Why I like Pico-8

A somewhat personal benefit from using Pico-8

First a quick disclaimer. I will often refer to myself as a perfectionist. I have no idea if I actually am one because the definition of it seems very vague, but the definition I am adopting here is not the one anyone would like to have. It doesn't mean everything I make ends up perfect, it means I never get to finish anything.

Case in point, I started a game project back in 2013 with the main purpose of finishing it, after growing tired of unfinished projects piling up. That was it. The main goal was to finish it. It wasn't meant to be my dream project, I had no prior affection to the concepts in it at all, and it was all conjured at the spot with the single purpose of being a project I could finish. The choices I made for this project reflect that. No 3D, no procedural generation, nothing that would seem to demand too much work for a one man team. Notice I said 2013 and I am writing this in 2018 and the game is still not finished. The game idea didn't change much, if you believe that. I swear I fought all feature creeps with all my might and everything I added makes sense. It just so happens that the version of the design of this game that would be interesting and fun went completely off the path of an easy to finish project. (I'm omitting the fact I work on this during weekends while being a stressed grad student but that doesn't influence the situation that much).

I might have a somewhat good excuse to do that to a project. I did what had to be done for it to be good and nothing else. After all, no one wants to make bad things. But the right thing to do in this situation would actually be to abandon the project entirely, and start from scratch with a new idea that would be realizable within the initial constraint set by myself, that is, to be finished. But I'm too attached to the idea to abandon it now.

In comes Pico-8. It advertises itself as a limited system to make games, a fantasy console. Any artist crave for an interesting set of limitations that will stimulate new ideas so I gave it a shot. Indeed it's very fun. But what really made Pico-8 stand out for me isn't so much the creative juices by imposed technical limitations but another conceptual ceiling that I'll call diminished returns, that manipulate my perfectionist ass just the right way.Example of stretching the limits of Pico-8

The technical limit of what can be done in Pico-8 is surprisingly high, as can be seen by some amazing tech demos and games made in it. There are raytracing engines, 3d polygons, voxels, 2D with normal mapping, physics simulations etc. People really like to push the boundaries of Pico-8. These are great fun projects for people who are programmers before anything else. The main project would be making a raster engine, or something like that, and the spaceship game that followed is just to show off the raster engine.

This limit is beyond my programming skills and I'm not into making games as a programmer (I'm mediocre at best). The ceiling of diminished returns is when anything that I want to add to the project will start to take more work than if I had done this in any other engine like unity, game maker etc. And it is this very thought that saves me from myself. As I work on a project that is reaching the limits and I really want to make this game "perfect" I would have to do one of the two:

1) Move the entire project to another platform, which translates to restarting the entire thing from scratch, completely independent from this current incarnation.

2) Put in a lot of effort to stretch the limits of the Pico-8, which seems like a waste of time reinventing the wheel. Wheels that exist perfectly fine and convenient everywhere else I look.

Pico-8 locks me in this scenario and I have no choice but to polish my project as much as I can and call it done. Regardless of whether I intend to restart it somewhere else, this version simply has to be done now.

So I appreciate Pico-8 a lot. After so many years working with games, with a huge line of prototypes and unfinished projects dragging behind me, it was only now that I got this amazing feeling of having finished something. And this feeling really does live up to the hype. Even if the finished thing is a terrible, rage-inducing, clone of whack-a-mole, done in two days mess of a game, I do feel great for calling it done.

If you want to play the game that sparked this blog entry just click the gif. 

Latest Jobs


Playa Vista, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Senior Level Designer (Zombies)

PlayStation Studios Creative Arts

Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Lead Concept Artist

Digital Extremes

Lead AI Programmer
More Jobs   


Explore the
Advertise with
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer


Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Advertise with

Game Developer

Engage game professionals and drive sales using an array of Game Developer media solutions to meet your objectives.

Learn More
Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more