Judging for Mozilla’s Demo Party contest, a four-month-long international initiative that encompassed several hacking events and generated over 100 demo submissions, ended last week. Bringing together hundreds of artists, hackers, and hobbyists in an “artful exploration of open web technologies,” the contest channeled the creative energy of the net’s longstanding demoscene subculture into a new form that promoted experimentation with new open web tools. We have the first look at the winning projects and web experiments (and, full disclosure, yours truly was the lone female representative on the judging team).
The demoscene came up during the 8-bit era of computers like the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga and the Atari ST. Teams of hackers would band together into demoscene groups and try to outperform one another in the creation of amazing audio and visual effects using cracked software. The intros that they’d program into the software would serve as a group “signature” of sorts, as well as a sandbox where teams could flex their creative muscle and try to one-up each other in their quest to develop advanced effects that pushed the limits of the software’s capabilities.
Mozilla’s Tobias Leingruber, organizer of the Demo Party program gives an overview of the initiative and its goals:
We spoke with Tobias Leingruber, the Demo Party organizer about the project’s goals and aspirations, as well as the original demoscene, and how it served as a source of inspiration for the ambitious project. Check out the list of winners below, and browse the full gallery of submitted demos here to witness the impressive coding work and artistry on display. Hard to believe that some of these projects were developed over the course of a weekend!
The Creators Project: What was your particular interest/experience with the original demoscene? Did you used to create demos when you were younger?
Tobias Leingruber: In the early 2000s I used to go to LAN Parties, meaning 10 people or so would bring their computers to one location and play games, share files and have fun for two days or more. Nowadays those parties have become pretty much obsolete thanks to fast internet connections. I say pretty much, because Demo Parties, where demo coders and gamers meet up, are still holding this tradition up high. For example, the Assembly Demo Party in Helsinki is attracting thousands of people with desktop computers each year to compete in games and demo coding.
About the demo scene as an art form in particular, I only know of since 2006, when I dug myself into 8-bit music, and it turns out chip tunes and the demo scene are quite related as well.
Why did you decide to bring back the demoscene culture for this particular contest? Seems like it was huge in the 90s but has kind of been dormant for the past few years… is there a reason it felt relevant now?
I guess high-speed internet has killed the need for LAN Parties. Some of the big Demo Party events have disappeared as well. Also, it seems like what happened in the 90s was much more ground breaking than in recent years in terms of computer graphics.
It’s funny, because for every platform that comes into existence, we see the same steps happen over and over again. A good example is the famous “Hello World” 3D Tea Pot, and of course, one was submitted to our online demo competition as well. This is why Pascal Finette (my manager at Mozilla, who originally came up with the idea and made this entire project possible) and myself thought it’s, once again, the perfect moment to encourage artists to explore web technologies, show off their creativity and surprise others with what to expect of technology in the following years.
Video capture of the WebGL Water demo, which one in the “Single Effect” category. The web version of the demo is interactive and lets users draw on the water to make ripples, rotate the camera, set light direction and toggle gravity.
What were you hoping to accomplish with the demo parties? Do you feel like you’ve achieved that?
We also thought that it’s kind of a pity that the rich Demoscene still seems to be kind of stuck in exploring Desktop and offline technologies. Most demos are incompatible to my operating system, and to experience them I have to fall back on video captures, which really takes out the beauty to me. If you make a demo for the web you have the biggest possible audience, the demo is pretty much cross-platform compatible, and it can use whatever data or APIs the web has to offer. Also, on the web your source code is open, which means others can learn from your blueprints and build upon your work—which is a huge deal actually. Open source software and open licences foster creativity in a big way.
In the end, we just wanted to see more cool stuff happening on the web and inspire others to even go further. While most of the demos sincerely don’t use the full potential of the web yet, they definitely expose stuff that most people haven’t seen before. We hope those 100 demos in our gallery will inspire thousands to explore open web technologies for themselves.
We’re super happy with the wide range of submissions, the well-received events and the straight positive resonance from the community. We did not take this for granted, because going into the Demoscene, an art form that means the world for a lot of people, also meant [that we had to be] quite sensitive and by no means try to commercialize it or make the artists feel they are being used for promoting a company. Gladly, Mozilla is a non-profit organization, and I think some other “big” companies might not have received this warm a welcome in the demoscene.
Video capture of the Azathioprine demo, which one 2nd place in the Main Demo category.
Was there anything surprising you encountered or learned while organizing the Demo Parties?
While the original idea was to focus on the online competition, the concept of demo parties turned out to be so popular among the hacker community that we just went with it. Together with demo enthusiasts, we organized seven events from NYC to Helsinki to Pune/India, and a whole bunch of others are already waiting to organize a web demoparty in case we do a second season.
THE DEMO PARTY WINNERS
To view the demos, follow the links to their host sites and launch the programs. Best viewed on the most recent version of Firefox or Chrome.
CSS3 DEMO WINNER
CSS Nyan Cat
All images courtesy Tobias Leingruber