A BRIEF HISTORY OF PICO- 8
In 2003, White made poido (‘Pointy Dough’): an in-house tool for his indie studio, Lexaloffle, which provided a way to make sprites, palettes, models, UV maps, audio and more in one editor.
All the different assets for a project could be stored in a single file, called a pod, which set the stage for PICO-8’s allencompassing cartridges.
In 2004, White worked on his first fantasy console: LEX500. It booted into a BASIC interpreter, and had a low-resolution display and a fixed 16-colour palette. White says it was an “unfinished concept mostly driven by the desire to recapture something I felt had been lost in most modern software environments: a playful, cosy space to make small things just for the sake of making them”.
In 2010, White released Voxatron, which features tiny games made out of voxel cubes. It fully realised the cartridge metaphor as a standard, shareable game file and, like PICO-8, it integrated tools to make games on the system.
Voxatron has a simple engine for making games, and White wanted to add code and audio-editing tools, so he resurrected LEX500 as PICO-8. “It quickly became a separate thing with its own identity, and seeing PICO-8 and Voxatron side by side, I could eventually see that they should both be the same type of thing: a ‘fantasy console’.”