Today, Atari launched a new website, AtariXP.com. And with it, pre-orders for newly manufactured Atari 2600 cartridges, with a promise of more to come.
It looks like Atari is looking to tap into the long, long tail of the original VCS system. So far, they are offering three titles: Aquaventure, Saboteur, and Yars’ Return, in standard ($49.95) and collectors ($149.95) editions.
The about page on the new website says that they intend to release games in the following categories:
- Games that were completed but never received an official release, or were only released in very limited quantities.
- Games for which physical media has become extremely rare, and therefore hard to find.
- A wide variety of classic games that would benefit from small improvements to graphic rendering on modern devices and the smoothness and accuracy of controls. These games will be carefully ‘reconditioned’ and then re-released.
It will be interesting to see what these improvements might be for the “reconditioned” games. One wonders whether they might also plan to release unfinished prototypes, similarly finalized. We might then get to see a SwordQuest: Air World.
It will be interesting as well to see how well these sell. The homebrew scene has been pricing games at around $25-35 for cartridge and manual, and some more premium titles have been priced north of $40, but whether gamers are willing to go to $50 and beyond for new manufactured Atari cartridges is an open question. The pricing on the collector editions seems beyond what most enthusiasts are willing to pay, but I see this as actually a good thing, since it will keep the collectors variants rare enough to be actually worth collecting, and may be enough to keep speculators out of the market entirely.
Of course, if Atari is releasing new cartridges for the 40+ year old console, it would only be fitting for them to manufacture new consoles to play them on as well, and new joystick and paddle controllers as well. Given the age of the newest manufactured Atari 2600 consoles is now nearly 30 years old, it would be nice if enthusiasts for the old system had the option to buy new hardware that can play the old games.
Obviously, we’ve had a steady diet of Flashback systems for many years, but a console with a cartridge slot would be much better.
A re-specced Atari 2600 that outputs HDMI and has an SD card reader slot in addition to the old-school cartridge slot, and USB ports in addition to the DB9 controller ports would be really appealing. In fact, that’s almost exactly what I had hoped for when Atari first announced their plans for the AtariBox back in 2017.
Of course, with Atari’s track record over the past few years… decades, really, I can’t say I’m quite on board with this yet. It is, after all, a pre-order launch, and with a thin catalog of just 3 titles. Aquaventure has never been officially released before, but the prototype ROM has been available through emulator for many years. Yars’ Return was featured on one of AtGames’ Flashback consoles years ago. And Saboteur was renown Atari designer-programmer Howard Scott Warshaw’s final Atari game, never officially released. These titles definitely have appeal to fans of the classic system, and assuming that Atari can deliver on pre-orders, and follow up with additional releases with equal or greater appeal, this could bode well for Atari fans. While Atari still isn’t actually offering anything new that hasn’t been seen before, being packaged on actual cartridges as an official release is at least something. The “reconditioned” games might be really interesting.
There have been numerous embarrassing errors with Atari’s announcement.
Images on the AtariXP website were mixed up, creating confusion as to what was included in the standard cartridge package vs. the collector’s edition.
Originally, the AtariXP website had attributed all three of the games announced to Howard Scott Warshaw. Warshaw clarified yesterday that the only game he had anything to do with of these three is Saboteur. Saboteur was his fourth and final project when he worked for Atari, and was never officially released. It was also re-skinned to be an A-Team licensed tie-in to the hit 80’s TV show.
Washaw did not work on Aquaventure in any capacity, and while he did create Yars’ Revenge, he had nothing to do with Yars’ Return, which is a romhack of Yars’ Revenge, created by Curt Vendel, and was first released commercially on the Atari Flashback 2 console, way back in 2005.
Warshaw also mentioned that he is currently working on his own sequel to Yars’ Revenge, and it’s unclear whether he has the legal rights to the IP to entitle him to do so, or if not, how he intends to work with the rights holder to do it. Normally, in the homebrew scene creators are often flying under the radar, technically in violation of IP rights to trademarks and copyrights, but often the rights holders ignore these projects, or tolerate them. In some cases, though, there have been takedowns — Nintendo being particularly vigilant about protecting its IP.
In this case, Warshaw has a strong connection to the IP in question, as he was the original creator of Yars’ Revenge, but the IP remains owned by Atari. Presumably, Atari would relish an opportunity to publish a legitimate sequel by the originator of the property, but whether there is any agreement or intention to work together on this project is unclear.