I’m going to use PICO-8, which its creator, Joseph “Zep” White, calls a ‘fantasy console’, but really it’s like an indie-fied emulator of the computers I grew up with, like the BBC B. When you start it, you’re presented with a 128 by 128 pixel display glitching into life, this little do-do-do-do! jingle, and a command prompt.
Everything you need to make games is right there: a mini Lua code editor, sprite and map editors, and sound and music editors. It’s reactive, instant to test to see if things work, and generally delightful. And the stuff people have made in it is extraordinary. Little short-form games: colourful, fun, immediate, varied. Type SPLORE into the command prompt and this little browser for games posted to the PICO-8 forum comes up. Since no game, including its graphics, is bigger than a 65K text file, you’re playing them pretty much instantly. It’s lovely.
This is just the first article in a series.
My daughters and nephew are all fans of the PocketC.H.I.P., the little handheld console that brings the PICO-8 fantasy console into reality. There’s a lot more info to be found on both it and PICO-8. Here are a few places to start looking:
I did a few simple games with the Pico-8. It’s okay, but the limits of code size and complexity are a big barrier to casual programmers. For example, getting the collision detection to work well, applying gravity in a 2D platformer – these are all non-trivial and not well explained in the docs that come with the product. You need to grok a lot of the examples, and there’s a lot of subtle ways to achieve the same thing. Where-as, if you pick up something like Unity and use the 2D engine, the learning curve is as steep in other ways, but a lot of this physics stuff is done for you. I’d love to see the authors add in more helpers to make the code more compact.