256-byte DOS intro: Maze Solver, released at Function2017 - with comments
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Maze Solver A 256-byte MS-DOS demo by ERN0 - 2016.10.03 Released at Function 2017 party

This is also not a 256-byte demo

As I said before, I am not a math expert, so I have to find simple problems, if I want to make 256-byte demos. And I wanted.

The code is lack of tricks, and well-commented, so anyone with basic programming skills may understand it.

The idea

This demo is inspired by the article "Maze Generation In Thirteen Bytes", where folks come out shorter and shorter solutions to draw a maze. The maze generation is based on a well-known trick: randomly printing '/' (slash) and '\' (backslash) characters results a quite nice maze. On VGA 256-color mode it looks like: maze

If the maze drawing code is only some bytes long, we have lot of space for the route solver!

The maze

The maze must be the same, every time the program starts. It can be achieved by using a pseudo-random number generator, starting from the same seed, or, which I choose, using program code as maze data: 0 bit means slash, 1 bit means backslash. The demo uses 320x200 pixel VGA resolution, which is 40x25 = 1000 characters. The 256 byte of program code contains 256 * 8 = 2048 bits, which is enough.

Fortunatelly, the slash and the backslash characters look perfect mirror of each other in this resolution, so the simple BIOS print function can be called. There's only one minor glitch, as you see in demo, and also on the image (which I ripped off the article, but it has the same issue): the right bottom part of the screen is empty. This is because if you print a character at the last position of the screen, it occurs scrolling. So, actually the maze is one byte (8 character) shorter than 40x25. It should be solved by copying some area to the screen, but it requires lot of code (in terms of a 256-byte demo).

The solver

In the first version of the demo (you can dig it out from the repo), there were 4 dots hanging in the maze, starting at different positions. It was too bare, 2x2 dots look very poor in a 320x200 arena. So, I've changed it to a single point, and the space I gained, I spent on a ringbuffer implementation. It holds previous positions, so the pixel drawn by the solver routine will be erased only several frames later - that's how the snake works.

As the walls are built from 45° rotated elements, the solver follows this coordinate system: "up-right" is the new "up" and so on, as described in the comment:

;     left    up
;         \  / 
;         (X)
;        /  \
;    down   right

The dot (snake head) has an actual position and direction. In each frame, direction is revisited, then new position gets calculated. The snake goes foward until hits the wall, then tries to turn right, then left, and the last, back. The offset values for collision checks and position changes are stored in this table:

;                            left  up right down
t_lt:   dw CLT,DLT,t_lt  ;    X      
t_up:   dw CUP,DUP,t_up  ;    X    X      
t_rt:   dw CRT,DRT,t_rt  ;    -    X    X
t_dn:   dw CDN,DDN,t_dn  ;    X    -    X    X
        dw CLT,DLT,t_lt  ;    -    X    -    X
        dw CUP,DUP,t_up  ;    -    -    X    -
        dw CRT,DRT,t_rt  ;    X    -    -    X
        dw CDN,DDN,t_dn  ;         X    -    -
        dw CLT,DLT,t_lt  ;              X    -
        dw CUP,DUP,t_up  ;                   X

This is a combined table for the four directions. The "entry point" of the table is the actual direction (see labels). Then the following indexes should be used: 0, 1, 3, 6. For example, if the current direction is right (t_rt), the following directions will be the candidates for the new direction (stop at first match): right (keep direction), down, up, left.

The snake has a start position at the border, then walks into the maze, and finally quits at the bottom right corner. The start point is declared, but maze itself is kinda random, as it comes from the code. I was just pretty lucky to get such an interesting and long open path. I have some idea how to shrink the code a little bit (in case of the snake, backward direction is useless - remember, the first version was with dots), but if I make any change in the code, the maze will also change, and I'm afraid, it will be hard to find such a nice path.

Compile and run


I've used FASM: fasm mzesolvr.asm mzesolvr.com


It's pure 80286 code, it can be run in DOSBox.

Also, you can run it in the browser (using JS-DOS).