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In theory, this new Atari console is going to be awesome

As nostalgia runs rampant through our consumer culture in 2018, the stewards of the Atari brand have come to GDC to show off early prototypes of a new system that looks and feels a whole lot like something you'd see on Radio Shack shelves 30 years ago. It's called the Atari VCS, and if it delivers on even some of the promises being made about its capabilities this thing could be very, very cool.

VCS stands for Video Computer System, and when I asked why that name was chosen over more iconic options like Jaguar or 2600, the response was simply "we called it a Video Computer System because that's what it is." Rather than compare this system to game consoles like the Xbox or even the NVIDIA Shield TV, Atari wanted to make it clear this gadget is built to offer more. It's a Linux-based platform with access to an Atari-made content store, and of course access to heaps of classic Atari games. The goal is to make this box a streaming platform, gaming platform, browsing platform, and so on. It's a stylized 4K-capable computer you connect to your TV, hence the name.

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Of course, the real draw here, for now, is how cool it looks. If you're a fan of Atari's design language from the days of old, you're in for a real treat here. The top of the console is flat black lines against the wood grain of the front panel, and lots of ports in the back for accessories and more. It's a simple, classic look complete with a glowing Atari logo on the front that is all but guaranteed to get people to ask questions when they see it in your entertainment center.

The unit we saw wasn't actually functional, but Atari reps made it clear there would be a fan inside to help keep the internal hardware cool. Expect some of the lines up top to be vents, but don't be overly concerned about noise. At least, in theory.

Coupled with this pretty box was a pair of controllers themed to match the console. The first is something everyone will recognize right away, the classic Atari joystick. It's got some great weight to it and the joystick motion is perfect even in this early model. But the thing that really struck me was the lighting effects around the base of the joystick. These amber lights are visually pleasant and lit up to match all of the areas around the direction you tilted this joystick. We don't know how long the battery is expected to last, but we do know it's a wireless controller and currently charges via USB-C, making it remarkably future-forward for such a classic-looking controller.

The other controller is a great deal more modern and familiar. It looks and feels almost exactly like an Xbox controller, connecting via Bluetooth so it can be used with more than just the Atari VCS. The colors are themed to match the traditional joystick model, which if nothing else means you could buy this separate from the VCS and have a slick-looking Atari controller for just about everything.

There's a lot of things we don't know about this console yet. Atari is promising more information alongside pre-orders later this year, so if nothing else this is something worth keeping an eye on. And, as long as Atari is selling these controllers separately like they say, I may buy that joystick just because it's so badass.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

38 Comments
  • My wallet is ready.
  • I'll absolutely be buying one...... If it ever see's the light of day
  • I will keep my eye on this.
  • I own no gaming system because it just really isn't my bag. But I did grow up with Atari and if the price is decent I will end up with a "gaming system" that seems to be much more and is gorgeous!
  • Maybe i'll have a chance at getting my hands on this one. Damn nintendos
  • Nice! Hopefully, it will be easy to purchase at release, or pre-order.
  • Never did get the pacman blister back in the day. Maybe now will be my chance!
  • don't see the RF Modulator port to connect to my TV on channel 3 ;-)
  • Yeah, and where's the cartridge slot?!
  • Haven't really played console games for nearly 20 years but something in me wants this. I didn't even have an Atari. I had the c64. I think it's the joystick that I want to go back to.
  • I still have an Atari 2800 with a box full of original games. It did not work with the joystick I bought for it, so I'm not sure if it's been modified, or I got a bad joystick. I'll be keeping my eyes on this new one as well.
  • I wasn't aware of the existence of an Atari 2800.
  • Neither was I. It was the 2600 and then the 5200.
  • And then the 7800.
  • I had a 7800.... what a POS! It’s big claim to fame was it was backwards compatible with the 2600 cartridges. Unfortunately that was really it’s only purpose since the only thing I can remember about the 7800 is it came with like six (7800) games included in the box and I can’t remember a one of them. It also had the worst designed controllers ever conceived and thats saying a lot considering the 2600 joysticks we’re border line unusable. Look them up and then try to imagine pressing the two red buttons on the side with your thumb and index finger while palming the base and moving the joystick around with your other hand! You need at least 3 thumbs lol!
  • Isn't it also called VCS because that's what the 2600 was called before it was renamed when the 5200 came out?
  • It was the 2600 before the 5200 was released, but it was also called the VCS. Or was that the Sears version, which is what I had?
  • Nope. The Sears version was the Sears Video Arcade. Otherwise it was the VCS until they released the 5200 in '82.
  • Will this play steam games? Novice here.
  • It could in theory play Steam games, but is not currently a focus. Atari has not ruled it out.
  • With an AMD apu and access to the Linux system outside of the gaming side of this "console" I'm sure it will be able to take advantage of steam
  • I never had an Atari game console growing up, but I had several friends who did. From Asteroids to Space Invaders to Donkey Kong, it was a great way to spend time with friends especially during the winter months. This console really interests me, and I will definitely be looking into it when more information is available!
  • It looks awesome
  • "With access to a library of classic Atari games..." I think many of the nostalgia junkies that are chomping at the bit have memories with rose tented glasses. Atari games don't hold up...at all...they barely held up in 1984.
  • The 2600 games I agree, but some later Atari consoles and computers could play games that could hold nowadays. From my very old Atari 800XL (and it was not one of the latest models) I could play many games I would play today, like Ms Pacman (the same version as in the arcades), Donkey Kong, Galaxian, and many others.
    Then the Atari Jaguar had some good games, like Alien vs Predator, Rayman, Wolfestein, Doom, Tempest 2000, Iron Soldier, etc.
    It doesn't make so much sense that they will bring this with a game catalog of only their first console generation. But you never know.
  • Physically it looks freaking amazing. Hopefully they make me want to buy it
  • I want one now...
  • Take my money
  • this sounds like the no mans sky of gaming hardware.
  • That is just hot, I want one so bad. Love the way it looks. Had the off brand one game systems when I was a kid, couldn't afford Atari. Definitely want this.
  • Asteroids and space invaders here I come !!!! Take my money and shut up already.
  • Take my money.
  • If the Ouya with all its marketing and Kickstarter could not even do it then this has no chance to be remotely successful. This things has way to many red flags and im very sceptical that this is not a scan to get people's money here.
  • Good point. I wouldn’t give in to kick starter, ala Star Citizen scams. If it actually releases I’ll buy.
  • This will have Ouya-level success in the market...
  • Short answer: Color me a skeptic and a pessimist concerning this thing.....but please don't go the next step to color me an outright fatalist. I'm keeping just enough of an open mind to realize that this thing could prove my doubts and concerns totally wrong, and indeed, while I'm counting on nothing, I am hoping that's exactly what happens.
  • Long answer: While I'm not getting my hopes up too much, am certainly not going to pre-order, and absolutely not going to crowd fund, I am also going to be keeping my fingers to the pulse, following the news, and when [or more precisely -IF-] this thing releases, I'll take a good, close look at it, and if it offers any kind of halfway decent price to power proposition, any kind of compelling software support, and any kind of enticing services / special benefit that I don't already have, or would find difficult / inconvenient to otherwise have, then after a little bit of "wait and see time" of course I'll spring for it. I'm an omni-school gamer who has 45 or so systems and somewhere between 1200 and 1500 games spanning the entire history of gaming, including all the current gen systems on the one end of the spectrum, and including the original Atari VCS (aka Atari 2600), and even at least one thing that predates it on the other news - and all major / several minor points in-between. I cut my teeth on Atari. I grew up loving Atari. I've hated to see what's bcome of Atari over the years. Of course I want to see this thing be awesome, see Atari begin to return to form, and have this just be the first in a line of glorious products from Atari. I'm not actually cheering AGAINST the thing. And I was even initially very optimistic and enthusiastic, and a serious proponent when news first broke of the original "Ataribox". But then the more we learned about it, the more and more it seemed the naysayers we're actually right, and the more and more it reminded me of the recent Coleco thing that turned out, as I understand it, to have been an actual scam. And I abandoned my support of it. In fact, I felt very embarrassed that I had ever supported it in the first place. I felt like I fell for a ruse that many others were astute enough to see right through. And when the original Ataribox suddenly disappeared right as it was on the precipice of starting its campaign, I thought, well that's that. The skeptics were right. Now it's back with a new name, a clearer vision, better (TBD) internals, one amazing controller, and one less amazing, but still pleasing controller. There are grounds for possibly feeling some renewed optimism for the thing. But after having been "burned once", I'm refusing to get my hopes up for it, and certainly not gonna get yet more egg on my face going to bat for it on social media. I'm going to play it safe, assume the worst, and desperately hope that history proves me wrong. I guess we'll see (well, maybe). Cheers!
  • I had the Atari 2600... those were the days