Save the Earth by Defence Force


This witty and inspiring work for the STE came to us at the end of last year, courtesy of Dbug of Defence Force. People with very oldschool memories may feel the group name ‘Next‘ rising to attention right now. People with slightly shorter powers of recall may remember some of his feats of epic Oric-bothering at demo parties as diverse as STNICCC 2000, and the Alternative Party 2003, I certainly do!

After a longish Atari absence, broken by the odd Creators interlude, Dbug returns in full strength to commemorate, in his own way, the 20th Anniversary of the STE.

There is quite a major back-story contained within the info file given out with the demo. This was originally intended to be a screen for the 20th Anniversary STE Megademo. (Un)fortunately, this soon outgrew the specified 160 KB size limit, and Dbug made the decision to take it up to a full independent release which came forth (and indeed in 4th place) at the Kindergarten 2009 party.

As Dbug is sometimes as talkative as a diskmag editor given performance-enhancing drugs in his readme file, we also find out that a lot of the initial design and code was going to be very different from what we got. There was going to be some kind of time travel story where Atari became Microsoft, Apple, and a whole lot of other stuff in one. This would be due to a kindly Marty McFly type sending a cunningly pre-loaded EE-PC back to 1989 with a bunch of “racing tips” from the future. Oh, that and the bulk of this demo does not smash the STE’s limits, there is still plenty left in the old beast yet.

Another thing worthy of noting is that this demo is mostly the work of Dbug himself. The music comes from Excellence in Art, who appears to be getting around a lot of places with his stuff lately, but the code and most of the graphics are from Dbug’s own hand. He says that he hates ‘design by committee.’ With a singular work like this, he may have a point, as it really needs to flow properly from start to finish, rather than fail to convince as a series of disjointed and unrelated screens included to satisfy some petty group politics.

Well we’ve waffled around the edges long enough of actually describing what this demo does, time to take a closer look.

Starting with a quick fake static blast from your teevee screen, we kick off with a sharp and lemon-fresh parody of that horrible whiny anti-piracy advert “Would you steal a car?” that spawns itself onto the front of legally sold DVD’s. The original is actually an argument for piracy, if said pirates are considerate enough to remove those unwanted “features and benefits” from the illegitimate copy.

Random female, hardware, fine with me.

One of our favourite websites is referenced in the first part, as we are asked of the first picture “Does she count as a random girl with hardware?” The viewer is also asked if they would copy a car, to which Dbug responds in an environmentally friendly manner, “Yes, but only if it is energy efficient, not like that old one there.”

You wouldn't copy this car?

There is more in this vein, by the time we get to bag-touching appeals, then Dbug unveils a rather wicked STE-centric series of effects where he splits, wobbles and merges different sections of the movie in and out with each other. Rather hard to describe and doing something clever with STE hardware, but fortunately possible to show as a screen grab. This section is fast-paced, the music has been preselected, and this would represent the ‘modern’ part of this rather bi-polar production.

This is wicked, as in cool!

There is a little info screen with a page of links for those people inclined to follow up on the ‘message’ part of the demo.

Suddenly the music changes to some very old YM-tastic sound indeed. We are into the second main part of the demo now.

It’s cheese on toast and on your screen, with a very old and wobbly Cinemascope logo, and a revamped Defence Force logo up first.

Not seen this on Atari in a while, good to have you back.

It suddenly turns dark with the moon hanging in the night sky. We are in 1989, just another warm summer night in California.

Relaxing with hard drugs and wobbly rasters?

However, people at Sunnyvale are hard at work on their latest genius creation in grey plastic, the Atari STE!

They are quick workers as the scene rapidly switches to the assembly plant and the music takes a more ‘industrial’ beat where the STE’s are assembled, in an ‘ultra-modern factory’. There is some nice code on display with a multi-directionally moving large virtual screen and the bottom half is busy scrolling a production line of completed STE’s, from right to left. This appears to be a hardware scrolling and blitter-friendly screen.

Hurrah! We're in the ultramodern factory!

The scene evolves, we also move to the loading bay, whilst keeping the rest. We end up with about four or five different layers, or as the rabbits in Watership Down would term it, “Hrair” – meaning ‘many’, meaning they lost count after four.

This is just showing three of the layers, after that it gets fugly!

The scene changes as we leave the factory. There is a tribute to many racing games using rasters for skyline and perpective depth, a touch of Outrun as the truck speeds to the shops.

All together now, 'Da-da, dadada, dadadada!'

Okay, you’ve gone and bought one of these fancy STE’s. The scene now cuts to a close-up of the floppy disk, we hear the distinctive ‘ticking’ sound of a disk loading which plays over the tune and a wistful caption comment made “I wish I had a hard drive.” This demo does run off floppy or hard disk by the way.

Whirrr.. Tick-ticktickticktick...

The view pans out and switches to a camera looking behind the viewer at the screen. The music switches to the loader from the Union Demo and a miniature replica STE screen plays with all its oldschool rasters and scrollies in many many colours.

Impressive, yeah!

Then the camera shifts to the right, one of the most wry and funny moments of the demo where things are revealed not to be so colourful anymore.

Oh dear god no! - Moment number 1.

A close  up on the modern flat screen follows, where you are welcomed to the modern demoscene. An IRC session is in progress. This is an eerily accurate reproduction of an actual Channel Atariscne session. I wonder if Dbug can produce the original  log file it was taken from?

The IRC screen grab shown below sums it all up too well 😦

Oh dear god no! - Moment number 2.

Finally there are some functional end credits.

Dbug – Code and graphics
Excellence in Art
– Music
– Revamped logo

The music completes its final medley-tastic transformation to the Outrun tune.

Also there are some additional credits for the following.

Mircha – Moral support
Dad – 1040 STE
Gloky – New Keyboard
Jookie and Mikro – UltraSatan
Nerve – Transportation
Evl – Many small things
gwEm – MaxYMiser
Elitar – Pixel art trucks

And we even see some cheekily captioned ‘borrowed material credits’ from The Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness,”

One final observation to wrap this review, I will copy and paste directly from the info file, in Dbug’s own words. I’m sure he won’t mind me using this bit.

“One last thing, the title, it of course (ok, possibly not obvious)
refers to the fact that we can still use these old machines 20 years
after they were made, a testament about the build quality of reliability.
Modern PC’s on the other hand have parts breaking all the time,
dying batteries, graphic cards got thrown out and replaced, not very
good from an ecological point of view to see all this perfectly usable
hardware just thrown in the junk hopping that some third world country
will have children desolder components in a mist of toxic fumes.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself mate, thank you.

And here is a final screengrab to remind us all of the reason why we’re here today.

Nothing more to say

And that is really the end now!


  1. Save the Earth at
  2. Save the Earth video

3 Responses to “Save the Earth by Defence Force”

  1. Atari STe 20th anniversary - D-bøgg, teknovikingen Says:

    […] It appears that the demo has been reviewed in a disk-mag, so I will add some of the links there: – LowRes magazine atari, demoscene anniversary, atari, dbug, defence force, demo, kindergarden, […]

  2. Dbug Says:

    Thanks for the review 🙂
    Since apparently nobody noticed, there is a kind of “easter egg” in the demo, I originally wanted to make a demo slightly different each time you watch it, but I ran out of time so I could not do it (in theory things like the gradient and picture behind the window would have been dependent of the time of day and month (like snow in winter)), but the only thing I had time to do was to actually set the correct time on the clocks, so both the IRC screen and the LED clock have correct clocks if you have set the clock of your atari correctly (or use an emulator).

    Just wanted to share that 🙂

  3. CiH Says:

    Thanks, I’ll run it and check that out 🙂

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