The demo experience

I may qualify myself as a power user sometimes - I'm not afraid to go dabbling in a system merely using a command line interface and an alien looking text editor (alien looking to those who think Notepad is pushing it in terms of bareness).

Still, some very enjoyable experiences are still difficult to have under Linux - for purely technical reasons.

Why still dual boot?

Games, the Return of the Revenge Afterburnt 2.5 Omega... Whatever.

There is one thing that forces me back under Windows these days: some softwares I really enjoy that would run only on a Win32 platform. My previous blog entry was addressing the gaming problem (thanks for the comments BTW!):

  • a good deal can run under the LGPL'ed Wine, Transgaming's Cedega or CodeWeavers' CrossOver Office,
  • a lot of games are available for free, or completely free, under GNU/Linux,
  • some proprietary games are natively cross-platform.

Meaning that with a bit of care, you can game at will under Linux - blastin', fraggin', run'n''jumpin', rollin' etc. So that's yet another reason to boot into Windows that pretty much goes away.

Of Near-Useless Eyecandy That Nobody Can Live Without Anymore

An excellent piece of news came from Google yesterday: Google Earth 4 beta came out on most of the consumer grade OpenGL-capable x86 OSes. Yes, Google Earth was another reason for me to keep a Windows partition. Not anymore.

Don't scoff, I know you also have it installed on a spare Windows-equipped machine somewhere.

Not much left, is there. Which leads me to the present subject.


Do some of you remember the days when young programmers tried their skills at programming nice visuals and music on their computers? Yes, the demoscene. Well, they actually never stopped - some groups came and went, others stayed, some fused, others broke off. Still, some of the stuff produced is downright incredible.

A long time ago (when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth - the Golden Age of the 386) I would watch, transfixed, a 64 Kb demo reproducing the scenery and fly-by experience of the very well known at the time game Magic Carpet 2. No, really! A complete scenery and 3D rendering engine (all in DOS/VGA/SB splendor) in 64K!

Nowadays they do even better: 64K demos make use of incredible compression and optimization technologies that would allow a group like Farbrausch to create a complete Quake-like demo in 96 Kb - textures, levels, weapons, AI, enemies, sound, speech - or... well, anything else, all in a file smaller than a bad quality JPEG file. Really. It's called .kkrieger - with a dot.

Well, as you may guess, those delicate files are using extremely advanced functions and optimizations, and their source code is a closely kept secret (or was merely scrapped at the end of the demo party) - when it's not just pure assembly.

Meaning that seeing a Linux port may never happen.

I like watching those: creativity is a must for those works, and coding expertise a requirement. These 'script kiddies' would give any chief developer in any project a run for his/her money with the efficiency displayed in those little pieces of art. Thus, sometimes, I spend a few seconds downloading a file, unpacking it, and I run it under Wine - and I cross my fingers that it would work. But then it often doesn't, and I have to boot under Windows.

I must say however, that it is quite an accomplishment for the Wine programmers that some demos run at all: in fact, I often find little to no difference between the 3D rendering done on a 'native' win32 environment and its LGPL equivalent when the demo actually runs. And it gets better on almost every new Wine release.

What's the point, you may ask? Well, users of free software usually started using free software because of one of these reasons:

  • it's free as in no ca$h,
  • it's very good quality code: efficient, fast, hardly (if ever) crashes,
  • you can make yourself feel important by contributing back to it,
  • it's free as in freedom.

Pick your own - I enjoy all those aspects.

Still, what's more entertaining than watching a very nice demonstration of artistic and technical skill on a free system?

For me, it feels like visiting a very nice artistic exposition, at will, for free, where even the building hosting the exposition is a piece of art.

Bibliography, .theprodukkt/Farbrauscht website


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