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atari box News

During E3 2017, Atari posted an interesting 21-second teaser called AtariBox. In short visual stabs, it shows what appears to be a redesigned Atari 2600 console. Atari CEO Fred Chesnais confirmed that the AtariBox was indeed real, and that the company was back in the hardware business.

Naturally, that generated a lot of buzz. But before you get too excited at Atari’s possible return to the console wars, you should consider where the company is now, where it plans to go, and what Fred Chesnais has publicly stated since he rescued the company from bankruptcy protection in 2013. What you’ll find is that a full-fledged console likely isn’t on the Atari menu.
Atari, the software company

Today, Atari makes its money as a game publisher. It serves up games for Android and iOS such as RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch, Atari Vault, Centipede: Origins, and many more. The company also provides an “online arcade” where fans can play Flash-based versions of Centipede, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Pong, Yars’ Revenge, and more, within a web browser.

Atari also serves up older console and PC games such as Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime, Blood, and the RollerCoaster Tycoon series. Atari is even rebooting its popular franchises, publishing reimagined versions of Asteroids, Yars’ Revenge, and Haunted House.

Classic games optimized by Atari for a game-optimized smartwatch doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

Atari does make money from games, and it even generates cash with lucrative licensing of its brand to Hollywood. Yet that doesn’t mean Atari is able to make the huge investment required to compete with Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Sony and Microsoft often lose money with each console sold, and make up for that loss through software sales. Based on Atari’s current software portfolio, it doesn’t appear to have the cash to do that.

Chesnais said, in 2015, that the company has no plans to build a new console. Instead, Chesnais indicated his interest in producing an Atari-branded smartwatch capable of playing games. That’s totally feasible, as smartwatches on the market today can play clones of Asteroids, Galaxia, Brick Breaker, and Pong. Classic games optimized by Atari for a game-optimized smartwatch doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.
What would a new Atari look like?

What, then, is the AtariBox? In 2014, Chesnais said that Atari was contemplating a replica of the Atari 2600. The comment seemingly points to a device like what Nintendo produced during the 2016 holiday season — the NES Classic Edition console. It’s a miniature version of Nintendo’s very first home console packed with 30 games, HDMI connectivity, and the ability to save progress.

The NES Classic Edition had classic games you can’t purchase to play on other hardware, however. That’s not the case for Atari, which has frequently made its classics available on various platforms, so if the company is indeed taking that route, it will need something to get gamers excited. One possibility is an AtariBox that plays not just Atari 2600 games, but also made for the 5200, 7800, and Jaguar consoles — and maybe even the Atari Lynx handheld system, too.

Chesnais’ said in an interview that AtariBox will rely on PC technology, which is what started the excitement. That’s a very vague description, and could be a play on words to generate buzz. Both Microsoft and Sony ditched proprietary processors in their latest consoles, and went with AMD-based processor and graphics technology used in PCs for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles.

To some degree, Nintendo’s Switch console is based on PC technology, too. Unlike the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the Switch is based on a variant of a mobile all-in-one “Tegra” chip designed by PC graphics card provider Nvidia. It contains processor cores based on the ARM mobile CPU architecture, which mainly powers smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. But Nvidia’s chip also includes graphics cores based on Nvidia’s “Maxwell” design for PC-based graphics cards. In a sense, then, it could be called “PC technology.”

If Atari chose to rely on Nvidia’s Tegra mobile chip, then the AtariBox could be a themed, Atari-branded variant of the Shield TV set-top-box. But right now, Atari’s Android-based portfolio on Google Play is limited to six games including Atari Greatest Hits, Centipede Origins, and RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic. A lot of work might be involved on porting the games to Android-compatible versions. And an Android TV-based console feels unlikely given how the highly-anticipated Ouya’s success panned out.

Another unlikely route for Atari is a branded PC. The video teased by Atari hints at 2600-like surfaces that could be applied to a console-shaped PC like Dell’s Alienware Alpha, which has a starting price of $550. The AtariBox could even be a themed, branded miniature PC from Zotac or Gigabyte. After all, the company does license out its brand. We don’t think that’d be a great idea, however. Even Valve Software’s own highly-popular Steam brand had difficulty selling PC gaming machines under the company’s Steam Machine initiative. Atari wouldn’t stand a chance.

If the AtariBox isn’t an Xbox One competitor, an Android-based set-top-box, or a branded desktop PC, what is it? Our best guess is a device capable of PC-based software emulation.
PC technology, retro fun

Right now, all signs seemingly point to an Atari 2600 revamp with digital output, internal storage, and pre-installed Atari 2600 games. But if the AtariBox isn’t a straight-up copycat of Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition and SNES Classic Edition consoles, we could be looking at a device capable of playing the company’s PC games along with its limited Android library through emulation. The software would presumably be sold and maintained through a built-in Atari Play marketplace.


Right now, all signs seemingly point to an Atari 2600 revamp with digital output.

But that PC-based design would also mean the device would need to rely on a version of the free, open-source Linux operating system to keep the overall console cost down. However, based on what’s available through Steam right now, only a dozen Atari-published titles are compatible with the Linux platform.

What about input? If the AtariBox is indeed a remake of the 2600 model, expect identical joysticks connecting through a USB port instead of the previous 9-pin input. Of course, Atari could opt to throw in standard gamepads instead, but that would break the retro feel. Having full USB ports would mean gamers could purchase third-party controllers that can be used both on the AtariBox and PCs.

Despite all the recent buzz, Chesnais said Atari was still working on the design, so we may not see what Atari is up to for quite a while… if at all. Until then, we can only speculate that the AtariBox is a small Atari 2600 clone with updated components. Frankly, the fact so many of potential AtariBox ideas lead to a dead end, makes us think the concept isn’t as promising as it seems – until we learn more details, at least.

 

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Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania news

Two Sonic games are coming out this year. Sonic Forces is a modern game, with a large cast of woodland creatures that look like no living thing and many 3D sections. Sonic Mania, though, is an homage to the early ‘90s 2D platformers that made the blue hedgehog a legend, and if it’s received well, it might have a bigger impact than you’d think.

column spoke with the boss of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka, about the two different approaches on each game. It’s been a while since an exclusively 2D Sonic was made – and he’s uncertain about the reception. Yet, if things go well, it seems Mania could affect the entire course of the franchise:

“For Mania it’s kind of like a new approach – to target specifically 2D fans,” he says. “So we don’t know whether it’ll be accepted positively in the market. We’ll find out after the game’s released, and we can figure out the direction of future titles after seeing the reaction.”

That’s slightly surprising, as Mania is made by an indie team plucked from the Sonic fan community. You’d be called cynical, but probably forgiven, if you assumed that the Sonic Team view it as a sop to the old-school fans while they get on with another flashy 3D title. Not so, apparently, and that’s encouraging.

You can read Metro’s preview in full here – it’s a fun read with lots of other details, and well worth a look.
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A new Atari console maybe coming soon!!!


Atari has begun teasing a new product called the Ataribox, but right now, the company is being so vague that we have next to no idea what it is.

A website for the Ataribox first surfaced on Friday, holding a short teaser video that describes the device as, “a brand new Atari product years in the making.” It shows a device styled after the company’s retro consoles, with fake woodgrain and slatted black plastic on top. And that’s it.

The website for the Ataribox is so bare-bones that it almost looks fake. Official Atari channels don’t link to it at all, and the site appears to have been made with the free website builder Wix.
“Atari isn’t just slapping its name on the box”

But a representative for Atari confirmed to The Verge that the Ataribox is real. However, an announcement isn’t planned just yet, so it sounds like the product won’t be unveiled at E3 this week, despite the timing of this teaser video.

There’s a ton of reason to be skeptical of anything Atari. The company is far from its glory days and, at this point, mostly just republishes classic titles like Rollercoaster Tycoon. Atari also licenses its name out for other companies to slap on their products, which is why an Atari-branded smart dog collar was announced last year.

For the Ataribox, we’re told that Atari itself is involved in its creation. It sounds like a partner is also working on the device in some way, but the partnership is said to involve more than just licensing the Atari name.

That makes the product sound a bit more intriguing, even if it’s still hard to imagine an exciting Atari device in 2017. It’s possible we could be looking at a new mini console — like the NES Classic — that plays retro games, but Atari partners already publish a bunch of these. So if this is something new, it’s not clear what Atari has in mind. Either way, Atari has a tough road ahead to make the Ataribox stand out.


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The Best Video Game Remakes and Remasters of 2016


If we’re going to speak on 2016’s best video games, then we have to delve into the ones that returned for the better.

Remakes and remasters are still a trend in the world of gaming (which is a good/bad thing, depending on who you are). Plenty of past titles that didn’t get the appreciation it deserved upon release have been updated for the better. Collections that featured outstanding experiences spruced up those games for loyal/future fans. And even some of these picks we’re about to recommend added in new content and streamlined the experience for today’s gaming audience. Return to these games (that have gotten a new lease on life) ASAP.

These are our “definitive” picks for 2016’s finest video game remakes and remasters.


Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Near the late-end of the PS2’s life cycle, a slew of underrated and sadly ignored titles graced the console. The original version of Odin Sphere happens to fall into that category. It was Vanillaware’s passion project, which is why it’s no surprise that the Japanese developer revisited it for modern Sony consoles. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir not only updates the visuals and makes the art pop even more, it also streamlines the game’s problematic mechanics for the better. Characters now have the ability to perform more defending/dodging actions, new enemies/bosses were added and the melee combo action got vastly improved. Fans of Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon’s Crown should make sure to check out this quality remaster.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered

Call of Duty truly morphed into the FPS franchise to beat when Modern Warfare launched in 2007. While some fans have moved on from the more futuristic-centric entries in the series, Activision made sure to bring some fans back with a remaster of its classic entry. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered did an incredible job refining the visuals by enhancing the textures and adding high-range lighting. Besides that, the super memorable campaign is kept intact along with its quality online multiplayer suite. The only caveat to getting this remaster is the fact that it only comes as a part of the Infinite Warfare package (which isn’t all the way bad). Might as well get the latest COD with an even better rendition of Modern Warfare.

Ratchet & Clank

2016’s Ratchet & Clank isn’t so much a remake or a remaster; it’s a “re-imagining.” Ignore the lackluster film based on Insomniac Games’ platforming icons and just play this incredible game. Playing this thing will have everyone around you thinking you’re watching the latest Pixar movie. Yeah, it looks THAT good! Along with the amazing visuals, it throws in the best parts of past installments in the series in order to make this the best way to revisit the very 1st game. There’s a bunch of varied action setpieces, tons of collectibles, new weaponry (the Pixelizer is amazing in action) and the game’s not just some easy cakewalk. Take on the challenge of Ratchet & Clank. You won’t be disappointed.

Gravity Rush Remastered

It’s sad to say this, but this PS Vita original didn’t have much of a huge audience due to its portable exclusivity. When the gaming world learned that it was coming to the PS4, us and everyone else rejoiced. Gravity Rush Remastered brings such a vibrant, action-packed adventure back to life in the best ways possible. Of course the graphics have been spruced up even more. But it also adds in all the DLC that’s been previously released (we’re talking a ton of additional missions) and motion controls that’s powered by DualShock 4. Nothing is lost in translation with this quality remaster.

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered

One of Sega’s most slept-on releases has to be their interesting take on strategy RPG’s – the cult hit known as Valkyria Chronicles. Originally released in 2008, this tactics driven experience brought the best elements of 3rd-person aiming/shooting and strategic movement together. It featured a tightly woven plot that delved into the harsh realities of war. If you happened to miss it beforehand, Sega did you a solid by bringing it back to modern consoles. This remastered take on such a strong RPG features redone visuals, past DLC, English/Japanese vocal audio and the same excellent gameplay it’s known for.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

One of the more divisive entries in the long-running adventures of Link is the GameCube/Wii entry Twilight Princess. For those who actually enjoyed this darker take on The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo did right by you be re-releasing it for the Wii U. The game’s HD edition features Wii U GamePad compatibility, which makes accessing the map and Link’s expansive inventory a simpler affair. That fancy looking Wolf Link Amiibo that comes with it grants you access to a whole new dungeon (the Cave of Shadows), so there’s a new piece of content there if you’re looking for it. Add in the new difficulty mode and you arrive with the best version of Twilight Princess.

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Nintendo Switch Has Arrived !

After more than a year and a half of speculation, we finally know what Nintendo’s NX project is: the Nintendo Switch. The company revealed the first details today via a three-minute video posted to its website. You can watch it above, and read our breakdown of the trailer here.

The Switch isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s been following rumors surrounding the system. It is, as has been reported, a hybrid device — the console itself is essentially a tablet, yet it’s designed to be hooked up to a TV for home use. The tablet has two controller modules that attach onto the side for regular portable play, and they can be detached for on-the-go multiplayer or attached together to form something that resembles a regular controller.

It is simultaneously low-key and extraordinarily ambitious. Here are a few quick thoughts based on the trailer.

  • The name is good! It’s catchy, it conveys the core concept, and it’s altogether new. That’s three points over the Wii U, at least.
  • The hardware is… complex. Nintendo has its work cut out explaining how on earth these controllers are going to be used in practice. The video’s scenario of two Switch systems with four split controllers being used to play an NBA game beside an actual basketball court late at night seems impractical, to say the least. And attaching the controllers to the tablet had better be as effortless as the video makes it seem.
  • The system isn’t aimed at kids. At least, that’s not how Nintendo wants to position it right now. The trailer is all about how the Switch’s versatility helps it slot into the lives of the types of busy, young, mostly male adults you’d find in a typical tech company’s ads.
  • We still know almost nothing about the Switch’s power. The tablet base unit has actual vents, which is unusual for a mobile device and possibly puts the custom Nvidia chip in the ballpark of the Shield Android TV. As for the screen’s resolution or overall quality — or even if it’s touch-sensitive — we’ll have to wait for further announcements. But moving to mobile hardware is probably a smart decision, because Nintendo has been technically outgunned for the past two console generations without having many advantages to show for the low-power approach.

All in all, the Switch looks like a unique product that will no doubt serve as an effective canvas for Nintendo’s frequently dazzling software output over the next few years. It’s a smarter, more flexible realization of the Wii U concept, and I’m going to buy one.

But then I always was, and it’s reasonable to wonder who else will. The Wii U, which was largely a disaster for Nintendo, traded on a similar but less practical hybrid approach where the tablet-style controller only worked inside the home and was used differently across various games. It was mishandled at every level, causing Nintendo to squander the dominant position it attained with the Wii.

Nintendo’s genius with the Wii was to identify and define an untapped userbase, resulting in what was to all intents and purposes a market of one — tens of millions of people bought Wiis that would never have considered an Xbox. But by the time the Wii U launched, that userbase had moved on; the rise of mobile gaming appeared to have captured the same type of customer that would have been interested in a casual console. Or there was the possibility that the Nintendo Wii’s success was more like a novel toy than a game console.

The Wii U was a feeble effort to keep up with the shift of non-traditional gamers to touchscreen gaming, seeing Nintendo losing its nerve and chasing the puck rather than skating to where it was going to be. The system was slow, the tablet hardware was laughable, and the platform was archaic. As a vector for excellent software for Nintendo fans, it was well worth buying; for almost anyone else, it wasn’t. Since its late 2012 launch it’s sold just 13 million units, the lowest figure for any Nintendo home console by some distance.

I don’t know if the Switch can sell any fewer than 13 million units — my suspicion is that that figure isn’t a great deal larger than the absolute baseline of Nintendo fans who will buy every system no matter what. But how many more can it sell?

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