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Playdate Pulp: Zero to video game in 60 Seconds (gamedeveloper.com)
224 points by bpierre 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

> Shaun has joked that “brute force creativity” is the attitude to take when solving a problem in Pulp. This simple toolbox gives you just enough flexibility to expand the game’s featureset beyond what seems possible at first.

I learned to program using Scratch and I loved this about the language community that developed around it. For the first few years it didn't even have arrays, procedures, or text input, and people (kids!) worked around these things by encoding state using the powerful graphics tools, clever math, and brute force.

People in the forums would clamor for more powerful features, but they were rolled out slowly and carefully. Later on I had a brief internship with the Scratch team and got a sense for why. The dev team was small, but more importantly they thought very carefully about how to whittle a language feature to its essence to enable maximum creativity with minimum cognitive overhead. I really appreciated that.

Of course I also quickly developed an appreciation for Snap[0] (née BYOB) which veered off from Scratch with a more "f*ck it, have everything" philosophy towards language design :)

[0] https://snap.berkeley.edu/snap/snap.html

Ever since I got an OP-1 [0] and found it such an absolute delight, it made me realize how a simple, well crafted experience can provide such sheer joy. Something I haven't felt on the "supercomputer in your pocket" in like decades. Constraints can be really fun, because they remove the paralysis of choice.

I hope this is a new frontier of people making open source hardware devices. You can totally craft the experience from start to finish in a way that wasn't so easy before.

[0] https://teenage.engineering/products/op-1/anniversary

Amen to this. I got an OP-1 for myself for my birthday this past year. I was interested in it because of joy, and I enjoy using it because of joy. It is hard to put a price on that aspect of it as an object, and it goes well beyond a BOM, a microcontroller firmware, more capable gear for less money, or an unconstrained software implementation of the same that continues to have me sit in front of yet another screen and try to free my mind. It's not for everyone, and if it's not for you, don't buy it and move on.

What exactly is that? Are you a musician?

EDIT: Oh wow, 1121 EUR? I'm no longer curious :P

OP-1 has never been "cheap", although it used to be cheaper, around 800$. Then they stopped production, because of a supply problem [1](sounds familiar), there was wild price speculation[2] on the first and second hand market, then it came back 50% more expensive.

Teenage Engineering (OP-1's brand) is usually very expensive, almost boutique-expensive, although they've done collabs with IKEA [3], and have a line of pocket synths [4] that are fun and affordable.

1. https://www.musicradar.com/news/this-is-why-teenage-engineer...

2. https://camelcamelcamel.com/product/B00CXSJUZS

3. https://www.ikea.com/us/en/new/frekvens-limited-collection-p...

4. https://teenage.engineering/products/po

Frekvens was incredibly frustrating because it was hard to GET any of them before they were discontinues. I don't like those super-limited runs, it just frustrates customers who miss out.

Audio equipment pricing is hilarious. Your single most expensive tech purchase might be “a really good budget option :D” in the music world.

You are absolutely correct, although your observation isn’t completely relevant to the OP-1. The OP-1 is actually a synthesizer, and $1500, while a substantial sum, isn’t that much for a pro quality musical instrument.

What does 'actually a synthesizer' mean, and is it something you can't do with a $20 chip?

The device is more than just a chip. It's a human interface optimized for music production. Carefully selected knobs and buttons for specific features so that as you get an idea in your head, you can immediately apply it to the music you're making/playing. It must never crash, freeze, nor behave unexpectedly. The price tag is the guarantee that it's designed by musicians, for musicians, and built to spec.

That's worth a surprising lot to people who seriously make music, even as a hobby.

That's you explaining why this particular product is good. But something can be a synthesizer with terrible buttons and unhelpful behaviors, can't it?

Oh yes. Like the Pocket Operators. But they are accordingly cheaper.

The UX of the OP-1 does look outstanding.

It means it’s designed and built as a musical instrument, to be played.

A big part of the selling point of a hardware synthesizer is the user interface, which will be deliberately be designed to remove friction in making music.

The OP1 is overpriced even by synth standards, but it seems to me like a well-designed piece of gear.

It’s worth noting that Panic collaborated with Teenage Engineering when designing the hardware of the Playdate.

The price of Playdate also fits with Teenage Engineering model - well designed but priced above the standard 5x BOM model.

Not a critique (since it is surely a better pricing model for longevity than underpricing).

Also with 20k units I am sure they will sell out.

PS. Hmm GameBoy was $89 in 1989 so probably about the same adjusted for inflation.

Curious - why would I want to get OP-1 instead of getting Ableton and a midi keyboard?

The OP-1 is a toy while Ableton is pro computer software. The OP-1 is one of the most delightful and fun things I have ever touched. It can't be compared to computer software on merits because the PC software simply is more powerful but doesn't provide the same fun factor.

If the thing was significantly cheaper, almost everyone would want one.

Because a simple, well crafted experience can provide such sheer joy, and constraints can be really fun, because they remove the paralysis of choice.

I actually specifically moved off of Ableton and a midi keyboard because I wanted more constraints. It was getting boring to have the entire world as an option.

It's also portable which has been really fun to have while traveling.

You'd want to get a Synthstrom Deluge, actually.


Those other things are toys.

Similar question why would you get OP-1 instead of something like Novation Circuit Tracks which is 1/3rd of the price?

Also what would be starting point for someone who doesn’t know anything about music or edm making be?

three potential reasons: the latter has a much steeper learning curve, is much less portable, and can involve significant configuration to achieve similar effect.

Wow, a shoutout to Shaun Inman - I had no idea he was working at Panic these days. His blog was a big inspiration for me back when I was just starting my career as a programmer. Good ole' sIFR: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scalable_Inman_Flash_Replaceme...

From what I could tell from the Playdate episode of the Panic podcast, he doesn't work there. Pulp seems to be more of a "collaboration" – he was making it himself, and it seems that Panic gave him some funding and some of Neven's time (designer).

Oh, interesting – perhaps he's been hired since that? This article had this line:

> There’s a person at Panic with a long history of making wonderful games: Shaun Inman

Huh. Maybe the contract is a bit more formal/permanent than I understood, or maybe it has become that since the podcast. It does look like that's the case, his Twitter account also just says "Currently Panic/Playdate". Thanks!

I recognized his name from an old self-hosted RSS reader I used to use back in the day. Looks like the marketing site for it is still up. https://feedafever.com/

He works at Panic?! I have an EP he made for one of his games in my music library.

Time to read the article.

This whole project continue to be a big love-fest to retro gaming. I love the idea of building simple (or not!) retro-style games for a hand-held device. Hopefully Pulp games will be playable in the browser, so people will be able to try the games even if they didn't order a Playdate, or until their order arrives.

I don't really have any game dev experience, but i've been hacking around in Love2D to try building basic games with Lua. Pulp sounds like a great way to get going, and I'm excited to try it! Love to see what a bunch of creative developers are going to come up with.

> Hopefully Pulp games will be playable in the browser

Prediction: the Pulp games won't be any fun in a browser. You'd be missing what makes the Playdate fun (the device) and the obvious understanding that there are constraints to what can be made for it, and instead you'd be playing a clunky game on a supercomputer.

I think they'd be foolish to allow the games to be played in the browser.

> Hopefully Pulp games will be playable in the browser, so people will be able to try the games even if they didn't order a Playdate

Seems antithetical to the project's identity of being this expensive, exclusive, social club for niche enthusiasts.

> This whole project continue to be a big love-fest to retro gaming.

You can buy Gameboy-lookalike devices in any toystore for a few bucks. I personally don't understand the rage, although I must admit that I was never a big fan of computer games to begin with.

> Gameboy-lookalike devices

Most of these are too hard to deal with. Also developing for these devices is a huge pain the ass.

Im excited for this device because its taken game dev as a first citizen. This toy looks to be more about game dev than it is about game play. While play is important part of the eco system that market is soo saturated from AAA billion dollar companies all the way to obscure Gameboy-lookalike devices.

But game dev, and particularly game dev for a device is still a difficult and underserved (I hope for the success of this company) market.

I've said this before, but if they treat this like a physical fantasy console, then judging by the success of pico 8 I don't think they'll have much of an issue with success.

This looks like fun environment to work with. The less pixels you need to push around, the more you can focus on gameplay. But I painfully learned, that even binary pixel art needs a good eye and patience to do right.

I pre-ordered my playdate and would love to play around with the SDK now. Feels a bit unfair though, that they are hiding this tool in a private beta, even though there already seem to have quite a few games done for it. For the rest of us, we can just hope...

> Feels a bit unfair though, that they are hiding this tool in a private beta

I've been following Playdate closely. They have said publicly that the Playdate software isn't finished yet, and the press devices only had a couple of games, and those weren't even finished.

Reading between the lines, I think the on-device API is still in flux as the OS is finished off, and that Panic expect the games to need final touch-ups. Based on this, it would make sense that Pulp can't yet produce games that could be guaranteed to work with the final shipping device.

As Panic clearly care so much about the product, I think it's fair that they're keeping these things restricted to a group that they can give all the communication effort and attention to. Developer relations at scale is hard because it's just a ton of communication and support, and Panic obviously don't have the capacity to do that for all 10s of thousands of developers who like to have a peek.

This is the kind of stuff that inspires me and has me yearning to escape big tech to make again for sheer joy.

Take the plunge! The water's great.

Source: I left my FAANG job in January.

My golden handcuffs are sooo heavy. I'll wipe my tears with a hundred and then burn it to feel something.

Not sure if you're being sarcastic or not, but there is a very simple solution to this. Just do the math and find the optimal time to leave min/maxing the equity awards.

You're... not sure this was sarcastic?? Your advice is sound but tune up those sarcasm antennae

i wasn’t sure if the poster was actually in a golden handcuff situation or mocking people who are. it’s sarcasm in either case but my comment is only relevant on the former.

I am, and part of the challenge is

(1) how do I leverage my position to do the next thing at massive scale

(2) do I give up on being charitable with resources at scale. For instance, I have my name on a donor wall at a zoo. I believe strongly in conservation and have donated a great deal of capital to various organizations throughout the country.

Ultimately, I think I have one final idea before I get out of big tech.

I did as well. I'm contracting here and there and then the rest of the time just building what I want to build. It's pretty damn nice.

I hope that you will be able to export your Pulp game to be played in a web browser, like PICO-8. If this framework will require the physical hardware it will unfortunately be relegated to a tiny niche.

Given those very limited snippets of PulpScript I'm surprised to see no mention of HyperTalk and HyperCard from 1987.


HyperTalk had similar objectives: making a structured programming language as natural-language like as possible. One of the things that made HyperTalk feel more friendly, I think, was the 'it', a temporary variable that was carried line to line. It let you write things like:

  ask "What is the value?"
  put it into card field "display"

There’s also the similarly named Hyperscript in the same vein: https://hyperscript.org/

I love that the output file format is .pdx (Panic is based in Portland, OR).

I had to Google it: PDX is the airport code for Portland International Airport. I too thought of Playdate executable when I read it.

It's this sort of stuff that I think will make the Playdate a huge hit with a particular market. I'm not sure it's going to take off in a huge way, but it's almost already a "cult classic".

I didn’t make that connection! (P)lay(d)ate E(x)ecutable is what I thought.

I'm always going to miss the old Gamasutra site. This feels so sterile and boring.

If it weren't for your comment I wouldn't have known that this site was the old Gamasutra... and I was aware of the rename. I didn't realize it was a whole rebrand... and IMO a poor one at that (I find it much less readable than the old site, however dated it looked)

Holy crap, I was on the old gamasutra site just a couple of days ago.

R.I.P. to lovably weird and slightly dirty names for things. FactoryGirl, domainatrix, now gamasutra. Makes me so sad that we can't do quirky shit any more

It's sad that a company like Nintendo isn't addressing this market. For $20 more than the Playdate, you can pick up a Switch Lite with way more potential and capabilities. And for the millions that already own a Switch, this could be a fun thing to do with it. In fact, Panic should have figured out how to work with Nintendo and done all the same work with a little on-device runtime and maybe a Bluetooth crank that sits in the same spot as a Joycon. This sort of partnership is not unheard of - look at Niantic's work on Pokemon Go as an example.

Hardware aside, there's no lack of game design apps on the Switch. Nintendo recently released Game Builder Garage and also have Mario Maker 2 (both are first party Nintendo games)



SmileBasic and RPG Maker are also on Switch.



I didn't know about SmileBasic, thanks, but I totally forgot about Game Builder Garage! So I guess Ninty is doing the right thing. Still, doesn't seem to be generating as much old-school retro buzz as the Playdate.

I'm sure more people will use each of those games than a Playdate.

Nintendo is licensing its IP to mobile game devs. In their minds, the phone is already the "last-gen handheld game console". I'm excited for Fire Emblem: Heroes ;)

There is SmileBASIC on the Nintendo Switch, but it's pretty removed still from the excitement of running your own things.

Don't know if related: i have made a library that wraps pygame and aims at simplifying writing of 2d games in python. This library is slightly more high level than pygame, on the other hand it is much more basic than a real game engine. See https://github.com/MoserMichael/pygamewrap

This looks so fun! I love the constraints, and can't wait to play around with this!

I never understand how people can play those pixel games. Don’t they hurt your eyes? And also what’s the point to create games with such poor graphic qualities? Is this kind of unique culture or something?

The graphic quality isn’t “poor”, it’s just simple and minimal.

It’s not just simple. The images have lower resolution than you can commonly find. They are purposefully downgraded from the worst images.

You can't deny that it's a style. Not all games are served by having photorealistic graphics, in fact many of the game that are most thought of as 'beautiful' don't have photorealism and instead choose to use style instead (Breath of the Wild for one)

There is a element to `low-quality` style/resolution that makes your brain fill in the gaps, so to speak. When playing games that are not 100% photorealistic, your brain works to fill in the rough edges and textures with detail; which engages your imagination in a way that perfect graphics game never can.

Thanks for your reasonable comment. The “ brain works to fill in the rough edges and textures with detail” is exactly what I feel and I definitely do NOT enjoy it.

So maybe it does not hurt my eyes but hurts t my brains for the unnecessary cognitive load, or maybe both.

I do agree it’s a unique “style”, but it doesn’t make sense to me.

why would they hurt your eyes more than anything else on a screen? it's easier to build a game with simple graphics, and the mechanics of a game can still be fun regardless of graphical complexity

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