Thursday, May 23, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Playdate

Cabel Sasser:

After more than 20 years of making quality apps you love for Mac and iOS, Panic was ready to try something new…

…and that something was hardware.

Playdate (tweet, Hacker News, MacRumors):

It’s yellow. It fits in your pocket. It’s got a beautiful black and white screen. It’s not super cheap, but not super expensive. It includes brand new games from some amazing creators. Plus it has a crank.

FAQ:

Panic built every part of Playdate from scratch, starting with early board designs (using the hotplate in our kitchen to flow solder), our own Playdate OS, a full-featured SDK supporting C and Lua development, a Mac-based simulator and debugger, and more.

We then brought Playdate to one of our favorite companies on the planet — Teenage Engineering, the Stockholm-based creator of synthesizers and so much more — to begin a cross-company collaboration, designing and engineering Playdate’s look.

No, it’s not April 1st. They’re really building this. I don’t play video games, but I’m so happy to see Playdate. I love the ambition to try something new of this difficulty and seeing the care and craft that’s gone into it. So often we think of technology at massive scale. It can be powerful and useful and even dangerous. But this is like a statement that it can also be a little product, not intended for everyone yet not elitist, that exists because some people wanted to have fun trying to brighten your day.

John Gruber (tweet):

In today’s world all the new computing devices and platforms come from huge companies. Apple of course. All the well-known Android handset makers building off an OS provided by Google. Sony. Nintendo.

Panic is almost cheating in a way because they’re tiny. The Playdate platform isn’t competing with the state of the art. It’s not a retro platform, per se, but while it has an obviously nostalgic charm it is competing only on its own terms. Its only goal is to be fun. And aspects of Playdate are utterly modern: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, apps and software updates delivered over-the-air.

Anil Dash (tweet):

You can read up on all the details elsewhere, but suffice to say, this little game machine looks like one of the most fun and joyful new efforts that any company has done recently, and that a tiny indie software company in Oregon has the ambition to even attempt such a thing makes it only more endearing.

[…]

I don’t know if Playdate will succeed in the market. I don’t know what kind of risk it represents for Panic as a company. But I know that people see this cute little device, and are reminded that they used to get excited when they saw cool new technology, instead of wondering how it would warp their reality, or steal their information. Here’s hoping for a return to tech that’s fun, that’s thoughtful, and that’s created with a little bit of soul.

Eli Schiff:

Almost no one realizes that @panic’s @playdate has @Kenichi Yoshida’s fingerprints all over its design. It wasn’t just Teenage Engineering @jugendingenieur.

Icon designers deserve more credit in this world.

Update (2019-05-24): Jesper:

What I love about it is a recently recurring theme that’s, amidst a polarized and increasingly de-humanized society, been easy to disregard: the glimmers of hope. A group of under a dozen people can still create a little thing like this, including its own damn OS, just because they love the feel of technology built by those who care.

There were a thousand reasons to not build it. There were a thousand reasons to run in the opposite direction, to give up, to completely cede the ground to consoles and touch and game streaming, to things that can be screen captured to Twitch.

Pádraig Kennedy:

My connection with Apple is largely thanks to Panic; back in 2003 their lovely polished apps are what made me want to make Mac software.

Playdate:

Playdate in 24 Hours:

• 70,000+ people on the wait list
• Thousands of interested devs
• Some skeptics (we understand)
• 23k Twitter followers (hi!)
• Most importantly… an overwhelming flood of positivity + excitement from people who also want this weird thing we want (!!!)

Update (2019-05-30): Brent Simmons:

On seeing Playdate, I realized the question we should ask ourselves is: are we working on our own Playdates? I don’t mean hardware necessarily — I mean the thing that seems very difficult, maybe even impossible, that may fail, but is the best expression of our talent and love.

Zhuowei Zhang:

Panic’s @PlayDate console prototype uses a STM32F7 CPU, running at 216MHz with up to 512 KB RAM.

Compared to Game Boy Advance, PlayDate has:

- 62x the CPU power (462 vs 7.65 DMIPS)
- 33% more RAM (512KB vs 384KB).

Linda Dong:

So delighted to have contributed a teeny piece to this enormous beautiful endeavor.

Nathalie Lawhead (via Joshua Nozzi):

Last year I was one of the organizers for Playdate. That year we received an email from Panic basically telling us we can’t use the name anymore because it would be a shame if our event got confused with what they are doing. It came off as incredibly self-important. It left me thinking “Wow, what a dick move.”

Cabel Sasser:

Our goal was to find a way for our two things to coexist. We didn’t want to force them to do anything. We do have a trademark, but only for “handheld game devices”, so we COULDNT make them change anything even if we wanted. It was just a worry about us overshadowing their work.

Update (2019-05-31): The Talk Show:

Special guests Cabel Sasser, Steven Frank, and Greg Maletic join the show to talk about Playdate, Panic’s exciting and surprising new handheld gaming system.

6 Comments

Wait, but didn't iPhones kill console gaming?

Seriously though, this is cool.

> So often we think of technology at massive scale

Recently, manufacturing electronic devices has started to become widely accessible. It's now easy to 3D print things that are almost indistinguishable from molded parts, to order custom PCBs, to buy smaller numbers of all of the same parts used by major manufacturers... That's how websites like tindie.com can exist. There are probably hundreds of similar hardware projects on there right now.

Not diminishing the amount of effort and polish that went into this, it's awesome. Just pointing out how great it is that this is now possible for pretty much everybody.

>I don’t know what kind of risk it represents for Panic as a company

Probably no risk at all? I don't think this is a huge upfront investment for them, other than their time and a few expensive things like plastic molds.

Somehow I would bet that the crank is going to be the main problem from a durability point of view.

While I find the rhetoric surrounding this thing's announcement to be a little.. overblown.. I do think it is cool. And I'm glad that the kinds of technological advancement that Lukas is talking about is making such micro-scale hardware projects possible.

But I will put in a small note of disappointment that the games themselves, games by some well-known and interesting designers, are going to be inaccessible to most people. I mean, the Playdate is kind of a niche collector's item, right? It's sort of a shame to lock the latest project from the designer of Katamari Damaci onto a platform of "very limited" stock that may not even be available at all in, say, five years.

@Moonlight:

"I mean, the Playdate is kind of a niche collector's item, right?"

I expect there will be a more mass produced second edition made available at some point if the first edition sells out.

"It's sort of a shame to lock the latest project from the designer of Katamari Damaci onto a platform of "very limited" stock that may not even be available at all in, say, five years."

Game designers like to be able to pay their bills, too. This sort of thing enables them to bypass the app store and instead get a share of far more lucrative hardware sales, and without giving Apple or Google a cut.

I haven't read the contracts, but either the designers are getting paid handsomely (which most likely means there will be an unlimited second edition some day after the limited first edition of the thing sells out), or the games are exclusive to this new platform only for a limited time. Or both. Nothing else makes sense.

> games by some well-known and interesting designers, are going to be inaccessible to most people

This is a general problem in gaming now. You can still play your Pitfall! copy on your VCS 2600, but you can't play LawBreakers anymore, a game that was released in 2017 and was designed by a prominent designer (which makes this a historically significant game, in my opinion). IMO, just destroying these games is pretty despicable behavior on the part of videogame publishers. They should at least document how their servers work when they shut down games, or at best release server software as open-source (as much of it as possible), so people can keep these games running.

In this case, I'm pretty sure that, if the games are in any way interesting, people will find a way to rip and emulate them. Once again, piracy to the rescue :-/

> Game designers like to be able to pay their bills, too

It always strikes me as a bit of a non-sequitur when somebody says "this seems bad", and the answer is "but it makes money" :-)

> Nothing else makes sense.

Looking at what we've seen so far, these games don't look that complex. They look like little toys more than full-scale games. They look like "three people working for a few months"-scale projects. So the budget for one of these games must be <100K. Let's say Panic uses a million to pay for the games' development (i.e. they publish *and* own the games). Now let's say Panic sells 50,000 consoles, which seems reasonable. Making one of these can't cost much more than 50 bucks, if that. But let's say it costs 100$ to make one of these. It's still 50$ margin. That means profits of 2.5 millions. Even paying developers very generously still leaves them with 1.5 million for themselves, to pay for plastic molds, their own salaries, external consultants and freelancers, and so on.

My guess is that's what they're doing. So yeah, they probably own the games, so they can make as many consoles as they want. I'd also guess that many of these games can't be ported to other platforms without changes, since they'll probably use the crank.

I’m not a gamer, but I’m intrigued by Panic’s partnership with TE. If Playdate has a good audio engine and they make some interesting music apps for it, I think the synth community would be a huge market. We love to buy little music making toys! $150 is a bit much (compare to: Korg Volca line) but if the apps are compelling (and great ones come free with the device, like it does for gaming — maybe a “music edition”?) I think people would buy it.

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