TLDR: This is a game that I started years ago and didn't finish. I went back to it on a whim and got it playable. You can download it. But really this is a story about returning to game design and PICO-8 and the joy it brought.
Don't call it comeback
Hello. I'm Brian aka @morningtoast. I jumped on the PICO-8 bandwagon back in 2016 and made a handful of games. For those that remember and played my games, thank you! For everyone else, please check out my old carts - they're still fun. But after a few years of pumping out games, I got a little burned out. I ran out of creative juice, got frustrated, and just had other things to do so I left the gamedev scene.
Scoot ahead a few years and I get an alert that someone commented on an old cart post here in the forum. It felt great seeing someone had played (and enjoyed) an old game. It reminded me a) why I make things, and b) games live beyond their release date...it's all about who finds them.
But that was enough for me to crack open my PICO-8 folder and revisit some of old work. What I found was a treasure trove of unfinished games, a few of which were honestly near-complete that I just never pushed across the finish line. Not sure why...but I decided to try and make one of them at least playable and release as a "lost cart" or something like that.
The game I chose was the last game I worked on called Destructopillar that has you controlling a monster caterpillar that tries to destroy cities and fight off military attackers. Kind of like the old Snake game mixed with SimCity if you were the disaster.
I remember working hard on the game trying to get it right but kept running into blockers. I don't remember if it was token count (probably) or just the game design at large, but nonetheless, I was never happy enough with it to have folks play it. I was one of those PICO-8ers that only released completed games (shame on me). But now I'd rather share something that is 90% complete than nothing at all. I mean, who am I? Just some doof making cheap games on PICO-8 for other doofs. P8 is about sharing and learning so why not do that.
So what did I find when I opened up my Destructopillar cart? What I found was that I had forgotten everything! I'm looking at the code and trying to remember the quirks of P8 and moreso what the hell I was thinking when engineering the thing. It's weird coming back to a project years later and asking, "why I'd do that?" and so on...you get mad at yourself! But after a few plays of the cart as it was, I listed out the things that were not finished and set out to fix them.
And frankly, there wasn't much to fix...a few bad sprites, a few missed ID#s that caused some grief, and a little overweight but otherwise it was pretty close. I got Destructopillar very playable and then realized that the reason I never finished it was just some poor design decisions. I'm guessing I got the game to a point where I thought I was done(ish) and then did some playtesting only to realize it was missing a lot of fun. And at that point I was too pooped to undo everything and try to fix it.
My goal now was not to fix the design problems but rather just get the game playable so I could share it. I'm so out of practice with PICO-8 that diving into that old code would be futile. It'd be easier to start over but now I'm at the point where I need to re-learn P8! Maybe soon but not right now.
The main problem I see with Destructopillar is mostly balance. It gets way too easy, way too quickly...sucking some of the fun out of it by the 4th level. I still dig the concept and the controls but it does get kind of boring and grindy, especially for an endless arcade game. I'm also bummed there's no music...
But it's very playable and not un-fun, so I hope you try it out on your console. The cart for Destructopillar is below. Just save the image locally and load it with your PICO-8 client.
Please enjoy Destructopillar
Copy and paste the snippet below into your HTML.
Note: This cartridge's settings do not allow embedded playback. A [Play at lexaloffle] link will be included instead.
How to play
- Use left/right to control your snake
- Action button will use a boost to shoot your snake across the board (hit it again to stop)
Each segment of your snake is a weapon! Your weapons will automatically attack enemies, so all you have to do is control Destructopillar to crush buildings and avoid damage. If a segment takes too much damage, it will die. If your snake gets hit in the head, you lose a heart. Lose all your hearts and game over.
As you destroy buildings, your power meter will fill up. When it gets full, a piece of fruit will appear. Run over the fruit to add a new segment to your snake. The type of fruit will determine the weapon of the segment.
- Pear: Machine gun, attacks air & ground targets
- Blueberry: Laser, attacks air targets only
- Orange: Flamethrower, attacks ground targets only
- Cherry: Heals all segments
If you manage to collect 3 of the same fruit in a row, those segments will combine to create a powered-up segment with a stronger weapon.
After you reach the goal of each level, an exit will open up on one side of the map. Just find it and enter to advance. This game is endless. I never got around to make a boss battle or anything like that...but levels do get bigger and get more enemies as you go.
But wait, there's more!
After I had fixed Destructopillar, I discovered another cart that was half-done that was also labeled as Destructopillar! I loaded the cart thinking it was just another copy of the other game but found it was pretty different. Lets call it Destructopillar Alpha.
The concept of being a snake that destroys towns was the same but some of the gameplay aspects were different. Like progressing based on people killed rather than just destruction. The pacing is a lot slower and the weapons & enemies are different. But in Alpha you can re-order your snake segments to match colors but the speed boost feature is not there. There are also achievements and different modes in Alpha. The effects were somewhat different too...and I liked them better in Alpha than the other even, I dig the smoke.
So it looks like Alpha was trying to be a more "complete" game but one that I'm guessing didn't get done due to token limit. Given the extras like unlocks, modes, and seeing how some of the graphics got simplified, it tells me this was done due to filesize. But...there were gains in the refactoring process: more enemies, better weapons, faster play, and better performance. I don't think Alpha is a better version of the game, just a different version that shows the evolution of design and engineering.
If you want to play Destructopillar Alpha, you can download that cart and play locally. Just save the image and load it in your PICO-8 console. However, mind you, I have not touched the Alpha version! No fixes or attempts to make it better. It'll probably crash.
Try out Destructopillar Alpha and compare it to above. Which do you like better?
This dive back into PICO-8 was very refreshing and rewarding. Even though it wasn't that long ago, it feels like forever since I've thought about or tried making games. It's something I love and always seem to return to when I need comfort. I guess now is one of those times.
And taking a look at games I had designed that never quite got finished was VERY interesting. I don't often go back and look at old projects...I make and move on...but this trip back was enlightening and motivating. I'm going to see what other unfinished games I can revisit and make available for play - even if it plays rather poorly. If nothing else, maybe it will inspire someone or give them an idea for a new game; one that will get finished and loved by all.
If you're interested in trying out other games I've made, please check out my Itch.io page or my profile here on the BBS. I might suggest Alien Harvest and BuzzKill as they're a couple of my favorites that I'm proud of.
Again, to everyone that helped me make these games way back when, thank you! Maybe I'll hop back on this horse soon and see what new fun I can come up with.
Thanks & cheers