Monday, November 28, 2011

Is "GameGadget" The OPEN-SOURCE Platform We've Been Waiting For?

...Probably not, but I like the idea.

"Blaze" is a Europe-based gaming outfit that mostly specializes in making gaming peripherals and those dedicated all-in-one consoles and handhelds pre-loaded with retrogames that you see on mall kiosks around the Holidays. Now, they've thrown their weight behind a still-somewhat-mysterious concept called "GameGadget" that seems like the logical next-step from that particular business model: An open-source, Linux-based handheld (it looks like a plus-sized GameBoy Micro) that aims to be the "iPod of games."

Thus far the press-release from last week and images are the bulk of what's been revealed, but the basic idea is that the device (which DOES appear to have an SD slot) will interface with a proprietary version of the App Store, which Blaze/GameGadget is heavily angling for rights-holders to classic games (pre-PS1, most likely) to fill with their product. The press release makes a BIG deal out of this being a way for publishers to re-monetize their retrogames without much (or any) additional investment. They're also courting small/upstart developers to make new titles for the format, which they claim it's "fully compatible" with SDL and DirectFB.

I LOVE everything about this... except for the fact that it's being put out by a company without much of a profile otherwise - something that's going to involve a lot of back-and-forth between a dizzying number of (theoretical) partnerships needs some muscle behind it, or at least would seem to from my perspective.

I've maintained for awhile that something LIKE this - an everything-in-one-place app store for classic games - would be both a game-changer and an industry-saver; and it's INCREDIBLY frustrating that the main thing preventing it has been Apple's ridiculous resistance to having buttons on the various iDevices - which has severely kneecapped the variety of games most smartphones can (properly) run. Imagine carrying around every Atari/Spectrum/C64/NES/SNES/Genesis/TG16/NeoGeo/Arcade classic you ever loved - plus new stuff in the "golden age"/mobile style - to be there whenever and wherever you needed them? BLISS. Absolute bliss... and also a vital way of keeping The Classics alive and readily available to new generations without the cumbersome extra work of buying/maintaining used equipment and/or murkily-legal emulation. No more game design students walking around without a proper background in the origins of the medium on account of having been born after said origins were easy to get? THAT'S how you save the future of video games, my friends.

I would love, love, LOVE to see something like GameGadget swoop in and either A.) be wildly successful and put a giant dent into Apple's goal of iPhone becoming "The AllGadget" because of their silly button-phobia; or B.) be just successful enough to scare Apple/Android/etc into getting over their silly button-phobia and making one to compete. I'm just not sure GameGadget is actually the thing to do it.

BUT! The thing (apparently) comes out early next year, so we'll see. A man can dream, after all...


Reneiw said...

I guess someone had to use that Game Boy Micro concept after Nintendo basically dumped the thing out into the wild.

Meister_Li said...

I could see this being successful if it runs with Android and thus supports all the apps that come with/on Android, but seeing how long devs need to even port Stuff from iOS to Android, which are basically the same hardware, I don't hold much hope for this thing if it's yet another platform to port on.

Naner said...

Kinda like a Virtual Console dedicated device? I guess it could work if Nintendo jumped on board. Without them, it's almost worthless. I already have my 3DS, though. :P

Max E. said...

This looks pretty cool. The fact that they're using DirectFB means they probably have no 3D acceleration hardware, which means the product will be dirt cheap and have good battery life.

There's another Linux-based handheld, the Pandora, which actually aims to be a full-featured Linux PC in your pocket.
It *does* have 3D acceleration.

I'm probably not going to get either of them. I'm waiting for the day I can plug a keyboard, mouse, and full-size monitor into an Android (or other open-source) smartphone. Until then, I'm going to stick with my laptop for all my gaming.

Nathan T said...

(tl;dr version: They should ditch the hardware and be the GOG of ROMs, IMO.)

There have already been a number of open-source Linux gaming handhelds, actually. The Open Pandora (which I own) and GP2X are the ones I'm most familiar with. They've all had the ability to play legally-problematic ROM files from many old consoles, as well as support indie developers through SDL and other Linux libraries.

The only I see as being new about the console is GameGadget's ability to license old games and legally resell them. This being the only unique feature about the project, I don't think it justifies the cost of the console.

Also, I hate to be "that guy" that rants about DRM, but I honestly don't see why it's beneficial in this case. Pirates already have the games, and those with an objection to illegal downloading wouldn't pirate the game anyway... So this affects unskilled pirates and uneducated consumers. Consumers will only notice the DRM when it inconveniences them, and the unskilled pirates? Well, they're the only good reason to lock down your game. I know this isn't a new argument by any means, but c'mon!. These are ROMS. Please take a clue from Good Old Games, GameGadget.

I believe there's an opportunity for GameGadget to sell DRM-free ROMs that can be played with existing emulators. I don't think they'll do it, given their history as a hardware manufacturer. Still, wouldn't it be a good idea?

Anyway, regarding their support for independent developers, I'm not expecting much there either. While the lack of legally-available ROMs is a viable reason for the poor adoption rate of previous open-source handhelds, developer support isn't. SDL support is standard on most Linux devices, so I believe that it's reasonable to predict the development activity on the GameGadget handheld by its predecessors. Linux gaming itself is still pretty small (although getting better), and Linux handhelds are an even smaller market. For the most part, the games you'll see released for the platform will be ports of small titles that have already been ported to Linux. ID's older games may make an appearance, as well as one or two games from the Humble Indie Bundles. The likelihood of GameGadget exclusive titles is almost nonexistent.

I'd love for there to be a popular open-source gaming handheld, but I haven't seen one yet and (as you said) this probably isn't it. I think Google could make one. They have the mobile experience, a friendly philosophy towards open-source, power to have serious discussion with big-name publishers about licensing old games, and are dipping their toes in the waters of game publishing through Google Plus. Also, the public knows who Google is. I doubt it will happen, but I doubt you read this entire post because you thought I was a prophet anyway. ;)

vlademir1 said...

The best hope for a resurgence at this point is for legally available ROMs for the existing emulator formats. If the companies involved were to officially release the older games from the first four or five generations in the existing standard ROM formats, which would literally require little or no significant work beyond building headers for the files in most cases, for $2 to $5 most people who currently use emulators would be willing to pay for them.
That said, most IP holders suffer the same stupid paranoia that embracing the existing standards without some form of DRM hurts them more than the fact that their potential customer base is left with only piracy and more costly porting implementations, like the VC, as a viable means of acquisition.

Anonymous said...

"Imagine carrying around every Atari/Spectrum/C64/NES/SNES/Genesis/TG16/NeoGeo/Arcade classic you ever loved - plus new stuff in the "golden age"/mobile style - to be there whenever and wherever you needed them?"

What, you didn't get a PSP?

Popcorn Dave said...

Bob, the OTHER main obstacle to an all-in-one classic games library is that the rights holders have decided that the "cherry-pick a few classics and sell them at $10 or more, but only on selected hardware" model is the way to go. And no-one loves this model more than you-know-who. Don't get me wrong, the Virtual Console is nice, but as long as the big names are controlling their classic titles in this way, there's no real hope for an "all-in-one" type solution. Besides, Nintendo would never allow their own games to be legally available on an open source platform even if every other company was on board.

If you're after a handheld that can play all your favourite games from times gone by, well, there are already plenty of options. There's the "awesomely-nerdy-but-pretty-expensive-and-hard-to-get-hold-of" Pandora, there's the "sort-of-cheap-and-reliable" GP2X consoles (mainly the Wiz or Caanoo) and there's the "cheap-and-nasty-but-becomes-awesome-if-you've-got-the-patience-to-put-Linux-on-it" Dingoo A320. And of course, there's the cracked PSP option which is probably the cheapest right now. If you want the guarantees of a big company and access to modern mobile gaming, why not go for the Xperia Play (I'm planning to get one of those next payday)? All these handhelds have their strengths and weaknesses, and none are perfect, and I would recommend research before buying any of them, but they can all give you an awesome selection of classic games in your pocket. But of course, all of them are emulation-based, with all the questionable legality that implies.

Kindberg said...

This is nice! I program with the SDL library, mostly because of the cross platform availability, including iPhone in the new SDL 1.3.

I would have to say, that for the GameGadget to be truly competitive it needs a touchscreen, that would give app developer more incentive to release their games on the GameGadget too.

Sithog said...

Plenty of open-source devices already on the market with active support. The problem with trying to get licenses for old school games pretty much comes down to how willing those publishers/developers are in letting go of their license especially if it will lead to direct competition with said publisher/developer. I'm pretty sure Nintendo and Sony and their 2nd party developers are already out of the question. Then you'll have to deal with these companies bullying third parties into avoiding partnerships with the company and their device which again funnels into your concern with the people making this device being virtually unknown in the gaming industry. Plus the fact that it's so easy to get old games of the internet makes the whole concept even harder to sell to investors. See the outcome could be that they just decide to release the handheld as is with pure open support and their resources would just go into keeping a community of bustling indie developers alive and perhaps provide an appstore with less restrictions than those imposed by Apple or Google. I personally would love it if someone were to release an open-source console which is the reason why I love the Saturn and Dreamcast homebrew scene since ever once in a while a dedicated team of indie guys release commercial games (As in physical copies you can buy, which is awesome).