The East is Coming! The Demoscene in Eastern Europe

Altered States by Tabo0

In 1988, a short note - titled “THE EAST IS COMING!” -- was published in well- known German cracker zine Illegal:

Have you ever heard of groups like "H.I.C." or "F.B.I."? Well, these crews are from Hungary! There is also an eastbloc-scene like in West Europe. I got demos from POLAND and U.S.S.R.

This is one of the first documentations of something like “the scene” in Eastern Europe. The Iron Curtain separated the editors of Illegal from people that were making cracks and demos in the Soviet Bloc, but this text is evidence that this barrier was not a problem for young computer nerds.

“The scene” in Eastern Europe has its origins in so-called “computer markets” in Warsaw and Budapest, where every weekend hundreds of people would sell hardware brought from the West along with pirated software. Such markets were just big copy parties. Teens with their C-64 brought in their backpacks would copy dozens of pirated games. Back then, nobody had even heard the word “copyright”. There was no need for cracks, as most games were provided with them by German and Scandinavian groups. Obviously, every game also had a cracktro, but at the beginning it was difficult to figure out what the scrollers and greetings were about. Some people even thought that Triad, Ikari and Hotline were just decent game companies.

Later local crackers started replacing the cracktros of Western groups with their own to make ads for their small entrepreneurships. One of the first Polish cracking groups was named WFC - World Cracking Federation - quite a prestigious name for a few guys pushing warez on the Warsaw market. Because of strict border controls there were no computer markets in Czechoslovakia, “the scene” was very small there.

Cracktro by World Cracking Federation

Quickly Poles and Hungarians started making their own demos and sending it to addresses found in Western productions. Polonus - coder and founder of Quartet, the first Polish group - remembered: “We were surprised because we even received some responses. When we have seen the quality of Western demos we were depressed by our own prods”.

The golden age of the Polish and Hungarian C-64 and Amiga scene was the period 1990-1995. The best-known groups were Taboo and Elysium (Poland), Chromance (earlier F.B.I.) and Majic 12 (Hungary). The technical quality of demos rapidly improved in that period. In 1989 Eastern European sceners were able to code simple cracktos, but only four years later technically stunning demos like Altered States by Taboo were made.

Ray of Hope 2 by Majic 12, 1991

Correspondence with the Western scene was rare, scene life was based only on “national” parties. Because of the lack of contact with groups from abroad local sceners were not able to change their style. When Spaceballs and Melon Dezign introduced a new design-oriented style, in this region demos were still code-oriented. Filled vectors and bobs were still mixed with Frazetta and Vallejo style dragons and warriors. Only a few followed along with the new trends, for example Technological death made by the Polish group Mad Elks. A few demos like this are still considered classics, and on the demoscene websites productions of groups mentioned above, they still receive positive feedback from numerous countries.

Technological death by Mad Elks, 1993

During the second half of the 1990s, the scene seemed to be falling apart. There were less and less parties and new prods. In the 2000s, only a small group of hardcore retro computing community members remain. Since 1999 in the small Slovakian town of Trencin there is “Forever Party” - where a few dozen of the 8-bit sceners are still making annual pilgrimages to compete with their demos made on well tuned C-64, ZX Spectrum and Atari.

Patryk Wasiak, PhD (1978) - received a M.A. degree in sociology and M.A. degree in art history at Warsaw University. He has wrote his dissertation on transnational informal networks of visual artists in the Soviet Bloc (i.e. mail-art networks and Infermental videozine). He was a holder of Volkswagen Foundation and Herder Institut research fellowships. Currently he is writing a book on computerization of Poland, i.e. on Polish cracking- and demoscene.