C64 Demo, No C64

Never underestimate the ingenuity of the demoscene. The self-imposed limitations lead to incredible creativity, and, the range of devices they manage to get their demos running on never ceases to amaze us. But we never thought we’d see a C64 demo without one central component: the C64.

Full disclosure: [Matthias Kramm]’s demo, called “Freespin”, does need a C64 to get started. The venerable 6502-based computer runs a loader program on a 1541 disk drive.  But from then on, it’s all floppy drive. And [Matthias] has laid bare all his tricks.

The video below shows the demo in full, including a heart-stopping on-camera cable mod. By adding a single 100 Ω resistor, [Matthias] turned the serial clock and data lines into a two-bit digital-to-analog converter, good enough to generate signals for both black and white pixels and the sync pulses needed for the display.

No demo would be complete without sound, and Freespin’s tunes come from controlling the drive’s stepper motor, like a one-voice Floppotron.

Watching nothing but a floppy drive run a cool demo is pretty amazing. Yes, we know there’s a full-fledged computer inside the floppy, but the bit-banging needed to make this work was still mighty impressive. It might be cool to see what you could do with multiple drives, but we understand the minimalistic aesthetic as well. And speaking of tiny little demos:  the 256 bytes of [HellMood]’s “Memories” or [Linus Åkesson]’s “A Mind is Born” still leave us speechless.

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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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Linus Åkesson’s ‘A Mind Is Born’ Commodore 64 Demo In Just 256 Bytes

It would be an understatement to say that the Commodore 64 demo scene is quite amazing. For those who are unaware, a ‘demo’ in this context is essentially a technological demonstration. Usually to show off particular effects or other (visual) properties that either push the limits of the platform on which it is being run, or use its hardware in a special fashion.  In the case of [Linus Åkesson]’s A Mind Is Born demo, the challenge was to do as much as possible in 256 bytes, while providing an audiovisual experience.

Although at first glance 256 bytes may sound like a lot to work with, this code has to generate the entire melody that is output via the Commodore 64’s SID audio chip, while simultaneously generating an attractive visual pattern. This is quite an undertaking, as the video capture of the result (included after the break) makes clear. The secret sauce here is to make use of the C64’s SID audio & VIC-II video chips.

Driven by a 60 Hz timer interrupt, the three voices of the SID are used to play the kick drum and bass, melody and drone respectively, creating the 64 total bars of the music using a linear-feedback shift register (LFSR). This means that the melody is in a sense randomly generated, but deterministically enough to sound pleasing to the human ear.

For the visual side, the C64 runs in Extended Character Mode, using fonts along with a background color to create interesting patterns using what is essentially a cellular automaton algorithm. While there are some visual glitches due overwriting of video data, and a race condition, these end up adding to the charm. The resulting audio track is pretty catchy too, and absolutely worthy of a listen.

Thanks for the tip, Johannes!

(That banner image?  That _is_ the whole code.)

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PHP Gets A Demoscene Engine Of Its Very Own

When we think demoscene, our first thought is typically of 80s computers, particularly the Commodore 64 and Amiga 500 which were widely regarded as the awesomest of their time. However, you can write a demo on any platform you wish, and [OxABADCAFE] has done just that – in PHP.

Pretty, no?

Going by PDE, standing for Pointless, Portable, or PHP Demo Engine, the code is available on GitHub for the curious. The code is set up for RGB ASCII terminal output, for a beautifully old-school aesthetic. Demo sequences can be programmed in JSON files, with the code executing a default in-built demo if none is provided.

There’s no audio yet, so you’ll have to cool your thumping chiptune jets until that’s available in a later release. With that said, we look forward to more development expanding what can be done with the engine – after all, there’s nothing more demoscene than pushing the limits. Video after the break.

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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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