Pico-8 is the games console you wanted as a kid. It's a retro-games console environment for Mac (and other computers) that lets you build your own tiny games.

Read next: Complete guide to coding on Mac

You can play retro games made by other users, and build your own video games. You can also stop any game, at any point, and mess with the level design, music, sprites and any other content. A bit like Super Mario Maker but far more powerful.

Pico-8 has a huge, and dedicated, community. This is what makes it so special.

Games are shared as 'virtual cartridges' using the .png (ping image file) format. You can export games direct to HTML 5 or as self contained games (installed just like other games). With HTML 5 you can embed your games in websites. Then other people can play them. Even if they don't have Pico-8.

Some people are even selling Pico-8 games. So if you think you've got a good idea for a game, Pico-8 is the way to get it made.

See also:

How to make retro games on a Mac with Pico-8 Fantasy Console: Before you start

You'll need a Pico-8 account to download the main software. And to make your own games you need to buy Pico-8. But you can play games for free in the HTML browser to see the sort of thing that's available.

  1. Open Safari and visit Lexaloffle.
  2. Click on Cartridges. Click on Top to view the best ones.
  3. Select a game, such as Dusk Child.
  4. Take a quick look at the controls at the bottom.
  5. Click Play.

.How to make retro games on a Mac with Pico-8 Fantasy Console: Pico-8 Games

How to make retro games on a Mac with Pico-8 Fantasy Console: Set up Pico-8 Fantasy Console for Mac

Setting up Pico-8 for Mac is easy. You will need to purchase a copy from Lexaloffle first. You can buy Pico-8 on its own or as part of a bundle that also includes Voxatron (a more advanced 3D games console).

  1. Open Safari and visit the http://www.lexaloffle.com/pico-8.php website.
  2. Click on v-0.1.9b.
  3. Click Mac OS X:zip under PICO-8(Alpha).
  4. Open the Pico-8 folder in Downloads and drag it to Applications.
  5. Control-click the Pico-8 file and choose Open.
  6. Click Open in the '“PICO-8” is from an unidentified developer. Are you sure you want to open it?' alert.
  7. You'll be faced with a black screen with a flashing cursor.
  8. Enter install_demos.
  9. Enter dir to view the directory. Enter cd demos and dir again to view the available files.
  10. Enter load woo.p8
  11. Enter run

You'll now see a tech demo with music and bashing coloured blocks. It's not a game, so much as a demo of what is available. Press Esc to switch to the Code Editor. Here you can see the code from the demo.

How to make retro games on a Mac with Pico-8 Fantasy Console: Pico-8 Code

In the Top Right of the Editor Mode are various modes. Click on them to view different aspects of your game: Sprite Editor, Level Editor, Music Editor and so on.

Read the Pico-8 Manual for more information on using the code and editor. Games for Pico-8 area created using a simple programming language called Lua. A getting started guide to Lua can be found on the Lua website.