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Firewatch publisher unveils Playdate gaming handheld

New hardware from Panic will include a game each week from a different designer -- and a hand crank

Despite principally being known for its Mac and iOS software, the Portland-based developer Panic is making a dedicated handheld device for video games.

This isn't Panic's first activity in the games space. It was the publisher of Campo Santo's Firewatch in 2016, and it will also publish House House's Untitled Goose Game later this year.

However, this new hardware, called Playdate, represents an ambitious step forward into an area that many believed had been destroyed by the rise of smartphone games.

The Playdate's design recalls the original Nintendo Game Boy with its d-pad and buttons set below a black and white screen. However, it also features a hand crank, which the official website shows controlling the protagonist's movement in a game called Crankin's Time Travel Adventure.

Not ever game will make use of the hand crank, Panic said, but the games are another unique aspect of what the Playdate will offer.

Everyone who buys the device will also get "Season One" of its software; 12 games that will appear on the Playdate in weekly intervals. According to Panic, the first season will include games from Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy), Zach Gage (SpellTower), and Bennett Foddy (QWOP).

"It's twelve brand new video games, one each week," Panic said. "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."

The Playdate has been in development for four years, and it will ship in "early 2020" with a $149 price-tag.

"It's not super cheap, but not super expensive," Panic said. "It includes brand new games from some amazing creators. Plus it has a crank."

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Latest comments (4)

Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer 4 months ago
I'm in. It's just slightly more than a Call of Duty with all the options, and that list of creators is irresistible. And yes, it's cute. This isn't going to directly transform the world of gaming, but it's not really trying to. I'm not sure how limited the run is, but this seems like a smart move aimed at people who care about Obra Dinn, Baba is You, and Butt Sniffin' Pugs. And I'm sure it will be more value for the money than my XBox One was.

The crank seems particularly apt - I kind of wish all phones came with one and you had to turn it 1000 times for each of your F2P grindfests like Another Eden.
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Gary Alexander Stott Production Assistant, Lockwood Publishing4 months ago
What I admire about this is that it's being presented almost as a novelty item rather than a platform like Ouya, and if it's not a commercial success, it'll continue to exist as a cool little toy. I think having a unique games library (if it can be called that) helps. You're not buying a Playdate to keep up with the latest games. You're buying it to tinker with from time to time, to give it to kids on long journeys. I'm intrigued, but as with any gaming hardware, it'll be the games that make or break it.
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Joćo Namorado Project Manager, Portugal Telecom4 months ago
Very well thought out. The differentiating crank, the exclusive games sold in packs... The price might be a bit steep when compared to, say, most mini consoles, but it does have appeal in its uniqueness.

And I shall dub it... the Crank Boy. :)
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 months ago
Finally we shall know all the opportunities missed by Dreamcast developers not supporting the Sega Bass Fishing controller.
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