DEMOSCENE ★ CPC IN THE YEAR 2009 : THE TRADITIONAL REVIEW by Michael Kargas aka Optimus/Dirty minds ★

Written for HUGi #36 and released at Breakpoint 2010 (3 April 2010)

Every year I sit down to write this article, I am really curious at the beginning to open Genesis 8bit, CPC scene and the Pouet CPC prod list to have a slight view of what was released in 200x. Especially the last one is funny because the CPC demos are always counted in the fingers of my both hands (and sometimes my left foot too :) and most of the releases are not even real stuff (but without them, the fair yearly releases would be something like three or four demos). And usually there are one or two demos that are better than average but no more. Those two demos are usually released after the half past of the year. I know when I have to be prepared for a new CPC dream. Not in the beginning of the year but near the end if there is not one already. I think I should try to make some interesting statistics with data taken from all the past years since 2000. One day..

The demos

We have newcomers on the CPC again. Starting with the beginning of this year. A new group from Greece, hellas-laser, has released two basic demos in January. Actually, I am the one who uploaded them on Pouet, stirring negative emotions and pictures of manure and that long text of things I said. But I was doing a favor to my friend Sotsoft who is a bit like Solo2 and so are his demos. Last time he begged me to send him the comments from Pouet via SMS because he didn't want to open the review page and watch the shitty pictures for himself. Which I didn't because I was too busy with other things and it would cost me a lot of money and time anyway. Hellas-laser is a name coming from Sotsoft's love of Greece and its mythical computer, the laser computer. He told me there was a Greek engineer in the 80s who wanted to create the Greek national home micro, the laser computer, but maybe he didn't. I have found a laser computer on a website though. A lot of home micros with strange names in the 80s. Anyway, coming back to the point, here you can get Hellas-laser releases (Sotsoft is quite a complex mind, so procceed with caution).

Going back to the news about more newcomers that released stuff in 2009. Zeroteam from the Spectrum scene has made his first demo on the CPC, cpctro. This was coded by Mike and pixeled/tracked by Factor6. Mike from Zeroteam is also organizing the CPC competitions at Forever party. In the demo scroller he believes the CPC memory mapping of pixels is quite weird. I agree it is. Anyway, the demo has a cute picture and a simple scroller. Not bad for a start. I am curious about their next release.

There was a CPC release at International Vodka Party by Benediction. It's a demo consisting of various nice graphics by Exin and one effect (a small sphere mapping). Exin is a C64 graphician who recently started being active on the CPC. I quite like his pictures in the demo. The demo was coded by Krusty who gave us some nice demos with chunky effects like bump mapping (the best on the CPC imho), blobs and other interesting software effects. This demo doesn't have much of his coding craft but the sphere mapping isn't bad (small and a bit slow but ok).

Little mentions are the 256b intros released this year, raster (colors of tv reset in 128b, nice idea), rotater pas cher (seems like lines by basic calls and page flipping) and Twither which is yet another twister in 256b done by Arkos and released at Forever. It's a good one. There were also three music disks released this year, something that doesn't happen very frequently. First we have Ultrasyd Music Disk, then Mega Mad Mix and CPC music ultimate compilation from Megachur, which are both compilations of older classics. Those music disks don't have a very interesting GUI (for us demofreaks who want to watch effects and fancy animated graphics :)) but it's the music that counts in these releases and in that aspect the releases are good enough. Minor references to some demos that are not good enough (To keep everyone happy. They will kill me for dedicating a whole paragraph to Sotsoft and nothing to their better yet boring demos :)). Those are Safe Sex from devilmarkus (the author of a java CPC emulator that runs from the web) with a sampler that will make Sotsoft happy and Killmax by OFE which I don't remember what is about but it's not worth it (Funny ednough, I have thumbed up all these demos at Pouet and that is because a new CPC release is always a thumb up, the scene is dead since 1995 :P).

And now for the good ones. A small one, nicely designed, single plasma effect, Arome tomate from Overlanders. Nice gfx. That's it.

The first surprise of the year was Pheelone by No Recess. And I thought it would be the only one (more later). The funny thing with No Recess demos is that they are coded in C with fractions of assembly coding of course. And they are even trackmo style design, going from one screen to the next one in a decent pace. Quite impressive. I would like to try the C compiler for Z80 one day and see how it's possible to organize memory and build a nice framework for doing that. And this is his best one so far. The demo starts with some blocky pixel writer and an animation of a spaceship. Then the main logo of the demo with moving 3d stars in the background appears. An impressive rotating blocky scroller which is slow though comes next. There are some nice vectorballs and wireframe 3d near the end. And few other blocky plasma-like effects (I can't identify what exactly they are :P). What I like in this demo is the massive ammount of spacey graphics and how the effects are displayed in front of them. Usually in 8bit demos, most effects are with black (or another color) background because more CPU time and even RAM is needed to blend an effect and blend it with the background. I don't remember many 8bit demos doing what Pheelone does here. I would avoid it normally. But it looks so good with a background. It is to wonder when you consider that this is a trackmo style demos with tons of background pics (and the CPC videoram is kind big for an 8bit) and effects in front and all playing nicely. If I didn't know more, I would never have guessed this could be a mix of C and assembly (I am scared about C stealing part of my memory in such a limited machine).


The surprise of the year is probably From Scratch by Vanity. Who is Vanity you will ask? It is a new CPC group from old farts, HICKS and Beb. Their initiative is to rule the CPC. :) Actually this is their second release, their first being Boules et Bits of the sprite record breaking era. I just don't remember the name Vanity when the first was released. I think they didn't use it then. Anyway, this is the first CPC demo that provides just about everything. We have seen demos that are boring scroller parts, we have seen demos dedicated to the hardware technical excelence (still scrolling and rasterbars and screen splitting and more stuff but done better), also demos trying to bring those newschool PC effects (pixel per pixel rendering of rotozoomers or bump mappers or anything that is mostly calculated by the CPU, usually in chunky looking blocks) which are interesting yet they usually lack proper graphics and design (like most of my demos), coder oriented. And there are those who are maybe more graphics/design oriented and don't care about the rest. And there are demos who are single screen and have few of these properties and those who have a flow like a trackmo demo (maybe it's not the right term, some people call it a multipart demo). But we haven't seen anything combining them all. I mean, a proper trackmo style demo, both with good music, design/graphics, transitions, good ideas, nice flow and above than average effects. And this is From Scratch.

Most of the effects in this demo are hardware screens. I have never seen a CPC demo with such kind of hardware screens before that is not separate parts but as a multipart demo where all screens are present during six minutes and there are even quite good transitions between them. Which is impressive. And even more impressive is that some of these screens are the best I have seen on the CPC (concerning the specific effect they show off). All of them are overscan like hell (occupying the screen borders, etc). There is a big logo, with dithered interlaced colors, hopping up and down in front of a big hardware plasma. All the colors blend to produce more. The logo disappear with a transition, a bouncing bar opens and a little scroller with an introduction is revealed. Then two raster bars (moving like 3d boxes, hmm... nice idea) reveal another screen with the biggest and nicest vertical twisting bars. This part is kinda long imho. It should be shorter (if the music allows it) or evolving into something more interesting. Then we have some other overscan screens with big scrollers and rasters moving like they are 3d boxes again (good idea again). And the biggest parallax scrollers screen with group greetings. Somewhere there, a screen with the demo logo and the credits appear. Nice way to present the credits, with zooming characters that descrabble the text. I love it! I think here is a part where big tetris pieces fall from the screen and hide the logo. Although to see this part you have to run it on a real CPC with CRTC 1 (or watch it in Devilmarkus JavaCPC).


And then my favorite part, ultrasmooth, ultrabig rotating (on X axis) flat planes! It's funny that even this effect, even seemingly pure software code, is an excessive use of screen splitting to select scanlines by size and also changes the colors per scanline to have something like 12 colors in Mode 1 (which normally has only 4 colors). Actually I guessed it would be that one, based on the speed and the size. :) I simply love it! Years ago I would never have expected to see anything like this on the CPC. I knew it could be done, it's just that the scene was so sleepy and we'd have to wait. A lot of cool stuff are possible, just waiting for the coder to make them reality. Also notice, most of the tricks of the 8bit era, no matter if it's just plasma or some treedee that don't seem to be hardware based, are just selecting which lines or colors to show per line. All are based on changing some registers at each scanline and using special graphics data to achieve various impressive effects at full frame. There is quite a bunch of more ideas that can be done on the CPC just by using the same technique. I know that I have some ideas and other coders have some ideas, we just need the motivation to sit down and implement them (and I need to actually learn how to do properly timed hardware effects on the CPC, because I lack this knowledge and courage to do it now).

The demo is lovely. It has so big hardware screens (although I prefer newschool PC and Amiga effects, these screens are so nicely done that it's great to watch), going from one part to the next via clever transitions and it all flows so perfectly till the end and it's quite a good demo. Interesting is that there is a lot of effort on details, for example you might notice (which I didn't notice at first) how the colors in many parts are not just the regular CPC colors, but blended colors in a chessboard manner (and screen flipping) to produce a different kind of CPC colors not seen before. I like that the background on the 3D part is not just a black screen but some black/red vertical stripes that are supposed to produce something more interesting than a single regular CPC color background. The colors on the 3D planes are lovely too! The background colors in the up and down frames on the twister bars near the beginning change colors frequently and are not your regular CPC color either. It's those little details that show the creators of this demos made some effort on designing good and interesting colors. It is the fact that shows I should have faith in Vanity when they will release their next one. The only negative thing with this demo btw is that it requires a CRTC 1. The same model of the CPC came with a different CRTC controller (Cathodic Tube controller and it's used excessively in the hardware tricks of CPC demos), which can be slightly different concerning the manufacturer of the chip and you don't know that before buying the CPC. I was always feeling unfortunate for not having a CRTC 0 because some good demos of the 92-95 era were totally wrong. But now I am so greatful because all of my CPCs are CRTC 1 and this demo requires CRTC 1. This is strange for some, because recent demos always try to support the most common CRTC types and you never have a problem. But this one is CRTC 1 only. Of course it's not an easy job to support different CRTC type (Remember, timing of hardware tricks is already a bitch. How much if you also have to take care of the slight differences on different kinds of CRTC) but I think there was a hardware trick used in this demo that was CRTC 1 specific. Anyway, it still remains a release that shows us the way of how CPC demos should be!

Other releases

I should make a reference to Orion Prime by Arkos, which is an adventure game, but I haven't played because I am waiting for the English version. But I have ran it to just see the introduction. And it's just sooo great! The atmosphere, the zooming effects, the graphics, the digital music on the introductory screen. I am really curious about the English version so that I can play the game. I won't say anything more about it here right now, before playing. But check it if you can read French. Or just wait for the English translation.

Not much else has happened in the game developing area (at least things that would catch my attention) except from the release of some previews of incoming CPC games, like Bubble Bobble 4 preview and Return of the Sisters (it needs SymbOS). Also, Sudoku Master was released by Binary Sciences. I have got my copy but haven't tried it yet (and I suck at Sudoku anyway :)). Various platform games with really nice graphics but boring gameplay or annoying difficulty are frequently released by some Spanish dev groups. Some of the recent ones this year are Nanako in classic japanese monster castle, Nanako decends to hell, Phantomas tales 1 and Platform Medley Block 1. Also, a new version of Star Sabre that supports music inside the game was released. This is a quite good shoot em up for the CPC. Although a little too hard. Also, if you like puzzle games you should see Illogicall and Be Tiled. All these from three hobbyist Spanish game developers on CPC. It's interesting how frequently they release games (although I couldn't play most of them :P)) and how we are not seeing a demo from the Spanish teams.

On xmas, a good remake of Rick the Dangerous classic for CPC+ was released by Fano, Macdeath and BDCiron. It's quite a good enhancement of the original, adding better colors from the 4096 palette of CPC+, hardware sprites for score/weapon numbers (but why not for main hero and enemies?), additional levels and graphics from the 16bit versions, intro screens and the use of samples for the scream (but it slows down the game when it's being played so you can disable it from the options). It's quite a good and impressive release, my only complaint is the slow down when the scream sample is playing and the still jerky scrolling on some screens like the original CPC. Get it from here.

Last words.

They say something about repetition that I don't remember. Actually they say a lot. Good things and bad things. I'd say how I plan good stuff on the CPC for 2010 both from my side and the scene in general but if you think about it, each year is the same so I shouldn't mind. Few good stuff will be released, most of the stuff promised or waiting for will seem to never come. At the end of 2008 (wow, that's two years ago now) I reunited with Voxfreax and Rex and started working on what we wanted to be, then next step beyond. It was going fairly ok and I started by focusing on doing a nice multipart with more effort on the design (not just black screens and some nice screen transitions). It's not the best thing in the world but when I watch it it's better than I would expect and sometimes makes me wonder why did I left the code at stake. Things are even worse now but each time I watch the 20% I have finished I think I should find some time to continue it because it starts very nicely and will be a nicely designed demo. I doubt I will find time soon in 2010. Maybe after the summer..

I am wondering what the old teams are doing. Arkos, my favorite. Well, they created Orion Prime, the game. Maybe I should switch from demos to games too on the CPC? It is a dream actually. I would like to make a game. But I won't leave demomaking on the CPC, which is the more interesting stuff for me. No Semilanceata this year? But they have done enough the previous years. How about some forgotten works we expect, like Palatine Demo or ASIC inside (I still don't know what this is)? Maybe a new flickering slide show from El Sucres (that weird name)? Solo2 on the CPC? Anyway, this was my attempt to get into point about one more promising piece of news. In some CPC forums I have learned that Rhino from Batman Group (an Amiga group, just watched their Batman Vuelve and it rules!) is working in a new CPC demo, having finished 60% of the effects and just trying to connect the parts and do what remains. He has high ambitions, like doing a CPC demo that is as great as the good C64 demos. Judging by Batman vuelve and hoping that words are actions, I am expecting to see some real kick ass stuff here. I hope it will revolutionize the CPC as much (and more) as From Scratch did this year.

Cu next year!

Optimus/Dirty Minds

HUGI diskmag by optimus/dirty minds

★ LICENCE: FREEWARE
★ ANNÉE: 2009
★ AUTEUR: OPTIMUS

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.