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Intel Compo 2006 Flashback: Participants interrogated
by Axel of Brainstorm and Ghandy of Moods Plateau

When Intel is setting up a competition in the demoscene, it's destined to raise some eyebrows among the usually distanced sceners. Big companies were given quite a sceptic reception in the scene in the past, but more and more groups are interested in being more widely recognized and in receiving more exposure. While Intel was already known to the scene as being a main sponsor of the demoscene event Evoke in Germany, the Intel Demo Competition (or Intel Trailer Competition as it was first named) still came as quite a surprise. ZINE sat down with all the groups who participated in the compo of 2006. In separate articles we'll talk to the new participants of 2007 and even have a chance to discuss a couple of points with Intel directly. ZINE looks at some of the controversies around the compo and tries to shed a light on the reasons behind both Intel's and the groups' involvement.

How it all started: Intel Trailer Competition

In the Intel Trailer Competition, Intel approached 5 groups and asked if they wanted to make a demo. The maximum time the trailer was allowed to last was thirty seconds. Another limitation was that each group had to use a tune from the commercial german artist DJ Hell, but the groups were allowed to remix the track. In the end, Fairlight won with their very trendy-looking trailer called Tactical Battle Loop.

When it comes to the question what really worked well in the first competition, the opinions are diverse. "The good thing was, it brought some good groups together", comments Smash of Fairlight. BoyC of Conspiracy wholeheartedly agrees: "I mostly liked the setup of the competing groups. We have very different styles and the competition showed off different faces of the demoscene. The result quite accurately shows how colorful the demoscene is." Uncle-X, one of the programmers of MFX' entry named Torpedo, adds: "Another good thing was the schedule and the timely delivery of the hardware."

"And Intel didnt ask too much of us", continues Smash. "30 seconds is pretty doable for anyone even if you're really busy, so participation was more likely. That meant we got a compo with 5 big name groups - I don't think all of those 5 have ever been in a competition together before. And that was good for everyone. The laptops thing (giving us a free laptop just for entering and then 4 more for winning) - well, much as we do this for fun and not money, it was a motivating factor to be honest. If someone gives you a laptop just for making 30 seconds of content, it works out well for effort versus reward in anyone's book. I think they pitched it just right."

So, in that aspect it didn't take Intel a lot to convince the individual groups. "I found out while I was at a demo party in the UK", remembers Navis of Andromeda Software Development (ASD), who created the production Lithography. "I contacted the rest of the group and decided to participate." The situation at Conspiracy was pretty much identical: "We got a phonecall that we can get a free laptop sent to us right now, if we write a demo for it - who wouldn't send the post address five seconds later?" jokes Gargaj. Fairlight was fairly quickly on board too: "I had a quick chat with the guys and we said straight away 'lets do it'. Mazor and Pantaloon were in early, but we had a bit of convincing to do on Destop though (basically I had to write a whole Lightwave player before he would say yes) - But that was worth it."

The only group that didn't jump in right from the start was Farbrausch. "Quite the opposite", explains Gizmo. "At first I was against participating. We've been in the middle of two big productions and I couldn't see how a third production would help us progress, plus I wasn't very fond of the idea that we had only 30 seconds and also that we had to use some unknown premade music. But Fiver2 convinced me that a 30 second limit can be an interesting challenge. My worries about progressing completely resolved when Chaos and I decided that this competition is a good testbed for our latest engine-technology."

The winning entry: Tactical Battle Loop by Fairlight

The amount of time each group spent on each entry was pretty much the same among all groups. Conspiracy and Farbrausch spent around 2 weeks, ASD around 2.5 weeks and Fairlight around 1.5 weeks. Sometimes the result suffered a bit from the time pressure, as the creators admit. "We signed in very late and therefore had little time to finish our entry", admits Gizmo and adds with a sigh: "And it shows."

A very controversial topic heavily discussed both among the teams and in the scene in general, was the rule that the teams had to use preset audio material created by DJ Hell. Opinions were very diverse on the audio snippets: "We universally hated them", comments Smash. "They just didn't work at all. They felt lazy and like some junk he had lying around. (Sorry Hell. but it's true). Fortunately Yolk fixed it." Gizmo thinks along the same lines as Smash: "Personally I disliked them. They were raw and seemed rather unfinished, somehow like made in a hurry or so, I don't know. Maybe that was the intention, since we all were allowed to remix them and that way they wanted to encourage us to do something about it, who knows..."

Navis on the other hand didn't think they were THAT bad. "I personally thought they were okay - the 'melody' and 'rhythm' was there. What was lacking was polishing - which we did eventually." Uncle-X agrees with Navis on that. "They were ok, but the genre combined with the 30 second restriction made for a difficult match. Usually music like that needs more time to build up."

Gargaj was disappointed of the tracks as well, as he comments in picturesque ways: "Oh, don't get me started... When we first received the MP3's, I didn't have the time to take a listen, so I asked BoyC to review them, and he told me they were beyond horrible. I took this with a grain of salt since we have wildly different musical tastes, but upon reviewing, I realized that this is going to need 'one of those remixes', where the end result doesn't even sound like the original. To be honest, the tracks had potential, and I guess that was really the point: come up with something from very little raw material. I mean, let's face it, we all eat bread, but flour alone doesn't taste too good. Regardless, this flour we got to bake from smelled weird."

What all participants of the competition thought to be challenging was the general use of given audio and to implement them into the overall artistic piece. "It was a real struggle for us", comments Smash. "None of our musicians liked the tracks. We spent ages trying to find someone who could do something at all with them. In the end Yolk came in at the last minute and did a really good job on it - but before that we tried what seemed like every musician we knew to give them a go, and nobody could make them work. They just don't suit our style."

The situation was less severe in other groups though. "It was fun", adds Uncle-X with a smile. "We did have enough to choose from and enough freedom to remix and tweak the material we had, so we did not feel that restricted." Pommak of MFX would even like to take the challenge one step further: "I felt the permission to remix the tracks was a bit unnecessary as it gave too much freedom to make the track completely different. It'd be great to see what demos other groups would have done around the really identical track."

Another thing that was generally well received among the participants was the 30-second time limit of the productions. "At first I thought 30 seconds are ridiculously short", remembers Gizmo. "But then I came to the conclusion that it's very much like a tv-ad, as in 'son, you've got 30 seconds to sell the damn product'. That's a challenge - you have to make something cool in a very short timeframe. I was hooked but not convinced since advertising in general leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Later on Fiver2 and I had a discussion about this and he convinced me that a 30-second production can deliver some really exciting results. He was right and I was convinced."

Lithography by ASD

MFX' Uncle-X also has some fond memories of struggling with the timelimit: "Originally our demo was about 50 seconds long. Having to cut it down to 30 seconds was a bit problematic." BoyC was amazed of the results in general: "It was interesting to see what could be done in 30 seconds. The ASD entry clearly showed that the timeframe was enough for a great demo. Would be interesting to see a 30 sec compo on bigger parties too." And he adds with a smile: "At any rate, it would not get boring, that's for sure." Smash sees it from the rather practical angle: "The time limit was very very good for us - because we wouldn't have had time to make something longer that was good. For that i'm thankful for it."

So, what was everyone's favourite OTHER entry?

Smash: "ASD's, because it was good. Good direction, nice flow and it was good looking. Worked perfectly in 30 seconds.

Navis: "I really liked the demos by Fairlight and Conspiracy. The Fairlight demo had an amazing flow and consistency. Conspiracy's demo was also focused on classic demo effects which work really well on big screens."

Pommak and Uncle-X both liked Fairlight's entry the most.

Gargaj: "MFX, hands down! I loved the ethic behind it: 'We get a free laptop and edgy music to work with and we have to make a 30 second demo for a large company - so let's just blow shit up!' Otherwise I really liked all entries. Something I noticed was that all entries were SO descriptive and characteristic of the groups creating them - one could easily pinpoint the authors of the demos even without reading the credits."

BoyC rather agrees with Smash: "Definitely the ASD one. It was way more complicated than the others and managed to tell a small story in 30 seconds. Great work, Navis!" Gizmo fully is in line with BoyC's statement too. When it comes to the elements the participants liked the most in the competition, several things were mentioned. "I would pick the timespan between after everyone submitted and the moment the website went online", states Gizmo. "We all gathered on IRC and via mailinglists and talked about our productions etc. That was very nice."

"I really liked the competition aspect", reflects Smash. "Competing against Farbrausch, ASD, Conspiracy and MFX. And the fun of doing 'whatever you want in 30 seconds' with no real size limit to worry about meant we could go for broke. Also it was really good for us in terms of getting our team together and working and fixing our pipeline. It has helped a lot for future productions. The other great thing was we won a load of laptops and then they flew us to germany for a party, and that really was fun (and also a rare excuse for us all to get together)."

Pommak couldn't agree more: "It was a nice challenge and learning experience."

"Free laptops!" remembers Gargaj with a smirk. "And all the pissed off people at Pouet.net, who claimed we were commercial arses for doing it."

One of the weak points of the competition seems to have been the website Intel had set up, because not only was the online-voting open to all kinds of cheaters, but the voting was indeed hacked in the very last night. "The voting was really insecure and it took someone no effort to break it and generate a lot of fake votes", says Smash. We were winning by some way and then overnight we went from 1st to last. Fortunately the organizers caught it, but there was still a lot of faking going on. Maybe Intel didn't care - it didn't harm them whoever won, really - but it annoyed us. We wanted it to be fair."

Gargaj's thoughts on the issue: "I'm a little flower with no hatred inside me, but admittedly I talked to Smash and Navis a lot towards the end of the voting, and we found the whole execution rather flawed and unprofessional. The website looked rather uncomfortable to navigate, and we more or less reverse engineered the voting system in the matter of 5 minutes. And these were all mistakes we would've forgiven, had the promotion been done as extensively as we expected."

As a consequence, Intel's effort wasn't as highly rated on behalf of the groups as it could have been, particularly because everyone expected that the productions would get a wider promotion and recognition, but were in fact not promoted much outside the scene.

"I'd give them a 4 out of 10", says Gargaj. "I understand that it was Intel Germany, and they're just a division of the giant, and who knows, they might even have had something going on in German media, but seriously, the most promotion we saw was by demosceners posting on their LiveJournals. In that matter, it didn't get much more exposure than any demoparty out there in our eyes."

Smash agrees: "The one disappointing thing was the advertising of the entries and the quality of the website. We were expecting a marketing flood to show our stuff around the world and it never came. As a result the number of votes was quite low - in the low thousands. Considering one big reason for competing was publicity (we thought we'd get good exposure for the scene and ourselves in the wider world) it was a shame."

"I'd give them a 3 out of 10", comments BoyC. "Besides of the branding of the competition I don't really feel they did much. This competition could have been much much better organized, in my opinion."

On the other hand it must not be forgotten that Intel's step into the scene was indeed welcomed, also because it has supported Intel for quite some time now. "I highly rate Intel's effort and thank them for the opportunity and prizes", comments Navis. Gizmo supports that view. "They take the demoscene seriously and they get involved, I really appreciate that. Pommak even has some suggestions for one of the next competitions Intel might hold: "I would have liked Intel to give us some sort of theme for the demo. Not too strict of course, but some general guideline, like 'nature' or 'ice'."

More marketing awareness would have been desirable for the competition entries, and all participants agree on that. "I thought that was what it was all about? Like, a company uses the demoscene for their own promotion and promotes the demoscene in the meantime? I mean, seriously, I doubt Fairlight or Farbrausch needs more marketing or awareness INSIDE the demoscene... The whole thing was initially presented to us as a springboard by Intel for demoscene groups to take a vault from. The respective groups did their chores, but the process stopped there, and there was nothing to do from that point." Uncle-X adds with a laugh: "Not with that website!"

When it comes to the question whether other global companies would be welcome in the scene, every participant is all up for it. "Of course", says BoyC. "With competitions like this they can help make sceners life a bit easier. I know a lot of sceners who would love to be able to make a living out of their hobby - having big companies interested in the scene could help in a lot of ways, with competitions like this, or possibly job offers and the like."

"There are some efforts then and now", concludes Uncle-X and continues: "..but Intel's have been the most successful to date. What big business is best at is being a sponsor for events like Breakpoint."

"I enjoyed ATI's participation in the Breakpoint parties", says Gargaj. "And having met several people from companies like nVidia or HP at film festivals, there would be a very considerable interest in the demoscene by them. One thing demosceners who go around screaming bloody murder at them should learn is that they're not affecting the demoscene in a negative way; Intel gave 5 groups free laptops, which allowed, in our case, the production of several new productions. The demosceners who organize these things make sure no-one gets screwed over, and make sure the deal is good for each side."

"The rule of the thumb is: you don't get screwed over unless you let yourself." Sounds like a summary only Gargaj could think of.

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