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Key figure quits beleaguered project to make a new Coleco console (second update)

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Prototype unit was accused of being 'a SNES Jr. duct-taped into a Jaguar shell'

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A person connected to the Coleco Chameleon — a project to create a cartridge-based retro gaming console — has quit, citing the controversy surrounding the console and questions of its legitimacy raised this week.

In a note on his LinkedIn page, David Giltinan said "everything going on with the Coleco Chameleon is a major reason why I have to separate myself from everything associated with it." Update: Giltinan responded to a request for comment; additional remarks are further down in this story.

Update (March 8): The owner of the Coleco brand has responded to a request for comment; additional remarks are further down in this story.

Giltinan is, or was, the managing editor of Retro Magazine, which is owned by Mike Kennedy, the co-founder of RetroVGS, which is behind the Coleco Chameleon. At New York Toy Fair in mid-February, RetroVGS faced allegations that the unit it was showing was in fact a SNES Jr. "duct-taped" inside an old Atari Jaguar chassis. Indeed, in the image above, one can see the test unit is controlled by two wired SNES controllers.

At the end of February, RetroVGS posted images on its Facebook page showing the hardware inside a clear plastic casing. RetroVGS posted the images along with an explanation that it would "delay the pre-sell, i.e. Kickstarter, campaign in order to finalize our prototype and work with developers on having the best possible content"

This did little to quiet the controversy. In one image, later removed, readers of the Atari Age forums said they saw an old DVR capture card inside the casing.

coleco chameleon top down

On Wednesday, the owner of the ColecoVision brand posted on its Facebook page that it had been made aware of the concerns about RetroVGS' console. Coleco Holdings said it was giving RetroVGS seven days to let a team of independent engineers to inspect prototypes. "If there is merit to the concerns, then we have no choice but to abandon the project," the holding group wrote.

Chameleon Product: We are thankful to have a large group of passionate engineers and retro game enthusiasts who follow...

Posted by Colecovision on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Now Giltinan is gone. He did not give any specific reason for leaving RetroVGS and its magazine altogether. Giltinan gave a cryptic apology "for not fully following through with my desire for the truth when speaking about the console.

"Instead I allowed myself to become a vessel for misinformation, and for that I am again sorry," Giltinan wrote.

Giltinan denied that RetroVGS were "trying to scam consumers or take advantage of the retro gaming community." However "I won't go into specifics as to what went wrong (especially since none of us know the full story yet)."

Polygon has reached out to Giltinan and Kennedy to further clarify what has happened with the Coleco Chameleon and why Giltinan felt compelled to quit. Polygon has also sought comment from the holding company that controls the Coleco brand.

Update: Giltinan replied to Polygon that "Coleco's investigation wasn't directly involved with me leaving, but it is something that — at this time — I do not see yielding positive results."

Giltinan went on to say that Kennedy "felt rushed to show something in time for the Toy Fair. Ultimately, it was a poor decision that ended sparking more controversy than I think he realized at the time."

Giltinan said he was "not a hardware guy," and couldn't speak more specifically on the prototypes' makeup or what was shown at Toy Fair. However, "[Kennedy's] inability or unwillingness to just plainly show what was underneath the console shell was rather baffling to me and at least one other person on the team.

"Once photographic evidence was pulled up on what was likely running the prototype, that's when the rumors and hate speech we dealt with before turned into legitimate concern and defamatory accusations," Giltinan said. "I could no longer bring myself to defend Mike or the project after that."

Giltinan insists the Coleco Chameleon project did not set out to deceive anyone. "This should be apparent from our decision to not do the Kickstarter since we clearly didn't have a very good proof of concept model to show," Giltinan said. "I wish Mike and the rest the best of luck going forward."

Second update: Mark Thomann, the owner of the Coleco brand and president of River West Brands, specified that there is no license between Coleco and RetroVGS yet, and that he won't sign any deal if the prototype consoles RetroVGS have made so far are not legitimate.

"From what I understand from a number of people, he (Kennedy) did feel rushed," said Thomann, who stressed that he's had positive dealings with Kennedy but "mostly superficial conversations" so far.

Asked if he could continue to partner with RetroVGS after this kind of controversy, even if the prototype unit checks out, Thomann replied:

"Our intention is genuine to come out with something unique under the Coleco brand. If that's not happening with this group, we'll be doing it with someone else. Sometimes when you have something like this happen, maybe there's a group out there that can do it, and help us introduce a better product. That's my hope, but I would also hope that Mike (Kennedy) will have something that isn't controversial, sure."

As of Tuesday, Thomann had not yet heard back from a representative who had contacted three engineers and asked to look at Kennedy's prototypes. "Any partner we do business with has to be 100 percent transparent," Thomann said. "If that's not the case, we're not going to go forward with any partnership, license or otherwise. A lot of this is new information to me. But we have great relationships with other companies, and we will produce new products for Coleco fans."

This is RetroVGS' second attempt at making a throwback console after acquiring the Atari Jaguar's toolkit last year. Last fall, the group sought $1.95 million in funding on Indiegogo for a console without the Coleco name, but raised only $81,158. Then they managed to work out a branding deal with Coleco Holdings.

"I have not decided yet exactly what I will be doing next after this," Giltinan wrote. "For now, a much needed break from gaming-related drama is in order."