For a kid growing up in the 1970s there was only one name that mattered when it came to playing arcade games and that was Atari. Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede, Battlezone… the list was impressive and mesmerising to a kid wandering the arcades looking for somewhere to dump a coin into.
If you got your initials onto the high score table for Asteroids you were in the local community’s elite.
There was always somebody going by the initials ACE who sat above me on the Asteroids game in the local Kwik Save. Once a week I got the opportunity to dethrone them while mother packed the shopping away into cardboard boxes. I never succeeded.
A few years later all of these games were available at home courtesy of Atari’s VCS console.
What does VCS stand for?
Video Computer System. At least that’s how it was referred to a la the initial marketing and branding. Technically it was the Atari 2600 and that’s how it became known from around 1982. Or, more latterly, through the eyes of nostalgics, Woody, named for its wooden appearance.
What did the old Atari VCS games look like?
Oh they were magnificent. At least, in 1980 they were magnificent. Just being able to control a spaceship (a square block), a tank (a square block) and fire lasers (a square block) and bullets (a square block) meant the world to a nerdish 10 year old with a burgeoning fascination with computers and video games.
Arcade cabinets had some horsepower back in the day. As such games translated crudely to the relatively primitive home consoles.
If there’s one thing the Atari VCS console gave you it was colour. Lots of it. You just had to have the ability to suspend your disbelief for a while and thrill at being able to hit the trigger, fire lasers and blast things to pieces. For kids who had marvelled at the deep space fighting sequences in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back this was just the perfect experience.
So why relaunch a console from so long ago when we can play photo realistic games on a PS5 or XBox?
The new look Atari VCS is not the same console from 40+ years ago. Far from it. It is a Linux based machine that has been designed to be open for development. Out of the box you’ll get a ton of classic Atari games but you’ll also be able to download and install games from the web. No cartridges! No CDs or discs of any kind.
The potential for such a console is enormous.
Atari SA (formerly Infogrames who purchased the Atari name some years ago) have worked hard on the architecture of the Atari VCS. A ton of features that you’d expect from a modern console are in there. In partnership with AMD there will be 4k video output built in, for example.
This console is a far cry from the blocky experience of 40+ years ago. It’s everything an Atari nerd could wish for. Sitting with a wireless Atari joystick and playing Atari branded games on an Atari console in your front room is just mind blowing.
When will the Atari VCS (2020) be released?
The console was penned for release in 2019 but then pushed back and obviously impacted by COVID-19. The console has started shipping (December 2020) to the project’s backers which hopefully means it will be available to the general public during the early part of 2021. Assuming COVID-19 hasn’t had a detrimental impact on production.
The console hasn’t been without its setbacks. But hopefully we can see something very soon. Great news for Atari nerds everywhere.