E3 2019 kicked off on June 10th, 2019, in Los Angeles and the Atari VCS team hit the ground running, with a busy event schedule of meetings and demos flowing through the Atari hospitality suite from beginning to end. Everyone left LA feeling like it was “mission accomplished,” with visiting press and partners stopping in to get private early previews of, and hands-on time with, key Atari VCS system features and final pre-production hardware units.
While the team hosted partners and press at E3 for live demonstrations, we also announced the first Atari VCS retail partnerships for the USA and immediately kicked them off with the Atari VCS Official Online Pre-Sale at GameStop,Walmart, and the completely relaunched AtariVCS.com.
Atari VCS Pre-Production Models + Colorways
Atari’s E3 presentation suite displayed the final Atari VCS pre-production models, including the just-announced Atari VCS 800 Black Walnut and the Atari VCS 800 Onyx. The new “Black Walnut” design is not to be confused with the Collector’s Edition (CE) that was offered on Indiegogo last year as a limited edition. CE models will feature a lighter-colored “teakwood” face reminiscent of the finish on the original Atari 2600, with unique numbering as part of only 6,000 to ever be produced, and each includes a Certificate of Authenticity that verifies this.
The Atari VCS 800 Black Walnut variant will have a darker wood finish and there will be no real limitations on the production quantities. However, for now, the only place to buy the Black Walnut edition will be online direct from Atari (at AtariVCS.com) as part of an “All-In” bundle that includes an Atari Classic Joystick and Modern Controller. The “Onyx” design will be familiar to anyone who has been following the project since its debut in 2018, and adorns several VCS configurations, with GameStop being the only physical retailer where a full Atari VCS 800 Onyx All-In bundle can be purchased in the US. Not shown at E3, was another all-new Atari VCS design that we are calling the Atari VCS 800 “Carbon Gold” All-In. It features a futuristic black and gold carbon mesh face and is only available in the US through Walmart.
Hardware Engineering Prototypes + Models
These pre-production VCS units were surrounded by several pieces of additional development hardware that our engineers have created along the way to the final design. In addition to the various 3D-printed cornerpieces that were used to test and evaluate housing angles, the engineers provided the team with a unique crystal-clear “check model” that they use to verify fit tolerances, board and component placements, thermal venting and other internal elements. The nearly transparent check model also looks super-cool in person.
Graphical User Interface Demo
Arguably, the true “star” of this first display area was the first-ever real-time demo of the work-in-progress Atari VCS Graphic User Interface (GUI). It was set up and running in demo-mode on a PC that could be navigated using a pre-production Atari Modern Controller. Things are continuing to evolve on the GUI, but here is a brief description what we shared in the press suite:
The Atari VCS boot-up is activated by pressing the “Fuji” button on the Modern Controller and begins with a black TV screen. Suddenly it’s filled by several floating “Asteroids” in all their white arcade-vector glory, followed by an outlined Fuji logo. The familiar wedge-shaped spaceship enters from offscreen and immediately blasts the Fuji apart into little pebbles while familiar-but-new audio chimes in. Atari’s past literally gives way to a contemporary, colorful, 3×3 tiled “home” dashboard for today, complete with a modern navigation bar across the top. The Atari VCS and a “new” Atari interface have arrived! We don’t want to say too much yet, but fans can expect for there to be several different randomized versions of the boot sequence that we think will delight both our legacy fans and new ones that pick up the Atari VCS. For example, our plan is that you may get the Asteroids boot up animation one day, a PONG one another time, Missile Command a third day, or any of a handful of others that will randomly cycle in at any time. Ideally we can add more to the mix when new VCS system updates are pushed.
The “home” grid makes up the user’s “favorites” and displays the most recently played games and apps, with “Atari Vault” and several other Atari titles represented. Using the controller, visitors easily navigated the demo and visited different areas of the GUI, including games, apps, the Atari VCS Store, info screens, trailers, and more. The demo concluded with an exit out and reboot to the Atari Sandbox Mode. We are not going to share or be more descriptive about the actual visuals of everything in the GUI at this time because it is still a work-in-progress. Plus we want everyone to be surprised by the fresh, modern take that the Atari VCS brings to the table. Just like the hardware itself, the Atari VCS GUI honors where the brand has been, but focuses primarily on what you can do today and in the future. We can’t wait for everyone to see it!
Classic and Modern Gameplay Demo
Moving on to the second station, it was time to finally try some games and play with a working prototype of the new Atari Classic Joystick. System architect Rob Wyatt is an Atari super-fan and has created a flawless Atari 2600 emulator that will be “baked into” the Atari OS and GUI with several benefits in mind. We hope that having this as a feature in the Atari VCS will help “demystify” the world of ROMs and emulators for the casual fans that may want a very authentic retro experience. It also gives more technical-minded retro-gamers a new way to get their favorite classic games onto modern big-screen TVs. The built-in emulator will also allow VCS users to play a quick classic game while waiting for bigger, newer games and apps to load. The plan is to eventually make games from Atari and other classic 3rd party console emulators available on the VCS post-launch.
The final two E3 stations were all about the power of the Atari VCS and its AMD Ryzen™ Embedded R1000 SoC with “Zen” CPU and “Vega” GPU architecture. While the Atari VCS is not intended to go head-to-head against the top-performing game consoles, it is more than up to the job for the vast majority of gameplay and entertainment content that today’s consumers expect. In fact, it’s a device that has been designed with an eye toward the future that allows 4K HDR video streaming, which means the Atari VCS will also be ready for the coming wave of game streaming services.
These last two stations were each outfitted with 4K monitors connected to the newest AMD R1000 Atari VCS dev boards. Station 3 featured an incredible 4K 60FPS nature video loop featuring stunning images of endangered wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. Visitors could look into the bright eyes of exotic tree frogs, track snakes as they wove in and out of the underbrush and follow a tree sloth as he slowly made his way up a thick bamboo stalk.
On the last station, the team was inspired by one of E3’s most celebrated games, Borderlands 3, and elected to demonstrate Borderlands 2, one of their all-time favorite contemporary titles that also plays great in offline mode. The game ran fantastically in its Linux version in the VCS Sandbox Mode, showing off all the outrageous awesomeness of Pandora in full 1080p. Atari’s Steam account was loaded up in Linux Ubuntu, tapping the VCS Sandbox Mode, and featured a number of other team favorites that all play quite well on the VCS hardware: Rocket League, The Banner Saga, Broforce and many others.
We look forward to showing off some of these modern gameplay examples and other great content publicly later this summer. In the meantime, the team is working on wrapping up more game and content deals, prepping the public-facing version of our SDK, and traveling overseas to our factory partner. While there we will review the ongoing preparations for mass production of our very first Atari VCS units so they can ship to our earliest backers. We will bring back some new info and look forward to many more “mission accomplished” moments ahead!