Making a game for a fantasy console

Working with constraints is frustrating for some, a creative juice for many.

Making a game for a fantasy console

Old video games are cool.

I find old video games cool because of the impossible constraints they managed to overcome. Despite of the constraints of hardware - unimaginably small memory, low frame rate, screen resolution, limited colors, input types - they managed to tell amazing stories, create worlds, characters, sound.

I became obsessed with these incredible stories where such limited technologies still enabled grown up man to create such amazing artwork. There are awesome stories behind iconic games that defined generations. My favourite one is how a Hungarian software dealer accidentally sold Tetris to Nintendo. You can find many cool stories at the Gaming Historian YouTube channel.

Don't need to be a gamer to make games

I am not a gamer by any means. I am a game enthusiast and someone who loves making things.

I tried making couple of things in Unity in the past, when Ustwo studio was working with Google on the Cardboard Design Lab. Unity is a full-fledged 3D game engine which lets game developers publish their games on game consoles, mobile, desktop or web. It is extremely powerful and kinda the opposite of constrained.

Then one late night impulse buy introduced me to the world of PICO-8. I purchased a GameShell by ClockWorkPi.

This little open source portable game console is not really a console. It is a RaspberryPi / Arduino type of modular thing, which you can freely hack and customise in both hardware and software.

Limitation by design

Constraints usually coming from reality. Application size, processing power, screen resolution, available sound are all based on real, tangible limitation of the hardware. In case of a fantasy console, these limitations are imaginary. And these carefully selected constraints are responsible for creativity what required to work with them.

There are so many cool things created for PICO-8, here are some of my favs:

Making my first game

I followed bridgs' video tutorial series PICO-8 Game Dev for Beginners. Warmly recommend it for novice enthusiasts like myself. She covers designing and coding the game from start to finish.

This is how you can edit PICO-8 sprites

What I ended up building

  • the meteors somewhat randomized in ranges and their sprites as well
  • 100 lives
  • 160 light years
  • 25 collectable golden thingies

You can try it out in your browser:

Character tester 1.0
I envisioned this as a room where I can test my sprites

What fascinated me the most is the character animation. How these animations are not in a linear timeline but in based on the logic of the world, the mechanism of the character and how the player controls them.

I made a Character Tester for my future #pico8 game projects. The character can move, can jump and can fart too.

You can try it out in your browser:

The primary goal of this cart is to test animations, visual effects, and character mechanics.

Example sprites

I am still fascinated by how much character this interactive pink thing has, by only 6 sprites.

Working with constraints is frustrating for some, a creative juice for many.

Further reading

Creative constraints: How limitations can fuel creativity
Learn to leverage the counterintuitive power of constraints to fuel your team’s creativity.

The Last Starfighter 1984 Nick Castle