Greg Maletic Director of Special Projects for Play Date interview by Peter Ward

Greg Maletic holding playdate

Who is Panic?

Founded in 1999, Panic started making software exclusively for the Mac, including Audion, a now-discontinued pioneering MP3 player, Transmit, a file transfer client still going strong, and Coda, a professional web development IDE. Later, Panic added iOS software into the mix to complement their Mac tools. A brand new version of Coda for the Mac is slated to arrive later in 2019.

Panic also publishes video games, starting with the incredible Firewatch from Campo Santo, and, in late 2019, Untitled Goose Game from House House.

Why did Panic make Playdate?

There are two answers to this question.

The personal: because nothing’s surprising anymore and surprises are great! Panic saw an opportunity for something truly different in the world of video games. Something small-scale that could deliver a dose of fun and delight to video game players who have otherwise seen it all. Something that could fit nicely in-between “regular” gaming sessions. Something unexpected and beautiful, with a secret, surprise set of exclusive games written by amazing developers. Put simply: something that adds a little brightness to your life.

The professional: because we wanted to do something new. After 20 years of making software, we wanted to grow our skills, push us out of our comfort zone, and take us on an adventure. We love creating things, and it was time for us to level up.

Tell me the background of Panic?

Panic is a small, Portland Oregon-based software developer. Panic was founded just over 20 years ago making software for Amiga, then Mac, then iOS. Its utilities Transmit and Coda are among the most popular for Mac web development.

What is your first gaming experience?

Obviously there were some arcade video games and pinball machines I was into as my very first experience, but my first home console was the first one of all: the original Magnavox Odyssey.

What got you into creating games at Panic?

My personal job doesn’t have anything to do with creating games per se — among other duties, I oversee the Playdate project.

What made you decide to bring out a new handheld?

Panic is the kind of company that likes to try new things. We’ve been in software for more than 20 years (15 when we started), so the idea of building something physical seemed really exciting and different. We didn’t know what — we thought about making a clock, or maybe some sort of wacky calculator — but we eventually settled on doing an early 80s Nintendo-style Game & Watch game.
From there it was: hey, what if this thing is one game when you bought it, but magically transformed into another game the next week? And another one the week after that? That’s how we got to where we are now, with this hardware, this black-and-white screen, and the season-of-gaming concept.
It wasn’t that we perceived a hole in the marketplace: it’s not like we thought, wow, what people need in their lives is _more_ videogames. But when we thought about _this_ device in particular, saw the early renders, and thought about the sort of games we’d want to create for it… it passed our own test: we wanted one, we wanted to play with it. So we decided to move forward, hoping that if we found it intriguing, other people would too.

Tell people why they should shell out on your new system what are the features and benefits?

If you’re looking for something different, something unexpected, something surprising… that’s what Playdate is. A collection of little video game surprises wrapped up in a tiny yellow package.

What hurdles did you have making your current System?

It’s hard to build hardware! It’s expensive and time-consuming and error-prone. But after having worked in software all of our lives, doing hardware — building something physical — has felt wonderful.

What games are coming out for Play Date?

We have announced one title, Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, that will be a part of our first season of games. There are 11 others, but those will be kept secret until delivered to Playdates in 2020.

Please explain whats under the hood and why the crank?

What’s under the hood? An ARM CPU, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and some Flash memory. The crank was something Teenage Engineering (our industrial design partner) came up with. Once we saw it, we knew it could be something different and fun.

After the completion of Play Date what are Panics plans?

Good question! We don’t know yet. 🙂

What games have you made?

I’ve done work on some internal Playdate games, but nothing that has otherwise been released.

My favourite computer was my Amiga and console the Megadrive do you have a favourite?

My favorite consoles were probably my original Atari VCS, the Dreamcast, and the GameCube. My favorite computer was my Atari 800.

What is your favourite retro game?

So many… but I’ll pick a game called Mappy from Namco as one of my favorites. It uses a jumping-on-trampolines dynamic that has never been used elsewhere, and it’s just incredibly fun.

Do you still game on the current consoles if so what’s your favourite game?

I game a fair amount on the Switch and PS4. There are a lot of great games for each, but Astro Bot Rescue Mission for the PSVR was a revelation in terms of how VR can be used in a platforming-style game.

Whats the worst game you have ever played?

Wow, good question… and strangely, nothing is jumping to mind. I think bad games don’t linger in my memories for very long.