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Pimoroni PicoSystem - An almost awesome retro-ish thing.


Tatwi
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A few months ago I wrote Geoff Graham, creator of the Colour Maximite, suggesting that they create a version that's built into a handheld in the Sony PSP / Nintendo Switch style form factor. Sadly, he rejected the concept as impossible, stating that the CPU drew too much power to be battery operated. Given the plethora of cheap ARM based devices that emulate the 8 and 16 bit systems running Linux on battery power, I tend to disagree with his assessment, but who am I to argue with an actual engineer. 🙂

And then today rolled around and I stumbled upon this new device that is similar in concept to a hand held CMM, only its programmed in C++ or Micro Python rather than BASIC!

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The Pimoroni PicoSystem uses the new Raspberry Pi Pico as its computer, which is a 133MHz dual core ARM Coretex M0+ with 264KB RAM and 16MB of storage and it's attached to a 240x240px screen. It has a piezo speaker for PC speaker type sounds.

Those are some interesting specs, eh? If it were a retro machine the RAM, storage, and video would be in line with the mid 80s, but those two 133MHz cores are kind of insane! It's not programmed in assembly, but Python is kind of the new BASIC and C++ is pretty darned old now. Conceivably one could use assembly routines in their C/C++. Programming it requires the bare minimum specs for a PC running Linux (like a Pi Zero!) and a USB cable, so that's nice as well. Very accessible to all.

The down side?

For some crazy reason they built it with a 1.5" screen!

That's insane. 240x240px still looks half decent when stretched up to 6", so it baffles me why they didn't use a 3.5" screen (like the one that came in $45 CAD Powkiddy Q90 handheld). A larger screen would have made their PicoSystem infinitely more usable. I really think they shot themselves in the foot with this, because they could have put the money they spent on the CNC milled aluminum chassis on a screen that could actually be viewed by anyone over the age of 11 and made the body out of plastic like normal people. 🙂

Anyway, I definitely think the general concept of a hand held for playing retro style games created explicitly for it is a solid idea. Ideally the machine would be able to connect to a larger screen and a keyboard so that the games for it could be programmed using it (as I imagined for the CMM), but I think this Pimoroni PicoSystem is a decent compromise given that it can be programmed using a Raspberry Pi Zero. 

I would totally buy one for that price and have a blast making games for it, if it they traded the metal chassis for a larger plastic one with a larger screen (4" would be ideal). 1.5" is just too small

It's a really neat, quasi-retro idea they have brought to life!

Edit: 

This system is based on another project of the same concept called 32Blit, which has much higher specs and a screen that should be visible to we old fogies! Sadly, I think they were only available for purchase from a kickstarter that ended earlier this year.

Edited by Tatwi
added their picture of the device
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On 10/26/2021 at 11:43 PM, Tatwi said:

Python is kind of the new BASIC

It is in many ways!  I like python a lot and use it for all kinds of things.  I'm an advocate for the use of python by professionals whose expertise is something other than programming.  (I won't go on about that here.)

But, I did once try to make a game with it once and it was pretty awkward.  At that time, I was using the PyGame module to handle graphics.

My takeaway from that experience was that Python is not a great environment for game coding.

I wonder if anyone has made a module for Python to handle graphics like an 8-bit system would?  With a pixel-based understanding of the screen, art assets in tiles, etc.  (It's entirely possible someone's made this already and I just haven't heard).

As for the PicoSystem, it's a pretty cool little thing, and I'm shocked that they got the price down to only £58.50.

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On 10/27/2021 at 2:08 PM, paulscottrobson said:

Not seen Thumby ? That's small !

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Wha... you... ah... WHAT AM I EVEN LOOKING AT???!!! 🧐

OK now that IS insane! I mean, judging by how often my wife loses hers, aren't keys like, invisible? And this thing is smaller than a key? I... I just don't understand! lol...

On 10/28/2021 at 9:09 AM, John Chow Seymour said:

It is in many ways!  I like python a lot and use it for all kinds of things.  I'm an advocate for the use of python by professionals whose expertise is something other than programming.  (I won't go on about that here.)

But, I did once try to make a game with it once and it was pretty awkward.  At that time, I was using the PyGame module to handle graphics.

My takeaway from that experience was that Python is not a great environment for game coding.

I wonder if anyone has made a module for Python to handle graphics like an 8-bit system would?  With a pixel-based understanding of the screen, art assets in tiles, etc.  (It's entirely possible someone's made this already and I just haven't heard).

As for the PicoSystem, it's a pretty cool little thing, and I'm shocked that they got the price down to only £58.50.

Yeah, I totally agree with you there, John. Most of my experience with Python is from the code portion of a game I was working on years ago in Blender Game Engine. Syntax wise it's fine, but white space / indenting for denoting program control is just not cool man. It's not very difficult to scroll through a large Python file and lose track of where you are in the control scheme. Brackets/braces make programs so much more readable and even the CONDITION ... END statements in BASIC, Lua, etc. tie things together nicely. Hell, I would much rather use BASH than Python (and I have, many times!).

That said, for small stuff like micro controller code, Python is probably easier than Arduino, and control scripting for other software it's fine. 

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