Minidemos: 32 bytes = better than 300 megabytes

What does a computer want to say, really? What is inside the machine? If there’s just 256 bytes of software, we might be getting closer to some sort of answer. Or is that just bullshit?

It is of course a craft that demosceners have worked with for many years. Ever since the 1990s demoparties have categories for intros made in for example 4 kilobytes. But in the last years, this has dropped well below 1 kilobyte. Now there are audiovisual “demos” that consist of less than 32 bytes. Usually it’s “coder porn”. There’s for example the 224-byte tunnel-effect for PC, coded in Photoshop (!) – check the video. Also, Loonies have made some impressive audiovisual Amiga-works with hot code and soft-synth electro: ikadalawampu (Amiga, 4096 bytes). On the C64, there’s music that use almost no CPU-power at all.

Other works are chaotic systems that look so good that it doesn’t have to matter that it’s just 256 bytes. Look at the video of Difúze by Rrrola (PC). It’s some kind of audiovisual (General MIDI) new age minidemo. Rndlife 2 by Terric/Meta is a text mode C64-production where the PETSCII characters are sliming around the screen like there’s no tomorrow (exe).

256 bytes is, in itself, rather useless. In a way, software doesn’t exist without hardware. Minidemos require nice hardware. If the hardware is complex enough, then 4 kilobytes can look and sound like a Hollywood movie intro. If the hardware is low-tech fresh, then 23 bytes can be a 9-minute audiovisual data catastrophe/victory. Just look at the video of 4mat’s Wallflower for C64. I wonder if he himself can explain what’s going on?

It’s also possible to do story telling in minidemos. Check out A true Story From the Life of a Lonely Cell by Skrju (256 bytes, Spectrum). Dramaturgy with two pixels. Viznut made a similar thing in 4k, that also has music to help the storytelling.

Still, my favourite minidemo is still Rrrola‘s 32-byte masterpiece for MS-DOS: Ameisen. Two years ago I recorded it, so I could show it at the online exhibition Minimum Data >> Maximum Content that I curated for Cimatics’ defunct Intermerz project. If you don’t like compression, the video looks pretty crappy. I really made my best to translate the data performance into recorded video, but well, a performance is usually better than a recording! 32 bytes of instructions can obviously be better than 300 megabytes of video.

5 Responses to “Minidemos: 32 bytes = better than 300 megabytes”

  1. Dragan Says:

    Very nice. I think the computer doesn’t really want to “say” something, but I think culture at large is still trying to make sense of computers, what they actually ARE. Such works as presented here helped me a lot personally, on making a mental model of computers that I think is quite meaningful.

  2. chipflip Says:

    Can you share your mental model? :)

  3. boomlinde Says:

    speaking of complexity, the graphics mode normally used in small pc intros (mode 0x13) is quite simple compared to c64 graphics modes, and much of the complexity instead lies in the maximalist (by comparison) x86 instruction set.

    to me, wallflower seems more like an expression of the gfx/sound hardware than anything, and ameisen is more like the result of the weird addressing modes and once-in-a-lifetime odd purpose instructions of the x86 processor architecture, unabstracted by crazy, memory saving graphics modes of the c64. either way, i agree… less software -> bigger window into the inner workings of the computer

  4. | Superlevel Says:

    […] Minidemos: 32 bytes = better than 300 megabytes development wtf […]

  5. Music for Twitter? « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] seems less hardware-dependent than minidata things usually are. So perhaps it could be some new kind of sonic Twitter art, like I tweeted […]

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