I remember several years ago, probably 1999 or 2000, I was wandering Kentia Hall at E3 and came across these wacky Koreans with what looked like oversized GBAs with antennas. Intrigued, I stopped to check them out, and they proceeded to show me the early prototype of what eventually became the GP32, a 32-bit Linux-based handheld gaming console. These early Frankenstein’s monster units eventually became a bit more smooth (if never really small) and released to a moderate amount of success, especially among the game geeks and homebrew modders.
Last year the GP2X was announced for the US and the Uk. The official launch has been mired in uncertainty, but American and British orders should begin shipping this month if they haven’t already. At this point, the GP2X seems already much more successful than its predecessor. The system is essentially everything gamers wish the PSP would be: Game Park Holdings is incredibly friendly to hackers and homebrew developers, remaining true to the Linux and FLOSS spirit, and the system is very powerful. Dual 250mhz RISC processors power a customized Linux build. 64 MB of system memory provides plenty of RAM and an openGL graphics processor delivers good visual performance. Of course, storage is always an issue, so the GP2X uses common SD Flash memory cards for media storage. All of this for around $189 USD makes the GP2X a better value than the PSP.
Couple that kind of hardware with a dedicated user community interested in developing homebrew games and apps, and you have the makings of a true cult gaming phenomenon. But Game Park is not resting on its laurels. The GP franchise is set to expand rapidly and determined to become as fashionable as a Game Boy Micro.
The GP2X is the highlight of the GP line right now. It is making waves with working emulators of virtually every game system up to the PlayStation One and Nintendo 64 generations. Thus, if you have access to ROMs, the library is quite large for emulation. Add in the library of completely legitimate, freely available PC games and GP2X can instantly play thousands of games out of the box. For free.
Media playback is a major focus, too. GP2X supports the basic formats out of the box: MPG, AVI, DivX, Xvid, OGM, MP4, MP3, WAV etc. The firmware is already on version 2.0, and that includes only expanded capabilities (so far, Game Park Holdings has not released a firmware version designed to close off avenues of independent development as Sony has repeatedly done).
The GP2X also features a TV-out capability with the purchase of an additional cable. This allows up to 720×480 video output and gaming on an external monitor. The external monitor support could easily turn the GP2X into a very convenient portable computing device with a little tweaking and a USB keyboard/mouse combo. What is most exciting is the fact that those kinds of applications can be developed by GP2X owners without hindrance from the official releases.
Of course, the major downfall of the GP2X in terms of gaming is the lack of support for the system from any major game publishers. Indy titles are being boxed and sold on SD cards, such as VekTar Wars (a Geometry Wars clone) and Payback (which looks a lot like early GTA titles but prettier), and the recent GP programming competitions have led to some cool games being developed.
And, of course, most of the GP32 classics, especially the freeware games, will return on GP2X. Beats of Rage is already playable and a perfect example of what can be done with the GP technology. Beats of Rage is easily modifiable, and many groups have created unique games using the “BoR” engine. The western launch of the system should be followed by many other ports of existing GP32 game engines that duplicate other game experiences such as Smash Brothers and the Mario games.
But as mentioned above, Game Park Holdings are not content with the GP2X alone. Taking a page from Nintendo’s book, they have announced several new projects building on the GP technology. These new devices are stylish (such as the XGP and XGP Mini) and more kid-friendly (XGP Kids). All of the new designs are improvements over the bulk of the GP2X, but they all come with some decline in technical specs.
Still, if these new devices support the same kinds of robust features and can take advantage of the burgeoning homebrew community, then they could easily do the trick to get the GP systems into the hands of Americans. Sony and Nintendo both recognize the importance of these handheld devices to “look cool” and fit in with your personal habits and style in an intimate manner. Fortunately, it looks like slick design is beginning to work its way into independent tech, and the latest of the GP line looks prettier than ever.
Plasma Pong is a completely tripped-out version of regular Pong that incorporates fluid dynamics. In addition to deflecting the ball with your paddle, you can now use jets and vortices of fluid pressure to help guide the ball. And all of this is rendered in a super-colorful “plasma” style. If you love the visual style of games like Geometry Wars, Mutant Storm, and Darwinia, then you need to check this one out. Click here to download Plasma Pong, free for Windows PCs.
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Alternative Games is an independent webzine focused on all forms of unorthodox gaming, eccentric game culture, and problematic play.
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