The Awesome Thing that is DemoBase ST

I remember fairly well the days of old. In this case I mean the days near the end of July  2015, well not that old then perhaps, when within the space of two days I discovered GameBase 64, GameBase ST, Atari ST TOSEC and DemoBase ST. I could barely contain the intense feelings of nostalgic joy that coarsed through my veins, making my retro heart pulse and throb. In the days that followed I relived the even more ancient – and more authentically true – days of old, from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, playing all the games I used to like so much. “Jumpman Junior”, “Dino Eggs” and “Fort Apocalypse” were among the first, also the earliest games I had procured in my virtually virgin C64 days. And from there it went to many other fondly remembered C64 games, too many to list. I spent hours configuring stuff and trying to get a STelladapter to work. Next were equally endearingly memorized games and demos from the Atari ST era. Glorious days when the world I was in, and I myself, seemed both more innocent and more alive.

The GameBase efforts had been underway for years. I had been very slow to discover these gargantuan undertakings – a GUI offering a variety of good emulators that allowed for just about any title (whether game or demo or whatever) to be selected and smoothly run, all from within one convenient package. Similarly, various TOSEC endeavours had been created for just about every retro computer or console platform worth its salt (and, frankly, some so obscure they were perhaps not worth all that much salt). A bit of research revealed ready-made databases, whereas a bit of torrenting yielded vast collections of titles, ready to be merged with the GameBase files. The equivalent of years of collecting, all at one’s fingertips, running pretty smoothly and accurately on one’s own PC. GameBase 64 took up a little over 11 Gb, GameBase ST less than 5 Gb. Peanuts!

And DemoBase ST, although based on the same idea as GameBase, took things one step further: A step most convenient for the demo-loving Atari ST scener, whether former or current. As it happened, DemoBase ST strove to offer an as-complete-as-possible collection of individual (!) demo screens. The aim was to allow anyone to browse any screen by any demo crew, even individual ones from larger mega demos. You could then launch them, where DemoBase ST took care of the appropriate emulator launch parameters.
Version 2 of the DemoBase ST project, created and maintained by nigh-professional wild-mud-runner Dave Haylett, had been firmly underway since at least the beginning of 2007 with its release on http://dbst.atomas.com. That year saw a flurry of additions and improvements, until things started slowing down a bit in 2008 and grinding to an unfortunate halt during 2009. At a later date he also lost his source code (or at least thought he had).
I am immodestly pleased to say I may have had a bit of a hand in Dave’s finding the motivation and energy to pick up again where he had left off. In fact, he re-built version 3 from the ground up, bypassing the limits of the original version’s design decisions and adding a host of new bells and whistles.

The main features of DemoBase ST are:

  • One double-click launches you straight into a demoscreen – no disc images required, and no searching through main menus. Intros, Loading Screens, Main Menus, Hidden Screens and Reset Screens are also included;
  • Emulator settings, command-line switches (like -STFMBORDER) and correct TOS version are all pre-applied;
  • Over 3,200 demoscreens in the library so far;
  • Over 10,000 screenshots to help you find your favourite screens, or that one screen that you’ve been wanting to see for years;
  • Play custom slideshows of each screen in any megademo of your choice, or all screens by a particular coder, or any screens at random;
  • Mark your favourite demoscreens and play them from their own area, or even in a slideshow;
  • Play the music from any demo while you are browsing the archive, or add them to a jukebox feature;
  • Find demo screens based on title, crew name, megademo name or even which elements they contain (scroller, balls, 3D, STOS, interactivity, or 25 others)!

The whole thing is packaged in a very flexible and quite intuitive user interface that is utterly configurable. It even has many (dozens?) of little hidden demo effects that pop up left, right and centre (though, worry not, they can also be switched off). It is evident that Dave has delivered a labour of love, a respectful tribute to the world of ST demo screen creation. The new version of DemoBase ST, which started life somewhere in 2017, is now finally ready for a public release via its new online home at http://www.demobase.st. If you loved the world of ST demos, you owe it to yourself to check it out!

Ready Player One

 “Ready Player One” just has to be the best movie of the year (though I predict it might be second-best after “Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom” as of June, despite that movie’s alleged narrative shortcomings). A cool story, convincing special effects, one of the most awesome car chases every imagined, a none-too-obtrusive love angle, and oodles of pop culture references. Even a good and positive message for today’s gamer generation. It’s a bit like “Pixels” for a more mature audience. And the 3D aspect of the film was quite convincing and engaging.
Steven Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch!

 Up next, I hope someone is going to do a film adaptation of Tad Williams’ “Otherworld” books!

ST NEWS Atari ST/TT/Falcon Multimedia Disk Magazine

It is a challenge, from a modern frame of mind, to imagine the late 1980s world of disk magazines. Huge quantities of information can now be exchanged at the drop of a hat, anywhere, virtually instantly. Back then, however, you had paper magazines and relatively sparsely used Bulletin Board Systems. That was pretty much it.

In the summer of 1986, the first issue of “ST NEWS” was released. It was a 35 Kb document to be loaded into the most popular Atari ST word processor of the time, “1st Word”.  It was put on a disk and the disk was copied at user meetings. A disk magazine was born.

The Canadian disk magazine “F.A.S.T.E.R.” drastically changed everything. Having started in autumn of 1986, this commercial disk magazine featured a very smooth GEM-based user interface from which articles could be selected and viewed. It looked very professional, and it was clear that “ST NEWS” needed to get with the program. As I had just translated the manual for a new Basic interpreter from German to Dutch, I had at my disposal “GfA Basic”, a brand spanking new replacement for the simply horrible “ST Basic”. The threshold was low enough for me to try out my meagre coding talents and try to somehow provide “ST NEWS” with a user interface like “F.A.S.T.E.R.” Mine was slower, but it worked.

As the years progressed, the “ST NEWS” user interface gradually became better. The odd issue even got sent abroad. I got enthusiastic reactions from ever more distant locations. Former C64 programmer Stefan “Digital Insanity” Posthuma joined the team and replaced slow program parts by faster ones. A network of contacts within the Atari demo scene improved editorial content (other authors wrote about really cool stuff) and got each issue to have a cool piece of music (Jochen “Mad Max” Hippel provided cutting-edge conversions of C64 tunes). Stefan built in ever more elaborate scrolling message screens. The synergy between him and me – fueled by a shared love of metal and synthesizer music, action movies and certain alcoholic beverages – led to a barrage of extended review introduction stories, real-time articles covering more or less interesting events, and basically anything and everything we deemed fit to include. We were particularly proud of the issue released late summer 1989 when Stefan and me had spent two weeks in the United Kingdom to visit key people and personal heroes in the world of ST gaming during the “LateST NEWS Quest”. From 1988 to about 1992, “ST NEWS” went from strength to strength. After that, issues occurred rather less frequently until it ended summer 1996.

To some readers, “ST NEWS” was probably an idiosyncratically idiotic hodge-podge. To (hopefully) many it was just weird but nonetheless interesting. “ST NEWS” got me my first job, and nudged a certain Lost Boy of London on the fast track to international gaming stardom. It was a most interesting and dynamic window of time to be active in.

Over the past half year, the ST NEWS site has been overhauled. Check it out to discover:

– All articles!
– All demos!
– All music!
– All scrollers
– All on-disk source/bonus materials
– All issues downloadable in optimised .ST images for your favourite emulator
– Vastly extended and improved 100+ picture & video gallery, newly scanned where possible
– Fully searchable
– Mobile device compatible
– Random article option
– All pages commentable
– Bonus complete Ultimate Virus Killer book

Thanks to Frederic “Dyno” Poeydomenge for endless work, help and patience, with additional awesomeness by Mellowman!

WWW.ST-NEWS.COM