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Faux-retro games are hot right now, here's how to get started on one

In this weeks’ Recommends we talked about some new games that felt old. We’ve been seeing a lot of that lately so it’s high time we helped folks get into the aesthetic if they’re interested.

Alone in Pico

There are a lot of reasons why you’d want to make a retro-inspired game (nostalgia is a strong one) and luckily for all of us the barrier to entry can be really low. One of the easiest ways to jump in is through a fantasy console. We’ve written a primer to fantasy consoles before, so I’ll avoid rehashing it here, but the short definition is that fantasy consoles are heavily restricted dev environments that are supposed to behave as if they were retro consoles. Now none of these map 1:1 onto “real” consoles, but it’s hard not to see the influences in popular choices like Pico-8 or Bitsy. Some of the limitations of these consoles map realistically onto classic consoles -- limited tracks in the sound editors, and small sprite sheets spring immediately to mind-- but they each manage to form their own unique identity through their differences from each other.

Ok, so maybe you’re already set up with an existing engine or toolset and fantasy consoles aren’t thrilling you. Another easy way to evoke that new-retro style is through your graphics. There are hundreds of talented folks posting premade assets to and many of them evoke this exact style. If you need a place to start on your visual direction, or want to prototype quickly, premade assets are a great way to get to where you’re headed.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of any retro game comes from the limitation of design. Because games had to be much smaller back in the day, the number of systems, mechanics, and assets had to be smaller too. This may be a personal preference of mine, but I think a good new-retro game should respect this. Adding too many systems and overloading players is a quick way to break the illusion that the game is coming from a simpler time.

Are you inspired to make a retro-style game? Do you have any tips from your time working on these kinds of projects? Let everyone know in the comments below.

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Great post, thank you! I've been churning an idea for a game quite some time now and this is immensely helpful.

This post is great. Looking to get into more 'Low rez' stuff myself with Bitsy. The best thing about these engines is similar to the best thing about game jams : Limitation. 

Limitation is such a great way of learning how to design a game. It influences you to be more creative and to use your resources efficiently. 

Again, this post is awesome! Thank you!

This asset has proven to be fantastic for that, if you're working in Unity:

Yes, actually. Use a retro development system like sdlBasic. While it allows for games with a modern presentation, such as vector fonts and high-quality audio, the language limitations and slow 2D graphics force the developer to keep things simple and employ all kinds of tricks that used to be standard back in the day. Yet it's a lot of fun to use... and to play the results.

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Demake of the classic Alone in the Dark in Pico 8
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