Those of you who follow the homebrew coding scene might already be aware of CHIP, a self-contained computer which costs just $9. This super-cheap piece of hardware is now being put inside a portable shell to host "Fantasy Console" platform PICO-8, and the end result is looking fantastic.
Created by Next Thing and dubbed PocketCHIP, this new handheld is powered by a 1GHz CHIP and boasts a 4.3-inch, 480 x 272 pixel resistive LED backlit touchscreen, as well as gaming controls and a full, physical QWERTY keyboard. PICO-8 comes pre-installed, and hosts games which aren't a million miles away from those seen on the Game Boy Color in terms of presentation and gameplay.
The really exciting part is that PICO-8 has built-in tools for making games and even offers sprite and sound editing features. Also, every single game produced for the platform can be hacked and tweaked. Over a thousand free games are already available, ranging from simplistic reflex tests to more complex affairs.
Because it's a homebrew platform, emulation is possible - and the guys behind this project have managed to get Virtual Boy games running via a special 3D-printed headset. PockulusCHIP started life as an April Fools' joke, but it actually works:
Next Thing CEO Dave Rauchwerk feels that PocketCHIP could become as influential as home computers such as the Commodore 64, which got an entire generation into coding:
A lot of people that are working on this project, that was their first computer. The idea that experience isn't really around today is kind of weird. PocketCHIP is kind of that thing we all wanted when we were 13, and now we're in a spot that we can make it real.
What's really interesting about the PocketCHIP is that it feels to us very much like a continuation of Nintendo's Game Boy line, and arguably employs the same "Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology" approach popularised by the late Gunpei Yokoi, designer of the original Game Boy. By using parts which are cheap and common, Next Thing is able to sell the unit at an incredibly low price - if you order now you'll get the PocketCHIP for $49, but that will eventually rise to a stil-reasonable $69.
While it's not a Nintendo product we'll still be keeping a close eye on PocketCHIP to see how things develop. Let us know if you're tempted to lay down some green for this intriguing little machine.