Behind the Scenes: Atari VCS Mid-Summer Hardware Summit

Atari VCS
Atari VCS
Aug 29, 2018 · 6 min read

The Atari VCS project team recently came together for a three-day session to review the latest progress of the hardware and software development and we want to share some of the behind the scenes scoop. Having design, engineering, OS, UI/UX, games, and strategic partnerships teams all under one roof working and iterating together always yields fantastic results. We even invited some of our external partners by to play some Linux games on our latest AMD test board.

As always, we can’t reveal everything that is going on at this time, but we will share as much possible without discussing anything too sensitive. This is our standard obligatory disclaimer, due to competitive concerns and/or subject to the various non-disclosure agreements that we have in place.

Atari VCS Test Board, Courtesy Advanced Micro Devices, 2018

The Atari VCS 1.0 Hardware System Prototype

Our prototype VCS hardware is a custom AMD development board, with the Bristol Ridge processor and 8 gigabytes of RAM.

The first thing you might notice is the size of the board, its actually about 18 inches wide — far larger than the actual VCS boards will be. These test boards are extra large to allow the system engineers full access to the capabilities of the board, including extra sensors and features for testing that will not be on the final production boards.

Atari VCS Test Board, Courtesy Advanced Micro Devices, 2018

One of the most critical aspects at this stage is calculating thermal load under various power draw scenarios. The VCS engineering team ultimately needs to determine how much horsepower they can fit “under the hood” given the planned design and dimensions of the Atari VCS. The goal is for the AMD APU to run as fast and with as much consistent power as possible, without overheating inside the Atari VCS cabinet.

Our engineers are currently tackling the thermal solution task by studying it from two directions: 1) empirically, by taking actual power measurements and recording performance on the AMD boards, and 2) analytically, through thermal modeling of various operating scenarios. These power measurements are fed into various thermal models to validate and increase confidence in the simulation results.

Atari VCS Hardware Testing and Demonstration, 2018

The final enclosure design of the Atari VCS needs to accommodate and vent all the power and heat the silicon can handle and the team will make countless adjustments as necessary before final production begins. From there, the team will further optimize for cost, size, and performance.

Sounds complicated? It definitely can be! It’s a highly iterative refinement process that takes time and lots of testing and iteration to get exactly right.

But — what about the VCS peripherals?

Atari VCS Hardware Audit, 2018

We would never forget an update about the Atari Classic Joystick and Atari Modern Controller! The Engineering team is working with our partners at Power A to finalize the industrial design and hardware functionality. For those who are unfamiliar; Power A is one of the industry’s leading 3rd party console peripheral makers, with experience making high-quality licensed controllers and accessories for all the major game systems. They are massive Atari fans and creative product engineers who know what modern console gamers like and expect from their gear.

For the Atari Classic Joystick, the team has been exploring the much-requested “paddle” integration, and we are hopeful that we will be able to 100% confirm this upgrade sometime soon. For now, the official word is that the new joystick still functions as it has been depicted thus far.

Atari VCS Classic Joystick Prototype and an “Old Friend” in Studio, 2018

The Atari Modern Controller is compatible with and based on Power A’s Xbox One/PC controllers, with the primary difference being the inclusion of wireless Bluetooth to the VCS. Aftermarket Xbox One licensed controllers are all wired to the console, as Microsoft keeps the wireless for themselves. Since Xbox controllers will work for PC, we are able to use them for testing behind the scenes while we wait for new iterations of our dedicated version. Sculpting and coloring of the Atari model are being finalized so that all the finished pieces will look like a family.

The hardware team is also working with Power A to finalize the battery options for both the Classic Joystick and Modern Controller, to get the biggest, most efficient and longest-lasting power supply into the housings, while balancing cost and other manufacturing considerations — basically, making sure everything looks and feels awesome together, hopefully living up to the high expectations we all have for the project!

Atari VCS “Atari Vault: Centipede Arcade” Game Testing, 2018

Games and Apps

So what games and apps did our engineers show and share as demo’s at the recent ”summit?” There was Atari Vault of course, plus numerous third-party Linux games and several video streaming apps, running on the Atari VCS hardware in full HD.

Many favorites are already running well on our non-optimized AMD test boards in the lab, with many more being tested all the time. These include a variety of test titles such as Rocket League, Terraria, Basketball Classics, Borderlands 2, Broforce, Smugglecraft, Dropsy, Banner Saga, Shadow Warrior, and several others. The business development team is in conversation with many large and small studios, publishers and content providers about getting their games and entertainment into the VCS store, and there is a lot of excitement around these discussions.

Smugglecraft, 2018

We are eager to share more about specific games that will be available on Atari VCS as we get closer to our 2019 launch date. In the meantime, we hope to first release more details in the next month or two about how the Atari VCS SDK and developer program will work.

In addition to the games library, the Atari VCS team is working on getting standalone apps up and running for some of your favorite video and music services. These will include fully integrated video and music services, including Twitch, Netflix, Amazon Video and Amazon Music, YouTube, Spotify, and others.

Atari VCS Partner Demonstration in Studio, 2018

So, that’s where we are now. Thanks for reading! We know we don’t always answer every question people have, but we do always endeavor to provide as much interesting new information as we can. The Atari VCS launch is a short year away, and a lot can, and probably will change as the team continues to refine its plans.

We sincerely appreciate your trust and faith in Atari, and can’t wait to tell you more when we can! This project is really for you — the loyal fans and backers who continue to support and appreciate the challenge and process of bringing Atari back to the living room. We are committed to getting this right for you, our passionate community, and we will.

Onward and upward!

The Atari VCS Team

Atari VCS

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Atari VCS

Atari's New Gaming and Home Entertainment Video Computer System, with Open Platform for Creativity and Customization. Inspired by Legend, Built for the Future!