Just for fun, I wrote my own Chip8 interpreter/emulator and it works.

The point is that it works in the terminal, meaning that a pixel is rendered using curses and a # character.

For the Chip8 that's easy because the resolution is 64x32, but now I wanted to try something different but still in the terminal (again: this is just for fun and learning).

So the questions is: what systems were there for which the resolution would fit with no problems in a terminal?

I know that the Gameboy is something like 160x144, which could probably fit, but you'd have to shrink your font quite a lot to make it work.

  • 6
    That question is way too broad, as it basicly covers all systems with text based screens - starting from all early ones like PET or TRS-80 - and all of them had games writen for. Unless you come up with a more specific description what you're looking for, this can't get a satisfactionable answer
    – Raffzahn
    Dec 21, 2018 at 12:15
  • 3
    Arr what a shame. I was writing an answer and the question got closed. Dec 21, 2018 at 12:42
  • 8
    How about a resolution of 9x3? - Mattel Football I (Football II upped it all the way to 10x3!)
    – Glen Yates
    Dec 21, 2018 at 15:20
  • 7
    "Simon" is a game that is still being sold today, which uses a 2x2 grid. Beat that.
    – DrSheldon
    Dec 21, 2018 at 23:47
  • 4
    Perhaps the question should emphasize that the system be programmable after shipment. That would eliminate Mattel Football, Simon, Mastermind, Tamagotchi, and other single-purpose systems. Should probably also emphasize pixels vs. characters, else 40x24 Apple II is in the running despite having higher-resolution modes.
    – fadden
    Dec 26, 2018 at 15:41

7 Answers 7


Here are a couple contenders:

  • The Microvision, with a 16x16 pixel display. To emulate this one you might need to have both Intel 8021 and TI TMS1100 cores.

  • Hartung Game Master, with 64x64 pixel display. This one is already emulated by MESS in case you want to consult a reference implementation

  • I consider this to be the best answer for my needs because of the interchangeable game cartridges. I forgot about the microvision and I had never known that the Hartung even existed. Thank you so much!
    – ChatterOne
    Dec 27, 2018 at 20:12

The Nokia 3310 had a monochrome screen resolution of 84x48, and the game Snake II:

enter image description here


An honourable mention for the Fairchild Chanel F, which had 102 x 58 pixels visible, out of 128 x 64 in the 2KiB frame buffer, and only 64 bytes of RAM usable by programs. Software (all games) was provided as ROM cartridges.

  • Wow. You couldn't even store the whole screen in RAM! I assume you drove the screen manually?
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 30, 2018 at 16:56
  • @wizzwizz4: There was separate RAM for the frame buffer; I've explained a bit more. Dec 30, 2018 at 17:58
  • I've been wondering about this: if it's 128 total but 102 visible then that aligns with the length of an NTSC line versus the visible portion. But in reality no TV displays the entire visible portion. So if that's from where the 102 rather than 128 comes, you could probably display only about 90 or so and still match real televisions, possibly making this an even better suggestion than it already is?
    – Tommy
    Dec 30, 2018 at 21:30
  • 64 bytes! Now I'm feeling that Atari really went all-out when they doubled that for the 2600. :-)
    – cjs
    Sep 2, 2019 at 9:40

Well, Raffzahn mentioned this game mode in passing... but of course there was the original product Simon. Which had four buttons that lit up in patterns that players would mimic with button presses. So you could say that Simon was a four-pixel game: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_(game)

I'd also been thinking of Merlin, which had eleven blinking buttons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin_(console)

Thinking about it a little more, I think you could argue there is a one-pixel game that's installed all over the world and is in constant use today. Not really electronic, but it's called a doorbell (lighted variation, of course). Push it, wait, and the fun begins.


Disregarding systems with serialized text output that can be said to have a "resolution" of 1 character at time (or, strictly speaking, 5 to 8 bits) and of course it would "fit" in a terminal, there is a whole class of games for the visually impaired (sometimes called audiogames) that do not need video output at all.

One of perhaps the first well known ones was Real Sound: Kaze no Regret for the Sega Saturn. However, although the video output is not necessary for the game, the hardware still has rather decent video output - the same is valid for audiogames running on "typical" PC's.

Anyway, there is a game hardware with no graphical output at all (and thus the "lowest" resolution possible) - the Bop It.


The point is that it works in the terminal, meaning that a pixel is rendered using curses and a # character.

Well, there are a lot more characters than just # available, even in ASCII. :-) While there are many clever ways to get an apparent high resolution from text displays by using "ASCII art" techniques, one very simple thing you might consider is expanding your repertoire minimally to the Unicode block element characters. Using full block, half block and quadrant characters (and of course space), you can render four pixels per character cell:


This is well supported on modern terminals, since most Unicode fonts that they use include these. (It's frequently used for displaying QR codes in text terminals.)

I know that the Gameboy is something like 160x144, which could probably fit, but you'd have to shrink your font quite a lot to make it work.

Using the above you would divide by two to get the number of character cells you need in each direction, so you'd want an 80×72 terminal (or 160×72 if you wanted to preserve the aspect ratio). This is not much of a shrink at all on modern systems, even laptops; a 160×72 window with the font size I normally use for editing would easily fit on a 1080p display of 23" or larger.

This unfortunately is monochrome, whereas the Game Boy has two additional shades of gray. You can emulate this to some degree in a terminal that supports colours (most do), but you are unfortunately restricted to one colour for every block of four pixels, so you can't just copy the gray levels directly. Clever use of more than two additional colours would let you produce an "averaged" colour for the block that would improve things, but that's getting rather more complex than what's described above.

  • This can be a nice idea, I'll look into it. Maybe the two extra shades of gray can be emulated with terminal colors. Even if a 256 colors terminal would be nice, I think a 16 color one might suffice.
    – ChatterOne
    Sep 2, 2019 at 9:04
  • @ChatterOne Yes, you're right; I'd forgotten to put that in. Thanks for reminding me! I've updated the post to include that thought.
    – cjs
    Sep 2, 2019 at 9:39
  • Those quad blocks are the nearest you get to pixel graphics on a ZX80 or ZX81, giving 64x48 on both systems, IIRC. Sep 2, 2019 at 13:16
  • I think the ultimate game for using block elements (Commodore PET ones, not Unicode) is PET Space Invaders.
    – JeremyP
    Sep 3, 2019 at 9:16
  • @JeremyP And written in BASIC, to boot! (Also the screen about how to hook up the sound was hilarious.)
    – cjs
    Sep 3, 2019 at 14:10

This is not so much a presentation of a system as an attempt to show that the very premise is weak. For the question.

What systems had the lowest resolution ever that still allowed games to be made?

A system with a single pixel would as well qualify. After all, there are plenty games that can be played with a single response signal.

  • hitting a button as soon as it lights up
  • playing a certain sequence that gets presented (aka Simon)
  • presenting a certain time duration to be repeated.
  • ... and so on.

All with a 1x1 b&w resolution :))

  • I take your point, but this isn't really an answer. It should be a comment.
    – JeremyP
    Sep 3, 2019 at 9:19
  • @JeremyP Erm, so your point is that there is no single b&w (on/p) pixel system able to play a game?
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 3, 2019 at 10:26
  • 1
    Can you name one actual system which had a one pixel display and a game for that one pixel display? If you can. fine, but you need to put it in your answer to make it an answer to the question.
    – JeremyP
    Sep 3, 2019 at 18:10
  • @JeremyP Ok, so you're saying an answer should never point out a fundamental flaw in the question asked, but always go along, even if the premise is false? Isn't that not only rather short sighted, but more so crippling the usefulness of the SE format?
    – Raffzahn
    Sep 4, 2019 at 8:43
  • No, I'm saying that flaws in the question should be pointed out in comments, downvotes and/or votes to close, not answers.
    – JeremyP
    Sep 4, 2019 at 13:41

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