We’re well into the horrors of 2020, and this blog has been thoroughly neglected, which means that it’s time for an update! Since I’ve used this platform to muse about upcoming consoles, let’s get up-to-date on two particular platforms, the Atari VCS and the Intellivision Amico. Click to read a giant wall of text 😛

The Atari VCS

While I’m a big Atarian at heart, I’ve always been skeptical of the VCS, which started off as the Ataribox, since the get-go. That’s because I looked hard at Atari’s modern history, and I did not like what I had seen. I uncovered a bully and an IP troll company, that hasn’t a clue about what to do with the legendary games that they hold the rights to, constantly hoping to sucker people in by pretending to be the Atari of the Warner age that most people still associate the Fuji logo with. But, none of that innovative spirit is still around…it’s just a shell, looking to milk blood from a stone on games that 40-year olds recognize, with little to no vision or understanding as to what made those games great and how to move forward with them.

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I actually remember seeing this commercial as a kid during after-school cartoons.

I did run a post here where a YouTuber had laid out how the Ataribox was looking like a scam, but after three years of many broken promises, it does appear that the company will finally get something out the door. Granted, they lost two of their system architects over that time, with allegations of non-payment and mismanagement, which should raise an enormous red flag for anyone thinking about what to do with $300~ of their money. They have also censored users, deleting comments from people who weren’t trolling, but asking legitimate questions about what was going on with the project. They have constantly lied about the timeline to their backers, they lied about project updates (which they were supposedly bound by IGG rules to keep up on), and lied about the release dates. The latest excuse was that COVID-19 kept them from hitting their targets, but that’s such a joke – for the VCS to have reached the hands of backers in December 2019, they should have begun manufacturing months before the promise December date. There were no factory shutdowns and no virus causing any havoc at that time, but it is clear that they were doing nothing of the sort in the months running up to their renewed delay. Sorry shills, but there is no way for you to spin that one. Of course, ask Atari what was going on then, then most likely you’re ignored or the comment deleted. Can’t have anything uncomfortable raised, now can we?

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But let’s move past that and just look at what Atari is asking you to buy. When I do look at the pros & cons, I still see absolutely no reason to buy the VCS. It has no exclusive content for it, unless you want to count a UI made out of 3D shaded boxes. It comes with the Atari Mega Vault…the Vault which you can buy on Steam for $10. That’s also assuming that you don’t already own one of the many compilations that the company has released over the years, or purchased one of the many Flashbacks, or you still own the original games. Yes, you should be able to download old versions of their games through their online shop, although it still isn’t clear all that will be available. Why they can’t just announce those makes no sense, as it’s their IP – they don’t need to ask permission from anyone else to just say: “Here are the Atari classics you’ll be able to download from our online shop.” The only notable software announcement out of 2019 was Antstream, a poorly rated streaming service that offers up a lot of old games, mainly C & D grade ones that no one cares for. It is also already available on existing devices. They are still touting Tempest 4000, but who cares when you can also grab that for your PC/PS4. It’s not going to be a system seller like Tempest 2000 (or even 3000) was.

Any time you bring up that we should have more developers announced at this point, there is always some lame excuse about “contracts” or “partner agreements.” Funny how that never holds back any competitor or developers on other devices, who are often more than happy to talk about their games years before they actually are released. The fact of the matter is that we have zero exclusive games announced for the machine, along with the other very large red flag of it missing big IP as coming to it.

Atari keeps announcing remakes of some of their IP for mobile devices, but there is no mention of the content headed to their flagship hardware platform. Where is their #1 revenue generating game, RollerCoaster Tycoon? They’ve remade Ninja Golf and Pong…ok cool – where are the VCS versions? They can’t even slap a lazy “Compatible with the Atari VCS” logo onto the game trailers for those titles! Seems to me that someone isn’t really confident in their platform. Of course if they announce them now, you still can get them on better platforms, so it comes back to – what’s the point, unless there are some major differences/enhancements that can only be found on the VCS? If you want to sustain sales, you need those killer apps that really draw buyers to your product. The VCS is much like the Ouya in this regard – it really has nothing to excite the public (in the case of the Ouya, it’s main selling point was being a super-affordable console, which the VCS is not). I’ll discuss this more down in the Amico section.

Another problem I have with this (and the Amico), is the nature of being a digital only platform. I get that I’m a dinosaur for wanting to still “own” my games in an age where producers have made sure to clearly state on their discs that you don’t really “own” it. But outside of their interpretation on property, I like having something tangible that my games are stored on. Yes, there are pros and cons to both ideas, and I have a decent Steam library. But where I can, I like getting something on physical. That way, I can resell it (whether that’s soon after the purchase because I don’t like the game, or years later when I’ve enjoyed it enough and it’s time to move on; or to generate some quick cash in selling things from my collection).  I can play it if the internet is down. I don’t have to worry about the game being banned down the road because of the rights changing hands or removed from online stores for unknown reasons. I barely own any game software on my phone as it is, but I know that I’m an exception to that rule. Still, those things above tend to bother me, so having a platform without any recourse on keeping your software going, irks me.

There is also the question of preservation. Granted, the VCS having zero exclusive games coming to it at this point in time makes it a moot point, but it’s still part of the problem in case they do eventually bother to create something unique for it. Preserving games from all-digital consoles is a challenge. The Zeebo, a Brazilian made console from about 10 years ago, was all-digital. It mostly sucked, but it did get some interesting and weird games on it. People are trying to preserve those titles, or make an emulator, but it’s tough since you have to find a working Zeebo with the game on it. It’s like finding an unreleased prototype when buying a dev kit – not something that happens often. After the console dies, you can’t download the game anymore, and since it’s not on a disk, it just fades away. I think the same problem exists with the Ouya, which did have a small number of system exclusives on it. But either way it’s an issue that is not a positive one for any all-digital console (the VCS, Amico or whatever else).

From those still shilling hard for it, they try position the primary selling point as it being an affordable PC, as though there are a ton of cheaper-than-the-VCS laptops out there already. Barebone PCs with upgradable features are also easy to come by. “But the VCS is more powerful than those!” Eh, maybe when it was announced in 2017 it was ok, but certainly not now. The VCS is not a powerhouse, plain and simple. And once you factor in the controllers, the 8GB RAM version, and that it comes with a measly 32GB of internal storage so you need to invest in external storage, you’re going to get much more bang-for-your-buck by purchasing a $500 laptop or even a gaming desktop than you would a VCS. If you’re going for a game console, then no one in their right mind is going to pass up a Nintendo Switch, an Xbox One/XSX or a PS4/5, just because the VCS lets you play around with Linux and install Steam on it. Very, very, few users will bother with that. Certainly not “Netflix Moms” or whatever group you think just doesn’t know that they need this yet.

The same argument goes for it being “a streaming box.” If you want to stream games, then you can easily do so with the established consoles right now. The VCS is not going to start off some unseen revolution on Twitch that no one saw coming. If you really want to stream your games, you end up investing in much more capable and powerful PC hardware or dedicated capture hardware that costs as much as the VCS does. The VCS will be lucky to get the latest games running in the teens for frame rates, even at lowest settings. The only audience that will attract for streaming are those bored enough to see what a sad joke of a “console” it is.

This also leads to the fact that this will have technical issues that will have been overlooked in the QA process. For anyone to assume that because Atari made consoles “years ago, they’ll figure it out now” are lying to themselves – the owners of this project have no experience in hardware production, and as mentioned, they lost two of their architects behind it. Whichever sucker they managed to find for the 3rd one has had to figure out what those previous guys were doing, and where Atari loves to not pay people, you can be guaranteed that this kind of tight-waddery will reflect in the final “quality” of the product. Also where there is this vaunted “sandbox mode,” there will issues with software compatibility and drivers. Then the question has to be asked – how will Atari handle it when you have a problem? What about bricking issues? Such issues plague well-funded consoles and again, if anyone thinks that the VCS won’t experience such problems (if not more than usual), you are lying to yourself. You can take that to the bank.

While the shills have touted the number of pre-orders(which truly is not something to get excited about – 11,000 is nothing in terms of a gaming product), it’s also important to keep in mind that we don’t know for certain how many of those pre-orders on IGG were just for the Atari Classic Joystick and did not include the console itself. It is nice that PowerA is handling the joystick, but there’s also the question as to why Atari couldn’t just fill those orders if the stick is all done (which is should have been well before the pandemic hit).

When you put the above all together, you have nothing that generates momentum to create additional sales, especially with competition from existing platforms and hyped up new ones launching at the end of the year. With that, plus the oncoming pandemic-induced depression, it’s going to be really tough for the public to accept a new gaming device that’s going to cost well over $300 (extra storage and controllers included, even on the $249 models).

But the VCS isn’t the only such ‘console’ on the 2020 horizon…

The Intellivision Amico

I’ve used the Amico to poke some fun at the VCS’ expense, as they seemed to be doing things in a way that Atari should have been doing, but the more I find out about it/the more it unfolds, the less convinced I become that the Amico will be a worthwhile investment. Maybe I’m wrong, we’ll see. I don’t claim to be a technological Nostradamus or anything.

They do at least have an interesting library of games, something that the VCS can’t really claim, which includes remakes of Moon Patrol, Missile Command, Pong, Asteroids and Shark! Shark!. They also have an RPG/Adventure game that looks cool to me called Cloudy Mountain. While these are nice for retro gamers, the state of these games are still looking rough, so I’ll keep myself from judging until the final versions are out. The main problem with what has been revealed so far is that has nothing it can call it’s Breath of the Wild or it’s Wii Sports (aka, here’s a game that will make masses of people want to own the console). For a platform like this, the Intellivision name is not on par with Sony or Microsoft, no matter how rose-colored nostalgic you want to get about it. Sony & Microsoft have been able to get far off of their names, but also their enormous cash reserves, allowing them to hire AAA talent to produce content for them. Maybe the Amico will get there, but so far I’m not seeing it(again to be fair, they are still light-years ahead of Atari). I’ll get into why this is an issue in a moment.

That said, I do appreciate that they are giving smaller teams a space and a light to shine, bolstering A or AA level teams instead of just focusing on AAA. I have nothing against small teams – in fact I favor them. What I do have a problem with is the ridiculous hyperbole that doesn’t match with history and reality. But if you want to achieve the kind of market saturation that Tommy Tallarico keeps talking about (3 billion potential buyers because that’s how many smartphone users play games a day), you’re going to need a multiple games that generate pop cultural earthquakes. In other words, you’ll need several games that have a unique impact like Wii Sports did to be able to move those kinds of numbers.

It’s extremely rare for these types of games to come along and sorry, but Cornhole, and some Emoji game – all the kind of stuff that you can find on a mobile game store – isn’t going to do that. Just because you tack on a multiplayer mode to those titles doesn’t mean that suddenly billions of people are going to be chomping at the bit to grab your game console either. Equating a proprietary game platform to a ubiquitous, multi-corporation technology like smartphones is silly. Even the vaunted iPhone doesn’t own 100% of that “smartphone gamers” market.

Along those lines, I also don’t see how the weird development requirements allows developers the flexibility to get there. I get the desire to push for couch co-op, but why does every game have to essentially be a Mario Party version of that game? Why not allow for something that can be a great single player experience? Even in the realm of casual gaming, there are a lot of popular single player games – Solitaire, Mahjong, 3-match puzzle games. If you’re trying to appeal to the widest market in tech history, then you’re going to have to expand that horizon (sooner rather than later if you hope for success).

While it would be great to own the smartphone gamer market, it’s the pipe dream of pipe dreams. Apart from having a lot of users spread across a plethora of products and different operating systems, these gamers are also used to one thing – paying nothing for their games. While we used to care about “number of downloads,” that isn’t as touted as often now, since everyone realizes that it means little when everyone picked those up for free. Many of those users played for a few minutes, then never bothered again, because you get what you pay for.

Keeping that all in mind, we have the next issue I have – Tommy’s weird take, painting the Nintendo Switch as some kind of kiddie pr0n machine:

While I get that he wants to position the Amico as the family game console, lying about your competition (and it is, whether Amico or VCS fans want to admit it or not) not how you do it. Then doubling down as he did in the comments, ignoring reviews of the games and sticking just to a WSJ article, he just looks worse. It’s not even necessary to take this line – you simply say “look, we’re sticking with E rated games, here are some of them” and leave it at that. What he ends up doing is basically saying that “if you’re into certain kinds of games, I don’t want you as a buyer.” If you want to grab that sweet 3 billion user market, that’s not how you do it.

I do think that blocking M-rated games seems short-sighted, and it’s not impossible or difficult to have parental controls and such controls really are not hard to use like Tommy implies in this post. It’s also disingenuous to claim or imply that you can’t find x-rated games on your smartphone or your browser – I don’t need to link that, but a 2ms search and you can find those kinds of games and they are far more mature than anything that you can find on Nintendo’s eShop.

If you want your product to stand out, then it needs to be able to do so without walls of text to explain it. When you shoot yourself in the foot like in the video above, you’re over-complicating things (I’ll get into that in a moment). All the Wii needed to become an explosive success was one E3 showing with Wii Sports and a great controller concept. It did the talking from there.

The other big problem is that it is not going to be the “affordable” console as initially promised. While this is a special edition, the fact that they want $300 for it is an instant non-starter for a lot of people – especially when the pandemic induced depression that has put millions of people out of work. Check the comments to this tweet to get the pulse:

While the other console models are less ($249-$279), this price range for what you are getting is a problem. Whether they like it or not, they are competing for precious entertainment/technology dollars, and those are going to go to a Nintendo Switch or PS4 or XB1 well before they would go to an Amico. If this thing were $149, then it would be a different story, and another part of the problem is that Tommy heavily implied that the console would be in the sub-$200 range for a long time ($279-$299 does not count as “around $200” just because those numbers start with 2). I get that costs can rise when you finally start working on production, but it was foolish to even throw out a number, as now he’s having to spend time defending himself over those initial price comments. At the end of the day, the Amico is in a similar price range as the VCS, and you are competing for their same dollars too. I’d insert the same text about digital only here, but there is no reason to repeat it all.

To be fair, I don’t believe that you need to invest in as much equipment to run games on this as the VCS, so that’s a plus. And it has more games on it that interest me than the VCS does. I’m just pointing out that this is a problem – not just because of the pandemic, but also because it’s pretty much in-line with far more powerful and game-packed consoles from the Big Three (who all have more new hardware on the horizon).

Not only that, but their whole pricing structure has come into question by game developers:

Tommy Tallarico does jump in to comment on that thread, but it ends up going to a dead end of Intellivision having an “amazing” plan that’s supposed to sort it all out, but it’s private, so can’t be discussed. Convenience like that when money questions are raised tend are the same kinds of red flags that are standing all over the VCS. Turns out that INTV has equally amazing plans for their marketing, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

And speaking of Mr. Tallarico, I don’t fault him for cheerleading his product, or engaging with customers, but it so often crosses over from engagement into noise – I do not have time to read the enormous walls of texts that he generates at AtariAge, YouTube and other places. He seems to waste an awful lot of time getting into semantic arguments with people, but also this gives him the proverbial rope to hang himself with, as with the video above and some of the links I’ve thrown in here. No matter how you cut it, the Amico has to prove that it has the chops, and throwing out silly platitude-grade lines like “we have 600 years worth of development experience” doesn’t mean a thing when you don’t have something tangible that consumers can buy right now. Not to mention that if you were to quiz all of the people working for Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo as to their experience, you can come up with a much larger number than 600 years, so it’s a silly argument in favor of the platform (unless you’re using it against the VCS I suppose 😛 ). There are other hyperbolic claims, but I’ve hypocritically written my own wall of text already 😛 If you’re still reading at this point, raise your hand!

To bring this to a close, the last “con” that still has me holding back on the Amico are the controllers. I only once played the INTV at a party – the INTV3 – and I hated the dial controllers. I have an Atari 5200 and am not a big fan of those crappy sticks either, but I would easily place the ColecoVision and INTV controllers below the 5200 in terms of usability, comfort and quality. It was just a bad idea. This makes it difficult for me to shake the feeling that the Amico’s modern take on it won’t be similar. Now, I will not make a final judgement on the controllers just by looking at them – I am very willing to give it a try and see how they are in-hand. I do like the LEDs in the dial and the touchscreen can be used like an old Dreamcast VMU. I do like that they are trying to push innovative ideas, but that’s no guarantee that the games will come up with great ways to use them. Even Nintendo tried really hard to get developers to do innovative stuff with the WiiMotes. Sometimes it worked out, but so often, it didn’t. To get people to pay attention to you at this point, they are going to have to do some really cool stuff that you can’t do on a Wii/WiiU. So far, shaking dice is ‘meh.’

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Am I saying that the Amico will be the next Magic Leap or Ouya? No. I am far more interested in it than I am the VCS, and like I said at the beginning, I have little to no nostalgia for the Intellivision brand. No one in my neighborhood in the ’80s had one. There are some things that I like about it, but I can’t ignore a lot of the issues that have arisen over the months.

Any Verdict Between The Two?

Until I have either in hand, no, but it is clear that the Amico beats the snot out of the VCS on most counts. The VCS is likely more powerful than the Amico, but good software can overcome that, and Amico isn’t trying to play the Microsoft game of “most powerful console ever created in the history of history” nonsense. Both of these consoles are curbstomped in combined terms of power, game selection, developer support, price, visibility/marketing, online features, controllers, and support from the Big Three. If either of these consoles were in the actual $150 range, then they would have an easier time of making it, but at $250-$300~, they aren’t showing anything that will compel the masses to ditch the Switch or an Xbox One S.

It is still an interesting case study to compare the two. As one user wrote in a Discord chat: “The VCS brought us the template of how not to launch a system because of a lack of communication, The Amico brought us the template of how not to launch a system because of an excess of communication.” I’d agree with that on how things have shaken out so far.

Until the consoles find their way to market, bring on the hate mail, as I’m pretty sure all of the above will ruffle feathers of the faithful, who have created a strong emotional attachment to these products. If you work for INTV or Atari, then sure, I can understand getting upset when faced with any sort of negativity towards your product. Of course, a lot of people like myself pay close attention to how you deal with such things, and it plays into our purchasing decisions. Atari utterly failed the test when they lied about their interview with The Register, and I am surprised that no one lost their job at Atari after that. But many of us don’t forget about that, nor the despicable behavior the company has engaged in since.

If you want all of your buyers to be nothing more than Yes Men, you’re going to fail, and you’re going to fail hard. If you’re willing to accept constructive criticism and fix the issues, then maybe you’ll have a chance.

 

About Shaggy

I addition to my professional work in the arcade industry which has ranged from operator to consultant, I like to write about other subjects that interest me as well...if I can find the time.

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