Suneido has features (e.g. named arguments) that sometimes requires this flexible argument passing. But most of the time it could use Java's standard argument passing.
I've wanted to optimize this for a while, and it was one of the motivations for the compiler overhaul (see part 1 and part 2).
Having finished adding client mode, I sat down to start working on optimizing argument passing. When I started to think about what was required, it began to seem like a fair bit of work.
I decided that first I should determine if the change was worthwhile. (In the back of my mind I was thinking it probably wouldn't be that much better and I wouldn't have to implement it.)
First I measured what percentage of calls were simple enough to optimize. I was surprised to see it was about 90%. But it makes sense, most calls are simple.
Next I measured what kind of improvement the optimization would give. For a function that didn't do much work, I got about a 30% speedup. (Of course, for functions that did a lot of work the argument passing overhead would be negligible and there would be little or no speedup.)
Those figures were just from quick and dirty tests but I was only looking for rough orders of magnitude results.
The changes avoid allocating and filling an argument array and also avoid the argument "massaging" required for more complex cases. The calls are simpler and use less byte code. This means they have a better chance of being inlined by the JVM JIT byte code compiler. The calls are also more similar to those produced by compiling Java code and therefore have a better chance of being recognized and optimized by the JIT compiler.
To me, these numbers justified spending a few days making the changes. Thankfully, I was able to implement it in a way that allowed me to transition gradually. So far I have optimized the argument passing for calling built-in functions. I still have some work to do to handle other kinds of calls, but the general approach seems sound. I don't think it'll be quite as bad as I thought.
You can see the code on SourceForge