8-bit magic

Playdate’s Pulp tool lets you design a video game in your web browser

Eat your heart out, Atari!

Image showing collage of many different Playdate game scenes next to each other. All are pixel-style...

Panic Inc. — makers of the adorable “Playdate” handheld controlled with a hand-crank — has launched Playdate Pulp, a tool that lets users design their own games for the handheld from the comfort of a web browser.

Pulp has everything you’ll need to make a fully-fledged 8-bit game for the Playdate, boasting “drawing tools, animation, level editor, custom font, chiptune music and sound effects” among its many features. Aspiring game devs of all ages can play around with Pulp, as it’s pretty intuitive and easy to use.

Ready, set... GO!Panic Inc.

Design with ease — Next month, Panic plans to add more features to Playdate Pulp, including a bitmap font editor that allows devs (that means you!) to create your own characters, import your favorite fonts and implement them into your epic little game.

Upon a brief test, Pulp is quite easy to use and design with, as the pixel nature of the game allows for simplistic precision with just a keyboard and mouse. I made a basic, maze-like map on the starting level. It reminds me of Pac-Man or a retro dungeon-crawling RPG.

A basic maze I made, which took less than 10 seconds to design.Panic Inc. / Kate Irwin

Layers — Then, I added exits (represented by the question marks), which can connect to other level screens. I also added collectible items in the form of floppy disks. And last but not least, I added some sprites.

Now that looks more like a game.Panic Inc. / Kate Irwin

Storytelling — When a player interacts with the sprite, the sprite will respond with dialogue that depends on how many floppy disks the player has collected. This dialogue is completely customizable, as is the sprite design and the number of items required to establish interaction.

Endless possibilities. Panic, Inc.

For aspiring game writers, this kind of if/then statement building is a great way to practice branching dialogue and situation-based interactions. This feature is a crash-course in game narrative design, giving creators the chance to really spin out some wild tales if they put in the time and effort.

Any language — Until font importing becomes a feature in February, players can edit the default font or design their own from scratch. This means that Pulp games can be easily made in any language, including those with non-Roman characters. Heck, you could even write a game made entirely in Klingon.

Panic Inc.

Music maker — The audio options appear to be quite robust as well. There’s a “song” tab and a “sound” tab, so devs can make individual game sounds for interactions or throw in a background song. The audio features are very easy to use, kind of like the town song design feature in Animal Crossing, but with more options and possible implementations.

Panic games? — While the Playdate handheld comes with some Panic games pre-loaded, you’ll also be able to play your own on the device, which is majorly cool.

For ravenous gamers, don’t fret — Panic has promised to release 24 of its own games for the handheld’s first “season.” Two games will be released every week, so the Playdate’s first season of games will run for about three months.

Next-gen devs — This Playdate Pulp tool is awesome because of its potential to foster the next generation of game developers. Oh, and it’s free. Free things are always cool.

As for the Playdate handheld itself, pre-orders for the $179 device are expected to begin shipping near the end of 2022. While you wait, why not try your hand at designing a few games yourself?