ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Announcing: Blockparty! —

The summary is this:

I am co-hosting a demoparty called BLOCKPARTY in Cleveland, Ohio at the end of April 2007. It will be an awful lot of fun and you should strongly consider attending. The website contains all the details you need.

The rest of this entry are my thoughts on this project, what the thinking is behind it, and why I hope people come to it and enter the competitions.

First of all, we get into the classic question, “What exactly do you mean by a ‘demoparty’?”.

Demoparties have a decades-old history, starting with “copy parties” that enabled home computer users to copy software easily, in person, avoiding long distance costs and saving time. Cracked games (which had their copy protection broken for easier/faster copying) featured “intro” or “crack” screens that told you what group or cracker had done the programming work to remove the protection. These intro screens started to take a life of their own until specific members of a cracking group were assigned just to make nice-looking introductions. From there, it blossomed. The copy parties started recognizing music and graphics quality with awards. Those awards eventually grew into competitions and contests of their own right, with the piracy angle diminished and eventually removed entirely.

These competitions, in fact, have grown to be quite impressive contests by any measure, with the entrants spending months and expending incredible talent to turn their presentations and programs into what can best be called mythical proportions. When an entry makes you question that your computer is actually creating what you see before you, you’re looking at the heart of what makes the demo scene (and demo parties) so compelling to those who enter and attend them.

The basic structure of what I’m calling a “demoparty” has been going on for some time: Lots of computer users congregate in one place. hauling their machines to that location, and then proceed to socialize and network into a little community of sorts before heading their separate ways. Naturally, there are a number of similar events where this happens: LAN Parties (gaming, mostly), hacker conventions, business conferences and so on.

Depending on who you are with computers and what you do, I’m either treading well-beaten paths explaining this or totally twisting your knowledge on its side. Let’s assume you’re either from the second group, or that you have a morbid curiosity as to why I would go through the trouble of organizing one of these things.

Demoparties are almost exclusively a European phenomenon. There have been events in other countries but they’re rare and dwarfed by both the size and frequency of the “euro” based parties. If you go to, for example, the nearly-canonical party tracking site, you’ll see that basically all the events are in Europe and how few fall outside. Why exactly is this the case? You can speculate about the differences in markets, in how computer events have been handled, or it might well and truly be an organic growth of what became LAN parties in the US going in a different direction overseas.

Either way, the result is that demoparties (or events that self-identify as such) in North America have been relatively few and far between. The largest by far was an event called the North American International Demoparty (NAID) which was held in 1995 and 1996 and had hundreds of attendees. They gave the sense of an amazing future of demoparties in North America, only to fizzle out after those two years. Others, with names like Coma, Crash, Pilgrimage and Spring Break, also tried to carry the torch but represented, in most cases, less than 100 attendees in total and often the only party held that year.

The torch of a North American demoparty in the post-2000 era has been carried by a graphics maven named Legalize, who wisely attempted to integrate the pioneering work in computer graphics technology and demoscene sensibilities. His Pilgrimage parties were successful, but attendance was lower than sometimes hoped for and organizing issues recently led to a last-minute cancellation and bad mojo all around. Regardless, his efforts are what spurred a renewed interest in trying to develop some of that demoscene magic within the confines of this continent.

In March of 2005 (yes, that long ago), I started discussing with RaD Man the idea of a possible Demoparty to be held in the United States, and the rough sketches of “Blockparty” was born. We registered and left it to the side while considering logistics. And logistics, as you might imagine, are always the biggest hurdle when assembling large groups of people (or trying to).

The biggest issue with putting together a demoparty is a venue and all the attendant arrangements involved in that. In most countries in Europe, there’s actually a pretty lax set of circumstances in arranging for events where people sleep over. In the US, it’s a little more complicated, and can involve insurance, liability, capacity planning and a host of other nightmares that an informal “gathering” might not want to deal with. So it made sense to us to ally with another conference being put on and then make Blockparty an “event” at that conference.

That conference is Notacon, which will now be in its fourth year and has worked out all those annoying infrastructure issues across the past few events, leaving the mostly “fun stuff” (assembling speakers and sponsors) for our sub-event within theirs. Anyone keeping track of my activities knows that I have gone to all the previous Notacons and have played some small-to-major role in them, giving speeches, doing a radio station, showing films and the like. I really consider it my “home” on the convention circuit and where I like to go that extra effort from the sidelines. It was, after some negotiations, a perfect match.

So now that we knew we were going to have a demoparty, we started working to add events, competitions and speakers to the party that people would want to come all the way to Cleveland to see and participate in. We are contacting folks, getting the word out, and updating the site as new information becomes available.

The events are concurrent, and it really is “Blockparty @ Notacon”, where we’re a sub-event going across Notacon’s three days and taking place in the same venue and at the same time. Purchasing tickets to Notacon gets you into Blockparty, and you get to see all the same stuff; no velvet ropes and no special passes needed. Notacon has more than enough to satisfy interest and be worth the trip, so you’re set there.

We therefore expect more cross-pollination, with people who have never been to anything like a demoparty being able to play a part in one for the first time. As more pieces fall into place, I expect we’re going to have a lot of questions, a lot of announcements, and a lot of interesting people coming into the mix.

If you’re concerned about this taking time away from my documentary work, don’t be. “Work is fractal”, as one of my mentors used to remind me, and I’ve been able to both give Blockparty the attention it needs while doing the same for my other projects. Trust me, I can swing it.

I hope you’ll consider attending. It really will be worth it to experience this new chapter in demoparty history; I’ll ensure that.

I’ll be announcing various bits of news on this weblog as I have with my documentaries, and the site itself will have announcements too. Keep an eye out, and wish us luck.

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One Comment

  1. Flack says:

    I submitted a proposal to NotaCon. We’ll see what happens.