Opening the Gaming Gadget
When it comes to handheld gaming, the word "open" can be a relative term. Closed devices like the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP rule in popularity. But some gamers like to crack these machines open and uses their own homebrewed wares. Beyond that, some emerging devices are Linux-based from the ground up. A few are even designed so that buyers build them themselves.
When you think about portable gaming gadgets, it's hard to rattle off a hefty list of possibilities. They mostly follow a path of heavy marketing -- the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation Portable are heavily advertised, and their sales are strong.
But some hardcore gamers have become attracted to devices exclusively designed and marketed for homebrew or do-it-yourself applications. The Internet provides a clear road map to Web sites that sell homebrew games and gaming devices.
However, most of what's out there is technology made to enhance mainstream devices. The lion's share of what is available is mostly homebrewed games and memory cards that allow owners of specific games and platforms to enhance the hardware. Gamers have long had open source software options. Usually these catered to the massive user base on the PC platform. Still, a thriving market exists for fans of Nintendo game devices.
Conspicuous by its absence is a great deal of choice for game players looking for open architecture devices. However, several new entries may be changing the open source gaming gadget marketplace. For example, the Wiz is a new open source handheld gaming unit from GamePark Holdings. Another hot newcomer is Pandora, a portable game console that's designed from the ground up as an open source system.
LinuxInsider looked at the developer field to see what hot new game gadgets were coming down the pike. We found that homebrew interest and device makers' hardware left a big void. LinuxInsider found a few new entrants that will give those with a hearty appetite for gaming gadgets a few new morsels to chew on.
Game Park Holdings recently released its latest open source game gadget called "The Wiz." The handheld device is the latest lineage of the popular GP2X game line. Its official name is the GP2x Wiz.
Perhaps its most exciting feature is the included Wiz SDK (software developer kit) which allows users and other software developers to create their own games.
The Wiz is powered by an ARM 533 Mhz processor and is packed with a 3-D Accelerator and 64 MB of RAM. It has a 2.8-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display, a built-in battery and a Flash player. The screen is touch-sensitive with a resolution of 320x240 QVGA.
Also bundled into the Wiz is a built-in microphone and an expandable SD memory slot to augment its internal 1 GB of storage. The dual-joypad machine is designed not only for gaming but also for video and music playback. The device includes video and music playback, a photo viewer, comics, an e-book viewer, and a planner.
The Linux OS-based Wiz is equipped games and the promise of new games released every month. The inventory includes: "Asura Cross Wired," a fighting action game; "Her Knights," an action game; "Myride," a shooter challenge; "BankGP," another shooter; "BoomShine2X," a psychedelic puzzle challenge; "Snake on Dope," a snake game that vibrates the device as the snake grows larger; "Space Varments," an alien battle game played on the touch screen; and "Blingo2008," a modified "Slingo"-based bingo derivative.
Several more games are also included. The game device costs around US$170, depending on the seller.
A New Box
The Pandora is an open source portable game console. This compact handheld runs a customized Linux distro in firmware. Its clamshell case is roughly the size of a Nintendo DS. The device sports dual SDHC card slots and dual analog joypads, a digital D-pad, A-B-X-Y buttons and a 43-key QWERTY keyboard. It's also configured with a TV output and a high-speed USB host.
Pandora is powered with an ARM Cortex-A8 CPU running Linux. It has a touchscreen LCD capable of displaying 16.7 million colors with an 800 by 480 resolution on a 4.3-inch screen. It's licensed under OpenGL 2.0 ES compliant 3-D hardware and has WiFi 802.11b/g.
The game device sells for $330.
A New Approach
BugLabs is not specifically dedicated to do-it-yourself game makers. It's a new company with innovative developer kits that allow game fanatics and homebrew device lovers to piece together their own creations. Bug Labs makes its new technology available so engineers can create any type of device they want without having to solder or learn solid state electronics.
Each BUGbase is a fully programmable computer that comes with a CPU, RAM, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, USB and Ethernet ports. It also has MMC and serial interfaces, a small LCD and button controls. BUGbase also has four slots for combinations of BUG modules. BUGbase programming is done with the BUG SDK and BUGnet. The BUGbase sells for $349.
BUGview is a 2.46-inch 320 by 240 LCD screen which can be used as a touch-sensitive interface. This module can be used both as a display and as an input device. It sells for $119.
Mobile Phone Static
Given the huge installed base of smartphone and cell phone users, game players should have a wide-open field for homebrewed games. But that is mostly not the case. The mobile phone industry has opened new gateways for getting new applications to smartphones, notably the Apple App Store and the Android Marketplace, and some of the hottest movers have been games. However, few avenues are open for third-party game enhancements. In addition, most of the games directed at the mobile phone segment are considerably lighter and simpler than those available for dedicated gaming devices.
"Mobile phone devices have lots of well-known older games. But most of today's phones are sold with configurations that are too light for serious gamers," Mark Asnes, COO of The Wireless Zone, told LinuxInsider.
Open architecture is the talk of the mobile industry currently; however, few of the mobile carriers are backing up talk with action, according to Asnes.
"Unless the carrier of these games on phones get behind it, you won't see it happen. And the ability to do it would require a common platform," he said.
Carriers generally want to maintain control of their systems. Consumers upgrade their phones every 16 to 18 months. Mobile carriers often require product manufacturers to maintain the same menu architecture. That way, consumers do not have to learn new systems each time they pay for a new phone.
The same kind of restrictions and barriers are often imposed by game consoles and game handheld manufacturers, Asnes explained.
"The major game device makers are closing the ability to download onto their consoles. But players can go online as a way of expanding the functionality of their devices," he said.