Playdate, a tiny game console with a big pedigree

Playdate is a tiny yellow game console with a hand-crank (!) and a monochrome display. It's being made by Panic and Teenage Engineering, with a launch roster full of game auteurs such as Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) and Bennett Foddy (QWOP, Getting Over It). It'll be $150 and it comes out next year.

Playdate isn’t just the hardware.

It’s twelve brand new video games, one each week.

What are these games? Here’s the thing: we’d like to keep them a secret until they appear on your Playdate. We want to surprise you.

Some are short, some long, some are experimental, some traditional. All are fun.

When your Playdate lights up with a brand new game delivery, we hope you can’t wait to unwrap your gift.

There's a software development kit announced too: games are coded in Lua (as with the popular Löve and Pico-8 game engines) and C.

These are the folks behind some of the best MacOS apps going, working with top indie devs and the hardware people who created the legendary OP-1 synthesizer. I can't wait to get one and will definitely be making some brutally difficult games for it.

I'm seeing a lot of comparisons to the Gameboy, but 400×240 at 2.5" is about three times the pixel density -- not quite what Apple would qualify as a retina display, but close. So games won't have the retro blocky vibe some expect, unless a dev is intentionally pixel-doubling.

The first teaser screenshots remind me of the original mono Macs, in fact—no surprise given Panic's history!

Press release follows after the jump.

Portland, OR — May 22, 2019 — After more than 20 years of making quality apps for Mac and iOS, Panic was, frankly, ready to try something new. Our first attempt: jumping into videogame publishing with Firewatch in 2016 and Untitled Goose Game later this year. That’s felt great. But we wondered: what if Panic tried something really different?

Today, after more than four years of work by a small and talented team, Panic is extremely excited to introduce Playdate, a brand new handheld gaming system.

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

There’s more: Playdate includes games — a full season of them. The games will be delivered over-the-air, once a week for 12 weeks, and they’ll be a surprise: when the new game light flashes, you’ll never know what you’re about to play. Panic recruited some of the world’s best game designers — some well known; others under the radar — to make games exclusively for our system. Playdate isn’t just hardware: it’s a complete experience.

Today, Panic is revealing one of these original Playdate games: Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, from Keita Takahashi, the creator of Namco’s Katamari Damacy. This game uses the crank exclusively to control the flow of time, backwards and forwards. Your goal? Get Crankin’ to his date with Crankette while avoiding an ever-increasing series of ridiculous obstacles — obstacles that aren’t affected by the time control. Will Crankin’ make it to his rendezvous on-time? (Spoiler alert: no)

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. They came up with the crank!