PICO-8 and micro-environments

I'm not a programmer or game designer by training or background, but I love the PICO-8. It has been around for a number of years and had a bump in awareness in recent years because the game Celeste was originally a PICO-8 game.

PICO-8 is a "Fantasy Console" developed by Lexaloffe. Using unromantic terms, it's a virtual machine environment that has support on Mac, PC, and Linux clients and programs can be exported to a web environment too. It supports 16 colors in a 128x128 display with 4 channel audio. The executable environment contains a terminal, text editor (with syntax highlighting), a sprite editor, a map editor, a SFX editor, and a music tracker. There are some other limitations but unless you're a professionally skilled programmer, you probably won't bump into them.

Now you ready for the "cute" stuff? The program executable are distributed in .PNG format and the code is steganographically embedded in the alpha channels. Here is my first "complete" game I wrote in it:


If you save that file and load it into your PICO-8 environment, you can play my train simulator about driving the MAX Light Rail through Portland. If you want to play it in-browser, [here's the link](https://www.lexaloffle.com/bbs/?tid=36696).

My next game is in development hell, but it's an endless skater called [Zamboni Mayhem](https://www.lexaloffle.com/bbs/?tid=37935&tkey=VAEYlhEaOv4FSZ1GgkQJ). I'm proud of the randomized sprite colors for skin and scarves, and the dynamic music that queues when the Zamboni shows up to run you over. You may have to reload the cart after you finish the game - I don't remember if it's returning to the title screen correctly! 😆

I'm probably the most proud of this cart I made that is just a container for music I've written for games and projects and just stand-alone tunes. [It's called "music(-1)"](https://www.lexaloffle.com/bbs/?tid=37953&tkey=JwEYFh3r1FZ3wtDYjGXD) which I think is funny because it's the API command to stop playing all music on all channels.

Best of all, _you may already have a PICO-8 license_! It was included in the Humble Bundle for Racial Justice! Go dig it up and get writing and playing! The best way to start playing with it is to type "SPLORE" at the prompt. Splore interfaces with the PICO-8 BBS so you have access to pretty much any cart anyone every uploaded for PICO-8. If you save them locally, you will be able to see the code, edit the sprite sheets and maps, play with the audio and learn by doing!

What other micro environments do people use? I know that Game Maker and RPG Maker are popular for all kinds of projects. Lexaloffe also has a voxel-based environment called Voxatron that is very similar to PICO-8 in philosophy.

Anyone else done anything in PICO-8 (or your favorite micro environment) that they are courageous enough to share?

I absolutely love the idea of pico8, but I didn‘t find it very fun to write code for. I should really give it another try, I’m not sure why I didn‘t enjoy it at all and I love every other aspect of it.

I do love writing code in assembly for NES (trying to learn Genesis as well, but haven’t been able to find the time). I made a little rom for switching between multiple VJ options. I threw one they made in as well as a couple things I tried out. After start, press left/right/up to load different screens, tap the same direction again to switch (loading is in the background). On a screen check out the buttons/directions with buttons held to see if it does anything.

Grab it here and toss it into an emulator

I really want to get back to NES or get going on Genesis at some point, but who knows when I'll have time.


@antillese#9603 Here is my first “complete” game I wrote in it:

I love this, it's super cute and a lot of fun.

I've heard of zamboni mayhem! I think lexoffle tweeted about it?

I don't do any programming of any kind but I am intrigued by the arduboy, mentioned elsewhere on the forum, as well as "in-game" systems like dezaemon, and similar RPG maker, puzzle game maker, etc kinds of systems. it's especially interesting when they're just kind of... trapped on a game console in a sense, as RPG maker or fighting game maker used to be. I haven't heard of much amazing stuff coming out of those pre-PC release, but after that, it's pretty neat?

I think Mugen counts as well, though it's not exactly micro anymore.

I deeply love PICO-8. I think it‘s a blast to develop for and I love some of the games that have come out of the community. I know there are a few competitors around, but I don’t think many of them have taken off.

I'm also a big fan of how development for actual limited hardware is beginning to resemble PICO-8 development. GBStudio isn't quite there yet, but I feel like it will eventually be just as comprehensive and user friendly.

I've messed around with Pico8 a few times and follow a lot of Twitter creators on it. Some just make cool little digital art things and psychedelic patterns.

<strike>One thing that should be brought up is I bet most people on IC already have a license for Pico8, I am 99% sure that it was included in that legendarily gigantic Humble Bundle from earlier this year that featured like almost a thousand games in the end? </strike>

edit: I think just outed myself for not always reading the OP! Sorry!

This guy used to have a SUPER DOPE patreon tutorial channel a couple years ago. I'm not sure if he still does it though.

He is a great twitter follow to.

I do think that PICO-8 is not as easy to jump in as for a first development environment. I don’t know if I’d recommend it. For example, you need to roll your own collision detection. I would not have gotten anywhere without Bridgs tutorials on YouTube. And knowing a great friend who is an excellent programmer who talked me through some non-obvious bugs in the beginning.

@exodus#9700 man, I would be flattered and surprised if that’s the case. Zamboni Mayhem isn’t exposed to the public on the BBS and Lexaloffe only tweets out pretty high-quality stuff.

This is why you share things. You get encouragement and you make them better.

Scoring and cool parallax scrolling now implemented in Zamboni Mayhem v 0.9.2.


Wooooo! the parallax looks great!

Pico-8 is fun for me as a rapid prototyping environment and a cool “easy to dev constrained system” but frankly these days if I want to sit down and play with that kind of thing, I just do some Game Boy hacking. I started getting back into it this weekend and turns out 2020 was a big year for the GB hacking scene! They finally got all of the disparate reference materials together on a single site (https://gbdev.io) except for the official Nintendo GB Programming Manual (which has the rather funny distinction of being wrong about several things.)

If you're not a programmer-programmer... check out this extremely cool tool for making gameboy games in pretty much a visual scripting language: https://www.gbstudio.dev/

And the Analogue Pocket is going to support direct integration with it, I think!

@stiv#9905 That's amazing! GB has been on my “some day I want to learn it” list for a while. Now I just need someone to make a similar site for Game Gear…

POOM is out and it's looking great

POOM by freds72, Paranoid Cactus

Yes! I was watching a video of that earlier! So cool.

I would love to get one of the clockwork gameshells or even the upcoming devterm to run Pico.

I just saw an amazing plane/flight game in an isometric perspective floating around on twitter somewhere.

I have one of the earlier ones (that chip whatsit) and to my shame I have not used it.

I‘ve messed with Pico 8 and GB studio, while I like the limitations of Pico 8 I think the thing I like the most is that it’s essentially a virtual machine and, eventually when the source code is released, the format will live as long as people preserve it.

To that end, my fantasy micro-environment is a GBA game editor that gives you the power of the GBA but the ease of programming something in a visual language like with the GB editor, or Lua. That was the Rom can essentially work forever as long as people keep making emulators for the GBA.

@exodus#10273 This is very very impressive both because it‘s such an achievement in the environment and because it’s also so fun to play.

The [#tweetcart](https://twitter.com/search?q=%23tweetcart&src=hashtag_click) tag is one of my favorite PICO-8 things on twitter. A tweet cart is a PICO-8 program that fits in the character limit of a tweet. They are usually used for procedural art or animation - it's hard to get interactivity in. Here is an example of one that I saw recently that I liked.


@antillese#10304 This is such a cool hashtag - really brings new definition to the saying ‘poetry in motion’ - thanks for the share, I really need to start digging into Pico-8 again - I remember seeing some cool DIY instructions for some casing projects with a Raspberry Pi and some controllers to make a simple looking console just running Pico-8, does anyone have any recommendations like that? I remember thinking it would be a cool gift for my girlfriend back in the day, maybe I will give it a try this coming winter.

@siebold_magnolia#10327 I inherited an older RPi from a friend, and while it technically runs PICO-8, it doesn‘t do it fast enough to run games at 30 FPS. The new ones shouldn’t have a problem, but I'm just not familiar with the RPi products.

This is what I would recommend which is from something that Zepp (PICO-8's creator )posted this the other day. All-in-one enclosure, controls, display, and RPi to run it.
Here's a link to the store:

Not an endorsement as I don't have experience with it. As a gift though, I would recommend using something that has solved all the system integration problems for you like that Picade, unless you're like, a systems engineer and like solving all those problems. XD

@antillese#10330 Oh my, well this does not bode well for my wallet - this is a great recommendation though, cheers. Wondering if I can afford the splurg, as I have wanted to do something like this for a while, and this could be a fun project - not to mention a cool way to get more into micro-gaming projects.


Gonna pop in with a more economical option for people looking at these kinds of things for Pico 8:

RK3326 handhelds. The Odroid Go Advance (and all of its clones) support Pico 8 quite well. Raspberry Pi handhelds tend to sit around the 200 dollar range for anything somewhat decent, but the OGA, RG351P, RGB10, RK2020, etc. will all easily handle Pico 8 stuff while sitting in the sub $100 range for the most part.

That is true, these emulator projects really start to add up. Getting back down this rabbit hole us really getting the synapses firing. What are some opinions here regarding a ‘new’ system such as Pico-8 vs the limitations/community of ‘real’ console emulation projects and communities? For example.

Just getting into [this](https://youtu.be/87jfTIWosBw) interesting presentation, and there seems to be more to Pico-8 than even just under the hood, what do you all think?