Last week, Atari pulled the curtain back from its “Atari Box” to announce the Atari VCS. The Linux-based system was on-hand at Game Developers Conference, where I was able to learn a bit more about the project.

While working prototypes exist, the model Atari brought to GDC was a non-working unit. However, it features the current set of ports, as well as the current working external design. Two controllers were also in the private room Atari based its GDC operations out of. The first controller was slicker rendition of the classic Atari joystick form-factor (with lights that illuminated in the direction you tilt the stick). In addition, the stick rotates to work with games that originally required a paddle controller. For the more complicated games that VCS plays, Atari also has a controller that looks and feels similar to the Xbox 360 controller. The biggest difference between Atari’s controller and Xbox’s is the d-pad, which I wish I could have tried out. Even without using it, the controller prototype feels great to hold.

Atari VCS plays much more than the old Atari titles. While the console is meant in part to be a celebration of Atari’s long heritage, the Linux base means that there is little standing in the way of bringing an avalanche of Linux games to the system. The console features an ethernet port to help it stream games, but it can also add external storage through the USB ports to store games locally.

The model I saw features the classic Atari woodgrain aesthetic, but the team tells me there will be other cosmetic themes as well. I’m told the team is striving for something that nods to the company’s history, while serving as something with a cool silhouette that people will proudly display on their entertainment stands.

You can see some up-close photos of Atari’s non-working VCS prototype below. We should learn more details about the VCS in the next month.

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