I decided to go to Helsinki to attend Assembly 2013. I was kind of mixed on it as I'm a little burnt out but some friends told me I had to go see Finland and with their encouragement I went.
Since I was there alone I didn't stay for the entire event. Apparently most people go with friends and stay all 4 days which includes sleeping at the arena in your own sleeping bag all 3 nights. They have showers. I just went the first day to see what it was like and then came back the night of the 3rd day to see most of the competitions.
Assembly takes place at the Hartwall Areena. It's an indoor stadium. They've set up a large screen and stage at one end and filled the floor and edges with spaces for computers. You can reserve a "computer space" then bring your own computer, set it up, and game or hack for 4 days straight. Now−a−days most people on the main floor are gaming so they have a separate "demoscene" area for people who specifically want to work on demos.
Demos, for those that don't know, are where programmers, artists, and musicians make the computer do some kind of techno music video. To some degree it's a competition only geeks get because usually the point is the demos are running in real time using tech similar to video games. Because that type of tech has serious limitations understanding those limitations helps inform you why the demo is impressive.
Assembly has several competitions or "compos" as they are called. I checked out the gamedev competition where people show off their games and the audience votes on them. Not to be mean but nothing really stood out that much. People need to stop making yet another space shooter, yet another 4 direction shooter aka Robotron, Geometry Wars, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 and about 1000+ clones, and no more platformers. Unless you've added something truly amazing to those genres just stop it please ;−p So, they might not have been the most polished of the games shown but I picked the games that at least did something original.
On the way to the arena I met a guy on the train going to the event. He said he was entering the 1k competition. He mentioned 2 years ago he got 6th place and last year he got 4th place so he was hoping to continue that progression or better. Unfortunately the competition was stiff this year with some amazing demos for 1k. If it's not clear what a 1k demo competition is it's to make the computer do something with a program and data no more than 1k or 1024 bytes. To give some idea of how small 1k is a standard resolution app icon for an iPhone 3G is 15k (15552bytes) so in 1/15th the memory of an icon make the computer do something interesting. Watching the progression from 4k demos for the last 20+ years I would have never guessed people would make so much with so little.
On top of the 1k event which is relatively new there is a 4k event. Now that the 1k event is so impressive the 4k event can be a little anticlimactic but there were still some impressive ones.
One of the funnest compos is the Real Wild Demo Compo. It's where people make any piece of hardware run a demo. There were 2 demos for Android, 1 for Nintendo DS, another for stand alone LCD screen, yet another for a TI-89 calculator and finally someone got an old train schedule display sign and managed to reverse engineer it to display a demo on it. Insane!!!
The main event is the "demo compo" where you make a PC (generally Windows, Mac, or Linux) do something fancy with no limits on memory file size. Unfortunately either it was a bad year or the scene it just dying because there were only 6 entries this year. They had planned 90 minutes to show the various demo entries but they were done in 20 minutes. I think everyone was disappointed. I guess people need to step up and make demos.
I suppose part of the problem is it's much harder these days to make the computer do something truly amazing. They've gotten so powerful that you can pretty much make them do anything. For example 20 years ago it was just amazing to see a spinning cube with shading on it.
Now we have GPUs and multicore machines and so you need to think really hard about how to make something either technically hard or have an amazing design sense.
Cross my fingers there will be more next year. I have an idea for a great Wild demo. Maybe I'll have to come back and present it.
One more thing that was awesome for me personally, there was a area where someone had set up Crash Team Racing for up to 4 player games. When I asked why they picked this game they said "because it fucking rocks!".
I stood there and watched people play. They still knew the controls and how to pump the turbo boosts etc... It felt good to see people playing a game I helped make even thought it's 14 years old.