It's 2012 and it's safe to say that a lot of us are done being impressed by big-budget Hollywood CG. But jaw-dropping technical wizardry is still alive and well in the demoscene, where rather than vying for a spot on the next Pixar film, highly skilled coders are creating real-time audiovisual demonstrations that compile snugly into 4-kilobyte executables.
"Hartverdrahtet" (above) is the worthy winner of Assembly 2012's 4k demo competition, rendering a procedurally-generated universe of fractal landscapes using a file the size of your average Word document. Demosceners often build custom software to make their productions as economical as possible. The author, Demoscene Passivist, says the demo took around two months to complete and used a number of tools to keep the final product within the 4,096-byte limit, including a code compressor, Shade Minifier, and 4klang, the minimalist software synthesizer used to compose the music.
The author was also recognized at last year's Assembly competition for another 4k demo, "Electronenmultiplizierer," and is currently working on a new demo for the Commodore VIC-20.
Today's programmers stand to learn a lot from the demoscene's code-crunchers. And now they can, thanks to recently open-sourced tools from legendary demo groups like Farbraush and Conspiracy posted for free on Github and elsewhere. But even when you've optimized down to four kilobytes, you'll still be surprised by how far you can go with just one.