x2 = number * 0.5F;
y = number;
i = * ( long * ) &y; // evil floating point bit level hacking
i = 0x5f3759df - ( i >> 1 ); // what the fuck?
y = * ( float * ) &i;
y = y * ( threehalfs - ( x2 * y * y ) ); // 1st iterationThe 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.
— Excerpt from Fast inverse square root, Quake III Arena Source Code
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The Demoscene is Genius Programming pretty much by definition, as it was born in an age when computers were dramatically limited in their capabilities, and its entire goal was to exploit available hardware to the highest degree possible — often way beyond what the original designers had envisaged. Modern hardware obviously doesn't have these limitations, but the Demoscene crowd decided it wasn't fun to do what game developers were already doing (that is, 3D eye candy using gigs and gigs of textures and 3D models), so they enacted self-imposed limits — often harsher than those they originally had to deal with. Hence a division in categories, one of the most famous and prestigious being "64k" — that is, demos whose entire code and resources fit in sixty-four kilobytes. For reference, that's 3.5 seconds of mp3 music, and you you could fit it twenty-two times in a floppy disk and almost eleven thousand times in a CD-ROM.
- Farbrausch is a widely known crew that attained massive fame for fr-08: .the .product, the first 64k demo with really impressive graphics (for the time). Witness it here.
Not content with having redefined the standards for demos, later on they developed .kkrieger, an interactive shooter game with Doom 3-tier graphics — which fits in the same 64 kilobytes. These guys have a lot more stuff, available here.
- 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, which took the 64k approach but with graphics about on par with modern games. 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.
- 8088 MPH is a demo that does 1024 colors, polygon rendering, 4 channel music with a one channel beeper and other things that the original IBM PC with a CGA card (on a composite monitor) should not be doing. It's so very specifically tailored to the IBM PC's exact hardware and quirks that no emulator exists that can run it without crashing.
- Due to their experience with procedural generation, many demoscene programmers were hired to work on Spore.
- A Mind Is Born is a demo that displays a pulsing screen of corrupt images while playing a techno-style tune lasting about 2 minutes. Why is that genius programming? The whole thing is 256 bytes. That's not 256k, that's 256 bytes - a quarter of 1k. The entire code and data of the demo is shorter than this description.
Fan Games & Game Mods
Third-party Fan Remakes, Fan Sequels, Game Mods, and the like can see a lot of innovation; and in the case of Abandonware games, some of these can offer better programming, maps, textures, and AI than the originals.
- 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 of 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 Odyssey (not to be confused with the official game of the same name) 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 two additional slots to the character select screen. Before that was added, modders were only able to have custom characters by replacing existing ones.
- The only reason why Yoshi was omitted from almost all NES Mario games was because of technical limitations of the time preventing his use within the game. Not only does Super Mario Bros. 3Mix implement Yoshi within the engine of Super Mario Bros. 3 (a NES Mario game), it also implemented features from later games in the series, such as the gravity mechanic from Super Mario Galaxy.
- 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.
- Doom series:
- 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.
- Requiem, a 1997 map pack, manages to use some clever programming to pull off some unusual architectural tricks in Doom's 2.5D engine that should be impossible given the vanilla engine's limitations — actual bridges that are not connected to the ground, bridges over bridges that can both be walked on, and simulated sliding and swinging doors.
- Brutal Doom is an effort by one modder, known in the community as Sergeant_Mark_IV, to take apart Doom and put it back together in a way that's engaging and challenging even for the modern gamer. It has alt-firing weapons, locational damage, dynamic AI, many animations including spectacular deaths and fatalities, improved interactivity with the levels and a host of other features that nobody suspected the Doom engine was capable of. It moved things forward so much that almost anything of relevance that comes out today for Doom has its base in Brutal. The developer even regularly put up demos on many astounding new features announced in the upcoming versions.
- Alien Vendetta is another well-known level pack in the Doom community. The project was designed to be fully compatible with Doom 2 Version 1.9 (no source ports are needed to play), which is not a simple feat, considering the limitations on the original engine such as the infamous "VISPLANE OVERFLOW" that crashes the game when there are 128 unique floors and ceilings on the screen at once. However, Alien Vendetta combines well-detailed levels with challenging gameplay, and stretches the original Doom engine to its limits at times.
One level that can stress the limits of the engine is Level 20: Misri Halek, a colossal Egyptian pyramid complex taking place mostly underground with a breath-taking number of corridors. Level 25: Demonic Hordes features an incredible swarm of preplaced monsters combined with large cathedrals in open fields for action on par with Serious Sam. For being limited by the original Doom engine, the whole level pack is a thrill to look at as well as play.
- OBLIGE Level Maker allows one to make high quality DOOM level sets, Roguelike style, in less than 5 minutes for a full 30-map WAD.
- 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?
- 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.
- Ever since the developers of the Dark Engine (used in System Shock and Thief) released their mission editor "DromEd", the games have seen a huge number of fan-missions with awesome maps and custom AI. At the point of writing, the number of professional quality fan-missions outnumber the ones made for the games themselves.
- Behold, the entirety of Pokémon Red and Blue... Ported to Minecraft. No, really, the entire game (besides the music and sounds). It even went as far as to keep some of the glitches. It doesn't even require other mods to work.
- While there's not that many, there's some mighty impressive Super Mario 64 mods out there. For starters, someone brought over the gimmicks of Super Mario Odyssey not too long after they were revealed. Wanna know what's even more impressive? Both of these were coded under an hour. Each.
- 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 as far as SNES games go, being one of the larger games on the system, but this game pushed the capability of the SNES to its limit. For example,the game's copious amounts of Scenery Porn, in quantities which were deemed almost impossible for a cartridge (at the time). Then the programming and sound team one-upped all this by... inserting a whole theme song with voice into the opening! This was completely insane and was thought to be absolutely impossible for a cartridge title, especially one sporting as much visual flash as Phantasia.note Every Tales game since has a theme song, but it's all less impressive when more memory, both in RAM and storage, is involved. Almost every technical concept from ToP was then imported into Star Ocean (which featured many of the same staff, who had left Wolf Team/Namco in the interim) which was even more technically bonkers.
- Many 8-bit covers that have become something of a fad on YouTube can be quite tricky to program. It requires that you use all the limited sound you can squeeze out of 4 basic channels and recreate many sound effects with modulation. Though it cheats by making use of the far more advanced VRC6 expansion chip, 8Bitdanooct1's cover of "One Winged Angel" uses pitch-shifted samples of the original synthetic instruments and accurate down to the most minute timing done by ear with no notation or Midi cheats. What did he use to replace the infamous choir? He didn't, using very precise DCMP recordings, he managed to fit the vocal track on to the composition. The link shows it being played on a real NES, and you can download an NSF copy that plays on all emulators and sound players that support the format. Granted it's extremely impractical and would take up half a standard ROM, but you can push the NES farther than it was ever meant to.
- 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 it's also one of the first commercially released 3D games, yet the whole thing fits on ~20 kilobytes of disk space.
The low disk space usage is 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.
- Elite: Dangerous continues the tradition, using cloud computing to create a full-scale replica of the Milky Way.
- 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 it's also one of the first commercially released 3D games, yet the whole thing fits on ~20 kilobytes of disk space.
- 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 assembly language, only relying on more high-level code for graphical stuff. The performance of RCT 1 and 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.
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 assembly and the changed calling conventions for C code (64-bit mode added extra registers, which made it possible to use some to pass arguments). Being written in x86 assembly also means that it can't be ported to any other CPU architecture, meaning that you won't ever see a version of ZSNES for smartphones (which generally use ARM processors), for example. The devs currently have no plans to address this.
- 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 is that game that managed to pull it off, and that was made for a system that's nearly a decade old by the time it was released!
- Irisu Syndrome! has a creepy yet really neat example of this in one of 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 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 and changes the picture file as you go along. 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, whereas Kindar had a tolerance, and 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. Made at the tail end of the handheld's lifespan, the developers at Way Forward wanted to get their passion project out in any way they could. In an era where most handheld games were either first party games released early or barely passable licensed games, Shantae features a bright and expressive range of colors, very detailed sprites for all the characters, a large and witty script that had an admittedly silly but still fairly involved plot, each NPC has quite a few frames of animation and gestures, Shantae herself had very smooth movements that would make several Advance games jealous. She didn't just make a few token steps, she belly dances, whips her flowing hair around, and even winks at the screen. The music pushes the sound to the absolute limit, and it's a full on Metroidvania crossed with a Rhythm Game with an involved day and night cycle similar to Simon's Quest. The ROM clocks in at just above 4 megabytes! 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
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.
- Resistance 2 allowed 60 people online in one game with no frame rate issues. 60!
- 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.
- Nintendo has quite a history with impressive file sizes for their games, and it continues to this day with the Nintendo Switch. In an era where many triple A titles can be upwards of 15 GB in size, Nintendo has managed to keep many of their big titles quite small. Some of the highlights include:
- 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.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does the same thing with its light systems while incorporating not only real-time dynamic shadow maps into the environment, but also having some physically based shaders playing along side (mainly the metal shaders used on the towers and Shrines).
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl 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 its hardware is based on the GameCube's).
- 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. Might have something to do with the fact that it was programmed in Forth — an efficient but difficult programming language nobody really meant for games which, aside from Starflight itself, was mostly used in low-level computer firmware and space applications.
- 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 has very limited sample support due to only having a single 8-bit DAC for this purpose, which must be written to in real time because of no on-chip sample memory, but the MOD format consists entirely of sound samples!
This is similar to how music in most Game Boy Advance games works. The GBA has only two PCM channels and no sample memory for playing sample-based music, so samples are handled by CPU-side sound engines that play, modulate and mix samples in real time.
- 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 Traveller'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 Traveller's Tales was able to accomplish with such hardware limitations.
- The title and ending tracks were made of MOD format music. To clarify, the Yamaha YM2612 has very limited sample support due to only having a single 8-bit DAC for this purpose, which must be written to in real time because of no on-chip sample memory, but the MOD format consists entirely of sound samples!
- 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, we'd like to introduce you to the late, great Satoru Iwata, once Nintendo's global president and the acting president of HAL Laboratory earlier still. 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...
- ... ported the battle code of Pokémon Stadium to the Nintendo 64 despite not having any access to crucial documents. And he did it all in a week.
- ... completely rewrote the programming of EarthBound after previous programming work failed to produce a working game, also with remarkable speed. At the time, the project was very close to being jettisoned due to the unmanageability of the original coding. The coding he used is a huge scripting language, so complex that, theoretically, the text system alone could be used to write an emulator, if altered somewhat.
- ... personally compressed Pokémon Gold and Silver, which filled the cartridge despite still being half-finished. That's the reason the setting for Pokémon Red and Blue was included (with only two locations removed) in the games—there was that much space left after he was done.
- ... debugged Super Smash Bros. Melee all by his lonesome. It only took him two weeks—which was all the time he had to get it out.
- And last but not least, as revealed after his unfortunate passing, Iwata was basically responsible for Pokémon being localized. Game Freak wanted to move over to the next generation in the series, but Iwata insisted on doing the development work for the localization with just Teruki Murukawa assisting him. And Iwata was the company president of HAL Laboratory at the time. Without Iwata, Pokémon would not be a global phenomenon. Rest in peace, you wonderful man.
- 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: Among Thieves 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.
- They cut their teeth on the first Crash Bandicoot. They developed it as a PlayStation 1 exclusive, and when it came out, it was so much better than anyone had ever managed to accomplish on the console that other developers cried foul, insisting that Naughty Dog had used secret libraries provided by Sony to them and them alone. The opposite was true: they used as little as possible of Sony's stuff, and essentially hacked as much of the game as possible to run as close to the hardware as they could make it, effectively developing their own development as they went. The result was way ahead of what anyone had managed on the meagre (even for the times) power of the PlayStation 1. You can read about many of the tricks they used in Andy Gavin's postmortem for the game.
A standout example is loading in polygons just before they're on-screen rather than everything in the level (the effects of which are plainly visible when forcing a widescreen resolution on the game), allowing lush environments with more in them in one screen than entire levels in other games of the day. This technique also solved performance issues in a much cruder manner; got slowdown when coming over the crest of a hill? Stick a big fat leaf in the way so that half the stuff won't load until it's out of shot!
- As another example to prove how much of a technical achievement they pulled with this game, Crash's model is one full mesh. May not sound special since this can be done so easily today, but at the time of early 3D games, characters used multiple meshs to make up the model, causing certain parts of the model (like limbs) to look so blocky. What Naughty Dog did to get is that they had to invent assembly language to pull the vertices in certain ways to animate the model. You can see the model up close in this video, that covered the aforementioned note.
- 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 3D 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 PuLiRuLa 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.
- 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.
** The Nintendo 64 version of the original Rogue Squadron also deserves a mention in that it contains over 80 minutes of high quality stereo sound and 40 minutes of voice acting on an N64 cartridge. This is due to that Factor 5 programmed their own sound drivers and advanced compression software to squeeze all that data into a 14MB ROM.
- 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 Mode-7-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.
- That's saying nothing of the physics, which were really impressive for the time. Many people's jaws dropped when they came across their first loop-de-loop.
- 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.
- 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 they do it? The game used the S-DD1 chip that the aforementioned Star Ocean used. While the port only had the normally accessible cast and two 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.
- Star Fox 64 fits over 700 voice clips into a 12MB cartridge.
- 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.
If modern players are amazed by the ability in No Man's Sky to easily lift your ship off from one planet, into space, and to another planet, without any loading or breaks, then think how amazed they were when Star Glider 2 had the same feature in 1988, on the Commodore Amiga 500, a machine with 1mb of RAM.
Jez San was notorious for using ridiculously low-level engineering techniques on home computers to achieve the otherwise impossible. He was infamous for asking representatives of computer manufacturers at trade shows if he could have a version of the computer with no Operating System, because it'd be easier for him to program.
- Most Americans outside Japan haven't seen Treasure of the Rudra, but it is quite brilliant. Leaving aside the fact that there are about three or four overlapping stories, the magical system relies on the ability to write down spells. Not only that, but the English translation is even more so, bordering on incredible. You can type the basic words given, like "Lefna". You can add prefixes and suffixes. You can write English words, like Heal, Healing, Cure, Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Angel, Heaven, Hell, Jade, etc. You can also write Japanese versions of these words, at least to an extent. All of this from an English key input translation. Let this sink in....
- It's already impressive enough that Xenoblade manages to cram in the absurd amount of content that it does into a single disc. What's even more impressive is the game's ability to load entire maps seamlessly (already no small feat considering how huge and full of Scenery Porn they are) complete with numerous enemies and collectible objects, to transition in and out of battle without a hitch while maintaining fairly constant framerate, and instantly travel throughout every single map in the entire game with minimal loading times. What's particularly baffling is how Xenoblade manages to achieve what smaller games on more powerful systems often fail to do while being run on hardware that was already considered dated at the time it was released.
Its descendant, Xenoblade Chronicles X, does not disappoint, containing a full campaign, full equipment and enemy listings, and a world bigger than Skyrim, Wild Hunt, and Fallout 4 combined on a single Wii U disc's worth of space. While data packs exist for the game, they merely accelerate internal processes; the entire game's essentials are on the one disc, and everything is still as seamless as its predecessor.
- Someone managed to create a game resembling Portal for the Nintendo DS. What makes that so special? The game contains fully 3D environments, with working physics, and even renders the view through portals. As if that wasn't enough, this is a homebrew game made without access to Nintendo's official SDK, using information gained from reverse engineering. Despite this, it's more advanced than most official games. You can download it here.note
- Take a look at this video. Stuart Ashen is known for reviewing electronic tat, but Cybiko Xtreme managed to impress him a built-in game called CyRace 2. Despite the fact Cybiko is a texting device that has a black-and-white LCD screen (which is meant to run 2D images, much like the Game.com), CyRace 2 is a full-fledged 3D game. And this is from a device that was released in the early 2000s, where the specs for the platform are so low it couldn't run something like this without it stuttering.
- Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix runs on the Mario Party 6 engine. Yes, you read that right. Instead of using a dedicated engine, or even using the MAX or Festival engine like the other home versions of DDR at the time, the game uses an engine DDR games weren't even designed for.
- Many of the games made by Humongous Entertainment were technical marvels of the time. They pushed the SCUMMmeaning engine to its limits with their use of high-resolution fullscreen animated cinematics starting with the first Freddi Fish, then upped the ante by making spinoffs of their popular characters in arcade-style games that included decent clones of Q*bert and Break Out. And that's not even getting into the early Backyard Sports titles, which not only featured full Artificial Intelligence for both teams, but kept track of the statistics of every player on every team in every league, whether or not the match was played by you or not. All this on an engine originally designed for scripting point-and-click adventures like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is remarkably well-optimized on all platforms, managing to deliver semi-competent performance on a Pentium system, while easily hitting 60FPS maxed out with frames to spare on a single high-end graphics card, even with upscaled DSR resolutions. The game renders a big, photorealistic open map with dynamic weather in real time — even as the PC executable is being constantly scrambled by the Denuvo DRM. That the game was ported to geriatric seventh-generation consoles with relatively little loss in fidelity, is a testament to meticulous optimization that shouldn't even be possible.
- On the same note about the use of Denuvo DRM and its nonexistent negative effect on performance overall, DOOM are also known to be well-optimized (even without the dedicated graphics card drivers). Up to Eleven when support for the cutting-edge Vulkan API was patched in, with rigs with supported graphics cards reaching upwards of 200 frames per second at 1080p with the visuals maxed out. Eventually the Denuvo in the PC version of the DOOM executable was patched out (although it still uses Steam DRM) come the end of 2016 with little notice. Sadly though this might be not the case anymore as of 2017, as several high profile games using the newer version of the Denuvo such as NieR: Automata and Sonic Mania are considered to be Porting Disasters that might be tied from the protection module of the newer versions of Denuvo.
- The Denuvo itself may be considered some praise too, as despite being made by the same team as the infamous Securom, the Denuvo Anti-Tamper, as proven by the two games above, doesn't interfere with games performance and even system stability and durability (barring statements that are known to be false). That, and the DRM itself are known to withstand months before its fully cracked due to its 64-bit signature and every title has its own unique key signature different from one another (so if one game are cracked after several months, the cracker essentially need to start from scratch to crack the other Denuvo protected game).
- As ridiculous as it sounds, most games on the Atari 2600 qualify as this. The system specs made it capable for running for simple, symmetrical games like Pong and Combat!. Many developers found ways to bypass the limitations of the 2600 and did a lot of impressive stuff with it:
- Escape From The Mindmaster: Faux First-Person 3D with smooth movement from square to square.
- The Space Invaders port had it 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 nobody ever would have dreamed of having been possible on the Atari 2600.
- The homebrew scene took note of this with "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!
- Even Pac-Man of all games achieved it on the same system with so many objects from pellets, ghost and the titular character himself running at the same time, and this was done in exercise in constrained programming. This is only talking about the game on a technical aspect, because as a video game, it's nothing worth bragging about.
The 2600 ports of Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man are huge improvements from the Pac-Man port, and somebody made a homebrew version of Pac-Man on the 2600 called Pac-Man 4K, which is a much better port that uses the same 4-kilobyte size limit as the official one.
- The Nintendo 64 version of Resident Evil 2 is/was noteworthy for squeezing a two-disc PlayStation game (1.2 GB), filled with voiced dialogue and full-motion video cutscenes, on a 64 MB cartridge, fully intact. Only the cutscenes took a slight hit, but besides that, it's still considered the one of the best versions of the game.
- Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories had full FMV opening and closing scenes that matched the quality of the original PS2 game. On a GBA cart. They managed to do the impossible by essentially turning the FMV into one incredibly long GIF sequence.
- Rare were continually pulling this off during the N64 era. Even their first and less technically impressive N64 game, Killer Instinct Gold, was still noteworthy for running at 60FPS on a console where that almost never happened. Following that was the huge size of both Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie, the impressive splatter effects in Jet Force Gemini, and most impressively, Conker's Bad Fur Day, which had some of the best graphics, most fluid animations and furthest draw distance of any N64 game, all while still managing to cram in full voice acting, of which there's a ton of. The impressive part? All these games had to be crammed into N64 cartridges, which could hold 64MB at the most, and yet some of these games, especially Conker, still look better than some early PS2 or Dreamcast releases.
- 1995's Rise of the Triad ran on a heavily modified version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine, allowing it to do things that aren't possible with the vanilla Wolf 3D engine, like 11-player multiplayer (unheard of at the time; Doom had four-player multiplayer) with nine different multiplayer modes, destructible environments, moving walls, obstacles, and of course, Ludicrous Gibs. You can learn more about ROTT's engine in the 1997 article, "ROTT in Hell."
- Shiny Entertainment's 1997 third-person shooter MDK not only contains graphics that were very impressive for the time, the game engine also allowed huge environments with unlimited draw distance, allowing the player to fully utilize the sniper mode with 100x zoom. Loading between areas is cleverly disguised with tunnels connecting them; the only actual loading screens are between levels and they are very brief. Despite all of this, the game had some really modest system requirements even by the standards of its time. It was designed to run consistently with minimum 30FPS with measly 60MHz Pentium and 16MB RAM, without any additional GPU requirements as the graphics ran entirely by software rendering (although patches were released to add support for most hardware-based rendering APIs). They utilized some incredibly simple yet elegant optimization tricks to achieve this, such as making the player character a 2D sprite instead of actual 3D model (which worked so well that many players didn't even notice it!) and intentionally leaving some surfaces black with no textures and shading, which also worked as a part of the unique graphical style of the game. The developers also had to write their own programming language for the game because they were doing things that no one had ever even attempted to do before.
- System Shock, released in September 1994 (for reference, the same month as Doom II, several months before Marathon, and a year before Rise of the Triad), runs on a hybrid between a block-based engine like Wolfenstein 3D and a full 3D engine. You can look 100% overhead or down, the maps are true multi-leveled, and the world is rendered in fully 3D polygons. It also has angled floors, like ramps — in other words, the walls and floors aren't all at 90 degrees to one another, so you can be walking down an octagon-shaped corridor, for example. Although sprites were used for smaller objects, larger objects were 3D, were fully destructable, and could be stood upon. It also had a really slick physics system: objects you throw bounce of the walls and roll down inclines, if you shoot a robot on a ledge it may fall off (and even crush another robot below), and the player can jump, crouch, crawl, lean, dodge, or do combinations of those. Objects can be pushed, picked up, and thrown. The game features dynamic lights that can pulsate or be toggled on and off. Doors and bridges can be translucent. And all of this in a mere 4 MiB of RAM.
- Of all things, Sonic Boom: Rise Of Lyric is a virtual masterwork of programming. Yes, it's a glitchy, blatantly unfinished mess that had to be patched with entirely new full-sized level maps, but the team behind it had it sprung on them that it would be a Wii U exclusive after they had already completed too much development and were too close to deadline to start over... when the game was designed with CryEngine 3, a engine that was literally not designed to be able to run on the Wii U. The fact that it runs at all borders on the miraculous, and required outrageous hours and vast amounts of help from the engine's developer, Crytek.
- The 7th Guest has video streamed from a CD-ROM overlaid with computer generated scenes. Sounds unimpressive nowadays, but in 1993 the performance of CD-ROM drives was much worse and there were no codecs or any support available because literally nobody had done it before; the lead programmer, Graeme Devine, had to write the entire streaming and decompression system from scratch. For the sequel, The Eleventh Hour, Devine was upset to learn that the videographer had produced outside footage, which — because it contained more movement than the simple blue-screened scenes used in the original — could not be decompressed fast enough by the original code; so he rewrote it again so that it was fast enough!
These games also had an unfortunate case of Genius Programming backfiring. The AI Devine designed to play against the player in several of the mini-games was so efficient it was unplayably strong, and players were unable to defeat it, stalling their progress in the game.
- Famed Super Mario World player Masterjun found that solely glitches could cause the game environment itself to be used as a programming environment. After utilizing a glitch to give Mario an invalid power-up state and then manipulating the environment (by moving game objects like shells and powerups), one is able to execute code that writes a very specific string of numbers into an unused portion of RAM, and to use the glitch to execute that data. The mechanics become more obvious once they are explained to a savvy user, but figuring it all out by sheer intuition without access to the source code takes a special sort of mindset. Through these glitches, with no external cheating devices or ROM-hacking devices whatsoever, Masterjun has been able to...
- ...complete the game within minutes.
- ...write and execute the source code to Flappy Bird within the game. Granted, it takes an hour of painstaking movements and one mistake could mean starting over, but you're effectively reprogramming memory without so much as an address editor.
- ...and create said address editor, which can be stored and loaded through a save file.
- The mobile versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2 and Sonic CD aren't emulated at all - they were recoded completely from scratch, and are to the point where you can't even tell the difference. Of course, it might help that Simon "Stealth" Thomley, who made a homebrew port of Sonic 1 for the Game Boy Advance, had a hand in making them.
- Despite the Source Engine being 13 years old at the time of this writing (2017), it still proves to be a versatile and really reliable game engine. Even the cheapest off-the-shelf PC can run a game made in that engine with little to no problems, and older games almost have zero compatibility issues with newer machines. Even Valve themselves still use the Source Engine to this day, as proof on how well-made it is.
- Many people will tell you that using a controller is not a viable option when playing shooters. The reason being that it's not as precise as using a mouse. However, Splatoon finally found a way around this. How you might ask? Two words: motion controls. Along with the traditional twin-stick controls, tilting the controller moves the camera around, essentially giving you the precision of a mouse with the accessibility of a controller. And it's not a novelty either. A lot of members of the competitive Splatoon community find the motion controls an important part of the game's meta because it's more precise.
- Plug & Play games are more or less novelty items, but every once in a while, they hold a fair share of surprises.
- The Commodore 64 Plug & Play has an Easter Egg that gives you a full fledged C64 BIOS, and it can run any C64 program you give it. You can even modify the device to support C64 peripherals.
- The Atari Flashback is nothing more than a NOAC with homebrew NES roms made as accurate as possible to the original games.
- Say what you will about the NES Classic Edition, but you have to admit the emulator is extremely accurate, even compared to the one used for Virtual Console. It might help that NOE developed the emulator this time. Hopefully it'll get used in future Nintendo products.
- Radica's SEGA Genesis Plug & Play can be modified to take actual Genesis cartridges, and run them surprisingly well. It's no surprise that future Genesis Plug & Plays would feature a cartridge slot out right.
- Goldeneye 1997 has a Dummied Out ZX Spectrum emulator and four games that were developed by Rare back when they were known as "Ashby Computer Corporation", albeit without sound. Why did they do it? Because they could. The emulator would later be used in Donkey Kong 64 for the Jetpac mini-game.
- Tommy Tallarico composed some impressive music on the Sega Genesis, and "Rave Dancetune", the bonus level theme from Cool Spot, demonstrates why. Through careful manipulation of Sega's GEMSnote software, despite the system's YM2612 chip only being able to play music through six channels at any time, Tommy was able to give players the perception that "Rave Dancetune" uses up to nine instruments at the same time, three beyond the chip's basic capability. A slightly modified version of "Rave Dancetune", which is reprogrammed to utilize two Genesis YM2612 chips concurrently, can be heard here in its full glory.
- 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:
Person: FIND A BLOCK WHICH IS TALLER THAN THE ONE YOU ARE HOLDING AND PUT IT INTO THE BOX.
Computer: BY "IT", I ASSUME YOU MEAN THE BLOCK WHICH IS TALLER THAN THE ONE I AM HOLDING.
Computer: OK. (does it)
Person: WHAT DOES THE BOX CONTAIN?
Computer: THE BLUE PYRAMID AND THE BLUE BLOCK.
Person: WHAT IS THE PYRAMID SUPPORTED BY?
Computer: THE BOX.
Person: HOW MANY BLOCKS ARE NOT IN THE BOX?
Computer: FOUR OF THEM.
Person: IS AT LEAST ONE OF THEM NARROWER THAN THE ONE WHICH I TOLD YOU TO PICK UP?
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.
- There exists a BASIC code one only one line long that is capable of generating mazes.
- 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.
- Printing, NTVDM (the layer allowing 16-bit applications to run on 32-bit Windows), and virtualization software (e.g., VirtualBox or Virtual PC) support have finally been implemented in the latest versions of ReactOS, along with NTFS read support.
- As of May 2016, ReactOS can run Skyrim, as seen here.
- Wine is a project that attempts to recreate the full Windows API on Unix-based and Unix-like 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 OSes. 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 onto the Game Boy Advance.
- The various [console] Sound Formats, such as the PlayStation Sound Format 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. (More accurate emulation requires more processing power in general, explaining why Higan is slower and possibly explaining why Nintendo's own SNES emulation for the Nintendo 3DS requires the more powerful New Nintendo 3DS models).
- John Harris, who is profiled in the Steve Levy book Hackers had to downgrade Jawbreaker (an off-label Arcade Perfect Port of Pac-Man for the Atari 8-Bit Computers) to play on the Atari 2600. Since the process of testing code for the 2600 as you wrote it was extremely laborious, he wrote a 2600 emulator for the Atari 800. Let that sink in; an Atari 2600 emulator was written for a home computer in 1981!
- 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.
- Opus, an audio codec that has superior quality to HE-AAC at the same low bitrates and can also match the quality of MP3, AAC, and Vorbis at higher bitrates. What makes it shine, however, is the low algorithmic delay it provides, making it highly suitable for real time applications like Skype.
- 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:
- A 1998 entry was a flight simulator.
- The 2001 edition saw a tiny, self-hosting compiler by Fabrice Bellard for a strict subset of C for i386 Linux, whose source was under 3 kB, winning the "Best abuse of the rule"; this compiler was then used as basis for the Tiny C Compiler, another marvel of tiny compiler.
- The 2004 edition saw a full-fledged operating system by Gavin winning the "Best of Show" Award.
- Linux itself was started as a personal side project by Linus Torvalds in 1991. He had grown frustrated by the legalities and restrictions associated with MINIX and decided he could do better. So he started hacking away, and after some time he gave notice to the world of the existence of Linux — mentioning that it would be "Just a hobby" and "nothing big and professional". Fast forward a few years and Linux basically runs the world; comparatively few people run it on desktops, but it's very often chosen by tech-savvy businesses in place of far less secure systems, it's in a lot of embedded devices, and the infrastructure it all depends on runs on it almost exclusively.
- Masi Oka was apparently in charge of coming up with genius programming for Industrial Light and Magic before he started dealing with bending space-time. In his words, he's the guy they called when they wanted something on the screen to blow up without also blowing up the computer rendering it (and then he had to teach the art team how to use the tools he created). His rendering tools for creating dynamic water in things like The Perfect Storm were repurposed to create the fiery explosions in Avatar.note
- When the Commodore 64 came out it was hopelessly slow at loading programs (which is why it's listed in Idiot Programming). Fastloader cartridges and chips for floppy drives came out quickly, but though in the US floppy drives were widespread various market/import reasons made them hilariously expensive in Europe — one could easily spend about as much money on the floppy as they did on the computer itself. As a result most Europeans made do with tapes, which were both inherently slower and much harder to speed up — not only was tape intended for music and therefore not well-optimized for data storage, but the cassette drive lacked the relatively powerful hardware present on the floppy drives (which were effectively secondary computers in and of themselves, with their own CPU and RAM). As a result "turbo tape" loaders were developed, which would be loaded slowly by the original system and would then speed up about fivefold everything loaded after them. Notably, since they couldn't rely on additional hardware to do the job, turbo loaders required some pretty clever programming to intercept the original operating system routines and modify them to accept the new commands and improved functionality — see here for a detailed analysis.
- The Common Lisp language, although its syntax can be rather daunting, has the unique property that any feature of any programming language can be added to it — yet the compiler/interpreter is tiny and supports only 25 commands. Why? Because one of those commands lets you create a new language construct, and provide a Common Lisp program that expands that construct into a simpler one. This can then be expanded again, and so on until the program contains only those 25 commands. Essentially, it implements the compilation process itself as a language feature, meaning that the compiler is infinitely customizable. There's an aphorism among programmers that claims that every sufficiently advanced programming language is just an inferior re-implementation of Common Lisp, and in light of the above, joke or not, they might have a point.
- iOS, for all its faults, has some wonderful surprises — for example, it can take back an error message. If an error message appears stating that there is no Internet connection available, and a connection becomes available while the error is on the screen, the error automatically closes itself and the original task resumes seamlessly.
- Windows XP holds the record for the longest supported Windows OS, and still sees a fair amount of use today. Want to know why that is? It's very simple: its legacy support. Microsoft was quick to drop legacy support past this point, and as such, running older programs on new OSes is a complete crapshoot as to whether or not it works. XP, on the other hand, can pretty much run anything naitevely with little to no problems (though that may have something to do with it being the last OS to fully support 16-bit architecture). DOS games, decade-old 9x programs, even software as far back as Windows 3.1 can run on XP without any additional software. It even has Soundblaster 16 built right in. It's by no means an operating system you can still use today, but keep that installation disc around; you'd be surprised at how all-in-one it feels when it comes to running older software.
- Windows Movie Maker is known for being very minimalistic. However, fans cracked it open and found that the effects and transitions are simple XML scripts, and with an unused directory flag, you can essentially create your own plug-ins. It's still a barebones video editor (try as you might, you're not getting more than one video track, nor are you able to fix inconsistent aspect ratios), but it definitely makes the fact that you're even using it less obvious.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 1992's The Addams Family 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.
Some credit should go to both the programmers (chiefly Margaret Hamilton) and the operators, especially Jack Garman, one of the engineers in mission control during the landing. He diagnosed the problem immediately based on two four-digit error codes, recognized that it was solveable, and guided the crew through an on-the-fly procedural change to reduce the computer's workload.
- 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 were 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.
- When CompactFlash cards were designed their developers didn't develop a specific interface and protocol for them. Rather, the physical interface was three-fourths of a PCMCIA connector, and they were bilingual, able to speak with the computer either in PCI or common IDE mode. This made them extremely versatile: you could use them as stand-alone memory cards, in a cheap passthrough adapter as memory extensions for laptops or with another passthrough adapter as an IDE "hard disk" in any computer. The format was also small enough to be comfortable but large enough that it could house miniaturized hard disks, or — exploiting the PCI compatibility — expansions that had nothing to do with flash memory. In the flash-memory format wars to follow they would be the favourite for many years, and though SD would eventually overtake them they still hold a well-deserved second place today.