Travel in time

By K.G. Orphanides. Posted

People get excited about old games. It’s not exactly a secret, given the ongoing boom in remakes, remasters, and repackaged classics. But there’s something special about trying to come as close as you can to the original gaming experience.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I’ve found over years of building emulation systems is how broad their appeal is. Kids who have never known a time without HD screens and realistic 3D take to pixelated platformers and EGA edutainment software without a blink.

Even the difficulty spikes of old-school arcade classics, designed to separate players from their money as efficiently as possible, become artful punctuation in the language of play, thanks to the save states and infinite credits of an emulator-based arcade cabinet.

With greater access to development tools, approachable languages, and supportive communities, game creation is also being radically democratised. And just as there are many people who love to play retro games, there are plenty of individuals and development teams who have set out to create their own.

This can go as far as full-scale releases on physical cartridges and major digital platforms, particularly when it comes to the rich world of Sega Mega Drive and other classic consoles, but both the aesthetic and the inherent technical limitations of developing for older hardware have appeal.

Technical limitations in resolution, memory size, and audio voices can make your game simpler to program. This has directly led to the rise of Fantasy Consoles, virtual 8-bit machines that run on your computer. Priced at $15 (£11), Pico‑8 is the best‑known of these, with official support for Raspberry Pi and a great community.

Pixel art is still going through a years-long renaissance, with many artists deliberately adopting 256-, 16-, and even four-colour palettes. You’ll see these choices reflected in games as disparate as Unpacking (through its EGA camera filter) and The Eternal Castle, a ‘remake’ of a game that never existed. If you want to start making pixel art on Raspberry Pi, Aseprite can be compiled, and an unofficial ARM build of Pixelorama is now available.

More modern retro aesthetics can be found in the low-rez horror games exemplified by the Haunted PS1 Demo Disc series.

Although Unity and Unreal Engine don’t run on Raspberry Pi, the impressive Godot engine does, albeit with a few limitations.

We’ve got you covered if you want to begin your journey into retro game programming right here with PyGame Zero

Meanwhile, for those who want to get a feel for techniques from the past and present, BBC BASIC is available for Raspberry Pi, while developing with using C++ and SDL is far more fun that it has any right to be.

From The MagPi store


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