Creating your own video game is a very daunting task. It’s a craft that incorporates coding, graphics, sound, game design, and basically everything else under the sun. There are many different pieces of software to help you along: Game Maker Studio, Unity, Construct, plus others. I’ve tried out the three mentioned in the previous sentence. They’re all good, and are a good choice to start out. But recently I decided to try a new program that I feel is the best for absolute beginners: Pico-8.
Pico-8 is a “fantasy console” that imitates something approximately on the level of an NES. This creates a limit on the amount of colors, screen space, and code you can write for the system. Limitations are good, they allow you to focus on the basics of programming and game design.
The best part of Pico-8 is how many games have already been created for it. You can find them on the Pico-8 website, or within the program itself. Opening a Pico-8 game within the program also allows you to view the code, allowing you to see how more experienced developers handled their games. You are also free to edit any aspect: code, graphics, sound, and levels. There are even some games created as a simple baseline to allow further editing.
My favorite thing related to Pico-8 has been this 80 part, 48 hour, in-depth tutorial. It was created by Krystian Majewski, a game designer and teacher. In this series he builds Breakout within Pico-8, from nothing to a finished game. He assumes the viewer has zero knowledge of programming or game development. He moves through the process very slowly, explaining every step along the way. Great bits of game design wisdom and advice are also sprinkled in throughout.
It’s because of this fantastic tutorial that I would recommend Pico 8 to the absolute beginner.
I’m currently making my way through the tutorial, right now on video 7. It starts as a very basic introduction to programming. I was familiar with a lot of this early info but, it was those little bits of advice that hooked me. From looking ahead at later videos I can tell there’s going to be lots of information useful to me, especially related to graphics and user interface.
Now to the downsides. Pico 8 is pretty cool, but unlike the software mentioned above, it’s not free. It has a base cost of $15. For me it’s been worth it, but I also really enjoy going through tutorials. At least unlike something like Unity, $15 is the most you’re gonna pay with Pico 8. A full licensed version of Unity is much much more expensive.
The other issue with Pico 8 is how limited it is. Like I said above, the limitations are great for learning and creating prototypes, but they aren’t great for a full release. After messing around with Pico 8 for awhile, it would be a good idea to move onto something less restrictive for larger games, like Unity or Game Maker Studio.