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Freax - The brief history of the computer demoscene, Volume 1. (Book review)

I purchased the book Freax - the brief history of the computer demoscene, Volume 1. back in the summer of 2006 from Vesalia online store for 24.80 Euro without VAT. The order was with the book The Encyclopedia of Game Machines, so I will make the same calculation for the shipment of the book, being proportional part of the cost of the whole order shipment. The whole shipment costed 38.40 Euro for an order of 405.24 Euro or for this single book, the delivery costed me only 2.35 Euro. After payment of the additional 20% local VAT, because we were not in the European Union back then, I took the whole package home. Later I started to read the book, after finishing the very interesting Encyclopedia of Game Machines, that also describes part of the history of the computers, but in their gaming aspect.

Freax book - back and front covers. I am a demos and demoscene fan after I saw for first time the Extension demo by Pigmy Projects on Amiga 600, back in 1994. Longer before my interest in the demoscene, I am also a computer historian that loves to read stories about the computers development over the years. The book Freax, Volume 1., is A4 sized, consisting of 224 pages. It have thick covers and is made from high quality paper that did not get yellow for five years now, since I bought it. On the front cover on the top is the FREAX title, written with special font, under which on the right is the subtitle - THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE COMPUTER DEMOSCENE. Under the title and the subtitle is a picture of a typical teenager from the mid 1990-ies, holding an Amiga 1200 in his right arm and having a 3.5 inch floppy disk in his back pocket. The floppy disk is not put entirely in the pocket so it won't break when the person sits or walks too fast. The picture itself is very symbolic, representing the person going to a copy party or demo party. The cover picture accidently or not so accidently also represents myself during the period of 1990-2000 when I used to walk around with my Amiga and floppies in my pockets. Surely this cover picture can be associated with high percentage of the Amiga sceners back in the glory days of the Amiga. Actually these then young guys, now more mature, are the main target of being readers of the book.
The book starts with Table of contents on page five and on page six is the publisher info, without ISBN of the book. On page seven is the foreword written by the author of the book - Tomas Polgar or better known as Tomcat of Madwizards in the demoscene. Strangely enough the foreword is the only place where the author's name can be seen. Other hint about the author and his addiction with Amiga computers is the photo on back cover, where he is seen in front of six monitor displays, showing various scene productions. His addiction to the Amiga is obvious by the image of a lifted with big legs Amiga 1200. Only hardcore Amiga fans, who installed 68060 accelerator boards in their desktop Amiga 1200 machines, escalate the machine this way for better ventilation and avoidance of overheat. After the foreword, where the author expresses his thanks and acknowledgements to many people, who helped for the book, the more interesting parts follow. The first part is about the Basics. What is the scene, the beginnings of computer graphics and music for our ears. There is no credit given to the CPU, even if the processors evolution over the years gave push for the development of the demoscene too.

Freax book - Commodore scene part. Part two of the book is about The C-64. The Commodore 64 was so popular in the 1980-ies, that it can be seen in many movies from the era including Electric Dreams and Police Academy 3. On the first pages of the second part of the book is introduction to Commodore International, how it started, how the company got into the manufacture of electronic devices and brief introduction to the predecessors of the C-64 - Commodore PET and Commodore VIC-20. The different Commodore 64 revisions are listed in the chapter along with Commodore 128, Commodore 16, Commodore 116, Commodore Plus-4, Commodore LCD and even the C-One computer. Quite comprehensive introduction to the world of Commodore 8-bit machines, that is very interesting to persons who love to know about the history of the computers and the history of one of the biggest computers producer in the past. The introduction ends with interview with one of the engineers of Commodore in the early 1980-ies - Bil Herd. Next is a brief description and history of the cracking scene, what it is exactly, why it got so popular at the time, how the crackers lived, why they choose handles instead of using their real names, how the software companies got mad about the crackers and very interesting transcript of an WDR television channel's open discussion about software copyrights with Theuth Weidemann, MWS of Radwar and Von Gravenreuth. After the cracker's scene history comes the real interesting part about the rise of the demos on the C-64, how they evolved over the time and how the faced they competition with the newer machines, more specifically the Amiga. Then review of the C-64 scene over the ocean, where it developed much differently compared to the European scene and why it was different there. The part ends with review of the status of the C-64 in the present days in the age of emulators and Internet. Almost sixty pages full with curios stories, interviews, scene productions and selection of screenshots of the best demos for the old but not forgotten 8-bit machine.

Freax book - Amiga scene part. The more important and bigger part of the book is the third part, occupying almost two thirds of the book. It is about The Amiga, the main demo machine in the early 1990-ies, that gave big push of the demoscene. The part begins with history of the birth of the Amiga and the first demos, that were actually created by the Amiga development team in order to show the fantastic capabilities of the hardware. All the Amiga models are listed in the first chapter, along with interview with Dave Haynie, former lead engineer of Commodore Amiga, who answers very descriptively the asked questions. Follows the second chapter about the dawn of the Amiga scene and the first cracking and demo groups that began to show the true capabilities of the Amiga machines. Many Amiga scene productions that are considered classics today are listed here, along with screenshots that surely bring warm nostalgia memories to people involved with the Amiga. Follows the chapter about the trackmos, where some of the best Amiga demos are noted, like Enigma by Phenomena, Global Trash by Silents and Voyage by Razor 1911. The fourth chapter is about the beginning of design on the Amiga scene, that put the code as a main factor behind and become very important part of the scene productions, giving them the proper image. The fifth chapter is about the AGA (Advanced Graphics Architecture) and how it took over the scene and became the main platform for the demo sceners during the next years. After the chapter about the peaks and downturns of the Amiga scene, follows the part about the dusk of the Amiga, that came along with the bankruptcy of Commodore and the rise of the PC scene. The final chapter of the Amiga part is about the Amiga scene after the millennium that continues to present days. Hopefully the Amiga scene and the Amiga platform is still present and scene productions are being released on regular basis.

Freax book - Amiga scene part second picture. The whole book, having full colorful screenshots, comes very handy for people who would like to know more about the demoscene and want to have fast preview of selected scene productions. The titles of the best demos are listed inside, that now in the age of YouTube are very easy to find and watch in high quality. The name of many scene legends of the past are on the pages of the book. Despite the few obvious factual errors, like the Amigas having 720 KB disk drive storage capacity, the few spelling mistakes and the use of strange font that does not have some characters and made non-Latin letters to appear as squares, the book is well written, with deep insights into the computer history and the demo scene itself. As I see a new revision of the same book was released called Freax Volume 1.3, that probably have some of the errors fixed. Purchasing the book is a great addition to my collection of books, newspapers and magazines covering the history of computing. I enjoyed reading the book over and over again through the years since I bought it. On the pages of the book there are many mentions of the next volumes about the PC scene and the scene of the other popular machines. Unfortunately, now - five years after I bought the book, the second volume is still not available. Strangely enough, the third part of the book is available for purchase - FREAX - The Art Album, that is only about the best art productions and screenshots, but not history of the scene of different popular platforms, including the Amstrad CPC, Apple II, C-64 and the Amiga. Nevertheless, I recommend the book to everyone who wants to know more about the demo scene and prefers to read about it on paper, than on screen. For all the computer historians and curious readers, the book is worth addition to the computer literature, even if it is not so technical.


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