The Freeplay Zero and the Freeplay CM3 are now successfully kickstarted products. If you haven’t already, please see the Freeplay Zero/CM3 Kickstarter campaign page.

On this page, we will discuss the manufacturing process and the current state of things. Until all the Kickstarter rewards have shipped, we intend for this page to be something of a “living” record of the state of things. After that, we would like to keep the page as a record of how things worked. We may also add other products/projects to it in the future.

Freeplay Zero History

This project started as a cardboard box full of wires and circuitry. We originally used a Game Boy DMG shell with a button circuit board as the controller and a vehicle backup camera LCD as the display. As this evolved into a working “standalone” unit, we started working on turning it into an all-in-one “AIO” board for the GBA-style shell.

We wanted to have a board that allowed a user to use a Raspberry Pi Zero inside of a GBA-style shell without a ratsnest of wires and a prerequisite technical education.

The first version of that circuit board used 14500 cells, but it had no charging circuitry. It worked quite well, but the user needed to charge their batteries in an external charger and then pop them into the AA compartment. We called it the “Game Pie Advance.”

The second iteration of the Freeplay Zero (known as the GPA at the time) was the v2.0 PCB, and it included a charging circuit that would accept 14500 cells or lithium flat packs. It worked even better, and we moved on to making a v2.1 PCB that included the same functionality with a few small tweaks to the circuitry.

Seeed Studio

Up through the evolution of the “Game Pie Advance,” we had been doing all our part placement and soldering by hand. Somewhere around Freeplay Zero v2.0, we decided that we would ultimately want to have the manufacturing of this outsourced (if there was enough interest), so we had all our PCBs manufactured through Seeed Studio.

We have worked with Seeed Studio in the past, so we wanted to work with them again on this project. We thought that we should use them for our PCBs if we wanted to ultimately use their Seeed Studio Fusion PCB Assembly service for manufacturing.

Since then, we have been laying all the groundwork to have our Kickstarter products fabricated and assembled using Seeed Studio. Currently, we are working with multiple individuals there to source parts and finalize the Freeplay Zero PCB design.

Seeed has an “open parts library” that we have tried to move as much of our design to as possible. This way we can have them source parts for us much easier. However, as this is a product meant to fit inside of a specific enclosure and act like a specific retro gaming handheld, we must use some very specific parts. There is an interesting balancing act that must be done during this part selection and sourcing process. So far Seeed Studio has been good to work with, but, of course, communication can be slow when they are half a world away from us.

Current Status

Freeplay Zero: We have gone through the entire manufacturing cycle starting with the Seeed Studio Fusion PCB Assembly service process to getting our run of boards made and delivered.
Freeplay CM3: We have also now gone through the entire manufacturing cycle for the Freeplay CM3 product.
Batteries: We have found batteries that work and fit very well into the GBA-style shell.  We sell them on our shop page.