Digital scholarship blog

10 May 2021

Making Games In The Woods With Bitsy

Our Games in the Woods jam, which is part of this year's Urban Tree Festival, launches on 15th May, and will run for just over a week - finishing on 23rd May. As part of the jam's launch, we are running an online event to inspire participants and highlight free digital resources, which can be used to create a game, including visuals, audio, and online game making tools.

A wood with a deer standing to the left and a fox standing on the right

We love the idea of encouraging people who aren’t programmers and coders to participate in game jams, so we are also highlighting and giving a run through of some no-coding game making tools such as Bitsy.

Bitsy is a free tool created by Adam Le Doux which enables people to create games with an early 1980s retro aesthetic by drawing objects (static scenery tiles, character sprites or object items you can interact with) which are 8 by 8 pixels in size. These objects can be added to the play area, and the play area consists of at least one 128 by 128 pixel sized “room” (you can have hundreds of individual rooms all interconnected if you want). You can add dialogue and variables such as scores to the sprites and items, which will be triggered when you run the game and bump your player (avatar) character into them.

I love how easy it is to use Bitsy to create narrative visual games, and you can get something up and running easily without, as I’ve mentioned, having to do any coding. It has a small set of tools within it that allow you to create the graphics and pull the game together in one place.

A Bitsy game image of a large pink cherry blossom tree, with a person standing in front of it
Three Haiku created in Bitsy by GiuliaC

On a basic level, a Bitsy uses only three colours for each palette, meaning that you can only have three colours on screen at the same time, and only two frames of animation for your avatar, and each tile, sprite or item. However, it’s easy to go into the game data and increase the colours of each palette and add more frames to the animations. These are the sort of additional changes you can make in the game itself, but there are many other free tools created by the amazing Bitsy community which allow you to build on the basics of Bitsy and develop the features of your game if you want to. These “hacks” allow you to do things like add audio, import your own images you’ve created outside of Bitsy, merge Bitsy games, and even create HD Bitsys (16 by 16 pixel tiles, sprites, and items), and 3D Bitsys too.

To get an idea of what you can do with Bitsy, take a look at some of these free to play tree themed games others have created using the tool.

In the Pines, In the Pines, Where the Sun Never Shines is by Laura Hunt and Thomas Möhring, is inspired by US folk tales and murder ballads (there’s a content warning on the page).

Three Haiku is a visual haiku by Giulia Carla Rossi, who also built The British Library Simulator in Bitsy.

Faerie Mist was created by Freckled Femme and is a great atmospheric example of what you can make with Bitsy 3D.

I created Midwinter Sprits, which focuses on winter folklore in a woodland setting.

The Legend of Stoodley Pike Standing Stones is a collaborative piece created as part of the 2019 Feral Vector event in Hebden Bridge.

Drawings of a purple poodle Bitsy sprite
A drawing of Boycie the ghost poodle made by Stella Wisdom for The Legend of Stoodley Pike Standing Stones,  a collaborative Bitsy game created as part of Feral Vector in 2019

We’ve curated an collection of these tree themed Bitsys, along with other tree themed games created using other tools.

To highlight a few of them, Puzzle Tree by BoxORox and Beautiful Tree by the Crounchy Brothers are both puzzle games, but with very different gameplay and aesthetics. There’s also Claire Morwood’s Forest Walk, which is a lovely looking hand-drawn 3D diorama style narrative flat game. Claire has created a number of Bitsys and Bitsy tutorials, which are worth checking out.

Speaking of which, the Bitsy makers community has shared a number of help guides, tutorials and there’s also a Bitsy Discord channel to discuss all things Bitsy if you need help building your Bitsy game. Please do also join us online on 15th May at the Games in the Woods jam launch for more tree themed game-making inspiration.

This post is by Ash Green (@ggnewed) a creative librarian, who writes music, digital stories and makes games.