For the last couple of weeks I've been playing around with a "fantasy console" from makers of voxatron, lexaloffle. This review was supposed to be a quick report of a cool looking toy I found for making retro style games and prototypes or game jam entries. It started with an innocent posting that made it to the front page of Hacker News, and a quick glance indicated it would be suitable fodder for Indie Retro News. A quick round up of what was going on with some screenshots. Yeah, I'd have this wrapped up in a day. What I didn't expect was what I discovered...
The first thing is that Pico-8 is quite pricey for typical indie 8-bit type stuff. $15. But it turns out that if you already have Voxatron, then pico-8 is included. Hmmm Voxatron. Yeah that sounds familiar... Oh yeah, way back in the early days of Humble Bundle was the Voxatron debut bundle which I happened to get (I bought virtually all of the HIB's for a long while) and sure enough there was a key to associate with a lexaloffle account, and Bingo! I was granted entry into the Pico-8 club.
P8 has been set up to have all the code, gfx and sound/music for each game squeezed into a self contained 'cartridge' (actually a .png image file with everything encoded into it) and these can be passed around and loaded into P8 as such but they can also be embedded into a web page and posted in a playable form to the lexaloffle bbs (forum). Which brings me to the next point. The community around P8 is simply awesome. The way people have got on board this simple game creation tool is just phenomenal. There's a fantastic sharing of info, talent and completed games. Users who have a particular talent in one area are only too willing to help out others who are deficient in that area. be it coding, pixel art or music. There's even a pico-8 zine, acting as a focused source of info for getting started with the console.
|Loading a game|
In my quest to discover how easy it was to use, I started making a simple 8-bit style demoscene/cracktro, and while I had the basic sine scrolling text done in about half an hour, my inquisitiveness and thirst for more interesting effects led me deeper into the community. I was helped out getting 3D wireframes working (the trig functions work in a slightly odd way), glitching artifacts, and one user @pizzamakesgames made a fantastic, crazy, bleepy soundtrack for it, for no other reason than he can, and enjoys doing it.
(click in the demo area and press X to play)
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GAMES??!!
And it's a total hive of activity with many gamejam entries, proof of concepts, experiments, music samplers, and other snippets of useful code all being shared and it's always in flux. But here are the highlights so far:
Alien Abduction reverses the usual take of defending the humans against the incoming invasion. instead YOU are the abductor.
Stories at the Dawn is an atmospheric multi-ending silhouette platformer with bags of charm
Rabu Rabu Monster. A hard-as-nails horizontal scrolling platformer where you can destroy the all the humans
Tempest is a procedurally generated survival game, which although technically a WIP, has most of what's needed for a fully playable game.
Terrain Renderer is a stunning example of some of the non-game concepts being shown off. remember that P8 doesn't have any programming features to make realtime 3D rendering easily possible, which makes this renderer all the more impressive
Tower of Archeros. I'm still trying to understand this one. It's appears like a match three game but it most certainly isn't, and is like nothing I've played before. There are battle elements and the goal is to climb the tower. I'm still figuring out how to do that! again this is highly polished with a beautiful spriteset.
Honourable mentions and WIP'sPassengers - A Ludumdare 33 entry where the theme was "You are the monster". You get to decide which immigrants get to come on your boat to safety.
Hollow Seeker - Simple side scroller where you have to hide in gaps in the scenery when it tries to crush you.
Kingslayers - A mini RPG/roguelike
TMNT episode 1 - Still only a playable demo, already showing promise with some very nice character animation.
Succer - a WIP soccer/football game is the style of Sensible soccer
Fazaa - 3D wireframe shooter WIP with a definite source of inspiration
Canvas Vector Drawing - Create vector based drawings!
Of course the scene is rapidly evolving and I've barely scratched the surface. There's games, tech demos, experiments and music only carts, with new carts appearing all the time. It seems like Pico-8 is a perfect storm of simplicity and accessibility, and like a lot of the community, I've totally fallen in love with it.
1) pico-8 homepage 2) pico-8 zine 3) Pico-8 cartridges 4) pico-8 on twitter