While playing and rating some Ludum Dare games for the last jam, I've found out several cute games that were playable online but were made for this platform called PICO-8.
I got curious and found the website. PICO-8 is that they call a "fantasy console". It feels like an emulator for an old computer o console, but it's actually a new thing on its own.
When you turn PICO-8 on you will land on a terminal where you can type Lua commands. It also features loading and saving cartridges, and it includes its very own code editor, sprite editor, sound editor and a tracker!
But what is genius are the actual limitations of the machine. Nowadays we have game development tools that allow us to do more, but PICO-8 is about doing less and embracing constraints. The specs of the machine are:
- 128x128 pixels of resolution
- 1 monospaced font
- 16-color palette
- 8x8 pixels sprites
- 4-channel audio
If you think those constraints are way too limiting, check these games out and think again.
So I purchased a copy and spent last night doing my own particular version of "Hello World" for games, Space-8, which you can play online here. I've had loads of fun and a lot of feelings from my childhood/teenage years were pouring all over.
What's really cool is that the way of sharing games (besides the web player at the official website) is by exporting the cartridge to a PNG that has all the info embedded there. As an example, here's the cartridge for Space-8:
So whenever you download a cartridge, you can boot it up on PICO-8 and read the source code, have access to the sounds, graphics, etc. and modify it. It's kind of like seeing a nice CSS trick and reading the source code to learn how it was done, and I love that philosophy.
What really makes me sad about PICO-8 is that it's not open source. I wouldn't mind to pay more money to support the developer if the product had an open-source license, specially when PICO-8 itself encourages code sharing via cartridges.
The other thing that bothers me is that in order to distribute the game for non PICO-8 customers, you have to upload it to PICO-8 creators' website, so it's playable in the web. I would love to be able to export it to an HTML of my own and host it in my own server. Fortunately, that's something that is on the roadmap.
If you want to check it out, it's just $15. I'd also start by downloading and reading the brand new fanzine, which includes a pong tutorial and some demos you can type, old-school style.
I just wish there were more fantasy consoles around, specially open-source…
EDIT (30th Aug 2015): I've also made a Snake clone this Sunday. This is fun!