Smach Z: An Amusing KickStarter Campaign

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On BoilingSteam we have been following the progress of the Smach Z (formerly Smach Zero) since the early days of the project, and while I shared a quick update ahead of their Kickstarter campaign a few days ago, now things are getting more precise day by day.

Making hardware is expensive, and the KS campaign goals, while very optimistic, seems to be realistic. It will definitely require something in the ballpark of 1 Million USD (if not more!) to finish design, make a pilot batch and then more to production. Whether they reach that goal is a totally different topic, but at least it does not seem they are underestimating the actual costs.

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The schedule is, however, somewhat doubtful. Getting things ready within a year, without having a prototype done at this timing of the campaign, seems a little optimistic. Having sometimes delivered to backers by October 2016 is either underestimating the difficulties of getting things right on time, or then it will compromise on quality.

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The screen was supposed to be 1080p, but they are apparently leaving it to a stretch goal now. If the stretch goal is not reached they will fall back on 720p, which is probably a better decision since it’s unlikely that they have a chip powerful enough to run games with good details at 1080p.

The GPU is still from AMD, and while people usually joke about AMD on Linux (because of the state of its drivers), it’s quite fair that in the mobile space there’s only two choices you have right now: either Intel or AMD. nVidia does NOT have a x86 chip for mobile devices with low consumption. The only thing they have is a ARM Tegra chip, but that would not help to run SteamOS or Steam games, so it’s either an APU from AMD or a Core M or Atom from Intel. Drivers on AMD may not be great, but at least hardware wise they should be slightly more capable than the Intel chips. Power consumption wise, it’s not clear if going with AMD is the proper solution there – it would suck to have a Smach Z in your hands running out of battery within 2 hours of gameplay (they claim you can add more batteries to make it last longer, which makes me seriously worry how much the provided battery will last, and how heavy the final unit will need to be to last long enough).

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As to what games you can play, the least you can say is that the Smach Z is playing it ambiguous. On one side they clearly mention that the console runs SteamOS, yet they say:

All your favorite games. AAA, indies, strategy, RTS, action, FPS, adventure, MMO, mods. Steam’s catalog is bigger and better than ever and new great games are arriving every day.

If it’s running only on SteamOS, it can certainly NOT be “ALL your favorite games”. They really need to stop confusing folks. The confusion does not stop there, since they gladly show Windows games in the library list:

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Witcher 3, Batman Arkham Knight, Saints Row IV, Rome Total War II, Total War Attila are still not released on SteamOS and until they actually come on the platform they should NOT be advertised as such.

And they are making claims that seem very hard to support at this stage, such as:

Powerful enough to play any game on the market: Portal 2, DOTA, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, SOMA, Civilization V, Metro: Last Light Redux, Borderlands 2, The Witcher 2.

Powerful enough to play them at what quality and what framerate? And does the AMD GPU chip support OpenGL up to 4.3 and up ? Because many recent ports require such OpenGL extensions to run.

The controls will include trackpads and buttons, and they have disclosed the design of their Magic Z-pads to make it possible to play classic games by bypassing the trackpads. It looks pretty much like you would have excepted:

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And they make it simple to understand what kind of combinations you could play with:

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A cool idea in itself but I am rather worried how complex it will be for the end user to setup the right controls based on the right attachments. Will they have a way to make it user friendly or do they expect everyone to change their controller options before running every single game ? I hope not…

Their stretch goals are not particularly interesting – surprisingly they even plan an official Windows support should they reach 4M USD. 5M is “not selling to Facebook“, like, WTF ? Is this a joke or something ? Not sure why it would require 1.75M to integrate KODI from the get go since it should be as easy as adding a repository in SteamOS (I know, I did it). This does not seem very serious.

Overall, I would have expected a lot more of details in “Risks and Challenges” but it seems that they forgot to write that part and expect everything will be a smooth ride.

I’m guessing, either they, or their backers, are in for a surprise.


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One Comment

  1. Brilliant read and even expanding on what is contained in newsletters from smach themselves. I really like this things concept and imo it is the only unique steammachine. There is nothing like it n the market.

    Just a little suggestion regarding the “can play any pc game on the market” there very well could be an internet game streaming service (GaaS) where the smach would just be receiving video from supercomputer in the cloud and sending input back. Also any windows machine running steam could very easily stream games using steam’s own In Home Streaming.

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