TouchArcade Visits ThinkGeek and the Original iCade

Those crazy geniuses over at ThinkGeek recently invited me to visit their Fairfax, VA Megaplex headquarters. (We’re more or less neighbors, you see.) Today I headed over and spent an hour surrounded by an inspiring cloud of creativity.

And I brought my camera.

For those somehow unfamiliar, ThinkGeek is basically, in short, the best geek toy store in the world. They started off in the late ’90s with just a handful of folks and have grown to about 70 in all, spread about an office space that rivals Pixar for complete awesomeness / workplace heaven. It’s one of those rare places where, no matter how hard you might be working, it can’t possibly actually feel like work. And, I’m quite sure the amazing atmosphere plays no small role in the amount of ridiculously fine products they create and send out the door.

Jamie, whose business card reads “Evil Schemes, Nefarious Plans," gave me the tour, along with “PR Manager / Righteous Dude" Shane. I saw recent products, long ago products, and products still in the design pipeline (that I wish I could talk about — they’re awesome!). I also saw the offices, design shops, photo studios, and fun rooms that make them all possible. Everything I saw I wanted to take home with me, basically. But, of all the wondrous gadgets and gizmos, it’s the original April Fools iCade unit that I most want to share with readers.

At the Megaplex I met Ty who originally envisioned the iCade, as well as Hans, one of the product designers. They showed me a mid-stage, two-button iCade prototype as well as the original April Fools unit, complete with slide-in, foam-and-paper iPad. (The iCade landed on ThinkGeek’s 2010 April Fools page, after the original iPad had been announced, but before it shipped.) I was also treated to the original pen-and-paper design sketches that brought the unit to life. And, button count aside, the ‘Fools unit looks pretty darned close to the shipping model.

Jamie explained that the iCade was designed to interface with the iPad in the guise of a Bluetooth keyboard for reasons of simplicity, as opposed to taking the route of tying straight into the unit as a custom control device. A bundle of example code and docs for developers working under various frameworks is coming, but it’s true that a game can interface with the iCade by just looking for the keyboard codes that it sends — a pretty simple and straightforward arrangement.

ION Audio’s fortuitous relationship with Atari has given early adopters a nice set of games to chew on, but Jamie made me aware of certain forthcoming titles that will support the diminutive cabinet’s controls — and I promise that gamers won’t be disappointed.

And, while it’s not directly iOS related, one of the other stand-out items I saw during my visit was the April Fools Playmobil Apple Store. It’s genius and, well, who doesn’t want one? I grabbed a few photos of the setup, but I’m afriad we probably won’t be seeing this one spring to life, like the iCade did. [Sad face]

The complete photoset from my visit can be seen over at Flickr.

A visit to ThinkGeek’s Megaplex. What a great way to spend an afternoon!