The Church of Excellence in Art
In a generally quiescent 2010 even with some notable highlights, this demo stood head and shoulders over the rest. Per Almered, aka XIA, the one-man band known as Excellence in Art unexpectedly returned to the Atariscene last year with a cool rebirth production titled “Just then I thought I was out / They pull me back in”. Since then, heavy hints were dropped that something more spectacular was due to follow at the 2010 Sommerhack party. This demo is the offspring of a year’s coding and general effort.
Out of all the demos I’ve reviewed for this issue of Low Res, this one has given me the most agonized speculation of how to achieve a textfile that does not fall over into a dank puddle of lame dullness. The problem is that the normal ‘run-through’ style of review, which is fine with more overtly technical demos, completely misses the point for a production where the story plays the main role in keeping the demo in the air. In other words, we end up doing a worse job of retelling the tale with monochrome text, that XIA told so much more fluently onscreen in the first place with his music, pixel-bashing and demo coding skills.
It took a little while to find a way in to review this in an alternative style, but I think I have a method now. We have the magic power of screengrabs on hand, I am motivated to fit the following suggestion with a bunch of suitable screenshots to this article and run from there.
“Every great demo should have all of these elements in it!”
1. A beginning – A swirly thing captured in the middle of a loading screen. This demo runs on an STe, it kicks the sacred “two floppy rule” into lower Earth orbit by a considerable margin. Still, some of us are pleased to have a demo which properly uses hard disk storage. In my case running this demo helped me look in the right place to ‘unlock’ a small part of my UltraSatan bulk storage system that had been giving me a few minor ‘issues’, so my eternal thanks goes out to XIA for that one.
2. Some legwork – Feet stomp across the screen in the intro part. Legwork can also come to symbolize the uncounted hours of drawing, composing, coding, testing, linking together, not to mention the facepalm related damage to the front of the head when something doesn’t work as intended, yet again.
3. A properly religious sense of devotion – There is a medical reason why a priest preaches from a pulpit down to the congregation below. The congregation has to look up and it’s something in that action that affects the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, heightening feelings of religious devotion or some such thing. Anyway, this screenshot provides a useful hint that the correct posture to watch this demo is on your knees looking up to the screen!
4. User-friendliness – Since the debacle with ST Format, where the reviewer failed to get away from the menu screen of a megademo they were reviewing, it has been prudent for demo coders to include some easy to follow simple instructions at the appropriate point.
5. Simple to follow instructions – (Continuing from the previous paragraph.) It’s a shame that ST Format aren’t still going, as their reviewer could benefit greatly from acting on this screengrab!
6. Realising that we only have the one planet – In these ecologically dangerous times, we can all do our bit to help matters. Here, you see that XIA is providing a healthy stimulus to the endangered bee population. Good work there!
7. A ‘code-aroke’ moment – The Senior Dads (God bless their souls and quickly compost their corpses!) started this tradition of code-aroke, or displaying code onscreen as part of the effect, back at the first Alternative Party in their ‘Monomental’ demo in 1998. XIA is paying tribute to this great tradition here.
8. Acknowledgment of and praise for minorities – There is a belated recognition among the more politically correct demo coders that certain minority communities have had a raw deal from the demoscene in the past. Here, XIA is attempting to singlehandedly apologise for the excesses of the Amiga Gayscene!
9. Slowly dawning realisation – Sometimes, really big new ideas need time to settle in. The epic running time of TalkTalk 2 allows for this, fortunately.
10. Wise words from the author – I guess we don’t need to add anything more to this caption. Job nicely done, XIA!
11. Light.. Do you know who it is yet? He seems like a cool guy.
12. And Darkness.. The same guy got up out of the wrong side of his life. People are complicated and multifaceted things, capable of great goodness and evil, often together. It is a rare demo indeed which touches on this.
13. A drop of the swirling stuff – When thought-provoking stuff is whirling at your brain, the wise demo coder takes the pressure off with some eye-pleasing swirly bars.
14. Comedy raster bars – Any demo can carry a message with serious and meaningful impact. The best of these remember to insert a lemon slice of humour into the gravitas cocktail. In this case XIA has chosen soluble sugar raster bars for his extra special ingredient.
15. A little help from your friends – Although you may be able to accomplish a lot as a one man band, any help from your scene buddies is always very useful. Kalms and Evil being two people who spring to mind right away.
16. Balls of steel – A demo with ideas as the main engine, over the effects needs someone with balls of steel to carry it off. Thing is, I’m sure that most people stop at two?! XIA has some awkward biological questions to answer!
17. A clean safe ending – A great demo will glide effortlessly to an appropriate conclusion.
This demo was generally well received. There are flaws, such as the issue of needing the whole 4 megabytes of STe to run in. The demo appears to be entirely loaded into memory before kicking off. I’ve no issues with sizeable data files on the hard disk but ask if it is possible for a more optimised disk loader which does its thing ‘on the fly’ for those people who might not have the full fat amount of memory in future?
I would ask really nicely to see if XIA could borrow a Falcon 030 so we can have a truecolour version next time as well?
Also some people have considered the preachy bits to be, well, too preachy. I don’t have any problems with this at all. ‘Message’ demos aren’t that common, and XIA carries this one off with just the right sort of lighter touch interleaved throughout.
This skill at communication through the art of pixels was combined with a surer feel for the coding side. There were some moments of excellence such as the fake reset ending the introduction, and the whole was very well synched together. In a quieter year, but still a year maintaining high standards, this production is the stand-out of the year, and I would consider it to be the Atari demo of the year.
I am hoping that Excellence in Art have future plans for 2011 and beyond, and look forward greatly to the next time.
CiH, for Low Res Mag, December 2010.