First thoughts

A project log for Playloop

Turn your phone into a retro gaming console

Victor DediosVictor Dedios 08/24/2019 at 09:440 Comments

(this is an extend essay about what is exposed on the main "details" section of the project page)

The problem

I have always loved gaming since I was a child, and I especially love what today is called "retro-games" on portable systems. I found it fascinating how engineers could design such wonderful pieces of art with so many resources, all the tricks they used to tweak every bit of hardware in order to make you feel fully immersed. This was the core concept, they hadn't vast resources, and it was really fun. 

Since some years "retro-games" have became very trendy and a lot of solutions have emerged in this new retro-business. It is awesome that nowadays you can build your own system, there are tons of different designs that appear every month. I respect and love seeing people modding and building them in different shapes and sizes. Is a really fun way of learning about designing and electronics, something I've gone through with this project which I started with almost zero knowledge.

But when it comes to spending money just to play, are we getting mad? As well as people building, everyday we can find new models coming to market, some of them not even giving respect for the games. It feels more about collecting than enjoying gaming an playing. From cheap Chinese clones, more decent systems to official consoles all of it feeding this insane consumerism. We had already had those games, we had the tools to play them, there is a real need for this trend? 

Ok, I am not a fool, I also love fullHD displays, HQ audio and be able to gather digitally all my games in one place bringing games to a new dimension. It also seems like a right update to give this past era a new opportunity and get younger generations to know and appreciate it. However this trend is walking away from the root core principles of early games: squeeze to the fullest the resources you have. Most of this new consoles end up being part of collections, stored in shelves catching dust and not being squeezed because they owners are trapped chasing the brand new retro-system of the moment.  It may be risky to make this associations with consumerism, but it is our duty as gamers to check how we behave a sector in which you barely listen talking about being sustainable. Is important to think about how we consume resources and if there is a real need when doing it. Do I really need this brand new console to play this 30 old game that I've always enjoyed or am I trapped in this consumerism illusion? You probably are.

My approach to a solution

Let me guide you to your pocket. Your smartphone, that little gadget that travels with us most of our time. It has probably a wide HD screen, a pretty decent battery, storage and a powerful CPU. Pure specs that are perfect for playing retro-games on the go. But you only use it for browsing, FB, IG or watching videos. Have you ever tried to run a N64 game on it? It runs flawlessly. Now try it in a raspberry pi or in a cheap clone, not so good. Why not using it? It feels like a perfect candidate. You are considering buying the brand new handheld console of the moment because it comes with an IPS screen... come on.

I asked all this questions to myself and gave it a try. Soon I realized that playing retro-games with my smartphone wasn't an ideal solution, touchpad ruined the experience. Then, I looked for solutions, gamepads to attach to my phone that were portable and fully integrated but I didn't find any good tools that met my needs. Then I started thinking about what could be the right solution to face this problem, something that had/was:   

The love I felt for this idea added to the fact I wanted to learn about product development and electronics is what made me pursue this project. I was going to create Playloop: a very portable gadget that, attached to your smartphone, turned it into a great handheld gaming console, being that the only tool you will ever need to play retro-games on the go.