Spurred on by Github’s Game Off game jam, and inspired by Hook, Line, and Thinker, I’ve decided to use Pico-8 as my game engine workplace, as writing everything from scratch can be a bit of an ordeal. An all-in-one minimalist design shop, Pico-8 has the ability to do the cart, sprites, and audio all in one neat little package.

It’s been over a year since I worked on a game, so my game design abilities are a bit rusty. Thus, as with all disciplines, it’s good to go back and renew the basics before actually making something worthwhile.

Getting Started

My first task to learn the Pico-8 system is to familiarize myself with the tool, and look through the API. This largely comes in the form of a text file accompanying the main software package (although there’s also this for a quick reference). Pico-8 uses a subset of the Lua scripting language (which is a popular scripting language in a lot of games). I remember first hearing about it when I played World of Warcraft, as it was the way people made mods. Never touched it at the time, but now I’m fully ensconced.

Pico-8 comes with a lot of helpful demo carts (the software’s term for programs, as the whole thing is like a throwback console from the 80s) that go over many techniques one would need to design a game. Despite the limitations of a 128x128 screen, 16 colors, and only 4 channels of audio, the expressiveness people have created is inspiring.

Current Status

As of right now, all I’ve done is create two things:

  • A sun that sits in space, with a controllable blue planet that can fly around at different speeds, booping back to its origin if it gets too close to the sun
  • A 1-player pong clone (you against 3 walls)

However, I’ve learned how to draw simple shapes, utilize sprites, make some music, handle screen boundaries, implement (very simple) object collision, and make both a title and game over screen. Not sure if either of these two concepts will go beyond their current state, but they were necessary to get my feet wet.

I’m over a week in on the Game Off, so I really need to decide on a game type to do soon. Regardless, this has ignited my creative engine and I can’t wait to see what I can come up with over the next month.

More blog posts to come!