Please check back regularly on this page for the latest tech and progress updates!
14th February 2017
So the update we promised last week is finally here!
We are going to give you some info you have been waiting for, and we also want to explain the whole process of concept, to funding, to design, to manufacture, including an insight not often given to backers on how the whole process works, including testing and even PEGI ratings! We want to be able to share this journey with you guys as much as possible! We will even share a little more history of some of the team behind THE64!
First the latest news! We had a great meeting with the global distribution partner last week, they are already long term business partners of some of our team, and are keen to work with us from product development through to global delivery of our evolving product range, first to campaign backers and then general consumers. While we sort out contractual issues, we cannot reveal the full details of this deal, but suffice it to say, they are the territorial distributors behind some of the most recognised games and consoles, working with some of the world’s biggest brands. This partnership will bring a great deal of security, for both the team and backers of the campaign. Over the next few weeks, they will be discussing with their global sales teams (UK, Europe, USA etc.) their target sales per territory which will drive our production volumes. So the wheels are definitely turning towards delivery!
In game news, we have already secured options on an excess of 250 classic (as well as some brand new mega cool) games to ship installed on THE64 when delivered. We have not picked the final line up, but there will be some of your favourites for sure, and as THE64 will have ways for you to add more games, you can be sure of many hours of fun withTHE64. We also intend to expand this library in the future.
In Software News, again it’s all steaming ahead, the tech guys have been using the extra time at the moment to explore even more ways to enhance your final experience, we want this to work not only as good as the original C64 computer, but even better if that’s possible, from HDMI outputs, to allowing it to even interface with past and future external hardware if possible. We are working on various possible solutions to that right now! We also want you guys to be able to use/program THE64 as well as play games you know!
Hardware news – the PCB layout is going well, we are leaving a few options open as long as possible, as we are aiming for economies of scale with regards to using the components and boards as much as possible over various product lines, (more on those later!). In addition, we are looking to make THE64 as connectable as possible, which goes hand in hand with the decision to offer USB. With regards to the case designs and molds, we are considering various ways of combining some of the manufacturing costs across several components of the range to not only reduce costs, but also bring you the best designs we can and that you will love.
Product Range – This is where the excitement begins! As you all know, we have already announced THE64 computer version, and THE64 handheld versions. Today we are announcing a third version THE64 Mini!
This decision has been driven by feedback from you, the community! We have a preliminary time line in which we will formally announce and crowd fund a special edition of THE64 Mini around late March. This special edition version will never be released in the shops so it will be the only chance you will ever have to back and receive it! The obvious question is “How will it be different from an eventual retail version?” We’re putting together some really desirable extras, which we will announce later. Once that crowd-funder is over, production will commence ASAP, and delivery of all three console types to backers will occur within that timeline to be confirmed. For clarity the money required for manufacturing the units pledged for by backers in the original campaign, is strictly ring-fenced. Global retail sales of the standard THE64 Mini (not the crowd-funded special edition version) will happen for Q4 2017, so well in time for Xmas for you all! With regards to the rest of the product range, as a thank you for your on-going patience with this project we will be giving all original backers and anyone pre-ordering THE64 from our website prior to the launch of THE64 Mini crowd funder, a FREE EXTRA THE64 joypad! We also hoping to bring to you the following options
We also hoping to bring to you the following options
– THE64 joystick in the best-loved shape and style you all remember
– An adapter which will allow the connection of C64 game cartridges.
So now you have a rough idea of what we are doing, let’s start a bit of background of whom, and how we will do it.
Crucially two key shareholders of the company were behind the concept, design and delivery of the ZX Spectrum Vega games console released in 2015 to great success. Over their career, they have been responsible for many acclaimed achievements in the computing, retro computing and gaming arenas, from converting C64 games for the Nintendo Wii store, reverse engineering retro platforms, writing one of the most well respected and read books for hardware designers and programmers across the world on “How to design a microcomputer” (which was a source of inspiration for the designers of the ZX Spectrum Next and by Ben Heck, who hacked a handheld Spectrum), and creating a huge volume of apps and other digital content for both Amazon and Apple. One of them even owns his own original retro computer brand!
The other two shareholders of our company conceived and brought to market the DTV64 (plug into TV joystick version of the C64 computer!), designed by Jeri Ellsworth. They also created, many of the UK’s leading game and mobile game studios, one recently having been sold to Warner Brothers which is now being expanded as a Lego games developer! So the company is in good hands shareholder and knowledge wise.
Furthermore, we have a range of back office staff, with in-depth knowledge of manufacturing and overall production of high end and high volume electronic products, software and game development, graphical design, marketing video post-production and sales. That’s without the wealth of experience and sheer manpower of our new pending manufacturing and distribution partners. Finally, we cannot forget the various people working with us on game licensing, PR, and other associated tasks. All in, a great multidisciplinary team, of experienced people!
How does the whole process work?
Obviously, this is a huge task, taking a lot of manpower, and knowledge. This update is not intended as a complete reference guide to delivery (maybe we will do a book version as some point in the future if demand is there) but we want to give you a quick overview of how the process will run so you understand it, as you are paying for it! Some of the tasks in this project we have already completed, some are to be started, and in the next few weeks we will provide a visual indicator diagram which clearly lays out the production milestones and where we currently are on the journey, so you can easily track progress.
The most important aspects to the design process are laid out below:
Time – When a product first arrives at the retailers, it is unlikely that the customer will have an appreciation of the thousands of man hours of design, research testing and production that went into getting the product to the shops. When you consider mass production time frames, things get complicated. When we say mass production, we mean upwards of several hundred. This is not to say small amounts of products can’t be made, but it’s only in large-scale production that prices can be bought down to a level that consumers will pay for. Small scale production is only for high end, high value products that therefore command high prices. Many things today are manufactured outside of the UK for cost reasons. Electronics can be manufactured in the UK but they tend (admittedly, this is a generalisation to be lower volume higher value speciality items, say medical kit or such like). Generally lower retail value items such as hand held games consoles are made outside of the UK. But regardless of where they are manufactured, a production slot has to be booked. Production line time is expensive and slots may not occur for weeks or even months. There are line set up costs and many other factors to consider, lots of lead times, and other factors, which we will describe below. Typically, the average timeline is around four months from when you want to start production, to when it pops out of the factory door. You can take shortcuts, but that comes at a price, and sometimes quality takes a hit.
Licenses – We are talking a wealth of licences here. The brand for example may be covered by more than one trademark, licences, or even owners with whom to negotiate. For example different people might own: the name, the logo, the operating system, the case shape and different parts of the operating system. Complexity is high, and a global exercise tracking down who owns what. Even then the people who appear to own licenses might not fully know their rights themselves as contracts from 35 plus years ago can have been lost as companies and rights have been bought, sold and sometimes sub-divided over time! Game licensing can be even worse, as often contracts were often incomplete, or not even produced at all back in the eighties! Unlike today, where licences are all encompassing, back in the 1980s it was typical for someone to own the brand (say a film tie in license) and someone else to own the music rights, and someone else the coding rights! That’s presuming anyone knows the chain of sale through tens of companies and so on! It’s extremely complex, and the reason a lot of games can no longer be used.
Design – Lots of people dabble with electronics, programming and design, and some are very capable and produce great things, but there is a big jump to designing (hardware and industrial) and programming for commercial product, as the design goals are different. Cost, reliability, compliance with regulations, safety, power consumption, usability and customer need are major factors that the hobbyist does not need to consider. Even packaging and the colours you use on it have local laws and traditions that must be adhered to.
Components and Electronics – Supply and demand of components is critical, and in new products they are not necessarily off the shelf items. For example, circuit boards: these have to be designed and made, but not all of them straight away, as we will come to in the testing section, some have to be made and then electrically and CE tested, to make sure they comply with things like rules which cover safety for buyers, battery safety, interference (you have to make sure any electrical device even a battery powered one does not interfere with you TV for example! But component wise prices vary almost daily, some components could have lead times of weeks if not even months for some chips for example (don’t forgetit’s not like just buying a few odd test or prototype ones from Farnell, if you want hundreds or more likely thousands they have to be sourced, bought at the right price and also delivered in the right time frame). Plus of course you also have to consider if any component will be around in X amount of months or years as all chips for example are generally only made for so long till replaced by new better ones. All these factors have to be considered and planned well in advance.
Plastics – Case and other plastic parts are not too expensive produce, once you have moulds created and properly set up on the production line, but the process of mould design and production is a lengthy one. A simple low end plastic case mould of limited quality could cost under £10,000 to design. A high end, reliable, multi-part tool might cost £40-60,000 to design. That’s doing it right! If you want to employ a high-profile designer with an established track record who will take the process through from concept to mould delivery, setup, and golden-sample sign-off, you also pay for their time. Manufacturing the moulds is also costly. Cheap low-end moulds in aluminium that have a limited production run before quality degrades may be around the £10,000 mark. A more complex stainless steel mass production mould can cost two to four times that. Most molds are made outside of the UK due to costs, and lead times once you have your design are of the order of one to two months. It is iterative, once the first mold test pieces are made they are checked, the molds might be altered slightly, and the process repeats.
Software/Firmware – Software is close to being one of the most time consuming and costly aspects of modern consumer product development. A proportion of this expenditure is tightly coupled with testing, as they together form an iterative process. Sometimes open source code parts are used which reduces effort, but more often it is custom software, and certainly the skill is making the many pieces of code work seamlessly together with 100% reliability. The stakes are much higher with software that is running embedded inside a consumer product in the hands of a user, compared to a web server application that can be fixed with an upgrade at a moment’s notice.
Testing – This is a huge subject, which we cannot do justice to in a short update, but covers software, hardware, mechanical components, cables, plastics, batteries, media correctness and suitability (games, video etc.). Each component has to work flawlessly for the intended use of the product, in the intended environment and for the designed lifespan. One of our cases is that every game must be completely tested to make sure it works on the console. Of course, as part of our testing we would want to ensure to the best of our knowledge that user-supplied games also work faultlessly, but there is an element of that being out of our hands. All supplied games must meet the target PEGI rating (see below), and potentially be additionally tested by PEGI themselves, which can be a lengthy process. The physical product has to meet various safety and compliance standards. The electronics in particular must meet several emission standards, which can be painful, as such a simple thing as a circuit board track being close to the edge of the board can turn the product into a radio transmitter. This testing must be carried out on a production board, and any emission problems found mean reworking the board and having it re-manufactured, and then repeating the tests. Products containing batteries invite further tests, some of which are mitigated by having an internal, non-accessible battery. Most of these tests are mandatory steps to achieving CE and UL compliance (and there are other regulations such as the FCC in different territories, which can get very interesting!) Most people do check that a product is covered by the necessary CE and other safety certifications, as they are conscientious about their and their families and won’t intentionally accept or use a product without one. It is rather grey as to whether a product shipped to backers as a perk needs to meet the appropriate standards, as at that point the product is not offered for sale, but a gift. However, our stance is clear – we will meet all the relevant standards before we ship anything. Not all crowdfunded campaigns will obtain these certifications.
PEGI – This is an often confused and misunderstood system. Generally it, with only a few exceptions, is a required certification across Europe, and other regions have their own versions. Each item for sale (perhaps a large complex game on a PS4 disc) must be rated. For a system with many games on it, each must be rated. Except for perhaps a few trial devices, a product with computer games on it must be rated. Generally retailers will not stock products without PEGI ratings, as they are aware of the risks. Consoles with retro games on can be given a single rating, but each game has to be individually assessed and the overall rating will depend on the highest rated game. This process is not cheap of course, but is a flat fee, and it’s the preparation and, playing and assessing each game that takes the time. If you have hundreds or thousands on a console, it can really add up. There are a few caveats to this, but in a nutshell that’s what you have to do. Where you have a large number of items to assess, PEGI requests that you send video footage of a selection of the games so they can do a spot assessment. You always have to submit a final version of the product for assessment before they will issue a rating. For straightforward assessments this preparation can take many weeks, and it is usual to employ a team of people to do this when the volume of content it high, just to bring the time down from months. If you find that a software title needs to be replaced after you have achieved your PEGI rating, the submission process must be started again.
Packaging –There are many aspects to this, as some are legal requirements, some are retailer requirements, and some are just because it makes sense! The console MUST have its PEGI rating displayed on the box, it’s not optional, but law, it allows parent to make informed choices before they buy. And the obvious thing is you cannot print the packaging outers without knowing the PEGI rating first as it has to be added. So it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, so we must plan well in advance, so you are ready once you have your PEGI rating. You might want distributor or retailer input before you finalise your packaging design, it’s an art in itself, as it has to look good online, and on the shelf, it has to sell the design and the product, and physically it has to fit shelves and outer packing boxes of course. The number of boxes to a palette is also a consideration, as this affects warehousing and shipping. You have safety and shipping considerations, so that it is not damaged in transit. So the bottom line is that planning and communication is everything. Once the packaging design is ready, proofs are requested from the manufacturer, before a final print run can be booked!
So we come to the end of this first relatively short master class on making your own console. This really is just the tip of the iceberg, it is fun, challenging, sleep loss inducing, and satisfying in the end, but it is a long road! We thank you for your time in reading this, and for your continued support. Please keep checking back for news and updates, as we carry on this journey in with your support!
21st December 2016
As the end of 2016 draws to a close, we have created a roundup video of our progress on THE64 consoles so far, as well as where we plan to be in 2017!
We wanted to show you something actually working, so in the video you’ll see up-to-date footage of the very latest hardware booting up with our logo before jumping into a classic game. There is of course a lot more for us to show and tell in the New Year, and we are currently experimenting with different HDMI screen resolutions to find the one that gives the highest quality and performance as you will see. THE64 uses an ‘Allwinner A20 SoC’, featuring a Dual-Core 1GHz Cortex-A7 ARM CPU, Mali-400 MP2 Dual-Core GPU, HDMI 1.4 at up to 1080p. THE64 reproduces both PAL and NTSC variants of the original Commodore 64, and uses a carefully chosen HDMI resolution to give a superb retro gaming experience on modern TVs as well! We think you are going to like it!
In early 2017, once the final T’s have been crossed and the I’s dotted, we will be announcing our global manufacturing and distribution partner. Without giving too much away this company is also the partner to some of the biggest game console manufacturers in the world so we will all be in safe hands and they will ensure delivery of the various consoles straight to your door, wherever in the world that might be.
Furthermore, as a special thank you to everyone who has supported us on this journey and pledged for the consoles via the original Indiegogo campaign, or pre-ordered directly through our website www.the64.computer we are happy to announce our Christmas gift of a branded THE64 Joypad which will be bundled with your consoles when delivered in 2017! We hope that this will allow all backers to play games on THE64 consoles with even more ease. We will also extend this offer to anyone who pre-orders either of the current console variants up until their release date.
So on that note all that remains is for us to wish you a very Happy Christmas and we look forward to seeing you all next year! THE64 team.
11th November 2016
First, thank you to all the backers of the original Indiegogo campaign, and all those continuing to support us through the campaign website. This is an update on our progress and estimated delivery, plus a few technical announcements and other general updates for good measure.
Ideally, we would have hit our original funding goal, as that would have allowed the commitment of additional resources to the project. Such as it is, we have had to reduce the pace slightly to lower cost, and not compromise quality, as our zeal and commitment to THE64 remains unchanged. Where funds are tight, we have pledged that we will make up the shortfall to bring this project to fruition. Backer’s funds are safely held in a UK bank, and contribute to design and production costs, they are not used for general salaries or other non-production costs, since we are bringing THE64 to you passionately in an as timely manner as we can.
Our original estimation was to deliver the keyboard version of THE64 by the end of 2016, followed by the handheld version, aimed for April 2017. We now aim to manufacture the keyboard and handheld versions at approximately the same time (to optimise manufacturing funds), this estimated to be spring 2017. Discussions with established world-class manufacturers are underway, and progress is going to plan.
We are an experienced UK based team, and have recently recruited additional members, bolstering the roles of design, manufacturing and retail. Forging links with retail at this early stage gives us access to a portfolio of customer research and trends, and allows us to deliver the product users want. Delivery to campaign backers is the first priority.
THE64 is just the first in a range of exciting products and projects we aim to bring you. Once again thank you all for your support and patience.
We are working with some leading computer and game designers to finalise and polish and bring to final life the cases for the computer and handheld versions of THE64, we think you will like what we will be revealing in the very near future!
A few backers have asked about the technology we are using in THE64. After much prototyping and testing we finally selected a powerful and flexible ARM SoC from Allwinner, and it was this prototype that you see performing in the demonstration videos. This chip satisfies all of our technical and user requirements, such as HDMI, removable storage, LCD support and low power. Interestingly, it was recently revealed that Nintendo have used the same family of chip in the all new Xmas 2016 hit, the Nintendo NES Classic Mini retro gaming console.
Game Content update
We already announced several great all new games such as the brilliant Sam’s Journey which a version with an extra level is being created for THE64 is coming! We can also confirm we have signed in excess of 100+ other classic C64 games which will also be bundled with THE64 upon its release as well! Full details on those in the coming weeks!
We will also be adding more videos, more technical updates, more design updates, and a lot more news as well moving forward over the coming weeks and months, as we accelerate the process on further to give you the backers, what you supported us for, THE64! Thank you once more for all of your continued support.
3rd November 2016
Retro Games Ltd would like to correct some recent misinformation announced by a company called Retro Computers Ltd.
For clarity it should be noted these are two separate companies run by two separate entities.
Retro Games Ltd wish it be known that we do not in any way wish to be confused with nor associated with the company called Retro Computers Ltd, and distance ourselves wholeheartedly from their current directors and business activities.
Retro Computers Ltd was originally a business conceived by Paul Andrews and Chris Smith with the intention of creating products related to and standing on the tall shoulders of the rich history of the Sinclair brand. Two initial crowd-funding projects were planned and commenced – The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega Plus Handheld – and two further products were discussed (a 3D games console and a lightweight laptop). As the business was purely Sinclair-related, it was in fact originally called ‘Sinclair Computers Ltd’ until a change was requested by the IP license-holders.
Another similarly-named company Retro Games Ltd was set up with the intention of undertaking projects related to the wider retro gaming industry, including the creation of both software and hardware; Paul Andrews and Chris Smith are also shareholders in this business. As part of this business, the company obtained the licence for an exciting opportunity – to produce a retro-based console called THE64, a modern re-imagining of the original Commodore 64 in the same way that the ZX Vega (also conceived by Chris Smith and Paul Andrews) did for the Spectrum. Retro Games Ltd was ideally placed to carry out this project due to their decades-long personal relationship with the license-holders themselves.
As is normal practice for someone with a number of business interests, both companies originally listed their registered addresses at the production offices of another company owned by Paul Andrews called Andrews UK Limited that (amongst other services) provides administrative support (such as domain name registration, secretarial support, media creation services and suchlike) to companies run by Mr Andrews. It should be noted that Andrews UK was asked to register a number of Sinclair-related web domains, which later lapsed due to confirmation from Sinclair Research that they were no longer required.
Unfortunately, Chris Smith and Paul Andrews decided they had no option other than to resign as directors of Retro Computers Ltd due to irreconcilable differences with another director, David Levy. Furthermore, as discussed with all shareholders of Retro Games Ltd, they chose not to allow his involvement in any of their future projects or businesses.
At no point in time did Retro Games Ltd work in conjunction with Retro Computers Ltd, and the projects planned by the former were absolutely separate from the Sinclair-branded products of the latter. Despite Mr Levy’s desire to be involved in the exciting work on THE64 and other future projects, Retro Games Ltd wish to make it clear that he will not be welcomed.
To further clarify the remit of the two companies, the following statement was confirmed in April 2016 by the accountants of Sinclair Research Limited on behalf of Sir Clive Sinclair:
“Having spoken to Clive my fellow trustee of The Sinclair 2007 Settlement (The controlling shareholder of Sinclair Research Limited) he confirms to me that the Commodore project was outside Retro, and that SRL was never party to it”
In summary, the aim of this announcement is to confirm the legal position of Retro Games Ltd: that David Levy and Retro Computers Ltd have no prerogative, no right to and certainly no possibility of ever being involved with the exciting projects they are currently working on and planning, and any suggestion otherwise will be met with the firmest legal rebuttal. Additionally, there is no contractual or legal limitation imposed on Mr Andrews and Mr Smith, as no conflict of interest exists: Retro Computers Ltd’s remit was specifically created for work with the Sinclair brand only.
Retro Games Ltd trust that this clarification of the relevant facts is noted, and hope that they can continue their exciting projects without the repetitive, bitter and lamentable misinformation put out by Mr Levy and his current staff.
Small update for you all!
We’re in the process of converting the development circuit board you will have seen demonstrated in the videos, into a production-ready design. There are a few key stages to this process. The first is design for manufacture – the units must be reliable to build, repeatedly, and make cost-effective use of the production line. The second is design for compliance. Various certifications are required, and one must design for them up front. Failure to do so inevitably results in failure to pass certification, which would mean reworking the design internals at a late stage, adding delays and cost. This can be quite challenging!
Whilst we’ve been carrying out the production design conversion, we’ve made a small design alteration. Like most embedded products, The 64 was intended to use NAND flash for its internal storage. It has the best storage capacity to price ratio, but requires some complicated software to guarantee that data is stored and held reliably. And reliability is paramount in a consumer electronics device. We would also like to simplify where we can. so we have modified The 64’s design so that it can use a newer technology: eMMC. This is effectively an SDCard on a chip and requires none of the special software required for NAND. We are currently comparing various manufacturers’ eMMC products for one which meets our storage and price requirements, and hope to go into production with eMMC.
Work has also begun on the plastics industrial design. This is the CAD drafting of the plastic components, such as the keyboard, which will produce the final steel moulds from which the production plastics will be formed. We will also produce accurate and testable 3D prints and renders for validation as work proceeds.
Back to you all with more soon!
Thanks for your support!
Last week we reached a significant milestone with the development of THE 64, and now we have stable firmware running on our pre-production hardware, with full video and audio over HDMI!
So this week we thought we would actually show you it in action to let you see our progress! Filmed a few days ago, we thought you guys would like to see with your own eyes it in action – an actual real board, with a game up and running on the firmware over HDMI with sound as well! So the schedule is going well!
19th August 2016
This week we reached a significant milestone with the development of THE 64, and now have stable firmware running on our pre-production hardware, with full video and audio over HDMI! Despite the distracting lure of playing Uridium and Monty on the Run on THE 64, we’re starting to pull together the range of games that will be offered for THE 64, and setting out a tentative production schedule as well as confirming our manufacturing partner. As we did not quite reach our campaign goal, we have secured additional funding to meet the shortfall so we can deliver THE 64 to backers before moving into global retail sales. More updates and videos very soon!