raww.orgy 2008 report

On February 15th 2008, the fourth raww.orgy began. Pronounced “raw dot orgy” (in a similar fashion to my main website being pronounced “raw dot org”), it’s one of only two demoparties to take place in the United Kingdom, the other being the multi-format, and much larger Sundown. Prior to the first raww.orgy, which took place in 2005, there hadn’t been a demoparty in the UK since 2000. Always planned to be a small gathering of ZX Spectrum sceners, the party has grown in popularity among the scene with a large number of remote entries to the competitions. This is a small report and analysis of the 2008 party.

As organiser of the party, I tend to start thinking about it well in advance of the party taking place. This instance the decision to hold the party and it’s announcement was made in October 2007. A new venue was available – luckily for the party my in-laws had a holiday planned in February, the traditional party-month due to raww.org starting on February 7th 2000. The venue was bigger allowing for more visitors (or just a more comfortable space), which is great compared to the 2007 party where at one point 12 people tried to fit into my small lounge. Sourcing of the competition prizes started shortly after the party announcement – the previous parties’ prizes proving to be a hit among the scene as a whole and not just the ZX community.

In the following months, a little time here-and-there was spent preparing for the party. I worked on the new player for the music and graphics competitions (much-improved, I think), and began working out the finer details in an attempt to better organise this party compared to previous.

Organising the competitions is always a worrying thing for me. There are three competitions to cover the three “competencies” in the demoscene: Coding, Music, and Graphics. There always tend to be very few competition entries, which always leads me to worry that we’ll be voting on about two pieces of work, until a few days before the party weekend. This event was no different, with most of the competition entries arriving less than four days before the party. But more on the competitions later.

The Thursday before the party saw the arrival of Mikezt, Ellvis, and Alena, the ZeroTeam contingent, to the UK. It’s something of a foreign exchange scheme, as a month later Gasman, Equinox and myself visit Forever in Slovakia. The early arrival became a late-night arrival, with them reaching my home town of Yeovil some time after 10pm. After a pick-up from the train station I rushed them home and fed them a “Traditional English breakfast“. Ok, so the timing was about 12 hours out, but the thought was there.

Friday arrived and we began to prepare the party-place. This consisted of gathering together any ZX Spectrum equipment we needed, along with copious amounts of beer, and transporting it across town to my in-laws house (you see, there are advantages to being married). But this happened after a trip to Taunton to visit the shops and pick up the custom-made competition prizes. Then in the evening, people started to arrive.

raww.orgy has always attempted to be a somewhat relaxed and disorganised event, in keeping with my approach to life generally. However the Friday evening is usually spent with me ferrying people from train stations to the party-place, setting up the equipment, and getting LaesQ to resolder the SCART cable. All this while the visitors, who had mostly arrived by now, drank all of my beer. By the end of the Friday night, after the traditional fish-and-chips meal, and having set up the competition system in something approaching working order, the party attendance was: icabod (me), Mikezt, Ellvis, Alena, Gasman, Equinox, LaesQ, Jojo. At this point Justinas had not turned up, in part due to his fairly random approach to travel. The party was looking to be smaller than last year, but much more comfortable.

2am came, and eventually we slept.

Saturday morning arrived, and those staying at the party-place woke up at the crack of 10am. Having had no access to my emails, I headed to the other side of town to check on them (and on my wife, who simply doesn’t do geekery and so stayed at home). It was while I was at home that I experienced something which made me realise just how popular (and important?) this party has become to the scene. While I was checking my emails I received a phone-call from Alff of Cyberpunks Unity. Uhm… re-read that… yes, a phone-call from virtually the other side of the planet, to ask if I’d received the competition entries that had been sent. It was only then that I realised how much this meant to people. Following a slightly confusing conversation (I’m really bad on the phone unless I have a script), I assured Alff that I’d received the entries, and then set about checking them all and replying to the emails.

After I arrived back at the party, carrying a usb-memory stick with my ZX development system and all of the competition entries, we upped sticks and headed into town for lunch and a spot of shopping. It’s important during these events to bring extra money into the local economy… and besides we were all getting hungry. A trip to Subway sorted that out, and provided us with some decent innuendo material (“Ellvis is biting into a footlong”, “Gasman only has a 6-incher”, and so on). A wander around town (and a venture into a pub) later, and we were all ready to head back to the party-place and carry on with the, uhm, party.

Mikezt and Alena took over the kitchen to prepare some Bryndzove Halusky while I worked on the final preparations for the competitions. As usual at these events, the rest of the party people watched demos and drank more of my beer. While this was happening I had another long-distance call, this time from Siril/4d, asking how the party was going and if there were any results… of course the party was disorganised as ever and things were running late.

It was also around this time (maybe a little earlier, my memory is blurry) that Justinas turned up in Yeovil, and promptly began to write some music for the competition. Prior to this, and to Gasman and Ellvis submitting their music, we had the unusual situation of there being more entries in the Intros competition than in any other. Even after all of the competition entries were in I was surprised at just how many there were, with more Intros than there were visitors to the party. The final totals were: 8 screen$, 13 AY-Tracker tunes, and 11 entries in the 256b intro competition.

Following some last-minute hacking in the player (and sadly failing to get Ellvis’ music to compile) the competitions were held just before midnight on February 16th – later than planned (as always). All-but-one of the screen$ made it into the player (the winning-place by Riskej was a gigascreen image so couldn’t be shown in the player), and I was only able to compile Ellvis’ SQ-Tracker music after the party… the non-included entries were shown out-of-player.

The music competition was the first to take place, and was generally well-received. Sadly there was a problem with one of the tunes – in my opinion one of the best tunes. The track didn’t have an initial sample set on the “solo” channel, so it didn’t play at all. Tho’ it was fine in AY-Emulator and Vortex Tracker II, the ZX Spectrum player didn’t like it. It’s for issues like this that I had decided to provide a standalone music player prior to the party, so that any potential problems with specific tracks could be discovered early. This one slipped through the net, but I think it’s a good plan for party organisers anyway – if a specific play routine is to be used, provide it to musicians in advance of the party so they can be sure their work is represented correctly. There was also the aforementioned issue of getting Ellvis’ music to compile, something I eventually achieved by using EightyOne. But for the competition we used FATWare to load up a .z80 snapshot of the tracker, and played it from there.

Next up was the graphics competition. This is usually the quickest competition, as you only need to see each screen for a few seconds, unlike music and intros where you need to see the whole thing to really appreciate it. As mentioned there were 8 screen$, seven of which were viewed from the player – the other was the winning screen, a hand-drawn gigascreen image by Riskej. Luckily FATWare has a built-in viewer for gigascreen images (where the two internal ZX Spectrum screens are loaded with an image, and switched every frame), and the image came out really well, especially when viewed from a distance to reduce the flicker. A well-deserved winner, I would say, tho’ I was impressed by a lot of the work.

Finally we had the Intro competition. This was the most surprising competition for me, as coding something clever in 256b is quite an achievement, and yet there were eleven entries. Some excellent work, with the trippy “Chessboards of Madness” winning, in part I’m sure due to it’s psychotropic nature. The only possible issue with the competition was with Blaze, which should be run on a Pentagon due to the amount of CPU it uses. On a standard ZX Spectrum it took just over one frame to run each loop, but the effect still worked well. The other stand-out oddity of the competition was with Skrju’s 16-byte entry. It reminded me a little of mag7sqr, the ukscene entry into the wild competition at Forever 2006, if only for it’s size-coding madness. Madness!

…and that was the competitions, completed at around 1am on the Sunday morning. Following the competitions, I grabbed a beer and totted up the scores – some interesting results, which I will comment on later. We then watched more demos, drank more beer, and… well, drank some of my collection of spirits of dubious quality: Sambuca (always nice); Zubrovka (always cold); and Unicum (always earwax-tasting, according to Gasman); and many others. Bed finally became a “good idea” at around 4am. The following day was likely to be painful.

On Sunday, the collected ensemble arose from their sleep at the crack of noon. LaesQ and Jojo arrived and helped to wake up the laziest of the party-goers, and thought was set to “travel”. The plan was to head to the coast, which we only managed to do in the late afternoon, after dropping off Gasman, Equinox and Justinas at the train station. A short drive later (with a brief stop half-way there *cough*) and we were at West Bay on the South coast of England. A lovely place, with provision for superb chips if you can find somewhere that sells them. Off-season there’s less choice, but we managed to get a snack and wander around the pier in the cooling breeze and rapidly-fading light. Then we headed back home, where we had more food (the party-favourite of brown-mulch-and-potatoes) and relaxed for a while.

Monday was the time of the big clean-up, after I had dropped ZeroTeam at the airport. I tidied up the house, and tried to make it look like it hadn’t been occupied by a geek collective for the weekend. A tricky job, so it’s just as well I had two extra days before I had to go back to work. And then it was over – back to a normal life for a few weeks. Or at least until Forever 2008.

Now I’ve already provided details of the party and results on the party-page and on raww.org, and I think neither of those places are ideal for opinions, so I thought I’d write here about the competition entries and results a little

It’s always amusing for me to hear some of the comments about the works – especially as I know who did what (the competitions are mostly anonymous), when people make comments like “Ah, that’s an LaesQ tune” or “Is Agent-X back on the scene?” It’s also interesting to see how people vote for tracks. Of course at a party there will always be “political voting“, and even some self-high voting (“I did it so it gets 10 points”), and I think this is even more evident at a small party such as raww.orgy. Also as a result of alcohol consumption there are often high votes for the “comedy” entries – those which amuse rather than astound. I don’t think this is such a bad thing, as the demoscene can often focus too much on technical achievement over entertainment. However it’s a good sign that most often the top two or three places are actually the better works. This is the case at most parties, tho’ I do sometimes wonder if political voting has a large impact on results… I tend to notice trends where it’s almost like the public vote for a name rather than a release. This can sometimes be evident in the comments threads on sites like Pouet. But I digress.

My own personal preference for the work at this years raww.orgy differs slightly from the final results, but not greatly.

Music-wise I think that “Strangled Mind” by unknown-to-me MadMax of KNA was the strongest tune, followed closely by “Youko”, in either the working or broken version, by last years’ winner Ch41ns4w. I also quite liked Karbofos’ “Through Polonium”, and was a little surprised to see it wasn’t closer to the top.

Regarding the graphics competition, I think “Female Injection” by Riskej was a deserved winner, and “K!ll your brain” was a deserved second place. I was a little surprised to see “Protection” by d0k at only half-way, as I thought it was a really nice image, but joint fourth place isn’t so bad.

The intros were quite a mixed bag style-wise. I think everyone appreciated the pure psychotropic trippiness of “Chess-Board of Madness” by Tiboh, and I think it’s a deserved winner, tho’ “Asme” for me was a great, if silent, production. “Russia Riot!” by Alff of CPU was a wonderful intro and I think it could have won had it not been a modified version of 2006′s “Chrasma”.

All in all I was really happy with the party as a whole. I think it ran… relatively smoothly, and was very well-supported by the scene. As I’ve already said, I think it’s great that this party has caused a bit of a stir, and I’m sure many party organisers (on any platform) would be pleased with the number of entries in the Intros competition. Perhaps this is because of the nature of splitting the competitions into the three disciplines, and having no specific “combined” category? Who knows? Not I. But it worked.

Now… where did I put those postal boxes and customs declaration forms?

2 Comments

  1. Posted March 10, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Apologies for the lack of photos in this report. I may well go back and add some later, tho’ I didn’t take many photos during the weekend. I have Zeroteam’s left-behind camera, and have pulled the photos from it, so maybe I’ll claim some of those for the blog. I also understand that LaesQ will soon be uploading a gallery of photos from the party, too.

  2. Posted March 11, 2008 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Nice report. Wondering about the phone calls. They anticipated you haven’t had email access :)It seems that people take this party very seriously although it’s small.