Interviewed: John Lester
In order to get a fuller picture of what was going on behind the scenes of the recent Retro VGS/Coleco Chameleon controversy, we recently spoke to John Lester (AKA Gamester81) of Collectorvision, a publisher which was scheduled to provide games for the ill-fated project. Space constraints prevented the full interview being featured inside the magazine, so it is presented here in full and unedited.
Retro Gamer: How did CollectorVision initially become involved with the Retro VGS?
John Lester: I’ve known Mike Kennedy for a while just being connected in the gaming community. Mike knew that CollectorVision Games focuses on producing new retro style games, and that we were/are working on several new Super Nintendo games in particular. He was also aware of my involvement as part owner of CollectorVision Games, and he had reached out to me about porting some of our games over to the RETRO VGS system. We were explained that the RETRO VGS system would run our SNES games off the FPGA ARM board. So basically all we would need to do is provide Mike and his team the Super Nintendo game ROM, and we’d get a certain percentage of each sale. They would handle the production side of things too, so there was no additional time or money from us to do this.
It made sense at the time to get involved.
Which members of the Retro VGS team was CollectorVision in contact with? How much communication did you have with them?
We were working directly with Mike Kennedy throughout the whole process. The communication was decent when the project first got started, but as time went on Mike kept getting busier and busier, limiting the overall communication between CollectorVision Games and the RETRO VGS team.
Were you ever in touch with any other potential Retro VGS developers/publishers?
We were not in touch with any other developers or publishers for the RETRO VGS, though we were aware that other companies like Piko Interactive, NG:DEV Team and others who were planning on porting their games over to the system similar to what CollectorVision Games agreed to do.
The Adventures of Tiny Knight was prominently advertised as the pack-in game for the Retro VGS. Did CollectorVision ever receive a Retro VGS hardware specification in order to start work on putting the game together?
Since we were told the RETRO VGS would run SNES games through the FPGA ARM, there was not much more to know other than knowing the hardware specifications for the Super Nintendo.
Was the failure of the Retro VGS IndieGoGo campaign something you anticipated? How quickly did Retro VGS return with the Chameleon as a “Plan B”?
When the project initially started the RETRO VGS system was supposed to be a low cost system with plans on porting new games in cartridge form.
The project escalated into costing much more than it was supposed to be, and there was no working prototype. So to answer your question we were certainly disappointed that the campaign failed because it would have been nice to sell more games, but we weren’t surprised that the campaign failed. We ultimately are thankful that the campaign didn’t succeed, and that no one lost any money on it at the end of the day. We were not involved with any of the decision making behind running the campaign for the overall project, but we simply agreed to port some of our games over to it. The failure of the RETRO VGS falls on the team involved with their PR and certain decision they decided to do and not do.
About a month after the conclusion of the RETRO VGS campaign, Mike reached out to us and explained that they went back to the drawing board to reintroduce the system and would stick with the original goal to keep the system around $150. We were also told that they had a working prototype available as well this time around.
Following the rebranding as the Chameleon, Retro VGS was still advertising Collectorvision games like Sydney Hunter for the system. Had you received any word on what the new, cheaper hardware might consist of?
We were still told that the Chameleon would run Super Nintendo Games, so nothing really changed for us. We are planning on porting these games over to the Super Nintendo anyways, so we really didn’t have any financials to lose in agreeing to port Sydney Hunter and the Caverns of Death to the Chameleon. That was the only game we agreed to port over for the Chameleon, because The Adventures of Tiny Knight won’t be ready in time for the anticipated release of the system. We were told the newer system wouldn’t be able to handle Unity and other programs like the RETRO VGS, but that didn’t really affect the way we program our games anyways. Keep in mind that we never officially signed any agreement with the Chameleon team to port Sydney Hunter over to the system, but it was all done on handshake agreements etc. until we had something in writing. We never did receive the agreement to sign, and the project was eventually canceled by the time that ever came around.
Did you have any doubts about the system before the online speculation began?
Just like everyone else, we were surprised to see the back of the system at Toy Fair and other pictures of the system and board. We were never provided a prototype in our hands to test our games ourselves, but we were told that there would be one shown for the Kickstarter campaign, and that we’d be provided dev units after the campaign. So yes we did have doubts like everyone else when images started to come out of system itself. We like everyone else were disappointed in what we saw.
The final few days prior to Coleco’s withdrawal from the project were pretty heated. How did that affect you and CollectorVision? Is it fair to say that you were being considered “guilty by association”?
You’re right, things certainly got heated in the community, and I think people were overall disappointed with the lack of communication and transparency between the Chameleon team and the community. Sure, we got some heat from some people regarding our involvement as a third party publisher, but I think for the most part most people understand that we had nothing to do with any of decisions or hardware choices made for this project. It’s like blaming Naughty Dog for problems if the Playstation 4 all of a sudden crashed or had issues. Being a publisher/developer and being on the hardware side of things are two completely separate things. We are just a small gaming company looking to get our games out there, and this was one means to do so. In hindsight we would have certainly not got involved knowing what we do now, but there was no way of seeing the drama unfold when we had agreed initially to get involved.
What’s the plan for the games formerly intended for the Chameleon? Will they head to retro hardware as originally planned?
This doesn’t slow us down one bit actually, since we were creating The Adventures of Tiny Knight and Sydney Hunter and the Caverns of Death for the Super Nintendo anyways. Sydney Hunter and the Caverns of Death is nearly complete and should be out within the next few months. We are also working on other games ranging from modern consoles with a new game called Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayans, to new games for classic consoles including the Intellivision, NES, Super Nintendo, Dreamcast, Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Genesis/Mega Drive, Turbo Grafx 16 and more. We’re on Facebook under CollectorVision, and our website is www.collectorvision.com for more information.