c’t 3003: Games in Excel, PDF and PNG files

You can actually package games into Excel spreadsheets, PDF documents, and PNG images. Our 3003 video shows how it works and if it’s really fun.

Video transcript:

Here is an overview of the contents of this dossier:

– An Excel spreadsheet

– A PNG image

– And a PDF document

You’re probably thinking boring now – is this an Office 3003 episode or something?

But what if I tell you that these are all three GAMES, and actually some really good ones? Stay tuned.


Excel, a program that some people really like and a lot of people hate very much because it often does very stupid things. Anyone who’s ever tried entering the version number in a table, for example, probably knows what I’m talking about. EY EXCEL, IT’S NOT A FUCKING APPOINTMENT!

In any case, not only can you DIY formulas in Excel, you can also play games. To do this, however, you have to enable the so-called VBA macros, this is “Visual Basic for Applications” and you can do great things with it, but unfortunately also nasty. This is why macros are disabled by default. You should be aware of this before trying the Excel games – it is best not to try them at all, if you really want to at least run the Excel file at www.virustotal.com first, as it also detects macro viruses.

For example, there are several variations of Tetris that run directly in the Excel wallpaper. It’s really funny, but they’re not that funny. The best Excel game I have found is Arena.XLSM, it’s a turn-based role-playing game, which actually kept me entertained for quite a long time. You play a laughing emoji; and when you get hurt you become sad emoji. Opponents are braces – yes, well, a bit basic, BUT THAT’S NOT A PROBLEM, BECAUSE GAMES SHOULD FOLLOW FANTASY! The game mechanics are in any case deep, you can award experience points yourself, there are different weapons, and from character level 10 you even get spells. ET: There are achievements, which is pretty funny because they’re just displayed as an Excel spreadsheet. The game, which is sort of logical, was developed by an accountant, Cary Walkin.

By the way, there are also people who have fun in Excel without playing games, they just know Excel very well. Microsoft is actually trying to make Excel an esport, no kidding. The Finals of the FINANCIAL MODELING WORLD CUP recently took place, where several men could be seen entering formulas into Excel against each other in order to solve very complex tasks. Let me tell you: League of Legends can pack its bags.


So and now for the PDF. Is it called Undying Dusk, and it looks like a normal game, a retro dungeon robot like Dungeon Master? Yes, that’s true, but behind it is actually a perfectly normal PDF document, with 197,992 pages. Every time I click on something, another page is called; for example, if I click on the arrow to go forward, I go from page 14204 to page 159378. It works surprisingly well; there is even music: I have to start it manually with one click, and a website opens in the background that plays the music.

It all works in almost any PDF viewer, but in most cases each page change takes so long that it’s no longer fun. This is why the developer of Undying Dusk recommends the very fast open source PDF viewer Sumatra PDF; this is the best way to do it. The game is based on the browser game Heroine Dusk, which is programmed in HTML5. Yes and okay it works a lot faster – I still think the idea with PDF is fantastic.

Incidentally, you MAY get even more out of PDFs, as the original PDF specification even mentions videos and built-in JavaScript. However, most PDF viewers haven’t implemented this, but oddly enough, Chrome’s built-in PDF reader reads a bit of JavaScript. If you open this demo PDF from developer Omar Rizwan in Chrome, you can play this very rudimentary escape clone.


And now my very personal favorite; Play as a PNG image. Specifically, this is Pico-8, a FANCY VIDEO GAMING CONSOLE, as the manufacturers call it. The system mimics the graphics and sound capabilities of 8-bit machines from the 1980s. Games built with Pico-8 can use a maximum resolution of 128 × 128 pixels with 16 colors, and a game can be up to 32 KB in size. just saved the text of this video here in PDF format; the file is three times the size, just times larger for comparison. The concept behind Pico-8 is the reduction to the essential, that is to say to the gameplay; So that you are not overwhelmed by all the possibilities of modern hardware when creating games.

So and now comes the best: you can play Pico-8 games easily in your browser, for example on the website of developer Pico-8 Lexaloffle. But you can also just right-click on a Pico-8 game’s icon and save it as an image – the result is a PNG file that you can view with an image viewer. BUT: The PNG ADDITIONALLY contains the game itself. IT’S COOL ! And you can just run it on a Raspberry Pi, for example, or type it up on a retro emulation handheld like my Anbernic RG351MP and then play the thing there. The Pico-8 community is really big and they’ve released hundreds of amazingly cool games already. I can play thousands of commercial games here on my handheld, but honestly I spend most of my time playing free Pico-8 titles right now. Here are three really cool ones:

Celeste Classic 1 and 2 – these are hard-to-make platform games that were created by the development team for the 2018 indie super hit Celeste.

Alone in the Pico: A short but wonderful de-make of the former ancestor of Resident Evil Alone in the Dark.

PInballvania! : A surreal skill game in which you collect balls in 20 levels just by turning the playing field, between the two there are even bosses.

So: who needs a PS5 when there is PDF, PNG and XLS? Bye!

c’t 3003 is the YouTube channel c’t. The videos on c’t 3003 are independent content and independent of the articles of c’t magazin. Editor Jan-Keno Janssen and video producers Johannes Börnsen and Şahin Erengil publish a video every week.

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