How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 7


If you remember (it was before Christmas, so I realise you might not), the last thing we did on our game was make it harder. This was done by making the enemy speed up, but there’s another way – why not spawn more enemies?

Part 7: Spawning

Up until now, we’ve referred to the enemy’s position variables as ex and ey, and used the variables d and dinc to determine their speed and how much they speed up by. If we decide to add a second enemy, we can use more varables – ex2, ey2, d2 and dinc2 perhaps. And for a third enemy, ex3 and ey3 and so on. Simple, yes?

Well yes, but terribly inefficient. Not least because we need the associated code to alter them too. What if, instead, we can just say “make an enemy with these attributes” as many times as we like, and then say “just update all the enemies and draw them on the screen please and thanks”? That’d be like magic, right?

Magic in the form of an enemy object. In PICO-8, objects take the form of specially constructed tables, with keys and values. For example, we can create an “empty” enemy called “en” like this:

and then give it some attributes as key/value pairs:

and so on.

Then, we can be clever and create lots of these and put them all in another table, called “enemies”. We can then perform tasks on all the enemies in the enemies table in one go!

Let’s start with a function to make enemies and add them to the enemies table.

Continue reading “How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 7”

How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 6

Die Hard

We have a complete, if dull and far too easy, game. Now we’ve the basics set up, let’s make it harder – and hopefully a bit more playable as a result!

Part 6: Die Hard

There are a number of ways we can make the game harder, but the simplest one is just to make the enemy faster. We can do this just by changing the value of d from 0.05 to a bigger number. Instead of that, though, why not slowly increment d so that the enemy gets faster and faster the more time the player has spent alive?

We can do this with a counter that increments every loop of the game logic. When it hits a certain threshold, increment d and reset the counter. Let’s call this series of counting “ticks”, and after 200 ticks (so 200 loops of the game logic – essentially 200 frames) d increases. We’ll also choose that d will increase by 0.05 each time.

For this, we need three new variables: ticks (the tick counter), tickstrigger (the number at which ticks triggers a speed increase), and dinc (how much d increased by each time).

We’ll put these in _init():

Now we need a simple routine to increment ticks, check if ticks has spilled over the tickstrigger, and if so, increment d by dinc. We can put that in _update(), after the rest of the game logic:

Now, you’ll notice that ticks increases by one each loop, as does score, so you can watch the score counter on the screen increase and at 200, 400, 600 and every other multiple of 200, the enemy will speed up.

That’s made the game somewhat harder. Of course, eventually the enemy will be faster than the player and there’ll be no way to continue playing, but we can deal with that another time.

Our code so far, then:

Next time, we’ll make the game harder in a different way by creating multiple enemies, and to do that we need to delete and rewrite half our code. It’ll be worth it!

How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 5


Now that things can collide and the player can effectively die (see last time), the next job is to score some points. Doing this is surprisingly easy, and so this lesson is going to be very short.

Part 5: Score!

For the purposes of this game, simply staying alive is how you score points. Maybe we’ll add bonus points or something later, but for now, the player will get one point for every frame they stay alive.

We need to do three things: set an initial score, update that score, and draw the score on the screen. Hopefully you can see where this is going.

In _init(), we’ll initialise the score to zero:

Then, in _update(), we’ll increment it (so it goes up by one point each time _update() is called. We’ll do that at the end of _update() in case we die that frame:

And finally, we’ll draw this on the screen in – you guessed it – _draw(). We need to draw it after we clear the screen with cls (or we won’t see it), but it’s an artistic choice as to whether our sprites are “on top” of the score, or the score is “on top” of the sprites.

Of course, we could have a status area on the screen for this (where the gameplay area won’t encroach), but for now we’re keeping it simple. Let’s print it at 100,0 so it’s in the top right but has space to allow for multiple digits in case we’re that good, and in colour 7 (white):

And that’s literally all there is to it.

I said it was going to be short! Let’s catch up with the code so far:


How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 4

Crash! But not that sort of crash.

In Part 3, we made an enemy chase the player. Which was nice, but nothing actually happened when the player was caught. Why not? Because we had no code to check for collisions! Let’s fix that.

Part 4: Collision check

What is a collision? Well, for the purposes of our game – and most games – it’s when two objects overlap. In our case, it’ll be our player sprite and our enemy sprite. That’s pretty simple to understand, but how do we code it?

Let’s look at the definition in plain English. Both sprites are 8 pixels wide, and we need to check if any part of each sprite is “inside” the area of the other. Things will be different for different sized sprites, but let’s keep it simple for now.

The player sprite’s four corners are:

And the enemy sprite coordinates are:

So when they overlap, all of the following must be true (follow along with two squares of paper if that helps!):

  • The right edge of the enemy must be to the right of the left edge of the player (ex+8 > x), AND
  • The left edge of the enemy must be to the left of the right edge of the player (ex < x+8), AND
  • The bottom edge of the enemy must be below the top edge of the player (ey+8 < y), AND
  • The top edge of the enemy must be above the bottom edge of the player (ey > y+8)

In PICO-8, that translates to:

Let’s plan ahead a little, and assume we’re going to reuse the collision code for other things later on. After all, we might add more enemies, right? Let’s create a function to check collisions between two objects, using this code as the base. The function will return true if there’s a collision, and false if not:

Now we can send the coordinates of any two objects to that function and get a true or false in return. We’ll put a call to it in the _update() function (before we move anything), and stop the game if there’s a collision. Later, we can lose a life or something instead, but for now we’ll just stop().

Remember that “if checkcol(x,y,ex,ey) then” implies “if checkcol(x,y,ex,ey) == true”.

Here’s a catchup of all the code so far:


How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 3

Chase me.

Last time, we got a square moving round the screen and accounted for bumping into the walls. This time, we’ll give old Squarey a reason to move around – something to chase him. Or her.

Part 3: Chase me

Right back at the start, we created an extra sprite to use as an enemy – Sprite 2. We’ll make use of that now.

Firstly, we need an initial position for our enemy. As we’re using x and y for the player, let’s use ex and ey for the enemy, and start it in the bottom right of the screen. 120, 120 perhaps. We’re also going to assign a speed to it – how far it moves each frame – and call it d (for distance, in pixels). We put these assignments in our _init() function:

We also need to display this enemy on the screen, so in the _draw() function, remembering the enemy sprite is in slot 2, we can use:

All this does so far, though, is show a square in the bottom right. We still need to make it move, and to do that we need to check where it is in relation to the player. In English, we want this:

“If the player is to the left of the enemy, move the enemy left”

“If the player is to the right of the enemy, move the enemy right”

That is, if x is less than ex then the player is to the left, and if x is greater than ex then the player is to the right. We can do the same for up and down with y and ey.

So how do we make it move left? Decrement ex. Right? Increment ex. Up? Decrement ey. Down? Increment ey. And how much do we increment or decrement by? Our variable d. Easy! Let’s do the if checks in _update(), after we’ve moved the player:

Now run the code, and watch how the enemy chases the player. Very, very slowly. Have a play with the value of d in the _init() function to see how this changes the speed of the enemy – try 0.1 or 1 instead of 0.05, for example.

Chase me!

Obviously, the game is very easy at this point, and not least because nothing happens if the enemy catches you. Why not? Because we’ve not coded any collisions yet! That’s what we’ll do next time. For now, here’s all the code so far, with some additional annotations so we’ll remember what everything does:

How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 2

I like to move it.

In the last chapter, I showed you the very basic task of putting a sprite on the screen. That’s all very well, but a bit less interactive than most games are. In this chapter, let’s make it move.

Part 2: Move the player

The first task here is to make PICO-8 check to see if the player is pressing any of the direction keys. You can do this by making use of the btn() function.

The arrow keys (or joypad d-pad, depending how you’re playing the game) are referred to by the numbers 0 to 3. The left key is 0, right is 1, up is 2 and down is 3. If you check to see, for example, if btn(0) is true, then you’re checking to see if the player is pressing left.

You’ll recall that the coordinates of the player sprite on the screen are stored in the variables x and y. To physically make the sprite move left, you need to make the value of x smaller, and to move it right you have to make it larger – remember that the left of the screen is 0, the right is 127. Let’s make it move by one pixel at a time for simplicity’s sake. Ignoring up and down for the moment, this code in the _update() function will do that:

In plain English, this reads as:

“If the left key is being pressed, then decrease the value of x by 1”

“If the right key is being pressed, then increase the value of x by 1”

You could be a little more verbose and use the longer forms if you wish:

When you do a check on a function, looking for a “true” is implied, and I prefer the shorter form of the increment and decrement command, but both work. Just note that when you assign a value to a variable you use one equals sign (=), but when you do an “if” check, you use two (==).

Run your code now, and see how the sprite moves left and right as you press left and right. Magic!

Of course, this only deals with left and right. Let’s add the code for up and down, using btn(2) and (3) and changing y as appropriate:

Now, you’d think that was the end of it, but there’s a flaw here. You may have noticed that the sprite can move off the screen where you can’t see it. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the purposes of this game we don’t want that to happen.

To fix it, we need an additional check for “screen edge detection”. When moving left, we need to make sure that x is only decremented when x is already greater than 0. Similarly, we can only move up if y is greater than 0.

For the right and bottom edges, it’s slightly more complicated. Although the edges are at 127 pixels, our sprite’s x and y values refer to the top left corner of the sprite, which is 7 pixels before the right and bottom edges of the sprite – the sprite is 8×8 pixels, remember. Instead of then checking to see if the sprite is at 127 pixels, we need to check for 120.

We can add this check at the same point we check for a button press by modifying the “if” statements. For example:

If we finish this off to include up and down, we can complete our code (for now!):

Next time, we’ll add an enemy to chase the player!

How to make a PICO-8 game: Part 1

Let’s Make A Game.

Since I’m now teaching people how to make programs in PICO-8, I thought I might as well put my teaching notes here for others who may find them useful.

A few caveats:

I am not an expert. Yes, there are better ways of doing some of what I’m explaining (and some of the improvements will come in later parts of the “course”), but my “class” consists of children, some of whom will have no coding experience past Scratch so bear that in mind. In particular, I will be using longhand for variables, and objects/classes will be used later on, to keep things readable, simple, and followable. Followable is definitely a word. Also, this won’t teach you how to use PICO-8 itself, just how to program with it. There’s a manual for that.

The game we’re going to create is very simple. There are two sprites, and one sprite is player controlled and chased by the other sprite. That’s it. Told you it was very simple.

Parts of a PICO-8 Game

There are three main functions to deal with in a basic PICO-8 program: _init(), _update() and _draw(). Note the underscores – without them your program won’t work.


This is called at the start of your program when you run it. Unless called again, it runs only once. It’s here where you put all your setup stuff, variable initialisation, and so on.


This is called over and over again, 30 times a second. In here you put your “game logic”, updating variables such as object locations, checking for collisions, increment the score, and so on.


This function is where all the drawing on the screen takes place. So you’d print the score, draw the sprites, and so on in the _draw() function. It is also called 30 times a second if it is possible to do so – if the code is taking to long to run it may drop  _draw() calls so that _update() has time to run properly.

Just a few things to mention before I show you any code:

Firstly, comments in the code (that is, notes to you rather than actual code) are either lines starting

which comments out that line, or

which comments out everything until

Secondly, it’s good practice to give all your functions and variables useful names. PICO-8 does have a character limit so you may need to make them shorter and therefore less useful in the future, but not yet!

Finally, indent your code. When you open a function, a loop, an if/then or anything like that, indent everything in it. It makes it a lot easier to read.

If you follow these three rules, your code will be nice and readable – important if you come back to it weeks or months later, or give it to someone else, but also it helps a lot when things aren’t working as you’d expect.

Part 1: Put some stuff on the screen

First off, we’ll need a sprite to act as the player. We’ll just draw a blank square for now in the sprite editor, and use the sprite slot 1 to store it. We won’t need it yet but lets also create an enemy sprite the same only a different colour in slot 2.

Two basic sprites

Now, in the code editor, lets put the three basic functions I mentioned above:

We’ll choose now what the start coordinates of the player sprite are. The PICO-8 screen is 128×128 pixels, with the top left of the screen at 0,0, and the bottom right at 127,127. The middle will be roughly 64,64 then. We’ll call the x and y coordinates of the player, well, x and y. Why not?

Since they’re being initialised, we put these in _init():

At this point, we’re not going to move it about, but we do need to draw it. Usually in a PICO-8 game, you’ll want to clear the screen at the start of each draw frame, so we’ll make use of the cls() command to do that. We can choose what colour to clear the screen to by putting the colour number in cls(). You can use this palette to chose one:

cls(2) will clear the screen to a sort of purpley mauve, for example.

Then we’re going to draw the player sprite on the screen at 64, 64 – now known as x and y. This is done with the spr() command, and the coordinates refer to the top left corner of the sprite. We also need to tell spr which sprite to use, in this case the player sprite, which is sprite number 1.

And there we go:

Best. Game. Ever.

Next time, I’ll show you how to make the thing move around the screen, but for now, here’s all the code so far:

A short film about communications engineers based on a true story

A film by M. Night Shyamalan.





Tidily cabled, blinking lights on servers. Toolbox open on floor with spare cable ends on the floor.

BT MAN 1, short and wearing glasses and reflective jacket. Unshaven. Has Cockney accent and appears fidgety.

(on phone)
Yes so this end is done. Lights are on, just waiting for the test your end. Connect up…



BT MAN 2 is tall, bald and clean shaven. Has thick Norfolk accent. He is talking to BT MAN 1 on his mobile

Right, to where?

As incoherent chatter is heard over BT MAN 2’s phone, BT MAN 2 listens and nods, then shakes his head.

There is no 4… yes, I’ve checked. There’s just no equipment. Yes, I’m at the right exchange.


(Into phone, frightened)
But I installed it myself earlier today. It can’t just be gone!