back to article We sent a vulture to find the relaunched Atari box – and all he got was this lousy baseball cap

The Ataribox has been renamed the AtariVCS, and it is finally here! Where? Suite 7088 of the Marriott Marquis hotel in San Francisco, USA, directly opposite this year's Games Developers Conference (GDC). There's only one problem: it doesn't work. And by "not work" we don't mean it crashed or is having teething troubles, we …

  1. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Coat

    Aaaahhhh come on....

    Just slap a Raspberry-Pi in there and be done with it...

  2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Stop

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    I'm gonna make my own VCS! with blackjack! and hookers!

    ... in fact forget the vcs

    ah , screw the whole thing

  3. PaulR79
    Meh

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    @Prst. V.Jeltz

    Mike, it's ok to use your real name. Tell us the truth now and get it all out.

    In all seriousness why bother holding an event where you can shed no light on the problems or give any worthwhile information? Why was it delayed? Has that problem been fixed? When can it be expected? For someone in charge of it to know so little would tell me this is something to be avoided if I was even remotely interested. Which I'm not.

  4. Valerion

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    In all seriousness why bother holding an event where you can shed no light on the problems or give any worthwhile information?

    I imagine that Mike wanted a reason to go to the conference and stay in a nice suite at a nice hotel, and this was the only way he could swing it.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    They already slapped the woodgrain on (almost a lazy cliche of VCS nostalgia exploitation) and included the same old VCS games (#) that we've been re-sold millions of times- it doesn't surprise me they went the whole hog and decided to exploit the VCS name to sell a console no-one would care about if it wasn't masquerading as a new "VCS" (which it isn't) from a company masquerading as the original "Atari" (which they aren't).

    (#) As I noted before, these could have been emulated with ease on a typical PC 25 years ago. Nowadays, you could probably run them on the button panel controlling your bloody microwave. (##) No-one needs another console just because it's had some "this is a real late 70s VCS honest!" woodgrain slapped on.

    (##) FFS, you could probably emulate them on one with a mechanical clock that goes "ping" when it's ready ;-)

  6. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    From the spec it sounds much like a customised Steambox. And we all know how successful those were..

  7. ThomH Silver badge

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    Emulating the 2600 exactly is actually more hassle than you think; it predates such niceties as just being able to tell the video chip where to put a sprite: instead there is explicitly a 160-step counter that triggers a draw of the sprite upon overflow and a bunch of conditions affecting when it'll be clocked and when it won't. You can reset it manually or provide some input into clocking to shift the sprite left and right. But the timing-related edge cases add up very quickly. Most games you can fake, hence the ability to emulate most of them on a 486, but at least one* was successfully emulated only in the last couple of years.

    Emulating something less simple but with a good abstraction is a lot computationally cheaper — something like a Spectrum, even allowing for contended timing.

    * actually, it's only a prototype: Meltdown. A real back-in-the-day prototype, but nevertheless a title that didn't ship.

  8. Jason Hindle Bronze badge

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    “Just slap a Raspberry-Pi in there and be done with it...”

    Like a mate of mine did with an old PC tower case. It looked comical, on the inside, but also a bit Sci-Fi.

  9. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Re. Screw the whole thing..

    Custer's Revenge anyone?

  10. Tom 64
    Alert

    Re: Aaaahhhh come on....

    Ahh what's that smell... Why yes, its the smell of fraud.

  11. phy445

    Reliable Atari

    It’s good to know the Atari brand has retained its air of incompetence that characterised it’s fall from grace in previous incarnations.

  12. phuzz Silver badge
    Windows

    Re: Reliable Atari

    Come on now, I think you'll find that Commodore could out-incompetent Atari any day of the week.

  13. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

    Re: Reliable Atari

    Come on now, I think you'll find that Commodore could out-incompetent Atari any day of the week.

    Well it was Atari that had a floppy drive with a write-protect sensor that didn't actually stop the drive writing to the floppy. (520ST)

  14. asdf Silver badge

    Re: Reliable Atari

    Doesn't help that Billy McFarland sorry Mike is running everything.

  15. David Given
    Happy

    Re: Reliable Atari

    Commodore? Atari? Pfft.

    Look, people, I was an Acorn fanboy back in the day, and Acorn's marketing division could lose to *anyone*, with both hands not tied behind their back.

  16. Mike 16 Bronze badge

    Re: Reliable Atari

    Of course, you are forgetting the "Great Mind Swap" where a bunch of Commodore folks followed Tramiel Per. to his new home at the company formerly known as Atari, oh, wait, it was still known as Atari after Warner gave it to Jack. Meanwhile a bunch of ex-Atarians were busy making a little box you may have heard of: The Amiga. The 520ST was definitely a Commodore design, with all that implies.

    A friend worked for Commodore back when they did calculators (pre-Pet), and would come home exhausted from her job of trying to follow the Cutomer Service script while being yelled at by dissatisfied customers.

  17. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Re: Reliable Atari

    "Come on now, I think you'll find that Commodore could out-incompetent Atari any day of the week."

    Only the management. The Engineering dept. was actually very sound and extremely under appreciated.

  18. TRT Silver badge

    Hatari

    Consolation Prize.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Hatari

    With or without John Wayne?

  20. TRT Silver badge

    Re: Hatari

    There's only one John Wayne. Big Leggy.

  21. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Re: Hatari

    Hatari! - IT Angle?

    Anna Maria D'Alessandro ("Dallas") - Elsa Martinelli

    Dallas Semiconductor

  22. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Welcome to actual capitalism

    Where even the simplest of tasks (putting some small mainboard into a custom case) can take magnitudes longer than doing it yourself.

  23. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Space oddity?

    Mike doesn't know lots of things about the AtariVCS – standing for Atari video computer system – which is odd because he's the exec in charge of it.

    I wouldn't say that it's odd or uncommon - I know a lot of middle and occasionally senior managers in charge of projects that they know absolutely nothing about beyond the fancy PowerPoint buzzwords and maybe the title.

    Of course this doesn't stop them claiming all the glory and taking the credit when they are completed...

  24. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Re: Space oddity?

    yeah but when you're entire company has a single product that isnt launched yet ... you'd expect a little more surely? well , "expect" might be the wrong word ...

  25. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Trollface

    Re: Space oddity?

    Given the branding and product history so far, it's unfortunately exactly what I was expecting...

  26. JimboSmith Silver badge

    Re: Space oddity?

    I wouldn't say that it's odd or uncommon - I know a lot of middle and occasionally senior managers in charge of projects that they know absolutely nothing about beyond the fancy PowerPoint buzzwords and maybe the title.

    A friend of mine came to London for work purposes from the other side of the pond. Over a drink on the first night I asked if the meetings she was attending were boring. She said boring didn't describe it and she was normally one of, if not the most senior person in the room (and for our American readers by senior I mean in terms of seniority not age). It was then that I introduced her to Bullshit Bingo and she perked up a bit. Apparently people in the financial field also spout buzzwords and have make unrealistic promises and have wild expectations.

  27. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Re: Space oddity?

    @Me

    "yeah but when you're entire company.."

    Thats "your" . FTFM. Blimey do I have to point these things out to myself now?. You grammar Nazis are slipping.

  28. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Trollface

    Re: Space oddity?

    Just don't start writing odes to them... ;)

  29. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    Re: Space oddity?

    Apparently people in the financial field also spout buzzwords

    Friend of mine in that field was due to go out to Russia this week. For entirely understandable reasons the trip has been cancelled..

  30. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    Re: Space oddity?

    You grammar Nazis are slipping.

    It takes time to ready the invasion force y'know..

  31. VikiAi
    Go

    Re: It takes time to ready the invasion force y'know..

    Any you have to wait until winter, to be sure!

  32. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Re: Space oddity?

    "I wouldn't say that it's odd or uncommon - I know a lot of middle and occasionally senior managers in charge of projects that they know absolutely nothing about beyond the fancy PowerPoint buzzwords and maybe the title."

    I'd have to agree. Often the person drafted for these gigs aren't the people that have a clue about the project or any prior history, but someone that a self-serving manager "trusts" to not crap themselves in public or in any way demean their 'superiors' regardless of their actual skill set or how lackluster the presentation will be.

  33. Dan 55 Silver badge
    WTF?

    "It will do 4K video"

    Why? 0.4K video would be about four times more than the VCS ever had.

  34. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    because buzzword

  35. MyffyW Silver badge

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    Translation: It'll have 4KB of video memory. Possibly.

  36. Michael Strorm

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    That'd be four times more video memory than the VCS.... no, it wouldn't. Actually, the VCS didn't even have anywhere near even *1KB* of video memory. (It only had 128 bytes of RAM for regular use!)

    As far as I'm aware, it had enough to store *one* scanline's worth of screen memory. That's it.

    No, really. There wasn't a "bitmapped" display as such- you had (from Wikipedia) "two bitmapped sprites, two 1-pixel "missile" sprites, a 1-pixel "ball," and a 40-pixel "playfield" [background graphic]" that you could set the patterns and position for.

    To the best of my knowledge, you could set that and leave it to repeat over multiple scan lines, but unless you wanted a screenful of nothing but vertical patterned stripes (i.e. the same arrangement on every line)- which of course you bloody did!- you had to update these registers on the fly- at the appropriate time for successive scan lines- to give the illusion of a bitmapped display.

  37. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    It'll have 4KB of video memory

    Well, given that the original (according to pikiwedia) only had 128 bytes of RAM even that would be overkill..

    (According to the article, later versions allowed up to 32K for the ROMs, using bank-switching but the initial ROMS were 2k-4K in order to reduce costs )

  38. Michael Strorm

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    @ CrazyOldCatMan; That 128 bytes was for the main RAM as far as I'm aware.

    As I noted in the comment above yours, the VCS doesn't even have bitmapped screen memory as such.

    AFAICT, all it has are registers for (one-dimensional) playfield and sprite patterns (along with horizontal position and colour data) that need to be manually updated for successive scan lines if you want anything other than vertical stripes.

  39. ThomH Silver badge

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    If we're playing this game, it also doesn't have independent storage for all 40 background pixels. It can store only 20 of them, plus a decision either to mirror them or repeat them. That's why so many games have symmetrical backgrounds. If you want 40 independent background pixels, you'll need to write to the storage as the raster runs.

  40. John Styles

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    If you are interested in how to program them (on emulators primarily obviously) I recommend this book

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N4DSRIZ/ Making Games for the Atari 2600 by Steven Hugg.

    For a more general book about it there is Racing the Beam by Ian Bogost (who you may have heard of) and Nick Montford https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/racing-beam

    It is somewhat academic in tone (I mention that not as a pejorative term, but to give an idea as whether it might be for you)

  41. Michael Strorm

    Re: "It will do 4K video"

    @ThomH; My apologies, I just looked up and nicked the specs from Wikipedia...! I know the broad principles of how the VCS works, but not all the fine details.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have they the rights

    to actually call it the VCS.

    The Atari brand has changed hands so many times, I don't think the brand owners have a clue who owns what now.

  43. Edwin

    Re: Have they the rights

    I was thinking that that's all they have, but now you made me question even that ;)

  44. DJV Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Re: Have they the rights

    "The Atari brand has changed hands so many times, I don't think the brand owners have a clue who owns what now."

    Sadly, that's pretty much the same situation with Commodore.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Have they the rights

    @ DJV;The situation with Commodore seems- if anything- to be worse. It's a complete clusterf**k!

    The rights to the "Commodore" brand, to the "Amiga" name, to the various lines of hardware, and to the Amiga OS itself have all been variously and repeatedly split up, sold on, sublicensed to other parties and used for completely unrelated purposes numerous times over the years.

    Hence, we have new version of the Amiga OS (whose historical and present-day rights are split and sublicensed between multiple parties). Or the new "Amiga" hardware- don't get excited if you just want to play Lotus II a bit faster, it's all based on PowerPC architecture, very expensive for what it is and completely incompatible at a bare iron level with the old 68000 Amigas, but intended to run new versions of the Amiga OS for rabid diehard Amiga fans.

    Then we had at one point people- completely unrelated to the above- selling HTPC cases using the names of classic Amigas (e.g. Amiga 3000) that otherwise had nothing to do with them.

    We also had the "relaunched" Commodore 64 a few years back (actually a PC clone in a C64-style case made by a now-defunct company called "Commodore USA" that had only ever licensed the Commodore brand), who also sold small form-factor computer-in-keyboard PCs called "Vic" that had nothing to do with the Vic 20 (not even the case style) beyond the name.

    Oh, and what happened to that stupid idea to sell a generic Android tablet using the "Commodore PET" name (which was to have included C64 and Vic-20 emulators, but not apparently a PET emulator)? Last I heard, they might not have had the rights to the name after all. (Though if you want one anyway, you can just buy a cheapass Android tablet, scribble "Commodore PET" on it with a marker and you're already there.)

    If anyone else has the time or inclination to keep track of it all, you're better than I am.

  46. DJV Silver badge

    @AC

    Yeah, I know. Total clusterf**k squared!

    As someone who started off in 1979 on a CBM PET (original chiclet key version that I managed to upgrade all the way to Basic 4) and at various times owned a C64, C128D, CBM-500 (no, not the Amiga 500 - that came later), CBM-600 (B Series in the US), Amiga 500 and finally a 2000, I watched in horror as CBM crashed and burned in the 90s and was then tossed around like a seal amongst killer whales. I always wonder if it would have turned out any different had Commodore UK managed to buy the whole kit n kaboodle before Escom got hold of it.

  47. imanidiot Silver badge

    I other words they have nothing, and no development is happening. Otherwise they would have actually shown SOMETHING. If a product was indeed very close to launching in December they would have had a working model now. It might not be perfect and need polishing, but they'd have SOMETHING to show for themselves instead of a "the dog ate my homework".

  48. defiler Silver badge
    Joke

    The real reason for the delay...

    The production lines were snapped up for the Vega+. Atari will just have to wait until that production run is complete.

    Too soon? :-/

  49. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Re: The real reason for the delay...

    @ defiler:

    Too soon? :-/

    apparently not.

  50. ThomH Silver badge

    Re: The real reason for the delay...

    I guess it helped that the Vega+ people had a whole bunch of customers money to woo the production line company with. At least sort-of-Atari has declined to take anybody's money so far.

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018