We have covered the RETRO Video Game System for some time here on Retro Gaming Magazine. What began life as a $99 classic styled console has morphed in a $300+ gaming monster that has the potential be your final “retro” console purchase, if its IndieGoGo campaign is successful. The last few months have seen many revelations involving this new machine: we’ve seen interviews on Youtube with Gamester81 and others, we’ve heard several podcasts podcasts (here and here) and now, we present a “loose” copy of our own interview with the RETRO Video Game System team. “Loose” because this is by no means simply pull-quotes from Mike Kennedy (PR and founder of RETRO), John Carlsen (hardware) and Steve Woita (game development). Due to Skype dropouts and occasional audio glitches, there are times we’ve resorted to paraphrasing and simply giving it our best guess as to what was actually said. Where things are garbled or require additional information, we have offset the related text with brackets [like this, as is standard for the industry]. This interview is available in three formats: video on Youtube, MP3 audio, and this text format. Why go the extra mile? Simple: this is a labor of love for you, our readers, who have shown immense support for our coverage of the RETRO VGS since Carl first began writing about the system. Without that support, we couldn’t have afforded to spend over 20 hours across five days copying text, adding hyperlinks, and offering three separate formats. We want this interview attainable by anyone wishing to read it, listen to it or ‘watch’ on Youtube (our original intent was to have tons of pics in the video but due to time constraints, that wasn’t feasible). The RETRO VGS is a polarizing announcement, one that quickly divided the “retro” community into two camps: either for it or against it. Few people claim complete impartiality to this new system. We had many Skype issues due to it being around five to six pm in California where the RVGS team was located so we ask you to please bear with us on this. The audio is available, embedded below, with the Youtube version linked for those that wish to listen along. Now: on to the interview!
Podomatic link if embed is not working (they are the same show, just Podomatic has limitations on bandwidth):
And the iTunes link:
Mike Kennedy: Carl, I have kind of explained to them that you and I go back a little. We are not like huge, personal friends or anything but we are acquaintances. We have talked over the course of the last few years on and off on various ventures that you are doing or I am doing.
Carl Williams: Oh, yeah.
Mike Kennedy: Or whatever, and you kind of know me, Carl. Steve ,go ahead and introduce yourself.
Steve Woita: I am Steve Woita; I worked at Apple, Atari, Sega–basically have done a bunch of video games that are on old systems and, uh, current day I have been doing stuff on the web which has been becoming frustrating because I have been doing a bunch of stuff in Flash and now Flash has gone [down] the tanker so I mean… The genesis (no pun intended) of this whole system, I mean for me personally, because I don’t want to be able to put games on a machine where stuff is not being updated and I know can work at least 10 to 30 years from now, whatever, I mean I can plug in a lot of my old stuff- old stuff I’ve done back in the 80’s and it still works. So I kind of want to be able to, you know, make games like that again so I don’t have to worry about… Every time I go to the web I worry about if my stuff is going to work. It is a great feeling.
We are trying to come up with this system that from an architecture standpoint that we know we can plug in a game and it will boot up and there it is and in theory 10, 30 years from now you should be able to do it again and not wait for some update or be having to be hooked up to the Internet. That’s kind of how this all started.
John Carlsen: Hi, I am John Carlsen. You have probably read my blurb on our page. Basically I have been working in and out of the video game industry pretty much all of my career. I started off fixing Atari computers when I was a teenager, worked at Atari when I was 17, worked for Nolan Bushnell when I was 18 and 19. I met Steve working for Mediagenic about a year after that, and a few years later co-founded Iguana Entertainment. A few years back I got hired by Sony to make a small Playstation.
Steve Woita: I forgot to interject on the hardware side: when I graduated from engineering school, my first job was with Apple. I worked on the Apple II, the Apple IIe on the cost reduction part of the Apple II. The Apple II cost-reduced became the Apple IIe with some enhancements, hence the ‘e’, and I worked on the Lisa machine, and I worked on the Apple III. Then my friend got hired at Atari and I said, ‘Man that sounds cool!’ and that is how he got me over there and Apple said, ‘If that doesn’t work out, come back.’
John Carlsen: I think we gone into introductions in [detail].
Mike: Fire away.
Mike: Sure, sure, at that two million dollars, Carl, as we have said, two-thirds of that goes to parts and assembly and so again, you can take that two million.
John (interjecting): It is actually much more than two thirds, we don’t want to disclose our margins and expose ourselves quite that much. It is definitely more than two thirds, so our margin is really very thin.
Mike: The bottom line is that it is a thin margin, and so to yield enough operating capitol after the cost of goods come out to run the business and lease a small, inexpensive, building and to pay legal and accounting fees–
John (interjecting): And to pay our development costs.
Mike (continuing): –to pay our development costs and, you know, we have software we have got to develop, and we have SDK’s we have got to develop, and Unity plugins we have got to develop, and Game Maker plugins we have to develop. We were paying for the FPGA licenses, and also to fund new cores, and all of this stuff. The bottom line is that it is expensive to start a low-volume piece of hardware and do it again. The original pricing, Carl, that you are probably going to ask if you go back in April we were discussing, you know, $150 to $200. The architecture has changed: that was going to be a Beaglebone Black architected system that was not going to play the scope of games back then that we wanted to play. We kind of saw ourselves crossing this cost border where it was like, hey, you know for an extra hundred bucks, we can make this thing wide open. Bring games from a variety of not just homebrew and small indie developers but also sophisticated, professional indies, and hopefully one day mainstream companies, and create a system that will work with a wide variety of game making, programming and development languages and suites. Originally it was going to be, we had a much smaller vision where it was going to play 16-Bit games, you know, somewhere in there with all of these awesome games that are getting Kickstarted like Mighty Number 9, Bloodstained and Thimbleweed Park and let me look, you have got Axiom Verge over there.
John (interjecting): Can I just throw in, Mike, that I just joined the project in early March and what I saw…well, first off it took me a couple of months just to collect our requirements, build a system spec and hash out the architecture, do an initial design and initial cost estimate. When I started doing this initial cost estimate, I started saying to Mike, ‘Hey there is no way you could have done it and offered this product for $150 to $200.’ It was just impossible. It was just impossible, really, the early estimates that Mike and Steve were given were just naïve estimates and they were inaccurate.
Steve Woita: I would like to add, a lot of the stuff you see out there, these boards and things you can buy, those are hobby boards. They don’t fit under the regulatory system at all; there is a lot of huge costs, that John will go into, in order to have a board be okay to stick in the living room of the United States, and elsewhere. The costs on that one, I am going “What?” It wasn’t that much back in the Apple days when we did it. That has really elevated to a huge [cost].
John: It was a fair amount then, too.
Mike: At GameOn Expo, Gamester81’s expo in Arizona a few weeks ago, there was a guy that came by that had just released a hand held gaming system. They spent 90 grand on FCC and regulatory.
John: I can do it for less, I have been doing FCC certified products for a long time. If you are interested, there is the book of federal regulations. That is volume one and that is volume two. This is just CFR 47 of the FCC rules.
Steve: I mean, a lot of stuff people may be looking at hobby boards and what it costs to produce those and make a tiny bit when they send them out, but whether they are compliant or not, you know, all I know is that we have been trying to shave this thing down.
Mike (interjecting): Hundreds of hours, Carl.
John: Thousands of hours.
Steve (continuing): [To] get it below two million was a huge amount of work, and obviously and people are going [why is it] two million? You know, it is like, you know, to be honest with you before I personally went through this whole exercise of spreadsheet-itis with these guys here, you know, I really didn’t have any idea it was going to be that much. I didn’t. I mean, I, it would be great to be able to go “Hey man, this system is 100 bucks in a box”.
[Pause for dog interruption.]
Steve (continuing): Between all of the quality of parts we want to use, the connector is a bit of an issue with us, the three of us personally. Any time you stick a cartridge in, you don’t want that cartridge being damaged. The cartridge connector is something we are really trying to stay focused on, uh, the quality, from that point out, we are not trying to put anything cheap in here. We want stuff that, I mean I want stuff that when I look at this machine, I go to develop for it years and years in the future, I feel good about it, you know? This thing is not going to bust on year five when I stick a cartridge in it or I pull my cartridge out and I finally take a look at my pins and they are almost gone on the cartridge. We are taking into consideration all of the stuff we know about over the past three plus decades and trying to [put out] a really good system instead of spec-ing out something really cheap that just barely makes the cut and uh–
John (interjecting): Yeah, and we have to acknowledge that there are a lot of cheap, low quality products out there that, uh, unfortunately a lot of people just see the price and they expect us to put out something that is cheap. They don’t care about the quality.