Atari: Resurgence, Nostalgia, Innovation, and Community

Atari, a name synonymous with the early days of video gaming, has been making recent moves to return to its roots in the gaming scene. With...

Atari, a name synonymous with the early days of video gaming, has been making recent moves to return to its roots in the gaming scene. With its rich history and iconic consoles, Atari is aiming to reclaim its space in the industry, blending nostalgia with innovation. In this exclusive interview with Ethan Stearns from Atari, we delve into the company's new projects, the revival of classic games, and their efforts to reconnect with the gaming community.

After years of relative silence, Atari has reemerged with a new focus on gaming. With the celebration of their 50th anniversary and recent announcement of their retro console, the 2600 plus, Atari is catering to both the nostalgic collectors and a new generation of gamers. The console, set to release in November, not only plays new original 2600 games but also supports the use of authentic cartridges. This move, driven by the desire to get a deeper understanding of their community, reflects Atari's commitment to preserving the essence of gaming history and paving a way to the future.

Reviving the Legend

We asked Ethan about what is going in with Atari and he excitedly jumped right in to talk about all the new things they are bringing to the fans.


So many things are going on in Atari. So, you know, this is our first PAX as this version of Atari. You know, there's been many versions of Atari over the years. About three years ago, we had a new leadership come in and are really trying to focus back on games. Sometimes people think of Atari and they know Atari is a brand. They don't necessarily think of us as someone who is like making things and participating in the game space and that bums us out because we love games, and the company is made of people who love games. And our whole games team is here today. We're showing off six games that we're bringing to modern consoles, you know, Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, PC. And then we also have we're showing our new 2600 plus console that we just announced recently and put on preorder. It'll be coming out in November. And then we have a bunch of other fun little things that were showing us some of our cartridges that we make as part of our XP program, merchandise and stuff. And we have Arcade 1up back here showing off their new Arcade, the Atari 50th edition. it has 64 something games on it. Just having, like the having the wheel and the ball and the trackball and the joystick and the buttons, it really you can jump into any from like tempest to asteroids to, you know, Galaga or anything. It's like you have all the right tools, the tactile experience that you want to have.

Ethan was not exaggerating, despite my initial skepticism when seeing it announced, the new cabinet looks indeed amazing, especially with the added tactile experience and the gold rim finishes. 

Innovating the Retro Experience

What we at GVG really wanted to talk about was the newly announced Atari 2600+ and to know more about the console and what is going on with it.

The 2600 plus isn't merely a replica: it's a carefully crafted homage to the original console. Designed to mimic the look and feel of the classic Atari 2600, but including modern features like an HDMI port, making it accessible to a new and broader audience. The console also supports the original controllers, allowing gamers to relive the past while enjoying the convenience of contemporary technology.


Let's talk about your new upcoming console, the Atari 2600 Plus. What seemingly sets it apart is its ability to play the original cartridges. Can you tell us more about that?

The company right now is really focusing on who is our community and a big part of, of Atari's community has always been the nostalgic collectors, people who grew up on the original Atari, people who like to go find all the cartridges they grew up with, but also go out, try to track down the rare finds. So, over the last couple of years, we have had a program called the XP Program, where we re-release cartridges, working cartridges. Some of them are for the classic games like Centipede, but we're also releasing other ones like Aqua Adventure and Saboteur, which we're showing here, which never came out before

They are brand new releases?

They were like unfinished titles from the nineties that never that never came out. We've been dabbling in that that area of like giving back to and better understanding our community of collectors and lovers of Atari from that era. So it kind of is a no brainer to support them with hardware. 
Other people make hardware that can read like a 2600 cartridge. but we really wanted to make, a product that represented that nostalgia, that 2600 nostalgia. It's 80% the size of a normal one but the dip-switches and stuff on it like feel exactly the same.

I actually run the games group but for our hardware lead, held this project closest to his heart and wanted to make sure he got all the little looks and feel across every little detail of the console down correctly. To ensure it has the feel like it would have back then. But then giving you an HDMI port so that you can play it on a modern OLED television. You even have a switch in the back so you can switch between 4:3 and 16:9. depending on what type of game experience you want to have in your home, you could have both of those.

And in addition, you can go to the to your local garage sale to find cartridges. You bring them home; you plug them in there if you have an instant big collection. Hooking up an old original console with coaxial to your television is a pain in the butt. So, it's kind of a no brainer but to support those collectors with a modern console. 

The other thing I would say too, is we're kind of going back to the point about community. We're trying to better understand and interact with the community around Atari, and sometimes that doesn't need to be a really complicated thing. We don't need to make a big, crazy, complicated hardware solution with tons of new features. It really is just doing something simple and like understanding the audience we’re making it for and just a simple addition of a 2600 with an HDMI port on the back just helps fuel that community and, and that's, that's part of the reasoning behind it all.

And it looks great. And even though the console is a little bit smaller in size, like you said, not too much, though it even has the right specifications for the controller right there, just like the original ones. correct?

Yeah. And actually, the new controllers, you can even plug into your old 2600 or you can take your old controllers you might have from the original 2600 and plug of them in here. It's the same interface.

So, when you have Star Raiders laying around, you can take that controller and plug.

yeah, you can plug it in.

With that kind of compatibility, does this mean that the console is hardware emulation based or is it software emulation based.

Actually, I probably am not the best person to answer that. I know that it is reading the ROM and emulating the hardware using Stella, probably the most is the most common emulator for the 2600. There are devices that you would plug in a cartridge, and it would like to download the ROM in order to replicate it on digital hardware. This does not do that, I'm pretty sure it's hardware emulation. it's emulating the hardware capability on the device.

There is a compatibility list which you can find on our website. It's pretty massive. I mean, it's not a select group of games. It's pretty well covered. It even covers a number of homebrew titles, things like that..

our goal is to have it play everything. We want it to be a device that helps collectors be able to play the games that they love and maybe even like play those games with their kids and a new generation of people or new generation of gamers who never played Yar’s Revenge never played. This will come in the original console, be able to like this is the building blocks of everything that's here. It packs in a lot of ways. And so being able to for people to be able to go out and play that and the original with the original controller and everything, that's something that's important to a lot of people.

You support the original cartridges and you're also releasing the 2600 + with a ten-in-one cartridge for the launch of the console. Any plans for more combo packs in the future?


We don't have anything to announce now, but we are going to continue to put out cartridges. One of the games we're actually showing here is a new game called Mr. Run and Jump and in addition to the new game, the developer also made a 2600 homebrew version of that game that we're releasing as a new we publish 2600 game. It's the first 2600 cartridge new title that Atari has published in 30 years. 

We're also re-publishing Bezerk, which we were showing today, as a cartridge and we will continue to have the XP program, which will continue to run in a number of different formats. Some of that might be like super collectible, like packages with lots of pack-ins and stuff like that and some of that might be like really simple carts with manuals. But yeah, you should expect that we're going to continue to, to make more of these things.

And did they understand correctly? It also plays 7200 cartridges. Is this correct?

Yes, it plays 2600 and 7200 games. the cartridges are still out there, so I think part of it came down to the size of the slot because the 5200 is a much larger slot and so we have the ability to read those cartridges why not give that additional capability to the hardware?

It's also good to see that you're bringing out the tennis controllers as well, because a lot of games could not be played without them. Is there a plan or do they come with packed in games as well at this point, or do we need to buy those separate?

There's a four pack of, sports games that those come with. I don't know the price point either. All your Breakout, Canyon Bomber, Might Driver and Video Olympics.

Oh, those are pretty good games. I played Hours of Night Driver back in my day.

Facing the Skeptics by staying authentic

How do you feel when people say to you, "Hey, why would I get the 2600 plus? Why not get a cheap CVS combo pack or something like that? " You know, there's plenty of emulators out there or built-in-one devices. How do you think you want to approach people that approach you with that kind of argument?

I think with a 2600 plus, it's pretty simple. It's like it looks and operates like a 2600 and it plays cartridges and there are other emulator products out there. We even have some partners that we work with who make really awesome, like collections of hardware. We actually are showing some stuff here from Dream Gear who are a great partner of ours and they make really cool stuff that I think is for a one particular audience and I think that this hardware(the 2600 Plus) is for a different type of audience. For somebody who wants to have those cartridges stacked next to their TV or in a drawer where they can like pull it off the wall and put it in and start playing that game. That's a different experience than just having like a thousand ROMS sitting in the palm of your hand on like a Raspberry Pi device or something. 

Embracing the Homebrew Community

Atari acknowledges the vibrant homebrew community, recognizing their passion and innovation. The 2600 plus serves as a platform for homebrew developers to share their creations with a wider audience. Atari's collaboration with developers, evident in games like "Mr. Run and Jump," showcases their commitment to nurturing talent within the gaming community.


I think that the homebrew community is, pretty strong on its own and maybe the 2600 plus will add some fuel to that fire. We love that people do that and are making cool new stuff again and it goes back to sort of innovation and game design as well as people's obvious passion for the platform. I don't think we're necessarily thinking that this is a device to that will turn that into a bigger community but maybe it will. If nothing else, I think now for us as a publisher, we're giving the homebrew community a portal for which to distribute their games on more of a mass-scale. Like Mr. Run and Jump which was a homebrew title and we loved it. And now there's a reason for us to publish it as a mass market product. And so there's totally opportunity for more of that to happen.


The Atari 2600 is up for preorder. Now, is that only on your website or can you also get it at regular retailers?


We are selling on Amazon, so that's why you can buy it in Europe and some other territories other than us where we are pre-ordering it for the U.S. currently right now and on our website, we're working on that and getting it into more territories. Yeah, I think, I mean everything we're talking about today, everything from our games, the program to our licensing programs to the 2600 plus where our apparel all coming to

Atari's Vision for the Future

The Atari 2600+ and the 50th edition game collections and arcades were not the only products available at the PAX booth and when asked Ethan was ready to tell us more about the other projects that Atari is bringing to the table. Beyond relaunching classic titles, Atari is investing in new game development. Atari's approach is not just about rekindling old flames but also kindling new ones, making gaming a family experience once again.


We have a bunch of games are shown here as well. The forementioned Mr. Run and Jump, we have a new version coming out of Haunted House (out now). We announced the game last week called Qomp 2, which is the ball from Pong escaping the paddles of Pong and going on this amazing adventure. We have announced a new lunar lander game about a month ago and we're showing game play for the first time of this new lunar lander game. And there is Days of Doom (out now) that is an awesome, like, tactics-based roguelike set in like a zombie apocalypse scenario. 

As you can tell, in addition to reaching back into the collector community, the retro community, and really being supportive there, we're also trying to build new games and innovate kind of as an indie game publisher of titles for the current generation. And I think that those two things connect in the sense of accessibility, right? What we're talking about is really a thing like my kids when I have the 2600 plus plugged in and put a cartridge in and play Yar’s Revenge and that's awesome. But we also want to make new games to continue the legacy of Atari to bring some of these new ideas into the modern game market.


And how did you guys deal with that legacy of the brand? I can assume this can weigh pretty heavy on the brand itself and the expectations people have of Atari. Some people might think it's Atari, it's old, and it is no longer relevant. Some people might not be aware it's still around. So how do you approach that in getting new games, designing new games, the hardware that you're doing and really get yourself reintroduced to the audience and to consumers out there that might not be aware of the current status of Atari? So how do you balance that legacy with the future?


I am trying to think of the order in which I want to say this, the first thing for us is always going to be the fact we want our game to be an awesome game, something that innovates and needs to exist. Something that we think is special and cool and that people enjoy. There are a lot of games in the marketplace, and we don't want to just bring another game out too unless there's something else there. We want to be making things that have a purpose and maybe innovate in an interesting way. That doesn't necessarily have to be mechanically, it could be narratively, it can be a lot of different ways of doing it. So that's broadly an initial step. 

The other thing, and that isn't necessarily something that we like seek out, but just organically, I find that our games are usually really easy to pick up and play, but then they have a depth of difficulty to them. Like Mr. Run and Jump. You can dash, and you can run, and you jump and that's about it. People can play it and it makes a lot of sense. But then by level three, it starts to get really hard. And so that feels kind of like connective tissue to the games of old and the other.

Additionally, we generally think of ourselves as a family brand. Some think of that as needing kids but that's not how we look at it necessarily.  But in those families that do, there's a game for dad, and dad goes and plays it in his office or when the kids go to bed in the living room. And then the kids play their games during the day. With the Atari of old, it was something where the console took center in the living room, and everyone played together. We like our games to be again something that the whole family could pla. Like myself, I have young kids who play video games and I play video games myself. Some of those games aren't really appropriate for my kids. So, I like the idea of the games that we're making are ones that, are easy to pick up and play and my nine-year-old can play it, I can play it, but then there's a depth there for me to chase down and the whole family can play those games together in a living room. 


Yeah, I can definitely remember the magazine ads for the Atari 2600 having families sitting around the TV and everybody playing together. So, it's good to see you going back into that kind of gaming. And that's the approach that you were taking for a while. It really looked like Atari was there as a brand, but mostly was focused on apparel and kind of just a few nostalgia things. So, it's nice to see that you're picking that up and kind of getting back into games.1

Building a Gaming Community

Atari's resurgence represents more than just a return to gaming; it's a celebration of a cultural icon. Their ability to blend the old with the new, embracing nostalgia while innovating for the future, sets a unique tone in the gaming industry. With the 2600 plus leading the way, Atari is not just selling a console; they're offering an invitation to rediscover the joy of gaming, uniting families and communities through the universal language of play.

Atari's presence at events like PAX highlights their dedication to engaging with gamers directly. Their focus on simplicity, accessibility, and family-oriented gaming experiences aligns with their goal of creating a communal gaming atmosphere. By bridging the gap between generations, Atari ensures that their legacy lives on. 


I think a lot of that too is I think the company was always making games. I think that the difficulty is we weren't always doing a great job at talking to the consumer or to the fan or to into the communities. And there was a lot of like B-to-B and press and PR work that we would do. And so, part like the main reason I'm here at PAX, I mean, we're speaking, you represent press. 

I'm more interested in like having people walk up and you have no idea what the hell we're doing and be able to just see something. And even if they don't like it or don't want to interact with it, they're, you know, like, oh yeah, it's always thinking in the back of my shirt says, Yeah, we make games because so often people just don't know that. And maybe they don't give a hoot about what we're doing right now, but we're trying to show ourselves and we're all gamers. My whole my whole team is here, my whole the whole games team this year because we all love games, and we want to show the games we've been working on, and we want to interact with fellow gamers like that. We are like team members are coming back after spending the entire day on the floor and then going to panels and that's who we are. And so, we want to make sure we're interacting with people. We feel like that's the grassroots work we need to do right now to help the people care about the brand.


how's the interest been so far? Are you getting a lot of positive reaction? Is it only from older generations or are there also younger generations that are really into what you're presenting here and what you were doing? Maybe a lot of families.


Yeah I mean when you see I don't see any right now but like I maybe to a dad but like you see like a little kid playing, like when I'm learning games, it makes me super happy. So I, you know, we have a competition going on here for running jump. So there's definitely people coming up to play. That was super fun. I don't know. I just like any time I see anyone playing one of our games makes me happy.

And anyone's interested in more information about Atari. Joining our discord is also a really cool thing to do, if known because we're all in there and we're always listening and talking to people and so we're trying to. Yeah, so we're very accessible in that way. And so, you want to interact with it. Look for information on any of the individual products, Atari dot com. If you're looking to interact with us as a company or Discord. ( )


Atari's resurgence seems to not be merely a revival; it's a testament to the enduring spirit of gaming innovation. We like to thank Ethan Stearns and the team at Atari for this interview and help shed some light on their upcoming projects. From the reinvented classics to the revolutionary Atari 2600 Plus, the gaming legacy is boldly embracing nostalgia while pushing new boundaries and experiences.

What truly sets Atari apart is its dedication to the community. By creating a console that not only respects the legacy of the original 2600 but also supports new releases and homebrew creations, Atari is fostering a space where gamers of all ages can connect, compete, and create memories together. The family-friendly approach, reminiscent of Atari’s early days, promises not just a trip down memory lane but the creation of new, cherished moments.

Join the conversation: What are your thoughts on Atari's latest endeavors? Share your nostalgia-fueled memories and your excitement for the future of gaming in the comments below.

About the writer:
 DadGeek (Rob) is the co-founder of GeeksVsGeeks. He is a product of the eighties and never let go of his geek interest and hobbies no matter how often someone told him to stop. His love for gaming and all things geeks has been part of his parenting style and permeates throughout the whole family. A family of Geeks vs Geeks  


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