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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
— Excerpt from Fast inverse square root, Quake III: Arena source code note 

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 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 portable-quality compressed music, and you could fit it twenty-two times in a "modern" 3.5" 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.
    • 8088 Domination takes this up to eleven by increasing the resolution, number of colors, and framerate. This goes as far as including the fully voiced FMV Bad Apple!! Note that to squeeze as much performance as possible, each video is actually compiled into its own player program, which essentially constantly rewrites the computer's video buffer.
  • 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, a quarter of 1kb—that's less data than this explanation took up.
    • Brain Waves is the same size but focuses on the visual effects rather than the music, in 256 bytes on the Pentagon (a variation on the Spectrum 128k)
  • Demotronic is a Game Boy Color demo that features parallax scrolling. While parallax is fairly common in 2D games, this demo pulls off vertical parallax, which is unheard of on most systems, especially 8-bit and 16-bit consoles. This also allows to perform hardware scaling, which is combined with rapidly changing the color palette to produce the 3D checkerboard that makes up the first part of the demo.
    • This trick requires cycle-perfect emulation in order to not break. For this reason, the demo also includes some emulator detection (which most current emulators don't trigger, but it was fairly accurate at the time.)
  • Memories, the winner of the Revision 2020 demoparty's 256 byte division, blows A Mind Is Born out of the water by fitting in seven distinct graphical effects, plus smooth transitions between the effects, plus background music. Just look at the live reactions when it was first unveiled.

    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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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, or a separate Super Mario World ROM hack that implements the official game's capture mechanic) and other Super Mario World hacks using the MSU-1 patch. Why is this? Because with a custom patch, they've managed to get digital quality music working on the SNES, as heard/seen here.
    • 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.
  • While the below-mentioned Sonic Robo Blast 2 is an absolute masterwork, its predecessor is also amazing in its own right: by today's standards, the original Sonic Robo Blast is very primitive, and even when it was new, it was a buggy and glitchy mess. At the same time, however, it was one of the most expansive Sonic fangames at the time of its creation, which is no small feat considering the limitations of the two gameplay engines it was made in, Clickteam's "Klik & Play" and "The Games Factory". While the graphics may not have been the best due to being made in MS Paint by a relative novice, the game featured over twelve unique zones (plus secret levels), cutscenes, and myriad Easter eggs, from a pong minigame to hidden sound clips from Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) and Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie.
  • The Baldur's Gate Trilogy. It does everything that the Enhanced Versions did, but a decade earlier and without access to the source code. It also runs a helluva lot faster, and is free!
  • 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.
  • Castlevania Fighter is a Castlevania fangame made in M.U.G.E.N. Rather than being a fighting game as the name and the game's engine would suggest, however, it plays more akin to a Castlevania game, being essentially a long Boss Rush made in an engine meant for fighting games.
  • Dark Souls Remastest is a comprehensive balance overhaul mod for the original PC version of Dark Souls. It also replaces the Battle Of Stoicism PvP mode with Halo-style multiplayer, with power-ups, multiple maps, match-making, and multiple different game modes, all within the game's obtuse scripting language that shouldn't even have the capacity for any of those things. The video on the creation of the mod goes into the process behind it, which involved making custom tools for having imported Halo maps look correct and for translating the Japanese text within the game's source files.
    "Look at this absolute mountain of script. This is capture the god-damn flag, in Dark Souls. Do you even understand how this works? I don't even understand how this works! Literally no one fucking knows what this does!"
  • 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, location-based damage where heads and limbs have different reactions of being shot, 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. The developer even regularly put up demos on many astounding new features announced in the upcoming versions.
    • Then another lone modder decided Brutal Doom's modifications weren't radical enough, so he amped everything up to eleven and created Project Brutality. It went through several phases and at some point generated a bitter fight between supporters of it and of its predecessor, which eventually involved the makers - who have since, thankfully, buried the hatchet. Project Brutality is still being actively developed as of 2020, with new features added regularly.
    • 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. For being limited by the original Doom engine, the whole level pack is a thrill to look at as well as play.
      • 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. The level is so huge, it can seem like sorcery that the vanilla engine is able to handle it (noclip cheats asside).
      • 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.
    • OBLIGE Level Maker allows one to make DOOM level sets in just a few minutes. Random level makers aren't news these days, of course, but what sets OBLIGE apart is the high quality of what it produces all by itself, let alone when you upgrade it with the ObAddon extra pack. Get an unaware player to fight through an urban map - a type particularly hard to convincingly create with the Doom engine - replete with random city features such as shops and park benches and fairly credible street mapping, and they'll probably praise the mapper's skills. It really doesn't look procedurally generated until you play through several maps and start to spot some typical characteristics of semirandom designs.
    • Knee-Deep in KDiZD takes the levels from Knee-Deep in ZDoom, a WAD that was supposed to require ZDoom as its name suggessts, and makes it work in vanilla Doom II with little sacrificed.
    • Sonic Robo Blast 2 may be one of the most celebrated DOOM total conversion mods in the series's history, a complete reworking of the original game into a full-fledged Sonic game.
      • The special stages go one step further. You think making basically the never-made Sega Saturn 3D Sonic in the Doom engine is impressive? The special stages are basically all new NiGHTS into Dreams… Levels played as Super Sonic.
      • If a full-blown Sonic game in DOOM wasn't enough, someone made a mod of THAT to make Sonic Robo Blast 2 Kart, a full-fledged Mario Kart clone! Again, in DOOM!
      • If a Mario Kart clone still isn't good enough, how about a JRPG that mixes Sonic with Persona? Again, in DOOM?
      • Or how about a golf game? AGAIN, IN DOOM?!
      • The base version of SRB2 uses sprites for characters and some environmental assets, which already look great. One modder, however, has created low-poly 3D models that truly stand out visually. And yes, it also works for SRB2 Kart.
  • 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, follow you inside, and chew you out for leaving without her. Who would have thought that an NPC could actually worry about the player and then act on that impulse?
  • Fall from Heaven is one of the oldest mods for Civilization IV, and a lot of that time and effort went into making a magic system that accepted custom Python code from the mod's XML (which is supposed to be just static data). It also improved the base game's terraforming options (using the magic system), added a Dungeons & Dragons-style Alignment system with corresponding diplomacy bonuses and penalties, added elemental damage, resistance, and weaknesses, and re-implemented separate attack and defense values akin to Civ III. While Firaxis releasing most of the game's source code to modders as an official SDK helped a lot, it was still a huge undertaking for the FFH team to put all of that into the mod, and it paid off.
  • Marathon: the fan-made map Missed Island is a decent recreation/parody of the island hub from Myst. It includes a "making of" level to explain all the MacGyvering it took to recreate those puzzles on an engine that was clearly not designed for that.
  • The fan translation of Mother 3 boasts not only a professional quality translation of the game, but also a series of impressive hacks that made it possible to patch the translated text into the game. Needless to say, all of these were accomplished without access to the game's source code. The online README for the project gives a long list of all of these hacks, with many of them featuring comments from the developers that they should have been impossible, but that the team managed to accomplish them anyway.
  • 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.
  • Zippy the Porcupine is a Sonic the Hedgehog Video Game Demake for the Atari 2600 that impressively recreates Sonic's gameplay on the antiquated console, featuring loops, collapsing bridges, moving platforms, and other Sonic staples.
  • 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.
    • In 2020, an anonymous user on 4chan used a decompilation project to port the game to PC. Said port boasts a native 4K resolution, uncropped widescreen, a steady 60 FPS, and even gamepad support. The compiling methods for both the DirectX and OpenGL versions were also provided, which led to a sizable modding community that improved the port even further. Legalities notwithstanding, it's often considered the definitive way to play Super Mario 64.
    • Modder Kaze Emanuar was not satisified with the performance of the original Super Mario 64 engine that he went through the painstaking effort of optimizing the heck out of the engine to achieve double the performance, while increasing the polygon count and texture resolution. As explained in his video, most of the work was based around understanding the quirks of the Nintendo 64, namely that its two main processors, the CPU and RCP, share the same pool of RAM but cannot access it at the same time. So by eliminating unnecessary data, reducing how much data needs to be swapped around, and organizing data in RAM in a way that makes more sense, this allowed Kaze to get such an impressive performance uplift. And with further tweaks, he entertained the idea of multiplayer while still having easily playable frame rates.
  • 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.
  • Much like Super Mario 64, fans have taken to decompiling Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and porting it to PC. The kicker here is that Naughty Dog created their own unique programming language called GOAL to write the Jak games in, meaning that the recompilation project had to reverse-engineer and reimplement this language on PC in order to port the game.

    Video Games (Companies and Individuals) 
  • 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...
    • Created compression tools that allowed NES Golf to have a complete course of 18 holes, back when that was considered a sheer impossibility.
    • ... 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 (1994) 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.
    • ... compressed Pokémon Gold and Silver, which filled the cartridge despite only being half-finished. This was the whole reason that almost the entire Kanto region was able to be included in the games (it was present as early as 1997, but before Iwata's intervention it was heavily condensed to just the size of a large city). 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. As is was revealed, he reviewed the source code for the original games and mapped out for how to make a localized version of it. Game Freak wanted to move over to the next generation in the series at that point, but Iwata insisted on doing the development work for the localization with just Teruki Murukawa assisting him. What made this surprising is that Iwata was the company president of HAL Laboratory at the time. Without Iwata, Pokémon would not be a global phenomenon that it is today. Rest in peace, you wonderful man.
  • Naughty Dog loves to show off their technical prowess.
    • One of the founders, Andy Gavin, found in the mid 90s that C and assembly language, the most common way to program video games at the time, were not enough to make it easy to develop the games he wanted to make. So what does he do? Invent his own version of programming a language. Dubbed "Game Oriented Assembly LISP", he had a basic version for a 3DO game, a more working version for Crash Bandicoot, and enhanced it further for the Jak and Daxter series. Also keep in mind LISP at the time had a reputation for being too slow and mind-screwy to work with.
    • They cut their teeth on the first Crash Bandicoot, which really shows off their technical prowess:
      • 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 meager (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!
      • Rather than manage memory at the byte level, the team used memory paging techniques to handle how data was loaded and organized in RAM. The problem with managing data at the byte level is as things get swapped in and out of RAM, the contents of RAM will eventually have to be compacted so as to leave enough contiguous space for new chunks of data. This is a pretty expensive operation. To combat this, the team organized system memory into 64 KiB pages, which gave them 32 pages to work with. Then data was organized by related items to fit into these pages, which can be unloaded/overwritten easily when they're no longer useful.
      • 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 meshes 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.
    • Sony & Microsoft's seventh and eighth generation game consoles are 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.
  • Traveller's Tales is known for making some pretty good licensed games and showing off their technical powers. The founder even made a video series talking about the games they worked on and how they pulled it off. Here's some notable examples:
    • The Sega Genesis version of Toy Story manages to do a lot of impressive things for the system's standards.
      • For one, 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! note 
        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. Luckily the GBA had a quite powerful CPU for a handheld of its time, so this approach didn't affect gameplay that much.
      • 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.
      • 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 3-D! With texture mapped walls and a solid framerate (for its time), it's astounding what they were able to accomplish with such hardware limitations.
    • 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, and the PS1, which supports both 2D and 3D games, It is, however, a big deal on the Sega Genesis and Sega CD, where all of these effects had to be emulated in software.
    • They also did impressive stuff with Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island and Sonic R, though their examples are found in the "Software" tab.

    Video Games (Hardware) 
  • 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. In fact, it's not just a full fledged C64, it's actually more powerful than a C64 as it supports multiple graphics modes that were added for modders; the documentation is also built into the device. And the whole C64 system is on a single chip. It single-handedly made the name of the hardware engineer, Jeri Ellsworth.
    • The early models of the Atari Flashback were 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 (albeit with noticeable audio issues), even compared to the one used for Virtual Console. It might help that NOE developed the emulator this time. It would later be used for the NES games included with Nintendo Switch Online, with said audio problems amended.
    • While its AV output is nothing to write home about, 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 outright.
    • While not a plug-and-play console, the Spectrum Next features a single chip FPGA-based system similar to the Commodore 64 Plug & Play, which not only simulates all five models of the Spectrum, but adds hardware sprites and tiling, a multicolour frame buffer, DMA support, a raster coprocessor, three sound chips, and an upgraded CPU that can run up to 8 times the speed of the original.
  • The Super Game Boy is a peripheral for the SNES that lets you play Game Boy games and a few select Game Boy Color games on your TV. First off, it's not an emulator (the SNES wasn't capable of emulation of any sort). Open up the cartridge, and you'll find actual Game Boy hardware inside. Literally the only thing that isn't 1:1 with the original Game Boy is the clock speed (and even then, it's not by much, and unless you’re doing an official, recorded speedrun of a gamenote , that doesn't even matter anyway). Probably the most defining feature of the peripheral is the enhancements it would give to the certain games. Very few games made actual use of it (most of the time, you'd just get a custom border and a pre-loaded palette if you were lucky), but the ones that did were Genius Programming in and of themselves.
    • The Game Boy port of Animaniacs completely overrides the soundtrack with music that sounds strikingly similar to the Sega Genesis port (especially odd, considering the game was ported to the SNES itself already, also with a distinct-sounding soundtrack).
    • The Game & Watch Gallery games use the peripheral's borders and palette to make complete 1:1 replicas of the original handhelds when you play in "Classic" mode, as if the remakes didn't look authentic enough already.
    • Probably the most famous game to use the Super Game Boy is the port of Space Invaders. Not only does it include two customs borders that resemble the upright and tabletop versions of the original arcade machine, but it also contains the entire SNES port of the game within the ROM. That's right, it completely overrides the Super Game Boy's own ROM and loads its own. All of this is being read from the game's cartridge and nothing else.
    • Donkey Kong '94, being made as a showcase for the Super Game Boy's power, shows off some of the most impressive tricks of the era. On top of the standard high-quality border, Pauline had an additional voice clip of her crying for help, something that was rare for even full-on SNES games at the time. In addition, the map screen is fully-colored, with no monochrome in sight. How they pulled this off is pretty impressive. Each 8x8 pixel region of the screen could have its own individual color palette; here's that screenshot with the grid shown. Few games ever took advantage of this, because it required extreme planning to make sure the tiles all fit together properly, but those that do can pull off some incredibly impressive effects.

    Video Games (Software) 
  • 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.
  • 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 customizeable vehicle option menu with guns, engines, cars, wheels, missiles, the gun speed..., RPG elements and the sprites are multi-coloured. For an unlicensed developer to do this is a hell of an accomplishment.
  • The year is 1979. The newly created company known as Infocom had the daunting task of taking the 1 MB file for the first Zork game and make it fit into 32k of RAM. Solution? First off, cut the game in half and keep the part that was cut on standby in case of a sequel (of which there were many). Next, create a new programming language just for the game. Then, create a virtual machine for the game to run in. After that, make an encoding program that makes it so most characters could fit into 5 bits instead of 8 and abbreviate a lot of the text in the file. Finally, create enough virtual memory within the virtual machine so that all of the static data would be stored away while the dynamic memory (things you did within the game) takes up 18k. Put all of that together and you have one of the most beloved text adventure games of all time.
  • In rare cases, pirate games manage to outperform official releases.
    • A pirate version of The Lion King called Super Lion King lives up to its name by being more faithful to the Sega Genesis version. Super Lion King, despite omitting 4 levels, includes most of the Adult Simba levels. The graphics, notwithstanding the neon colors and seams on the right and bottom edges, are more elaborate and accurate. The sounds are similarly more faithful; in one case, despite omitting the opening and closing music, the pirate version keeps the music when Simba loses a life. Even when taking into account that the official version is based off the Game Boy version, the official port actually downgraded some of the graphics.
    • Regarding Super Mario World, Nintendo once said that Mario was supposed to have a dinosaur companion since Super Mario Bros., but the Famicom hardware made that impossible. Years later, a pirate port of ''Super Mario World'' came up which did manage to have Mario ride Yoshi in Famicom hardware. In fact, despite being Christmas Rushed to some extent (including missing a lot of levels), the pirate game is a surprisingly accurate port.
    • Behold the NES demake of Final Fantasy VII. Despite simplifying the gameplay and storynote  while omitting extra save files and optional characters note , the main story itself was precisely reproduced. The game also adds a font of hundreds of Chinese characters, the game itself in a 2MB ROM. Some hackers made the game even more awesome with the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children hack, upgrading the graphics while otherwise making them more faithful, restoring a lot of omitted content (including songs and story), rebalancing the game, fixing bugs from the original, and otherwise taking full advantage of the empty space of the original ROM. Topping off all of this is the fact that this was the hacker's first hack.
  • 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). As the game was developed in a time when floating-point arithmetic was relatively slow, this code significantly speeds up the calculation of 1/√x by performing a magic calculation on the bytes of the floating-point number interpreted as if it was an integer. It is very much not obvious what this code even does, hence the "what the fuck?" comment. The last line, an iteration of Newton's method, makes much more sense in comparison. The algorithm runs roughly four times faster than traditional implementations, and still faster than other "optimized" algorithms of the time.
    • The genius part of the algorithm comes from a deep understanding of the math behind it and how computers represent values. The hex number isn't some magical number that the developer of the algorithm discovered by accident, it was deliberately figured out by understanding that most values in computer 3D graphics are scaled down to between 0 - 1 (and all the values in between) and exploiting how logarithms work to figure out the scaling and an error term, with Newton's Iteration just fine tuning the value some more. A video explaining it can be found at here.
    • Just the fact that the games themselves (including Q3A) are programmed in plain C, as opposed of the widely-spread C++. id Software co-founder John Romero once gave a speech in which he revealed some of id's old approaches to coding for the games, which may shed some light on their code being that good:
    "No prototypes. Just make the game. Polish as you go. Don't depend on polish happening later. Always maintain constantly shippable code. We just quantified what needed to be done and went about working on it."
    "It's incredibly important that you game can always be run by your team. Bulletproof your engine by providing defaults upon load failure."
    "Keep your code absolutely simple. Keep looking at your functions and figure out how you can simplify further. We made everything up to Quake in plain C, not C++."
    "Great tools help make great games. Spend as much time on tools as possible. I wrote a tile editor in 1991 called TEd, for Tile Editor. It was used for 33 retail games."
    "We are our own best testing team and should never allow anyone else to experience bugs or see the game crash. Don't waste others' time. Test thoroughly."
    "As soon as you see a bug, you fix it. Do not continue on if you don't fix your bugs, as your new code will be built on a buggy codebase and ensure an unstable foundation."
    "Use a superior development platform than your target. Doom was developed on NeXTSTEP workstations, which was superior to DOS."
    "Write your code for this game only not for some future game. You'll be writing new code later because you're smarter, and you won't be limiting yourself by using old code. Try new things."
    "Encapsulate functionality to ensure design consistently. This minimizes mistakes and saves design time."
    "Try to code transparently. Tell your lead and peers exactly how you're going to solve your current task and get feedback and advice. Do not treat code like a black box."
  • Here is a still from a cutscene in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, rendered in high-definition with the Dolphin emulator. While The Wind Waker is predominantly cel-shaded, the tower pictured is realistically shaded—but the red dot near the bottom of the picture is cel-shaded. The game can run two lighting systems at the same time on a system without programmable shaders! Even in regular gameplay, large landforms like the tower are real-shaded to emulate the matte backgrounds of animated movies.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild pulls off a crazy amount of real-time effects, which most other games would have kept pre-baked, on the underpowered and outdated Wii U. There's Mie scattering for sky color and clouds, atmospheric moisture simulation for rainbows and optical halos, full-on volumetric lighting and shadows, soil erosion variables for sea foam, and an unnecessarily realistic lens flare that takes into account aperture, light intensity, and light scattering. Oh, and there's physically-based rendering for materials, light-probe based global illumination, screen-space reflections within shrines, Unreal Engine Scene Capture 2D - style reflections in the overworld, and sub-surface scattering for translucent materials. And it's all toon-shaded. Honestly, the physics engine is one of the less impressive features of the game.
    • Mention should also be given to the Blood Moon event, which serves two functions. The first function, which is explicitly stated, is to respawn all slain enemies, in addition to refreshing resources such as fruits and ores. The second is to free up system memory to prevent the game from malfunctioning. This second event is so important that if the game detects that it is in danger of running out of system memory, it will automatically trigger what is known as a "Panic Blood Moon", which can occur at any time of day, to prevent the game from crashing.
  • 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.
  • 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 windows to inaccessible areas in A Hat in Time are just 2D textures but look like they are projecting actual rooms. The technique used to do this is cube mapping which is usually used for reflections, but these cube maps are inverted to let the player see what the other side of its surface is reflecting, giving the illusion of a 2D texture projecting a 3D space.
  • 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.
  • Arc System Works has a history of creating gorgeous fighting games, starting with the huge, well-animated sprites of the Guilty Gear games, but then they created Guilty Gear Xrd, a 2˝D fighting game with a visual style that could fool people into thinking it was actually 2D, in Unreal Engine 3, an engine thought to not be remotely designed with these types of games in mindnote , all in a reasonably larger 12GB package on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. They would later top themselves by creating an the better-looking Dragon Ball FighterZ, a current-gen built on Unreal Engine 4. It has gorgeous visuals that emulate the anime perfectly, a fully-voiced story mode, and the option between the original Japanese voice acting or an English dub. The file-size is just under 5GB.
  • 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.
    • Adventure not only takes the honor of being the first console action-adventure game, but had a world composed of 30 screens and was able to keep track of all of them at once.
    • 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. 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. Dennis Debro also 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, and would later be included on the second version of the Atari Flashback Portable.
    • The fan port of Super Mario Bros., which replicated the gameplay style very admirably. It floored James Rolfe when he and Mike tried it on James and Mike Mondays.
    • A 2018 homebrew port of the arcade game Mappy is worthy of mention. It's quite faithful to the arcade game on which it's based, complete with nicely drawn character sprites and a full Ear Worm soundtrack!
    • One would be forgiven for not thinking the infamous E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is an example of genius programming, but the fact that one person was able to make a functioning video game in six weeks for the 2600 is a feat that deserves recognition.
  • 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.
  • 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. He also implemented a text parser for AGS from scratch for Trilby's Notes long before it was implemented natively.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • While the feat was never completed during the Super NES's official run, someone managed to convert Road Blaster, a Data East-developed laserdisk game, into a fully-working SNES ROM. The technology that made this feat possible, the MSU-1 Media Enhancement Chip, was developed well after the SNES was discontinued and was mostly used to add digital-quality music to existing games, but Super Road Blaster demonstrates the chip's ability to support pre-recorded videos as well.
  • Doki Doki Literature Club!: The second loop is basically Dan Salvato going hog-wild with custom Ren'py scripts to do all kinds of crazy things, such as hijacking control of the mouse cursor, overwriting the script in the History section, deliberately rendering all your save files unusable, changing the font, and even enabling a random chance for the title screen to be replaced with a corrupted version of itself upon startup.
  • Doom for the Super Nintendo got a lukewarm reception for its blocky visuals and choppy gameplay, but Randy Linden coding a working port onto the system can be a very interesting case study. The trouble was that Randy didn't even have the original source code to the game and worked out coding a port by studying Matt Fell's Unofficial Doom Specs. Randy developed the game for the Super FX 2 chip with his own homebrew development kit and a copy of Star Fox as some of his tools, and reduced the amount of math required to run the game by using precalculated tables to prevent the hardware from slowing to a crawl due to trigonometric functions. Levels had to be removed to fit the game onto cartridge and the end result wasn't nearly as feature-rich as the original game, but it was quite a feat to see a game like this on SNES hardware, even if it was seen as a Porting Disaster.
  • Doom Eternal looks even prettier than the previous game and widely considered an Even Better Sequel with roughly three times new content while cutting the game size from around 70 gigabytes to around 40 gigabytes. The lack of Snapmap in Doom Eternal cannot be the reason as Snapmap reused most of its content from the single-player and multiplayer contents. As of The Ancient Gods Part II, the Grand Finale of the game's story, it's rightfully equal in storage size.
  • Dragon's Lair was a really impressive game at the time, and still holds up today. What's really impressive is the machine's hardware. All the game is is a LaserDisc player, with the controls simply telling the game to switch to certain frames (a lot of home versions even retain this, albeit by separating the game's scenes into chapters instead). That being said, LaserDisc is both a blessing and a curse, but it's still impressive because of how minimalistic it is.
  • 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.
  • 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 Elder Scrolls
    • The first game in the series, The Elder Scrolls: Arena, was an impressive early feat in Procedural Generation for games, with a massive world filled with dozens of towns, hundreds of dungeons, and innumerable NPCs in addition to a full-fledged day/night cycle (with the path of the sun varying based on player latitude). The sequel, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall has a 62,394 square mile world 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.
    • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, with its large seamless overworld and quality graphics, pushed the original Xbox to its absolute limits. This necessitated some genius programming utilizing a little known trick - a background reboot of the system. Once the system memory is nearly full, the game puts up a loading screen while rebooting the Xbox in the background. This clears the memory, allowing you to keep playing, while explaining some of those excessive 3+ minute loads.
    • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion featured the first appearance of Bethesda's "Radiant AI", highly sophisticated NPC AI that makes each character in the game's world, down to the lowliest serf, a fully-fledged character. The system essentially gives NPCs a list of tasks to undertake throughout the day, like "Eat a meal at 2 PM" for instance, and gives them broad latitude in how to accomplish these tasks. In the case of eating a meal: one NPC may eat this meal at home at the appointed time, but if you stole the food from their house, they will venture out to procure more food. In so doing, they may put themselves in danger contending with monsters or bandits. With NPCs given freedom to achieve tasks in whatever way they see fit, Radiant AI helps to give the world of the game an organic and natural feeling. The tech would later be used and improved upon in further games, from Fallout 3 to Skyrim.
  • 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 was 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 1.4MiB floppy.
    • Elite Dangerous continues the tradition, using cloud computing to create a full-scale replica of the Milky Way.
  • 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? Gimmick! (1992) 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!
  • Treasure Master was a contest based game for the NES, but the existence of the Game Genie would lead to players cheating. The developers knew that this is bound to happen, so they made the game be able to detect if the Game Genie was being used and prevent it from running. It wasn't until years later when fans discovered a code that bypasses it, but by then, the contest was well over.
  • Genshin Impact ran well, and the PC version, in some cases, maintain 60fps even in older or less-than-capable PC specifications. While great optimizations are not special, the game is an open-world game made to run in the Unity engine, which were infamous for being unable to optimize 3D games well, especially the kind of open-world presented in Genshin Impact.
  • 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, this time with the sound intact.
  • Gunpei Yokoi had a philosophy to video game hardware design called "lateral thinking with withered technology": instead of jumping onto the cutting edge of newly developed technology, he espoused the virtue of using technology that is cheap and commonplace in new and creative ways. It is this philosophy that gave rise to the Game & Watch series, using technology that was already commonplace in digital LCD calculators and repurposing them into simple yet fun portable games (with a digital watch built in as well). It was this design philosphy that also gave rise to the Game Boy: while other handheld consoles from competitors, like the Atari Lynx and Game Gear, boasted full color and backlit screens, Yokoi opted instead to use monochromatic graphics. This turned out to be a great boon, as this eased the power requirements of the Game Boy (the Lynx and Game Gear were notorious battery eaters) while providing a portable gaming experience on par with the NES, allowing the Game Boy to not only outlast its competition, but see continued use and development from its debut in 1989 to its discontinuation in 2003 - an impressive fourteen years! Even after his departure from Nintendo and subsequent passing, the company that he helped become a dominant force in the industry still continues to use his philosophy, foregoing cutting-edge technology in favor of using cost-effective technology in new ways.
  • Hitman's "World of Assassination" trilogy has been a gradual demonstration of how possible it is to make data compression and optimization look like witchcraft. It was one thing for Hitman 2 to contain the entirety of Hitman (2016) within itnote , but then came Hitman 3, which not only contained its standalone content, it also contained that of 2016 and 2, and unexpectedly shrunk the install size by around 80GB, more than half of the of the expected sum. Thanks to advances in compression technology and asset loading, the infamously bloated 150GB of 2 was compressed into approximately 10MB, leaving 3 sitting at a very comfortable 60-70GB with virtually no loss in quality.
  • Many of the games made by Humongous Entertainment were quite impressive feats, all things considered. 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. In fact, they even managed to add a physics engine into the game for the actual outfield play. All this on an engine originally designed for scripting point-and-click adventures like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, and absolutely nothing else.
  • Infinitode 2 deserves a mention for its unbelievable level of compression even for a smartphone game that still lets it run well. As of 2020, the game weighs 11MB - a megabyte less than the original Infinitode. However, the game has dozens of towers and maps, several pieces of music, a map editor, and has been translated into 15 languages.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 updates the locations of every character at every point in the game. (Even then, Majora's Mask requires extra RAM from an N64 accessory to run, making it even more impressive that Ocarina of Time can make do without it.) 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 digital audio files.
    • Nintendo has quite a history with impressively small 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 60 to 100 GB in size, with 20 to 30 GB being considered "small", Nintendo has managed to keep many of their big titles quite compact. Some of the highlights include:
  • While being more known as a game designer than a game programmer, Masahiro Sakurai programmed the enemy patterns in Kirby's Dream Land entirely in hexadecimal with nothing but a trackball on a custom Famicom IDE. What makes this even more impressive is that each enemy has its own individual path.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is remarkably well-optimized on all platforms, but on PC, 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, all the while the game uses Denuvo Anti-Tamper, a x64 based copy protection made by the same firm as Securom yet without its flaws... until a version in 2017 anyway. That and the game was one of the last high profile release for the Playstation 3 and XBOX 360 with relatively little loss in fidelity, is a testament to meticulous optimization that shouldn't even be possible.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Nintendo is generally known as having some of the worst netcode in the gaming industry, with their online multiplayer generally panned for being unreliable and lag-prone. Thus, when Nintendo released the first batch of SNES games for Nintendo Switch, people were shocked to find that the included online multiplayer ran incredibly well - by successfully using rollback to reduce input latency and host migrating on the fly based on whose turn it is, it manages to have smoother netcode than most of the Nintendo games that run natively on Switch. As a bonus, consider that getting emulators to work well at all online is generally very difficult. Note that this does not apply to the NES app, where the online experience is generally considered quite poor.
  • While the PlayStation Portable was well-regarded in terms of its graphical capabilities (regarded as being superior to the Nintendo DS), few would expect the system to be able to have good ports of contemporary console games like the PlayStation 3. That, however, is the beauty of the PSP port of Tekken 6. Even though some cuts had to be made to fit the game onto a UMD (the story mode couldn't be included), the core gameplay is exactly like on the consoles, and the graphics are easily on par with the PS3.
  • 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 
  • Prehistorik Man, or rather its Game Boy version. The intro features a full parallax scrolling with layers (the trees are in front of Sam and the text boxes he's dragging, which themselves are in front of the foliage background), on a system with no layers at allnote . This is topped off by a track that's more than decent for a Game Boy game.
    • Each level intro features text scrolling away in 3D, which is done in software, by actually changing the color palette while the screen is being drawn, which requires cycle-perfect accuracy to be properly emulated..
    • The game itself plays pretty well, featuring decent animation for a Game Boy game, as well as some parallax effects that simulate layers.
  • 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.
  • The Source Engine. Despite starting life as the Quake engine, Valve created a versatile and thoroughly reliable engine that's still in use today. Cheap off-the-shelf computers can run Source games with little problem, and older games have almost no compatibility issues with newer machines. A large part of its longevity is its very modular nature; pieces of the engine are constantly being updated and rewritten, so that like the Theseus' Ship Paradox it bears no relation to what it started out as while maintaining the same basic accessibility.
  • Rare were continually able to pull 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Fractalus also features enemy aliens disguising themselves as the pilots you're supposed to rescue. If you let one of them approach the ship, everything seems to go fine.. until they jump up right in front of the viewport and punch through it! This was possibly the first ever Jump Scare in a video game, partly because since it involves moving large graphics around quickly, this was much harder to do on those older machines than it is now. Although it might not be so remarkable to a modern player, people who played it in that era remember it as sheer Nightmare Fuel.
  • Early games in the Resident Evil series had to contend with loading that threatened to break the Survival Horror games' tense pacing. To get around this issue, the developers showed animations of doors opening whenever players traveled between separate areas, disguising the load times while keeping the pace. As the series progressed, developers even managed to throw curveballs by having zombies attack the player through the doors on occasion, increasing the tension further.
  • On the subject of squeezing two-disc PlayStation games onto tiny cartridges, a Game Boy Color port of Resident Evil was in the works. The game would never be finished or officially released, but from what can be seen from the prototype ROM, it was an impressive effort that managed to replicate much of the original game's gameplay on the GBC: the tank-style controls and static camera angles remain intact, sprites scale realistically as characters move towards or away from the camera, and even the series's iconic "door opening" loading screens are faithfully recreated.
  • 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.note 
  • Resistance 2 allowed 60 people online in one game with no frame rate issues. 60!
  • 1995's Rise of the Triad ran on a heavily modified version of the Wolfenstein 3-D 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."
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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).
  • 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 11th 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.
  • 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 4 megabytes! It's very difficult to emulate at full speed, although it can be done.
  • 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.
  • Micro Mages is an 8-bit Retraux game, but unlike Shovel Knight, is made for actual NES hardware. More importantly, it uses the same ROM design as Super Mario Bros. — no bank-switching, no mapper chips, no extra space, only 40kb of data. Despite these limitations, the game manages to have eight worlds with multiple unique bosses, a hard mode with remixed level layouts, and four player co-op. The developers even released a video explaining some of the techniques that let them pull it off.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Most of the classic side-scroller Sonic games 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, among other creative background trickery. Additionally, the physics were really impressive for the time; many people's jaws dropped when they came across their first loop-de-loop. Sonic 3 & Knuckles in particular was able to seamlessly transition between acts seemingly without moving the player character or swapping out any visible art, by way of tricks such as placing a perfect replica of the end of one area at the start of the next one and making sure that any art which is swapped out isn't visible during the transition (by, for instance, swapping out the background while the character is going through a tunnel which obscures said background). And as for how well optimized the games themselves were, in the first game, the "SE-GA" jingle at the beginning used one-eighth of the space of the four-megabit (approximately 512KB) cartridge. This is to be expected from the expert programmer Yuji Naka, given that this is the man who created a NES emulator for the Genesis... in his spare time, for fun.
    • Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island is one of the games that pushed the Mega Drive to its limit, with amazing Pre-Rendered Graphics, impressive visual effects, and even a pre-rendered cutscene, something that many believed impossible on cartridge games. And when it crashes, it doesn't even look like anything has gone wrong - the game just takes the player to the level select screen, while congratulating them on finding a "secret".
    • Sonic R is a technical wonder, displaying effects believed impossible on the Saturn like distance fading, transparent polygons or environment mapping. And that's to say nothing of the environments, which were extremely detailed and vibrant, putting other contemporary racing games to shame and holding up against some of the best looking Nintendo 64 games.
    • Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric of all games 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.
    • Tiger Electronics games are not known for their technical sophistication, essentially being off-brand Game & Watch handhelds. Their take on Sonic Adventure, however, is quite impressive: 3D levels that resemble those from the original Dreamcast game fairly well, unique bosses, and even cheat codes are featured. See for yourself!
    • The Nintendo Switch version of Sonic Forces definitely counts. Rather than developing a seperate version for the weaker hardware, the developers managed to port the game from the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions. Sure, the graphics had to be downgraded, but they managed to leave everything intact, and the file size for the game was cut down to be about a third of the size compared to the other versions as well!note 
  • 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. In the original game however, this was only possible with the Wii U gamepad, as the console's Pro Controller lacked a gyroscope, and humorously, the only alternative was to attach a Wii Remote on top of the controller with string or rubber bands. Its sequel, Splatoon 2, rectified this, as both the Joy-Cons and Nintendo Switch Pro Controller have gyroscopes, making it much more accessible. It's for this reason that, when a shooter gets released for the Switch, it's pretty much expected to have gyro controls as an option, because the added precision is just that useful.
  • 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.
  • The classic Spyro trilogy games' renderer 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.
  • Starcraft II is not merely an RTS, it is a General-purpose game engine. Blizzard approves.
  • 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 Starglider 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.
  • 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.
  • A lot of people will tell you that Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel look absolutely gorgeous on native hardware. Just look at it! It just goes to show that 480p is all you need to make a game look great. When the first game was re-released as part of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, it looked even better. Now sporting a 1080p resolution, and running at a native 16:9.
  • Super Smash Bros.:
    • 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).
    • Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is an impressive feat in squeezing out every ounce of a modestly powerful handheld console's capabilities to deliver a game experience on par with consoles. The game runs at 60 frames per second, even with 3D on, and the characters remain as fluidly animated as they would be on the Wii U (aside from Assist Trophies, summoned Pokemon, and Olimar's Pikmin, all of which are 30 FPS). Pulling this off required so much power from the 3DS that base models of the console were practically incapable of doing anything but play the game until it was closed.
  • 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.
  • 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 to form Tri-Ace) which was even more technically bonkers: while it didn't have a full vocal song like Tales did, its introductory cutscene was fully voiced (in English with Japanese subtitles, no less)!
  • The NES version of Tecmo Super Bowl, a licensed National Football League title released in 1991, not only keeps thorough overall statistics on all 28 teams featured, it even keeps track of rushing, passing, kicking, interceptions, and scoring for each player which can also be sorted by conference. With 30 players on each of the 28 NFL teams present—840 players total—that's a pretty impressive database feature for an NES game of its vintage!
  • Terrifying 911, while mostly known for using footage of the 9/11 attack as its FMV intro (which for a Game Boy Color title is impressive on its own), manages to replicate the arcade Metal Slug very competently and is often rumored to have been meant as an official port. The animations are incredibly fluid and accurate (stuff like the edge-hanging animation is carried over), the backgrounds are detailed and loaded as stripes, and the framerate doesn't suffer for it.
  • Tokimeki Memorial received Game Boy Color adaptations. On the one hand, the limitations of the system meant that the full roster of girls could not be included in one cart, necessitating the release of two different versions with the cast of girls spread across them. On the other hand, the games have voice acting! On a Game Boy!
  • 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.
  • The mainline Touhou Project games definitely count. Lord knows how many bullets can be drawn on the screen at once, and the weakest of processors don't choke in the slightest. The worst you'll ever get is a minor frame drop. This is because Touhou is not actually that technologically advanced of a game; it doesn't require any optimization algorithms or binary tree searching or something to reduce computational complexity. Most modern laptops are typically more than capable of computing the linear interpolations required for drawing the bullets to the screen.
  • Most 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....
  • The graphics of the first Virtua Fighter are all rendered with flat polygons only: no textures whatsoever. This goes for stages and characters, from their clothing to even their facial animations, an impressive feat for one of the earliest 3D fighting games.
  • X Com UFO Defense, released in 1994, was programmed to run on an Intel 80386, a microprocessor released in 1985. The game's AI only takes up a few scant kilobytes of space. To this day, lead programmer Julian Gollop still can't recall exactly how he was able to pull off creating a full-fledged in-depth strategy game under these conditions!
  • It's already impressive enough that Xenoblade Chronicles 1 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 truly mindboggling 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 spinoff, Xenoblade Chronicles X, also 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.

    Video Games (Anti Piracy and Coding Misc.) 

  • 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 
  • Denuvo Anti-Tamper basically uses the same method as Spyro: Year of the Dragon, but benefits highly due to the common x64 architecture of PC nowadays and avoids the aforementioned 10 seconds access. Hasn't stopped people from cracking it, however, though the cracking process is dramatically slowed down.
  • Raw assembly programming allowed ZSNES to run games at full speed well before its competition. Though it has been outclassed by more modern emulators and fell out of favor with the emulation scene due to compatibility issues and newer emulators like bsnes preferring more machine-accurate emulation, the ZSNES was still ahead of its time for its efficiency and speed, and to this day still being used for some Fan Translation patched games that won't work on newer machine-accurate emulators.
  • The concept of arbitrary code execution has been used in some rather mind-blowing technical demonstrations. Basically, arbitrary code execution refers to the act of exploiting a glitch to execute RAM data as processor instructions. While the concept itself is not recent (this is a common method for viruses to gain control of a system), even with regard to its usage within video gamesnote , the concept became revolutionary within the TAS community after the following events:
    • This TAS of Pokémon Yellow begins with using a save corruption glitch to swap around chunks of memory using the item menu. Normal for those used to watching TASes. Imagine, though, the jaws that dropped when the game played a chiptune rendition of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic theme song, without any sort of ROM hacking or cheating done whatsoever.
      • A sequel TAS by MrWint took this even further. By glitching the game into a state where it can read from the Game Boy Color's joypad inputs at a rate of much higher than the usual sixty frames per second, MrWint manages to get Pokémon Yellow to transform into different games, and culminates in streaming shockingly high-quality audio and video to the Game Boy Color. One would be shocked to know that everything shown in the video is completely possible within the confines of the cartridge, using only inputs and legitimate glitches to pull off.
    • Super Mario World has been subject to these kinds of exploits. Players such as Masterjun and SethBling have discovered that by using glitches and adjusting various factors in the game environment such as the position of shells in order to affect the behavior of the glitches, you can use arbitrary code execution to turn the game environment itself as a programming environment. The mechanics become more obvious once they are explained to a savvy user, but having to figure all of this out beforehand and abusing it to its fullest takes a special kind of mindset. Through these glitches, with no external cheating devices or ROM-hacking devices whatsoever, players have been able to...
    • While not specifically a speedrun, this video uses similar principles on the original release of Gran Turismo 2, exploiting a nasty garage erasing Game-Breaking Bug to allow for less license tests to complete a license and quickly reach the money cap.
    • Ladies and gentlemen, the most awesome use of ACE ever: the The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Triforce% run. With just a vanilla 1.0 version of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a plain, unmodified N64 and a TASbot... and a capable human speedrunner as the bot's partner, this run showcases not only all the Dummied Out content on the cartridge, but then also goes as far as injecting new content to tie them all together with a completely new story, and then, injects a completely custom ending with custom voice acting, custom models and textures, and custom dialog for its climax as the icing on the cake. Then, as the cherry on the top, injects in names harvested from the Twitch chat room API in real time. All this while keeping the game still playable by a human. Keep in mind that, as mentioned below, this game is already quite a marvel when it was released in 1998. This Retro Game Mechanics Explained video explains the dirty details on how all the wizardry is achieved to those who're curious.

    Other Software 
  • 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.
  • 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, and even features that Windows itself doesn't support, such as out-of-the-box Btrfs support.
    • As of May 2016, ReactOS can run Skyrim, as seen here.
    • Compared to modern versions of Windows, ReactOS is also quite lightweight, requiring (as of 2018) just 96 megabytes of RAM and 500 megabytes of storage, compared to 1 gigabyte of RAM and 16 gigs of storage for the 32 bit edition of Windows 10.
    • 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. Since 2018, Wine has even come integrated with Steam as Proton, which allows for many Steam games that don't have native Linux versions to run on Linux with minimal or no tweaking.
    • 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).
    • While similarly slow, Exodus is an open-source Sega Genesis emulator that prioritizes 100% emulation accuracy of the architecture of the Genesis, on top of being rife with numerous debugging tools.
    • BGB is a Game Boy emulator that perfectly runs games using cycle-perfect tricks (such as Prehistorik Man, mentioned above). The zipped emulator clocks in at a meagre 421 kB, runs even on low-end Windows 95 computers at full speed, features impressive debugging tools that actively warn against undesirable behavior, and the kicker: it's coded in Pascal.
    • 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!
  • Bleem! was a commercially released PSX emulator for Windows. Notoriously buggy as it was, when the Bleem team boasted better looks than the native versions they weren't kidding. What's even more impressive is that it used software rendering to do this, which at the time was the better-than-nothing fallback option for people who couldn't afford a 3D accelerator. Support for the then-burgeoning 3DFX graphics card was present as well, making the graphics look even better. Sure Bleem! was dueling with Connectix VGS, which had less bugs and more compatibility at the expense of 3D accelerator support, but Bleem! graphical enhancing techniques was amazing and unbelievable at the time.
    • Bleem were accused by Sony of promoting piracy of Playstation games. Their defence was that not only was Bleem programmed to run only legitimately bought Playstation CDs, but it actually implemented the Playstation's copy protection more securely than the actual Playstation did.
  • RPCS3 is a PlayStation 3 emulator that as of September 2022, is fully compatible with just over 68% of the system's back catalog, which works out to over 2200 games, despite the console's notoriously complex hardware architecture. This includes Persona 5, which was playable on the emulator prior to the game's Western release.
  • 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, or HE-AAC. 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. 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 "nothing big and professional". Fast forward a few years and Linux basically runs the world; comparatively few people run it on desktops (though this number is increasing), 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 mobile devices running Android,note  and the infrastructure it all depends on runs on it almost exclusively. It also has support for a massive range of CPU architectures, even ones as old as the 486!
    • Linus Torvalds also wrote Git in two days. He also made some of the most widely used computer software in the world casually and made it open source.
  • Masi Oka was apparently in charge of coming up with genius programming for Industrial Light & 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.
    • iOS 11's facial recognition. More specifically, you only need to set it up once; there's no need to go through the process ever again. You could grow a mustache, dye your hair, or even be cosplaying, and it will still recognize you if your face isn't completely covered up. Literally the only flaw with this feature (and they do tell you this) is if someone else looked exactly like you. But of course, those chances are very slim.
  • Windows XP holds the record for the longest-supported Windows OS, and still sees a fair amount of use even four years after support was ended in 2014 (to the point that Microsoft released critical security updates to protect it against WannaCry and BlueKeep in 2017 and 2019, respectively). 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 (at least pre-Directx 11 and pre-x64 applications) natively with little to no problems (though that may have something to do with it being the last OS to fully support 16-bit architecture. And while software-based compatibility layers such as WineVDM exist, which allows 16-bit applications to run natively on modern versions of Windows, they mostly rely heavily on hardware emulation. Which, while competent, is less accurate, and prone to compatibility issues). 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 drivers built right in (although newer soundcards aren't built in, resulting in lack of sound until the user installs a compatible sound driver). It's by no means an operating system you can still use today, but some may keep that installation disc around; you'd be surprised at how all-in-one it feels when it comes to running older software on functional older computers or virtual machines with emulated drivers.
  • Then came Windows 7, which has full 32-bit and 64-bit support (no 16-bit support on the 64-bit version). So much that even three years after the mainstream support ended in 2015 and no longer being available on retail channels or any kind of official store, Windows 7, particularly the 64-bit system (x64), will happily run pretty much any games and applications not programmed with the new Windows 10 UWP API (which, due to the lack of cross-platform documentations, its adoptions isn't widespread enough). Even as of 2018 pretty much all games that not on the Windows 10 Store will list Windows 7 as its minimum requirement, and it will run natively with little to no problems on the Windows 7 side.
  • One of the new features introduced in Windows 7 is built in sound driver. Windows 8 and 10 adds built in network drivers in the installation, removing the need for installing additional drivers. That being said, for some builds, it is recommended to use the provided manufacturer drivers in case of the "stock" drivers becoming glitchy.
  • 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 by creating a specific directory, you can essentially make 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 entirety of Windows 95 was ported to Electron. The OS is contained in a relatively small application, and it doesn't even require that much processing power like a virtual machine running the OS would. It's completely open source.
  • Video compression has advanced a long way, enabling HD Video to fit into absurdly small files. For example:
    • H265 and it's royalty-free counterpart VP9 can make file sizes even smaller with less noticable block artifacts than their predecessors, and were a boon for content providers (Such as YouTube) who wished to provide HD Video hosting and save as much bandwidth as possible. For their time, advanced codecs like these required significant processor power to create a file, but are effective enough to fit 2-4 hours of HD Video onto a DVD with surprisingly-good quality in exchange. The quality is adjustable to taste for high-fidelity backups that still require less storage than its predecessors. VP9 has the advantage of obfuscating compression artifacts even in heavily compressed videos, taking advantage of how we tend to notice less static details in videos with a lot of motion
    • The successor to VP9, AV1 allowed even smaller file sizes, letting you fit even more video backups onto a given media, though it naturally required significantly more processing time than H265 or VP9 and needed to wait for CPU advancements to catch up for it to compress in a practical time frame. With the correct settings and input files (such as animation), even consumer-grade hardware can generate compressed files small enough that a full ten hours of HD footage can be squeezed onto a DVD or nearly two hours onto a single CD-ROM with minimal visual impact.
    • For an example of this compression in action, someone managed to fit a nearly 5 minute video onto a floppy disk. Granted it's not even SD resolutions, but if you compare it to other video codecs used around the time of Windows 98 and XP's heyday, the quality is simply much better.
    • HQDN3D noise filtering is another trick to further reduce files sizes. It selectively looks for "noisy" parts of the video and smooths those over, helping make solid colors completely still and allowing the video encoder to lower the bit rate further without introducing noticable artifacts. The clever part of this filter is that it discerns between noise and edge details to minimize loss of crisp edges.
  • There was an experimental software program in the early '80s named HACKER. Its output was rudimentary - stacking blocks - but it could solve unexpected problems on its own (for example: if the operator told it to put block B, currently under block A, on top of block C. When the program attempted to execute the command, it was flagged as illegal because according to the program's rules, a block underneath another block cannot be moved. The subroutine "If a block underneath another block is required to be moved, move the top block before moving the bottom block", was not written into the code by the developers, but the program was able to reason the solution out, and retain it so that if the same command was input again, it would not have to waste time trying to carry out the illegal action, it would simply follow the new subroutine it had created).
  • Iterative learning gaming AI, usually developed as proof of concept rather than for actual games, is quite impressive to see. Given a goal that gives it points when reached, obstacles that subtract points, and enough time, it'll start with some random actions to see what happens and as it learns what works it'll gradually build a more and more detailed path to achieve the goal. This can take a while - in the order of tens of thousands of iterations, as it only applies random variations rather than actual intelligence - but eventually it'll develop scarily effective ways of reaching the goal, often exploiting bugs in the environment such as having Mario walljump or ejecting adverse objects out of the world.
  • Modern home grown operating systems, custom made, especially when you considering what it takes wrangle in modern hardware:
    • An (in)famous example is the late Terry Davis' TempleOS. Despite its limitations (16-color only, PC-speaker sound, no networking, a GUI that seems more keyboard driven than mouse drive) and its quirks (the whole Biblical theme), Terry managed to create a more or less functioning operating system, using its own programming language that doubled as the shell language, and even supported 3D graphics (it came with a rudimentary flight simulator). All of that was accomplished by one man. It's been described by some as something like the Commodore 64 Kernal system software, but for x86-64 machines.
    • Another contender is SerenityOS, also mostly developed by a single person who wanted something that tailored to his requirements. It does have limitations (it can't actually be booted into, you have to compile it and it launches itself as a VM), but it's functional to a point where you could drop it into a 90s computer and it wouldn't be out of place. Not just in look, but in general. And unlike other custom built operating systems that companies or other people might create, SerenityOS relies on no third party source code.

    Other uses 
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 FunHouse, 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.
    • 1989's Black Knight 2000 was acclaimed for having one of the best soundtracks for a pinball game, but according to an article by Brian Schmidt (one of the game's composers), getting the System 11 hardware (which Black Knight 2000 used) to play the vocals along with the music was impossible to do at the time, until Ed Boon (the game's programmer, and who would later go on to create Mortal Kombat) made it work.
    Brian Schmidt: In fact, the ability of the music system (one computer board) to control the speech chip (which was on a wholly separate processor board) was thought to be impossible until Ed Boon finagled a way to make it happen; without that, there would be no Choir of Angels or taunting knight in the BK2K themes.
  • 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.
    • If that's not enough for you, try its follow-up, written in 128 cycles/languages, among those Velato, whose source file is MIDI, and Piet, whose source file is an image!
  • 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 1440 KiB 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.
  • Introducing the Samsung Gear VR. All the functions of an Oculus Rift, but in a more affordable form that only requires your smartphone. And by "Oculus Rift", we seriously mean "Oculus Rift". The device actually uses the Oculus firmware and HMD instead of just using the phone's accelerometer like other phone-based VR systems do. All you have to do is plug in an Android phone with a Micro-USB port that can fit inside it. While there's not much of an install base for the device as of this writing, theoretically, you could port anything that uses the Oculus runtime, and it'll work with some light tweaks.
  • AMD Zen's CPU architecture. Their last CPU architecture, Bulldozer, was met with a lot of issues leaving it behind Intel for much of the first half of 2010. Unlike other CPU manufacturers of the time, AMD didn't have the luxury of building from an existing design. Instead, they made an entirely new processor design with a focus on per-core improvement over the Bulldozer-derived Excatvator. Taking about 5 years from the start of the first hire who would spearhead the project to release, AMD had come back to near parity with its rival Intel. This on top of offering more cores for a lower price point and having a more efficient design allowed it to clobber Intel who was struggling with their manufacturing processes. Within three years of iterating on Zen, AMD finally managed to beat Intel on per-core performance.
  • The processor in Apple's iPhone 5s, the A7, deserves a mention. Not only was it the first commercially available ARMv8 processor, ARM's first 64-bit instruction architecture, but Apple did such a good job implementing it that performance-wise, it was a generation ahead of everyone else's ARMv8 designs, including ARM's own Cortex-A57. Apple kept the performance crown throughout the rest of the decade and their designs have now managed to be or tie for the position of having the fastest single-core performance period.
    • The GPU in the M1 is no slouch either, having similar performance to that of $150 video cards in certain cases, but doing this in a 15W package whereas those video cards need 40W or more.
  • From the Reader's Digest Book of Facts (1984), p.246: Stanford University computer science professor Doug Lenat began leaving his computer to work on problems by itself outside of office hours in order to see the results. By 1983, the computer had produced a new microchip design, and (allegedly) decided that it was human and not a machine (in other words, it had achieved "Cogito, ergo sum").
  • The PCI Express interface. The way it was designed made it one of the most flexible peripheral interface in computers. PCI Express as of 2021 was about 17 years old and there's no plans to replace it with anything else. PCI lived for about 13 years before the last expansion cards built for it were made, and the earlier ISA slot lasted about 14-15 years. And unlike the previous expansion slot standards, which had physical incompatibilities, PCI Express technically has no such limitation. On top of this, PCI Express is both forwards and backwards compatible. It has since been adapted into other connectors as well, such as the Thunderbolt and M.2 which use the PCI Express signalling standard to carry data.
  • NVIDIA's Maxwell architecture could be described as what happens when engineers get pushed up a wall and are asked to still deliver. For context, the size of transistors at the time was at 22nm and GPUs tended to use every "half-node", which at this time would've been 20 nm. However, there were issues trying to get 20nm ready and NVIDIA really wanted to get a new GPU out. So instead of delaying the product out until 20nm was ready, NVIDIA looked at their existing Kepler architecture and figured out how to re-arrange elements around to squeeze out more performance per element. They then implemented this on a lower-midrange card to iron out any issues with the design. The hope being this stop-gap would let them get the architecture ready for 20nm. What NVIDIA found was Maxwell's efficiency was so much better than Kepler's, they could still build a high-end GPU on 28nm that performed better than the previous generation using fewer transistors. Maxwell was refined for the next-gen Pascal architecture, this time using 14nm (technically 16nm) trasistor process, a two generation leap over 28nm. This allowed Pascal to have one of the best bang-for-buck video card lineups.

     In-Universe examples 
  • In A Saga of Parallel Worlds, the localized version of Final Fantasy VI contains a vocalized Opera scene. Wolfteam helped Square with programming it in because Wolfteam didn't want their sample driver to go unused after Tale Phantasia was moved from the cartridge-based SNES to the SNES-CD mid-development. Many gamers including Tom Kalinske and Polly Klaas thought this was impossible for a cartridge-based game, and were stunned when a major RPG did it. The Opera scene became the game's Signature Scene, and ended up making the game the best-selling RPG on the cartridge-based SNES.

Alternative Title(s): Idiot Programming