beanz Magazine

Fantasy Computers and TIC-80

Tilemahos Efthimiadis on Flickr

A fun introduction to programming games with fantasy computers. The 70s and 80s are back in style!

Retro gaming has been a big thing over the last few years: 8-and-16-bit style pixel art, chiptune music, and old-school gaming styles like platformers coming back in vogue.

What’s also coming back is the experience of working with the computers of the late 70s and early 80s. Computers like the VIC-20 and Commodore 64 were really popular during this time.

They were neat little machines that ran on operating systems and hardware that were simple enough that you could control almost everything about the computer—including directly programming graphics, sound, and manipulating system memory—with a version of Basic.

Now we have fantasy computers, which are programs that act like they’re a piece of hardware with its own memory, storage, and operating system. These fantasy computers act as an easy way to get started with games programming because you do everything in the fantasy computer itself: draw sprites, write the code, make the music, and create the sound effects. The first version of the puzzle-platformer Celeste started out as a fantasy computer game and based on its success there it’s been released on every major gaming system.

The most well-known fantasy computer is PICO-8, which is both polished and popular but costs $15 and is not open-source. Since I always like promoting open-source software whenever possible we’ll instead talk about TIC-80 which is not only free and open-source but it’s a fantasy computer I absolutely love.

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