The Playdate is a handheld gaming device created by Panic.
It features a reflective, 1-bit, black and white screen and a crank on the side that acts as a form of analog control.
The device is an open platform - meaning that anyone can develop games for the system, and every unit is a dev unit.
|CPU||168MHz Arm Cortex M7|
|Memory||16MB RAM, 32KB L1 Cache|
|Display||2.7", 400 x 240px (173ppi) reflective Memory LCD (1-bit color, variable refresh rate, 50Hz max.)|
|Sound||Mono Speaker, 3.5mm Headphone Jack (TRRS), Condenser microphone|
|Wireless||WiFi b/g/n 2.4GHz, Bluetooth|
|Battery||740mAh internal Li-Ion battery, 8 hours active time, 14 days standby time|
|OS||Playdate OS (based on FreeRTOS)|
|Inputs||D-Pad, A/B buttons, Menu button, Crank, Accelerometer, Lock button|
|Size||76 x 74 x 9 mm|
In Playdate's original announcement, consoles were planned to have 2GB of storage, this was increased to 4GB in 2021 shortly before pre-orders were made available. Dev preview units sold in 2020 have 2GB of storage. Initial spec reveals put the CPU at 180MHz; this was due to Panic initially overclocking the processor, but firmware changes before launch lowered the CPU clock to 168MHz.
Due to severe chip shortages in the early 2020s, Panic had to revise the console and change the CPU. Devices made after the first 20,000 units will have a similar CPU from another vendor that runs at the same clock speed.
Bluetooth will not be usable at launch - eventually it will be used for the Playdate Stereo Dock. Panic is looking into other uses (like Bluetooth headphones), but no other use of Bluetooth is yet guaranteed.
Development of the Playdate started in 2011. Panic's co-founders wanted to create Panic's first hardware device to commemorate Panic's 15th anniversary in 2012, but weren't sure what. The first idea was a clock, and it eventually became a portable game system aimed for their 20th anniversary in 2017.
They teamed up with Teenage Engineering for the design and Metric Designworks for engineering and QA, and later recruited developers to create games for Season 1.
The console was codenamed 'Asheville', after Asheville, North Carolina - where members of Panic and Teenage Engineering first met during Moogfest in 2011.
The Playdate was revealed on 29th May 2019 as the cover story of Edge Magazine Issue #333. This reveal included some of the games that are part of Season One.
Panic had originally announced the console would be released in 2020, but that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the middle of 2020, Panic sold a small batch of pre-release models to game developers. Due to a much higher demand than supply, the people who had the opportunity to purchase one of these were chosen at random. Some units were also given at no cost to marginalised developers who registered interest (also chosen at random).
Pre-orders for Playdate to the general public began on 29th July 2021 at 10am PDT, sold exclusively on the Playdate website and available to 18 countries.
For the pre-order launch, Panic stated they had the resources in place to produce an initial batch of 20,000 units, scheduled to ship in Late 2021.
Panic stated that Playdate pre-orders would not run out - just that when they run out of the first 20,000, further ones would result in later ship dates and they would adjust production based on demand.
Delays and launch
Due to unexpected battery issues discovered late in the production process, Late 2021 units could not be shipped and were pushed back to early 2022.
Following more delays from circumstances beyond their control, Panic started shipping units on April 18, 2022.
On launch day, Panic's pre-orders of 20,000 first batch units sold out in 17 minutes. In early 2022, Panic indicated (via their shipping estimates) that they have sold at least 50,000 pre-orders.
Development Tools and Apps
Every Playdate console is a developer kit and has built-in sideloading.
Panic offers two tiers of development tools to help people make software for the platform:
- Pulp, a web-based editor that's designed to let people make simpler experiences with no or little code.
- An SDK in C and Lua for advanced game development. Also provided is a console simulator and a font editor called Caps.
Another utility Panic offers is an app called Playdate Mirror. It mirrors a connected Playdate's display and allows you to control the console with alternative inputs. This is intended for recording and streaming and as an accessibility tool.
All of Panic's Playdate development tools and utilities are free, and developers can distribute games made with Pulp and the SDK however they wish.
One of Playdate's advertised selling points (and part of it's namesake) is it's 'season' of games. Inspired by streaming television, a season consists of a set of games that are periodically released, to give players surprises and something to regularly talk about.
Season One is bundled with every Playdate console. This season starts when a Playdate owner first turns on their console and connect to Wi-Fi, where they will be given 2 games. They will continue to receive 2 more games each Monday (US Pacific Time) until they have gone through the entire season.
These games are permanently owned by Playdate owners and can be redownloaded if deleted.
Season One consists of 24 games released over 12 weeks (in alphabetical order):
Panic have stated the desire to do more seasons (including seasons that have simultaneous game release dates for all players), but have not publicly released concrete plans yet.
In Playdate's Early 2022 Update video, Panic unveiled an upcoming way for developers to sell games called Catalog, where people can buy from a curated selection of games directly from their devices as an alternative/complimentary way to selling games on places like itch.io. No release date or further details have been announced yet.
These are other games that have been in development for the console, these include:
Firewatch (Panic's first published game, released 3 years before Playdate's announcement) has a stylized prototype Playdate console hidden in plain sight in one of the game's locations.