PICO-8 Game Development System (and Ecosystem!)

So the Anbernic RG35XX (and GarlicOS) sent me down a rabbit hole of searching for games, and somehow I came across PICO-8. The simplest explanation is that PICO-8 is a fantasy console for making, sharing and playing tiny games and other computer programs. To expand on that, it’s a virtual machine and game engine created by Lexaloffle Games. It is a fantasy video game console that mimics the limited graphical and sound capabilities of 8-bit systems of the 1980s.

One of the reasons I got the RG35XX is that I wanted to disconnect from the computer and phone and just focus on something (in this case, playing games) and while playing Tetris (again) and discovering (for the time) all sorts of old Game Boy games is a blast, PICO-8 is something special. These are my observations about PICO-8 and games made with it.

PICO-8 games tend to focus on game play and not flashy graphics. Some games are simple, some are complex. Some are recreations of old games and some are new (?) ideas that haven’t been done before.

There’s a community of people sharing what they make. I wanted to say “people” and not “game developers” because while people who make games might be “game developers” I think there are also just regular people who like making games and sharing them and might not think of themselves as “game developers” in the traditional sense of a “software developer”. The Lexaloffle BBS is basically a feed of “hey, here’s a new game I finished, or I’ve been working on, or my progress so far” and you can check stuff out.

You can play the PICO-8 games in a web browser, and they all seem to be free of ads. You don’t need to visit an app store, pay for a game, give it permission to read all sorts of information about you… you don’t even need to sign up for an account or enter a credit card.

I started doing web development in the mid-1990s and “view-source” was how we learned things. PICO-8 has view-source! You can click the little ‘code’ button and see the code. You can copy and learn from the code, and modify it, and fix it, and… it’s refreshing to be able to do that.

`For the RG35XX there is not an official way to run the real PICO-8, but there’s Fake-08, which has the goal of making PICO-8 games run on platforms that aren’t officially supported. So you won’t see Fake-08 for Windows, macOS, Linux, Raspberry Pi, or for the web. It just fills the gaps left by Lexaloffle.

As you may have guessed when I mentioned the view-source thing above, I have already dabbled with writing code in PICO-8. I don’t know that I’ll ever actually release anything, but hey, it is bringing fun back to programming for me. (For anyone who has written code for themselves/for fun, and for others/for work, you probably know what I mean.) When I was a kid in the 1980s I tried writing an adventure game on the Apple ][+ completely in BASIC. It was fun at first but quickly became frustrating as the lines of code added up and what I wanted to do surpassed my programming abilities of the time. I could probably totally write that game with PICO-8 today.

I should mention that the Anbernic RG35XX may not be the ideal handheld console for PICO-8 games. There are handhelds that can run the official version of PICO-8 (instead of Fake-08) and you just need to load the Raspberry Pi version onto the device. (PICO-8 is $15 for the official runtime, but if you consider you get access to thousands of games it seems like a deal.) Some handhelds also have wifi, which means you can run splore which is basically a browser (or “app store”) for games. You can also run splore in the browser or desktop version of PICO-8 and it’s the best way to check out a zillion games to see what you like.


Anbernic RG35XX Handheld Gaming Console

I must admit, I did not have “become a gamer” on my bingo card. Back in June I watched the Tetris movie, and I remembered how much fun I had playing Tetris 30(ish) years ago, and then I posted this to Mastodon.

I’d love to get a portable game device that could play Tetris.

I have no idea where to start with this. I don’t want actual Game Boy hardware, just some affordable facsimile.

I’ve seen a ton of devices online, but would love a recommendation from someone who has tried/used some.

I also looked around and found the Anbernic RG35XX which looked like it might work, then read this thread from Dan about the “Game Dad” as he calls it, which sealed the deal. I still went with the cheaper model because I am not a gamer (or am I!?!?) and I really just wanted to play Tetris.

Dan (and others) mentioned how a device like this can get you away from “doomscrolling” on your phone. Instead of opening up some social media app and just scrolling and scrolling… and scrolling… you might engage your mind with some puzzle solving in a game. Now sure, there are apps that are games, but then you’re still on your phone, and the app may have ads, and you may get notifications on your phone. Also, the controls (a touch screen) are not great for many games. And like… I just don’t want to play games on my phone!

There’s that whole idea that gaming can help with your mental abilities as well. (There are so many articles about Tetris or other games being good for your brain I won’t even link to any.) Needless to say, some people have said game playing really helps them deal with anxiety and ADHD.

So I got an Anbernic RG35XX (terrible name!) and used it for about a week before I installed GarlicOS which is a port of RetroArch for the RG35XX. Hey, I’m still not well versed in all of this, but I noticed searching for ROMs in GarlicOS was missing, which I really liked in the stock OS. Well, there are apps for RetroArch, including a romSearch app.

Anyway, I have now played a lot of Tetris. I also played Tetris DX and Tetris Worlds. There’s Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance, each with different versions. Neat! The funny thing is, I actually do have a Game Boy (Camera) which uses my daughter’s old GBA, and I swear I saw a Tetris cartridge somewhere in my office years ago. My daughter also had a Nintendo DS many years ago, and we do have an old Game Cube and Nintendo Wii. (Well shit, now I sound like a gamer! But really these were all casual things for family gaming. I almost never just played games by myself. But now… I do. (We were a big Animal Crossing family back in 2007.)

So yeah, I love this little device. The Anbernic Rg35XX is around $60 USD and you get a zillion old games on it, ready to play, right out of the box… And you can upgrade it to GarlicOS to make it more awesome. Even if I get tired of it and toss it in a drawer in six months, that’s not too bad.

But wait, there’s one more thing. A resource for thousands of games (for free) and the ability to make your own games! I’ll cover that in the next post!


The Foursquare Experience



  1. Arrive at Post Office
  2. Launch Foursquare
  3. Wait
  4. Tap “Check in”
  5. Wait
  6. Leave Post Office
  7. Foursquare found no venues
  8. Quit Foursquare
  9. Launch Foursquare
  10. Stare at splash screen
  11. Wait
  12. Quit Foursquare
  13. Launch Foursquare
  14. Tap “Check in”
  15. Tap “Check in”
  16. Tap “Check in”
  17. Foursquare doesn’t find Post Office
  18. Type in “Post Office”
  19. Wait
  20. Scroll through a dozen post offices
  21. Tap the one I was at about 10 minutes ago
  22. Check in
  23. Quit Foursquare

Foursquare is a geographical location based social network that incorporates gaming elements.


Kickstarter: Gameduino


The most interesting Kickstarter project I’ve come across recently has to be Gameduino:

Gameduino connects your Arduino to a VGA monitor and speakers, so anyone who can write an Arduino sketch can create video games. It’s packed full of 8-bit game goodness: hundreds of sprites, smooth scrolling, multi-channel stereo sound.

James Bowman was hoping to raise $3,333 to do a manufacturing run of the Gameduino, but with the deadline tomorrow, it’s now at $35,253 raised. Amazing!

I also think the pledge levels were chosen wisely…

$3 or more gets you a zip file containing all the raw video and audio.

$53 or more gets you a Gameduino from the production run, assembled and tested.

$113 or more gets you a Gameduino, a printed reference poster, a joystick, and an Arduino Uno, preloaded with the Asteroids game.

$263 or more gets you all of the above, plus your 64-byte message burned into an easter-egg section of every Gameduino’s boot ROM. (8 of these were available.)

$433 or more gets you all of the above, plus the Arduino preloaded with a game of your devising. Just supply the graphics, describe gameplay, and I’ll have a weekend hackathon to put it on the Gameduino. (4 of these available.)


At the base, you can toss $3 towards the effort, just to show your support and help make things happen. For $53 you get an actual Gameduino from the production run. One would hope that they do more production runs, based on the money raised, I’d say that’s a sure bet. But will it cost more or less than $53 next time? If you don’t want to risk it costing more, or you just want to be one of the first to have one, this is a great option.

And for the people who really want to support the project, there were 12 higher-end support options, 4 of which get you custom game development. (All of them sold out.)

Also worth noting: The Gameduino is open-source hardware (BSD license) and all its code is GPL licensed. Nice! This means that once it’s created, others should be able to build and sell them as well. I’d expect kits to appear in the future.

Check out the Gameduino project page for a sweet video showing it’s capabilities, and if you want one, hurry up and pledge today!


Casual Gaming

Since just before BarCampMilwaukee, I talked with a few people about what I call the “casual gamer” which is pretty much the opposite of the “hardcore gamer” in terms of behavior.

Now that the Wii and the PlayStation 3 have (more or less) arrived, I’ll give you my thoughts on this, but remember, this is the view from a casual gamer, not someone who is completely obsessed with gaming, just someone who plays once in a while and/or wants a fun system for the whole family to play.

First of all, the casual gamer cares about bang for the buck, not about the lastest and greatest. For instance, we can often find GameCube games used for anywhere between $5 and $20. Brand new games for the GameCube seem to run about $20 to $40. Keep in mind that a year ago you could get a new GameCube with Mario Kart: Double Dash and 4 controllers for about $200, and today you can pick up a brand new GameCube for $99. So like I said, bang for the buck takes effect, and you could put together a complete gaming system for the whole family for well under $300.

Now, the Nintendo Wii appears to be priced at $250, and is backwards compatible with the GameCube games, so if I was buying today, this is what I would get. It would make sense to “move up” to the Wii from the GameCube. I’m also influenced by the Nintendo titles, which are more kid & family friendly. (I have two daughters who love gaming, and the GameCube is perfect for them.) As for the PlayStation 3, it comes in priced at $500, twice the price. Now, it does have some impressive technology in it, but for the casual gamer, this is lost. The new games for the PlayStation 3 seem to be priced at about $60, and the used (well, used PlayStation & PlayStation 2 games) seem to be priced cheap, well under $20.

Jus the other day I was taking with a friend of mine, and found out he too was a casual gamer (he has 3 kids) and I told him how we pick up used titles for cheap, and he said he’s gotten some good deals on ebay, like 10 games for $30. I think Nintendo realizes that there is a place for the casual gamer, and they’re looking to serve that market.