[In the latest in a series of demoscene-related posts on GameSetWatch, AteBit's Paul 'EvilPaul' Grenfell documents his trip to Assembly 2010 in Finland in August, starting with an examination of the amazing PC demo entries for one of the pre-eminent demo parties of the year.]

Earlier in August I visited the 19th edition of Assembly, the demoscene and gamer party in Helsinki, Finland. The four day event attracts over 5000 visitors and takes place inside the massive Hartwall ice-hockey arena that sits on the outskirts of the city.

This year’s event was so full of demoscene goodness that I'm going to split my write-up into a few parts. First off, I'll concentrate on the main event of the PC demo competition, and I'll try to cover everything else in future pieces.

The PC demo competition was always going to be an interesting one this year. ASD's coder, Navis, has been talking about the creation of his Assembly demo for quite some time now on his blog. When the author of "the 5th best demo of all time” (as voted by Pouet's users) says he's working on something big, you expect something amazing.

Closer to the event, rumors started drifting out that Fairlight were up to something too. They won the demo competition last year with the amazing Frameranger so, again, you expect something amazing. Both groups were also booked to present seminars this year and, yes, both talks gave us tiny previews of the demos that we were to see premiered later on.

The actual competition then, shown in the early hours of Sunday morning, was an exhilarating experience. At most demoscene parties, a panel of judges pre-selects the best demos for each competition. This not only weeds out any truly awful, offensive, non-working or otherwise rule-breaking demos, but the jury’s comments and ratings also help to set the running order for the competition.

Simply put, the competitions usually start by showing the not-so-good demos first, and then work their way through to finish on the best. By the time that ASD and Fairlight's demos were announced, the crowd's anticipation had reached feverish levels.

The two demos were both stunning, and each in different ways. Both groups played to their strengths: ASD using their trademark combination of a story driven demo linked by mesmerising transitions while Fairlight continued with their recent trend of eschewing traditional polygon driven effects completely and instead presented another showcase of their particle engine.

The result was hard to call but it was clear to everyone that, as we all knew before we even saw them, these two would be fighting for first and second place (click on the demo names to get to real-time downloadable versions at Pouet.net):

Happiness is Around the Bend by ASD

Ceasefire (all falls down..) by Fairlight and CNCD

The rest of the competition was also impressive and, like pretty much all of Assembly's competitions this year, there were no poor entries. Highlights for me included Satori's completely non-traditional, completely software rendered demo, Koiban, and Devolution by Kewlers.

Koiban by Satori

Devolution by Kewlers

We had to wait until Sunday afternoon to hear the results at the main prize-giving ceremony. I think the placing (voted for by the party’s visitors) is about right - ASD took first place and Fairlight second. The demoscene is a very small and friendly place, and we could clearly see the mutual respect between Navis and Smash (the UK-based coders from ASD and Fairlight respectively) as they approached the stage together to collect their prizes.

Both groups are clearly at the top of their game, and both are clearly pouring their hearts into their demos. The prize? Apart from the huge admiration and respect? Well, the winning PC demo collected a 7000 Euros cash prize this year, but with a project that took a small team X months of their spare time to produce, only they could tell us how that translates to an hourly wage.

Works like these compete with the productions of professional motion graphics companies and threaten to cross-over to more mainstream media channels. However, it is still very clear that demos are still a labor of love for all involved in their creation.

Next time, I'll be looking at the other main competitions - 4k, 64k, oldschool, shortfilm and wild - as well as touching on the game development, graphics and music entries. In the meantime, you can check out the releases yourself over at Pouet.