The International Obfuscated C Code Contest

Supplemental Info


Terminals are very easy to mess up and for that reason they deserve their own file. I discuss terminal capabilities, dimensions (setting and how to restore sanity if it causes any problems) as well as colours (limitations etc.).

Capabilities support testing program

Although it should be playable without the features I use (except that cursor movement is required) I have provided a source file that can test your terminal for the capabilities I use in the entry.

It also tries to determine the minimum number of columns to play without the status line overflowing - even with the dynamic length. Try:

    $ make test

This compiles the program and runs it; you should see something like:

    terminal supports cursor movement
    terminal supports making cursor invisible
    terminal supports bold
    terminal supports colours

    terminal rows  42 (39  playable)
    terminal cols 157 (155 playable)

    snake size:   997 (max size: 6006)
      bugs:   199 (max size: 1201)

    at least 34 columns recommended for snake size 997   (is 157)
    at least 37 columns recommended for snake size 6006  (is 157)

    No problems detected.

If I pass in any of the variables GROW, MAXSIZE, SIZE and/or LINES or COLUMNS it bases its calculations on those variables. For example:

    $ MAXSIZE=-1 GROW=1  make test
    terminal supports cursor movement
    terminal supports making cursor invisible
    terminal supports bold
    terminal supports colours

    terminal rows  42 (39  playable)
    terminal cols 157 (155 playable)

    snake size:  6006 (max size: 6006)
      bugs:  6001 (max size: 6001)

    at least 37 columns recommended for snake size 6006  (is 157)
    at least 37 columns recommended for snake size 6006  (is 157)

    No problems detected.

As you can see it tells you the max size (the ‘capsized’ snake) as well as the requested max size (if the requested size is bigger than the capsize then it will be set to that value instead) of the snake. The capped size is like in the Snake game itself but the suggested minimum number of columns is based on a number of variables.

If I were to do the above but set columns to less < 35 then there would be a problem. But why if the utility recommends at least 37? This is because the max size of the snake also depends on the terminal size. This utility is not perfect: I don’t consider shedding; I set growth to 5 if it’s 0 (since it would be indeterminate how many bugs are possible before ‘winning’ since there would be no ‘winning’); and there are probably other things too.

As for capabilities: besides cursor movement the others are just nice to have. From my tests keeping the cursor visible doesn’t ruin gameplay but it is less distracting if nothing else to have it invisible (in fact due to the sequence of function calls the cursor would mostly appear to be not in the game field itself - from memory at least).

Maybe there are other capabilities I should check for that I’m unaware of but this should give you an idea.

If there are any problems it will say how many (fatal and otherwise). The fatal problems are if curses fails to initialise or if movement of cursor cannot be done (both seem odd).

Both scripts run this utility and prompt if there are any problems; you can continue either way.

Setting the game dimensions

There are a number of ways to do this and only one will keep the terminal sane all the time but that’s by running it under a terminal emulator that you can resize the window with first. But what if you want exacts?

The LINES and COLUMNS environmental variables

To specify the lines/columns of curses program per instance use the LINES and COLUMNS environmental variables.

For demonstration consider the following:

    $ echo $LINES $COLUMNS
    42 157

Note: I subtract 1 from the max y/x and the max coords in the game output include the walls and score line but these values are for the terminal itself.

Say you want 55 columns:

    $ COLUMNS=55 ./prog

This will force curses to detect the max columns (X) of your terminal (for the game dimensions) - to be 55; it might look like this instead:

    X:27/54 Y:20/41 S:5/997 B:0

But problems can arise with messing with dimensions: in my tests this held only to lines.

Terminal insanity

Terminal sanity can be compromised and it can cause all sorts of output problems; it might not appear right away but it will show its ugly head eventually if you use it. For example pager output might be screwy, echo might be turned off, output of commands might overwrite the input of those commands, etc. For the game you might not see the final score.

Restoring the terminal

In my tests there is one thing that at least allows you to see the final score and that is by running clear before running the program. That’s what the prog.alt version does. You might run it as one of:

    LINES=20 ./prog.alt
    LINES=20 ./snake.alt

Even if the final score is visible though the terminal may very well still be messed up. There are numerous things you might try but probably the easiest is to run the game again without modifying the dimensions (and then just quit) or even just the reset command.

The Linux man page says:

You might have to run the `reset` tool like:


       (the line-feed character is normally control-J) to get the terminal
       to work, as carriage-return may no longer work in the abnormal state.

If you don’t have the reset utility you can try:

    echo -e \\033c

Otherwise try clear; stty sane (that will turn on echo also) or if all else fails log out and back in.

For more information on this subject generally see the Linux keyboard and console HOWTO (specifically Linux keyboard and console HOWTO section 4). Yes this works under macOS (at least it did for me).

Terminal size abuse

So players 1, 2 and 3 are content with not meddling with the terminal sizes outside what’s actually possible with their screen. But then player 4 comes along and thinks he/she will be clever and mess with the dimensions a bit. Let’s say they have a 13" monitor and they think it’d be funny to see how 997 lines would work; they might try something like:

    LINES=997 ./prog

What then? Well expect trouble; curses will not know any better and the max number of lines will be 997. If they were to do:

    COLUMNS=997 ./prog

Then they will see a different effect. Again the same reason: the player trying to be funny.

The game will try and be funny in return and you can expect it to not function properly. Because that’s what funny means in this context.

Terminal limitations

It’d be nice if curses could detect hitting more than one arrow key at the same time so that diagonal directions would be possible but unfortunately it’s not (cat -v confirms this). Even if I were to define four extra keys what would they be? And what about the head character? The HACKING file has information on this.

I also limit the terminal size to 10 lines/columns but most likely it would require the cheat modes to win and in any event allowing certain low values causes problems e.g. LINES=6 COLUMNS=6 and LINES=3 COLUMNS=3 caused some nasty issues.

Terminal colours

N.B.: If all you’re after is wanting to change the colours see the script instead. The rest of this file was mostly notes for the judges; here I discuss the background, foreground as well as limitations (in particular runtime limitations).

Curses background

The documentation I have seen says that the background will always be black and from a quick test this holds even with a terminal that has a white background. There is a way to force the background to remain white though that’s by way of monochrome (so no colours); I discuss that and another related terminal specific in the troubleshooting guide (there’s another way but it would take me over the iocccsize; I talk about it in the HACKING file).

Monochrome terminals

According to my tests for monochrome terminals the screen has the white and black background; if terminal is configured to be black background white foreground that is the order it is too. You can try that like:

    TERM=linux-m ./prog

But I do not specifically check if the terminal has colours. Is there a curses implementation that has a problem here? Below I explain what to comment out should you need colours to be disabled but I personally have not run into any problems even with monochrome terminals. Later I say what to do to remove colour support in the source code itself.

Colour limitations

According to X/Open Curses, Issue 7 (pg. 57):

With init_pair() and pair_content(), the value of pair must be in a range
from 0 to and including COLOR_PAIRS-1. (There may be an
implementation-specific upper limit on the valid value of pair, but any such
limit is at least 63.) Valid values for f and b are the range from 0 to and
including COLORS-1.

The manpage for init_pair() says this:

       These limits apply to color values and color pairs.  Values outside these limits are not legal, and may result in a runtime error:


        COLOR_PAIRS corresponds to the terminal database's max_pairs capability, (see terminfo(5)).

Based on the two as well as the fact that monochrome terminals (I’ve tried under both Linux and macOS) seem to work fine I believe I am fine here too. And to confirm this I wrote the following code with the output below:

    #include <curses.h>

    int main()
    printw("COLORS: %d\nCOLOR_PAIRS: %d\n", COLORS, COLOR_PAIRS);

    TERM=linux-m ./colour_pairs
    COLORS: 0

Without specifying the TERM I get:

    COLORS: 256
    COLOR_PAIRS: 32767

In the case that colour is supported the standard states that there will be more possible colour pairs than I have used so that’s not a problem either. Perhaps even it would only be a runtime error if the colours are supported and the number is out of the range? To try and figure this out I did another test:

    int main()

    init_pair(1, COLOR_WHITE, COLOR_BLACK);
    printw("COLORS: %d\nCOLOR_PAIRS: %d\n", COLORS, COLOR_PAIRS);


Running it like

    TERM=linux-m ./colour_pairs

I got the output as if colours weren’t used: 0 and 0. With coloured terminals however it was not visible. If I however comment out the call to bkgd() I get instead:

    COLORS: 256
    COLOR_PAIRS: 32767

Which leads me to believe that if you try using a value outside the range it won’t work for a colour-capable terminal but it doesn’t matter for monochrome terminals one way or another. And since I don’t go beyond the ranges (as I cited earlier) there shouldn’t be any problem here.

Disabling colour

Nevertheless if it is a problem and you don’t want to use a monochrome terminal (or can’t):

First comment out the code that has start_color(); and then add return; to the top of the C() function (the rest of the code won’t be reached). If necessary you can also comment out the init_pair() calls.

Perhaps you only need to add the return; to C(). My guess is that’s the case but I do not know for certain.

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