Sugar Wiki / Genius Programming
aka: Idiot Programming

float Q_rsqrt( float number )
 long i;
 float x2, y;
 const float threehalfs = 1.5F;
 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 iteration
// y = y * ( threehalfs - ( x2 * y * y ) ); // 2nd iteration, this can be removed
 return y;
Fast inverse square root, Quake III Arena Source Code

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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The Demoscene is Genius Programming pretty much by definition, as it was born in an age where 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 fourteen times in a floppy disk and more than 10900 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).
    • 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.
  • 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, 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, and other things that the original IBM PC with a CGA card (on a composite monitor) should not be doing.
    • Also, 4 channel music with a one channel beeper.
  • Due to their experience with procedural generation, many demoscene programmers were hired to work on Spore.
  • There exists a BASIC code one only one line long that is capable of generating mazes.[1]

    Video Games 
  • 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,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.
  • 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.
    • Elite: Dangerous continues the tradition, using cloud computing to create a full-scale replica of the Milky Way.
  • 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), nor can it be ported to any other platform besides x86. 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.
  • 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, 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).
  • 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, we'd like to introduce you to the late, great Satoru Iwata, once Nintendo's global president and the acting president of HAL Labs 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...
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Most Americans outside of 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 write Japanese versions of these words (sometimes, I think Rakuen for Heaven at least works and also some of the elements). All of this from an English key input translation. Let this sink in...
  • It's already impressive enough that Xenoblade Chronicles 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 it wasn'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.
  • As ridiculous as it sounds, most games on the Atari 2600 quality 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 the console literally shouldn't have been able to do.
    • The home brew 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.
      • 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.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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:
  • 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 "not 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 

    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.
    • 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 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Idiot Programming