The First Megademos?

I’ve always liked the term ‘megademo’. It hasn’t really been that popular since its demise in the early 1990s, but my group Hack n’ Trade has kept the tradition going. Why? Well, the megademo form comes with some pretty convenient advantages:

  • It doesn’t need a theme. What comes next can be a complete surprise in design, sound, text, etc.
  • Megademos require user interaction: the user has to press a button or key to get to the next part.
  • The viewer tolerates a break between parts (loader/decruncher, a loading part, a menu).

At least that is the way many see it today, and how we saw it in the mid 1990’s when we did our first megademo. “It’s easier than making a seamless trackloading demo without interruptions”. But I’ve come to realize that not everybody agrees with this idea…

The Early Days

It looks like the megademo word was first used in 1987. Janeway’s megademo category lists four Amiga productions from that year, and they describe the very bare bones production Megademo Disk by United Software Rebels (West Germany) as the first Amiga megademo. Since it was released just a few weeks after the Amiga 500 was launched (!) it seems like a reasonable assumption.

At the end of 1987, Sodan (the Dane who pioneered demo coding on the C-64) and Magician 42 released Techtech Demo. It’s a pretty great demo with several disparate parts like a typical megademo, but it also has a track loader (loading the next part while the current one is playing to minimize pauses for loading). So from a technical perspective, Janeway could have categorized this as a trackmo, like they did with Sodan’s Star demo from earlier that year. The third demo on the list, Some Demo Codes, could have been categorized as a pack disk rather than a megademo, as they mention in the comments.

For my purposes, the current categorization of demos are less interesting than what they were actually called back then, by the authors themselves. Now, I haven’t read through all the scroll texts from 1987, but there is one Amiga demo explicitly named and introduced as a megademo: Megademo by Antitrax 2010 from December 1987 (with music by Karsten Obarski). Interestingly, it supposedly competed in a specific megademo competition at the FCS-ECC copy party. That sounds unlikely to me but I can’t confirm or deny it with the links at Demozoo or in the invitation letter, courtesy of the lovely Got Papers? project.

 

 

To my surprise, the C64 has several explicitly titled megademos in 1987, judging from a search at CSDb.

All of these have several disparate parts with breaks. Most of them are essentially several demoparts/intros linked together, many of them including ripped game songs that you can browse through. Finland Cracking Service (FCS) stands out from the rest with some fairly impressive code and custom music (self-composed and hacks/remixes of game music). A slightly absurd detail that I appreciate is that you don’t exit the parts with space like in other megademos, but each part has its own specific exit key. In the demo, FCS sends some “comments” to Fantasy Cracking Service (FCS) in Germany who organized the party mentioned above, about stealing their acronym.

Does this mean that megademos were first popularized on the C-64? Well, not really. The chart below compares the amount of megademos on the Amiga and the C64 (ie, releases in Janeway and CSDb that have ‘megademo’ in the name). 

As you can see, during the so called golden years of the demoscene in the late 1980’s, megademos were clearly more of an Amiga thing. It is possible that the term first appeared on the C64, but it is also possible that the first megademos on the Amiga haven’t been preserved and archived.

Meganormal

Megademos became the new norm on the Amiga and 1989 saw one of the most iconic megademos on the Amiga: RSI Megademo (see below). I like Scoopex’s Megademo from the same year, which has a similar vibe of acid house rock. 1990 saw another one, called Budbrain Megademo. All of these used a specific loader part while loading the next part, but they never interrupted for loading/decrunching. To many, this became a defining feature of megademos.

When you remove the loading part (like Sodan did in 1987 already) and use a track loader for seamless progression, it makes less sense to call it a megademo. This is perhaps most clearly expressed in Scoopex’s notorious demo, Mental Hangover from 1990:

Even so, the term was sometimes used for seamless track loading demos (trackmos). King Fisher just told me that he called Red Storm (one of the earliest C64-trackmos) a megademo, for example. I suppose it was a way to separate it from the majority of demos on the C64, which had interruptions for loading/decrunching. On the Amiga, it made more sense to separate megademos from trackmos, because they were both popular at the same time. Scoopex didn’t want people to call it a megademo, because it was “better” than that.

I’m not sure. This certainly requires some more digging into by the global megademo research community. In any case, megademos gradually faded in popularity and status and a few years later they were predominantly ironic, funny or “fake” productions.  Luckily, that’s when me and my group Hack n’ Trade stepped in and started to dominate the megademo world. In 1996/1997 we were almost alone in using the term. What a success! 

Expanding The Norm

What I like with the megademo concept is that it’s not seamless. It’s chopped up in confusing bits that don’t really make sense together. It’s rough, it’s weird. And if you follow that train of thought, then perhaps our latest demo Essentials can be seen as a form of megademo. Parts are loaded randomly, they score very low in the rational sense making tests, but they also contain tools and music software? Yeah, have a go:

Panoramic Designs masterpiece Psykolog from 1991 has a similar spirit, and particularly the end part that starts about 16:30 into the video. 

Okay, that seems like a good ending to this post. If you have any information or ideas on the megademo topic, please let me know. Especially if you know things about other platforms than ye ol’ C64 and Amiga.

6 Responses to “The First Megademos?”

  1. Omri Suleiman Says:

    Antitrax fires some memory neurons. But when I think “megademo” the first connection is always rsi !

  2. goto80 Says:

    Ian & Mic’s megademo from 1988 is pretty ace, with proper metal in the loading part as well. https://youtu.be/YYxlDlExDP4

  3. Scali Says:

    Yea, terminology in the demoscene is always a bit of a problem. The definitions may shift over time, or differ from one platform to another.
    So here’s a braindump of how I recall various terms:
    On C64 it seemed to start with ‘crack intros’, like digital graffiti to ‘sign’ your cracked release.
    As they got more sophisticated, some coders started releasing graphics effects and music as standalone ‘demonstrations’ or ‘demos’.
    Then larger collections of these effects were strung together, which were called ‘megademos’. Usually you saw one effect, then a loading screen, then the next effect etc.
    On Atari ST they called these individual effects ‘screens’. A term I don’t think was commonly used on any other platform.
    As for ‘trackmos’… I have heard two definitions of the term, which are somewhat related, but not entirely.
    One is the version described above: a demo that uses its own trackloader to load (and possibly decrunch) parts from disk. This seems to be the common definition on Amiga.
    On PC however, I first heard the term when someone described Future Crew’s Panic demo on PC. On PC there’s no custom disk routines, and not many people used their own decrunchers. Many demos from that era just used PKLITE, and used standard DOS APIs to execute each part.
    Instead they seemed to use the term ‘trackmo’ for a type of demo that shows effects synchronized to the music. Which generally implies smoothly transitioning from one effect to the next, without any breaks/pauses.
    I suppose most demos classified as ‘trackmo’ would fit either definition, as most Amiga trackmos were designed with a custom trackloader exactly because they did not wait any pauses between effects. Demos such as State Of The Art.
    I’m not really sure what the first demo of this kind was, and on which platform. A demo that pretty much looked like a video clip for the music that was playing.

  4. Optiroc Says:

    Good post! Just a note about how these words were used (at least in some circles) that I don’t think you mentioned.

    My initial understanding of the terms “demo” and “megademo” came from our mutual friend Jeckbuzz when he showed me some stuff in his hönshus lair on the outskirts of Glommen, circa 1989/90: To him the obvious lingo was to call any one-file “part” (big or small, single- or multi-screen) a “demo”. A linked collection of such “demos” was thus called a “megademo”.

    • goto80 Says:

      Yeah, excellent point. I got the same impression when reading the scroll texts and the filenames of these megademos. It’s a simple explanation, and it makes perfect sense, especially in the early years. But even after that, I guess most megademos have multiple files? Our megademo 1 is a magic exception, hehe.

  5. goto80 Says:

    On the Atari ST the term was first used in 1990 (according to Demozoo) but there were megademo-style releases before that, like https://demozoo.org/productions/68152/ and https://demozoo.org/productions/71919/

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