Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

An Indie Handheld Console?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 10, 2011

This may be just a pipe dream. Many folks are slowly becoming convinced it’s not just a joke, certain comments in the advertising and “Bob’s Game” ARG funkiness notwithstanding, but I guess that’s always a possibility. It may never be anything more than vaporware.  But they claim they have prototypes.

What it is, at least in theory, is a dirt-cheap indie handheld game console.

The console and the company are called “nD.”  You can’t say the name out loud without it sounding like “Indie.” It’s the brainchild of Robert Pelloni, author of the indie RPG “Bob’s Game.” He’s known for having staged some pretty bizarre publicity stunts as an indie, particularly as a result of his failure to obtain license to become a developer for the Nintendo.  Because, you know, Nintendo doesn’t deal with indies.

Apparently, the game really wants to be on a handheld. What’s an indie to do? Apparently, find some other indies with (apparently) the necessary expertise and make your own handheld.

This is a practically disposable handheld console, originally at a $10 price point but now updated to be around the $20 mark for the basic system.  Rather than cartridges or discs, it plugs into the PC – and thereby connects directly with an indie “app store” that offers developers a 90% royalty. It’s designed to run 2D games in the “16 bit style,” though I assume it will be significantly more powerful than an early-90’s era console.  But it’s still a no-frills kind of affair without things like touch screens, cameras, or tilt sensors. Just buttons and a 320 x 240 pixel screen (although there are plans to double the resolution in a succeeding generation, with firmware-level scaling for 1st generation games).

There’s not much info yet on the app store. It will be tied pretty strongly to the device, and there are suggestions that developers will need to regularly update their games to keep them “fresh” and near the front of the list (or having their game expire from the list entirely).  nD maintains that they will have other measures to combat quality and saturation issues. And they are not planning any kind of submission process – it’ll be an open season. More like Android, less like iPhone, a lot less like Nintendo. It’s literally a platform anyone can develop for, but focused on indie gaming.

Due to it’s low target price, there are suggestions that indies could even sell the game pre-loaded with their games from their website. I can’t tell you how cool this idea sounds to me.

The SDK isn’t complete yet, but nD claims that it’ll integrate SDL and CodeBlocks – so developing a game now with that target in mind will get you most of the way there while you wait. Even the final chipset is still under discussion, as they may change from the prototype depending upon availability and bulk pricing. The core operating system is a stripped down embedded Linux. They are planning WiFi connectivity, though the price point for that one is a significant impact.

Will this thing really fly? And if it does, will it succeed? I really don’t know. I’ve made games for several consoles, albeit not handhelds… so I really shouldn’t be someone who should geek out over this. But I am. I love the idea. I don’t have time with things like the Frayed Knights series in development, nor much faith in it, but I *still* want to make games for the thing.

Here’s the trailer video… the section about “marketing” makes me say, “WTF?!?!?” but they keep talking about having a sense of humor and doing “anti-marketing” marketing… being wild and crazy as opposed to boring and professional like the big boys are doing it… so I’m rolling with it.

Want more information? Wanna figure out if it’s for real and has a snowball’s chance in hell of making it? Want to even be a developer for it? Here’s the website…


Filed Under: Game Development, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 14 Comments to Read

  • DGM said,

    Hmm… No start/select buttons, and I’ve been wishing that handhelds would include the second set of shoulder buttons that modern console controllers have. But if they put out a bigger version with more versatile controls, a larger screen and higher resolution, I could see myself dropping 30-40 dollars on it.

  • grayson.burrows said,

    What about the GP2X brand of handhelds? Aren’t they Indie?

  • Mark said,

    It will probably need more buttons, but if it can be both cheap and durable, I might even try writing for it.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    A cheap indie console can be successful, see the GP2X. (Though I find it hard to believe they can manufacture the nD for any kind of double-digit dollar figure.) This crazy appstore scheme of theirs? It’s just that: crazy.

    Why? Well, put yourself in the shoes of a gamer: what’s in it for you?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I don’t know if the blue buttons in front (those are buttons, right?) are supposed to be start / select buttons of some kind.

    The forum admin claims they are planning both the base “candybar” system and a premium “clamshell” form factor, and possibly one with a larger screen (still limited to 320 x 240 resolution), but I’m sure they’ll keep the number / types of inputs the same. You don’t want to make a game that *only* runs on one of the systems.

    Anyway – it looks like it’ll have about as much functionality as a SNES controller, which should be enough for the majority of console-style 2D games.

  • DGM said,

    The admin just confirmed for me that the blue things are buttons: http://the-nd.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=48

    So I guess I can withdraw that complaint. 4 start/select buttons is pretty good.

  • BellosTheMighty said,

    Not happening. It’s a nice idea, but the market for it has been gobbled up by the iPhone, and I don’t see what they’re offering the player that gives them an advantage.

    And Pelloni has no credibility. Negative credibility, in fact. Those idiotic stunts made him look like an obnoxious, immature prat with a massive sense of entitlement. If he had produced a decent game, it might be forgivable, but his trailer looks like cut-rate RPGMaker work with a sense of humor that’s much less clever than the creator thinks.

    BTW, La-Mulana releases on Wii in less than two weeks, in case you’ve forgotten. Nintendo doesn’t support indies, hmm? More probably Nintendo doesn’t support unprofessional hacks with an inflated opinion of themselves.

  • Bad Sector said,

    Dingoo (which is probably the closest thing to what Pelloni wants to make) is a cheap handheld device with a two-digit price (but still much above $20). I’ve got one and it would be a good platform if only had some games.

    Unfortunately the company behind it doesn’t seem to care about their product, or at least they don’t show care outside China…

  • DGM said,


    >> “Not happening. It’s a nice idea, but the market for it has been gobbled up by the iPhone, and I don’t see what they’re offering the player that gives them an advantage.”

    A form factor specifically designed for gaming. Is an iPhone really suited for playing a 2D metroid?

    Also, price.

    If this does turn out to be a hoax, it might be a worthy project for others in the indie community to get into.

  • Picador said,

    What everybody else said. Everyone has a phone; people interested in indie handhelds have a GP2X or similar.

    Also, I’ve been peripherally involved in a number of projects led by software people that had the goal of designing, manufacturing, distributing and supporting a new hardware platform. Not one of them ended well. At all.

    You need to have a LOT of intellectual, social, and material capital already invested in the field in order to run an entire supply chain like that. Amateurs who think they can jump into the hardware business are in for a rude awakening. The most likely outcome is that they get the device to market a year late and at three times the initially-announced cost with a bunch of people waiting for their preorders, then only manage to get half of the units to their buyers before running into a brick wall of support issues that they’re not equipped to handle. People get angry quickly when they’re overcharged for a product that comes late, doesn’t work properly, and doesn’t have any support in place for repairs, replacements, software updates, etc.

    After that, it’s all just bankruptcy filings and lawsuits.

    But hey, best of luck!

  • DGM said,

    >> “Everyone has a phone; people interested in indie handhelds have a GP2X or similar.”

    I don’t, and given the price of a GP2X I’m not likely to get one. At 20-25 dollars, even someone working at minimum wage can get one for half a shift. Other handhelds require days of saving up. That’s a pretty big deal, especially in this economy.

    Mind you, I’m not saying I’m convinced that nD is the real deal yet. I won’t be until I see a video of something being played on the prototype. But I do think there’s a niche market for something like this.

  • getter77 said,

    Freaky things are possible, but this particular thing? Eh…

    I’d say there’s better potential horizon afoot via the likes of XGameStation, or far moreso recently(And likely moreso in general from what I can gather), Gameduino.


  • Rampant Coyote said,

    My feeling is that thing will happen sooner or later. Maybe not these guys, but somebody will. Somebody already has, strictly speaking, but I’m looking at something finally becoming a “cult hit” with the ridiculously low price-point obtainable through a game service like this.

  • Logan said,

    Here in the UK, you can buy a GP2X (the original model, not a Wiz/Canoo/Pandora) for about £50. I know, because I did just that in the spring. Sure it’s no PSP, but it has a base of about 500 games, it’s open to programming and it takes non-proprietary media and batteries. (It also emulates the Mega Drive almost perfectly and the SNES pretty well, which must be a consideration.)

    Since it doesn’t sound as though the nD will have more *technical* ability than the GP2X, it absolutely *must* either offer must-have games *from the start* or win clearly on price. We usually suffer from the $1=£1 effect over here, and £20 would be just about okay… but I don’t think £30 would.

    I’d like to see the nD appear, and I’d like to see it succeed. I’m just extremely sceptical until and unless it actually happens.