Back in October, I wrote about what I termed the HD Retro movement. In the article, I highlighted two systems that were seeking crowdfunding and were looking to capitalize on the current retro gaming boom. One of them, the Dreamcade Replay, was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter and has been generally treated favorably.
The other, the Seedi, hasn’t fared as well. Its Indiegogo campaign is closed, raising only 63% of its $50,000 goal. Worse yet, it seems the Seedi was actually a seedy venture.
Sometimes, these articles write themselves. It was too easy to say the Seedi was seedy. Those journalism classes in high school didn’t even come into play!
Because I am neither a proper journalist nor a full-time writer, I often miss little tidbits of gaming news. This is exacerbated in this case by the fact that I’m not deep into the crowdfunding scene. The reason is simple and something I touched on in my HD Retro article: saturation. The crowdfunding campaigns for HD Retro systems are more common than McDonald’s locations in South Florida. Some are so eye-rolling that it kills my interest in even looking.
The Seedi, however, is a novel enough concept that I paid attention. It bills itself as an HD Retro console that plays original CD-based games. The device touts compatibility with the Sony PlayStation, SEGA CD, TurbGrafx-16/PC-Engine CD, Neo-Geo CD, and 386-era MS-DOS games out of the gate. It promised future compatibility with other systems, including the SEGA Saturn and Dreamcast. The video promoting the Seedi on its IndieGoGo page mainly featured its two creators, self-described “engineers,” talking up the system and its features.
It wasn’t until an October YouTube video – posted five days after my article was published – that the Seedi was shown in a working condition. It was there where the Seedi’s wheels came off and the shadiness was highlighted.
YouTuber MetalJesus was given an actual prototype of the Seedi console for impressions. He asked for, and received, permission from the Seedi creators to open up the console and present the console’s guts in a video. When MetalJesus did, he unveiled…an Orange Pi board connected to an external DVD drive via its GPIO pins.
So essentially, the Seedi is a collection of parts anyone can buy and piece together for way less than the $125 asking price of the system in their Indiegogo campaign.
I remember the stink surrounding the Coleco Chameleon, another now-infamous HD Retro-like console. I wrote an article about that trash early on in my Digital Crack tenure. When it was first demoed, it was found to be nothing more than a mini-SNES shoehorned into an Atari Jaguar shell.
(Quick aside: did you know that shells for the Jaguar are used for a piece of dental equipment? In a 2014 AtariAge article, Drayzero pointed that Imagin Systems actually used the shell for one of their intraoral cameras. The CEO of Intra Systems, Steve Mortensen, even bought the molding tool for the shell. In addition to housing his camera in it, he made a run of shells for collectors or hobbyists to purchase. So it wasn’t the Novocain messing with your brain: there really WAS a Jaguar in your dentist’s office!}
The Coleco Chameleon was roundly trounced for the schadenfreude. As you can well imagine, so has the Seedi.
After MetalJesus’s video, shit hit the fan. The Seedi, an HD Retro system created by two “engineers,” was made out of ultra-cheap hobbyist parts. The Orange Pi alone can be found for as little as $18 on Amazon and $7 on eBay. This enraged backers on the Indiegogo campaign, resulting in a closed campaign that fell short anyway.
Look, I’m not into making systems out of hobbyist parts. Hell, I have a Raspberry Pi chuck full of more ROMS than I care to admit to. For a hobbyist, a device the functions exactly like a Seedi would be great.
For someone to build a system like the Seedi and try to sell it is shady enough. For someone to build it, pass it off as a unique invention, and try to seek money on Indiegogo for it is the height of seediness.
Worse still, it doesn’t exactly work as advertised. During MetalJesus’s video detailing his impressions, he shows how Neo-Geo CD games are fully supported. The game he tried, Fatal Fury 3, had horrible sound emulation and some choppiness. 386 PC emulation was hit-or-miss. One game, Star Trek 25th Anniversary, ran flawlessly. Two other games, EarthSiege and Wing Commander II, did not. Curiously, one PC-Engine CD game MetalJesus tried, would lock up.
I say curiously because of the console’s OS underpinnings. To be fair, random lockups and missing or horrible sound are part and parcel with emulation. RetroArch, an open-source collection of emulators for consoles and older computers based on libretro, is responsible for running the games in the Seedi. Although it is very powerful, it will still have issues emulating consoles. Since the Seedi relies on RetroArch, it’s to be expected.
In all honesty, I don’t have any SEGA CD ROMs in my RetroPie. Although I’ve dabbled with running CD-based consoles like the SEGA CD and TurboGrafx-CD, the ISOs are too big to justify jamming them into my 32GB MicroSD card. But almost every ISO I tested on it performed flawlessly. I never tested Sailor Moon, the PC-Engine game MetalJesus tried out. But I find it odd that the Orange Pi wouldn’t be able to run it well. Yes, it’s laden with FMV cutscenes, but so are Night Trap on the SEGA CD and Vasteel on the TurboGrafx-CD. And I was able to play both on my Pi 3 without issue. Maybe I should try playing Sailor Moon on my RetroPie. For science, of course!
Seedi’s reliance on RetroArch, however, leads to another interesting point. Because RetroArch is open-source and licensed under GNU GPL v3, it’s free for anyone to use and modify. It’s generally frowned upon, though, to sell consoles like the Seedi using the RetroArch libraries. Hyperkin got an earful from the libretro brain trust when it was found their Retron 5 used its licensed libraries. Indeed, RetroArch absolved itself of responsibility for the software appearing in the Seedi. They maintain the stance that they do not support the libraries as implemented.
The use of RetroArch also means that the Seedi cannot run retail CD-ROMs of any sort out of the box. This is by design. In order to read the discs, the Seedi needs the originating system’s BIOS for its native OS. These files, usually BIN files, have to be manually loaded into the system by the user. The BIOS files are also copyrighted pieces of firmware that platform owners like Sony and SEGA are not happy to share.
Again, that kind of thing is part and parcel of the emulation experience. It’s also something that is illegal to do. So in order for the Seedi, a proposed commercial product, to even function, the user has to essentially break the law.
So to recap: two “engineers” grabbed an Orange Pi and mapped the pinouts from the board’s GPIO pins to connect to a bog-standard external DVD drive. They then ginned up a shell to hold it all together. Finally, they took to Indiegogo so that people could support it by throwing a minimum of $125 each at it.
Oh yeah, and the system is a potentially illegal one that relies on copyrighted BIOS files and an open-source set of libraries not supported its own creators to work. And it may not even play games it’s supposed to support.
Anyone still interested? If so, their website allows you to sign up for updates on when the wheels will finally be put back on the Seedi.
Truthfully, it’s a shame the Seedi turned out the way it did. Although I was having trouble seeing a real market for the console, it did introduce a novel concept to the HD Retro scene. Tons of hobbyist and retail consoles rely on emulation to play ROMs of cartridges. My Raspberry Pi does it, Grumpy Joe’s NES and SNES Classic consoles do as well. Some folks play ISOs of popular CD-based games on emulators as well. But there hasn’t been much headway in playing original CD-based games on a system that can read the discs. The niche may be too esoteric for me to see the market, but seeing a system attempt to fill that niche was at least interesting.
Now, all I have is an urge to strap a Pi 3 to an external DVD player. Maybe I don’t need to plug it into a GPIO port. Would a USB external DVD player work? If so, can I get RetroArch to read my PS1 and TurboGrafx-CD discs? I have a spare board; maybe I can research this and try it.
At the very least, though, I know I don’t need to crowdfund the seedy console named Seedi to the tune of $125 to build one for me.