Youtube influencer GenXGrownUp has just livestreamed a hands-on review of the MyArcade GameStation Pro.
The big news is that the GSP has an SD card slot. And apparently, according to GenXGrownUp, it will play ROM files from the SD card. This is exciting news and should heighten interest in the system. My initial impression of the system is improved considerably with this information. I think I can safely upgrade my recommendation from “wait and see” to “buy” based on GenXGrownUp’s review.
GenXGrownUp reports some latency in the controls, which is to be expected, but GenXGrownUp describes it as minimal, and manageable, and he likes the quality of the controller.
He also mentions that the joystick has three buttons, not two, and that the placement of these buttons works better for some games than others. The layout has the A button in the top-left corner of the base, in the traditional position for the classic Atari joystick. The B and C buttons are on the stick, on the top knob and in a trigger position, like on a fighter plane. All of which are fairly classic, normal placements for additional buttons.
One downside of the system, the console switches for the Atari 2600, for difficulty A and B, and B&W/Color TV, are accessed through on-screen menu. There are a few Atari 2600 titles ( such as Space Shuttle, Riddle of the Sphinx, Raiders of the Lost Ark) where these switches were used during gameplay, which would make playing these games a bit awkward, but these are the exception rather than the rule, and I don’t know if any such titles are among the catalog of pack-in games, so this could be a non-issue for the most part.
It’s an interesting time to be an old middle aged guy who still loves ancient video games. 45+ years on from the launch of the Atari 2600, the console still remains culturally resonant, at least with my generation, and maybe some younger people as well.
There are two new mini consoles coming out in quick succession this fall, both aimed at our demographic: Atari’s 2600+ and MyArcade’s Atari GameStation Pro.
Both are very similar in capability, but differ in features. So which is the better buy?
The MyArcade Atari GameStation Pro is a pre-loaded system, similar to the AtGames Atari Flashback consoles of the past, but this one blows those systems away: with over 200 built-in games, HDMI output, wireless joysticks, and includes games not just from the Atari 2600’s library, but the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and arcade as well. It is available for pre-order, with the shipping date now set at Oct 31.
The Atari 2600+ is a mini Atari 7800/2600 SOC-based emulation console with a cartridge slot and HDMI output. It’s available for pre-order now, but it’s unclear when they will start shipping. Probably in time for holidays, assuming it doesn’t get delayed.
Which one provides the better value? That’s tough to say, but on paper at least I think I’ll give the edge to the MyArcade system. It’s considerably less expensive, at $100 for the console plus two joysticks, plus all the included games.
MyArcade GameStation Pro: $99
Atari 2600+: $130
The Atari 2600+ is 130% more expensive at $130 than the GameStation Pro, and includes just one controller, and only 10 games. The GameStation pro includes 200+ games, plus two controllers.
GameStation Pro: 200+ built-in games from the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and arcade titles.
Atari 2600+: cartridge slot, including a 10-in-1 cartridge. The compatibility list promises over 500 compatible cartridges from the 2600 and 7800 library.
One advantage of the 2600+ is that it has a cartridge slot, and if you have a large collection of cartridges, it’ll be the system that can play them — if they’re compatible with it. Having to buy cartridges separately only adds to the cost of owning the 2600+, but if you already have a collection of old games, that cost is already paid for. And if you don’t, the games are common and usually pretty cheap.
On the other hand, the GameStation Pro’s 200 games probably include most of the popular games you’d ever want to play from these systems, but if one of your favorites is missing, you won’t be able to play it. It also supports a broader range of games, considering that it includes titles from the Atari 5200 library, and even arcade games.
It ultimately depends on what you have and what you want. If you have a large collection of games for the 2600 and 7800, the 2600+ might be better for you. If you don’t have a collection or don’t like to swap out cartridges, and are satisfied with the selection of the built-in games of the GameStation Pro, or like the idea of having access to the arcade and 5200 games, then those advantages are certainly attractive. On the other hand, if your favorite game(s) are missing from the built-in selection, you’re out of luck.
A great advantage of the Atari GameStation Pro is that the controllers it comes with feature a dial which provides built-in compatibility for paddle games. The joysticks also feature two buttons, a necessity for playing many of the Atari 7800 game titles.
The Atari 2600+ can support paddle controllers, but you have to buy them separately, adding still more cost. If you do, they’ll be real paddle controllers, the same design as the original Atari 2600’s. And they should feel the same as the original controllers, providing the most authentic experience. It remains to be seen how good the manufacturing quality is for these new sticks, and whether they’ll truly measure up to the original sticks from the 70s and 80s.
But Atari do not seem to be selling 2-button controllers to fully support the 7800’s library. If you have an old 7800 Proline controller, it should work with the 2600+, though. Of course those old sticks can be worn out or unreliable.
So it remains to be seen, but if the GameStation Pro joysticks feel good and don’t have a lot of lag, they might be better. If on the other hand the authentic feel of the original style controllers matters most to you, the 2600+ is better, assuming the modern build quality measures up. But the lack of 2-button options and including only a single CX-40 joystick are disadvantages.
Advantage: To be determined.
A big part of what will determine which if either of these systems is worth owning will be how well they emulate the games. If they don’t feel right due to imperfect emulation or input lag, that can be an insurmountable dealbreaker.
The GameStation Pro’s joysticks have some advantages, though. They do support two button input, and they even have a built-in knob that serves to provide paddle game support. So it should support the full library of all the games that are included with it. Early reviewers have reported that these controllers feel well built, solid, and heavy, not cheap or junky.
Although neither system hits all the checkboxes that I would have wanted on my perfect system, I think I’m leaning slightly toward the GameStation Pro. The big unknown that I have been unable to find any answers to is what are the 200+ titles that come built-in? It likely has enough built-in games that I would like to play, and I think the fact that they are built in is an advantage, since I don’t have to switch cartridges to play a different game. But if it doesn’t have some of my favorite titles — which is probable, given that many of my favorites are third-party games — then the advantage goes to 2600+ for its expandability offered by having a cartridge slot.
Either system including a SD card slot or a cartridge slot would make them much more attractive. As would being FPGA-based rather than SOC. Even if an FPGA system doubled the cost, it would be worth it to me for the greater fidelity to the original hardware, which would mean full support for the entire library of games produced for the system.
I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to pre-order either system. It’s best to wait and see what the reviews are like after they’ve hit the market. Likely both systems will have drawbacks and disadvantages that will bring down the recommendation rating.
For enthusiast gamers who already have a means to play their Atari games, whether on a PC through an emulator, or through original hardware, I think it’s tougher to recommend either system. Unless your old systems are not working reliably any longer, and are too much of a pain to keep in repair, stick with them for now. If you enjoy the advantages of emulation, you can run an emulator on any PC, and there are adaptors that allow classic controllers to be plugged into a USB port.
We can hope that eventually in the future a proper FPGA-based system will be released that offers full compatibility with all games, HDMI output for modern HDTV, high quality joysticks, and a cartridge and/or SD slot to allow access to the entire catalog of games.
For casual gamers who aren’t as concerned about perfect gameplay, or nostalgic gamers who are looking to get back into retro systems, it’s easier to recommend either system. Either is also a reasonably good starter system for a younger gamer who never had the opportunity to play these systems in their heyday.
Ultimately, both of these systems are going to appeal mainly to a casual, nostalgia-driven consumer audience, rather than the enthusiast gamer who never quit playing their original systems, and learned to do field repairs on them to keep them in tip-top working order for decades, and modded them for superior TV output.
This is an earthshaking announcement for the Atari homebrew community, and raises many questions.
The homebrew game development scene has always been a hobbyist community, first and foremost. As enthusiasm for the hobby grew, in large part thanks to the efforts at community building through the web forums on retro gaming websites such as AtariAge, these efforts became larger and more professional-ish, culminating in the production of physical game cartridges, complete with manuals and packaging which often equaled or even exceeded the quality of original commercially released games from the era when Atari was an industry leader. AtariAge has, for the past few decades, been a de facto leader in the homebrew scene, and gradually turned itself into a publisher and manufacturer of original homebrew games as well as romhacks. (For the uninitiated, romhacks are modified works where an original game has been edited to create a new game, or in some cases a bugfixed or enhanced version of the original game.)
These projects often leveraged earlier copyrighted and trademarked works, creating potential legal liabilities for the developers as well as the entire operation. But for the most part the IP rights owners have been mostly tolerant of these projects, for reasons which we can’t truly know, but may speculate about. Quite likely the IP rights associated with these works in many cases were essentially abandoned, or in many cases may have been deemed to have a low enough value that they were not worth pursuing lawsuits or even cease & desist threats over. And so AtariAge has managed to operate in plain sight, yet under the radar of companies that could have caused trouble that would have sunk their operation entirely.
There have been exceptions of course, and on occasion games such as Princess Rescue, a “de-make” of Super Mario Bros. for the Atari 2600, had to be taken down after actions by the notoriously protective and litigious Nintendo. But, by and large, AtariAge have been able to operate without weathering serious legal storms, and by so doing have kept interest in the old systems alive, and even growing.
Of course, much of the published video games from the early 80s are essentially abandoned by the industry. Many of the original companies went out of business, although their IP likely continues to be owned by someone. Typically the games were deemed obsolete with no real market opportunity for them to continue being manufactured and sold, at least not in their original format. Quite a few of the more popular games have been brought back over the years in collected formats, either ported or emulated on newer generation hardware, or repackaged and sold in all-in-one mini consoles, etc. Although from a legal standpoint copyright and trademark protections persist for the abandoned works, the lack of interest in protecting these rights has allowed hobbyists to ignore copyright and trademark, or to treat them as quasi-public domain properties, which they could then use to create new works. As long as these new works weren’t deemed a threat to the IP holders’ business interests, they were often ignored by them and allowed to skate by, existing in a legal gray area. Something akin to “squatters rights” for abandoned properties has been asserted by proponents of the “abandonware” movement, and I believe that there is considerable merit to the idea that it benefits our culture for these works to be affirmed to belong in the public domain. But that has yet to come, and perhaps may never happen.
In June of this year, AtariAge announced that they were removing certain IP-encumbered titles from the store, offering its customers a last chance to purchase them before they were removed for good. Yarusso offered some faint hope that he would bring these titles back, if and when he could arrange for it to be done with the approval of the rights holders. By being acquired by Atari, it seems that this is now much more likely to happen, at least for those games that belong to Atari. Games for the Atari home consoles which were developed by third parties may not be affected immediately or directly by this move, but it seems like it would be more likely for negotiations to acquire the rights from still-existing third party publishers to happen through Atari than through AtariAge.
AtariAge was mostly if not entirely a one-man operation, with Yarusso maintaining the website, physically manufacturing game cartridges and assembling them, shipping them, and so on, and this was not a primary occupation for him. And that meant that his availability to pursue licensing agreements or rights acquisition was for all practical considerations nonexistent. Now that he is becoming an employee of Atari, this becomes his full-time job, and that affords him more availability as well as more resources, potentially, to pursue agreements with IP owners so that these games may return.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the independent hobbyists who develop the games that are discussed, shared, and released on AtariAge. Technically, I believe that each individual homebrew game is owned by the developer who created it (other than any trademarks that may be used by them without explicit permission of their legal owners) and are manufactured and published by Atari Age with the consent of the developer.
If games published by AtariAge will now be considered “official” releases, released with the intent to be commercial products, rather than handmade hobbyist souvenirs, this could change how hobbyist homebrew developers view their work.
While many hobbyists produce their projects out of love for the hobby, and without expectation of meaningful revenue, that may change as sales go up from niche hobbyist levels to commercially viable levels.
Many homebrew developers may regard this as a positive development, meaning greater sales and more revenue to them for their games. But others may feel differently about this, perhaps not trusting or respecting the current owners of Atari. They may want nothing to do with Atari. Or they may wish to re-negotiate the business terms so that they too are treated as employees, to be paid a salary with benefits in addition to royalties. Or they may wish to be treated as third party developers who are paid under a commercial agreement for commercial releases, if their former hobby is going in a more commercialized direction.
And that could be the undoing of the hobbyist scene. If you don’t care about other people making money off of the work you donate freely to the world, it may not matter. On the other hand if others are creating a business based on games that you’ve spent a great deal of time and skill creating, perhaps you start to feel like you’re rightfully owed a slice of the pie as well. Oftentimes people are more than happy to donate to causes that are not deemed commercially viable, simply because they’re cool, but once enthusiasm for the cool thing grows to the point where it perhaps becomes commercially viable, things can change. Certainly, an individual hobbyist developer may object to Atari asserting ownership of their works, with or without due compensation for it; they may wish to retain all rights owned, even if that means severing agreements with AtariAge to produce and sell copies of their works.
In short, almost anything can happen, and it depends a great deal on how individual players and stakeholders perceive their worth, and how willing they are to play together to keep all the pieces together to enable the magic of game development to continue to put games in the hands of the gamers who play them.
We on the outside aren’t privy to the negotiations on how this came about…
Consider: AtariAge for the past 20 years has hosted a ton of IP that they don’t own copyright or trademark for. Scans of manuals and box art, ROM images, new games created with IP without permission or license of the original owner, etc.
Doing this was a valuable public service in terms of historical preservation. Without someone doing it, much of the cultural artifacts of the Atari era would have been much more likely to be lost forever, or at the very least been much less accessible to the public. And, aside from re-releases of a small subset of games, none of the companies that own these works did anything on the level that AtariAge did to curate these works.
But hosting IP that they did not own did put AtariAge in a precarious legal position. At any moment, the IP owners of the content could have taken legal action to shut AtariAge down.
Who knows, but it’s entirely possible that Atari pulled a power move, leveraging the threat of legal peril to broker an acquisition deal that potentially benefits both parties. It’s shrewd of Atari not to destroy AtariAge — the backlash from Atari’s true fanbase would have been lethal. The takeover could be the best way forward for all involved, all things considered. Even if there may be unavoidable downsides.
Anytime Nintendo takes down a fan-produced game that they didn’t have permission to use Nintendo’s IP for, people have said “I wish Nintendo would have just bought the project and hired them to complete it.”
I have no idea, but something like that could be exactly what just happened here.
How exactly things will shake out remains to be seen, but for now I am hopeful that we’re witnessing the beginning of a bright new era of the AtariAge story.
In July, MyArcade announced a product pre-order for the Atari GameStation Pro. I placed an order through Amazon, and it’s supposed to be fulfilled with orders shipping on Sept 2. Since it’s getting close to that time, I went to check on the status of the order. It’s still scheduled to ship on time, but the product page has been removed from Amazon.
I also found that the MyArcade website doesn’t have a product information page about the Atari GameStation Pro any longer. A picture of the product still exists on their website, but any information about the product seems to have been removed.
I tried to find other ecommerce sites where the product can be ordered, and it seems that there are a few places that still have the product page up, but all of them are not accepting orders at this time. Most of them say “out of stock” but that seems like a generic status that the ecommerce site allows you to pick from rather than specific information about this particular product. It seems unlikely that the product sold out everywhere. That might be the case if a tiny number were produced, or if the pre-orders were used to determine an exact number of units to be produced. But typically manufacturing creates bulk orders in lots that are rounded to the nearest big round number, 100 or 1000 or 10000 or whatever. A company would need to produce extra units to cover warranty claims and so forth, as well.
I asked Amazon customer service to verify that the order would still ship, and they assured me that it is going to ship on time. But I don’t have a great deal of faith in that. The customer service people only have access to the information that they have access to, and they may not be aware of a product cancellation or delay, and until they get official information they will provide what information they have.
It seems that some “influencers” have received review copies of the product, so we know that it physically exists and had been produced in at least some quantity.
It’s a bit of a concern that it doesn’t seem to be available for order now, so close to when the pre-orders are scheduled to ship, though. Will they ship? We’ll know in a day or two, but I will not be surprised if I wake up on Sept. 2 and check the status on the order and find that something has changed.
With Atari’s own announcement last week of their new Atari 2600+ console, being produced by Plaion, it makes me wonder whether these two products were poorly coordinated, leading to cancellation of the GameStation Plus.
Today was supposed to have been delivery day. There was never a shipping number issued, but Amazon’s tracking status said that the order was on track to be delivered by 10pm today. Until just a few minutes ago, when I received an email around 3pm advising that there was now a delay with the order, and it would not be available to ship yet. Amazon required me to confirm whether I still want the item to be delivered, or if I want to cancel the order. I still want it, of course, but I’m suspecting more that the product launch has been canceled. I’m trying to find information to confirm that, but it is difficult…
Amazon Customer Service Associate Chat
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Messaging Assistant | Customer Service
Hi! It’s Amazon’s messaging assistant again.
My Arcade Atari Game Station Pro: Video Game Console with 200+ Games, Wireless Joysticks, RGB LED Lights, Asteroids, Centipede
Is this what you need help with?
Messaging Assistant | Customer Service
You can go to the Customer Service hub, where you can fix most issues or search help pages.
You can also start over and we’ll continue helping you there. Just so you know, you may answer the same questions again.
If you need more help, you can chat with an associate or request a phone call. What would you like to do?
Chat with an associate now
Messaging Assistant | Customer Service
If you have details you think would help the associate, type them here.
An associate will join the chat.
Gail has joined and will be ready to chat in just a minute.
Gail | Customer Service
Hello, my name is Gail. I’m here to help you today. How’s your day going?
My order Order# XXX-XXXXXXX-XXXXXXX was expected to be delivered today, but now has been delayed. I still want the item. But I would like to know what the exact nature of the delay is.
Gail | Customer Service
Hi, C! I am very sorry that we were not able to ship out the item yet. I will surely check this for you as I understand the feeling of not being able to receive what you’ve ordered. Please kindly stay connected.
Gail | Customer Service
Upon checking here, I can see that your package was stuck in shipment due to an unforeseen problem inside our fulfillment center. In this case, I will file a ticket for this package to be escalated and released. You will receive an email update within 24 to 48 hours about the shipment. Will that work for you?
Yes, that’s fine. But I am curious as to the nature of the problem. Are you able to give me any further detail?
Does the fulfillment center actually have inventory of the item I purchased?
Gail | Customer Service
I’m sorry but we don’t have the information about that as the problem is inside the fulfillment center and we do not have access to those kind of information.
Yes, I have checked that there is a supply for this item in the fulfillment center.
Is the fulfillment center in question owned by Amazon?
Gail | Customer Service
Yes, that is correct.
I see. And do you have any information about the product launch being canceled? I pre-ordered back on 7/31, but since that time it seems that information about the product has been taken down from the manufacturer’s website, which makes me suspect that they had to cancel the launch and discontinue the product. But I am unclear about that as there is no information to confirm this.
Gail | Customer Service
Since the lost stock will be shipped out to you, the website tagged the item as temporarily out of stock.
how is it lost? you said earlier that there is a supply for this item in the fulfillment center.
Gail | Customer Service
There is a supply for your order alone
Gail | Customer Service
That is why it cannot be placed as new order at the moment
i see. so you have enough stock to fulfill existing pre-orders, including mine. is that correct?
but you cannot accept new orders until product is restocked?
and for some reason there is a delay with shipping my order, despite the fulfillment center having stock on hand, and you are unable to give more detail as to the reason for the delay?
Gail | Customer Service
That is all correct. Also, I have submitted a ticket to escalate it and for your package to be shipped out, You must receive an email regarding it within the next 24 to 48 hours :)
I haven’t received an email regarding the order in the 24-48 hour timeframe that Gail promised. This morning I chatted with Amazon customer service again. This time they tell me that the product is out of stock, which is why it has been delayed.
This makes no sense. I pre-ordered the day pre-orders went live, on 7/31. I should be one of the first customers to have ordered the product. And my pre-order should have guaranteed that I would be one of the first to receive the product. It seems unlikely that Amazon would have received stock to fulfill some of their pre-orders, but not enough to ship me my order. More likely, they had all the units in their supply chain, waiting to be delivered, only to receive a last minute recall or product cancellation notice, at which point they could no longer fulfill orders at all. But they are not telling me that.
Something is going on, and Amazon isn’t telling me the whole story. They apologize and offer to help me to cancel my order, but I tell them that I don’t wish to cancel, but that I want to know when they will receive stock. They tell me that they will keep my order and fulfil it when they receive stock. I ask them when that might be. They tell me they don’t know. I believe them.
Update 9/14/2023: Release pushed back to 10/31/23
Today, Amazon.com has updated the product page with a new release date of 10/31/23. No word on why the delay. Assuming the product was already in the supply chain for retail shipping to customers, as I had been told, it seems unlikely that the vendor recalled the product to make some change to it. I guess it’s good to have a new release date; we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
The MyArcade website has brought back the product page for the Atari GameStation Pro, and is taking pre-orders, with the same shipping date of 10/13/23 as other retailers. Still no word as to why the delay.
Amid the prelaunch talk about the Atari 2600+, Atari also recently released a teaser for a new modern game, QOMP 2.
I have to admit, I must have missed the original QOMP, which was released in 2021.
The trailer shows what looks like a story-driven pong-breakout/platformer mashup.
If Atari’s strategy for their modern releases is to align with indies who are doing interesting things in the retro space, I’m here for it.
It’s too bad Atari didn’t have a slew of these lined up to launch as system exclusive 1st-party titles in 2017 when they were hyping the much-delayed, underwhelming AtariBox console. It would have been a much different story how that system was received.
Today Atari announced a new console product, the Atari 2600+.
The $130 system looks like a miniature Atari 2600 4-switch “woody” model from the early 1980s.
It features HDMI output, a cartridge slot, and compatibility with Atari 2600 and 7800 systems. One CX-40 type joysticks are included, along with a 10-in-1 cartridge that includes the following titles: Adventure, Combat, Dodge Em, Haunted House, Maze Craze, Missile Command, RealSports Volleyball, Surround, Video Pinball, Yars’ Revenge.
A second CX-40 controller costs $25. CX-30 paddles can be purchased for $40, which includes a 4-in-1 game cartridge. This brings the total to build a “complete” system as they were originally sold back in the day to $195.
Significantly, I do not see any solution given for playing 7800 games requiring 2-button controls, which is most of the 7800 system’s library. This is a real drawback if, as it appears, there is no modern 7800 controller available or planned.
Inside the console is an Rockchip 3128 SOC (system on a chip), and since it’s a SOC-based system, this means that there will be compatibility problems with certain cartridges; a compatibility list, which does mention that some original titles do not work on it, as is typical of SOC systems, due to minor differences between the original hardware.
As of this writing, the compatibility list only notes 4 games that failed testing, along with another 113 games that they were unable to test. 515 titles passed testing. Weirdly, Atari were unable to test the console with Pitfall II, one of the most popular and easy to find Atari 2600 games.
For gamers who are running original hardware, but would like to hook up to a modern HDTV, and not have to worry about the eventual death of their 40+ year old consoles, this looks like a possible solution, assuming it supports the games you want to play on it. Of course, the original cartridges that you’ll be plugging into the slot are going to be 40+ years old too, unless you’re using a Harmony cart.
At first glimpse, I was excited about this product, but after looking more carefully, I’m going to have to give it the same C rating that I gave to the Retron 77.
No 2-button controller option for 7800 games, other than vintage joysticks from the ’80s.
“Only” a 10-in-1 multi-game cartridge is included.
If you can look past the shortcomings and focus on the positives, I think this can be a good buy that provides decent value. If you have a bunch of old cartridges laying around, but your console isn’t working reliably any more, go for it. But if you already have the means to play your Atari games, I’d recommend holding off for something `better. This system seems about as good as Hyperkin’s Retron 77 console, maybe a little better due to the build quality of the CX-40 joysticks and the inclusion of the 10-in-1 cartridge.
Hey, Atari: Make it better, do it right
If Atari had consulted with me before producing this, I would have given them the following advice to earn an A-rating and recommendation:
Implement the hardware with FPGA technology for the highest possible fidelity to the original hardware spec.
Use a 6-switch console shell, with real working switches. (Certain games, such as Space Shuttle, used the console switches as well as the joystick for controls, and the tiny, hidden difficulty switches of the 4-switch models just aren’t as good of a solution.)
Include 2 CX40 joysticks and 1 CX30 paddles.
Provide a 2-button joystick option for 7800 support.
Rather than a 10-in-1 cartridge, bundle the entire multi-volume Flashback Classics collection series, in cartridge format. Also, include a collection of 7800 titles in the box. There’s no reason not to do this. The entire Atari 2600 library was small enough to fit on a 3.5″ Floppy Disk (1.44 MB).
Sell as a bundle for $200.
If Atari can do all that, they would have a real winner that I would be excited to buy.
As it is, this product as it is isn’t bad, just not as good as it deserves to be, and a bit of a disappointment for someone looking for a premium modern system that can keep the original games running on modern TVs.
The Zero Page Homebrew people recently put out a collection of statements by the various luminary developers in the Homebrew scene, and posted them on Facebook as well as covered the news on their video stream.
I have a lot of things to say about this stuff. So, in the spirit of copyright infringement for the common good, I’ve “stolen” the images of each developer’s statements, and offer my reaction to them below. I am nobody special, I just happen to care.
It’s good to see that Champ Games intends to continue developing original games and may pursue licensing rights for ports.
It’s unfortunately a bit naive of Champ Games to announce that they plan to continue to sell ROMs of their IP-encumbered ports. The ROM files are just as subject to IP infringement liability as a physical cartridge is.
I’m reading between the lines a bit, but it seems like Atari Age’s decision to discontinue these games is a pre-emptive effort on their part to limit their legal liability in the event they get sued, and not necessarily a result of any specific takedown effort on the part of the rights holders.
The thing about this is, Atari Age have been operating in this grey market area for many years, and ceasing operations doesn’t absolve them of liability for past transgressions. In principle, the rights holders could go after Atari Age and its affiliates, partners, etc. at any time.
In fact, Atari Age did have to take down Princess Rescue, an Atari 2600 de-make of Super Mario Bros, due to legal action from Nintendo, who are notoriously litigious and vigorous when it comes to protecting their IP.
Legal action can take many forms, from a simple “cease and desist” action to out-of-court settlements, to civil lawsuits to settle tort claims, to criminal charges that could result in fines, imprisonment, etc. There may be statutes of limitations, and a rights holder may or may not wish to take action to protect its IP. Without explicit permission, there’s always the risk that one day some IP holder will wake up and take notice, or decide that “now’s the time” and take action. This hangs like a sword of Damocles over the head of Atari Age and anyone else who chooses to ignore the legal risks of using IP without permission.
Atari Age have managed to operate for many years at a small scale, but the longer they continue to do so, the greater the chances of some IP owner taking notice and taking action. Given the potential liabilities, such action could very easily result in a complete shutdown of all operations, even for fully original works, simply because the IP owner could conceivably be awarded a judgement so large that the infinger is forced into bankruptcy, or due to a legal injunction.
This is true whether you sell or simply give away the works you’re infringing on.
So it does make sense for Atari Age to recognize these risks do exist, and rational for them to want to limit and minimize their exposure.
So the safest way forward would be to completely purge the all infringing material from the store and the website. Leaving IP infringing ROMs available for sale or free download still carries with it risk.
This is unfortunate, and it would seem desirable for the laws to change to somehow be more accommodating for public domain and free use/fair use involving abandoned or inactive IP. But changing the law takes a lot of effort, and we can’t expect that it will happen any time soon, if ever.
So the existing “proper channels” of seeking permission is really the only practical way forward. And even that is very difficult, making it practically out of the reach of many would-be developers, and if the IP owner says “no” there’s basically no recourse available.
Mogno’s statement alludes to the possibility of implementing the rules of a game (which are not copyrightable) to create a new/original work. In other words, a clone game. Conceivably, if you wanted to make a game exactly like Burger Time, you could make the same game but make it about something else, say making Tacos or Pizza, and give it a safe title that couldn’t be construed as diluting the Burger Time trademark or brand, something like Tacomania perhaps. This approach can work to a greater or lesser extent, but it almost never feels as satisfying as playing the “real thing”. That is to say, the trademarked name, characters, etc. all do have real value and contribute to the desirability of the game, and taking these elements out does take something away from the game.
Many of the homebrew port projects have chosen to “soft clone” a game, by making a game that looks and plays as close to the original as possible, but has a title which “parodies” the original, or is a “take-off” of the original title: eg, Qyx is a clone of Qix; RubyQ is a clone of Q*Bert; Galagon is a clone of Galaga; Robot War: 2684 is a clone of Robotron: 2084; etc. How much this actually affords any legal sanctuary for the clone developers is rather dubious, and would need to be tested in courts. Even if the defendants were to win in court, the costs of defending yourself in court is best avoided. Homebrew developers don’t have the legal resources to stand up to corporate legal teams with deep pockets.
Whether you call these games clones, ports, remakes, or de-makes, homebrew games that use unauthorized IP without seeking license are labors of love crafted by hobbyists and shared with the world in homage to a product that could not feasibly be brought to market as a traditional business venture. Many games adapted by homebrewers were never ported to the Atari 2600 at all, or if a port did get an official release back in the day, the homebrew scene can often produce a version of considerably higher quality.
Over time, these homage projects by hobbyists grew in scope and ambition, to the point where people were producing physical cartridges at a level of quality and presentation that rivaled the best professional efforts of real businesses.
This unfortunately blurs the lines between what might be considered “fan” projects and what would more appropriately concern a legal department of some rights holder of some dormant IP that they might feel needs to be protected lest they lose it.
The internet likewise removes many barriers, making it possible for communities to develop who have a common interest in sharing works, for these operations to scale, and to become easy to find — both by other developers and fans as well as IP owners and their lawyers — and easier to scale.
But rather than calling these games “ports” or “clones” or “ripoffs”, I’d like to advocate for calling them “covers”. Much like one musician will “cover” a song written by another artist, creating a new version of the song that has its own distinct merit as a work of art, we can have multiple game developers “covering” the classics, creating their own unique spin in their own signature style. This is something I would very much like to see embraced and encouraged in the video game world. The founders of Activision, the first third party game developer, thought of themselves as “rock stars” who wanted their names to become as famous as their games. Given that real rock stars often cover each others’ songs, I think it’s a great metaphor to extend to the video game industry.
Let developers cover other developers. Let developers remix and sample old games. Let artists do art with video games. Intellectual Property law needs to evolve to recognize the legitimacy of these long-standing and established traditions, and provide for their protection as part of “fair use”.
Games and art existed long before intellectual property law. There are many games which exist in the public domain today. Classic games like Chess, checkers, card games, etc. all can be made by anyone.
Anyone can paint a painting of a subject, interpreting it in their unique way and putting their unique spin or style to it. In many ways, the re-creation of a videogame, especially porting it to a different hardware platform, is an act of creation analogous to an artist painting their own version of some subject.
It is only human to wish to have the freedom to create such artwork. An idea for a game can be created in any number of unique ways, interpreted differently by different creators. And just as some subjects have been painted countless times by thousands of artists, software developers often have the same creative urge to express themselves by creating their own version of some video game. The difference is that video games tend to be commercial properties that are owned by corporations who want to protect their limited monopoly right granted to them by copyright and trademark laws. This stifles and stymies a would-be developer from creating their version of Pac Man or Tetris or Mario in a way that an artist is never restricted from creating their version of a bowl of fruit or Christ on the cross. But a game programmer yearns for the same freedom as the artist.
It would be nice if somehow we could have it, and exercise it without injury to some business that would be able to respond seeking legal remedy. Sadly there is very little to no such safe space for this sort of art to exist.
Squatters rights is a legal concept which says, in essence, that abandoned property can be claimed by someone who takes it.
We could really use something akin to this concept for video games.
There’s a movement to recognize abandonware rights, an idea that if a piece of software is released and sold for a time, and then is discontinued and no longer sold, that the public still has an interest in obtaining and using a copy of the software, indefinitely. This happens much sooner than the expiration of copyright, though, leaving “abandoned” products in a gray area where they cannot be legally obtained by a market that has interest in them, other than to obtain an existing (ie used) copy that was produced when the product was actively being brought to market by its owner.
Abandonware would cover the public’s interest to move video game works into the public domain once they exit the “First Market” (eg, when they are discontinued, perhaps after a certain period during which the original owner has declined to bring them back to the market) so that the public can continue to produce copies of the work in order to meet demand beyond what the “Secondary Market” (eg, used game stores, flea markets) is capable of satisfying.
But we also should lobby for legal protection for developers who would like to make their own version of their favorite game, or to create a version of that game for a system it was never officially released on, or to create variants on a theme introduced by a game, or to “remix”, or to tinker in other ways, such as bug fixes, “cheats”, and other “hacks”.
It’s not to say that the original creator or rights holder should stop having all rights afforded them under IP law, but that the balance currently favors them too much, and for far too long.
When I was in school, I learned that in the pre-industrialized world there was a system of apprentice and masters, of guilds, and so forth, and that was how knowledge of the trades and useful arts was handed down through generations. An apprentice artist would often be required to create an exact copy of a masterpiece painting, whether as part of their training, or to create duplicates of important works so that they could be enjoyed more widely. This was in a time before photography, before telecommunications, so the only way to copy a painting was by hand, and to do it required great skill to match the technique used in creating the original to a faithful degree so fine that it took an expert to know the difference between the original work and the copy.
I think a lot of programmers, game designers, and developers have an instinct to want to do something similar with video games, to be able not to copy them in the trivial way afforded by binary data systems supporting digital file copying, but to look at the original and learn the techniques of the master and attempt to replicate them faithfully to the best of their ability.
We like to do this as much as we like to work on our own ideas. Howard Scott Warshaw’s point that creating is very different from copying is of course valid, but both are legitimate pursuits for a creator. Some of us are very good at ports, while lacking the design skills to create new original works. But we should not devalue porting because of that, and we should not prohibit all ports that are not explicitly authorized by some “rightful owner”. For a time, certainly, the rights of the creator should prevail. But after some time, a limited time, the works should enter into the public domain. The current length of copyright for software, particularly video games, was adapted from print media, when it should have been modified to better suit the different nature of digital platforms.
To the extent that some in the homebrew scene will continue, with renewed focus on more new original works, that’s of course welcome and great.
But I would think that most people working on a new idea will want to explore it on a newer platform. There are homebrew projects to create original works for obsolete systems, and there always have been.
But if you were going to create something new and original, unless you wanted to take on the challenge of the additional constraints imposed by developing for outdated hardware with severely limited resources, you’d probably target modern platforms. So a lot of new/original development energy tends to be pointed at modern platforms.
Yet there’s an undeniable appeal to creating games for older systems — particularly taking some favorite, old game, that was developed contemporary to some old system, but never for that system, and “fill in the gap” by putting out a version ported to that system that had never existed previously, like Galaga or Robotron 2084, or were very poorly done, such as Pac Man, or a sequel to a great game like Pitfall or Adventure.
Another fun challenge for a developer is be to take a Sega Genesis game (such as Sonic the Hedgehog) and see if you can capture its essence and replicate it on a game console that predated it by something like a dozen years. Whether you have permission to use Sonic or not, that’s a fantastic challenge, and to develop such a game for private enjoyment, while not getting to share it with the world is a bit like running in the Boston Marathon without any spectators being allowed to partake in the excitement of the day.
Could Chris Spry have developed Zippy the Porcupine (the Sonic the Hedgehog Atari2600 de-make) privately and allowed the obscurity and anonymity shield him from Sega lawyers? Certainly. But wasn’t the public nature of the product something that enriched everyone who learned of its existence, or got to play it?
No marathon runner who runs today is the original messenger from Greek antiquity who ran to the city of Marathon with important news… But we don’t hold that against them, do we? And we who stand streetside observing the spectacle of this event are enriched by it, even though the first Marathon runner is long dead and doesn’t get any royalties from it.
I’ve already touched on these points, above. The “last chance” sale is a kindness to the fans who have kept obsolete video gaming platforms alive for decades after they exited the market. But it’s not free of legal liability, and could in fact expose Atari Age to greater risk due to the attention the sale is getting, the increased awareness of the topic of the homebrew scene and of its intersection with IP law.
It’s a bit arbitrary where the line is to be drawn with respect to what’s a liability that needs to go, and what isn’t. Why isn’t Medieval Mayhem and Space Rocks a part of the sale? Medieval Mayhem was an Atari coin-op game for the arcade, back in the 80s. How is an unauthorized remake of it on the 2600 it not IP-encumbered? Space Rocks is just a really well done port of Asteroids, surely it assumes some non-zero amount of risk as well.
DeCrezenzo is a titan of the homebrew scene, and if he is indeed leaving due to this, it is truly a sad thing. If there was a Hall of Fame for homebrew developers, he’d be a charter member. He’s had a long “career” in the scene, with many, many contributions, so even if he simply retired, he’ll have at least left behind a monumental legacy… of games which sadly will no longer be made due to the legal realities that encumber this hobby.
If there’s a positive thing to be taken away from this, it’s that there are developers who will continue to remain in the scene, and will shift their focus to developing new game ideas. This is exiting.
As much as we like the familiar games we know, that never existed on a home console, or were never done justice in their official home port, there’s still tremendous potential in the system — even 45 years after its release, and 30 years on from its official exit from the primary marketplace.
That’s nothing short of remarkable, and if the new original games that we’re sure to see in the coming years stack up as well as the remakes and ports that we were fortunate to get to experience, the future is as bright as ever for fans, enthusiasts, and collectors of classic gaming consoles.
Long live the Atari 2600. And long live Atari Age!
Who knows what the details are? Not me, that’s for sure.
Games that were popular in the arcades in the early 1980s were often ported to home consoles of the day, but often did not receive the best treatment at the time.
For many reasons.
Primarily hardware limitations. Home systems of the day could not be as powerful as more expensive, dedicated hardware developed to play a specific arcade game.
But also budget and time constraints. Games were a business and development costs were constrained by expected returns. It would have made no sense to spend more money making a game than it could have been expected to bring in. Games were made to deadline, and often had to cut corners to meet them.
If they were too late to market, their popularity in the arcade could have waned, resulting in poor sales, missed opportunities.
Partly, to avoid cannibalizing arcade revenue (the logic being if the home game was just as good as the arcade, players would buy the home game and stop going to arcades.
The homebrew scene which has kept old systems alive long past the date at which official support ended has no such constraints. Game development is a passion project, a hobby, and an art before it is a business. Developers take as long as they need to perfect a game, and no reason to fear undercutting arcade revenue.
And system limitations can be overcome with additional hardware inside the cartridge, and advanced programming techniques that have been discovered in the decades since the system first became available.
So homebrew ports of arcade games did something that couldn’t be done commercially, often for games that had been abandoned by their intellectual property owners.
The success of this long tail aftermarket scene has rekindled interest in classic gaming, though, and nostalgic re-boots of old brands have brought about a change in the market. These games, once small enough to fly under the radar and escape the notice of rights holders legal departments, have become legally risky ventures.
Atari Age proprietor Albert Yarusso has stated that he will be focusing on publishing original games and games for which licensing can be procured. “It’s possible some of these can come back, but it will take some time to do the legwork. I wholeheartedly encourage developers to create new games that aren’t encumbered, or to ask me in advance regarding projects that might be derived from others’ work.”
This would seemingly put an end to my hopes for a cartridge release of the beyond amazing Pac-Man 8k project, which I’ve been watching for about a decade, and was apparently very nearly ready to publish. Beyond that, there were many other work-in-progress projects that looked amazing but will probably now only be developed as ROM files, with no cartridge release, if development continues with them at all: Xevious, 1942, Lunar Lander, Elevator Action, and others.
This is a very sad thing indeed. But lawyers gonna lawyer. Copyrights don’t expire fast enough, and Trademarks can be lost if not enforced, and that’s what happens. Hobbywork homages be damned.
I love to see the original works that homebrew developers make, maybe even more than revivals of old arcade games that never got a proper treatment on the home systems. But seeing a modern homebrew remake compared to an official release of an original game from 40 years ago, being able to see how much progress had been made in the art of programming in those intervening years, was always such a treat, and a true thrill.
As I’ve mentioned previously, it will be a modern game released on Steam, Nintendo Switch, XBox, and PlayStation. And also there will be an Atari 2600 cartridge release of a Mr. Run and Jump Special Edition, which will run on native hardware, and I presume there will be a ROM for use with emulators, whether official or not. If we ignore the homebrew scene, which has been cranking out small batches of physical cartridges for years, and Audacity Games’ Circus Convoy, released in 2021, this will be the first “official” commercial release of an Atari 2600 game since 1990, a span of 33 years.
I’m interested in both editions, but clearly the modern version will be better, with the Atari 2600 special edition version being something of a “de-make”.
The pre-order page has a short video loop showing the Atari 2600 game in action, which I’ve embedded below because I wish to make fair use comment on it for purposes of criticism and review.
Namely, I have to ask about the insane amount of flicker in this video. The number of objects on the screen looks to me well within the 2600’s capability to display without flicker.
The 2600 had two hardware sprites, Player 1 and Player 2, a Ball sprite, and two Missile sprites, as well as background graphics. These screens show, at most, 3-4 objects, and they flicker a ton, even when they’re not drawn on the same horizontal row. Typically, sprites would need to flicker when one of the hardware sprite resources needed to be drawn in two locations on the same row, and would therefore have to alternate, drawing in each position every other frame.
The 2600 was a notoriously difficult to program machine due to its architecture and very tiny hardware limits, but I would have thought that for the graphics shown in the video, flicker-free rendering should have been possible. Or am I wrong? It doesn’t look to me like there’s a reason to want these objects to deliberately blink, so I don’t think it’s a deliberate choice on the part of the programmer.
Certainly, other games have been made for the 2600 which draw more objects on the screen without this much flicker. Even back in the original day, games like Space Invaders and Berzerk drew many sprites on the screen without such drastic flicker. And more recently games packed with additional hardware in the cartridge from publishers like Champ Games have shown that the limits of the stock 2600 hardware can be circumvented with some clever engineering and programming.
It makes me wonder whether the “Atari” people really know what they’re doing when it comes to finding people who are capable of getting the most out of the 2600. Based on what we see in the demo video, it doesn’t look like they’re on the same level of the best contemporary “homebrew” developers. So will the game really be worth the $60 pre-order? Or is much of that “value” to be perceived as the nostalgia and novelty for a physical media game for a 46 year old console? Time will tell.
The modern version of the game does look really nice, with the neon vector graphics style that Atari’s recent “recharged” games have been known for, and gameplay that reminds me of indie darling Super Meat Boy from 2010.
One of the frequent criticisms I’ve offered of the company calling itself Atari these days is that they should have focused on developing new games rather than trying to launch a console. I’ve always wished them success, but have been skeptical about their strategy, and their execution on the AtariBox project left a lot to be desired.
That said, I am fair-minded, and will say when Atari does something right.
And it looks like they may have something, with their newest game, Mr. Run and Jump.
It’s a super mario style platformer, done in Atari’s “reloaded” style neon colored wireframe vector graphics. At first glance it does admittedly look a bit derivative of Mario, and a Mario clone isn’t likely to win over a lot of gamers. On the other hand Nintendo’s formula with Mario platformers has been tried and true for going on 40 years now, and Atari has been floundering for most of the past 40 years, so imitating Nintendo is hardly the worst approach they could arguably take with their game design.
The thing with Mario games is that while they’re always quality, they do rely on a bunch of traditions and conventions that are pretty established, and deviating from them can be problematic. So to truly break free of these conventions, it is a good idea to start over with new worldbuilding and introduce new characters, so that the “rules” are not in conflict with previously established “canon” that will offend purists, or just not be what people were expecting, and thus be rejected when there’s actually nothing wrong with taking a new approach. So maybe Atari can do something interesting and innovative with platformers with a new property like Mr. Run and Jump.
Does Mr. Run and Jump accomplish that? That remains to be seen. It’s difficult to do better at a run and jump platforming game than Nintendo has already done. On the other hand, if you’re going to imitate something, you might as well try to imitate the best there is.
Bottom line: it looks cool, and I’d give it a try.