How 8-Bit Games Are Programmed

How 8-Bit Games Are Programmed

How Modern And Retro 8-Bit Titles Are Brought To Life

Have you ever wondered how your favorite 8-bit game is made? What goes on behind the scenes to make the character move? How does the device in your hands know how to respond to controls? 

Today we’re going to cover the basics of how 8-bit games are brought to life! Let’s first start with some of the classics. 

How Early 8-Bit Games Were Programmed

When 8-bit gaming first entered the market, most games were developed by teams of programmers using the assembly and/or C computing language. Engineering teams would collaborate with a creative team to bring their shared vision to life. This would result in arcade cabinet games or cartridge titles for home-based consoles that became a hallmark of late-20th Century entertainment. 

One of the 1980s’ greatest titles, Pitfall!, used animated sprites at various pixel lengths to create its on-screen movements. The sprites would emulate a sense of movement by displaying, disappearing, and reappearing in a timed sequential order. 

Modern 8-Bit Game Programming 

With the rise of digital technology, producing 8-bit games has never been easier. Programmers can interact with one another in online communities where they can share information and offer feedback to one another. This makes creating your own games easier than ever and it no longer requires an advanced engineering degree. 

Modern programming still requires a basic knowledge of assembly and/or C languages to create new games. Fortunately, with all of the educational resources available online, these can be learned without enrolling in a university course. All it takes is some imagination and determination! 

Original Titles Are Still Being Made on 8-Bit

Despite many consumers opting for HD consoles like the current X-Box or PlayStation, an active community of 8-bit enthusiasts has found a home online. Games can be programmed by anyone with the knowledge to do so using platforms like the open-source Arduino where our consoles’ games come from! 

How Do You Bring A Game To Life? 

As we mentioned in our post about platformer games, most 8-bit games are developed in a tile-based format. The game’s avatar travels between fixed tiles positions that also house the character’s surrounding environment.

The developers then constantly test the character’s movements against the level design elements to ensure that they interact with one another as intended. For example, if a character is meant to jump onto a solid platform, you want to make sure the platform is programmed to be solid! 

Other Types Of Modern 8-Bit Games 


Another popular application for 8-bit programming is the “demaking” trend. Essentially, a demake is the opposite of a remake. Instead of updating a game for modern consoles, you recreate a more recent 3D title in a two-dimensional 8-bit style. For example, a programmer could “demake” a popular game like Skyrim into a top-down adventure game like the original Legend of Zelda

It should be noted that most of these games are considered fan-made tributes. Most developers that produce demakes do not have the appropriate licensing rights. As such, if you are interested in demakes, they should only ever be released for free to someone who wants to play them. 

Paying Homage to the Classics 

8-bit has also seen a massive increase in popularity through the rise of community-developed titles like the ones found on your favorite 8BitCADE console. Titles like Kong, Squario, and Castle Boy are all styled after iconic NES titles (Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and Castlevania, respectively). 

Unlike demakes, an homage can pay tribute to a game while using its own characters, designs, and anything else that distinguishes it from its inspiration. For example, Squario offers a similar gameplay experience and visual style to the classic Super Mario platformers but with completely original character and level designs. 

Build Your Own 8-Bit Gaming Console With 200+ Games 

Want to program your own 8-Bit gaming console with hundreds of awesome and unique titles? Check out the 8BitCADE and 8BitCADE XL! Learn how to build and program your own portable system and show your friends what you’ve built. 

Don’t forget to also keep an eye out for the all-new 8BitCADE Level Up! Take your love for programming further with the fun new way to improve your STEM skills.

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