Thursday, 23 February 2012

Bring up the homebrew appstore!

One good concept that the Apple App store brought is the probability of small developers making out a profit without falling in the scope of being a big commercial project. Everyone could live the dream with just a little investment (Hmm,. almost. Apart from the 100$ fee per year, those iphones are expensive plus that you might need a mac mini for developing) and some ammounts of motivation. The dream ensued by stories of people making so ridiculously simple apps like a farting simulator and other such gimmick and making a lot of profit from such simple projects.

My brother have bought an ipad and a mac mini because we were seriously thinking about getting into the market. Although, because some of us at Codeverse are busy with their jobs and doing other part time jobs (web sites, databases and the usual boring stuff) we haven't started with this one yet. I doubt we will any time soon, yet when I finish with another project for the iphone I am working on for a customer, I will try to motivate me about starting as a hobby programming a game concept which is much simplier than what we were planning with the team, yet still interesting and well fitted for the touch controls.

My thought on this is that it would be interesting to try something to see how it goes, and I would prefer to not do something very very simple and catchy for the mass like the fart simulators or press your screen to break and such gimmick just for the sake of profit, but something more interesting I would like to play. The problem is, I don't like the majority of gaming in touchpads and smartphones (I also have an Android phone). Since I can't get used to the games showing virtual keypads on the screen that I cannot absolute control properly with a touch screen, the remaining rest is simple games like Angry Birds, Shoot the Apple (in my opinion more interesting than Angry Birds), connect some dots, puzzle games, funny stuff that look like Flash or Casual Games and not something I would enjoy that much. I am not much in favor of smartphones, touchpads, apple in general and the whole gimmicky factor of people walking around the city with flashy gadgets showcasing how hip they are. You will excuse me, maybe I am a bit of a snob of the whole new trend :P

My dream is the homebrew. The community I grew up with the last 8 years. In a sense, homebrew existed since the first time someone hacked a console so that he can programm and run his own creations on it. What I have in mind is the modern homebrew handheld community starting from the maybe first console that was made for that purpose of selling you the hardware and let the community openly develop and port software for it. I am talking about the GP32 and this is where my personal affiction with this hobby of owning, programming and gaming on homebrew handheld consoles started for me. I went through every Gamepark product since then, the Dingoo A320 console too and hopefully the Pandora oneday too (that price, ugh!).

Meanwhile a lot of chinese companies copied the concept that Gamepark originally introduced and nowadays we are obscured by tens of strange handhelds that are lacking of a real community, a real feeling of id, that this is the single unique handheld where a creative spirit has formed around. That's because different pairs of similar handhelds that are mocking the look of commercial handhelds are released and you can't decide where to go next. The single indication for me is community. I have seen some recent impressive handhelds, like the YinLips or newest JXD (some_number) that can play Android and are much more powerful than what I ever had (one JXD could play Super Mario 64 in a N64 emulator port smoothly in the video, something that the latest Caanoo wouldn't even achieve at 2fps) yet where is the community? They will be forgotten, no support, no interest, because I see now 4 different JXD models running android in a store. What?

So, the community has not moved to a new handheld, we have Gamepark GP2X and Wiz/Caanoo, we have Dingoo A320, Pandora for the rich and new things ahead. This is where I stop at the moment. I have already made some of these rants in a previous big post, so I think like I am repeating myself here (hopefully with fewer words) but the main reason for this post is what the title says, would there be a possibility that a new homebrew handheld with good quality/prize really gets popular to more people than ever before and gives an opportunity for a real app-like store in the similar sense as apple appstore?

If app store was the real dream for the single developer, I'd love to see something like this being realized for homebrew handheld game development. Because I love gaming in my homebrew handhelds as much as developing and at the same time I am not fond at all of gaming in touchscreen based devices, so I would prefer this thing existed for the homebrew handheld console devs.

So, based on this requirement is there a hope in the future? Some people have thought about it:

The nD - I love the idea of a very cheap device (I don't care at all if it will be only as fast as a GP2X with half RAM and no hardware acceleration, I even love the idea of working under such restrictions) that could become popular to the masses, even given away in small ammounts as a bonus for watching a movie to the cinema or such marketing stuff as explained in the site. I'd wish such a thing would work out, because I could maybe go to the local store one day and buy 2-3 of these and we would develop retro stuff and maybe combine our hobby with something that can pay the rent. I'd love to. I am just skeptical, the presentation doesn't inspire me (it's not a 16bit console!), the guy doesn't inspire me (well, his craziness was semi-inspirational (see also Bob's Game) but will he keep to the promise?), I am doubtful about this project moving on but I wish it would.

Game Gadget - And then I heard about this. It looks like a more serious attempt made by the company Blaze already known for it's Mega Drive handhelds (yep, two friends of mine came with a handheld they bought at a local store at 50euros (outside it must be cheaper) finding it very cool that this thing can play the limited number of 20 Mega Drive games (yep, no storage to load ROMs, except from the latest model that I haven't seen here) can fit in this size and also play in a TV like a real Mega Drive console with the TV-Out cable. Yet they didn't know about Dingoo that costs something like 57euros from that you can use the default emulators for much more consoles than Mega Drive and upload in the mini-sd as many roms as you wish (plus homebrew games, apps, plus it plays mp3s, videos, views images, just like any typical homebrew handheld) and comes with a tv cable too. So, you had from one side Dingoo A320 with almost the same price that can play anything and then a fixed megadrive handheld limited to 20 titles that you haven't even chosen (where is Streets of Rage 2?). But the second one was found in local stores here in Greece, people bought it without ever knowing about the handheld homebrew craze. That's marketing for ya! Same thing happens with their gamegadget, so many coverage on the press and they are already having some working units and planning a release at 30 March. The device is very similar to a Dingoo A320, both in looks, processor (an Ingenic 4750 at 433Mhz which is in the MIPS family), graphics capabilities (320*240*16bpp, no hardware acceleration) and their major plans for this is to create an App-like store where you could upload and sell your games. I am much more confident about this than the nD (even though I loved the theoritical idea of an extremelly cheap homebrew handheld that spreads like the plague) and oh, they are British. It's nice for a chance to see a company getting into the game, other than China or Korea. It's time for some serious homebrew handheld industry from this side of the globe. I will be watching patiently.

A thought for the future: Raspberry Pi. Although not a handheld console and not oriented towards the idea of having an app-like store, rather than a cheap computer for the masses or the poor or the hobbyists, this is a device that seems to have the effect that any homebrew console adapting the app-store model would need. Exposure! It has gained popularity as a hobbyist dream even before being released, both because of price and good exposure to the public and impressive presentations and everyone is really awaiting to get one or two on his hands. Now, it would be great if it could really create such a big community and then even the thought of an app-like store could be promising for single developers, yet maybe the reason for it's creation is not commercial and nothing like this has been planned last time I heard. Just a honnorable mention of a device that could do it for me.

So, our best hero is Game Gadget for me. Hmm,. the price is 99 pounds, that being something like 112 euros, more than a Dingoo A320 (57 euro here, sometimes more (75 euros) in other places) and less than a GPH Caanoo (got mine at 144 euros, kinda expensive but worth it). I am really happy about Game Gadget, glad they are British and I hope it works out. If a good app-store for homebrew dev starts up then I am seriously thinking to spend less time on demomaking and more on game developing (something that I have little affiliation with, but during the later years I have wished but always abandoned because of that deadline to finish that demo for this democompo :P)

Other than this stupid bad written blog post, my relative news are: I just got a new Dingoo A320 Black edition. My old one had a dead LCD (it could still be used through the TV-Out by navigating blindly to enable it though) and so I decided I'd get a new one because my friends were playing Mega Drive in their TV with the Blaze consoles and I thought I should do that too because it's a joke and I can have much more in a single package for 7 euros higher. Though, the Mega Drive emulator on Dingoo native OS is not good (very slow, bad artifacts, hell.. even in the old GP32 overclocked at 133Mhz it was better) so one has to install Dingux on it, which is Linux from the homebrew community, where the majority of emulators, homebrew games, apps, etc are released anyway and there is PicoDrive for Mega Drive which is perfect. The problem is, ironically I cannot win this bet yet (to really feel with few euros more than Blaze consoles, I can have Mega Drive playing fine with all roms) because now Dingux has some Tv-Out util that simply fails to work here. Another solution was to install OpenDingux which is the continuation of Dingux from the community (the original author of Dingux was BooBoo and now more people are into this new release) that might possibly have proper Tv-Out support so that I can finally live the feeling of having a virtual multi-console plugged on my TV monitor. And it is a pain in the ass to create new icons in the provided G-menu for Dingux and while I have downloaded a pack with all things ready, OpenDingux changed things and you have to manually setup the all the emuls icons and everything manually. Of course I could just browse with the explorer and hopefully things will run. Do I loose points from my bet for Dingoo A320 being so annoying at usability especially with Dingux? (the native gave you the emuls installed, that was a pro in eas/usability, but I hope some of them were better). Yet, I am happy to have purchased Dingoo A320 again, because I always have to own one of these things, the community is very good and very strong for a handheld that is less known than the gamepark posse.

Irrelevant news for the finale: I am living one of my best coding periods. Having so much motivation, working with my Wolfenstein CPC engine and my possible Forever CPC demo release (if everything goes fine with time) every day without striving away from the path. It was so strong that I decided oneday to go to the nearest PC to start a new session of Skyrim, yet I abandoned the idea (twice) because I really had to try that new feature/optimization in my wolfenstein engine. When coding wins over gaming, wow!