Modern-day Atari does a great job of taking advantage of the confusion inherent to the idea of “modern-day Atari.” They certainly want you to remember Pong and the 2600 and all those other warm and fuzzy feelings from the birth video games. But whatever the company is now, following all sorts of acquisitions and bankruptcies, is very different than what is used to be.
My entire recent history of covering Atari has been plagued by confusion. I did an interview about Roller Coaster Tycoon on blockchain and still can’t tell you what that means. I think my expression while wearing the Atari Speakerhat says it all.
But when it comes to absolutely baffling Atari hardware, forget musical clothes, the Atari VCS takes the cake. Two years ago Atari announced its “return” to the home console space by revealing this new piece of tech. Instead of limiting itself to retro Atari games like mini consoles from Nintendo and Sega, the Atari VCS would be a full-fledged modern games device. It was a Steam Machine, right down to running Linux to power contemporary PC games.
It always sounded too good, too weird, and too vague to be true. A year and a half ago, I sat down with Atari at GDC to see the box in person. But seeing was just about all I did. I looked at a pretty box, a nice melding of classic Atari wood-paneling and modern design sensibilities. But it didn’t plug into anything. It didn’t play any games. And I don’t even remember the controller working. It didn’t seem like a real thing, which was I mostly stopped reporting on it despite getting plenty of “update” emails.
However, the recent update is something consumers should know about. Rob Wyatt, lead architect of the VCS and co-creator of the first Xbox, has quit Atari altogether. According to The Register, Wyatt and his design team at Tin Giant haven’t been paid in six months. While Atari insisted to paying crowdfunding backers that the console is still on track for a March 2020 release, Wyatt is skeptical. And considering Atari is hyping up stuff like printings of AMD Ryzen circuit boards and exterior casings, stuff that frankly should be nailed down by now, we’re skeptical, too.
Still, maybe we’re wrong. Atari acknowledged Wyatt’s departure but told Gamasutra the project is the result of multiple people and teams. They’re also promising hands on events later this fall. But we’ll just have to wait and see. For more on next-gen consoles that do exist, check out the latest on the Xbox Scarlett vs. PlayStation 5.