A friend recently let me know of a tiny program (opens new window) that runs a 3D scene with both audio and video. How tiny? The executable, a .com file, is 64 bytes in size (yeah, that's pretty damn small!), and the camera view is a flyover of a grassy field with a blue sky above. The audio is a single note played once, overlaid with the sound of a helicopter's whirring blades and a periodic swooshing noise that sounds like the wind. It seems too amazing to be real, especially when you've seen the video:
Being inquisitive and skeptical, I decided to grab the code and try to run it in DOSBox (opens new window). Luckily, the developer had included a config file for DOSBox in his code archive. All I needed to do was install DOSBox and launch the binary.
First, installing software on Windows is a lot easier if we use Chocolatey (opens new window):
choco install -y dosbox
Once DOSBox is installed, we just need to find out which folder it was installed to (
C:\Program Files (x86)\DOSBox-0.74-3\) and figure our our command to run in powershell:
& "C:\Program Files (x86)\DOSBox-0.74-3\DOSBox.exe" -fullscreen -conf .\dosbox-0.74.conf -c "mount C ." -c "C:\in2war64.com"
The command line options above run DOXBox fullscreen (
-fullscreen), load our custom config (
-conf .\dosbox-0.74.conf), mount the current folder as the C drive (
-c "mount C ."), and launch the binary from the C drive (
This command can be dropped into a powershell script file in the same folder as the code, so that we can run it easily. Just create a file with a .ps1 extension (I used
dosbox.ps1) and double click on the file to launch.
# What? How?
The important thing to realise here is that these 64 bytes of code are not creating a 3D environment with textured grass, sky and a soundtrack. The code uses a few clever tricks to fake these things. Each trick does something to either the screen or audio output, and when put together they end up giving the impression of a 3D flyover of a field.
Someone far cleverer than me has delved into what's going on (opens new window) over on Reddit. I recommend having a read of that comment to get a better idea of how it all works. However, ignore the thread's title - "3D animation with sound in 64 bytes of assembler" - as this is clearly not a proper 3D animation, but rather some graphical smarts that end up looking like a rendered 3D scene. It seems like a little bit of maths is used to create a single line of varying green colour pixels, wider than the screen, starting at the bottom of the screen. The lines are moved up the screen towards the "horizon", and scaled (shrunk) as they are moved up - giving the illusion of perspective. The lines of pixels only appear to change every few lines, which creates a checkerboard effect. Above this horizon the screen is simply painted blue. A new line of pixels is injected at the bottom of the screen each time a line is moved up, and the overall effect looks like a flat plane of grass heading off into the distance, with the movement of these lines of pixels giving the impression that the camera is flying over them.
The Reddit breakdown suggests that the audio is created from simply sending the code's own binary to the MIDI port. My suspicion there is that the coder just blindly tried this approach, and then when he found that the set of noises it made were reminiscent of a helicopter flying into battle, chose to name the program accordingly. This is a much more believable scenario than the idea that the code was somehow deliberately written in a way that was designed to make these particular sounds when fed to the MIDI port.
As far as my analysis is concerned, here's the code in hex (4 rows of 16 bytes), just to show that it's only 64 bytes:
14 13 BA 30 03 F3 6E CD 10 B8 4F 0C E6 40 E2 F7 1F 68 00 A5 07 B8 CD CC F7 E7 89 E8 80 EE F6 F6 F6 92 2C 7F F6 EA 02 16 6C 04 92 30 C6 F6 EE D4 09 9C 9D 2C 74 AA AF EB DC C9 38 99 46 67 51 7F
And here's the program loaded into the free version of IDA (opens new window) (16 bit import):
seg000:0000 ; Format : Binary file seg000:0000 ; Base Address: 0000h Range: 0000h - 0040h Loaded length: 0040h seg000:0000 seg000:0000 .686p seg000:0000 .mmx seg000:0000 .model flat seg000:0000 seg000:0000 ; =========================================================================== seg000:0000 seg000:0000 ; Segment type: Pure code seg000:0000 seg000 segment byte public 'CODE' use16 seg000:0000 assume cs:seg000 seg000:0000 assume es:nothing, ss:nothing, ds:nothing, fs:nothing, gs:nothing seg000:0000 adc al, 13h seg000:0002 mov dx, 330h seg000:0005 rep outsb seg000:0007 seg000:0007 loc_7: ; CODE XREF: seg000:000E↓j seg000:0007 int 10h ; - VIDEO - seg000:0009 mov ax, 0C4Fh seg000:000C out 40h, al ; Timer 8253-5 (AT: 8254.2). seg000:000E loop loc_7 seg000:0010 pop ds seg000:0011 push 0A500h seg000:0014 pop es seg000:0015 assume es:nothing seg000:0015 seg000:0015 loc_15: ; CODE XREF: seg000:0037↓j seg000:0015 mov ax, 0CCCDh seg000:0018 mul di seg000:001A mov ax, bp seg000:001C sub dh, 0F6h seg000:001F div dh seg000:0021 xchg ax, dx seg000:0022 sub al, 7Fh seg000:0024 imul dl seg000:0026 add dl, ds:46Ch seg000:002A xchg ax, dx seg000:002B xor dh, al seg000:002D imul dh seg000:002F aam 9 seg000:0031 pushf seg000:0032 popf seg000:0033 sub al, 74h seg000:0035 stosb seg000:0036 scasw seg000:0037 jmp short loc_15 seg000:0037 ; --------------------------------------------------------------------------- seg000:0039 db 0C9h seg000:003A db 38h, 99h, 46h, 67h, 51h, 7Fh seg000:003A seg000 ends seg000:003A seg000:003A seg000:003A end