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An interview with
Statix Demography
The Interview

Anyone who's visited my page for some time knows I'm partial to Statix's productions. I was still in college when he released Headache. There was a bug in the program, and I wrote him an e-mail complaining that it crashed on my system. I expected nothing. Days later, a fix was uploaded to Hornet. This generosity is relativly unheard of in the PC demo scene. Statix, like a few before him, sees things a little differently. He contributes to the scene with the intention to inspire. He is a great experimenter, unsatisfied with the redundancy so often characteristic of the scene of which he is a part. His story is one of an outsider, first unwelcomed, and later revered. He now reigns as favorite coder on the Hornet Charts with 665 votes, more than double that of second place. He is something of a scene vagabond, assisting groups Psychic Link, Acme, and Pulse, as well as occaisionally performing solo. During the year, he studies at the University of Cambridge as his alter ego, Alex Evans. In past summers, he has been employed by Bullfrog Productions. Despite these successes, he has always made time for demos. This time has been far from wasted. In my opinion, Statix is one of a handful of sceners to be considered a true artist.

1994    Demography    1997
Act 1Psychic Link's first demo, released in October of 1994. It was designed to run on a 386. Statix was 16, and coding in pure Assembler. Almost all of the 3D objects were constructed on paper, using a pencil and a calculator. 1
JuicePsychic Link's last demo produced as a group, it placed second at the 1995 Assembly party in Finland. Designed for low-end Pentiums, Juice is a fast-paced, seamless marriage of music and graphics. It was, and remains, unique for its happy attitude and sense of humor. 1
HeadacheAmazing, due to the fact that Statix is the sole producer of this demo; code, design, music, graphics, and samples. It was released directly to the Internet in March of 1996. My interpretation of it has been that Statix is venting his frustration with an unimaginative demo scene. He provides examples of commonly used yet poorly implemented effects, and asks the profound question, "What's going on?" The obvious answer to which is nonsense, which has caused him a headache. He asks the scene, "Do you have a brain?" His, of course, has been pounding. This is shown, followed by two tabs of aspirin falling into water. During the credits, "The End" is appropriately put in quotation marks. 1
PaperPerhaps the first underrated 4.5 star intro on the Hornet Archive. Released in late 1996 at the Wired party, it received first place and has since frequently been referred to as a rare exception to an otherwise uninventive PC Demo scene. It served to elevate Statix to the high level of recognition he now receives. The musical score composed by Vic adds insightful ambiance to Statix's subtle, surprising visuals. It is eloquent in its 64k simplicity.
303This is a slightly enhanced version of 303, available only from Statix's hompage. Originally, it placed first at the X 1997 party. This time enlisting Vic as both tracker and vocalist, Statix pioneered the use of lyrics in demo music. It is more like a music video than any demo before its time. Although the singing leaves something to be desired, the visuals are expertly coded and carefully synched to the music. Besides the addition of lyrics, however, this demo in ways seems a step backward for Statix. There is less congruency to the design of this production than those past, and in small ways it exemplifies the same vagueness that gave him a headache one year earlier. Statix has expressed his own discontent with the incompletion of this demo. 1
Wired InviteThe Invitation to the 1997 Wired party, and the only invitation to score 4.5 stars on Hornet. Statix again broke new ground by designing this interactive demo / game / invite. You control a space vehicle, flying around and reading various scrolling billboards with information about the party. If you choose, you can play a game in which you race computer opponents navigating through the three-dimensional tunnels. It contains beautiful use of 16-bit color and lens flares, and is arguably the finest interactive production of the PC scene.
SquareStatix's first collaborative coding and graphic project since Juice. Constructed with members of Pulse, it competed in December of 1997 at The Party, Denmark. It is easily his most visually complex production. Given this, I have not had the time to develop much of an understanding. My first impression is that it exudes technical expertise, on the part of each producer. It appears to emphasize the computerized aspect of demo production, rather than disguising the PC as a television set. Scenes are broken down to their framework, allowing the viewer to better understand their construction.

The Interview
  The Past  
You entered the scene in 1994 with Act 1. It received a four-star rating on Hornet, though got little recognition. Did this discourage you? To what extent do you attribute this to Psychic Link being the sole demo group from England?
We were slightly discouraged by the lack of reaction, but to be honest it was hard to gauge since we had absolutely no net access at the time and were still in the secluded English bbs scene, with only 2 demo boards in the whole country. Hornet wasn't even on the agenda!
At Assembly 95, you took second place with Juice. Was this unexpected? What was your impression of Stars/Nooon?
Totally. we were treated rather badly as Asm95, and so we just got our heads down and worked. One of the great things was that we were all old friends and able to work quickly, explaining our ideas exactly and getting something like what we wanted. So although our skills weren't too good, we could make the best of them. Stars was a great demo with style, good code, good music and good graphics. We couldn't compete really and were more than happy to hit 2nd place. Good work Nooon!
You would soon express disappointment in the quality of demos the scene was producing. Can you give us a brief idea of what led to this frustration?
Part of the resentment was the "closedness" of the scene to newcomers or outsiders, as well as the large number of 2nd rate demo crews doing well. It's not that we didn't respect the top guys - we were (are) in awe of them; it was just that we felt there was a better way of going about things than spinning toruses and pornography.
Headache was released straight to the Internet. What kind of reaction did you receive?
I released Headache to Usenet, because that is what I knew. :) I still had no access, and took along the disk to a cyber cafe where I downloaded it (slowly and expensively!) to Hornet. The reaction from Usenet was the only one I gauged, but it was the first warm reaction I got. I was so pleased, I decided to continue more seriously at "getting into the scene" and attending parties, because I realised that there were cool people and demos out there, after all.... (along with all the shit I had met thus far).
Paper is perhaps your most widely appreciated demo. In what ways do you feel it was an appropriate follow-up to Headache?
Paper and Headache were both great to create because I knew right from the start what I wanted, and was able to draw appropriate gfx and write music to fit the code exactly (up to my limited ability!). Paper originally had music by me, but I accepted my limitations and cried for help to a friend I had met at Wired 95 - Vic. It was a bit random but we turned out to work really well together, and in only 2 days he had put together a good tune to fit the demo.

I didn't think of the relationship with Headache at all, except for the fact that Paper is a lot more positive, because at last I had discovered the friendship in the scene. Wired 96 was a great party - seeing all the people go crazy over my demo and chuck paper planes around for 4 hours afterwards is just about the biggest kick I've ever got. It left me raring to go and make another demo. The best demos always seem to be like that - a low just before release, and then a big high afterwards. It's what keeps you going really.

303 pioneered the use of vocals in demos, and is generally considered a tremendous coding accomplishment. How did the use of lyrics affect your demo-making process?
303 was in fact a gigantic experiment in vocals! I coded the mpeg packers and extensions to Midas first, and sent them to Vic to play with. It took a while for me to come up with effects, and in fact most of the work was done in Holland while staying with Vic. We had loads of technical problems, including an addiction to Playstation stopping my coding time (grin) but we worked hard to produce the demo. As I say, I was raring to go after Paper and I really wanted to try something new in the demo music, ie vocals. Afterall, music was the reason I had got into the demo scene in the first place. (Truly!) It was sad that Vic hadn't managed to find a singer, and that due to all our problems the vocals had to be sung against the background of a party, while Vic had a hangover. :) Well it almost worked, and I still like that demo. :) I sing along sometimes...
It is often ridiculed, unfortunately, for the poor quality of the singing. In what other ways is 303 not what you had in mind when you began the project?
Actually 303 came out in a way that was totally unexpected, taking many influences from people and places I had never seen before - notably aap, simstim, Holland and the Playstation. Comparing 303 to my original ideas, almost nothing survived. There's code in the final .exe for about 6 or 7 other FX, some major ones, which never made it through into the revised "feel" of 303.
Paper and 303 each contain scenes that look slightly different each time the demo is run. In your Wired invitation, you take this to another level by making it fully interactive. Was this a more tedious production? How do you look back on it?
The use of random numbers has always interested me, and most of the way I drive the motion in my effects is algorithmic, and based on some randomness, rather than on preset flightpaths. For example, in all of 303 there are no beziers or stored paths, it is all done using masses and springs attached to various parts of the world and the camera. It's just more interesting to code, and can produce motion you'd never have thought of. It has its down sides, too...

Surprisingly, the invitro contains a lot more pre-defined paths and data, (autopilot) and in fact that proved to be the most tedious thing; the problems of interactivity were sort of built into the design right from day 1 and so proved not so problematic. I had learnt a lot at Bullfrog, and put it to reasonably good use! The invitro was another case of being fired up after 303; I coded the engine in only a few days and the rest of the time was spent writing the level editor and studying for my exams. :) I mainly wanted to point out to some people that a 3D demo/engine/game has a lot more to do with feel, lighting and ambience than the polygon count or inner loop. The inner loop in it is not-so-great (in fact some weirdo diss-assembled it and emailed it to me to tell me so--- WHY?) But I was trying hard to feel good. I always remember PSI saying in one of his source codes "it's easy to make an intro in 2000 bytes, it's hard to make one that has a good feel in 2000 bytes". Too true.

Would you like to see more interactive demos?
No, not really. The point of demos is not interactivity. That's not to say that the scene can't branch out in some way. Musicdisks, magazines and invitations/reports are all crying out for original interfaces and fresh (interactive) approaches, but they rarely get more than the slide show treatment. That's not to belittle the actual stuff they are putting across - just that it might be interesting if people weren't so obsessed by winning demo compos and just wrote cool stuff for non-compo categories like musicdisk frontends and the like. Tran had the right idea with his infinite demos, IMHO...
Square was released very recently. What is the significance of the title?
Eh... long story. :) From Haplo's side, it was the Squarepusher influence (great music!) and from my side, a throwback to some older designy values, like Amiga or 256 colour palettes, without having to go in for the "Amiga rules, PC sucks" - that sort of backward thinking really pisses me off and was chanted after every compo and prize at the party. Hey, I'm not bitter :) grin.
You use a technique carried over from 303, in which you accentuate the lines and vertices of polygons. You've chosen to emphasize the "computerized" aspect of demos, which contrasts other demos such as Nature/Vertigo. Why this choice?
Nature is a nice demo, but it's so obviously computerised; I often feel, that I'm not good enough to simulate reality, so why try? Make something surreal. Echo/fudge said something very interesting to me about big 3D-scene demos: "they are trying to simulate real life; if I want real life I can get any shitty film and it'll be better than a demo; or just look in the street; demos give you a whole new world to explore but it isn't real life". Well, at least not yet.
Again, you expressed the notion that your production hadn't fulfilled your original vision. What about Square is incomplete, and to what extent is this due to the collaborative process?
I think we're all perfectionists. :) Nothing ever reaches your ideal, and working on a demo with so many constraints (coding time, space, CPU etc) always leads to compromise. Working with people is really the only way to make demos, because I love the social process. Often we would have language difficulties, or differences of opinion. Often that would make something even cooler than we could make separetly; sometimes that would just give us problems and compromises. C'est la vie! Still, I greatly enjoyed the collaborative process and couldn't have made anything similarly rounded and good (or in the time) without it.
My perception of the demo scene from remote mid-west America has been that it is often egocentric and, at times, unwelcoming. How does your view compare?
The atmosphere of parties can be incredible, but it's a vicous circle. The better known you are, the more fun it is. And I find that the better people are in the scene, the nicer people they are in real life! Lamers/porn watchers etc. will often be agressive and "kewl" in a way that the truly nice (and talented) guys never are. I won't list any examples because there are so many, but if I look at all the people I've worked with, or promised to work with but never had the time, or met on the scene and at parties, many of them are really nice guys in a way I couldn't have guessed while making Juice or Headache. This companionship is what the American scene misses the most I think; it suffers from being so big and if it could have NAID several times a year with everyone attending from all over, it would have a scene to rival Finland no problem.

  The Future  
What was the first demo you ever watched and, in your opinion, how have demos evolved since then?
Eh :) loads of old ST demos, lots of scrollers etc. On the PC, Panic. And yes things have progressed a lot since then, whatever people say. The oldskool is great and can teach us a lot, but let's not be stuck in the past.
There is a general perception of the computer as a tool. How can demos serve to expand that definition?
The computer is a tool in the same way that a musical instrument is one; in otherwords, an amazing one. I just read a book about "fax art" - using the fax as an artistic tool. That's the great thing - whatever the critics say, demos (or at least, good ones) contain art and some of the personality of the creators. That's a pretty cool tool. Let's just go on making something which expresses something. We've moved on from the "I can do more shadebobs than you" coding challenges. In Tribes by Pulse, that scene with the pillars and glowlights - just for those few seconds - has such an incredible emotion. That's what I love to see in new demos. Something human coming out of the machine codes...
a) What makes a demo a work of art? b) What makes it a good one?
a) Emotion/state of mind or ability to provoke one in the watchers.
b) When you want to watch it again and feel the same way again.
How has the demo scene remained underground, relatively unnoticed for almost a decade?
The demo scene is so self referential, and in the face of pre-calculated media and special effects, it can't be compared. The demo will remain "underground" or at least only a curiosity, because it requires a fair degree of technical knowledge just to understand it. But that's no bad thing. Otherwise we might as well just make standard videos (not that I don't think they're cool! Just a different game). I think demos should strive for some of the things movie directors manage with film - we've just got a harder material to work with.
What is your opinion of demos that utilize 3D accelerators?
Changing rapidly. :) So far, all the 3Dfx stuff I have seen seems to have "3Dfx" stamped on it. Potentially, they are great, but people need to work on them for a while before we'll see any "character" returning to the 3D accelerator scene. It's hard when you have your primitive rendering taken to such a high level by hardware, but it'll come. Let's make the 3Dfx the new GUS!
What affect will they have on the scene?
Boost it, I hope. I hope they don't cause a massive explosion of lame 3D-engine demos. (They will, but we can ignore them.) Wait for the good stuff, and hopefully our jaws will drop.
What impact will affordable Virtual Reality headgear have on tomorrow's demo scene?
Ah! VR :) A bit of a media buzzword, at least for the moment. The headgear I have used thus far (and even one I made...) has not been of great interest for demos, since they're not so interactive. I think it will be many years (at least in terms of the age of the demo scene) before VR becomes a major influence - and even if it does, I dont want to make any predictions on what it does! Too much of an unknown, I see VR affecting interactive things like games more than demos. Oh and there were some interesting papers at Siggraph about how they make the interactive rides at Disney... so maybe it's closer than I would like to think...
Many people believe the golden age of demos already has past. Do you?
Not at all. An age of demos has certainly past, but it's not the last or the best one. People always look back fondly, and that's good if you can learn but not if you stay stuck. Sounds like trite bollocks, but it's so true. There's a big contingent of the scene who love to proclaim the PC as the Amiga's poor cousin. That's just so untrue. It has taken us time to find our design credentials, but having had minimal Amiga upbringing, and looking at them fresh now, they were good but not that good. Good demos now (rare as they are - in fact very rare given the amount of stuff that comes out) are on a par, and sometimes above the stuff from Amiga. You can't compare periods of art and music like that; similarly demos. It's just different limits, different emphasis.

One thing that's very important is for the scene and its members to keep up enthusiasm. Sometimes people can get agressive, or overly pompous and stuck up. The main point is that the production and watching should be great fun, and I hope that that survives for many more years.

What future productions or products do you hope to bring us?
For now, I only hope to bring my examiners some exam papers. :) But maybe in my spare time, a bit of music, and maybe a tracker, and one day, a demo. We will see!

Thanks, Statix, for your already extraodinary contribution to the PC demo scene. We will be watching!

Jeremy Williams, PC Demo Fan Club

This page published on the WWW February 4, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 All rights reserved.
No portion of this document may be used or reproduced without the explicit consent of Jeremy Williams or Alex Evans.