Back in July 2017 it was revealed that Atari had been working to cash in on the miniature console craze with their retro game console. The console was to include a variety of older classics from the Atari brand, all bundled into one easy package. The project was dubbed the ‘Ataribox’, but it was a very informal name, with more details coming soon after the announcement. Atari had allegedly been quietly been working on the project for some time, with plans to demo the console and some peripherals at GDC 2018. That plan appear to has gone south in a big way though. Obviously, not much news has been heard about the console since that initial announcement Everyone following it assumed that it hit some bumpy developments, and things have only gotten worse not better.
As of this week, the project has lost its system architect and its design consultancy amid claims that the labor these companies put in has been unpaid for the last six months. This made all the stranger by the fact that Atari kicked off an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $100,000 to develop the retro console. A little over $3 million was accrued from 11,340 backers. This collection coupled with the dearth of news on the project led to a lot of backers beginning to question the progress on the VCS, with those suspicions only growing over time.
It certainly doesn’t help that other anonymous sources echo frustrations with the project, calling development a “shit show” plagued by technical issues and fundamental misunderstandings of the way to design and produce a console. For example, Atari execs refused to approve a customized Linux distribution that would have let the console actually work, all in an effort to cut costs. This means that the console isn’t really a console at all, as it lacks the basic software needed to operate as a standalone console. It can run software sure, but it’s being likened more to a Steam Machine or Media PC running basic Linux than a fully-featured console for retro gaming.
Games industry veteran, one of the founding team members behind the Xbox, and Atari system architect, Rob Wyatt told The Register: “As of Friday, October 4th, I have officially resigned as the architect of the Atari VCS.” He had been working on the project with his design firm, Tin Giant, who he says hasn’t been paid. “Atari haven’t paid invoices going back over six months,” so obviously the company has quit the project and moved on to better things.
“I was hoping to see the project through to the end and that it wouldn’t come to this, but I have little choice other than to pursue other opportunities,” Wyatt told press over the announcement. It’s always sad to see projects go belly up like this, but sometimes things just go wrong in the worst possible way and the money dries up before you can deal with all of the issues that spring up.
Wyatt has filed a lawsuit on behalf of his team with the aim of recouping lost wages, but it will be some time before a ruling is seen. According to said suit, and financial filings from Atari, the main company holds some €5.4m ($5.9m) available in “cash and cash equivalents” (as of April 2019), although given the age of this data, it is conceivable that the runway has run out.
Source: The Register