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The Books That Chronicle the History of the Atari ST Demoscene

Over the past decade, a number of books were published that chronicle the history of the Atari ST demoscene. These books provide a detailed look at the creative and technical achievements of the demoscene community, exploring the innovative audiovisual presentations created on the Atari ST computer. Here I introduce and discuss the various volumes in this loose collection.

May 2024

The Complete Atari ST Demoscene History Library

I love the demoscene. This niche subculture of real-time computer art thrives on overcoming limitations. Demosceners create stunning audio-visual demonstrations and share them with others online or at demo parties. These are organized gatherings of like-minded enthusiasts who spend a few days creating, exchanging ideas and knowledge, and simply having fun. The demoscene is already many decades old, with some tracing its origins to the 1970s.

The demoscene has a rich history waiting to be told.

Back in the 1980s, I had a computer from Atari's ST range of models. It was crude by today's standards, with its Motorola 68000 processor running at 8MHz and a 16/32-bit CPU. By default, the machine came with 512KB of RAM, though I had the expanded model with a whopping one megabyte of RAM. I loved the Atari ST.

It was a marvelous machine released in 1985, a decade before the advent of the web, a time when many manufacturers offered largely incompatible computers like the Commodore 64, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, the Apple II and Macintosh, and - of course - the IBM PC and compatibles running MS-DOS. Later that year, Commodore released the ST's greatest competitor: the Amiga.

The Atari ST was a remarkably versatile machine. You used a mouse to operate the user interface of its operating system. These days, that's the most normal thing, but back then, it was quite a novelty. The ST had pretty good graphics capabilities for the time. You could write stories and novels in a modern-looking word processor and crunch numbers in a spreadsheet. You could create graphics and animations. You could connect your synthesizer and use the ST to compose music. You could program the machine in C, Pascal, BASIC, and many other languages, including assembly language - the closest to the native language of the CPU as you could comfortably get, though it did require a lot of thought, understanding, and patience. Despite some of the machine's perceived shortcomings, the Atari ST had a large library of games.

And naturally, the Atari ST had many demos. Lots of good ones too.

Atari ST and the Demoscene

Demos were created in the demoscene. This connected global artistic hobbyist movement sat at the intersection of everything home computers stood for: productivity, fun, learning, creativity, programming. In the mid-1980s it was just picking up speed.

To this day, this community of computer artists creates intricate, software-based audiovisual presentations designed to demonstrate the technical and creative capabilities of the creators. Demos feature advanced graphics, complex animations, and synchronized music, all optimized to run on the limited hardware of the time.

Often competitive, these demos are a blend of programming artistry and digital creativity, crafted to impress and inspire both peers and judges at events. The most popular demoscene platforms were the Commodore 64, the Commodore Amiga, and PC compatibles (running MS-DOS and later Windows).

Like many other systems, the Atari ST became a rich and inspirational platform for creating demos. Colorful, loud, intricate, smart, fun, and some just really silly. Some of the creators came from the software cracking scene that removed copy protection from games and other software to distribute it illegally. Some creators were aspiring game-makers who honed their skills making demos. Others found that the collaborative spirit of demo creation was their venue of choice for their creative enthusiasm. No matter where they came from, they all had one thing in common: they were young and smart.

The Atari 520ST

The Overlapping Interest in Retro Computers and the Demoscene

In the past decade, the interest in computer history and retro computers has grown massively. Both the retro computer scene and the demoscene are driven by a shared appreciation for vintage computing and the creative challenges it presents. The retro computing enthusiasts celebrate older hardware and software, often revitalizing and preserving machines like the Commodore 64, Amiga, and early PCs. This overlaps significantly with the demoscene.

Online forums and social media have facilitated easier exchange of knowledge, tools, and files, enabling more enthusiasts to participate in and contribute to both scenes. Moreover, events like retro computing conventions and demo parties often overlap, providing platforms where both communities meet, collaborate, and share their mutual interests in vintage technology. This has led to a renaissance of sorts for demos on retro platforms, highlighting both technical nostalgia and innovative new works within the constraints of old hardware. The resurgence in interest has not only helped preserve the technology and skills of the past but also introduced them to newer generations, keeping the culture vibrant and evolving.

Many of the same enthusiasts have reached an age where they have established careers and a disposable income. Where there is an interest, there might well be a market.

The pixel version of the Atari ST (Source:

The Shape of the Enthusiast

The demoscene is a few years older than the Atari ST. Despite the ST not being the most popular platform, it has a rich history. There had been disparate chronicles of this history across the decades, ranging from articles in commercial computer magazines, disk magazines, academic research papers, presentations at demo parties, and self-published enthusiast books, among many others. These chronicles are scattered across a multitude of media over the decades. Some are easy to find; others are a chore to seek out. But this changed in 2017.

Starting in 2017, MicroZeit Publishing, a small, independent publisher in Germany, set out to chronicle the history of the demoscene on the Atari ST. How fitting that the niche enthusiast scene around the Atari ST found its historians in enthusiasts from the scene. But these were no semi-professional pamphlets. These were beautifully crafted, well-researched, and lavishly illustrated tomes with multiple contributors. The first trilogy covered the active lifetime of the Atari ST platform from 1985 to 1997: "Breakin' the Borders", "Beyond the Borders", and "Return of the Borders". Each volume of this "Borders" trilogy was adorned with the inspirational statement "The Atari ST and the Creative People". MicroZeit's second wave was a duology of books about the cracking scene: "Crackers: The Gold Rush" and "Crackers: The Data Storm".

Both the "Borders" and the "Crackers" series' intricate first printings were initially crowdfunded. At first, MicroZeit gathered funds independently, and then through Indiegogo. Now, they are available for purchase online on the MicroZeit website at

Coincidentally, during the same time period, another publisher started releasing books about the demoscene, albeit demos on the Commodore Amiga, the ST's "arch-rival". French publishing company Editions64K crowdfunded their work on Indiegogo as well. So far, they have released two books about the Amiga demoscene: "Crackers: The Gold Rush" and "Crackers: The Data Storm". They are also lavishly produced works that catalogue the demos and interweave information about the demo makers covering the years from 1985 to 1996. Editions64K announced a third volume that covers the Amiga demoscene in the intervening years until today. All volumes are available for purchase on the publisher's website at

In 2023, MicroZeit and Editions64K pooled their resources to produce a volume about the mostly friendly competition between the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga. After another Indiegogo crowdfunding, the results of this effort were released by MicroZeit as "68000: The Flame Wars".

And finally, in a completely independent effort, a demoscener known as ST Survivor created a WordPress blog and wrote articles for a decade about different effects invented for demos and techniques used in them. He dubbed his website "Democyclopédie". You can find it at Publishing articles both in his native French and in English, he focused very much on the Atari ST demoscene but was not blind to the Amiga and even the PC scene. Once he had an impressive collection of insightful articles, he decided to put together his own print publication. It was called "Democyclopedia - The Encyclopedia of Atari ST Demos". The first version was printed in French through Côté Gamers, with the English version released in 2023. Both editions are available through the Côté Gamers web store at

Like the Power Rangers who can combine into the Super Megazord, without knowing it, these books have combined into a "68000 Cinematic Universe" of computer history publishing.

For me, this collection of wonderful books chronicles the demoscene around the Atari ST and its contemporaries. They are the definitive history of this part of the demoscene. Below, I introduce and discuss each volume.*

The ST Demoscene Chronicles

The Borders Trilogy: The Atari ST and the Creative People

The Crackers Duology: A Saga of Software Piracy

The Commodore Amiga Demoscene

Atari ST vs. Amiga

Demo Effects and Techniques

1. Breakin' the Borders

Breakin the

The book that started it all, "Breakin' the Borders," from MicroZeit Publishing, is a detailed exploration of the Atari ST demoscene between 1984 and 1990. Authored by Marco A. Breddin, it delves into the subculture of demo creators who pushed the technical boundaries of the Atari ST computer to create intricate and innovative computer graphics and animations. It covers demos starting with the works of the Exceptions through the magnificent and magnificently named demo "Life's a Bitch" all the way to the revolutionary Union Demo. The narrative describes the transition of the Exceptions into their game development work for Thalion.

The book has the subtitle "A true story of digital liberation and Power Without the Price" and is unique in its format, mimicking the size of an Atari SC1224 color monitor. It is full of vivid illustrations, hundreds of demo screens, and interviews with prominent figures from the demoscene, including Erik Simon, Jochen Hippel, and Marc Rosocha. They describe the creative challenges and technical innovations made by the community, such as surpassing color and sound limitations of the Atari ST. "Breakin' the Borders" even features a foreword by Gundolf S. Freyermuth, a legitimate legend in the circles of media theory (and not only a Dr. but also a Prof.).

The first edition has some translation imperfections because it was originally written in German and then translated into English. This occasionally affects the flow of the text. Since German is my native language and I like reading English books, I found it very entertaining to figure out what the German original text might have been based on the English version. Despite this, the book's quality and the richness of its content are still amazing. The second editions of the "Borders" and "Crackers" books are better and mitigate the inconsistencies. The new versions are the only ones available in the MicroZeit web shop at present.

Breakin' the Borders at MicroZeit *

2. Beyond the Borders

Beyond the Borders

"Beyond the Borders" starts in 1991 with the Atari STE and extends to 1993 with the Falcon030 and the Jaguar. In this book, Marco A. Breddin continues the exploration of the Atari ST demoscene, presenting a journey to the "outer rims of 68000," where national borders and machine limitations are transcended. The demoscene not only grew but also innovated new techniques to effectively handle the ST, with large demo parties organized in the scene and many sceners transitioning towards professional roles in the burgeoning digital entertainment industry.

The volume includes detailed stories and insights from key figures in the scene, like Erik Simon of Thalion, who provides the afterword. "Beyond the Borders" covers the significant groups and individuals, such as Unlimited Matrix (ULM) and Electronic Images (EI), giving a broad perspective on the era's creative explosion. The demos featured in this volume range from the "Anomaly Megademo" and "Dark Side of the Spoon" to "Oh Crikey Wot A Scorcher" and "Punish Your Machine". The large screenshots show how demos expanded from scrollers and pixel graphics into stunning 3D vector graphics, morphing from one image into another and featuring real-time zoom effects. A dedicated section about the remarkable "Froggies over the Fence" by Legacy, Poltergeist, ST Connexion, and The Overlanders covers all of these innovative effects.

Like the first book, this one is thoroughly researched, has an engaging narrative, and high-quality production values, including vibrant and sharp imagery that brings the history of the Atari ST demoscene to life and also covers key events of the computer and arcade industry of the day.

Beyond the Borders at MicroZeit *

3. Return of the Borders

Return of the Borders

"Return of the Borders" is the third and final volume in the "Borders" trilogy by Marco A. Breddin. Spanning the time from 1994 to 1997, the book covers the late stages of the Atari ST era, exploring the challenges and innovations during a period of intense technological advancements. It jumps right into the demoscene's progression towards professionalism amidst the dynamic shifts within the computer games industry, particularly as the Atari Jaguar and beautiful Falcon030 tried to find their place in an increasingly competitive market.

Writer Breddin explores the era when Atari tried to make a comeback with the Jaguar console, positioning itself as a contender in the 64-bit console market. He describes how Atari's efforts resonated in the demoscene and among software houses, sparking a new wave of enthusiasm. I love the section on the Atari Falcon030 and how it describes how different programming teams utilized their 68000 expertise to adapt to the rapidly evolving games market. Notably, it describes the internal shifts and creative developments within companies like Eclipse Software and Blue Byte, which were influenced by former Atari ST developers.

"Return of the Borders" is a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy full of personal recollections and technical insights from various contributors who played significant roles during this period. These include developers, programmers, and artists who were integral to the Atari scene, such as Marc Rosocha and Steven Tattersall, among many others.

I find this volume to be bittersweet. It is quite depressing to read about the downfall of Atari and the missed opportunities with the Falcon030. However, the book continues MicroZeit's thorough research, engaging narrative style, and documents a pivotal yet often overlooked period in computer history and the Atari ST community during its twilight years.

Return the Borders at MicroZeit *

4. Crackers: The Gold Rush

Crackers: The Gold Rush

"Crackers I: The Gold Rush" is the first volume in the "Crackers" duology. In this new series, Marco A. Breddin chronicles the software piracy scene of the 1980s and 1990s, focusing on the secretive and often misunderstood lives of crackers--individuals who cracked software protection and distributed games illegally. It explores their methods, motivations, and the impacts of their actions on the computer industry.

I feel that Marco A. Breddin has really upped his game with this book. It maintains some of the playfulness of the "Borders" trilogy but is slightly more serious in tone. The book is a bit more academic in nature, with a focus on historical accuracy and detailed research.

While the demoscene books were very much focused on Europe, the narrative of the Crackers books spans from the USA to Europe, capturing the era when data was stored on floppy disks and computer games were burgeoning as mainstream entertainment. The book discusses the legal challenges of the time, as laws struggled to keep up with the fast-paced developments in technology.

"Crackers I: The Gold Rush" features a mix of oral histories and media reports, offering a comprehensive view of this underground IT community. It includes stories about the distinctions between crackers and hackers, the perceived threats to the gaming industry, and the social dynamics within these secretive groups.

The volume also features many anecdotes, historical contexts, and visuals that bring the era to life, making it not just a recount of technological exploits but also a window into the cultural impact of these activities on software development and industry practices. The book covers various aspects of the scene, from party organizations to the development of cracker groups and their intricate network across continents.

Crackers I at MicroZeit *

5. Crackers: The Data Storm

Crackers: The Data Storm

"Crackers II: The Data Storm" is the second and last volume of the duology, continuing the exploration of the intricate world of software piracy from the 1980s and 1990s. This book builds on the foundation laid in the first volume by delving deeper into the global expansion of the cracker community as they advanced their operations through the use of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). These systems served as digital distribution hubs, facilitating the rapid spread of pirated software across international boundaries.

Marco Breddin explores how the proliferation of console gaming expanded the scope of piracy operations, highlighting the involvement of cracker groups in the emerging console market. The book includes detailed accounts of significant events, such as major European piracy raids, and examines the role of American calling cards in the global distribution of pirated software.

"Crackers II" features interviews and guest articles that enrich the text, offering insights from key figures within the scene. It covers a wide array of topics, including the art of cracking, the evolution of copy protection techniques, and the ethical and legal issues faced by those involved in the scene.

Crackers II at MicroZeit *

6. Demoscene: The Amiga Years

Demoscene: The Amiga Years

"Demoscene: The Amiga Years" is a comprehensive book published by Editions64k that chronicles the vibrant and innovative Amiga demoscene from its inception in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. This period was a golden era for the Amiga, which was particularly favored for its advanced graphics and sound capabilities, essential for the creation of demos.

In its exploration of the Amiga demoscene, the book includes detailed descriptions and analyses of individual demos, profiles of influential groups and individuals, and discussions on the technological advancements and artistic innovations that characterized the scene. Like the books by MicroZeit, this volume features rich illustrations, screenshots, and artwork that capture the essence of the era.

"Demoscene: The Amiga Years" provides insights into how the "other" scene around the Amiga rather than the Atari ST operated, the collaboration between artists, coders, and musicians, and the impact of their work on the broader fields of graphics and multimedia.

The Amiga Years at Editions64K *

7. Demoscene: The AGA Years

Demoscene: The AGA Years

"Demoscene: The AGA Years" focuses on the Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA) period of the Amiga demoscene, covering the mid-1990s and beyond. AGA was the third-generation Amiga graphics chipset introduced in models like the Amiga 1200 and Amiga 4000, offering enhanced color palettes and improved graphical capabilities that significantly influenced demoscene productions.

During this time period, both the Amiga and Atari ST were floundering when faced with the increased competition from PC compatibles and their ever-improving performance, graphics, and sound capabilities.

The book describes the evolution of the demoscene as it adapted to and exploited these new capabilities of the Amiga. It explores key demos, influential demo groups, and notable artists and musicians who pushed the boundaries of what was possible with AGA hardware. It also discusses the technical advancements in demo effects and the shifting trends in style and presentation during the AGA era of the Amiga.

Recently, Editions64k announced a third volume of the series called "Demoscene: The Amiga Renaissance" that covers 1997 to 2023 with the downfall, later cult status of the Amiga, how the machine was kept alive in the demoscene and the machine's resurgence in recent years. It is available for pre-order.

The AGA Years at Editions64K *

8. 68000: The Flame Wars

68000: The Flame Wars

"68000: The Flame Wars" describes the intense competition between two iconic home computer systems, the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga, in a playful yet systematic manner. This rivalry is often referred to as one of the great "flame wars" of early computer culture, characterized by fervent fanbases and significant debates over the technical and cultural merits of each system.

The book combines factual recounts with opinion-based analysis to provide a comprehensive view of this pivotal era in computing history. It includes contributions from notable figures in the computer industry and the demoscene, as well as insights into the broader implications of this rivalry on the development of computer technology and culture. The book is interspersed with extensive interviews, eyewitness accounts, and technical analyses.

Additionally, "68000: The Flame Wars" covers the broader societal and technological impacts of the 16/32-bit era, exploring how all-in-one machines influenced subsequent developments in the computer industry.

Originally, MicroZeit and Editions64k were going to collaborate equally on this book. However, production difficulties arose and MicroZeit ended up taking over the full production. This situation demonstrates how capable, determined, and experienced this small publisher from Germany has become.

MicroZeit announced two supplementary volumes to "The Flame Wars" for the 45th anniversary of the 68000 processor family. According to the publisher's newsletter, "Companies, machines, and comrades-in-arms of the respective computer worlds will be presented to you in detail in two dedicated system books." So, it seems one will be for the ST and the other for the Amiga, with all the crossover drama between Atari and Commodore during the creation of the Amiga.

The Flame Wars at MicroZeit *

9. Democyclopedia: The Encyclopedia of Atari ST Demos

The inner goodness of the Democyclopedia

The Democyclopedia is a wonderful resource dedicated to exploring the demoscene culture on the Atari ST. This includes "Democyclopedia: The Atari ST Demos Encyclopedia," a book that focuses on the effects used in demos as well as the demos themselves. Sébastien Larnac (also known as ST Survivor) makes the technical aspects of digital creation on the ST accessible to both enthusiasts and newcomers to the demoscene. He provides a systematic look at various effects like equalizers, mad circles, or raycasting in alphabetical order.

Additionally, ST Survivor runs the Democyclopédie WordPress blog with the original material that the writer turned into a physical encyclopedia. The blog is available in both French and English. It categorizes content into different themes such as demo effects, notable demo crews, and specific pieces of pixel art, offering both beginners and seasoned sceners a deep dive into the world of Atari ST demos: Democyclopédie: The Encyclopedia Of Atari ST Demos - Learn about digital creations called demos on ATARI ST(E) a computer from the 80s.

Both the book and the blog impressively document and salute the creative and technical achievements of the Atari ST demoscene, preserving its legacy and influence in digital arts.

Democyclopedia at Côté Gamers *

The Common Thread

There is a common narrative theme that links the "Borders" trilogy, the "Crackers" duology, the "Amiga Demoscene" books, and the "Democyclopedia," despite their focus on different aspects of computer history. All books explore the cultural, technological, and creative frontiers of the computer age, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s. They delve into how individuals and groups pushed the limits of what was possible with technology - whether through developing demos that tested the boundaries of computer hardware (as in the "Borders" trilogy and the "Amiga Demoscene" books) or through software piracy and cracking that challenged legal and technological restrictions (as in the "Crackers" duology).

The books in this informal collection are, in their own different ways, marvelously delightful. Particularly, the books by MicroZeit are beautifully produced, greatly designed, and well-written. All the writers and publishers can be rightfully proud of their achievements.

They are well-written, thoroughly researched, and charmingly designed, featuring the voices of artists, makers, and developers of the time. They offer an incomparable chronology of computer history. Highly recommended!

* I am merely a fan of the books, I have no affiliation with the publishers or authors and certainly don't get a cut of any sales.