AtGames is a company whose product have long caught my eye as I would wander down the game aisle at Target or Toys-R-Us. While I have always been tempted to pick up one of their Atari or Sega Flashback consoles I was just never willing to do it since I still have both original systems. This year however, AtGames is bringing new HDMI equipped premium versions of their Flashback hardware lines to market. This last Wednesday I had the opportunity to have a discussion with Ray from AtGames about these new Flashback retro consoles!
Ryan: So, for people that might not be familiar with AtGames, can you tell me a little bit about what you guys do?
Ray: Yeah, so we have been in the retro gaming market over 10 years now, probably about 12-13 years. We’ve been doing the Sega and Atari consoles for that long, and so this year is nothing new. Same old business as usual. We were also behind the Atari Flashback Classics on PS4 and Xbox One, so we kind of jumped in to bring those to modern consoles as well. We do have a volume 3 coming out as well for Atari.
Ryan: Awesome, those are actually really good collections. I enjoyed them.
Ray: Yeah, it's fun. It’s going to be out around the first quarter.
Ryan: Of 2018? Awesome.
I know why I personally enjoy retro gaming, but it would be awesome to hear your take on why Retro Gaming has seen such a boom in the last couple of years.
Ray: You know, I think a lot of it is just the age group that grew up with it. I'm early 30’s, mostly my age group and up, till like 45-ish, that can enjoy the Atari as well, we're getting to that point where we start to look back on things. At least for me, I don't dislike modern games, but they don't have that sweet spot for me. Like when I first joined this company and played Mortal Kombat, or played through Phantasy Star, something like that. New games just don't grab your sense of nostalgia like that. And then people our age are starting to have families too, and these games (Mortal Kombat wasn't the best example) but Sonic! That's something you can play with your kids, it's not violent, it's easy, it's fun. So people are starting to share that with their kids and like “oh, this is what games used to look like when I was your age”.
Ryan: For sure. I actually taught my four-year-old daughter how to play Pac-Man and Asteroids on the Atari 2600
Ray: Oh, nice! Perfect.
Ryan: So I'm actually pretty fond of the idea of these Flashback consoles!
Ray: Yeah, and there's also the Portables we have too, and those are great to give to your kids. You don't necessarily want to give a two or three-year-old your iPad, cuz the next thing you know they're going to drop it. So we have these Portables that are very inexpensive as well and they're just as entertaining.
Ryan: Absolutely. So at the end of September the new line of flashback consoles are coming out: the Atari Flashback 8 Gold and the Sega Genesis Flashback. From what I've seen, the Atari Flashback’s been getting generally favorable reviews so far, but it looks like the Genesis console had some sort of firmware issue that was plaguing the early review units. Is that something that is being worked on?
Ray: Yeah, some of them shipped with a previous build. That's why there's like a couple of great reviews and then several really bad ones. They're honest, I'm not going to try to lie about it or anything. We have been working on the firmware for the last almost 4 weeks straight, so all of that is addressed and it's going to be exactly how you would expect it once you pick it up at retail.
Ryan: That's fantastic. So end users aren't going to have to worry about doing any sort of updates or anything like that? It's just going to be good to go on launch day?
Ray: Right. It was early enough that we were able to fix all that before it went to production, so there's going to be no need for a manual update.
Ryan: Excellent. So going back to the early reviews, a lot of them did call attention to the fact that there are a lot of Homebrew games on the flashback consoles. I'm personally a fan of Homebrew, but I was wondering if you could give me some insight into how the game selection process is done.
Ray: First and foremost, the hardest part about selecting games, that I would say the general public doesn't understand, is the licensing. We can't just pitch “hey, let's put this, this, and that on it”. One thing we feel that distinguishes us from a lot of the other people who do stuff like this, is all of the games we include are fully licensed and supported by the publisher. Now sometimes that's not easy to find, especially with some of the older titles like Atari, it's very hard to track down the original IP holder. So that has to do with some of our game selection, but luckily, we've been around for over 10 years, so we've developed good relationships. Generally, if we want to find the IP holders we can and work out something with them. Now as far as the Homebrew games, we like to include some of the easier games to play. Like the Sega has like a hangman type game, that's mostly for the younger audience, but with this firmware update we have removed quite a few of them as well and added more Game Gear and Sega Master System games.
Ray: Yeah. That’s a good example of us taking the feedback and directly applying it to this years product. There’s still going to be some, I don’t know the exact count yet, but a good amount of them were removed in favor of regular Sega games.
Ryan: I do have to tell you, the fact that you can use real Genesis carts on the Sega Genesis flashback is the #1 selling point for me personally, since I’m a collector. I’m curious as to why that feature was removed from the Atari Flashback. I know it used to have it back at model 3, but it hasn’t been around since.
Ray: Right. Those original Flashbacks weren’t actually produced by us. We took over Flashback 3. I believe it was the 1 or the 2 that was able to support cartridges but you had to modify it. That was the previous company, not us. The cart slot is something we’re looking into in 2018 for the Atari, but there’s no final answer for that now.
Ryan: Of course. There’s 128 games in the Atari flashback, so you have all the games most people would want to play. I’m just weird and like the Atari 2600 version of Pac-man.
Ray: Yeah, there’s going to be 120 on the Flashback 8 Gold, and then we have Activision version, it’s going to have 130 games. So it’s going to have nearly the entire Activision 2600 collection on it.
Ryan: That’s way cool.
Ray: Personally, I was really surprised Activision was really gung-ho about this project, they really got into it.
Ryan: That’s kind of interesting because Activision hasn’t seemed interested in doing stuff like this for such a long time.
Ray: Yeah, they loved it, we worked very closely with them. We’re finalizing everything up now. I think we’re aiming for mid-November for the Activision edition unit. The Atari Flashback 8 Gold and Sega Genesis Flashback will be late September, early October, depending on retailers.
Ryan: Cool! So I’ve got to ask, is there any chance we can see a return of ColecoVision or Intellivision Flashback or maybe something new outside of the Atari and Sega brands in the next year or so?
Ray: As far as that, we did start to revisit that this year, especially Intellivision, but nothing was finalized. I wouldn’t say its out of the question for a 2018 release, but there’s nothing for sure for that topic. We do have a couple other consoles we’re working on, but unfortunately I can’t talk about that yet. There’s some pretty cool ones coming out. One of them has me really excited.
Ryan: My imagination is running wild here!
Ray: Yeah, hopefully by end of year we’ll have a teaser announcement for one.
Ryan: That would be awesome. So those units are still available for preorder, correct?
Ray: Yeah, Target, Best Buy, GameStop, and Toys R Us has it also.
Ryan: So we’re not going to run into a NES/SNES Classic problem for people that want to pick these units up?
Ray: *laughs* No, luckily that’s never been an issue that we’ve had. Like I’ve said, we’ve been around for so long, we have a great distribution network, we’re in so many different stores also. Not only Target, Walmart, things like that. We’re going to have a showing at Kroger, Dollar General, Family Dollar, all kinds of places and different retailers like that will be carrying our line. You’ll find it pretty much anywhere.
Ryan: That’s good to hear, cuz there’s nothing more frustrating for a consumer when you want to pick something up and can’t find it!
Ray: Yeah, I don’t get it. Nintendo, I want to give you my money! Help me!
Ray: The reason why we did the preorder is to help gauge the interest, and also so that retailers could get in another PO to us with enough time to reorder if they feel like they’re going to sell out quick.
Ryan: Of course. One final question, these consoles are based on emulation. Have you guys ever thought of doing an actual hardware clone at some point in the future? Without the built in games, but with cartridge ports and everything?
Ray: I’ve been here for two years, and I can’t speak about hearing that during my time here, but I can ask some of the longer term people here, but I don’t think that’s something that’s been thought of or brought up before. It’s a whole different animal to make something like that.
Ryan: Absolutely. Well, that’s all I have for today. Thank you so much for your time!
Ray: No problem, man. We’re excited!
With AtGames working hard to listen to early feedback and apply it to this year’s line really shows dedication on their part to release a premium product. After so many trips down the gaming aisle it seems I will finally be leaving with a new Atari and Sega Flashback console! The Atari Flashback 8 Gold as well as the Sega Genesis Flashback will be available September 22 for $79.99. To see which games are included with each system visit AtGames website. If anyone was planning to pick up or skip these consoles I would love to hear your thoughts as to why in the comment section below!