MELT.COM was written by an unknown author in the 1980s. Originally 49 bytes in size, it performs the following cute effect:
(The video is simulated and shows how MELT performs on the old hardware it was written for.) This effect is achieved by increasing or decreasing each onscreen character's value until it reaches #32, the space character. The original source is lost to history, but here's a quick commented disassembly:
org 100h mov ax, 0B800h mov es, ax ; es now points to screen segment doScreen: mov cx, 2000 ; Going to loop over all 2000 characters ; (80 * 25 = 2000) xor bx, bx ; bx = 0 ; bx is also our "num of altered chars" counter mov di, bx ; es:di now points at the screen (b800:0000) alterChars: mov ah, es:[di] ; Retreive onscreen character cmp ah, 32 ; comp to a space character (#32) jz short nextChar ; If already a space, do nothing jl short upToSpace ; If lower than a space, increase upward dec ah ; If higher than a space, decrease downward mov es:[di], ah ; Store altered character back to screen inc bx ; increase "number of processed chars" counter jmp short nextChar ; Keep processing characters upToSpace: inc ah ; Increase character upwards towards a space mov es:[di], ah ; Store altered character back to screen inc bx ; increase "number of processed chars" counter nextChar: inc di inc di ; es:di now points to next character loop alterChars ; Continue processing characters cmp bx, 0 ; Were any characters processed? jnz short doScreen ; If so (bx != 0), keep processing mov ah, 4Ch ; Otherwise, get ready to terminate int 21h ; DOS - 2+ - QUIT WITH EXIT CODE (EXIT)
There are some very quick wins right off the bat:
- AX is already 0, so set AX=B800 by setting AH=B8
- Replace DOS exit sequence with RET, since this is a .COM file
- The "CMP bx,0" can be replaced with a shorter test like "OR bx,bx"
- There is inefficient loading and saving of screen characters with manually advancing DI twice -- 80x86 has 1-byte string instructions to do that, so we'll use LODSW and STOSW. This will load the character attribute byte redundantly, but we don't care about speed, we care about size. Because we only use LODS once, we can shave a byte by getting rid of MOV DS,AX (3 bytes) and using ES: LODS (2 bytes) in the inner loop.
This shaves 12 bytes down to 37 total. At this point we can make some drastic changes that will shave bytes, but also make the program not behave exactly as it did before. I chose to do the following:
- 2000 is 7D0 in hex. Change MOV CX,2000 (decimal) to MOV CH,08 (hex) to shave a byte. This could result in CX being anywhere in the range 0800 to 08FF but the difference is minimal at execution time. It's also larger than the original area, but that is fine since there is there is extra screen RAM after the visible portion of the screen.
- The code contains a check for characters below #32 (space) and moves them upward. Most characters onscreen are going to be above #32, so this isn't really necessary and I removed the check. Even if it were necessary, removing the check will just rotate them downward until they wrap around to 255, then go downward again until hitting #32 and stopping.
This gets the code down to 29 bytes:
org 100h mov ah, 0B8h mov es, ax ; es so we can use es: LODS and STOS to the same place doScreen: mov ch, 08 ; (80 * 25 = 2000/07d0h) xor bx, bx ; bx is also our "num of altered chars" counter mov di, bx ; es:di now points at the screen (b800:0000) mov si, di ; ds:si = es:di, needed for lods/stos alterChars: es: lodsw ; Retreive onscreen character cmp al, 32 ; comp to a space character (#32) jz short nextChar ; If already a space, do nothing dec al ; If higher than a space, decrease downward inc bx ; increase "number of processed chars" counter nextChar: stosw loop alterChars ; Continue processing characters or bx,bx ; Were any characters processed? jnz short doScreen ; If so (bx != 0), keep processing ret ; exit
Optimizing the above is left as an exercise to the reader. It may be possible to shrink it further using instructions for the 80186 and later processors, but it runs way too quickly on those systems, so if doing so you may want to insert a HLT to pace the animation at 18.2 Hz. It may also be possible to shrink it by taking advantage of the fact that ASCII character #0 is a null and shows nothing onscreen (just like the #32 space character), so instead of decrementing down to #32, you could decrement down to #0 in a more optimized form (like using the zero flag).
Or you could rethink it completely
If you're willing to deviate from the original target environment (namely, that it was designed for a 4.77 MHz 8088), you can eliminate range checking for all sorts of optimizations. Instead of using two pointers/segments, it's possible to use only one, and directly operate on the chars on screen. Combined with optimized segment assignment and exclusion of the "processed chars"-count (fixed amount of iterations, set to the maximum possible 65536 * 255) this results in a 17 byte variation :
lds bx,[si] ; load DS from our code "scasw" + "nop" = 0AF90h nop ; for alignment, maybe optimization potential here ;) doChar: scasw ; used to advance DI by 2, and as DS high byte (0AFh) cmp byte [di],32 ; is the current char on screen a "space"? jz short skip ; yes, don't decrement dec byte [di] ; nope, decrement skip: dec dx ; first loop, besides the first time jnz doChar ; it's 65536 iterations loop doChar ; second loop, 255 times ret ; quit
The above performs the same function as the previous optimization, but runs much more slowly as it traverses more RAM areas than necessary.
There might be a way of altering the
NOP to something useful.
Returning to the non-printing null char, we can shave one more byte, to produce this 16 bytes version:
lds bx,[si] ; load DS from our code "scasw" + "nop" = 0AF90h nop ; for alignment, maybe optimization potential here ;) doChar: scasw ; used to advance DI by 2, and as DS high byte (0AFh) cmp byte [di],al ; is the current char on screen a "null"? jz short skip ; yes, don't decrement dec byte [di] ; nope, decrement skip: dec dx ; first loop, besides the first time jnz doChar ; it's 65536 iterations loop doChar ; second loop, 255 times ret ; quit
The above performs a similar function as the previous optimization, but runs even more slowly as it requires regular characters to be decremented further than before.