Firewatch and Untitled Goose Game publisher Panic today provided a rather substantial update on Playdate, the cute little handheld with a crank it first announced in 2019.
First and foremost: Playdate pre-orders open in July at a price point of $179. And while an exact date wasn’t provided, Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser promised to provide a heads-up a week in advance for folks interested in copping one as soon as possible.
Sasser also said that Panic doesn’t intend to “sell out” of Playdates, but rather continue taking orders and sending out units as they receive them from the factory. This approach seems in stark contrast to that of competing retro handheld developer Analogue Inc., whose Analogue Pocket system sold out almost immediately last August with no indication of future restocks, leading to widespread fan disappointment. (Analogue has since committed to producing more Pockets.)
“The sooner you order, the sooner you’ll get yours, but we’re not going to close the door on you,” Sasser added. “If we sell way more Playdates than we planned, given how constrained parts are right now due to covid-19, it might take a while for you to get your Playdate. We’ll be working constantly with the factory to adjust for demand and we’ll be talking to you every step of the way.”
Panic also announced the Playdate Stereo Dock. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin: a Playdate charging dock that also doubles as a Bluetooth stereo speaker. Oh, and it has a pen holder, making it a neat addition to your work desk. It even comes with a pen in case you’re running low on silly physical writing instruments. Score!
As for what you’ll be playing, Panic has doubled the number of games included with every Playdate purchase. Every week for 12 weeks, Playdate owners will get two new games as part of the handheld’s season one offerings. That amounts to 24 free games, some from notable developers like Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy, Wattam), Bennett Foddy (QWOP, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy), and Zach Gage (Ridiculous Fishing, Card of Darkness).
Panic also announced a partnership with narrative development company Sweet Baby Inc. to “guide and develop” two teams made up of creators from marginalized communities. The first project to spawn from this initiative is Lost Your Marbles, a visual novel where choices are made via rolling marble puzzles. Lost Your Marbles will eventually find its way to Playdate as part of season one, with additional Sweet Baby games like Recommendation Dog (created by Xalavier Nelson Jr. of An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs fame) and Reel Steal coming sometime in the future.
Lucas Pope, the creative mind behind games like Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn, is also developing for Playdate. His next game, Mars After Midnight, is still in early days but obviously benefits from Pope’s previous work creating fantastic experiences with limited graphics.
“This thing is a lot of fun to work with,” Pope explained during today’s Playdate update. “The perfect place, I thought, to make something that my kids might like. Less death, more laughs, basically. It’s not much and I can’t say I know what I’m doing, but we’ll see how it goes.”
And finally, aspiring game devs will be able to make their own Playdate projects with a new browser-based development app known as Pulp. More details are expected in the future but so far it looks like a really neat way to make simple Playdate games with limited technical expertise.
All in all, the Playdate, with its colorful design and monochrome Game Boy vibes, continues to look like an intriguing little device that harks back to the halcyon days of handheld gaming. The games look beautiful, but there’s still very little indication how they will play or how long they should keep someone’s attention with so many other distractions readily available. Still, the pedigree is there, and it may just be quirky and accessible enough to attract projects from new and underserved developers. I’m looking forward to seeing what Panic and its creative partners have to offer when Playdate is finally in our hands.