The Playdate is that quirky video game console from Panic that speaks to a lot of Nintendo’s
design philosophies. But moving away from the the 80s it has apps that feel like early 2000s
Nintendo. Not video games, but productivity apps with charm. I took this idea as a leaping off
point to speak to some of these apps creators. Orrery that allows you to accurately simulate the
movement of planets in our solar system using the crank, and the more utilitarian but ever
charming Pocket Planner. An engaging way to organise your day and use the Playdate you’re
already carrying for productivity. Not just games.
With people’s imaginations captured by the stunning images released from the James Webb
telescope it’s well-timed that Ted’s Playdate app Orrery allows you to accurately simulate the
movement of planets in our solar system over time.
Orrery started with Ted messing around with the draw line function within the Playdate SDK.
“The very first thing I drew was a simplistic solar system,” he said.
The next thing was text, something that looked like a date alongside that solar system. It led to
the realisation how cool a model of the actual solar system with actual dates would be.
“So I accidentally inspired myself to make a date-accurate solar system model with this cheesy
little system drawing tech demo I’d made.”
Ted didn’t know anything about planetary motion, so he took to the internet to learn.
“I found a couple [of mathematical models], and took a bit of time studying the one that made
the most sense to me.”
But he realized it was representing planets as viewed from the southern hemisphere, so
everything had to be flipped. Other than the date, this became the first adjustable setting.
Date-math also posed to be a challenge due to dates looking like this: 21693.64. The
mathematical model required them to be a flat number but that’s not how we think about dates.
“Converting a decimal number to separate year, month, and day values was another thing I had
to look up, and there was a day 1 bug where the dates were off. Woops.”
But at this point Ted had an app that was tiny, only 76 kb or so, that was an accurate model of
the solar system using only system drawing
That original representation of the solar system remains as the Diagrammatic Mode, but the real
wow factor is the 3D representation.
“Scope creep dictated that I write my own 3D camera to show the planetary orbitals more
realistically. It was my first time writing a projection matrix like that, but it let me zoom, pan, and
rotate the view in a way that felt pretty cool.”
“Long story short, Orrery is what happens when you build obsessively on the first idea that pops
into your head!”
Kamil Powałowski, creator of Pocket Planner, was inspired by the limitations of the device such
as the small screen.
“I knew I had to create something for Playdate from the moment it was announced,” they said.
While Kamil did not get chosen to be a part of the developer preview program, they started
playing with the SDK after its public release in March 2022.
“Game development can be challenging (especially if you don’t have an artist partner), so I
chose the topic that I know best – productivity apps.”
Kamil’s background is diverse. They spent ten years writing mobile applications. “I previously
[made] Bran3k for bookmarks management, Countdowns to display countdowns in the macOS
status bar, and FocusOKR for Personal OKRs.”
Kamil thought such a small device would be perfect for to-dos and notes. “But only two
functionalities don’t make a digital assistant,” they said. Thus, the calendar was added as a part
of the initial line-up.
During development however, notes became voice memos.
“It’s easier to record voice than enter text on Playdate.”
The Playdate’s crank-based keyboard is undeniably intuitive. Three columns make up the
design: numbers and symbols, capital letters, and lowercase letters respectively. It’s perfect for
something short like highscore names, but it’s burdensom for longer stretches of writing.
With the Playdate built from the ground up to facilitate development there will be many more
productivity apps out there. There is currently! For example, the comic Illumination or the
meditation app Bíotópico. It goes to show that the Playdate is much more than just a season of
games or a console with a gimmick