The Coleco Chameleon has a history so packed with twists and turns we imagine it would make for a pretty good movie. The venture started life as the Retro VGS, a system which would play games on good, old-fashioned carts and emulate the performance of multiple retro systems. When the crowdfunding drive for this failed, the team behind the project - led by Mike Kennedy - joined forces with the resurrected Coleco and rebranded the system the Chameleon - but that wasn't the end of the saga.
After the console was shown at the New York Toy Fair it was alleged that the prototype was just a SNES Jr. in a Jaguar casing. A second prototype was photographed in order to disprove this, and this was in turn accused of being nothing more than a PC DVR capture card in a case. A crowdfunding campaign to generate funds for the Chameleon was put on hold and Coleco removed its name from the project - then it all went a bit quiet.
Time for Kennedy's version of events. He's taken to the AtariAge forums to put across his side of the story, and insists that he had no idea that the two prototypes were fakes - he attributes this dishonesty to an individual named Sean "LEE" Robinson, whom he had never met personally prior to working on the Retro VGS / Chameleon.
Robinson apparently stepped in to lend his assistance when other key team members left:
In mid-January, I had a lunch meeting with Sean and point blank asked him what he needs from me to spend the next 30 days working on the prototype full-time to get it prepared for the Toy Fair. We agreed on $4,000, which I quickly got to him via a check that he cashed with me at my bank. It was then a day before I was traveling to the show that he came over to my house with the Toy Fair "Prototype", with his instructions to NOT SHOW the back of the unit no matter what. But without any specific information as to why I shouldn't show it, other than it used an aftermarket connector that was composite-out and that was used because he didn't have the HD stable enough to get us through the show. I believed him and went to the show with that unit. My biggest concern at the time was getting this conglomeration through the TSA and on the plane.
During the show we were accused of not having that system even plugged in so I made the decision to take a photo of the back of the unit showing it was clearly plugged in. If that was true about using the composite connector, I really felt people would understand why it was used and decided to show the pics. I didn't feel we had anything to hide. Then all hell broke loose and it was identified that SNES mini parts or the whole PCB from an SNES mini was inside the console shell. I was left in a terrible spot at this point and I had a decision to make that evening at the hotel. Do I take this thing apart and see what was in it and quit the show or continue on with the show, demoing the games that were going to be on the system, and then address this issue with Sean when we got back from New York. Right or wrong, I continued on with Toy Fair and it continued to impress people and the games were very favorably liked. When I returned back home, I met Sean again and gave him the "prototype" back and he was still swearing that despite the SNES "parts" he used, the games were still running on the SNES FPGA software that he had constructed in a few short months. Again, I believed him and we moved forward. And he told me that during the Toy Fair he was preparing the next "prototype" board so I gave him the clear shells with explicit instructions from me to show "our" PCB inside the shell. This was going to be used to show the "real" prototype.
Then in a move to extract more money from me he indicated that for $3,000 paid now (2/29/16), and $3,000 paid in 60 days he could wrap this up and have a production ready prototype completed. So, again, I wrote him out a check he promptly cashed with me at my bank. Soon after this he emailed me the images of the clear unit with the PC DVR capture card in it. But, when he first emailed me the images, he indicated this was our prototype 100%. I made a comment that it looked great (in the photos) and he responded by saying something like "this is what we can do when given the proper time." Keep in mind, these pictures were to combat the criticism of the "fake" Toy Fair prototype and were given to me by him to post on Facebook to show people the real "prototype". Sean even joked about how people online were trying to identify the board in our shell, laughing and telling me they won't find it because it's our original work. He even made these comments through my car Blue Tooth speaker with my wife in the car and she heard everything. Again, I believed him.
Kennedy clearly feels he has been duped, and reveals that he has repeatedly tried to get to the bottom of the prototype situation. Worryingly, he seems to know next to nothing about the man who he alleges has ruined his reputation:
Since this all fell apart I have been trying to get Sean to explain to me why he would point blank lie to my face about that being "our board" and passing that two-bit PC board off as our prototype and he can't give me an explanation that makes any sense, in fact I get no explanation other than that there was more going on in there than people can see. He mentioned we had chips located underneath the board even and assured me that the cartridge was also plugged into our cartridge connector. Something was just not adding up to me and I continued to lose sleep at night wondering how this all could have happened. First, he never showed me anything in person, that he was working on. I never went to his house, nor was ever given an address where he lives or works. He subscribes to my magazine so I looked at the address the magazine is sent to – a UPS store PO Box. I have paid this guy $7,000 and have nothing to show for it.
Finally, Kennedy apologises to those who wanted to back the Chameleon and states that the project is over:
I want to apologize to all of you for the past few months. But there was never any intention to deceive or pull the wool over any of your eyes. These past few months with these fake prototypes was inexcusable and I hope you can all understand a bit more about how this all happened and why I have remained silent the past few weeks. It is not in my nature to trick people into anything. My end game has always been to give back to this hobby that I love and respect and to make and do things that people will enjoy. I've never taken one penny from anyone that wasn't genuinely earned!
You will all be glad to hear that I am officially tabling the console venture for good.
Again it was never the intention of myself or those legitimate guys on my team to deceive or potentially defraud anyone. In the end, I am the only one that has lost anything, money, potential opportunity and my reputation in this hobby.
It's worth keeping in mind that this is simply Kennedy's take on the whole fiasco, and he's making some pretty serious claims here. Could he possibly have gone into business with someone he barely knew when everything rested on the prototype? Was he really duped by those fake systems? Some posters on the AtariAge forum don't seem convinced, but share your own take on this sorry situation by posting a comment below.