Atari released its last game console in 1993. That's supposed to change when it finally ships the Atari VCS in 2020, but The Register reported yesterday that the device's lead architect stopped working with Atari on October 4, leading some to question whether the product will actually reach consumers.
Atari tapped design consultancy Tin Giant to design the Atari VCS. That firm was founded by Rob Wyatt, who helped create the original Xbox, and its involvement lent some credibility to Atari's efforts to re-enter the console market. But then Wyatt told The Register he stopped working with Atari because it hadn't "paid invoices going back over six months." Now the Atari VCS will have to be finished by a company called SurfaceInk.
Wyatt said on his LinkedIn profile (opens in new tab) that his "duties on the hardware side involve defining the electronic hardware and architecture as well as providing detailed power consumption and thermal analysis." He was also responsible for "securely booting the AMD processor and developing a custom semi-embedded version of linux with highly optimized audio and graphics drivers." The device probably wouldn't exist in its current form without him.
The Register's report arrived the same day that Atari offered a behind-the-scenes look at its upcoming product, showing new pictures of the Atari VCS. (It also recently partnered with Antstream to offer exclusive access to certain Atari titles via the company's game streaming platform.) We wouldn't be surprised to learn the images and additional information Atari published were supposed to preemptively draw attention away from The Register's report.
But this isn't the first sign that Atari VCS development wasn't going as smoothly as expected. Atari raised $3 million for the project on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform in June 2018. The device was supposed to ship in July 2019, then its release date slipped to "end of 2019," then to March 2020 and then finally to "spring 2020." It's not clear if or how losing Wyatt and Tin Giant will affect the device's release schedule moving forward.
Atari's been around since 1972. It released numerous consoles, a handheld gaming device and other products over the course of several decades. The Atari VCS exceeded its funding goal on Indiegogo by nearly 3,000%. It's also a fairly simple device, at least compared to the upcoming PlayStation and Xbox consoles it's primary appeal is nostalgia.
Yet, it can't stick to a release schedule or pay invoices submitted by its system architect? Those failures would be embarrassing for an unknown company trying to make its first hardware product. For something with as much history, funding and outside assistance as Atari, it's nearly unconscionable. Atari has yet to respond to Wyatt's claims. But if the allegations have any merit, perhaps the the company--and the wood paneling with which it's adorning its latest gaming product--should've remained a memory.