Opening the Gaming Gadget

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 andmarketed for homebrew or do-it-yourself applications. The Internetprovides 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 homebrewedgames and memory cards that allow owners of specific games and platforms to enhancethe 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 forgame players looking for open architecture devices. However, several newentries may be changing the open source gaming gadget marketplace. Forexample, the Wiz is a new open source handheld gaming unit fromGamePark Holdings. Another hot newcomer is Pandora, a portable gameconsole that’s designed from the ground up as an open source system.

LinuxInsider looked at the developer field to see what hot new gamegadgets were coming down the pike. We found that homebrew interest anddevice makers’ hardware left a big void. LinuxInsider found a few newentrants that will give those with a hearty appetite for gaminggadgets a few new morsels to chew on.

Wiz Wizardry

Game Park Holdings recently released its latest open source gamegadget called “The Wiz.” The handheld device is the latest lineage ofthe 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 softwaredevelopers 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-inbattery and a Flash player. The screen is touch-sensitive with aresolution of 320×240 QVGA.

Also bundled into the Wiz is a built-in microphone and an expandableSD memory slot to augment its internal 1 GB of storage. The dual-joypadmachine is designed not only for gaming but also for video and musicplayback. The device includes video and music playback, a photoviewer, comics, an e-book viewer, and a planner.

The Linux OS-based Wiz is equipped games and the promise of new gamesreleased every month. The inventory includes: “Asura Cross Wired,” afighting action game; “Her Knights,” an action game; “Myride,” a shooterchallenge; “BankGP,” another shooter; “BoomShine2X,” a psychedelicpuzzle challenge; “Snake on Dope,” a snake game that vibrates the deviceas the snake grows larger; “Space Varments,” an alien battle game playedon the touch screen; and “Blingo2008,” a modified “Slingo”-based bingoderivative.

Several more games are also included. The game device costs aroundUS$170, depending on the seller.

A New Box

The Pandora is an open source portablegame console. This compact handheld runs a customized Linux distro infirmware. Its clamshell case is roughly the size of a Nintendo DS. Thedevice sports dual SDHC card slots and dual analog joypads, a digitalD-pad, A-B-X-Y buttons and a 43-key QWERTY keyboard. It’s alsoconfigured with a TV output and a high-speed USB host.

Pandora is powered with an ARM Cortex-A8 CPU running Linux. It has atouchscreen LCD capable of displaying16.7 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 WiFi802.11b/g.

The game device sells for $330.

A New Approach

BugLabs is not specificallydedicated to do-it-yourself game makers. It’s a new company withinnovative developer kits that allow game fanatics and homebrew devicelovers to piece together their own creations. Bug Labs makes its newtechnology available so engineers can create any type of device theywant 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 alsohas MMC and serial interfaces, a small LCD and button controls.BUGbase also has four slots for combinations of BUG modules. BUGbaseprogramming 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 atouch-sensitive interface. This module can be used both as a displayand as an input device. It sells for $119.

Mobile Phone Static

Given the huge installed base of smartphone and cell phone users, gameplayers should have a wide-open field for homebrewed games. But thatis 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 mostof today’s phones are sold with configurations that are too light forserious gamers,” Mark Asnes, COO of The Wireless Zone, toldLinuxInsider.

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’tsee it happen. And the ability to do it would require a commonplatform,” he said.

Carriers generally want to maintain control of their systems. Consumers upgradetheir phones every 16 to 18 months. Mobile carriers often require product manufacturers to maintain the same menu architecture. Thatway, consumers do not have to learn new systems each time they pay fora new phone.

The same kind of restrictions and barriers are often imposed by gameconsoles and game handheld manufacturers, Asnes explained.

“The major game device makers are closing the ability to download ontotheir consoles. But players can go online as a way of expanding thefunctionality of their devices,” he said.

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