Let me take you back in time. Back to a time when 386 computers were cutting edge, DOS 5.0 had just been released, and Windows was still but a glimmer in some Seattle programmer’s eye. Years before Netscape would bring the Internet to the masses. The year was 1991.

QRU II: The BBS

I was the enforcer for a small pirate BBS in Los Angeles called QRU. It was the enforcer’s job to enforce the rules of the bulletin board, a private club accessible through a single phone line which was attached to a single PC sitting in my friend’s house. The board was simply a server, running specialized software, and attached to a phone line. Damn, I still remember the number, (310) 642-0976.

In order to access the board, members had to dial the BBS with a modem and a terminal program. Many times the board was busy because it was a single phone line and only one person could be connected to it at a single time. Once the board answered, the member was asked for a username and password to access the board. As a member of the bulleting board, you could leave private messages for other members on the board, post public messages for all to see in forums, chat with the sysop, and upload and download files.

Although messages were exchanged and posted, the reason for the board’s existence was to trade files with other members. In order to perpetuate the board’s existence and guarantee a steady stream of files for all members, each member had a download/upload ratio that he had to maintain, which was usually 4 to 1. This meant that for every 1MB uploaded a member could download 4MB.


This may seem like small potatoes, but you have to remember that large programs at that time were about eight 1.44MB floppies in size, and the fastest modems were 14.4 kbps, kilobits per second, which translates to about 1.75KB per second. This means that each 1.44MB floppy would take almost 14 minutes to upload or download. Since each member had a 1 hour max time limit on the board each 24 hours it was crucial to spend the time wisely. Sometimes it could take several days to download a very large program.

Why not use Usenet? Well, access to the Internet was difficult unless you went to college and had a shell account given to you by your university. Internet access wasn’t very cheap at the time so the BBS system was the most cost effective way to network with people that wanted to trade warez and demos. To that end, QRU’s motto was, “when free isn’t cheap enough!”

The Warez

A few of our members, and I don’t remember who, were couriers for cracking groups. One of these groups, called The Humble Guys (THG), defined the warez and demoscene of this era. THG was the first cracking crew to use .nfo files in their releases and had the best and most elaborate crack intros, or cracktros. These intros were so cool that they were works of art in and of themselves—never mind the cracked games!

The warez flowed freely to and from the board, from Novell, to Windows, to the ill-fated OS/2 operating system, to the latest games and demos. Each piece of software was cracked by one of the cracking groups and distributed around the world via modem through bulleting boards. Since this was highly illegal, admission to most of the boards was via invitation only. Only a member could suggest a new candidate and phone interviews with potential candidates by the sysop were common. The board was a private club and we liked it that way.

Demos

It was around this time that the PC demoscene was kicking into full gear. Demo groups had started on the Commodore 64 and the Amiga, but coding demos for the IBM PC was becoming all the rage in the early nineties. The most famous of these demo groups was the Future Crew from Finland. These kids from Finland revolutionized PC graphics and sound by coding intricate demos that were played on PC’s and rendered in real-time.

The demos that they created were coded in assembly language and the tools that they created to assist them in creating the demos were also written in assembly. In order to embed music in their demos, there were no MP3s, the Future Crew created a digital sequencer for DOS called the ScreamTracker. Using the tracker and the Gravis Ultrasound sound card, Purple Motion and Skaven, the musicians of the Future Crew, created amazing songs for all of their demos.

Nevertheless, I became disinterested in the demoscene right around the release of Windows 95. It was around this time that many of the Furure Crew members became busy with college and work, hence the release of demos became less and less frequent. Additionally, the hassle of having to boot in DOS protected mode made it a hassle to run the demos on a Windows 95 machine.

I still remember the best demos of the early nineties: “Unreal,” “Panic!,” and “Second Reality” by the Future Crew; “Crystal Dream” and “Crystal Dream II” by Triton; and “Amnesia” by Renaissance. These were my three favorite demo groups at the time and I looked forward to seeing their new releases every few months. The best of the best of the Old School demos were released from 1991 to 1994.

Unfortunately, the only way to watch these demos on a Windows XP machine is to try and use the DosBox emulator, which works sporadically. Using the emulator a few of the demos will still not work. These things were coded to run on DOS after all. Unless you have a couple 386 and 486 machines laying around your house, the best way to see all of the Old School demos is the MindCandy Volume I: PC Demos DVD.

The Demoscene Today

Recent computer hardware advancements, which include faster processors, more memory, faster video graphics processors, and hardware 3D acceleration, have taken the challenge out of coding demos. The Old School demoscene was about making the seemingly impossible possible through programming. Today, the focus in making demos has moved from squeezing as much out of the computer as possible to making stylish, beautiful, well-designed real time artwork. As an Old School fan of the demoscene, I tend to appreciate the programming feats of the Old School demos.

The PC demoscene is alive and well. A demo called “fr-08: .the product” by Farbrausch is one of the best known new school demos. Released in 2000, this 64KB Windows demo is an 11-minute long 3-D show complete featuring complex scenes tied to music. Check it out if you have a little bit of time.

Also, explore the demoscene yourself using the following links:

Scene.org – Demoscene community and news

The Mod Archive – Original demo MOD and S3M tracked music

Hitsquad: VUPlayer – Good MOD, S3M player for Windows XP

History of the Future Crew – A chronology of the Future Crew by Abyss, one of its members

PC Demo Scene FAQ – Written and maintained by Thomas Gruetzmacher

5 Comments »

  1. The URL for the history of “QRU” has changed (April 2006). The corrected URL is attached to this comment.

    #1 by Dieter — April 23, 2007 @ 12:47 pm

  2. Wow, I remember QRU!!! That was one of my favorite BBS back in the day. Actually, if you are the SYSOP of QRU I’m sure you would remember me. John from SJA on Gateway Blvd. Friend of Scott Carter. Memories!!!

    #2 by John — July 10, 2009 @ 9:50 am

  3. Shit was having a flashback reading this,i miss the magic of the old days.

    #3 by Jorge — July 27, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

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