PICO-8 - A Childhood Dream

May 1 2018

I read a lot of positive reviews about the PICO-8 fantasy console. Instead of listing the good points it has, I will tell you my story with PICO-8. For those who don’t know, it is a fake console that allows making games within the console itself. This includes code, graphics, sound, music, and maps. The games can be easily shared as PNG cartridge images.

First, a little background. Short version. I started creating video games long ago and I really loved it. I started a lot of projects, with different genres and themes but I didn’t actually release any of the games I created. Actually, I never finished one properly. After I graduated I stopped creating games and became a professional software developer.

In my 31st year, I decided to get back to game design. I was searching for two things: a game idea and a game engine. I had plenty of game ideas. The difficulty was to choose one. It had to be big enough so finishing it would be meaningful, not too big so I could finish my first project within a year, complex enough so I could apply principles of the game design course I just attended. Well, a lot of constraints and also, a lot of expectations. I finally came up with a platformer with a dark ambiance and playing with fear. On the engine side, I picked up two very interesting ones: MonoGame and Godot. I tested both with a little proof of concept. I was almost ready to start my big thing.

Then, I started to make estimations about the time necessary to make the whole thing: code, graphics, music, effects, game design, levels, story. Even to make a single level demo, I would have to spend a huge amount of time before having something playable. This would have meant nothing to show to friends, nothing rewarding for me, and a pretty hard time keeping my motivation. At this time, I saw a video about PICO-8. I had to test it.

What PICO-8 did for me is simple: it enabled me to make a game people can play, within a few hours only. I already used the LUA programming language, which is used to make games inside the PICO-8. For the graphics and the sounds, it took only a few minutes to get something nice without knowing anything about drawing or music. The better thing about the PICO-8 is that its constraints prevent one to spend too much time on details. These constraints helped me focus on what matters: finishing a game.