Adventurer #14
30 июня 2003

Scene - The Scene Behind A Curtain.


Демосцена Демопати Отчеты, репортажи, впечатленияCAFe

Scene Behind a Curtain  
Setok/Aggression        

The Scene Behind A Curtain

Everything really started out one
spring evening. I got a call from
somebody, probably Nosfe, to co-
me out to a nearby pub - Sizzle.
Apparently everybody who was any-
body was there, there was good mu-
sic and a Russian Spectrum
scener. I considered this proposal
only for a moment. It's not every
day that you get to meet a Russian
Spectrum scener. I quite remember
how Pavel, or xPasha, decided to
meet Finland but there he was
anyway. The bar was hot and not
particularly pleasant, but they we-
re not lying: the music was good,
so I decided to get myself a beer
and sit myself down.

Now the Russian scene was a real
mystery to everyone. The infamous
iron curtain affected people in mo-
re ways than one. Indeed, we were
barely even aware of a scene
there. Speaking with Pavel, I rea-
lised computing life there was
much more active than had previous-
ly been thought. I think an inte-
resting question is, how did the
scene reach Russia? Did some wes-
tern ideas manage to seep in thro-
ugh the holes in the curtain, or
did the Russians develop their sce-
ne independently? Perhaps the sce-
ne somehow reflects something more
fundamental about the nature of hu-
mans. Something that is built into
us genetically. The need to
create, whatever the hurdles. The
urge to demonstrate our own achie-
vements to others in the hope of
gaining respect. Maybe the only
mystery is how it happens in
exactly the same way across the
borders: tight code, design and
thumping music.

Nosfe and co. had been telling Pa-
vel about this funny, unimportant
thing we call the Alternative Par-
ty in the hopes that the word wo-
uld spread to Russia and we'd see
a nice influx of sceners we knew
nothing about. Pavel, in turn, was
telling us about CAFe. A Russian
party? With Speccy people? I was
interested. After all, that's how
I started with computers: on my
good old ZX Spectrum.

To cut a long story short I ended
up in a city called Kazan with my
friend, Tuomas Toivonen. In a
way it was quite a humbling experi-
ence visiting Russia for the first
time. Just over ten years ago Rus-
sia was under strict communist
rule. Entering would most likely
have been quite an operation. Yet,
it was not quite obvious how the
change had affected the people
themselves. How much was positive?
How much negative? Many towns we
passed in the train were really qu-
ite run-down. Paint was peeling
off the walls, old equipment rus-
ting in yards and roads turning to
muck. That vast stretches of Rus-
sia suffers from poverty was sadde-
ningly obvious. Still, despite all
that, most whom I talked with said
that even though times were to-
ugher now, they would get better.
According to them, Russia will be
some day be better than ever be-
fore. I guess freedom, in all its
forms, is more important than we
realise in our everyday lives.

Once in Kazan itself, our recep-
tion was extremely welcoming. It
seemed as if everyone who was in
the area had come to help us off
the train. The friendliness was un-
like anything we've seen before.
It continued in that fashion thro-
ughout our stay, with people al-
ways willing to show us around or
shake our hand. Some even wanted
autographs!

Obviously our first priority was
to get the bags somewhere, ie. an
appropriate hotel. It turned out
that there was a major Tatar confe-
rence taking place in Kazan at the
same time as CAFe, so finding a ho-
tel room was definitely more diffi-
cult than had been expected. A
word of warning for anyone plan-
ning a trip there next August: I
understand the conference will be
held at the same time again, so
book your room well in advance.

That aside, we did get quite a
glance at the city and its archi-
tecture. It had that run-down dus-
ty feel that all Russian towns
seem to have, but at the same time
change was clearly taking place.
Large construction projects were
commencing and buildings were be-
ing fixed up. With Tuomas we ag-
reed that there is a lot of poten-
tial in Kazan. They clearly have
the most important thing any place
can have: hope and belief in the
future. The will to make things
better. If you have that you can
accomplish anything. This was espe-
cially clear when walking down the
main street, where a lot of renova-
tion was going on, and some alrea-
dy complete. Just squint your eyes
a bit and marvel at the splendid
architecture around.

Finally we managed to get a room
and could begin to relax. During
our trip we came up with a rather
crazy plan: as we were the first
Finns to visit (indeed we were the
first from a country which hadn't
been part of the Soviet Union), we
just had to make a demo. Note that
neither me nor Tuomas had ever
made a demo before in our lives,
although I've done the odd little
routine back in the good old days.
Still, we felt we had to contribu-
te somehow. So quite a lot of time
was spent trying to get SDL to
work, creating music, playing aro-
und with routines and desperately
attempting to collect something to-
gether.

With our minds set on making a de-
mo we reckoned the best place to
be was the party place. The party
hadn't officially started yet, but
we were kindly invited to come and
see the place while the organisers
were setting everything up. From
the moment we stepped in it was ob-
vious that Russian parties had qui-
te stark differences from the Fin-
nish and Western European ones.
The organisers had rented a hall
which had been an old theatre buil-
ding and instead of the rows of
tables and computers one has grown
used to, there were only chairs po-
inting towards the spot where the
big screen would be. The real rea-
son for this would only later beco-
me clear. A BK demo or two later
we were back at the hotel, enjoy-
ing much-needed rest.

The next day we packed all our
stuff and headed off to the party
building again. Tonight, in proper
party fashion, we would sleep over
at the part building. This seemed
to please the Russians no end: we
were proving that we were truly
part of the crowd. The day was re-
ally hectic. We had our laptops
with us and spent a lot of the ti-
me coding. This was apparently ve-
ry strange for the people at the
party. Apparently in those parts
of the world, people do not code
demos at parties, which is almost
the opposite of what we are used
to (although this is changing in
Western Europe too). Most people
were sitting around chatting and
enjoying themselves.

However, we weren't restricted to
work alone. During our time there
we had somehow become minor ce-
lebrities. Not because we're parti-
cularly star-like but I guess
simply for our long and adventu-
rous trip and because nobody from
the "outside" had ever visited. We
even got interviewed by the local
TV-stations, talking about the
scene, our trip and even drugs. It
was also our goal to try and mar-
ket our own event, the Alternative
Party, as we have yet to see any
Russian people there, or even any
Spectrum demos.

Now, Russians and other Eastern co-
untries are famous in the scene
for primarily one thing: Spectrum
demos. The Sinclair machine has
mostly been forgotten by the wes-
tern demo scene in its worship for
the Commodore 64. Not so for the
Russians. They have quite suc-
cessfully managed to battle the li-
mitations of the platform like
8times 8 colour blocks and even
used them to their creative advan-
tage to produce some astounding
and original demos. They would not
disappoint us this time either,
with the Spectrum demo compo cle-
arly being the highlight of the
event. We really need to see more
of that at the Alternative Party.

It's not just the Z80 assembler
that amazes, either. The Eastern
scene is not content with the old
rubber keys and beeps of an origi-
nal speccy. In fact, the real
Sinclair Spectrums are not even
that common there. Instead they ha-
ve a bewildering amount of clones
and super-clones with hefty modifi-
cations.

I'll always remember the discus-
sion I had with one Speccy artist,
whose name I have unfortunately
forgotten. It was like a scene
from the film Ghost Dog: he didn't
speak any English and my Russian
is even worse. Still, we managed
to get on quite well. He was very
eager to show his work and the pa-
int program he uses on the Speccy.
I asked him why he was using an
emulator. I thought that was a
fair conclusion based on the fact
that the software was running in a
VGA monitor from a gray
mini-tower. The question had to be
translated, of course, but he then
looked at my strangely for a mo-
ment and replied, "It's not an emu-
lator, it's a Spectrum". Then the
full realisation of the Russians'
ability to extend their speccies
hit me. Not only was this machine
in a mini-tower and connected to a
proper monitor, it also had a hard
drive and two 3.5 inch disk
drives.

Another interesting point is that
Linux really does not seem to be
very popular in Russia. With the
tight budgets there I would've ima-
gined it to be a good choice but
the availability of pirated Win-
dows copies really cancels Linux's
cheap price. However, many people
were fascinated by the Debian
installations running on our lap-
tops so we did get a good chance
to spread the word. Unfortunately
we were somewhat unprepared in
one respect: we had only a few Li-
nux demos downloaded and my laptop
would only work properly with
Fit's One Day Miracle, the others
requiring full-screen mode. Later
on we managed to get a few MFX
productions running too. Everyone
was very eager to see what Linux
could do and they crowded round
for the show time after time. Hope-
fully Linux, and other alternative
operating systems, will slowly be-
come more popular in Russia as
they have around the world.

During the evening we were presen-
ted with the normal mixture of
compos: music, graphics, chip
music, ASCII graphics etc. A few
things can be said about these. It
was clear that Russians have quite
a different taste in music than ma-
ny of my friends. Many of the
tracks were rock or metal and
anything that approached electro-
nic music was deemed to fail. It
reminded me of the late 80s when I
came to Finland and everyone and
their grandmother was wearing an
Iron Maiden t-shirt. Not that
there's anything necessarily wrong
with that. It was just one more
difference in our cultures.

Another thing that I really have
to point out: they had ANSI and AS-
CII graphics competitions. The on-
ly real difference here was that
the ANSI graphics were colour and
so-called ASCII was 2-colour black
and white ANSI. In other words, al-
most all the entries in the ASCII
graphics compo did not use ASCII
but ANSI characters (or perhaps
IBM). Just a small hint to the or-
ganisers for the future...

As night arrived we realised why
Russian sceners don't need compu-
ters at their parties and what the
few tables were really for: vodka.
Oh, Finnish sceners drink at their
parties too but they still claim
the focus to be computers and co-
ding. The Russians have quite glad-
ly ridden themselves of all those
unnecessary extras and have con-
centrated all their efforts on one
thing. Poor Tuomas and me were
still trying with our symbolic ef-
fort to complete a demo. Finally
we just had to give up. Nobody el-
se in the hall was touching their
computers and they were beginning
to think we were slightly queer.
So in the end we joined the merry
bunch sitting at the tables snac-
king, chatting and enjoying their
alcohol. The strong sense of fri-
endliness continued and our glas-
ses were never left empty. In the
morning we were rewarded with fri-
endly headaches.

There were few surprises in the re-
sults of the competitions, inclu-
ding the fact that our demo did qu-
ite poorly. There were several
good Speccy demos with interes-
ting concepts but the most techni-
cally advanced, by a crew called
Placebo, won fair and square. On
behalf of the Alternative Party,
we gave them one free train ticket
to Finland and free entrance. Un-
fortunately we didn't hear from
them after the party and for some
reason they didn't show up. Too
bad. I believe they would have do-
ne well in our demo compo.

After the party we had a couple of
days to get to know Kazan better.
We had a nice guided tour of the
historical fortress and heard sto-
ries of its past (thanks to one of
xPasha's friends - I'm really bad
at names). We also tasted a wide
range of local dishes, topped with
some cheap beer and vodka. As an
extra note I'd like to say I was
positively surprised by the Rus-
sian girls. Maybe we just looked
odd to them, but on several occasi-
ons they came up in a friendly man-
ner to chat - something I've never
noticed happening here. I also qui-
te prefer skirts, especially of
the shorter kind, to the trousers
everyone in Finland seems to be we-
aring these days. Maybe we'll meet
more of them in the future.

Well it was a hectic trip and we
were finally glad to be heading
back home. At the same time we had
really enjoyed being there and mee-
ting all those fantastic people.
The experience is something I will
surely never forget and which will
enrich my life for years to come.
A great big thanks to everyone in-
volved: xPasha, Max, Adam etc.
and to elph for inviting me to wri-
te this article, which will hope-
fully still make it to the mag. I
hope to meet you all again.

References

[http://www.altparty.org/]




Темы: Игры, Программное обеспечение, Пресса, Аппаратное обеспечение, Сеть, Демосцена, Люди, Программирование

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