Sugar Wiki: Genius Programming

The opposite of Idiot Programming. Your disk space, processor speed, and RAM are scarcely limiting factors to somebody who knows what they're doing. You'll find smart developers can take your hardware way Up to Eleven to give it capabilities not seen in typical software on more powerful machines for 5 or 10 years.


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  • .kkrieger by Farbrausch is a game with Doom 3-tier graphics… that could fit on a standard floppy disk fourteen times. By the same crew, fr-08: .the .product, a demo with impressive graphics (for the time) in sixty-four kilobytes. These guys have a lot more stuff, available here.
  • Due to their experience with procedural generation, many demoscene programmers were hired to work on Spore.
  • SHRDLU is an AI/text parser written by Terry Winograd (MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) from 1960-1971 that can manipulate blocks and pyramids according to commands entered by the user, and also answer questions about them. In plain English. note  This is an excerpt from the demo:
    Computer: OK. (does it)
    Computer: THE BOX.
    Computer: FOUR OF THEM.
    Computer: YES, THE RED CUBE.
    Person: IS IT SUPPORTED?
    Computer: YES, BY THE TABLE.
    • Interestingly, the simple question "What?" acts as a Logic Bomb, sending the program into an infinite loop where it will not respond to anything.
  • State Of The Art by Spaceballs. The YouTube video really doesn't do justice to how impressive it is to watch this thing running on a 16 bit machine with 1 megabyte of RAM, a 7 MHz processor and an 880K floppy drive for storage. The fluidity is all the more impressive when you remember that the demo is constantly loading new data in from the floppy drive while displaying all that animation.
  • Tint (possibly NSFW due to a second or two of boobies) by The Black Lotus. Needs rather meatier hardware to run than the aforementioned State Of The Art, but the real-time lensing and fluid effects near the end will blow your mind. Also, the Awesome Music helps a lot.
  • The 8088 Corruption, a demo that runs "video" at 60 frames per second and impressive digital audio, on an old IBM PC, using the Intel 8088 flavor of processor. For those that don't know their computer history, the 8088 is a 16-bit processor, but it's crippled to an 8-bit data bus.
  • Chaos Theory, by Conspiracy. Its graphics are about on par with modern games, yet it takes up 64k. Sixty four kilobytes. Think about that for a second. It's equal to about 3.5 seconds of MP3-encoded music.
    • The remake of Chaos Theory by KK / DMA. While some cutbacks to the graphics and music quality were made, the demo was squished into four kilobytes - that's 16x less than the original.

    Video Games 
  • The Atari 2600 home brew game "The Byte Before Christmas", which pushes the systems aesthetics to their limits; in a true rarity, the characters not mainly feature fluent animation principles like overlapping animation, but the game "Bell Hopper" features fluid parallax scrolling—on a system that didn't support scrolling, and should have been impossible to perform it on!
  • Recca is a fast-paced Bullet Hell shooter with awesome graphics, creative bosses, homing weapons and techno music. Even with more than 20+ enemies and bullets on the screen, there is usually little to no slowdown. One must wonder how KiD managed to code something like this for the NES.
  • Tales of Phantasia may not be ridiculously small in size, but this game pushed the capability of the SNES to its limit. For example, Scenery Porn, which is deemed ALMOST impossible (at the time). Then the programmers tried to MESS with the sound as well by... inserting a whole theme song with voice into the opening! Now that's genius. Every Tales game since has a theme song, but it's less impressive when better sound hardware is involved (though many of these had the lyrics removed in the English translation until Tales of Vesperia). Almost every concept from this game was then (by the same people after they quit at Wolf Team to form tri-Ace after their old publisher, Namco, interfered with their previous work) imported to Star Ocean.
  • The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall has a world the size of 62,394 square miles which takes two weeks in real time to walk across, over 500,000 NPCs in 15,000 locations. It's about 148 MB and made in 1996.
  • Dwarf Fortress uses a complex algorithm to generate a realistic world every time (complete with a detailed history of every person and place that ever existed there), keeps track of injuries to specific body parts down to individual fingers and toes and even further down to tissue layers, provides an extremely detailed fortress simulator, and even has a script which simulates hydrostatic water pressure… Yet the whole thing is about five megabytes. On top of that, all the programming is done by one guy. Who describes himself as "not very good with computers". Holy crap.
  • The original Elite:
    • The game features a Wide Open Sandbox of eight galaxies of 256 stars each, each one with its own unique description and characteristics as well as numerous ship designs. It's the game which launched the entire genre of Space Trading Sims. It was quite literally years ahead of its time. And the whole thing fits on ~20 kilobytes of disk space.
    • That's because all content (planet names, their coordinates, commodity prices, etc) in the game was procedurally generated and, basically, boils down to the single 8-bit seed number and a couple of rules checking that you won't get planets named "Fuck" or "Arse."
    • The game's NES port is no less impressive. It features 3D vector graphics on an 8-bit system, long before the Super FX and other console 3D accelerators. The unreleased Game Boy version is just as impressive.
    • The sequel, Frontier, isn't too shabby either. The PC version has over 20 textured 3D models and enough star systems to fill the entire Milky Way, yet fits on a single 1.44MB floppy.
    • Bonus points for being one of the first commercially released truly 3D games.
  • RollerCoaster Tycoon kept stats on every visitor, in addition to controlling all their AIs simultaneously, all while animating all of it and allowing the user to interact with it. And all this could run on a PC made in the early '90s, without lag. The secret is that the system was programmed in raw Assembler, only relying on more high level code for graphical stuff.
    • The same secret allowed ZSNES to run games at full speed well before its competition, but it's showing its age now as one of the few actively maintained programs that can't be compiled as 64-bit, due to the incompatibility of 32-bit and 64-bit assembler and the changed calling conventions for C code (64-bit mode added extra registers, which made it possible to use some to pass arguments). The devs currently have no plans to address this.
    • The performance of RCT 1 & 2 is even more impressive compared to the third iteration, which had widespread graphics card compatibility problems and brought many contemporaneous systems to their knees. Hell, many 2009 PCs struggle when everything is maxed.
  • Escape From The Mindmaster: Faux First-Person 3D with smooth movement from square to square on the Atari 2600.
  • Exile (no relation to the Mac RPG series) was a Metroidvania-ish title that managed to feature surprisingly realistic 2D physics for objects and even windy areas, as well as a living ecosystem for what was originally a BBC Micro title released in 1988. With a RAM expansion, the game could even play voice samples on that same hardware!
    • You think that's impressive? How about Box 2D-like physics... on the NES? Mr Gimmick, by Sunsoft made it on hardware from 1983!
  • Irisu Syndrome!. In at least one of the endings, despite the fact that the game runs in a window, Irisu comes in from the side of the screen itself, then into the game window to murder one of the other characters. It's creepy, like the rest of the game, but it's a very cool and unique effect. It's nothing miraculous, but it's a pretty cool Interface Screw by PC game standards, especially for a freeware indie game. The game also puts text files into the game folder as you play the game, either of character profiles or accounts of what are likely backstory events, and swaps out a picture in the game folder with other versions of it as you go along. Too bad there isn't a Fan Translation available. And now that there's a Fan Translation available, you get to read them for important backstory.
  • Below The Root for the Commodore 64 was one of the earliest games where you could pick the gender, race, and age of your avatar - with stats altered accordingly, and with hidden stats that fit the race in question. Erdlings got knocked for a loop by Wissenberries, wheras Kindar had a tolerance, Kindar took a hit to their spirit stats by eating meat. It also had NPC characters respond differently based on which avatar you chose. It was also, very possibly, the first game to be considered an authorized, canonical sequel to material written for another medium. Yes, the distant ancestor of The Force Unleashed is a 1984 side-scroller where killing anyone makes the game Unwinnable.
  • Shantae managed to squeeze a lot of stuff onto a tiny GBC cartridge. It's very difficult to emulate at full speed, although it can be done.
  • Starcraft II is not merely an RTS, it is a General Purpose Game Engine. Blizzard approves
  • The programming team behind Spyro: Year of the Dragon had a unique insight into preventing piracy: You can't. However, it doesn't matter, because 30-50% of the sales of a game are made in the first two months. So, with the goal of slowing down pirates as much as possible, the developers started by designing "crack protection," distinct from the normal copy protection (which detects whether the game is run on a CD-R). The crack protection they came up with relies on a checksumming system that's ingenious and more than slightly twisted; by interleaving, overlapping, and combining multiple checksums over a block of data, it's virtually impossible to make them all add up if even one bit is changed, but because not every checksum goes over all of the data (and because CRC has a few exploitable weaknesses), the checksums being compared to can be a part of the data being checksummed. This, combined with tons of other traps designed to make life hell for pirates, meant that it took over two months for a working crack to finally be released (at a time when "Wow, that hasn't been cracked yet?" meant something like four days), and only then because the developers held back to avoid Loads and Loads of Loading. note 
    • Also by Insomniac, Resistance 2 allowed 60 people online in one game with no frame rate issues. 60!
    • Also by the same company- the whole renderer in the Spyro games. It managed to do things on the Playstation that should have been literally impossible, including implementing an entire LOD system on the CPU and having it run in real time.
  • Fast inverse square root, also known as InvSqrt(), 0x5f3759df, and "What the fuck?" after its implementation in the Quake III: Arena source code (and infamous comment). The algorithm, which uses a novel first approximation of Newton's Method to get an almost perfect second approximation, runs roughly four times faster than traditional implementations, and still faster than other "optimized" algorithms of the time.
  • You would be surprised to realize that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is actually 32 MB and uses MIDI sound files. It's also one of the first few Zelda games to include voice. The only game that could top this is The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, which does everything and analyzes the locations of every character at every point in the game. On that note about size, Super Mario 64 is only 8MB. Yes, all those worlds and things to do fit on a size smaller than two average MP3s.
  • Take a look at this image. It is a still frame from a cutscene in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, gloriously rendered in HD with the Dolphin Emulator. What's special about this image is that The Wind Waker is predominantly cel-shaded. However, the tower in the image is realistically shaded. See the red dot near the bottom of the image? That's a cel-shaded object. The game is running two lighting systems at the same time. And this is in a system which does not have programmable shaders! This even occurs in regular gameplay; large landforms like the tower are realistically shaded to simulate the highly-detailed backgrounds of top-notch animated films.
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl also runs cel-shading and realistic shading at the same time. All the trophies related to The Wind Waker, with the exception of the Toon Link trophy (which is technically part of Brawl, not The Wind Waker, Toon Link himself is also not cel-shaded), are cel-shaded in the same style as in The Wind Waker. However, the trophy bases are realistically shaded. Like the GameCube, the Wii does not have programmable shaders (because it is based on the GameCube hardware).
  • Space Invaders for the Atari 2600 seems simple enough, but the Atari 2600 is only capable of displaying two player sprites, two rectangular shot sprites (one per player), and a rectangular ball sprite simultaneously. Atari 2600 Space Invaders can have up to 39 player objects and four shots on the screen at once, with no extra RAM or other special chips on the cartridge. It was doing things that the console literally shouldn't have been able to do. Given that the Atari 2600 is optimized for simple, symmetrical games like Pong and Combat, MOST of the games on the Atari 2600 represent Genius Programming.
  • Before Star Control there was Starflight and its sequel, Starflight II. Hundreds of planets, all unique, dozens of alien races, an epic backstory, and a quest to Save The Galaxy. And it all fit on a single 720K floppy disk, or two 360K floppies.
  • Earthworm Jim 2 manages to pull off voices in the theme song and rock music that's not midi, even in the SNES and Sega Genesis versions.
  • The Sega Genesis version of Toy Story (in itself a pretty good game) manages to do a lot of impressive things for the system's standards.
    • The title and ending tracks were made of MOD format music. To clarify, the Yamaha YM2612 can only play two sound samples at a time, but the MOD format consists entirely of sound samples!
    • The graphics are incredibly well made, featuring lots of animation frames and even a 3D floor effect without slowdown or sprite flicker. This also goes for the Super Nintendo version.
    • But the crowning technical achievement has to be the Genesis version of the level Really Inside the Claw Machine. One thing the Genesis lacks is the ability to scale or rotate sprites. So what does Traveler's Tales do? Create an entire level in first person view akin to Wolfenstein 3D! With texture mapped walls and a solid framerate (for its time), it's astounding what Traveler's Tales was able to accomplish with such hardware limitations.
  • ROM Hacks in general, especially when they go beyond what you'd think the game engine or even the system was capable of, for example:
    • Brutal Mario/Super Kitiku World and its massive use custom assembly to do things Super Mario World wouldn't do otherwise.
    • Rockman 4 Minus Infinity has done some rather crazy things, which includes not only a lot of weapon changes, but a few on screen effects that are on par, if not better than the effects in Battletoads.
    • Give or take, any of the really well done Mega Man 2 hacks.
    • Rockman 5 Air Sliding featured its unique titular gameplay mechanic, alongside some interesting level and weapon changes (including an improved Gravity Hold and making Stone Man's level orient itself to the left).
    • Super Mario Oddysey and other Super Mario World hacks using the MSU-1 patch. Why is this? Because with a custom patch, they've managed to get MP3 quality music working on the SNES, as heard/seen here
    • Two Wii-based mods: Newer Super Mario Bros Wii and Project M. The former is a highly extensive mod of New Super Mario Bros. Wii that even manages to surpass the official sequel in some ways. The latter is a highly extensive mod of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, intended to both replicate and surpass Melee, and the kicker: it adds 2 additional slots to the character select screen. Most modders only managed to overlay one character over another up until that point.
  • From the dawn of computing, the legendary Mel Kaye's Blackjack program for Royal McBee LGP-30 and RPC-4000 machines. Not only was he able to squeeze the whole program into just the 8.2 kilobytes of drum memory, but he was one of the first Real Programmers who basically pioneered most of the Heavy Wizardrynote  techniques discussed above, including using code as constants, optimizing the code by hand to eliminate even smallest wait states and delay loops, and using self-modifying code to do so. Ed Nather, the author of the story above, when asked to rewrite it spent a whole month just trying to understand Mel's code, and upon finding an endless cycle without a check, which just happened to use an overflow error to modify the last command of it into a different jump and exit the loop, he gave up out of respect.
  • When Al Lowe made Leisure Suit Larry 3: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals, he found a way to eliminate the loading time between room changes (which must have been pretty long on machines of the time) in the bamboo maze. He did this by using the same background for every room of the maze. The background had exits in every possible direction. The exits that weren’t supposed to be open in a particular room were covered up with overlays. To hide the fact that it was always the same background, he mirrored it, along with the overlays, every time you left the room. This also saved a lot of memory and disk space.
  • Scribblenauts: game that boasts a dictionary of few dozens of thousands words, with each word having its own graphical representation, animations and interaction patterns (like elephants being afraid of mice and so on) was crammed into a 32 megabyte Nintendo DS cartridge. Even more impressive in Super Scribblenauts with added adjectives (everything still fits into a 32 MB ROM chip).
  • Ladies and gentlemen, meet Satoru Iwata, global president of Nintendo, former acting president of HAL Labs. When he was younger, he disassembled the programs for his home computer by writing down the memory dumps by hand. Mind you, this was before printers. Among his achievements as a game programmer, he...
  • Naughty Dog loves to show off their technical prowess. The PlayStation 3 is almost infamous for requiring data installs, as searching for and loading information off a high-capacity Blu-Ray disc would result in extremely long load times... or so people thought. Uncharted 2 required absolutely no installation, and the only loading time you would see is when the game starts up (about 10 seconds), and when you start or continue a game (again, about 10 seconds). The rest of the game loads seamlessly, not stopping for anything, including area transitions, from start to finish.

    The iconic scene in the same game, the train sequence, is also a marvel of technical engineering. In addition to adjusting the physics to account for the fact that Drake's on a train, the entire sequence, from the start in the jungles to the end in the snowy mountains, has no repeated environments. Every single view and vista is unique, and waiting long enough for, say, the point where it's curving around a lake or mountain, will eventually give you alternate views of the location as your position shifts. And to top it all off, you can see the train curving ahead of you in the distance: you can reach all of those cars, and eventually will.
  • Mickey Mania pulled off some impressive perspective tricks in a number of its levels, with stages such as a Nebulus-style rotating tower and a head-on moose chase. Not so much of a big deal on the SNES, with its GPU support for background perspective in Mode 7. It is, however, a big deal on the Sega Genesis, where all of these effects had to be emulated in software...
  • Jett Rocket set the standard for what could be done with the WiiWare's 44 megabyte limit. To most developers, this is a cripplingly small amount, and they deem it unreasonable and unworkable. Shin'en Multimedia created a full-length 3-D platformer on it that looks and plays like a retail game.
  • Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw created the side-scrolling action/stealth platform games 1213 and The Art of Theft using Adventure Game Studio, a game engine designed for point-and-click adventure games and nothing else.
  • Cannon Fodder on the Game Boy Color seems like just another GBC title, until the intro sequence explodes into a full-color pre-rendered FMV. Adding to that, all music, voice clips, and sound effects are fully recorded, with not a single 8-bit bleep in the game. The method used to display full-color video on the Game Boy Color is quite ingenious. Because it can only display a few colors at a time, each frame of video alternates between different color palettes. The frames alternate faster than the human eye can pick up, creating the illusion of a much larger set of colors.
  • The unusual arcade game Pu Li Ru La is very colorful and packs in a lot of detail in both sprites and backgrounds. Animations are very fluid, and the game even includes some voice clips. And it runs on hardware weaker than that of the SNES! The level of animation and detail is more akin to a modern Flash game than an arcade game from 1990.
  • Black & White had the Creature AI that could make your "pet" learn new skills and develop its own preferences. Famously, Peter Molyneux was demonstrating the game to potential buyers when the Creature did something like throwing a rock over its shoulder. Molyneux was surprised - he never programmed that subroutine in the game.
  • A (sadly discontinued) NPC mod for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion included a character called Nessa who could manage her own equipment, actively avoid hitting or being hit by the player during combat (a common complaint among other NPC companions), and had a complex AI script that determined whether or not she would comply with the player's orders (the highlight of the mod was that she wouldn't always do so for various non-random reasons). You could, for instance, tell her to "rest" outside an Oblivion gate, only for her to get worried about you and follow you inside. Who would have thought that an NPC could actually worry about the player and then act on that impulse?
  • One of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II's claims to fame is its use of the GameCube's TEV (Texture EnVironment) pipeline to create the shader used for spacecraft targeting computers. The only catch (as mentioned with Wind Waker above) is that the GameCube does not have programmable shaders! Programming a shader in hardware that does not support programmable shaders is quite impressive. The game was also developed in little over a year in order to be released as a GameCube launch title. Despite the lack of development time, the quality of the finished game was still incredible, and to this day it is widely considered the best of the series.
  • Most of the side-scroller Sonic the Hedgehog games could qualify for this. Not only did the Genesis/Mega Drive not support transparent textures (It was given the illusion of transparent textures by rapidly alternating between one frame of one sprite and another frame of another sprite), it also didn't support sprite rotations. It also didn't have any Mode7-esque effects to speak of. In order to create panning backgrounds that moved at different speeds to give the illusion of depth, the devs layered textures on top of each other and had then move at different speeds and directions. This is to be expected from the expert programmer Yuji Naka. This is the man who created a NES emulator for the Genesis... in his spare time, for fun.
  • Rescue on Fractalus!: So, you want to make a 3D space sim-style game, with mountainous terrain... in 1984. On Apple II-s and other computers of that era. And yes, it works, and at a reasonable frame-rate.
  • Meet Nano Assault Neo. It's a Wii U eShop launch title, has graphics and sound that rivals a lot of big budget games, runs at 60FPS, and is only 60 MB!! As it was developed by Shin'en, the same developer as Jett Rocket, it's to be expected.
  • According to the developer, Mike Z, Skullgirls managing to have six characters in a match on seventh gen consoles is absolutely insane. As .PNG's, the animation frames for six different characters adds up to around 10.5 GB. With the compression tech made by Mike (based on a paper made by Farbrausch), the characters only take up around 900 MB, with 491 MB of that being used in any given match, which then has to fit into the 130 MB of RAM left over for the characters on the PS3. In spite of all this, the game is still able to not only have more frames of animation than any game before itnote , but also real time lighting and shading effects on the characters, a first for the genre. The only problem is when the art doesn't load fast enough after switching characters, resulting in them being pixellated.
  • Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a game lauded for its absolutely gorgeous 2D graphics (to give you an idea, this is a screenshot of actual gameplay footage). The entire game also takes up less than a gigabyte (0.62 GB, to be exact, about twice the size of Wii Sports), and 0.49 GB of that is just the soundtrack.
  • Super Smash Flash 2, a completely fan-made project, has somehow managed to rebuild and port the engine of Super Smash Bros.note  into Adobe Flash, and accurately. The game was intended in the first place to push the limits of the program, and that it does — it's progressed so much that it's essentially a console-quality game. Unfortunately, it's still a victim of the program that it runs in, as Flash itself falls on the other end of the spectrum... That said, though, SSF2's remarkably efficient for what it does, and slowdown on lower-end computers is fairly minor.
  • Black Mesa, a Fan Remake of Half-Life, constantly pushes the Source Engine to the limit, doing many things that even Valve Software, the engine's creators, didn't or couldn't do with it. Unfortunately, due to the sheer taxing of the system, it's not uncommon for the game to slow down even in the most high-end computers, or crash altogether. Fortunately, a few of its developers were hired by Valve.
  • Death Race for the NES is a good contender for being the best unlicensed and one of the best NES games ever made. First of all, the game has a costumizeable vehicle option menu with guns, engines, cars, wheels, missiles, the gun speed..., RPG elements and the sprites are multicoloured. For an unlicensed developer to do this is a hell of an accomplishment.
  • The port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 to the SNES. How did it do it? It used the S-DD1 chip that the aforementioned Star Ocean used. While the port only had the normally accessible cast and 2 other secret characters (and one of them was Dummied Out) and characters and backgrounds had less animation, (And obviously no CD Quality music.) either way it was still impressive that a game that was ported to 32-bit consoles could run on a 16-bit console.
  • Batman Doom is a Doom II mod that manages to achieve some truly impressive tricks that would be incredibly difficult to pull off. These tricks includes a moving train, the Killer Croc's ability to pick up and throw rocks, flying helicopters, bigger explosions and much more. All of this was done by ACE Team, a small team of three brothers who went on to make Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages years later, with DeHackEd and the Doom Engine alone, which was notable for being inflexible for modders at the time.
  • Star Fox 64 fits over 700 voice clips into a 12MB cartridge.
  • As an exercise in constrained programming, Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 is brilliant: the hardware of the 2600 is primitive beyond belief (it was designed to handle two-paddles-and-a-ball games like Pong), so getting it to display something as graphically complex as Pac-Man is a work of genius. As a video game, it isn't.
  • Basically everything that happened on the ZX Spectrum, although the legendary strategy-adventure-RPG Lords Of Midnight surely takes the cake.
  • Jez San's Starglider on the Atari ST, particularly its sound. The system had negligible capabilites, but he managed to pull off sampling and proper wave forms (as opposed to square waves) by stripping the machine open and putting a voltmeter across the sound chip.

    Other Software 
  • ReactOS: the project aims to create an open-source Windows-compatible operating system from scratch. After 12 years of development, it has some basic compatibility with Windows. You may not be able to run the latest games on it, but you can check your email and browse TV Tropes.
    • On that note, Wine. It's a project that attempts to recreate the full Windows API on Unix-based systems. It's not an emulator, either (it's actually part of the recursive acronym, Wine Is Not an Emulator), but is actually a piecemeal reverse-engineering of Windows one library at a time, which makes Windows-only applications run just fine on Unix and other OSs. This includes very modern games like Team Fortress 2, which are fully playable this way.
    • Wine and ReactOS are a sister projects and have a shared codebase. Or, more correctly, Wine is a Windows-compatible userland to run application software atop compatible kernels, while ReactOS developers concentrate on a Windows-compatible backend side, that is, kernel and driver support.
  • Pretty-much any Emulator qualifies. Especially ones which emulate hardware for which there is little or no official information available, requiring the use of reverse engineering.
    • SNES Advance and Snezziboy are particularly impressive - fully playable SNES emulators squeezed into a Game Boy Advance.
    • Similarly, the various [console] Sound Formats, such as the Playstation Sound Format. They emulate the original sound hardware/software, so you can listen to how the track originally sounded. As an added bonus, these files are often a fraction of the size of a normal line-out rip without any significant loss of quality.
    • Higan may be relatively slow, but its SNES core (originally its own emulator, called BSNES) is notable for being 100% accurate to the original machine, with no game-specific hacks.
  • A lot of programs in an esoteric language count, just because of how weird the languages are. Take, for example, this.
  • High Efficiency Advanced Audio coding w/ Parametric Stereo. A pretty general rule of thumb is that it gives the same as MP3 quality at one-fourth of the size (24kbit HE-AAC sounds as good as 96kbit MP3). Discovering it has been known to lead to at least one joygasm. Preceded by mp3PRO, which uses the same Spectral Bandwidth Replication algorithm to shrink the file size to half.
  • jQuery is a JavaScript library that is used in a surprisingly high proportion of the most visited web sites. That is because it allows you to do a number of things that are (currently) too high-level for plain old HTML, JavaScript and CSS to handle out of box, such as AJAX (increased online interaction without refreshing the page you're on), manipulation of HTML elements (that is, inserting or tearing out parts of the web page at will), and basic animations (such as fade-ins and fade-outs). In other words, it provides just about all the functionality that really sets apart modern web pages from the static web pages of yesteryear (where yesteryear is approximately any year prior to 2005). It is also designed to be as unobtrusive to other code as possible, only uses confusing trick code where unavoidable, and still only clocks in at under 100 kilobytes.
    • It gets even better. jQuery uses monadic programming structure for most of its functions, which is basically a fancy way of saying you can call functions one after another on the same object on the same line without needing external variables to keep track of it all. The thing is, monads are typically associated with Haskell, not Javascript, and they're one of the hardest parts of the language for most people to wrap their heads around. If you're good with jQuery, then you've also got a conceptual grasp on how monads work, despite working in completely different programming languages!
  • Microsoft Excel. While mostly known for being a boring spreadsheet program, it is actually very versatile. If you know what you're doing you can turn it into a rendering program or even a game engine with no real modification of the software.
  • Some International Obfuscated C Code Contest contestants managed to produce impressive entries in spite, or because, of the restrictive rules:

    Other uses 
  • winocm, who's currently into iOS jailbreaking. Not only did she make an iOS clone by porting the kernel used by Mac OS X to the ARM architecture mainly by herself (others got involved later), but before she got into iOS stuff she made her own NT clone (aiming for binary compatibility with a very early build of NT that is incompatible with all released versions), called OpenNT. Look at the post dates. She went from something unbootable to a CLI interface that passed 10,000 wine tests in 3 days. She never completed the project, but released a build to the public that same day, if you want to take a look in a VM yourself.
  • The CGI in TRON. Procedural texturing was invented for this movie. Even the one-off supercomputer used at the time didn't have enough memory to be able to use raster textures, so the only way to get any detail was by evaluating functions on a per-pixel basis.
  • Pinball.
    • Here's an interview with pinball programmer Dwight Sullivan, in which he describes how small the pinball software was at the time. Notable programmer Larry DeMar (the co-creator of Defender and Robotron 2084) invented automatic replay adjustment (with Steve Ritchie), which automatically adjusts the replay score based on the players' performances on location) and software compensation for broken playfield switches/features, both of which were introduced in 1986's High Speed.
    • Noteworthy mention goes to 1992's The Addams Family, which had an auto-flipper (called "Thing Flips") that actually did hit the Swamp scoop target, most of the time. When it doesn't hit the Swamp scoop, then the software auto-calibrates the flipper until it hits the Swamp. This also happens if the pinball machine is moved to another location. Not surprisingly, Larry DeMar was the co-programmer for The Addams Family.
    • DeMar also did the programming for 1990's Fun House, which featured "Pin-Mation", in which Rudy's (the talking doll head) eyes and mouth move in real-time, depending on where the ball hits the target.
  • TicketMaster managed to conquer their market by using such tightly written code it could run on 1/10th the space of its original competitors and still process the same amount of requests at the same speed.
  • Apollo Guidance Computer software implemented a (cooperative) multitasking operating system plus all the software to run on it in 36,864 16 bit words of ROM and 2048 16 bit words of RAM (or in modern units, 73,728 bytes and 4096 bytes, respectively). And this was software that had to be extremely reliable and fault-tolerant because human lives depended on it. Apollo 11 demonstrated the benefits of the fault tolerant design when the guidance computer was given slightly more work than it was capable of coping with during the landing. Instead of curling up and dying, it issued an alarm, discarded jobs that were considered low priority and continued running the high priority tasks. This bit of design saved the mission. When you consider that a lunar landing abort would have been the most complicated manuver ever attempted by NASA (possibly to current day) this feature likely saved lives.
  • Linksys's WRT54G (and its spiritual successor, the WRT54GLnote , Addtional note ) wireless router is one of the most hackable routers, because its firmware was based on Linux. After Linksys released the firmware source code under the GPL, software developers began developing customized versions of the WRT54G firmware, the most well-known being DD-WRT and Tomato. Not only are they considered to be more reliable and better performing than Linksys's stock firmware, they would add advanced features that are only available in commercial-grade routers.
  • While he was a professor at MIT, Dr. Edward Thorp (better known as the man who invented counting cards at blackjack) once made a tiny wearable computer which he programmed to secretly calculate where the ball would stop on a roulette wheel, allowing a player to bet on that number and win big. And this was in 1961 - before there were any laws against it, because evidently nobody else had imagined such a thing would even be possible.
  • In the fancy lingo of computer science, a "quine" is a program that, when run, produces itself as output. A "multiquine with a cycle length of two" is a program that, when run, produces a program that, when run, produces the first program as output. Got that? Good. Now, contemplate this multiquine with a cycle length of eleven, each stage of which is in a different programming language or its follow-up which is written in 50 cycles/languages.
  • Steve Wozniak made it so that a 3 1/2" floppy disk that would be 720 kB on other systems to have 800 kB on both Apple ]['s and Apple Macintoshes. Unfortunately, this ended up causing compatibility issues with most other systems, so Apple went with the 1.44 MB used for the rest of the industry.
  • The QP Framework, developed by Miro Samek, is essentially a lightweight event driven framework based on software state machines. While that might not sound like much, consider that the framework includes a real-time OS kernel in the package for embedded processors. Okay, there are other real-time OSes! But when you consider that QP in its smallest takes up less than 100 bytes of memory and 1KB of ROM and yet still has most of its functions to allow for real-time event driven systems is nothing short of amazing. Even its full featured implementation takes up about 1KB of memory and less than 10K of ROM.
  • All of the awesome animation they do in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic? All of it is managed on an older version of Adobe Flash. Despite this, they manage to do things like Motion Parallax and non-CG 3D effects that would make Disney's animated films blush, and they all do this on old software instead of in traditional cels. It is this show that truly shows what animators with Flash could put out if they really put in both the artistic effort and had the programming chops to manage it.
  • There is almost enough publicly available information to write a perfectly accurate emulator for the Cray-1 that can run on a modern workstation. The largest stumbling block is the floating point maths used by the Cray-1. The Cray-1 was a single processor supercomputer that was faster than any other computer in the world when it was built. It came with vector floating point functional units (i.e. subprocessors) which could be used in parallel, had exact calculation times, predate modern standards, and are poorly documented compared to the rest of the Cray-1. The Cray-1 used a 64-bit floating point format and algorithms that differ from and are much faster than what even modern computers use. When the Cray-1 hardware manual says that you can do floating point and integer division, multiplication, addition, and subtraction all at the same time, it isn't bragging. The hardware manual actually tells you how to do it.
  • In the mid 90s when PCI was being introduced, there was a problem with how to allocate 8 expansion slots between it and the old ISA standard which was still used to a wide degree. The designer's solution? Make the PCI cards install upside down. This allowed an expansion bracket to fit an ISA or PCI card.

Alternative Title(s):

Idiot Programming