A horse in search of a cart?
Sometimes I overthink shit. It happens a lot when video games are involved. Especially retro games. You know, Retro Gaming Specialist and all.
The Atari Video Computer System was my first real gaming console, not a gussied-up Pong box like my Telstar Ranger. I was gifted a VCS for Christmas one year. If I told you the exact year, it’d be a wild-ass guess. Let’s say it was before my tenth birthday and be done with it.
I was born in 1970. The time before my tenth birthday was literally the genesis of video gaming. Like the Bible Genesis, not the Sega Genesis.
I have since amassed a library of video gaming memories. And video games. Many of them involve the nascent Atari console I was gifted on Christmas 19-whatever, renamed the 2600 after the Video Game Crash of 1983. Although the name Atari has eroded over the years, my memories of playing Missile Command, Video Pinball, and Super Breakout on my O.G. six-switch console have not faded.
Fast-forward to present day. Current Atari CEO Fred Chesnais is talking up a project that is supposed to be making a debut soon. The project, only hinted to on a website, is called Ataribox. It’s a project that is being hyped up but has no actual substance. There is concept art, there is speculation. But there is no concrete information.
Many are wondering what it is. My Digital Crack brother-from-another-mother, Punisher, talks up its capabilities. Chesnais has stated that the tech behind the Ataribox is PC based. That has led to some, Punisher included, hinting that it may have as much horsepower as an Xbox One or PlayStation 4. But Chesnais has also stated that the NES Mini was the inspiration for this new box. That makes me believe that Atari is trying to get into the retro nostalgia business.
If the latter is correct, that means I could conceivably have a brand new console that harkens back to my days of playing my wood-trimmed 2600. I’ll be able to play Missile Command, Video Pinball, and Super Breakout again like it was 19-whatever, but on something new. I’ll be able to relive the genesis of video gaming again. The Bible Genesis, not the Sega Genesis.
You would think I’d be ecstatic about the possibility. You would be wrong. Maybe it’s me overthinking it, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a single reason why I should be excited about Ataribox.
This is in no way an indictment on Chesnais or Atari itself. The idea of going the NES Mini route and offering up a new console filled with classic titles is a no-brainer. A new console, filled with gaming classics and sporting a spiffy new interface, sounds great. Nintendo did it, it ready to do it again with SNES Mini, and it’s worked out great thus far for the two or three people who get to own one.
The vague teaser video for the Ataribox shows some shots of a console that looks much different than the O.G. six-switch box, though it does have the wood trim that many love. So if it is going the NES Mini route, it’s not trying to mimic its shrunk-down design aesthetic.
Good thing, too. If it did, it’d look too much like the Atari Flashback. And the Atari Flashback is precisely the first problem I see. The Ataribox can’t just be a retro version of the Atari 2600; they’re already doing that!
The Flashback line of mini-consoles has been around since 2004. They were originally manufactured by Syzygy Co. (formerly Legacy Engineering Group) and marketed by Atari until 2011. Starting with the Flashback 3, AtGames licensed the Flashback name, design, and games, and took over the marketing. The Flashback mini-consoles actually did the retro mini-console thing first. Chesnais may have gotten inspiration from Nintendo with Ataribox, but his company was already doing it. So this Ataribox has to be doing something new, right? I mean, why hype up a new console that may potentially do the same thing it’s already doing?
Maybe Punisher and other people are right. Maybe the Ataribox will sport greater capabilities than just playing Missile Command or Super Breakout. If so, then that brings up the second problem I see with the Ataribox: do we really need another PC-based console in our lives?
The eighth generation of video game consoles is already pretty packed. In addition to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Nintendo is offering the Switch. While it’s not PC-based and is technically not competing with its contemporaries, it is a video game console. Then there’s the PC. It’s not a console, but Sony and Microsoft sure as hell wanna compete with it. So we have four platforms that are vying for gamers’ attention in one way or another.
Where would Atari fit into all this? Competition for Sony and Microsoft? Okay, but having another platform just to play Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed is not too smart. Maybe they want to make a consolized PC like the Steam Machine? Even after the fire sale they had when trying to emerge from bankruptcy, they still have some IPs to their name. Some of them are playable on PC, so they could try using those for a consolized Ataribox PC. But I’d really hate to think they would want to use such pox-ridden shitstorms as Alone in the Dark: Illumination and Roller Coaster Tycoon World as system sellers. So what impetus would Atari have for entering that market?
The Ataribox is a real head-scratcher. Yes, we have no real information, just a teaser video. Trying to reach conclusions based on a 21-second clip is silly. But I’m a silly guy. Trying to needlessly come up with reasons why I should be excited about the Ataribox is in my wheelhouse. I can’t come up with one that makes sense.
Thinking about it makes me remember something I read years back.
An article penned by Gregg Easterbrook was published in the April 1980 issue of The Washington Monthly. In it, Mr. Easterbrook discussed NASA’s space shuttle program, a program that was floundering at the time. It’s a pretty thoughtful piece that details all the setbacks and problems NASA and the Pentagon had prior to the first launch of Columbia. One of the problems was that the shuttles really didn’t have a purpose other than a perceived desire to move away from unmanned disposable rockets and into reusable, manned spacecraft.
The mentality the space shuttle task group had when talking it up was a bit crazy. They assumed that once they built the shuttle, someone would find a use for it. The article includes a quote from Dr. Jerry Gray, a NASA scientist at the time. The quote is very fitting for what the mentality behind the Ataribox could be.
“First you have to get the horse, then you decide where to ride him.”
Could Fred Chesnais and Atari be building their own horse, figuring that someone will figure out a path for it once it’s built? I really don’t believe so. After bringing Atari back from bankruptcy into profitability, it would make no sense to throw caution to the wind and do something so reckless. I’m sure they have a plan for it and I’m just uselessly spinning my wheels trying to figure it out. But I can’t think of a purpose for the Ataribox that makes sense in my admittedly damaged mind.
Maybe the whole idea was to get dolts like me to spend over a thousand words talking about it. If so, I have a message for Atari CEO Fred Chesnais: Well played, sir. Well played.
Is it another Atari Flashback? Is it a new console altogether? Whatever it is, I just need to chill and let them figure it out. I’m not excited about it, but other people are. I’ll let them get hyped up while I fire up my 2600. Yes, I still have my O.G. six-switch box. I’ll just pop in Missile Command and relive the genesis of home video gaming. Then maybe I’ll switch over to the Genesis. The Sega Genesis, not the bible Genesis.