Terminal Magic With Notcurses

Writing a command line program that needs a little more pizzaz? Ncurses just not colorful or high res enough? Or maybe you want to bring the demo scene to the command line. Notcurses has your back. The demo is great, and looks like it can push out enough detail to pull off silliness like pushing an SNES game’s output straight to the console. What might be the most impressive element of the library is that while it can blit high res graphics through a terminal emulator with graphical support, it will also work on the basic Linux console, with no graphical system installed, by using some very old tricks. I know what you’re wondering: That’s all well and good, but can it run Doom? Yep. Come back after the break for a demo.
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Hackaday Links: March 28, 2021

If you thought the global shortage of computer chips couldn’t get any worse, apparently you weren’t counting on 2021 looking back at 2020 and saying, “Hold my beer.” As if an impacted world waterway and fab fires weren’t enough to squeeze supply chains, now we learn that water restrictions could potentially impact chip production in Taiwan. The subtropical island usually counts on three or four typhoons a year to replenish its reservoirs, but 2020 saw no major typhoons in the region. This has plunged Taiwan into its worst drought since the mid-1960s, with water-use restrictions being enacted. These include a 15% reduction of supply to industrial users as well as shutting off the water entirely to non-industrial users for up to two days a week. So far, the restrictions haven’t directly impacted chip and display manufacturers, mostly because their fabs are located outside the drought zone. But for an industry where a single fab can use millions of gallons of water a day, it’s clearly time to start considering what happens if the drought worsens.

Speaking of the confluence of climate and technology, everyone problem remembers the disastrous Texas cold snap from last month, especially those who had to endure the wrath of the unusually brutal conditions in person. One such victim of the storm is Grady, everyone’s favorite YouTube civil engineer, who recently released a very good post-mortem on the engineering causes for the massive blackouts experienced after the cold snap. In the immediate aftermath of the event, we found it difficult to get anything approaching in-depth coverage on its engineering aspects — our coverage excepted, naturally — as so much of what we found was laden with political baggage. Grady does a commendable job of sticking to the facts as he goes over the engineering roots of the disaster and unpacks all the complexity of the infrastructure failures we witnessed. We really enjoyed his insights, and we wish him and all our friends in Texas the best of luck as they recover.

If you’re into the demoscene, chances are pretty good that you already know about the upcoming Revision 2021, the year’s big demoscene party. Like last year’s Revision, this will be a virtual gathering, but it seems like we’re all getting pretty used to that by now. The event is next weekend, so if you’ve got a cool demo, head over and register. Virtual or not, the bar was set pretty high last year, so there should be some interesting demos that come out of this year’s party.

Many of us suffer from the “good enough, move on” mode of project management, leaving our benches littered with breadboarded circuits that got far enough along to bore the hell out of us make a minimally useful contribution to the overall build. That’s why we love it when we get the chance to follow up on a build that has broken from that mode and progressed past the point where it originally caught our attention. A great example is Frank Olsen’s all-wood ribbon microphone. Of course, with magnets and an aluminum foil ribbon element needed, it wasn’t 100% wood, but it still was an interesting build when we first spied it, if a bit incomplete looking. Frank has fixed that in grand style by continuing the wood-construction theme that completes this all-wood replica of the iconic RCA Model 44 microphone. It looks fabulous and sounds fantastic; we can’t help but wonder how many times Frank glued his fingers together with all that CA adhesive, though.

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Doom Clone Shows What An Alternate-Reality Amiga Could’ve Had

Can you run Doom on the Amiga? No, not really, and arguably that was one of the causes for the computer’s demise in the mid-90s as it failed to catch up on the FPS craze of the PC world. [Krzysztof Kluczek] of the Altair demogroup has managed not exactly to remedy that status with the original article, but to show us how a potential contender could’ve been designed for the unexpanded Amiga hardware back in the day.

Many developers tried to emulate the thrill and ambiance of the id Software shooter, but they all required high-end Amigas with faster processors and expanded memory, limiting their player base on an already diminished demographic. Not only that, but even with fancier hardware, none of them quite managed to match how well Doom ran on your run-of-the-mill 486 at the time. [Krzysztof] isn’t trying to port Doom itself, but instead creating an engine custom-designed to take advantage of, and minding the limitations of the OCS Amiga as it existed in 1987. The result is Dread, a 2.5D engine that resembles the SNES port of Doom and uses assets from the Freedoom project in order to remain copyright-abiding.

It might not be Doom, but it’s a good peek at what the 33-year old hardware could’ve done in the right hands back then. Technically it already surpasses what the Wolfenstein 3D engine could do, so there’s an idea if someone ever aims to make a straight up port instead of their own game. If you like seeing Doom run on machines it wasn’t meant to, boy do we have some posts for you. Otherwise, stick around after the break for two videos of Dread’s engine being demonstrated.

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Under The Hood Of Second Reality, PC Demoscene Landmark

In 1993, IBM PCs & clones were a significant but not dominant fraction of the home computer market. They were saddled with the stigma of boring business machines. Lacking Apple Macintosh’s polish, unable to match Apple II’s software library, and missing Commodore’s audio/visual capabilities. The Amiga was the default platform of choice for impressive demos, but some demoscene hackers saw the PC’s potential to blow some minds. [Future Crew] was such a team, and their Second Reality accomplished exactly that. People who remember and interested in a trip back in time should take [Fabien Sanglard]’s tour of Second Reality source code.

We recently covered another impressive PC demo executed in just 256 bytes, for which several commenters were thankful the author shared how it was done. Source for demos aren’t necessarily released: the primary objective being to put on a show, and some authors want to keep a few tricks secret. [Future Crew] didn’t release source for Second Reality until 20th anniversary of its premiere, by which time it was difficult to run on a modern PC. Technically it is supported by DOSBox but rife with glitches, as Second Reality uses so many nonstandard tricks. The easiest way to revisit nostalgia is via video captures posted to YouTube (one embedded below the break.)

A PC from 1993 is primitive by modern standards. It was well before the age of GPUs. In fact before any floating point hardware was commonplace: Intel’s 80387 math co-processor was a separate add-on to the 80386 CPU. With the kind of hardware at our disposal today it can be hard to understand what a technical achievement Second Reality was. But PC users of the time understood, sharing it and dropping jaws well beyond the demoscene community. Its spread was as close to “going viral” as possible when “high speed data” was anything faster than 2400 baud.

Many members of [Future Crew] went on to make impact elsewhere in the industry, and their influence spread far and wide. But PC graphics wasn’t done blowing minds in 1993 just yet… December 10th of that year would see the public shareware release of a little thing called Doom.

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Hackaday Podcast 064: The COBOL Cabal, The Demoscene Bytes, And The BTLE Cure

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys pan for gold in a week packed with technological treasure. The big news is Apple/Google are working on contact tracing using BTLE. From adoption, to privacy, to efficacy, there’s a lot to unpack here and many of the details have yet to take shape. Of course the episode also overflows with great hacks like broken-inductor bike chain sensors, parabolic basketball backboards, bizarre hose clamp tools, iron-on eTextile trials, and hot AM radio towers. We finish up discussing the greatest typing device that wasn’t, and the coming and going of the COBOL crisis.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~60 MB)

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A Jaw-Dropping Demo In Only 256 Bytes

“Revision” is probably the Olympics of the demoscene. The world’s best tiny graphics coders assemble, show off their works, and learn new tricks to pack as much awesome into as few bytes as possible or make unheard-of effects on limited hardware. And of course, there’s a competition. Winning this year’s 256-byte (byte!) competition, and then taking the overall crowd favorite award, was [HellMood]’s Memories.

If you watch it in the live-stream from Revision, you’ll hear the crowd going (virtually) wild, and the announcer losing his grip and gasping for words. It’s that amazing. Not only are more effects put into 28 bytes than we thought possible, but there’s a full generative MIDI score to go with it. What?!?

But almost as amazing is [HellMood]’s generous writeup of how he pulled it off. If you’re at all interested in demos, minimal graphics effects, or just plain old sweet hacks, you have your weekend’s reading laid out for you. [HellMood] has all of his references and influences linked in as well. You’re about to go down a very deep rabbit hole.

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Creating A Contest-Winning Amiga Demo Soundtrack

The Amiga platform took the world by storm in the 1980s. Developed by a crack team and brought to market by Commodore, the OCS chipset brought high-quality graphics and sound into the home computer market in a way never seen before. These capabilities cemented the Amiga’s place in the demoscene, and it maintains an active development community to this day. [Hoffman] is one such member of that community, and has shared some of the hacks that go into pulling off a banging soundtrack in a cutting-edge A500 demo.

The Amiga has 512 KB of so-called chip RAM, accessible by the custom chips and CPU for all tasks. There’s also commonly an additional 512 KB in a trapdoor under the machine, though it is limited in the ways it can be used. With these limits in place, [Hoffman] was overjoyed when the rest of the team allocated him a full 200 KB of memory for the soundtrack. In order to make the most of this precious resource, hacking ensued.

[Hoffman] does a great job of explaining all the tricks involved in creating a compelling 5 minute soundtrack in just 200 KB of RAM. There’s discussion of compression, sample sizes, and the vagaries of the ProTracker format. Smart hacks such as prioritized sample loading and pre-rendering drum loops also help to get the project over the line.

It’s a great write-up, which clearly explains the strategies used to help build a world-class demo soundtrack. [Hoffman] promises that the tricks used by the rest of the crew are equally as impressive, which we’re sure helped Eon to win the Amiga Demo Compo at Revision 2019. We’ve featured Revision winners here before, too. Demo video after the break.

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