I'm very fond of this idea of a fantasy console, and I'm enjoying Pico 8 a lot. Every so often, I think, gee, I'd like one with fewer constraints.
But then something dawned on me: There must be a point beyond which, if constraints are relaxed too far, the point of being a fantasy console evaporates and you may as well be simply using a more generic game framework.
I imagine this has been discussed many times before. But it explains to me why we will probably not see an extremely large proliferation of fantasy console software, the reason being that it is the constraints that make it unique as a console. If we make something as powerful as say protected mode DOS and make it a fantasy console, users may as well either use Dosbox or just write a game with a modern game framework, because the constraints are so relaxed relatively speaking. The craft of fitting a game idea into constraints is gone.
I'm aware of Liko 12 and PixelVision 8 and TIC-80 and so forth. The point of my discussion here is just a thought experiment about how much folks would value something that's a lot more powerful---where at that point there's really no need to have it be a console.
I really like PICO-8 because of both the restrictions and the well-integrated tools.
It's not just a platform for retro games, there's no shortage of that, it really is a fantasy console.
And it's a fantasy console that harkens back to a very particular time in computing history. A point in time where even a child could pick up coding in an weekend, but it was possible to make amazing things.
A fantasy 286 or something wouldn't have the same magic to me. The complexity would go up dramatically, and using it would start to feel too much like work.
... but at the same time PICO-8 manages to integrate some modern touches that keep the spirit of the 8-bit era but eliminate frustrations of that era. LUA instead of BASIC, for example.
Lexaloffle has done an amazing job isolating the essence of what made the 8-bit era a golden age of people having fun while coding, but also not getting bogged down in pointless realism.
Yeah! I think it's fun that they force everything to capital letters with the Lua integration and that Lua actually has one or two, vague similarities to BASIC such as IF .... THEN. Obviously the rest of it is not too similar. But the lack of syntactical ceremony makes it similar to BASIC, and I imagine very approachable by beginners. It's kinda like Python (I'm new to Lua), I think.
There's a lot to love in Pico-8, but at this point, I think it's ultimate strength is that the community has hit a critical mass. This will make it very, very hard for any other console to catch up. Pico-8 has so many games to enjoy and learn from. There have been some zine issues, some podcasts, even a book in progress! I think any other product similar enough to scratch the itch that Pico-8 scratches would be too similar for the majority of people to bother switching over.
The "feature" of Pico-8 that stands out to me, and what I always point out when preaching to others, is how quick you can get started and see a result.
You don't have to setup folders or assets or libraries or anything like that. You just start programming and you get an immediate result. That direct (manual) programming can be a hurdle, I suppose, but it's a lot easier to explain (and copy from snippets) than it is watching a 20-minute video on how to setup your environment.
That quick feedback is a huge reason I keep coming back to make games. I can get into actually making my game very quickly...which is a huge sell when showing people too.
Computing had lost that simplicity! Back when people had an Apple 2 or a Vic-20, they could start coding about three seconds after turning on their machine.
The problem is, those machines were terrible.
Somehow Pico-8 gives us the simplicity, but not the terribleness.
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