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Cab Ride: Drive a train, forever, through a dreamlike land (itch.io)
549 points by polm23 72 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 95 comments

What a beautiful creation.

People are making more and more exciting projects in Pico-8, the virtual console that this is made in. It is a fully self-contained environment and provides a great set of constraints that have led to a lot of creativity and ingenuity. It's a bit like the demoscene in that way.

> The Pico-8 program integrates a Lua code editor, sprite and map creation tools, and an audio sound effect and music editor. The program can load games saved locally on a computer, in the form of text or as specially encoded .png images. The interface also supports a splore mode, where games uploaded to the BBS can be previewed and then played in the Pico-8 program. The PocketCHIP miniature computer shipped preloaded with Pico-8.

> Pico-8 games, as well as the program's interface itself, are limited to a 128x128 pixel, 16-color display, and a 4-channel audio output


More games written in Pico-8 on itch.io: https://itch.io/games/tag-pico-8 (sorted by popularity)

Some of the coolest programs I've seen are PICO-8 "tweet carts" [1], where a graphical demo is squeezed into 280 chars (previously 140) and tweeted as GIFs along with their code. It's amazing what people can do

As a side note, most tweetcarts are recorded and posted manually, but two Twitter bots were released (on the same day) to do it automatically if you @ them with the code. One of them was mine, and it's no longer up, but there's still @TweetCartRunner

1. https://twitter.com/search?q=%23tweetcart&src=typed_query

2. https://twitter.com/TweetCartRunner

The fact that someone can create this in Pico-8 just blows my mind.

Do they limit memory and processor?

Another commenter mentioned the memory and CPU limits, but in addition to that, there's a limit to how much code (65536 characters, or 8192 "tokens") you can write and how much assets fit in one 'cart' (sprites, map, sounds, music).

Celeste is another famous game, they're using the maximum capacity that fits in a single Pico-8 "cart": https://www.lexaloffle.com/bbs/?tid=2145 (I think I finished it below 2 minutes once? Definitely below 3. Edit: just over 8 minutes, I've gone rusty, lol)

Maddy released a Celeste 2 for the third anniversary of Celeste a couple of days ago:


I guarantee that you'll take longer than eight minutes for this one

The Pico-8 is real hardware so it is limited by it's specs.

No, it's a virtual console. You might be thinking of something else. https://www.lexaloffle.com/pico-8.php

I own this:


So, it's a virtual console that's sympathetic to physical hardware. Of course this is just a tiny general purpose computer, not some custom PICO8 hardware. But the constraints of the fantasy console means that the creations will work in terms of processing, memory, resolution, input etc on something much weaker than a desktop PC.

Source? According to the Wikipedia entry it's a virtual machine designed to mimic a "fantasy video game console".

Train cab ride through Norway.[1] A train driver in Norway has been posting cab ride videos. No selfies, no music, little commentary, just a front view out the cab window. Very peaceful.

[1] https://youtu.be/1-o1Z0CVnPY

We had a TV show like that in Germany, it ran from 1995 to 2013: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_sch%C3%B6nsten_Bahnstrecke....

See also Don Coffey's channel. There's a decent selection of high quality cab rides around the TransPennine UK rail franchise area:


The Internet keeps reminding me that I would give up my Software Engineer gig in an instant to drive trucks/trains in Scandinavia.

A train driver is one of the hardest jobs to get into - you're personally responsible for a thousand people and it's very very boring. It requires a lot of discipline!

This[1] train driver in Switzerland does the same. It's amazing how 3 hours can flyby.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/user/lorirocks777

Very nice. How can one convert this to VR (google cardboard) format?

Wow, I got sucked in and realized I'd watched 30 minutes. I also just realized I want to live in a small 1 train stop town in Norway.

This looks great. On a side note, I was wondering why the controls were freaking out when I was trying to depart, and then realised I had my foot on my rudder pedals I use for flight sim (not useful for trains despite my best efforts). I was trying to disable it in Brave browser but couldn't find a way. It seems any website can just read your gamepad input?

This doesn't happen on Firefox and this [0] is probably why. I imagine this could be used for fingerprinting, am I missing something?

Anyway, back to driving trains.

[0]: https://hacks.mozilla.org/2020/07/securing-gamepad-api/

People who like this might enjoy the many narration-free videos being produced in Japan these days, in which somebody puts a high quality 4K camera in the front end of a train and lets it record for 4-5 hours.

Search youtube for "japan 4k cab view"

example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwb_u0sciaY

It's densha de go, but cute! Thanks, great work - Pico8 is such an amazing tool, I'm consistently amazed at how powerful it is.

Curiously I have a bit of an itch for games like densha de go, sometimes you just want to drive a train through the city or countryside for a while.

> Densha de Go! (電車でGO!, "Go By Train") is a Japanese train simulation game series originally produced by Taito and more recently by Square Enix (who purchased Taito) and Railfan Holdings Co., Ltd. The game originates from a 1996 arcade version and was first released for the PlayStation in 1997.


For what it's worth, Techmoan recently did a video on one of these:


another user shared this gem yesterday: https://www.jp.square-enix.com/denshadego/syodai/game/ (use mobile user agent if you're not on mobile)

On a similar note, youtube has a bunch of very long (hours) train videos from the cockpit perspective. The Nordic ones are quite peaceful, as well as the Swiss ones.

Here's an example: https://youtu.be/MpDLyLjQz6E

So crazy. The videos where people wander around in the streets seem to have gotten popular I assume because of the pandemic and no travelling. You can find ones for Europe. I like to watch the ones in Japan: Rambalac or Japan4k, etc.

There's a theory that PTSD can be cured by moving your eyes left and right. The rationale for this is that your brain calms the fight or flight response if it thinks you're actually fleeing. But the feedback to the brain comes via the eyes, and as you walk forwards through a landscape your eyes dart left and right.

When I first heard this theory I immediately thought of the number of games where you're heading into a 3D world and if this is part of the calming effect some of these games have.

Reminds me of the aesthetics of Drivey: https://drivey.com/

(Demo of JS version on Github: https://rezmason.github.io/drivey/)

Wow, the JS version has wildly different speeds in Chrome vs Firefox. It's smooth as silk in Firefox, about 1.5fps in Chrome for me.

A nice bit of fun. I kept missing the platforms and restarting as I felt bad for the passengers that I'd left behind...

You felt bad for missing passengers, so you destroyed their entire universe by resetting the game? That's cold. So, so cold.

Best solution to the Trolley problem: blow it all up.

The trolley problem is a false dichotomy!

Same! my only complaint was how very accurate I had to be at the stops to operate the doors and let passengers on an off.

I don't understand what kind of programming wizard you have to be to make this work so smoothly in Pico-8. I've made a Tetris game with a scrolling parallax background for fun in Pico-8 and it struggled to stay at 30fps, and this is running full 3D environment?? Also it blows my mind that this is only 15 colours, incredible how much can be achieved with so little.

This isn't 3d graphics as we know them today. Instead, this is scaling and moving 2d sprites to create the impression of depth. The basic idea is similar to how racing arcade games worked in the late 80s/early 90s before rendering polygonal models became possible.

I think his point might be that the level of overdraw with this scaled 2d sprite solution is expensive. The CPU costing model for PICO8's scaled sprite (sspr) function is 2*n (n = number of pixels drawn). So drawing something the size of the screen once is 32k cycles, which is 0.4% of the CPU budget for the frame. Let's say 32 full sized layers, that's still only 8% of CPU budget, so ... yes I agree this doesn't seem expensive even via brute force with no tricks. :)

I've been watching and unreasonable amount of train cab ride videos on youtube. Some how it's a good way to unwind at the end of the day, and pretend I can actually go somewhere :-)


I want to add another train-related reference to this long list, this time audio only: El Divisadero, by experimental musician Chris Watson, an hypnotic ride on “El Tren Fantasma”.


This made me very emotional. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Spirited Away, which also has an incredibly emotional train scene. Thank you for sharing.

This game reminds me of the JR Train Simulator they have in arcades in Japan. They have a train operator hat you don and 3 screens for a panoramic view, and you pull the lever to stop and go and operate the circular loop Yamanote line. Surprisingly difficult and realistic (I'd imagine, since I've never operated a train).

> Try and stop at the marker at each station for a high rating.

Nitpick, but I hate it when devs - even devs making tiny weird experimental games like this one - feel compelled to add some objective, any objective, into an otherwise open-ended experience. Even if it's optional, it's lurking there like an unnecessary specter, ruining the freeness of the experience.

Edit: This came off as more negative than I wanted it to. I would never discourage someone from exercising their creativity, and creativity (and craftsmanship) clearly went into this. I was just using it as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion about something I see as holding back game design as a whole, which I better articulated here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25995867

Edit/Addendum: I finally got the chance to sit down and actually play the game. As expected, it has a delightful mood (and is technically impressive) and had me smiling most of the way. I feel a little bit of regret about injecting a critical thread into the conversation around it. Many people here are describing meaningful experiences and I don't mean to detract from that.

But, I don't take back the criticism itself: I still think the experience would have been even better and more true to its themes without the ratings system (though it wasn't as distracting as I expected it to be)

Sounds like you want something different than what he intended. That's his business, not yours =)

Yeah. The problem is I want something different from what seemingly the entire space of game developers is willing to make, even when there are no economics at stake. When I see a little game like this, which clearly came from a place of inspiration and was positioned to break the mold, and then it's still spoiled by just a tiny piece of needless gamification, it's doubly frustrating specifically because it came so close to escaping that trope.

I don't mean to come off as demanding - people can make what they want to make - I just feel like sometimes people tack this kind of mechanic onto a game not because it's essential, but because (consciously or subconsciously) they're afraid people won't know what to do with a video game that doesn't give you a dopamine kick in the form of a number going up. Of course I don't know if that was the case here (though I suspect it might be), it's just that this game touches on a much bigger story of exasperation with the world of game design, for me.

So you're objecting to the gamification ... of games?

What would your ideal "not-game" look like? Are you sure you wouldn't be happy with a game like Factorio which is basically a perfect sandbox (despite having lots of stats if you go to look at them)?

Mainly I'm advocating that people explore this design-space more in general.

Sandboxes are cool in their own way, but aren't really the same thing

For me personally, the specific version of this that I want is a world to explore for exploration's sake, without anything quantifiable to be gained by doing so. The Stanley Parable is a good example of this, if you've heard of it. I use "world" and "explore" very loosely; exploring where you can go and what you can do as the engineer of a train would fall under this umbrella. Even if the answer is "not a whole lot", there's an aliveness and a wondering that comes from even such a tiny slice of a world.

But as soon as a performance metric is introduced there's this "should statement" hanging over my head, reshaping the whole experience.

I can relate. I strongly dislike score tables after levels which imply that my success was not successful enough - that I should now compete with the scores of other people.

It's all about different kinds of experiences for me. I love certain games that are heavily metrics-based, when that's what I feel like playing. Scoreboards sometimes make those games more fun because you always have a goal to keep chasing after for as long as you want to.

The problem is when every game feels the need to have metrics, even when they fly in the face of the rest of the experience. Sometimes I want something different.

What you're looking for is called a Walking Simulator—no explicit goals or win state. There's a nice niche for them in games like Proteus. I wrote one myself in 2007, before the genre had a name. You are a single pixel just exploring an ultra lo-fi pixel land, to see what you can discover: https://doomlaser.itch.io/standardbits

There are plenty more on itchio as well: https://itch.io/games/tag-walking-simulator

Sort of. I played Proteus a little bit and it was definitely along the right lines, though I wouldn't say the genre as a whole is exactly what I mean. Many walking simulators like Dear Esther and Gone Home are pretty linear, where "exploration" mostly means unpacking a specific story in the exact order the developers planned. Some others, like Eidolon, still can't resist putting little collectibles in there.

Maybe there should be a genre distinction for truly "walk in the park" or "hike in the woods" style experiences, though even in the woods or at a park you'll often encounter trails or paths, which tend to shape a more linear experience.

Sounds like you're after "experiences" - games that cater 100% to explorer types with no fighting, collecting etc. One that springs to mind is Journey (although I haven't played it so I'm not sure if it counts). Flow is another one that might fit. Is that what you're talking about?

Those are great examples of others, like the OP, that came close but then limited themselves with objectives anyway :)

This is a classic mechanic for this genre.

The dev put something beautiful out into the world and this is your take on it.

"an otherwise open-ended experience"

you're literally driving on a one-way track

"Open-ended" in the sense of not being bound by objectives. Something that can be taken in for its own sake, instead of being reduced to a number.

an open-ended track though

Until you reach the end

What objective? I kept running past red signals as fast as I could, hoping for another train to crash into, and there wasn't one.

Maybe this would work for you? It's a hiking sim in the Rockies inspired by A Short Hike .. I think I abandoned it before getting any sort of gamification/objectives added :) It just came about because I found some surprisingly high resolution elevation data.


Edit: Just went back and replayed, forgot about the stamina mechanic. You need to end the hike when the bar is in the green to gain more stamina for the next day (either by hitting E at the "car" or Q)

Various in dev screenshots here: https://imgur.com/a/jrO6iYd

This is great!

I actually love the stamina mechanic because it imposes a limitation: you can't just chart out the entire space in one go. You have to pick and choose where you want to explore next, and you're always left wondering what else might lie beyond. You have to value every trek. And even at the maximum (I think I got roughly as far as it's possible to get along the valley by optimizing my path...), you still can't see the whole thing. I thought I caught a glimpse of a cabin just beyond the treeline. Realistically there's probably nothing there, but I'm going to choose to believe there is something more just out of reach.

Typically referred to as toys or simulators rather than games; there isn’t much out there but I find those terms get better S:N

Sort of. I feel like both of those terms come with their own additional meaning (toys being mainly concerned with micro-interactions and simulators being more concerned with, well... simulating - and usually the complexity of managing - some real-world system), though I would put them under the overall umbrella of non-objective games

You literally ignored the very next sentence.

> Or don't! It's up to you.

You literally ignored my last sentence.

> Even if it's optional

Reminds me of the music video for Star Guitar by the Chemical Brothers: https://youtu.be/0S43IwBF0uM

The game looks really beautiful and I would not have guessed it’s running on Pico-8. Wonderful!

Also check out music video Hunnybee from Unknown Mortal Orchestra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJrKlSkxRHA

Another similar game is 4Ever Transit Authority: https://turnfollow.itch.io/4ever-transit-authority

Did this remind anyone of Hollywood Medieval on the Atari by Douglas Crockford? Much simpler than this, you moved through hallways or streets, pressing the fire button to change musical phrases. There's supposedly an ending but I can't find a video of it.

Simple demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnktY6gOmaA

Detailed discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLXL8jwg-tk

Awesome escape from blizzards and COVID! I’d love to pick apart the source.

When my son was young I’d take him to the front car of the NY subway and let him lookout the window (works best on 7 line, some other lines have some sort of polarizing film on the glass that makes it hard to see through). I think they have well captured all of the different above ground scenes in this little game, pretty amazing.

Why is it called cab ride if it's about a train?

A cab is another word for the driver's compartment of a train.

I had absolutely no clue pico-8 could do snes style 3d like that. What a fun little game.

If you didn't notice the link in the game credits, it says the game is based on code from some tutorials if you want to learn more about how it's done. https://www.lexaloffle.com/bbs/?tid=35767

I didn't see that and really appreciate the link. I do want to experiment with this style.

Reminds me of games like Densha de Go


While I'm familiar with train simulators, from the related videos I just discovered a weird kind of one that's completely news to me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcNTQhT5cx8

Rather than rendering in 3D, it's literally just a driver's eye video of a real train journey played at variable speed. Actually genius if you think about it - the linearity of a rail simulation makes it possible, and it's better than any renderer.

Taking a cab video and then syncing it with controls is a fairly old approach. The first example I've seen was from Ongakukan in 1995 (Win 95J) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Train_Simulator_series). The video were 360x240 or similar and filled a CD. Quite realistic as long as you "play the game" and don't stop near a road near stations where there is road traffic that then stops too.

wow that is impressive graphics for ps3.

smooth, photorealistic.

It would have been impressive if it was PS2 (maybe). But for PS3? Not at all, it is/was pretty capable at the full HD resolution.

It's a video.

yeah seems like some people on HN aren't very happy about this oversight lmao

downvoting all of my HN comments

Looks gorgeous. I'll take a deeper look when I get home.

Yeah, I think this is really cool. I'm not ver familiar with pico-8, but from what I see I have to buy the "software" to create games for it so I can share it for free? I mean, I often publish my stuff for free, but why buy software first? Sorry if this sounds like an ignorant question, I just want to know if this a hobby, or a community...

It's not unlike when you had to buy a copy of Adobe Flash to create flash applets. But much cheaper.

There are open-source fantasy consoles like TIC-80 that try to scratch the same itch, but PICO-8 has the biggest community of people creating things with it.

I got stuck at the end of the line, no reverse.

Anyone else having stuck Up and Right keys? You can check it by clicking [+ ..] to the right of game window.

yesterday's discussion on this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25980018

I could play this forever.

Man I would love to get a physical pico 8

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