20 Years Atari STE Megademo by Paradox and others

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Once upon a while ago, the Atari demo scene pulled off a heartwarming display of rallying around and joyful celebration with an old style menu-driven megademo commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Atari ST.

In traditional oldschool megademo style, it pulled together a range of screens from many different groups, ranging from the inspiring to the toe-curling in quality. The end result was received very favourably and attracted surprised comments from other sceners on other machines who didn’t realise that the humble Atari ST was still so well regarded amongst its supporters.

Moving forward a few years, and another 20th anniversary for cherished old hardware is looming. Atari STE fans in the form of the demo group ‘Paradox’ decide that a revival of the 20 year megademo would be a very neat idea, and issue an invitation for all and sundry to join in.

There was a decent response. Some names from the ST 20th anniversary were missing, and would have been appreciated here. Reservoir Gods would have surely contributed something brain-blasting but are in the middle of a prolonged downtime. Defence Force started out making a screen, but this grew and grew until it became its own demo, “Save the Earth” which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue.

Still, let’s now see what we’ve got. There’s quite a bit still, so hang on..

Real hardware is recommended, some of the screens not being especially emulator friendly. There are separate hard and floppy drive versions of the demo, we click and go.

After a brief check on loading to make sure that you are running the correct hardware, we start with a festive intro screen. This consists of a Spectrum 512 picture, a digitized photo of a carnival or parade, so 512 colours on screen, with sprites over the top, and a sampled “happy birthday” song plays. This screen is removed in a chunky fashion for the next part.

The STE is Jarig!

The music changes, a big colourful bottom scroller does its thing, there is another multicoloured space-themed picture. It is bigger than a stock ST resolution, a virtual screen which rolls up and down. This is topped off by a distorting ‘megademo’ logo in midscreen. The intro and the follow-on are showcasing the possibility of combining highcolour (512 colours onscreen and up) with at least some demo effects.

Lots of colours for the intro.

The main menu is definitely something special and worthy of being the front-end of a megademo of the oldschool kind. The look and feel is of a fancy control panel on starship made in an alternative 16-bit steampunk Bitmap Brothers futuristic style. You control the crosshairs over the ‘starchart’ and press space when directly over the twinkling stars to get into the individual demoscreens. There is an awesome soundchip cover by gwEm of ‘Stardust memories’, or that tune which was on the ‘Terminal F*ck-up’ very early landmark Falcon 030 demo.

At the steampunk starship control panel!

So we go in, more or less at random, although careful readers may well note that this apparent ‘randomness’ is in the same order as Evil recording his video capture of the demo! Ah well…

Starting with the ‘Saluts’ Atari STe screen by Atari Legend & MJJ Prod. This is a very simple screen. A nicely done many-coloured picture of a large beer mug which is wobbled, with some sprites trailing around. An ‘Atari Legend’ logo sits at the base of the screen. I liked the bright and cheery pro-alcohol message!

The beer's are on these guys.

Next up is a ‘Tribute to Blitter and DMA‘ from Paradize. This is another “Hey we’re here” diskfiller. A basic GFA screen with some nice music, a couple of digitised screens, but not much action. Don’t worry, because Paradize pull a nicer screen out of the bag a bit later on.

The first attempt at a ‘proper’ screen comes with ‘Extravagance’ by No Extra. This scores strongly on the design, perhaps a bit less on using the STE’s features. We have a demo of many parts, a twinkling soundchip tune, small screens with 3-D filled vectors, some nice graphics, a rotozoomer. Some nice plasma gets in there too and some designy credits and greets. This would make a nice intro on its own, so it managed to pack a lot into 160 KB.

Twisted words and images.

The first seriously hardcore attempt to get to grips with the STE’s hardware comes with the cunningly redeployed ‘Ex-Reset Screen’ from our megademo sponsors Paradox. The grab from which the recording was taken is imperfect due to use of a funky 60 Hz screen mode. There is some major zooming and rotating stuff on top of a big scroller. A hard pounding chiptune sets the mood perfectly. It worked for me.

A partially grabbed very hardcore screen.

Paradize come back next with their more serious effort ‘Visual Unity’. This is stronger on design than hardcore stuff, but no worse off for this. A smooth virtual introduction screen debuts the demo with a light tune, The title is ‘handwritten’ in an etch-a-sketch style. The next part is a major raster attack with a 3D solid cube and an island sitting moodily in the background. There is a little interlude with some trailing patterns and a Paradize logo on the left. The music builds nicely and the next part moves into some funky wireframe greetings. A graphically pleasing set of stars moves around in a crystal ball takes place next, which is sort of the end of that part.

Cube in desert island space!

‘Mr Fourtyseven’ is BiTS contribution to this epic work. As usual there is minimal design and a huge division and conflict over the merits of this group. (Well not that much of a division, more a massive bloc of turned down thumbs.) To be fair, there does appear to be ample use of the STE’s hardware features, with smooth hardscroll, STE Palette and STE DMA sound. Whatever SoLo’s state of mind, his love of Atari did come across, so I’ll be kind on this occasion.

Another scene personality dear to my heart, GGN, gets busy with ‘Zero to Twenty: Sixty Seconds’. This has a certain lightness of touch with a mad birthday tribute picture at the start, and a mad version of the 1812 overture covered by that prolific remixer Yamaha. There is an Ascii swirling scroller which builds a scroller at the top of the screen and loads of oldschool graphics strutting around in the background. This gets in and out, not a heavyweight, but cheekily manages to win a place in the viewers affections. Nice work George!

George has spirals within spinny things!

An expected highlight looms large, with ‘Tuttugandi’ from DHS. To some extent we’re picking up themes explored in other recent DHS releases. So you will expect lots of good design, use of overscan and some great music to top this off. We are not disappointed, as the screenshot below shows. This part is complete for an intro but relatively short by DHS’s own admission, Well they had a ‘Cernit Trandafir’ to release as well and they apologise for using some leftovers from that demo.

Dead Hackers and the city..

Another major screen or mini-demo comes from the second Paradox contribution ‘Cubes, Ribbons and 3D Flybys.’ This is intended as a tribute or parody of the Peecee fashion for the effects named in the title. ‘Cubes’ is an amazing hardcore STE take with a virtual screen and several 3D gouraud shaded cubes at once. ‘Ribbons’ is a more lighthearted greetings and skywriting midsection, again with an unconfined virtual screen.

Cubes, but no ribbons or 3D flybys...

The ‘3D Flybys’ part takes further some of the work Paradox put into their 3D scaling sprites on their Outline 2008 demo ‘Again’. These are with perspective and set against a lovely background. All in all another strong part. And worthy of another screengrab.

3D Flybys without the cubes or ribbons.

‘Roxotro’ by RGCD is more of an advertisement by the makers of ‘rOx’ showing off some old graphics originally intended for their follow-up to rOx. This was supposed to be shown at Outline but appears that it may be delayed until later in the year. This had a very oldschool shades of 1990 feeling tile-based effects, but made me go “Yaay!” because of the promise of a sequel to rOx, preferably one which allows you to shoot back! Some glowing vector bobs at the end.

Could have been a game, might still be a game someday?

‘Zickdisk 2.5’ is made by Paradize & Elite. There are some cool tunes and minimal effects on a reasonably nice looking front end, which is sort of reminiscent of what Marcer did in the ST 20th Anniversary demo. Still, you can select the tunes, have a nice listen, and linger awhile. There is an end-part in a moody grey too.

Excellence in Art celebrates his return to the Atari scene and the STE in his own characteristic style. A screen called ‘$14′ has all the hallmarks of Excellence in Art style including some excellent music and synching to the minimal but smoothly done vector line effects. We are promised more to come at the Sommerhack 2010, so we’re looking out for this. Music is digisound with a mellow sound loop playing throughout.

Don't run this on emulators, we are told.

We’re on the final contribution from Paradox, the ‘Direct Color Zoomer‘. This is a full-on STE hardware attack, bottom scroller, music indicators, a zooming background picture and a single bitplane dot morpher. With digisound. So this feels fairly oldschool in some ways.

STE hardware attacked!

The Hidden screens appear to be using some forgotten early efforts from an early crew that a current Atari scene member was involved in. These are ‘do as they say on the tin’ screens. They are not advertised by twinkly stars on the main menu. You have to click around until you chance on one or other of these. Prepare for 1991 aesthetic sensibilities, sensual overload with coder colours and Mad Max chiptunes. Apart from the third one which ventures into digisound.

Hidden screen 1 – Cykelpump and Flensost (The X’Press Crew (1991))
Hidden screen 2 – Megalurk (The X’Press Crew (1991))
Hidden screen 3 – Circleblast (The X’Press Crew (1991))

Oldschool craziness part one.

And finally, yes really, the Reset screen from Paradox to conclude things. A very simple one-note screen at the end with an always relevant message. Thanks guys!

The last thing you will see...

So, was this a successful tribute to the twenty years of the STE? At least one external commentator annoying troll who specialises in personal abuse considered this as mainly a Paradox Show with some guest screens, and not really a full tribute. I would not be inclined to agree. Apart from the undoubtedly excellent Paradox screens, there were strong efforts from several of the other contributors. Apart from a couple of screens, I don’t feel there was an excessive baggage of making up the numbers minor screens, which were always an occupational hazard of any multi-crew menu style megademo, back in the olden days.

The only area where I might have wished for more perhaps, is with some of the screens featuring good effects and design, but not a lot to really tell it could only be done with the extra capabilities of the STE. This is the sort of area where the likes of Paradox and DHS pulled ahead of the rest.

Anyway, we are quietly content with what has been given to us. So when is the Falcon 030 twentieth birthday, 2012, or 2013? And what are we doing to celebrate that one?

Final thoughts. I spent long enough on this review and pulling the screenshots out of the movie footage, I’m not sure this makes sense even the third time of reading this review back, so apologies in advance for any incoherent remarks that crept in and stayed in!


Links:

  1. 20 Years Atari STE Megademo at pouet.net
  2. 20 Years Atari STE Megademo video

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