BF Joust system collection
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First, it would be best to learn about BF Joust.

This repository holds a family of BF Joust implementations. One of them (gearlance) has the (dubious?) distinction of serving as the implementation behind the "egojoust" hill on #esoteric of freenode. (And also the up-and-coming "" replacement hill.)

The following systems, in arbitrary order, are included:

  • gearlance: A threaded-code computed-goto kind of an interpreter.
  • cranklance: The above, but including statistics-collection code.
  • gearlanced: Convenience interface for using gearlance to maintain a BF Joust hill efficiently.
  • genelance: Convenience interface for using gearlance to evaluate programs against a fixed set.
  • torquelance: A chainlance rehash, with separate compilation of programs.
  • chainlance: Old thing, compiles a pair of programs to x86-64 assembly source.
  • wrenchlance: Halfway between torquelance and chainlance.

See below for details on individual systems.



"Primary" interpreter. Based on the tried (tired?) but true concept of converting the instructions of each program into a list of pointers to their implementation. GCC's computed goto is then used to execute each instruction. Control flow bounces alternatingly between the left program, the right program and the per-tick routine nextcycle, which checks for termination conditions.

To use, simply call gearlance left.bfjoust right.bfjoust. The output will list results of each match (< for a left win, > for a right win and X for a tie) followed by the combined score calculated as (left wins) - (right wins), ranging from -42 to 42.

In general, seems to outperform the wrenchlance/torquelance/chainlance compilation approaches, even when discounting compilation time. A proper optimizing compiler for two concurrently (but in a synchronized way) running BF Joust programs is left as an exercise for the reader.

There exists an unpublished gearlance variant that dispatches based on a (left instruction, right instruction) pair, which obviously squares the number of ops. In theory, this avoids some amount of jumping around. In practice, it seems not worth the hassle either.

Etymology: Chains and gears are encountered in similar places, and gearlance was based on chainlance.


Same code as gearlance, except with tracing functions compiled in. Used to generate the statistics for the visualization machinery (see below). Identical usage; more complicated output format.

Etymology: Related to gearlance, but attempting to evoke imagery of hand-cranking a machine step by step.


gearlance was recently retrofitted to support threaded-code compilation as a separate step from running a joust. gearlanced (note the d) provides an interface for keeping a hill of pre-parsed and pre-compiled "left programs", and testing new challengers as a single "right program".

Etymology: Gearlance, daemon. Even though it is not a daemon.


Parsing consumes a significant fraction of the execution time of a joust. genelance is a convenience interface for evaluating a large number of programs against a fixed set of (parsed-in-advance) opponents. The intended use case is people writing BF Joust evolvers who'd like to use jousting results in their fitness function.

See header comment for usage.

Etymology: Boringly, by way of analogue to genetic programming.


A rehash of the chainlance idea of compiling programs to raw machine code. In this version, all code is completely position-independent, so there is no linking step required for executing precompiled programs.

To use:

torquelance-compile left.bfjoust progA.bin A
torquelance-compile right.bfjoust progB.bin B
torquelance-compile right.bfjoust progB2.bin B2
torquelance progA.bin progB.bin progB2.bin

The generated .bin files are raw x86-64 machine code. Compiling in mode A selects ops designed for the left program, while modes B and B2 use those of the right program. Mode B2 additionally flips the polarity by converting all + instructions to - and vice versa.

The execution engine (torquelance) expects precompiled programs in all three modes. It will then concatenate an execution header (for a single match) with the three programs and invoke it appropriately to run a full tournament.

The individual opcode implementations can be found in torquelance-ops.s and the execution header (including the per-tick code) in torquelance-header.s. Almost all x86-64 registers have been used in one way or another. Liberal use of indirect jumps through a register are used for the position-independentness.

Control flow rotates between the left program, right program and the per-tick code, as usual; you could easily consider them as three coroutines. After every (non-repeat) instruction, the programs store their current IP and jump to the next task. A branch-and-link instruction sure would be nice.

Etymology: Just a thematic connection of torque to the other words.


Chronologically first of the BF Joust systems included. A basic ahead-of-time compilation approach: given two BF Joust programs, generates assembly (x86-64 NASM) code to run a single tournament between them. The actual generated code is reasonably similar to that of torquelance ops.

Etymology: From the combination of chainsaw (powerful tool) and lance (for jousting). A regrettably narcissistic name.


Concept: ahead-of-time compile and link the execution engine and the right program (with both polarities) into an executable. This lets you use regular (hopefully also more processor-friendly) relative branches in it. The executable will then take a torquelance-style left program binary as an argument, load it to memory, and run a tournament against it.

Arguably amusing idea, but does not really seem to be worth it.

To use:

wrenchlance-left left.bfjoust left.bin
wrenchlance-right right.bfjoust | \
  gcc -std=gnu99 -fwhole-program -O2 -march=native \
      wrenchlance-stub.c wrenchlance-header.s -x assembler - \
      -o right
./right left.bin
# or: ./right left1.bin left2.bin ...

If you pass in multiple left programs, you'll get the results of the match with the right program against all of them.

Etymology: Something you apply torque with.

Other notes


The canonical build system is Bazel. If you don't want to use Bazel (fair enough) and just want to build the binaries, there's also a rudimentary Makefile which might work.

Regression tests

There are Python scripts that test each of the main binaries against a set of reference outputs generated by the EgoJSout interpreter (adapted to run under Node.js). The reference data (and scripts to generate them) are in the test/ directory.


Lives in the vis/ directory. Needs documentation. Used to generate egostats every now and then.

Ruby glue

The zhill/ directory, and the zhillbot.rb script, form the base of the BF Joust hill. The web/ directory contains the static website parts. This part is also not documented, and probably not very useful, except possibly as a (cautionary?) example.