Atari - not the Atari of your dad's generation but the new Atari which is basically a company that owns the brand - has been in the press a lot of late. The 'new' company is doing everything it can to profit from the cachet which surrounds gaming's first major player, from licencing the logo for Blade Runner 2049 to publishing new titles (with the help of crowdfunding).
However, the Atari VCS (which borrows the name of the company's most successful console, also known as the Atari 2600) is a step into a much larger league. Announced a while back, it seemed to be part NES Classic Edition, part Ouya; it will run classic Atari games but is apparently powerful enough to play modern titles, too.
We say 'apparently' because it would appear that even Atari itself has little idea what the final machine will do. Tech site The Register visited the company's stand at GDC for a live demo and was shocked to discover that not only was the hardware just a mock-up (the wireless controller was a dummy unit without working buttons) but the executive overseeing the project - Michael Arzt - was unable to convincingly answer even very basic questions about the system, its accessories and the software we'll (apparently) be playing on it.
Atari took issue with the coverage and published the following statement:
We honestly can't explain that article either. Our executives sat with that reporter for half an hour and he wrote what he wanted instead of what was discussed with him. Sadly there are even irresponsible trolls in 'professional' positions I guess.
We clearly said that we were bringing engineering design models to GDC and lots of people clearly don't understand what that means. Hunks of plastic? Well, yeah, that's how you finalize the designs and confirm that you can get the look and feel you want for the finished products. Sad.
The Register has responded by publishing the full audio interview with Arzt, in which he fumbles questions about key info. The most Artz is willing to divulge is that the VCS will cost around $250 / £180, will handle 4K video, will be powered by an AMD chipset (although it hasn't been decided which yet) and will use Linux. Given that it's unlikely to be challenging the PS4 and Xbox One - or their successors - in terms of processing power, it's fair to say that Atari's closest competitor may well end up being Nintendo.
However, judging from the responses given by Artz, it seems likely that Atari doesn't even have a functioning prototype yet and is essentially using the crowdfunding campaign to raise the capital required to begin work in earnest - a very dangerous strategy, but one that appears to be working. There's a week left on Atari's VCS Indiegogo campaign and it has raised a whopping $2,921,382 at the time of writing - its initial goal was a modest $100,000. That's a handsome sum of cash, but is it enough to create, manufacture and promote a new piece of gaming hardware? We're not so sure.
Can the modern-day Atari possibly deliver on its promises? Or will the VCS turn out to be little more than vapourware, much like one of Atari's previous crowdfunded efforts, the troubled Gameband? Let us know what you think - and if you believe Nintendo should be worried about this potential rival - by posting a comment.