For 33 years, the video game 1K ZX Chess was the smallest chess program ever created. Its code took up a mere 672-bytes. (That’s .00064 Megabytes for those of us who still think in terms of floppies and burnable CDs.)
But now, programmer Olivier Poudade, accompanied by Peter Ferrie, has released an even smaller chess game–BootChess–constructed from 512 bytes. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big difference, so let me put the razor-thin margins in different terms: Poudade just beat Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash by more than two seconds.
I’m no coder, so I can’t get into all the ins and outs of tricks Poudade used to save space–except, maybe, one. If you look at the design of 1K ZX chess vs BootChess, you can see how Poudade paired down the display of chess to its most minimal symbols–only the ASCII characters that already live in your computer–to limbo below the previous benchmark.
Because while 1K ZX features a checkerboard grid, and depicts white and black pieces in white and black letters, BootChess goes even simpler. It doesn’t draw a checkerboard at all, instead relying on periods to denote empty squares. And the white and black pieces, instead of being conveyed by binary colors (which creates some confounding exceptions that need to be accounted for when a white piece lands on a white square), are conveyed by being either upper or lower case. These clever tactics assumably save micro bits of code.
BootChess may not be good for anything but bragging rights in an era when our storage is more or less infinite, and our interfaces are loaded with animation filigree that we call “delight.” Even still, it’s a neat accomplishment to acknowledge all the same–and a reminder that each design decisions leaves a footprint somewhere, whether or not we’re even measuring it.