Long time readers of the blog will know I’m a fan of esoteric content delivery protocols. While compulsively checking for updates on my Playdate (a small, yellow, Gameboy-like device with a crank) and I came across this tweet:

A gopher:// site in the year 2022!? Minutes prior I was reading a Polygon piece about Playdate’s 8-year process behind the crank and I needed more Playdate development stories. Now I find out the co-founder of Panic has a non-http gopher site where he blogs about Playdate development? How cool. I couldn’t resist, but first I needed a gopher client.

brew install xvxx/code/fetch
phetch gopher://stevenf.com:70/0/journal/2022/04/18/first-playdates-shipping.txt

With that, Steven Frank’s article appeared in my command line terminal. In the post Steven illuminates some of the core principles and lessons learned from developing the Playdate. You should gopher it and read it, but I plucked my favorite highlights.

Platform owners need not be the gatekeepers of all content and money. A platform can thrive without needing to have their finger in every single pie. This is, in fact, the way it used to be by default in the industry for a very long time and everyone did quite well. Anyone can make a Playdate game and distribute it or sell it however they choose.

I love it and it feels somewhat anti-Capitalist, anti-AppStore, or (in a gaming context) anti-Metaverse when most platforms want to insert themselves in the middle of every transaction, taking a cut.

When you buy hardware, you own it and have the right to do what you want with it, including developing and installing your own software.

A wonderful ethos about hardware ownership, especially coming from a traditionally Mac-centered company.

I know everything is kind of depressing recently, but color is OK, shapes are OK, and joyfulness can be a feature.

I wish I could take Sharpies to my screen and underline these characters in my terminal. “Joyfulness can be a feature.” 🤩

Limitations like monochrome displays and a minimum of buttons and controls are not only rocket fuel for developer creativity, but also broaden Playdate’s appeal to people who may find modern games intimidating or out of reach due to their complexity.

This reminds me of Gunpei Yokoi’s “Lateral thinking with withered technology” or the interplay between play (”fun”) and rules. Rules, somewhat counterintuitively, are what make games fun. Thinking of limitations as “rocket fuel for developer creativity” is something I identify with as I look for simple tools in my own development practices.

The result of adding more constraints means that the products have a broader appeal due to their simple interface. It reminds me of a Jeremy Keith talk I heard last month about programming languages like CSS which have a simple interface pattern: selector { property: value }. Simple enough anyone can learn. But simple doesn’t mean it’s simplistic, which gives me a lot to think about.

The end of the post turns towards thoughts about modern technology…

Maybe I’m attempting to build a grandiose mythology where none exists,

I’m okay with people building grandiose mythologies… keep going…

we don’t have to just sit by and watch as 2 or 3 massive corporations consume each other and gradually become the sole arbiters of what you can and cannot do with technology.

This is a violent, pointed finger. And yes, I agree.

Maybe crushing every competitor needn’t be the goal of every business. Maybe, just maybe, it is good for alternatives to popular ideas to exist.

My heart is pounding in sympathetic applause as we approach the end of the post…

So, at the risk of sounding trite: look forward, but study history. Have goofy ideas and don’t measure their value exclusively in dollars. Never stop playing.

Yes. I’m here for it.