Microsoft, Sony, Atari?5 minute read

The Atari VCS crashes the Microsoft/Sony wedding plans

As we enter the ninth-generational console war between Microsoft and Sony we have a new competitor making their entrance to the squared circle. Atari will be entering the console war with their new Atari VCS home console.

A brief history of Atari

Atari released their very first console, the VCS, back in 1977. The VCS kept its name until 1982. It was at this point that it was renamed the Atari 2600 – a console most people are familiar with. Between those years there were several other releases. These were the 400XL, 800XL and 5200 consoles. 1985 would see another Atari attempt a a home computer with the Atari ST. There would then be further developments on their back-catalogue of systems until 1989 when the Atari Lynx was released.

The Atari Lynx was their first handheld console, one that was incredibly impressive for the time. The Atari Lynx competed with the Nintendo Game Boy and the Sega Game Gear. Even though it had far superior graphical abilities it failed to dominate the market due to the catalogue of games. 1991 saw the Lynx II and then 1993 was the dawn of the Atari Jaguar.

Atari’s last attempts

The Atari Jaguar was Atari’s entry into the fifth-generation of consoles and competed with the Sega Mega Drive, Super Nintendo and 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. Despite Sega and Nintendo having 16-bit consoles, and Atari leading the race with 32-bit technology, only 250,000 consoles were sold. The console was superior in many ways including it having two custom 32-bit processors, named Tom and Jerry.

Atari attempted to extend the life of their failing console in 1995 with the Atari Jaguar CD add-on which was similar to the concept of the Mega CD released by Sega in 1991.

A long-awaited release

After 25 years outside of the console market Atari are now releasing their appropriately named Atari VCS. Teased as Project Ataribox in June 2017 journalists presumed that Project Ataribox would be similar in ways to the November 2016 release of the Nintendo NES Classic Edition. Nintendo had given the player a way of playing preloaded games on a dedicated emulation device and Atari was presumed to be following that trend.

The Atari VCS (image credit: Atari)

In 2018, during the Game Developers Conference, Atari announced the console would be named the Atari VCS. Preorders were made live in May of this year and within one day Atari would see $2.25 million in pre-orders. This far exceeded the $100,000 they needed to start production.

An Icon reimagined

Atari has never revealed the exact specifications of the console. We do know however that it will be using a customized AMD processor and Radeon graphic processing technology. The Atari VCS has demonstrated the power to play Fortnite and Borderlands 2.

The Atari VCS will contain a Classic Joystick, based on the design of the Atari CX40 joystick. It will also include a modern controller to which most current gamers will be more comfortable. The console comes with 8GB of extendable RAM, USB 3.0, HDMI and an Ethernet port. WiFi and Bluetooth connectors are also a part of this grand kit.

The Atari VCS is driven by a Linux operating system allowing users to install Linux-compatible software alongside the preinstalled games. Users will also be able to install their own operating systems, such as Windows, to unlock the PC-element of the system. The console will not use cartridge’s but instead will allow users to download software or install games via an SD card system.

Not only will the console ships with “hundreds of games” but it will also have Antstream Arcade preinstalled, allowing title support from platforms such as Amiga, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and arcade games.

Ninth-generation console wars

Of course Atari will not be taking on Microsoft and Sony. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are far more superior in hardware and software capabilities. They have much more emphasis on graphical power, processing power and online play. However the Atari VCS will definitely appeal to a wide audience. This will be from Atari enthusiasts, modders, retro gamers as well as fans of the Amiga and other vintage computers.

The Atari VCS (image credit: Atari)

It will probably be dubbed a ninth-generation console but it is not quite at that level. Instead Atari are trying to offer something wholly unique – an emulation device similar to the NES Classic Edition and Mini Commodore 64 but with more capabilities. These usually sell for £50-£80, but Atari are offering modding capabilities, a PC experience and hundreds of games which will no doubt be added to over time.

The Atari VCS will be in a range of three colours, including Onyx Black, Black Walnut and Carbon Gold. It is available for pre-order at $389.99 and launches in November 2020.