An attempt at a modern Commodore 64 (C-64) computer and gaming handheld was revealed this morning on Indiegogo, ahead of what was previously supposed to be an April 19th announcement. Headed by a company called Retro Games Ltd., who are out of Knaresborough, United Kingdom, the plans are to release THE 64 computer and THE 64SX gaming handheld some time in December of this year (2016) for the former and April of next year (2017) for the latter.
I tend to be a bit more skeptical of Indiegogo campaigns, because their rules are looser and more forgiving than even Kickstarter‘s notoriously repercussion-free structure (although Kickstarter has improved in that area in recent years). For instance, for this campaign, the developers are using Indiegogo‘s flexible goal option, which means that they get to keep whatever portion of the $150,000 target amount they reach, regardless of whether or not they meet or exceed that amount. Of course, perhaps the most important difference between Indiegogo and Kickstarter these days is that the former does not require a working prototype, something that the latter now thankfully does.
As an original Commodore 64 owner and as someone who still has a huge Commodore collection as part of my all-too-large greater collection of computers and videogames, this should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, having the experience I have as a backer of dozens of crowd funding campaigns in the past, I’ll be exercising extreme caution on this one. For one thing, the lack of demonstrable prototypes is disturbing. Right now we have renders and an art model. For another, the lack of specifics related to the technology that’s supposed to be driving all of this is suspect. Now, with all of that in mind (and knowing a bit how production schedules run), stating a December 2016 target for the computer portion seems overly ambitious, essentially leaving the team with about seven months from the end of Indiegogo funding to worldwide delivery of actual units.
To keep with the lack of specifics theme here, I’ll quote from the Indiegogo campaign itself: “THE 64 ™ project is being designed, built and marketed by a team of people who are utterly passionate about the Commodore 64 ™ and retro gaming. The team were previously involved in bringing to market consoles and products such as the C64DTV ™, and the Nintendo Wii ™ C64 ™ games.” Now, we know that Jeri Ellsworth – who I have no reason to believe is involved in this in any way – was the primary engineer on the C64DTV, but the identities of the rest of the team are more or less a mystery to me. So who really are these people and why not let us know exactly who’s on the team rather than beat around the proverbial bush?
Finally, there’s the target price of $150 (plus shipping) for THE 64 computer. Putting aside the December 2016 target delivery date, I question how they’re producing a computer with a C-64-like case and keyboard, as well as cartridge and other ports, for so little money. If true, that will be a stunning accomplishment, since no such product has gotten anywhere near such a price point. If true indeed.
So the question is, is this more Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega or more Retro VGS/Coleco Chameleon? Right now, it seems like the latter, and anyone who knows even a little about that story knows that that’s not a good thing.
Now, despite what I’ve written above, I genuinely personally hope for and wish them success and will absolutely dutifully stand in line after successful delivery of working units. However, as it stands, I have no reason to think that will happen. Here’s hoping the team can release the type of details something like this so desperately needs on their Website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.