View Full Version : Open-source gaming uncovered - Pandora vs Wiz

November 23rd, 2008, 22:12
An interesting article from t3online:

When game and software developers talk about ‘open source’ software, they generally cite widely-understood examples such as Mozilla’s superb Firefox internet browser or the Linux operating system. The Open Source movement’s philosophy is based on developing projects that are ‘self-organizing’, which generally means building stuff that is iteratively improved by a network of volunteer programmers. It is a ‘hive mind’ and decentralised way of developing software, as opposed to the bigger commercial developers’ more traditionally centralised and ‘top-down’ way of organising things. More simply put, it’s a DIY ‘punk’ ethic, almost in direct opposition to the ways of the megacorps such as Microsoft and Sony.

So when T3 heard recently that there is not only one, but TWO new open source handheld gaming consoles – the nattily named Gamepark Wiz and the Pandora – heading our way early next year, we of course wanted to know more. What will we be able to do with these shiny new toys? Will we finally be able to make that game about the flying monkeys we dreamed up while tripping on mushrooms at Glastonbury in 1993? Or is this all going to be a bit ‘hobbyist’ for us?

The first new handheld that caught our eye was Gamepark’s Wiz system, the successor to its (now-discontinued) GP2X, pictures of which first leaked into our eyes (via the internet) back in the summer. The Wiz rocks a 2.8inch OLED QVGA touchscreen at 320x240 pixels and a 533mhz CPU, which means it is technically faster than the PSP's 333mhz processor. On top of that, you get a built-in microphone, SD memory slot, 64MB RAM, 1GB of internal storage and an intriguing-sounding "3D Acceleration" listed by the manufacturer.

Aside from its impressive spec-sheet, the Wiz’s USP is Gamepark’s promise of commercial game releases for the system. Which means that it could well appeal to a wider market than the usual homebrew crowd and the harder-than-hardcore fans of arcade and retro game emulators. Indeed, the boxed console comes with 12 built-in games, including a shooter called Myride and the rather awesomely entitled Snake on Dope.

Talking about the open source gaming development scene, Canadian game designer (and creator of BattleJewels) Jeff Mitchell, told TechRadar recently that, “the scene in general is one of the best around; the public at large is smaller than with your mainstream devices and so attracts people who are more interested in the devices and are a little willing to tinker - like your aftermarket car folks would be.

“The development scene itself has often been compared in spirit to the roaring days of the early 90s (Atari ST and Amiga and whatnot); suffice to say I think it's one of the best communities of homebrewers and retro-developers around.”
For Mitchell, the key thing, in true open source style, is that “if you need some help there's a hand usually around to assist… people who are not only willing but dying to help out, to beta test, to help with artwork for your emulator front-end or whatever. The PSP scene, the DS scene and so on. They're lively as well, but larger and less pulled together.”

The real question for more mainstream gamers is: “will the Wiz make any kind of dint on the commercial handheld gaming scene?” Might it even (*whisper it*) begin to compete with the mega-successful Nintendo DS and Sony’s sleekly powerful PSP?

“The Wiz will be enormously popular for emulation and homebrew fans,” says Mitchell, “and I expect people will buy a title or two of commercial-ware if it is priced well, and is priced to the quality…the trick is finding the balance.”

But in Mitchell’s mind, comparing the Wiz with the DS and the PSP is kind of missing the point, “just like SanDisk selling mp3 players doesn't dent the iPod market - but it keeps SanDisk going.”

Let’s not forget that hobbyist developers sometimes hit paydirt, though. “This is how Quake mod teams suddenly end up being game developers themselves,” says Mitchell. “Ten years of bottom feeding and finally getting their break.”

The other new open source handheld due to make some noise in 2009 is the ARM Cortex A80-powered Pandora, developed by an off-shoot team of the guys and girls behind Gamepark’s GP2X. The photos T3 has seen on the OpenPandora.org website are of a device which looks like a mash-up of DS-style clamshell design with (home console style) dual analogue controllers and a full QWERTY keyboard.

You want specs? They got specs. The ARM Cortex A80 processor runs at an impressive 600mhz. To put this in some kind of context, this is almost double the PSP's 333mhz. The graphics are powered by PowerVR SGX OpenGL 2.0 hardware presented in all their glory on the Pandora’s 800x480 4.3in 16.7 million colour LCD touch-screen.

And if you want to hook up to the internet or to your PC or Mac, then the in-built 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and High Speed USB 2.0, dual SDHC card slots and S-Video TV-out should sort you right out!

However, before we get too much of a hard-on for what this makers of this baby CLAIM it can do, we have to consider that this could all be so much ‘vapourware’ because we have yet to actually see a unit in existence. While units are rumoured to have gone out to a few developers, proper release dates are hazy and T3’s attempts to get in touch with the guys behind the device have, to date, fallen on deaf ears.

What we do know is that a £199 UK price tag has been mooted and that the developers claim that Pandora is "by far the most powerful handheld in the world both in terms of raw CPU power and 3D graphics capability" and that it should also be able to handle things such as Mozilla’s Firefox 3 internet browser or classic 3D shooters such as Quake 3 with ease.

Play-Asia – our favourite website for importing kit – currently lists the Wiz at £123.24 (exactly!) and has the release date penned in for February 2009. T3 will of course bring you more news on both the Wiz and the Pandora as we get it.

For now, we’re trying to rack our brains to try to remember exactly what it was those flying monkeys were doing in our imaginary game. Does anybody have any mushrooms?