Life on the grid


“It’s perfectly viable to at least bring something to the compo.”

I had just decided to attend one of my all-time favorite demoparties,  Solskogen held in flateby. Slummy had just planted the idea of making a demo utilizing some inception style dark arts. It’s sucks going to a demoparty empty handed, and it had been almost 3 years since our last demo “quitet steps” so time was up.

For the uninitiated – demoparties are highly creative computer parties that features a series of (most often) friendly competitions where the participants show off their different talents such as music, graphics and coding on various platforms and vote for their favorite productions.

A week before solskogen, the decision to finally commit and make a demo was done. I could reuse some of the unused stuff I had lying around (and written about on this page) and just see where it took me. In my huge folder of un-released Ponas tracks I picked a short and cool yet unfinished song and went to town. At this point I’d like to give a shout out to Proteque who mastered said song to make sure it would sound good on the PA – as soon as someone external has done any efforts, the point of no return had passed.

Here are a few milestones of the process.

#1 – Getting the grid up and running – Sunday night

With the subdivided grid I had made about a year ago I was able to get a quick start. Most of the work in this phase came down to staring at FFT data and process them in a manner that looked good. In order to capture all the elements in the complex Ponas track, I opted for a technique where I use the average of an exponential number of bands as we move out to the lower frequencies for each “track”. So, 8192 tracks is compressed visually down to 256 tracks in a manner that captures most of the activity heard.  

#2 – Adding a spectrum – Tuesday night

The “billboarded lines” recently made for camera path visualization was the foundation for the spectrum. Turns out that my technique does not work very well (it was pretty untested) – but it sure did provide a rough look which I liked a lot! In total I opted for 5 lines sampling 1/30s, 2/30s … rendered with lowering thicknesses and transparency.

#3 – Shading the terrain – Wednesday lunch / night

At this point I had already added the chromatic aberration effect which gives a nice blur around the edges, a vignetting and tonemapping. The latter is very important when working with the colors, as this is where you can lose tons of time tweaking. For this terrain I added only one light point which was free to move so every scene could look good. Shown below is an version that used the wrong normal for specular computation. I ended up adding some super simple “fade to black” in the height direction to empathize the ridges, it worked out pretty well, but came out pretty subtle in the demo.

The wireframes used an inverse color of the terrain blended a bit more aggressive than the terrain due to obvious artifacts then the wireframe becomes dense.

#4 – Font and background  Friday

At this point I had selected to go for my favorite colorscheme, blue-ish / orange-ish. I had already added binary particles in green and some highlights for the spectrum. I also decided to mirror the FFT terrain and all effects. I think this gave the whole demo a 80s retro sci-fi style. The background was a simple circular gradient with blackened edges at the top and bottom. The intended use was to move the “center around” for each angle thus breaking up the “infinity” point. This wasn’t used at all due to time constraints.

Less than 24 hours before the compo, Ponas got a preview. On the question on what could be better he quickly answered “the tune”. We then decided to change the tune from a ~2min unfinished track to a 3 min track. The latter song didn’t look just as visually interesting but was however extremely more fitting with the demo in general and was an obvious selection.

The tune was added 22.30 on friday night and we then spent 8 hours into the morning hashing out camera angles, new effect progression and playing around with typography without “nailing” it.

I don’t know exactly what happened, but the party version looks very desaturated compared to where we were only a few hours earlier. Might do a final.

At this point I slept only a few hours before Phoxy dropped by to pickup my sleeping and bringing it to the party! Then I sent a super-early build to Menace which he promptly added into the compo-system. I then jumped on the bike and headed towards Flateby for a final tweaking session, nothing helps more against sleep deprivation than a long bikeride.

At the party I quickly recruited the expertise of Kusma to help me fixing fonts and overlays and generally coming up with great advice, after 6-7 hours of tweaking all “must-be-done” points was finished. At this point the compos had already started. It was finally time for some well-earned beer and socializing between compos.

All in all this ended up as a super intense week, but I enjoyed it tons and tons. All favors are exceptionally great when you have spent the whole week with only a few hours each night in your bed before heading to work.

Next up, I think I’ll try to release this framework at some point, so others can add their own tracks and remix if they want to. If this fits the bill, please drop me a line.

At last, a work in progress screenshot

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