September 8, 2004

A New & Old Atari Console

by Nick Montfort · , 2:57 am

Atari Flashback image from IGN, http://ign.com The Atari Flashback is slated to be released in November for $45, IGN reports. The story, and discussion, is on Slashdot, too. The Flashback seems hardware-compatible with the Atari 7800, a system that ran most Atari 2600/VCS cartridges, too. I’m excited because it’s a low-cost, plug-into-the-TV system that allows two people to play at once. (This experience was precluded by the all-in-a-joystick Atari VCS systems that have been released so far.) The 20 games for 2600 and 7800 that are installed in the Flashback include many standouts, and one game that was never released, Saboteur. However, it doesn’t look like it will accept cartridges, a disappointment for those who have cartridges sitting around or are planning to acquire them. And of course that would dash the hopes of those of us who want new cartridges to be made — but it turns out, those new Atari VCS games are in development, and don’t depend on the launch of the Flashback.

5 Responses to “A New & Old Atari Console”


  1. Ian Bogost Says:

    . Iím excited because itís a low cost, plug-into-the-TV system that allows two people to play at once. This experience was precluded by the all-in-a-joystick Atari VCS systems that have been released so far.

    Not true! Jakks Pacific has released a two-player direct-connect paddle controller as well as a one-player control. However, reports of the one-player control did suggest that the movement wasn’t as smooth as the original paddles.

  2. nickm Says:

    I couldn’t find the page you liked to, Ian, but you’re right about the device, which is now Gadget of the Week at Time Magazine. There’s a review here, too. I think I was lured into thinking this might be different by the Atari brand name, by the suggestion that this was hardware-compatible with the Atari 7800 and not running the games in emulation, and possibly also by the fact that this was a console and controllers being sold, as with the Atari 2600 Jr. in 1989. The important difference is the (apparent) lack of a cartridge slot, of course.

    If Atari 2600 and 7800 games do manage to gain greater, or at least renewed, popularity today through the Flashback, that will be interesting from a game studies standpoint, since commercial success can improve how often important games get discussed. It could also open up the possibility of mods, homebrew development, and other subversive uses of the hardware, as have been seen since cut-rate Dreamcasts have been on the market.

  3. nick Says:

    Atari’s press release lists the games included.

  4. Ian Bogost Says:

    Nick — As I understand it, there are two versions of the Jakk’s paddle gadget, one a 1-player device, the other a two-player. I might be wrong tho.

    The lack of a cart slot in the Flashback is disappointing, but I suspect part of the reason for it is its mass-market retailing — the idea of an all-in-one, no-moving-parts device may enable better sell-through in non-game retail venues like the Walmart toy aisle.

    What do you think of their inclusion of the console replica? Clearly it is entirely superfluous, given the lack of cart slot, so the only conclusion I can come to is that Atari hopes the box itself will contribute to the nostalgia factor — and justify a price twice that of the controller-only jobs.

  5. nick Says:

    Right, Ian, the reviews and news indicate a one-player and two-player version (and a pipe dream that there will one day be a four-player version, for Warlords.) While this will be the first retro system with two joysticks, it looks like only a handful of two-player (simultaneous) games will be available, such as … umm … Sprintmaster (2600) and Food Fight. (7800). The only other 7800 title on the list seems to be Planet Smashers, unless I’m missing something. Some games exist in 2600 and 7800 versions and the latter might be included.

    What do you think of their inclusion of the console replica? Clearly it is entirely superfluous

    I don’t think it necessarily is. With a different hardware concept (hardware emulation of the 7800) the console could have been cheaper to manufacture, more symmetric (no one has to be stuck with the unwieldy oversized controller), more evocative of that purchase-inducing nostalgia, or otherwise aesthetically pleasing. Lots of Home Pong systems by Atari and implementations thereof by others included a console when there was no question of cartridges, even when there were ways to build the main board into one of the controllers. Atari also wants to distinguish this Atari-built product from the licensed Jakks controllers, no doubt.

    But my interest is more academic, as fun as it is to play Atari project manager. Perhaps this system or one like it can help people understand what the 7800 was like to a greater extent, and evaluate claims of how it lined up to the NES technically and in terms of early games produced. With possibly as few as two 7800 games on it, though, that hope may be dashed… It could also allow something like the two-player Atari 2600 experience, giving a better idea of the original experience than an emulator, LCD screen, and keyboard would. Again, the limited number of games and exclusion of some of the more “dated” but justifiably famous ones (e.g., Combat, Air Sea Battle) makes the system not ideal for that. But if it’s a useful tool for historical video game study in some ways, and is available at WalMart, hey. I don’t see scholarly editions coming of these games coming out from other sources.

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