2014/02/25

Interview with Japanese demoscener - kioku (System K)

→日本語でよむ

According to the Japanese Wikipedia, even when Europe was in “golden age” of demoscene (where Future Crew was taking the European computer world by storm), demoscene culture didn’t exist in Japan.

About 20 years after that, we often hear the phrase “demoscene is dead” making reference to the decrease in numbers and participants of demoparty. But funnily enough, as if it goes against the stream, a brand new and very first demoparty was just born in Japan :D (so, "demoscene is born" here...)

This time, I interviewed kioku who’s active demoscener and main organizer of this demoparty (Tokyo Demo Fest). In this interview, kioku explained how he discovered demoscene, how Tokyo Demo Fest (TDF) was started and reveals some secrets of demo making and practical use of Ballmer Peak :D

Enjoy!


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First of all, could you introduce yourself briefly?


(Photo provided by kioku)

My name is Kentaro Oku, and I’m a leader of System KI do coding and making graphics in the group. Once in a long while I make music as well, but I don’t provide one for the group because I feel that I’m still short on experience in that field.


How did you find out about the demoscene? Im very curious because Im not sure if there was a demoscene in Japan in the past

I discovered demoscene through the book called “Megademo wo Tsukuro (Let’s make Megademo)”. It’s the one and only demoscene related book in Japan and I found it in the bookshop when I was a highschool student.


And after you found that book, you immediately tried to create your own demo? What was it like to create and release your first demo?

At the time I found that book, I was interested in making 3D program. So I bought the book and started programming by using its sample program. But there were many things that I didn’t understand, like math, and it’s not until I became a university student that I could make something proper.

The very first demo that I’ve made was to attract new members for our computer club at university. I don’t remember exactly but I think I made it in 3 weeks or so. We were in spring vacation, so I locked myself in the room to complete it. The music was provided by sincl, who I still work with.

Looking back, it wasn’t that great demo, but I think there were some kind of power or spirit in it and I was happy about that. Moreover, we could successfully attract many freshmen with that. :)


Sounds like a perfect way to use the spring vacation :) Do you make any plans before making demo?


With System K, we start everything based on music. We do think about overall structures and such in the beginning, but we change the details later and we sometimes change majors parts later, too. 
We set the rough schedule as well, but it’s really not serious one. And as a result of this, we often ended up pushing ourselves into the very tight schedule and getting into panic wondering if we can finish it in time. :) Comparing with other groups, I think our process is quite happy-go-lucky and dealing things as they come. (We should plan it better in the future…)


I don’t think there are many demosceners in Japan, but how do you collaborate with other people or groups?


I’ve made quite a lot of demos by now but I didn’t have much chance to collaborate with others. In the past, I worked with GOT from Eldorado, q from nonoil and TS from RTX1911 for my latest demo.



break over - TokyoDemo Fest 2014 Invitation –" (2004) by SystemK & RTX1911


If I only ask for music, our collaboration is done when I got the music. But when we work together on programs or graphics, we first decide which team’s system we should use, and then start making demo by following chosen team’s rule.

I could barely make my own schedule, but somehow I’m almost always assigned to take care of the overall schedule of collaboration work. :) (And somehow I always manage it better..:D)


Is there anything you really care about when you make demo? Do you set your own rule or goal?

I will share you my 3 secret tips for demo-making.

1. Sync with the rhythm of music
It’s important that your demo goes well with its music’s BPM. Which means, you have to smoothly sync graphics with bass drum, change in melodies or effects.

2. Think about your audience
We create demos to show our audience. Of course, the thing you try to show on the screen should have a certain quality, but more importantly, you have to have something which will make your audience go “Wow!”. So the key is to put some “unpredictable scene” in it.

3. Create for big screen
You need wider FOV. Remember, your demo will be shown on the big screen at the demo parties, not on your computer screen. Technically it’s just a matter of difference in screen size, but you have to know that the impact of your demo cannot be increased just by enlarging it and showing it on the big screen.

There’s this thing called FOV (Field Of View) setting in CG field, and I think it’s better to give larger value for this. From my experience, I found 120 to 130 degrees would be enough. You need to set it in this way because the big screen covers almost all our field of vision while the computer screen only covers a part of it. So if you can set it accordingly to cover the angle, that would be ideal. When you look at the work from veteran demogroups, you’ll see they set this superbly.


You even consider about angles? Wow… Ok, the next is “show us your workspace” corner :) Could you show us where your demos are born?

I work on the demo at my desk, which you can see in the photo.


(Photo provided by kioku)


Oh look, the odd-shaped keyboard! :) Do you do anything particular while making demo? …like listening to music, drinking tea, coding in the darkness…

Working in the middle of the night? Well, not that I want to, but I always ended up working at the dead of night. (LOL) I do drink coffee often, and some fizzy drinks (zero-calories’s). To code well, caffeine is essential. And in the final fixing stage, I drink beers to check my demo’s mood and adjust scenes. A bit of alcohol allows me to be sensitive to the sync of music, and I can create better scenes which fit with music. But I have to be careful because if I drink too much, I get sleepy :)


(Unfortunately I won’t be able to understand.. but here’s one for readers who makes demo…) What program do you use to make demo? Do you create your own tool?

The process of demo-making really depends on the person. Some make it without using any 3D modeling software or their own tool, and some can make it by hand coding.


Currently I’m using commercial 3D modeling software called “MODO” for creating models and animation (left on the photo) and my own tool for making scenes (right on the photo). I used to make animation movies with 3D modeling software when I was a highschool student, and I guess that habit builds up my current workflow. I basically make demo by using 3D software as a base, but if there’s size limitation, for example for 4KB intro (demo with size limit of 4096 bytes), I make it only with my tool because the software would be too big for that size.


You’ve been to some demoparties in Europe. What was the first demoparty you joined?


The first time I released my demo outside of Japan was at demoparty called NVISION/NVScene held in US in 2008. I didn’t physically join this party but by releasing the demo remotely, I got comment from Gargaj saying like “you should join European demoparties” and I decided to go visit Breakpoint (note: big demoparty held in Germany). So the very first demoparty I joined was Breakpoint 2009.



"Life on Air" (2008) by SystemK


What was the European demoparty like? Personally I’m bit intimidated to approach…


As far as I’d checked before joining it, demoparty was often presented as “programming contest”. But what I learnt from actually joining it was that it was close to an offline drinking party or a festival. They do give seminars and such, but that’s not their main purpose. People go there to see friends that they cannot see too often, and spend good time together. Since Breakpoint was a big event, people were coming from all over the Europe. And I felt that it was a place for people with shared “demoscene spirit” to get together once a year.

Naturally, the demoparty holds some compos for demo and your work will be shown in front of over 1000 people. And that includes you, if you’re there. Once your demo is started to play, you can instantly know whether your work is better or worse than others’ work. I got really nervous when I saw the slide saying my demo will be played next.

Compo is not just about showing your demo on the screen. Afterward, you’ll get many feedbacks *directly* from people who watched your demo, such as “that part was good” or “that part should be improved”. This is very rewarding moment for creators.

There are many people on YouTube or niconico who keeps posting their work because they like to receive comments, and I can understand why. If you create something for regular programming or game creation contests in Japan, your work will most likely be judged by “well-known” (really?) creators that you’ve never met before, and that’s it. Or, you may receive a few lines of comments if you’re lucky. I may sound exaggerated, but I think hearing the direct “Great!” from one person will make us so much happier than receiving a hundred of positive comments through internet.



You’ve been organizing Japan’s only demoparty “Tokyo Demo Fest” as a main organizer. Why did you start demoparty in Japan? And will you tell us how did it happen?


In Japan, there was an online demoparty called “2chparty” around 2001, and that event was also held from 2005 to 2009. I’ve participated from 2005, but after I came back from Breakpoint in 2009, I started to think like “Online demoparty is not enough!”

Around 2008, I remember Gargaj kept asking me why we don’t organize actual demoparty in Japan :D, but at that time we were not so sure about if it’s a good idea to throw offline demoparty; we were having negative opinions like “we don’t even have much demos for offline party” or
“people are living in all over the place, is it worth to have demoparty in Kanto region (note: region which covers Tokyo and some more) ?”

I actually had those opinions too, but then I saw q was planning to have “Megademo study meeting” in 2011. Around that time, people started to hold study meetings for programmers and gradually becoming a movement and q was trying to hold one to go with the stream. So I suggested him saying “why don’t we use this occasion to throw demoparty as well?” and we held seminar style study meeting in the first half and demo compo in the latter half as a social hour.

At first, we thought we could only attract 10 people or so, but as far as I remember, we had about 40 participants for that party. Since we learnt that quite a lot of people are actually interested in, we decided to do it again next year.

The first party was not that big, so it was somewhat manageable by q and me. But when the party expanded to 100+ participants scale, we really need help from other demosceners that we’ve met through Tokyo Demo Fest.


I’m sorry to ask you but, what is “online demo party”? You chat with other participants while watching demos?


At our online party, participants needed to make demo and upload it to the website (party website) by the deadline. And after that deadline, visitors of the website downloaded each works and voted. And the demo which got the most votes won.


Oh, okay. Now I get it :) You said it started as “study meeting”, you hosted these events at meeting room?


TDF2011, the first year, was held at the rental conference room with technical seminars + demo compo (as a social hour) on the schedule. There were some limitations on the rental conference room and we couldn’t provide the essentials of demoscene, such as playing demo with very loud volume, drinking beers and staying there all night. So for TDF2012, we held it all night at a small venue in Akihabara called MOGRA, where it’s usually used for DJ events.

Successfully, this event attracted more people than we’d expected, and we needed even bigger space for next year. Luckily, Zavie, who is a demoscener from France and one of the TDF organizers found a good place, so we held TDF2013 at Institut français du Japon (Tokyo).


(At TDF2013, photo provided by kioku)


Actually it’s difficult to find a place in Tokyo where we’re allowed to eat and drink (incl. alcohol), use electricity or stay until late hours. We’ve learnt from TDF2012 that “all-night” element is not necessary because many people went home at night. I quite like the current atmosphere of TDF, so I think we will continue like this for a while.


I went last year’s, and the venue got various culture mixed in and it was nice. :) Tokyo Demo Fest 2014 will be held very soon (March) and it will mark the fourth time. As an organizer, what’s your thought on this?

It requires so much effort to organize demoparty, and we need help from many people. I’ve been hearing from European demoparty organizers that it’s really tough but now I do understand that by actually doing it. :) However, it’s nice to receive many feedbacks like “TDF was fun”. It’s nice to get comments for my demos, but it’s slightly different.

A demoparty needs assistance from 3 different people; Organizers, Sponsors and Demosceners.

First, we need help from organizers. I greatly appreciate our demosceners who kindly support this event as organizers. Without their help, TDF wouldn’t happen.
By the way, I believe that the abilities to organize demoparty and the abilities to create demos are completely irrelevant. For example, in European demoparty, main organizers tend to be the people who don’t release many demos. But currently most of TDF organizers are active demo creators as well, and I feel a bit sorry for them because they can’t spare much of their time for creation. (I wish I could give them more time to make demos!)

The second is help from sponsors. Sponsors are essential for current size of TDF. IMAGICA Digitalscape and Unity TechnologiesJapan offer much support for our event, and ASAHI net offers help for providing and building TDF network environment.

And finally, we need help from demosceners. Even though we managed to set up the place, a party cannot be called “demoparty” without demos. The more people bring great demos, the more party gets exciting. Last year, I heard some comments from participants who didn’t bring any works, which were like “watching other people’s work inspired me to create my own”. 

At the demoparty, demo attracts demosceners. People who bring their work will be motivated by others’ work and try to make something much better for the next time. And I think TDF should be such place, which is a party by the demosceners and for the demosceners.


How’s the current demoscene situation in Japan? Tech-wise, participants-wise, is there any difference from European demoscene?

There are very few active demosceners in Japan who participate European demoparties. But this is not because we have few demosceners. I know there are quite a lot of people who know what demoscene is, or people who used to create demo in the past. These people tend to have refined skills now, and I think they can make fairly nice demos if they can find some time to do so.


We hosted TDF for 3 years, and luckily this party (and consequently demoscene) is gaining recognition among people who know nothing about demoscene. In European demoscene, it seems like the average age of participants are rising and they are having difficulty attracting young people. But here in Japan, demoscene/demoparty is recognized as new type of event (because we never have this before) and quite a lot of 20s are coming.

As for current tech trend in demoscene, probably I should mention GLSL fragment shader. This technology is often used in 4KB or 64KB and it allows us to make demos quite easily. Lately we can build them in a browser as well, and GLSL sandbox and Shadertoy are popular ones. (Recommended to use Chrome browser) Among Japanese demosceners, @gyabo and @301z have tried using it from its early stage.


Will you introduce us some of your favorite Japanese demos?


If I choose it from recent ones, it would be last year’s TDF invitation demo “candy~tokyodemofest 2013 invitation~” (video). Actually, I’d been mulling over the idea of making 64KB with Japanese anime-ish 2D animation for quite a long time. But when I talked about this to q-san who was trying to make invitation demo, he went like “Good idea! I’ll do it” and he did. :) Though I had this idea, I myself wasn’t sure if I can turn this idea into demo when q-san was started to make his demo. But q-san actually did it brilliantly and I thought he’s really great.

From the older ones, I would recommend watching “minimal” by Radium software development. I learnt a lot from it because this comes with source code. And for your information, creator of this demo will speak at Tokyo Demo Fest 2014.


Ok, then next question… your favorite demo, memorable demo, demo that changed your life… anything… tell us a demo which is special to you.

That would be “Squish” (video) (64KB, Assembly2002) by AND. I saw this when I was a university student and I was thunderstruck. And his next demo “zoom3” (video) released in 2003 was also deeply impressive.

According to AND’s website, he and I are same age. And when I discovered that fact, I was shocked to know that the person who is the same age as me is able to create such a great demo. I was just beginning to do 3D programming at that time, and I thought “if the same age guy can do it, so can I” and started to create own demos. :) (But it took me about 3 years to make similar 64KB demo..)

Now I’m doing a CG programming job, but I’m not sure what I would have become if I hadn’t seen his demo at that time. Because when I needed to concentrate on job-hunting, I was more keen on writing demo code than writing CV/application form. :D And I remember I kept talking about demo even in the job interview. But when I look back on it, I think this worked well as a self-promotion.
(Note for students: When we look at it from CG-related corporate engineers’ point of view, a person with deep technical knowledge like demoscener is always welcomed. Those engineers can tell if he/she has communication ability for collaboration and what level of skills he/she has by checking his/her demo.)


Indeed the efforts of person of the same age are especially inspiring :)

You said you do CG programming job, and I assume you do a hell of a lot of coding at work. Why do you write codes even after you get home? What is the fun part of demo making?

Demo making process consists of 90% of pain and 10% of joy. Honestly, it’s really grueling while you’re in its process, and you’ll be tied up especially in the latter process. But that sense of liberation I feel after I finish it is wonderful. 10% of joy is there because I feel I could express myself by making it.


I think I felt more joy when I first started to make demos because I had many techniques that I wanted to know and it was kind of fun to explore those things. But after I learnt some of them, I gradually came to understand what technique is used in others’ demo, thinking “well, probably I could do that if I try”. 

That said, I know it’s not that easy in reality, and I’m sure I’ll have various types of problems if I actually start working on it… In my case, it takes 100 to 200 hours in total to make one demo. Naturally it depends on the contents but that’s the rough average. I have other things that I want to do besides demo making, so I have to balance my time. I make demos when the desire to create demo wins out every other things.

Other than demo making, organizing Tokyo Demo Fest is quite a tough job. I know there are some other people who is able to make demos, but not so many for organizing parties. So now I put more effort into this.


Out of curiosity, what do you like to do other than making demos or computer related thing?


Lately I’m riding a road bike. (You saw me riding in Gunma before :)) Sometimes I go more than 200km. It’s really fun because I get do excursion and exercise at the same time. The pain that I feel while I’m climbing on a mountain pass is somewhat similar to what I feel while I’m making demos. And the sense of accomplishment that I gain when I reach its peak is similar to what I feel when I release my demo. I guess @dgtanaka is my bike mate these days, but I don’t ride much because it’s cold now. I hope to go out more when it gets warmer.


(“Japan's highest peak of national highway” Photo provided by kioku)

We got fresh air from the nature and plenty of mountain passes somehow, so make the most of it for your bike tour or development camp. :) 

What type of demo do you want to make in the future?


I have an idea that I’ve been wanting to try. I already have music but probably I should keep it to myself until I release it. I guess I’ll have some time to work on it after TDF2014.. or I’m not sure when…:)


I look forward to that :) Besides your work, is there any dream or goal that you want to achieve in the scene?

I hope Tokyo Demo Fest will be recognized widely and known as “the party of great people”.


Do you have any specific idea for that?


TDF was started out from the simple motivation of “I want to organize demoparty in Japan!” But now I hope to make this space more supportive towards demosceners in Japan. People create demos just because they like to do it, but demo making process requires so many skills such as time management, teamwork and programming skills and a creator needs to have creativity and good tastes. So people can prove that they have a number of skills just by creating some demos. And when people with expertise watch those things, they can instantly tell what kind and which level of programming skills they have.

Considering these facts, now I get more interested in the idea of introducing those great people to the world. I hope this party will develop into a place to meet new talents in the future, giving opportunities for students or job seekers to get job offers just by creating and releasing demos. In fact, when I talk to corporate engineers, a lot of them tell me that they are very interested in hiring staffs like demosceners.

I think TDF should encourage the creative cycle of “I do what I like and make what I like – People appreciate it, so I make more”, provide the stage for demosceners to release their works and support their activity.


Obviously, I wish you the best of luck. :) Finally, your message for demosceners and demo fans out there please.


This is not just about demoscene, but when I reached my 30s, I felt that time flies faster than before :) You will have more things to do when you get older, so I recommend making demos in your 20s. :) But this doesn’t mean that 30s or 40s can’t make one, so we middle-aged people should make demos when we have time. :D

People may think that demos are made of very complicated technologies, but in fact those basics are not so different from general programming’s, CG’s or music’s. Demo making process is like connecting paths between them. If you keep making it, one day you will be able to find some kind of shortcuts between each areas. And by gathering those shortcuts, it’s possible to make very complicated looking demo.

I guess that’s all from me for now. “See you next demoparty!”


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kioku-san, thank you very much for taking some time to answer these questions! (I know you were very busy preparing for TDF and its invitation demo!) And thank you for bringing this demoparty culture in Japan!

This year’s Tokyo Demo Fest will be held for 3 days from March 21, 2014. If you’re interested in, go check out this website now :)

On Japanese demoscene portal called “demoscene.jp”, JP sceners publish some useful information/document for fellow sceners.

Thank you very much for reading! :)


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- In case you’re wondering what “demo” or “demoscene” is, better check out the well-made documentary called Moleman2.  (and the director, M. Szilárd Matusik's interview can be read in here.)

#1: Interview with Demoscener: q from nonoil/gorakubu is here.
#2: Interview with Demoscener: Gargaj from Conspiracy, Ümlaüt Design is here.
#3: Interview with Demoscener: Preacher from Brainstorm, Traction is here.
#4: Interview with Demoscener: Zavie from Ctrl-Alt-Test is here.
#5: Interview with Demoscener: Smash from Fairlight is here.
#6: Interview with Demoscener: Gloom from Excess, Dead Roman is here.

For some of my posts related to “demo and “demoscene” culture is here.

5 comments:

  1. Nice read as always Setsuko.

    Don't worry people about that 'demoscene is dead' saying. I heard it 20 years ago and... demoscene still persists :).

    What's that "Megademo wo Tsukuro" book? Maybe you could make some review of it? It could be interesting.

    I re-discovered bicycle a few years ago and I deeply share passion for long distances. I have to admit my trips are a little bit shorter but I usually mix riding on tarmac with some forest paths and off-roads.

    Good luck and keep demoscene spirit whereverer you are :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments! Glad to know you enjoyed it :)

      That book, according to Amazon description, includes 90s demos and introduce how to make 'mega demo' in DOS, Windows.. (as far as I learnt from wiki, Amiga was really not common in JP) maybe Japanese scener can tell you more :D

      Have fun riding, spring is almost there!

      Delete
    2. Please, interrogate them harder. You are an expert :)

      Delete
  2. If you are interested, these books are quite interesting as well. They tell the story of the beginning of the demoscene.

    http://www.maz-sound.com/FREAX/en/Order/

    ReplyDelete

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