tell the graphical history of Demos, instead the focus is on gaining an understanding of the aesthetics in a Demo from the perspective of a Visual communication background, so that this phenomenon can be understood within the wider Art/Graphics community.

The research approach followed in constructing this paper has been governed by reading articles about Demos and then conducting interviews based around the issues raised in these articles. The Internet has thus provided the opportunity to gain first hand knowledge of the subject. Correspondence has been ongoing throughout the period of research thus providing a kind of open library for thought and topic development.

The structure of this document first establishes the Scene in terms of its members, their motivations and history. It then goes on to define and illustrate the medium in terms which can be understood as a counterpoint to other creative areas. Conclusions are then considered as a result of an understanding gained from the overall body of research.

- A Profile of Sceners -

Historically speaking, Scene members have been teenage or university aged, male computer enthusiasts (nerds, geeks etc). Demos are created as a hobby, but the skills learned in doing so often lead to jobs in the Computer Games industry. Many groups have indeed gone on to form successful companies.

Through my research it appears however that a large proportion of members are now at a more mature age (late 20's). It would seem that this reflects a development in the level of technical skill required to make Demos today compared to the past.

"It's very discouraging for young people to start a Demo nowadays, because (for Coder and Graphician) they have to know a lot in order to do something decent and to compete with the top crew."
Nichols. Guillaume (personal communication, May 7th, 2001)

In terms of gender distribution, the Scene is like other computer related cultures, with females being the typical minority (unlike the Graphic Design Industry where there are many women). If Graphic Designers where to become more aware of the Visual Communication possibilities inherent in Demos, then a likely rise in gender distribution may occur.

From the beginning of Demos there has existed a small subcategory of the Demo Scene associated with Hackers. This exists in the form of a screen which flashes up before an illegal software program or Game is started (defined by Hackers as a "Cracked" program). It acts as a kind of insult to the creators who have tried to make money from selling it. It also broadcasts the social status and ability of that Hacker.

Scene members who program are in a way related to Hackers whereby both groups are deeply involved in technology. However, Sceners build rather than break (with the exception of some Demos, which are remixed and represent by groups unhappy with the original). In general the feeling of Sceners towards Hackers, is that Hackers which provide software for free are ok but the kind which aim to destroy are very much removed from an acceptable Demo ethos.


Within the Scene members are known by Pseudo names or Handles. Unlike a Spy who may wish to remain anonymous, Sceners see this use of nicknames as a chance to reveal their true personality.

"Personally, I like handles. They add something mythical to everything and they make it easier for Demo groups to shape their own images. "Baloo" is much more telling than "Jerker Olofsson", isn't it? It's like in a Role-playing Game - it's a step away from the real world down into a fantasy world where you can really be what you would like to be, not what your parents wanted you to be."
Adok / Hugi (personal communication, April 27th, 2001)

This style of identification is common to Online Internet communities. The Scene differs however in that often members will meet physically and share a close real world relationship. Groups then have an off-line identity (based on physical contact) and an on-line identity (the publicly perceived persona or myth generated by pseudo names and the direction shown through Demos).

- Social Organisation within the Scene -

Part of the motivation for making a Demo is so that a group may receive recognition and social status within the Scene. The way that a group may do this is through both physical (offline) and virtual (on-line) interaction with other Sceners. This balance of communication thus becomes a factor in shaping the way groups see themselves and is a direct reflection of Demos as a medium.

Online Culture

The Demo Scene is something which exists partly as a community on the World Wide Web. In the collaboration of a Demo it is not uncommon for members to come from different countries, hence the importance of Internet communication. Groups organise themselves on an internal level via email and communicate to the broader scene through Websites, Diskmags and News groups.

Physically the members of groups are mostly centered around Europe, with smaller satellite groups being found in South Africa, USA, Japan and Australia. The European dominance of this Scene is accredited to the fact that cold climates place members inside for a large period of the year.

"I think if we had a similar environment to Europe, we'd have a much much bigger Scene. However we have warm weather, good beaches, and tasty beer... while Sven and Jurgen spend 80% of the year indoors escaping the snow and blizzards :)"
Kieran AKA baldrick (personal communication May 1st, 2001 from an interview regarding the Australian Demo Scene).

Sceners consider the Web as a tool rather than a medium, this is because Demos must be downloaded before they can be watched. This is an important point as it separates Demos from web based mediums like Flash Animation. Flash is a commercially developed form of interactive entertainment. In a sense Flash is a Graphic Design version of a Demo.

"Yes, there is definitely some very cool animation done using flash, but flash lacks the art of code which is what makes Demos Demos."
Mikko E. Mononen (personal communication May 11th, 2001)

The "Art of Code" is a programming concept which is intrinsic to the Scene. For example If you consider two Visual Artists. The first may prefer to create custom colours of paint while the other only buys specific colours from the store. In terms of Demos, Programmers see themselves as Artists who mix paint. Thus Flash is considered to be limited in terms of what it offers Programmers.

Reporting on the Scene

A Diskmag (short for Disk Magazine) is a source of online information specific to the Demo Scene. These amateur publications are a Tradingpost for Demo Scene information, reviews, and discussion. Before the Internet, such digital publications used to be distributed on floppy disk through the mail. Diskmags incorporate graphics, music and information. It is quite a unique idea in that it shares the same medium as its subject (a similar example would be a poster which was all about other posters).

The Diskmags researched are called "Pain" and "Hugi". Each offers an experience beyond an average publication. They offer the viewer original music, images and movies to watch in addition to reading material. Hidden in some mags is a mystery song, which can only be heard by following clues.

Creators are active Scene members who are aware of the difficulties of reading text articles off screen. This said, many layout elements were lacking and some text was on occasion illegible, with the graphic to text ratio being strongly text dominant. The result being a possible lack of interest from a reader used to having pictures as a motivation for interest. E.g. visually based

Offline Culture

The core motivation of any group is to make a Demo which will impress the Scene. This happens in a physical form at an event called a Demo Party. A Party is a friendly form of competition where Sceners can come together, network and ultimately judge who has the best Demo. Prior to the event, rules and categories are posted on the party Website. During the event (a few days), participants work to complete the partially finished Demos that they have brought to the event. After the deadline, the Demos are shown and a winner is chosen.

Being situated in Australia and not having been to any such event, the limits of my understanding have been defined through correspondence with local people who have. My research has found that a Party is often held in a large exhibition hall, with impressive audiovisual displays, sound systems and auxiliary entertainment. Prize money is offered but it is not the goal of winning because in proportion to the work involved, the cash value is a trifle.

In parallel to a Demo Party is an event held by the Computer Games industry called a Frag Fest or Tournament. This is a coming together of groups known as "Clans" to play team based computer-killing Games. Recently in Sydney, a tournament was held at Fox Studios which offered prize money of $15,000 AUS dollars for the winning team. In a further fact, professional Game Players exist and make a living from playing these Games and promoting the Publishers.

In an invitation for a Demo Party, it said "Gamers were not welcome". I asked Saxon from the Australian Demo group called JiNX, exactly what this meant.

"The idea is to attract Scene people to a party, rather than end up with 3/4 people who're shouting "you &^%*#" across the room and have their speakers turned up loud :) Of course often the Sceners will end up playing some Games, since they've got their computers there on a LAN, it's too tempting."
Saxon. Penfold/JiNX (personal communication April 28, 2001)

While both areas are computer related, the Scene may be considered as distinguishing itself from Clans, in that the purpose of Parties is to share ideas and nurture a community, with a Frag Fest being instead focused on providing a mutual outlet for entertainment.

Graphics Competitions

These are held as part of parties and are similar to Traditional Art Competitions. However they differ in that historically the judges are made up of Programmers who generally share a narrow view of art.

"It was really hell at the beginning. During this period the role of the graphics person was very simple: you just had to do a nice picture (a girl with big tits was a very clever way to win) and a nice logo. You know it's very frustrating for a Graphician to be obliged to draw like this, when really you are a fan of Malevich or Giacometti."
Nichols. Guillaume (personal communication, May 7th, 2001)

While the historically narrow perception of things has changed, the fact remains that while Programmers constitute a large proportion of Scene members, it is only human that they will share a opinion of art as it is presented generally within this area. It is then up to the Graphics person to broaden the horizons of Art as it is appreciated within the Scene.

- Demo History -

This Art is dependent on technology, thus technology is intrinsic to its creative and technical development. Understanding this relationship is vital in gaining a historical over view of the movement. So like a photographer who prefers Nikon to Pentax, the Scene has evolved creating Demos alike but being very apparent in look and style based on the computer used in creation.

The exact date that things started to happen is not known, but it is generally considered that the dust began to stir after the birth of the Commodore 64 computeraround 1985 (predating the Internet). Then came a 'great battle' between Commodore 64, Atari ST and the Amiga 500, which lasted until the 1990's. This rivalry produced many advances in the ability of both machines. Many people argue that the Amiga computer was a brilliant design, which had it been able to continue developing, would have been far ahead of the platforms dominant today (2001).

From a Visual perspective, this period represents the early experiments of any fledgling movement, although many of these traits have carried over till today. Technology was very much the focus with motivation coming from a race to see who could push things the furthest. To a large extent this is still the focus of the majority of purely Programmer-based groups.

"Until the mid-nineties Demos were indeed focused on technology. What counted was whether your 3d engine worked faster than other peoples, and whether you brought new effects at a decent frame rate, rather than how they looked or what message they carried."
Adok / Hugi (personal communication, April 27th, 2001)

Around the early 1990's the IBM compatible Scene began to emerge. Originally IBM shared the personal computer market with the Apple Macintosh. Apple was doing very badly compared to its counterpart until it changed direction and aimed more at the Print and Graphic Design Industries.

"Apple Macintosh was never a popular Demo platform."
Petri Kuittinen. October 26th 2000. Computer Demos - The Story So Far.

From then on, Demo development has been centered around the Pentium computer. With Graphic Designers being isolated from Demos because they generally own the more user-friendly Apple Macintosh. It could be argued that this isolation is the explanation for a lack of graphic refinement and conceptual consideration in the Demo Scene.

"The Demo Scene started focusing on design only when computers became so powerful that it was impossible for small teams to really make the most of the hardware's capacity; only then classical Artistic values like the 'message' became increasingly more important."
Adok/Hugi (personal communication, April 27th, 2001)

This is not to say that Programmers are not capable of very refreshing experiments in art, rather that before the technology reached a certain level, it offered little scope for non-technical people to explore. To a large extent, Demos are considered as a visualisation of programming art. They never pretended to deliver a message of anything other than this.

While the above computers were developing, so too was a close technological relation - the console. Differing from computers in that the user may only play Games, the console has its own history dominated by names such as Nintendo and Playstation. However, the console has begun to be utilised by Demo makers as a device to play finished work on.

By "play" the definition in this case is not however associated with user interaction experienced in Computer Games, rather it is associated with that of a Film projector, which plays Films. A Demo is not interactive, although it generated in an interactive/real-time environment.

- Key Elements of the Medium -

Up until this point, the object of study has been concerned with defining the social environment and history surrounding the Scene so that in forthcoming chapters the reader will understand topics as flowing on from each other. As the overall nature of the Scene comes into focus, it is now important to define the specifics of the medium.


As an Artist might manipulate paint on a canvas, the Programmer manipulates the flow of information in a program. Code is a special language which Programmers use to organise/manipulate information. Many Languages of code exist, ranging from HTML and JAVA for Web pages, Lingo for CD-ROM's and C++ for everything else. Presently, C++ is the most common code to use when making a Demo.

3D Engine

In coding a Demo the Programmer designs a 3D engine.

Similar to its physical definition, the word "Engine" as it exists in the Demo Scene, refers to something which drives a production. A useful way of considering this is to use the metaphor of a Puppet Show. The elements in a Puppet Show are - the Puppets, Props, Puppeteers, Sound and the Script. The elements in a Demo are - 3Dmodels, 2Dimages, Sound and the Script. The engine is like a puppeteer in that it reads the script then manipulates the 3Dmodels, 2Dimages and Sound to perform the Demo.

This is an interesting concept, as it would seem that a Demo is a live performance executed by a disembodied version of the performers. The performance is always exactly the same (although it doesn't have to be). The only variation coming from the different playback capability of computers used. e.g. jerky graphics or pauses.

So like different types of paint, similarly different engines will offer corresponding advantages and disadvantages. One of the overall advantages of the engine as it reflects on Demos, is that a lot of entertainment can be included into a very small file. In theory this has great potential for publication of independent work all over the world especially with increased Internet speeds. The disadvantage however is that to watch a new Demo requires expensive state of the art technology, thus putting some productions out of the reach of casual browsers.

A Programmer in making an engine, will greatly control what is visually possible. Hence the historical dominance of Programmers.

"Imagine a Game written for a 3d engine. Hard to imagine isn't it? A 3d engine must be designed for the Game."
Rex Deathstar (personal communication, May 15th, 2001)

Form Follows Function

Within the Demo Scene there are two different overall environments for making something. This can be compared to that of something like Sculpture. Sculpture is a title used as an umbrella for subcategories including the mediums of Wood, Stone, Metal, etc.

The 2 categories possible when making a Demo, are Software and Hardware.

Hardware is a physical device constructed from circuit boards, wires, silicon chips etc. While software is a virtual device written in a coding language by a Programmer. Basically, all Demos use software, it's like petrol for a car. If you want your car to perform better you buy a turbo charger or something that enhances the engine, this is a hardware Demo.

These two areas attract different types of people to them based on the person's reaction to each categories specific limitations. There are the "Old School Demo Makers", who use software only and the newer breed Scener, who uses the expensive 3d accelerator hardware cards. While the latter category has breathtaking and innovative graphics, it is somewhat inaccessible to people with old technology.

The Real time Environment

A Demo incorporates Real time generated graphics and sound.

The term Real time is a Film related concept often used in opposition to Reel time. Reel time is a conceptual term, deriving from the reel used to project a Film e.g. A story may cover many years in the life of a character (Reel time), but will always take 2 hours to project to an audience (Real time). It is very rare that the actions of characters in a Film will be true to the time taken to complete the same actions in real life.

From this, the definition of Real time makes a sidestep as it is understood in Demo terms.

"A program is technically said to be running in Real time if it produces results at a reliable speed. The common use of the phrase 'Real time' implies that the work is being done fast enough that you need not wait for it. Real time animation means that the animation is being drawn for you while you watch. A Game is Real time -- because you can control it and it responds to you immediately. A movie is not real-time because the work was done previously, you are just watching it being played back for you."
Vincent Scheib (personal communication, March 31st, 2001)

The conceptual story or display experienced within a Demo, generally exists in the immediate time space with little reference to past or future. E.g. Similar to a Fireworks display. This concept is at the heart of Demo production. After watching many Demos, a large proportion are centered only around the notion of Real time. This presents a rather abstract translation of Reel time or character development, as it would be understood in Film.

Some types of Demo could be critically summed up as being nothing more than a string of non related images or eye candy. But you have to remember that a Demo is not a Film or a Game, rather it is a form of art in itself.

Sound and the Perception of Time

Many mediums other than Demos exist in the audience's immediate perception of time. Some of these include Music Videos, Visual entertainment at Concerts and Fireworks displays, to name a few. In general the role of sound in all of these examples could be argued to be dominant with the visuals acting as a support device.

Certainly an important part of every Demo is its sound track, but from my research it appears this relationship of sound and image is not intended to be like a music video, rather sound is a vehicle that places the audience within the Demo environment or scene.

Typically music will reflect the visual style and vice versa. Popular styles are: Electronic, Techno, Industrial, House, ambient, Heavy Metal and occasionally Jazz. With the use of spoken narrative/poetry currently being kept to a minimum.

So if a Demo has an Industrial sound track, the viewer might expect to see machines, robots and cold factory environments. But if the soundtrack is Ambient, the viewer may then expect to see a visual light show possibly with some kind of poetic text running throughout.

Music is often an original production either being borrowed from friends who want their music circulated or written specifically for the Demo. However, it is not uncommon for Demo makers to appropriate music, models and images from each other and mainstream sources.

Musical Notation can be used as a metaphor for understanding the perception of time in a Demo. If you consider a song as it is written down in notation form, any one element will have no meaning on its own. But when you put them together and play them over a period of time, a meaning specific to the song is gained by its audience. Thus a Demo is not just eyecandy, but a way of communicating removed from conventional mediums.

Life Span

There are many genres in the Demo Scene and within these genres there are different associated elements. Some genres could be compared with historical genres in Film, which due to current interest driven by new technology, have become a thing of the past. Life span is a vital thing to remember if the Demo medium is to become considered as Art by the broader community. Combined with the Scenes underground and technically inaccessible environment, the life span of the body of Demos made since the beginning (mid 1980's) till today, may be in doubt.

Mature Demo makers reminisce back to the good old days of Commodore 64 and Amiga500. They complain lovingly about the lack of colours, speed and capacity available then. Many still use these machines for creation, which reflects a passion not dissimilar to that of antique car restoration.

In a historical sense, many aspects of style which where limitations in the past, have been kept and brought forward into the current environment. The limited graphics ability of old computers has spawned a retro interest from the Graphic Design industry. Such graphic elements including, drawing pictures with font, jagged block fonts like terminal, simple icons and 8 bit colour schemes, have been used in the print industry.

By making reference to the old, Graphic Design uses the style created by the above elements in a way which stirs happy memories in the minds of consumers who grew up with the technology. It seems ironic however to consider the struggle it must have been to work with and produce such graphics only, to realise in retrospect that they are in themselves a very valid style. However, many Demo makers today consider the limited colours, hardware and sound potential still loved by enthusiasts, as being a ridiculous suggestion in light of the new technology.

Unlike a historic painting which may last for centuries before it is destroyed by age, Demos being a digital entity will die out when technology changes. Old Demos will still physically exist and will be able to be played through emulation, but they will die in the technologically informed minds of viewers.

With technology changing so fast, Demos have the annoying characteristic of either being too old or too hardware intensive/new to run on your computer. So the problem of life span is made apparent by the medium.

One suggestion would be to preserve historic Demos in an exhibition style environment. This would provide a timeline context for creations so that they may be properly understood by an audience unfamiliar with the situation and restrictions of creation.

This year an attempt to introduce Demos to the wider arts community will be made. It is proposed that an event be held at a Computer Animation Conference called "Siggraph". Considered within the high-end Computer Animation Industry as the premiere event on the calendar, people travel from all over the world to attend.

"Siggraph is in early August this summer. To the best of my knowledge, we are still planning on hosting a 'Birds of a Feather' meeting for Demos. This will include presentations by about 3 Scene members. Demos will be shown 'inline' with the presentations."
Vincent Scheib (personal communication, May 25th, 2001)

- Considering Demos as Mathematical Art -

In the beginning of the Demo Scene (1985), Programmers where and still are to a large extent, in control of the final product. Some strands of the Demo Scene maintain that a Demo is supposed to be the graphic representation of code. The beauty of code is talked about and appreciated in terms of the efficiency of operations and design of logical systems.

"One of the differences with Demos is that often art *is* code. For example with something like a fractal or a plasma effect, the artwork is all generated by code. So in that case it's not possible for the Programmer to leave the art side up to an Artist."
Vincent Scheib (personal communication, March 31st, 2001)

This reality explains why some Genres of Demo are restricted to a small size. It could also be said that the very nature of Demo making in general is very much like abstract or minimalist art. This can be interpreted through a varying degree of complexity.

To start with, everything that is generated in a Demo is abstract in its "basic form" of binary 1's or 0's. 3D models/environments have been constructed using triangles (sets of 3xyz binary points). This gives a general angular look or aesthetic to most Demos much like cubist paintings. Because a Demo must then play in Real time, elements in the environment must be as efficient as possible. This is much like a DJ who sorts out a music set according to the amount of physical music changing that they can handle. Many techniques are used to do this, some of these include: The tiling or reusing of objects, Having different quality of images depending on the distance that they are situated in reference to the viewer (like a Web Site which loads low quality images first and the slower high quality images later) and only generating what exists in the field of the viewer. These techniques are similar to illusions used by an Artist like M.C. Escher when drawing visually impossible images.

Most commonly in a coding or abstract Demo, the subject will be a shape which deforms geometrically and in sync to a soundtrack. This results in a very small file size, but will often play full screen for a long period of time. It is both graphically minimal and conceptually minimal in the sense of there being no story or easily deciphered progression.

The point being made here is that in many respects, a Demo is a different medium to Film or Video and can't therefore be judged by using visual and narrative standards associated with these and other mediums. The environment is navigated by a viewer in a way which is aware of these limitations, restrictions and inherent aesthetics.

An area of argument arises however that the only "True Demo"(a medium separated from other forms of Art), is one which aims to be very small and coding based, being a Programmers creation with only auxiliary interest towards traditional art design.

"I think Hardware requirements should be fixed for eternity on a somewhat low level."
Tim Juretzki. April 21st, 2001. Hugi #22 Diskmag. Principles of Demo Spirit.

From an outsider's perspective it is hard to understand the thinking behind the above statement. One explanation gained after researching new Hardware Demos, is that there would appear to be a savage hunger for new effects resulting in inefficient use of code and general lack of direction. An example of a similar Art movement called "Oulipo" which saw restrictions as being necessary to its development is described below.

"Founded in 1960 by Ramound Queneau and Francois le lionnais, this Parisian based group began with the intention of basing experimental writing on mathematics. Oulipo being an acronym for Ouvroir de literature Potentielle (workshop for potential Literature)."
Richard Kostelanetz. A Dictionary of the Avante-gardes

"The Oulipo used number sequences to generate poetry, built machines to read and write books automatically, and wrote massive amounts of literature with self-imposed grammatical and syntactical restrictions. George Perec wrote an entire novel called 'A void', and didn't use the letter 'e' once. Their entire creative output was conducted under strict operational guidelines, in an effort to prove that creativity can flourish in the most restrictive of environments."
By x8oih3_0000202. Process over Product: Generative Art and the new Demo.
April 21st, 2001. Hugi #22 Diskmag.

Certainly this approach is a valid method of defining in factual terms a form which is a true or pure medium. It is also a strong way of defending the Demo medium when it is compared to Film/Video. But it does take a very biased perspective towards programming, with little room for the possibilities of strong visual concept design.

"Art to people like me, people really engrossed in technical things, can be very technical. It's been known for thousands of years that Math is a great art form. The popularity of art via math comes and goes over the centuries, but it's certainly there. Currently, we're seeing a resurgence with the 'information age', but this is nothing new. In fact, if you think of the great mathematicians of history, you will find that they often acted in their own time for the pleasure and art of it."
Vincent Scheib (personal communication, March 31st, 2001)

This has been a trend since computers began, reflected through the lack of user testing of software products before they are sold, to the domestic consumer. By this what is meant is that Programmers often overlook the fact that their creations function on more than one level. In its core essence, a program must handle information. However on another level this information must be negotiated by a human, so if the program is not presented in such a way that makes interaction easy, then the performance of information handling will suffer. Hence the collaboration between Programming and Art would seem essential.

In terms of the relationship between code as art, a conclusion maybe suggested that minimalist programming Demos offer limited scope for Artists/Designers to collaborate with Programmers. This is due to the intention of its creators to be appreciated on coding performance, rather than a visual "message" based level. If the focus is taken away from the performance of information, then thinking is permitted to drift away from the notion of Real-time being all important.

- Key Genres -

The "Wow" factor is a common trait of all Demos, in that the creators wish their audience to be amazed by what they see. For instance, an "Intro" is a very small Demo in file size (4 - 64kb, smaller than this paper). This may often take the form of an animated tunnel sequence or a 3d scene in which a camera flies around in different directions for a long period of time. This gives the chance to reuse elements resulting in a small file.

In one sense this is very impressive, in the same way that a small battery may power an electrical appliance for an amazing amount of time. But from a visual perspective, there are only so many times you can see the same object before it becomes over used. These are considered to be classic Demo traits as they were the first to evolve and continue to reflect all the limitations of working with old technology.

"When I look at the first Demos (and some of the new ones too), I would compare the Demos to for example a fitness competition. It's about to show off, nothing else. In the old Demos the structure of the Demo was more towards that. The effects and graphics just followed each other. There were even a time when it was common to put text on screen and say 'Here you see 1000 shaded blobs'."
Mikko E. Mononen (personal communication May 11th, 2001)

Mega Demo

A "Mega Demo" is the opposite of the above, in that size is not a restriction. This style can incorporate character animation, video and visual effects. It is common that a story will be told and a position will be taken. The linear narrative is generally abstract but offering more of a line for the viewer to follow.

As a researcher, I find this style the most visually accessible and entertaining to watch. It is true that these Demos are preoccupied with the "Wow Factor". However, the Mega Demo takes the wow factor idea to the cutting edge which makes the production unique in that often the viewer will be seeing effects made possible for the first time in human existence.

Between the "Intro" and "Mega" Demo styles, the normal Demo is sandwiched. This incorporates elements from both areas. While there are arguably further subcategories, I have however chosen these three general genres to give a sense of the overall rather than trying to define specifics.

- Common Aesthetic Traits within Demos -

Within a Demo it is expected that some things will appear. This is much like going to see a Film at the cinema. If you consider the elements that surround watching a Film, they in turn add or detract from the overall experience. The following is a list of elements which make up the common language that you may expect to encounter in Demos.


In a large proportion of works surveyed, a menu screen was present at the beginning of a Demo. These menus let the viewer set options specific to their computer. This is somewhat aside from the actual Demo but it was interesting to see the variation and obvious thought that had gone into the design of these elements.

2d Art

Perhaps the most successful element in any Demo from a visual perspective, is the use of 2d Art as it exists in relationship to 3d objects. This is where Demos excel in that they offer a vast scope for the collage of physically different elements. An example might be a character drawing, which has 3d eyes that animate. 2d art also covers things like video, photography and line drawn animation.

Dancing Blob

It is customary to see a 3d model, which continually deforms itself in time to music. This is a display of coding ability and skill which can be used very effectively as part of an overall composition.

Apart from this type of model there are "Character" and "Scenery" models. In a Demo Group, the process of making these models is shared by whoever has the skill to do so. As Demos become more developed, offering the viewer character animation, detailed environments and textures, the complicated task of model making falls increasingly on the Artistic members of the group.

Greetings to other groups

Commonly in Demos shown at parties or invitations to them, a jovial hello will be made to the Scene. In some cases where size restrictions are the goal, humorous lines of chat will be added to make up the required KB size.


There are always credits to the makers (in pseudo name form), which are presented as part of the visual body of the Demo. This lends itself to the look of a title sequence in Film, but with the distinction that the names are the subject rather than an introduction to the movie. Part of the reason for this is that of status, but also the Demo making mentality often suggests the reuse of objects to save on size considerations.

From a Graphic Design perspective, seeing the use of text in most cases is very exciting in that it gives direction to Demos which are otherwise very abstract. Text can come in the form of overlaid montages, hand written scrawl and animated sequences which are synced to soundtracks. Much evidence of font manipulation and experimentation is present in Demos which incorporate Graphic Designers, e.g. Demos by Moppi or Calodox.

- Audience Perception of Demos -

The previous chapters have examined the important elements which work together in the Demo medium. From this understanding a deeper look at the purpose of a Demo and how this may be placed alongside of other creative mediums, can be discussed.

Even if the intention is that a Demo should not be interactive, the question of an audience understanding must still be addressed. When I began my research, I questioned this lack of interactivity. But at the same time I realised that I was an outsider and that I didn't understand the medium, so I immersed myself in the culture to gain a deeper understanding.

"It's true, it's funny that hardly any Demo is interactive (apart from offering a few keys which allow to skip parts)."
Adok / Hugi (personal communication, April 27th, 2001)

Previously it has been established that certain graphic elements are an expectation of seeing all Demos. This may come in the form of rotating geometry or a never-ending tunnel. These are the elements of language in a Demo. They instantly identify the medium to its audience.

Given these common elements it is amazing what good Demo groups can achieve. Typically these groups are made up of both graphics people and Programmers who respect each other's disciplines. So in a sense, a new language constantly exists within a Demo. It's a language of abstraction which mutates and grows with the advance of technology.

The suggestion has been made that Graphic Designers have been separated from Demos by a chasm between technology and the associated mentalities that come as a result. As the role of a Designer changes, this gap begins to close with the Designer being forced to become a quasi Programmer and vice versa.

So while it is valid to say that a Demo as it has existed so far, is a form of art in itself, it is also fair to say that a new kind of Demo making and resulting language is fast approaching.

When the question of interactivity was asked to various groups, the answer was either that putting interactivity into a Demo made the file size too large or that the creators wanted to ensure their vision.

"File size actually isn't a reason, IMO. I think it's rather because Demo makers regard their Demos as finished products, as the optimum which is just to be watched. If Demos allowed interactivity, they wouldn't be fully their makers' creations since the watcher would also be actively involved in what the Demo would be like."
Adok / Hugi (personal communication, April 27th, 2001)

"Does it matter who is running your code? Perhaps not for most Demos, but what of interactive software? Is this why, traditionally, Demos are not interactive? Are you afraid of addressing this difficult issue of authorship (i.e., the ultimate produced product would not actually be under your control any more, it is under the control of the user). Interactivity is key in audience responsiveness, surely?"
By x8oi2h3 0000202. April 21st, 2001. Hugi # 22 Diskmag.
Process over Product: Generative art and the new Demo.

This issue of authorship may suggest that Demo Programmers do not have the conceptual skills to negotiate interactivity into their work. This comes back to audience perception, an area which has been historically covered in a very Abstract manner.

In the past, Demos have been the domain of Programmers. This has been due to the limitations of human/computer interaction. While technology has advanced at an unchecked rate, the design of this interaction has lagged sadly behind. While the focus is changing slowly, it seems that humans have made the first move in integrating themselves towards the technology.

If the greatest challenge facing an Artist in this decade is learning how to use technology, then what is understood to be traditionally good design, will be lost. Instead, the challenge to a Designer and Demo groups as a whole, is finding a way to work together which optimises each persons skills in their own area, thus incorporating these skills back into production.

- The Collaboration between Programmers and Artists -

One of the core findings while conducting this research, is the conclusion that perhaps the most exciting thing about the Scene is the collaboration between very different types of people.

During my research I gathered a growing list of Demos ranging from the mid nineties, up until today (2001). As I watched it was natural that I would form a set of criteria for what I liked in terms of my own subjective visual perspective. Apart from building a database of information where Demos distinguished themselves subjectively from others, the best quality shared by all creations in my opinion was the collaboration taken to complete something.

This leads to a subjective but more accurate definition of a Demo, being a result of the collaboration of Programmers, Artists and Musicians. Since the balance/relationship between members will change from project to project and group to group respectively, it is pointless in trying to categorize any Demo into one single genre, since the product will invariably contain a hybrid of elements from all genres.

My research became involved in discovering how such a relationship between people from different disciplines may exist.

"Demos are usually a group effort. The most important member of a Demo group is usually the Coder (Programmer)."
Petri Kuittinen. October, 26th 2000. Computer Demos - The Story So Far.

"I'm a pretty technical guy, but I took the 'Art Director' position for the last big project I did."
Vincent Scheib (personal communication, March 31st, 2001)

One of my objectives in researching group dynamics was to decipher if indeed the most important member of a group was or had to be the Programmer. In my research, I tried to step back from looking just at the Demo Scene and instead considered the broader Arts community.

"In the early 1960's, when technology began to develop rapidly, many Artists wanted to work with forms of new technologies, but often found themselves shut out, with little or no access to technical and industrial communities."
Jean Broadhurst Dixon and Eric J Cassidy (Ed) (1998).
Virtual Futures- cyberotics, technology and post human pragmatism.
Chapter 12 Artists, Engineers and Collaboration

The article above talks about "One to one" collaborations between Artists such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, John Cage, Marcel Ducamp and the Engineers from the "Communication Sciences Division of the Bell Telephone Laboratories."

In most cases the Artist would come to the engineer with an idea, e.g. a machine that would destroy itself in front of an audience. The engineer would then work with the Artist to make the idea a physical reality. As a result, often the engineer would have to invent new technology with many exciting personal and technological breakthroughs accomplished along the way.

In this instance it could be understood, that at the beginning the Artist was the dominant member in the group, thus inspiring the engineers. In many cases the Artist's ideas would change as a result of input from the engineer.

"As far as I know, Kieran got into Demos way back in the Amiga Scene, but didn't actually start making them until he found a couple of Programmers to nag ;)"
Saxon. Penfold/JiNX (personal communication May 11, 2001)

This is an example of a Graphic/Musical person having an idea which could only be made real by working with people from a different field. In some ways it reflects the new wave of demo makers which are realising that evolution is critical for survival.

"For the Demo we are currently working on (we started 1.5 years ago), the Graphician imagined the overall Demo and the Coder had only to code as we said .To sum up, the Graphician has nowadays a key role in the process."
Nichols. Guillaume (personal communication, May 7th, 2001)

"Well, I kind of think it's a bit like Games. With Games, the Artists are the people who know how to make something look good and the level / Game Designers are the people who know what people like to play. The Programmers are just a bunch of nerds:). So, what the Programmers should do (ideally) is create a set of tools which empower the Artists / Designers to create the content the way they envisage it."
Saxon. Penfold/JiNX (personal communication April 28, 2001)

So it would seem that this is a reversal of roles but it doesn't necessarily equal a better way of working. Much like Programmers who get caught up in code, Artists have the tendency to present images which have a personal and ambiguous meaning. In this way both groups of people are ultimately similar and as a result should find a way of working which allows mutual criticism.

- Potential Developments -

To suggest how Demos might look in the future is to also predict a future relationship between Programming and Art as it is understood within the Scene. At present, exciting things are happening in Demos because Programmers are collaborating more closely with Visual Designers. This new co-dependence has come about through evolution within the Scene, with technology now offering a far greater scope to creative people than it ever has.

There is no doubt that Demos will continue to look amazing as long as they are being made, but from a visual perspective this is only half of the story. The point of a Visual Designer is to communicate a message to an audience through a chosen medium. So, for the potential of Demos to be realised, the position of the audience must be considered by Sceners. If the purpose is to still wow the audience, then sequences should flow in a way which has more development, be it character based or abstract. But if the Visual Designer is ambitious then they will consider repositioning the audience altogether.

This is where interactive development has a potential in Demos. By placing the audience inside the Demo they become a user instead of a viewer. This idea is not new, it is currently being explored in interactive CD-ROMs, Websites and on a larger scale Virtual Reality. Of the three, Demos share the closest relationship with Virtual Reality and it is here which offers the most potential for Artists and Programmers to collaborate.

As it stands, a Demo offers all the technical potential for VR but it lacks the conceptual framework involved in such a production. While it would be incorrect to claim that VR is just around the corner, certainly the Demo Scene could be a place to develop prototypes. This new direction would preserve all the attributes of Demos, while offering a new technical and creative challenge for Sceners.


From studying Demos, a potential for better human relations can be achieved. This is a simple but important point because in this technological society which has an increasing dominance over our lives, it is too easy to forget the fundamental importance of people skills. In this sense the Demo Scene is a living reflection of healthy technological growth shown by collaborations between people from non related fields happening and evolving as a response to a common need.

After looking at the subject from an objective stance, clearly there is strong argument for this medium to be recorded and maintained as being a valid form of Art in itself. However many speculate that the Scene is losing numbers and will die in 5 years. Many arguments both for and against this claim exist. One overall conclusion that may be drawn is that Programmers have taken Demos technically as far as they can go. This does not mean the limit has been reached rather that to continue developing, a strong input from Artists/Designers may be needed.

This paper has made an attempt to illustrate the Demo Scene to a person unfamiliar with its social, conceptual and potential elements. In doing so, the aim was to present Demos as an Art form separate from other mediums. By studying the elements associated with a Demo and explaining them in terms of mainstream Art, the intention was to give the reader an overall perspective of what a Demo might offer to them, as an individual.

As a result of writing this paper the intention was to comment both on the Demo Scene as it has existed and at the same time offer an argument for a more visually based collaboration. While it remains to be seen if Demos will move directly into an interactive environment or continue to evolve as they are. The main aim however was to raise awareness of Demos in the mind of the reader, thus acting as a starting point for further exploration.

Ashton Simmonds