The indie console with the Atari Jaguar shell and the Coleco name is crashing and burning before even taking flight.
Last year, the Retro VGS, an IndieGoGo project promising to deliver a retro-style console to market, failed to meet its nearly $2 million funding goal. Later that year, founder Mike Kennedy, announced he was attempting to restart the crowdfunding project, this time through Kickstarter, under the new name Coleco Chameleon after having acquired the naming rights from Coleco Holdings.
“The Update that you were all anxiously awaiting: Retro VGS has decided that the work that they have created is not sufficient to demonstrate at this time. Consequently, we can no longer proceed with the project and the Chameleon project will be terminated. This separation is amicable. We wish them luck in the future. – We thank the gaming community for their continued support, input, vigilance and trust.”
Coleco Inc. produced the 2nd generation video game console ColecoVision in the early 80’s but dropped out of the gaming industry. Coleco Holdings Ltd. who now owns Coleco’s trademark rights & properties, licensed out the Coleco brand name to Mike Kennedy’s console. However, once internet sleuths discovered that the supposed console prototype was a sham for the third time, Coleco issued Kennedy’s team an ultimatum: Show us a working prototype within a week or we’re out.
The events leading up to this were a real shitstorm of biblical proportions. Hold on to your butts while I recount it in gruesome detail:
Mike Kennedy, an avid retro game enthusiast who hosted at RetroGamingRoundUp.com (this is important for later) and founded the well received gaming magazine RETRO in 2013 through Kickstarter, perhaps giddy with crowdfunding success, set his sights on making a retro gaming console through also through Kickstarter.
The console was called the RETRO VGS and it promised a throwback to classic consoles, including wired controllers, cartridge ROM games, a complete omission of online functionality, and games that came with full-color manuals and booklets in the box like the golden days of yore. To make matters sweeter, Kennedy had purchased the original tooling for the classic Atari Jaguar console from a dentistry equipment company, meaning his console shell would look exactly like the Jaguar. On the inside, the hardware would include a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) which is a fancy way of saying a microchip that can emulate other microchips on-the-fly. Instead of having to choose a specific chip for their architecture, they could use FPGA and then modify the chip architecture at any time. It’s a unique feature for a game console.
However, red flags soon popped up everywhere. Due to Kickstarter’s requirement for tech projects to have a working prototype and Kennedy not being able to provide one, he took the RETRO VGS to IndieGoGo instead.
Then John Carlsen, the RETRO VGS’s hardware developer uploaded a video teasing their secret patented prototype. Eagle-eyed AtariAge board users quickly realized the “prototype” motherboard was just an off-the-shelf FPGA development board. This, the $350 price tag, plus their decision to use a wired version of a poorly reviewed third-party Wii U controller as their console’s controller, didn’t help their funding. The campaign, which launched in September 2015, raised only 4% of their $1,950,000 goal in the 2-month deadline.
By December Kennedy announced the partnership with Coleco for the now renamed Coleco Chameleon, promising a new crowdfunding campaign planned for February 2016, this time through Kickstarter. As you will probably remember from a couple of paragraphs ago, Kickstarter requires a prototype. “No problem,” says RETRO, “we’re going to have it at the New York Toy Fare.” But what they had was a fraud.
Event attendants, and once again internet sleuths from AtariAge users who had been miffed by Kennedy once already, began suspecting foul play soon after. Why was the prototype hardwired with SNES controllers? Why, if it was a modern console with modern architecture, was it hooked up to a CRT TV with AVI cables instead of an HDTV via HDMI? Why was it using a 3rd-party SNES power cord and SNES AVI cable? You guessed it: There was an SNES in there.
Perhaps Mike Kennedy didn’t know? Since he doesn’t develop hardware, it’s possible he was hoodwinked by his “hardware guy”.
No, he knew. Remember I told you he worked at retrogamingroundup.com? His co-worker, UK Mike, confirmed that he and Kennedy reviewed a device called the SD2SNES on their show in episode 52 in 2012. The SD2SNES is an SNES flash cart (AKA multicart); you load it up with all the SNES ROMs you (illegally?) have and plug it into your SNES. The SD2SNES is unique, though… unlike other SNES flash carts, this one has an FPGA chip that can emulate the enhancement chips that came in some original SNES cartridges. So in 2012 he reviews a device with FPGA and in 2014 he announces plans for the RETRO VGS with FPGA.
At the NY Toy Fair, he’s having issues getting his prototype running. It keeps turning off and on by itself. In episode 52 of RetroGaming Round Up, Mike Kennedy and UK Mike covered the SD2SNES on RetroGamingRoundUp and the power problem it has when connected to 3rd party power adapters. The FPGA in the SD2SNES was a power muncher, and they went over how an SNES can turn off randomly if powered through an aftermarket power adapter.
Developer Eli of Piko Interactive, a developer working on Coleco Chameleon game titles, showed up that day at the NY Toy Fair with some of his homebrew SNES games in a multicart hoping to show them off to LootCrate. When he came to the Coleco Chameleon booth, he had already heard rumblings through social media that it was an SNES with a Jaguar shell. Kennedy explained that the system was out of commission because it was resetting randomly and demonstrated it to Eli. As it boot up, he noticed it was an SD2SNES screen. Eli suggested trying his homebrew SNES game cartridge. They try it and of course it works. Almost as if there was an SNES Jr inside the prototype.
This train wreck story is almost over.
As you can imagine, backlash from the internet is hard and swift. Kennedy explains that it’s all a misunderstanding and that things will be made clear soon. A few days later, they release some images of a transparent Coleco Chameleon and inside is something other than an SNES. Our heroes over at AtariAge, this time quite pissed at being lied to twice, put in a massive effort that spans scores of pages to identify the circuitboard. So was it the fabled real prototype motherboard?
Nope, it was a PC video capture card placed to look like it belonged there. They even added an LED so it looks like it turns on. Despite being “on,” of course, the controller it was pictured with had its LEDs off.
David Giltinan, the managing editor at RETRO Magazine quit shortly after, stating “I have to separate myself from everything associated with [the Coleco Chameleon].” There’s no information on how fast he ran out of the building, but he was surely being chased by his inner demons. He apologized for not “following his desire for truth when speaking about the console.” They were big demons.
Who knows what happens from here on out with the Chameleon or RETRO VGS or whatever. The website is down, the Kickstarter obviously didn’t start last month, and the team has stopped responding altogether. Whatever happens, have your popcorn handy.
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