Mike Kennedy, publisher of the Kickstarter-funded Retro Magazine (not to be confused with Retro Gamer Magazine, a long-running UK publication) is hoping to bring a new cartridge-based console to Kickstarter this summer. In an interview with VentureBeat, Kennedy said the new Retro VGS will focus on bringing retro-inspired games back to the cartridge roots of their inspirations.
“To me that’s the coolest technology out there, with that longevity. A lot of us grew up with it. The kids these days are going to miss out on that.” Kennedy explained. “[We’re] going after games that are super popular in the digital, mobile, or streaming world and bringing them to cartridges to preserve them, to give gamers the opportunity to play them years down the road on original hardware, not having to emulate them, with boxes and illustrated instruction books.”
The new console will use the shells of old Atari Jaguar consoles and cartridges from the early 1990’s. In an interesting anecdote, Kennedy explained that he had managed to find the company which owned the original blueprints for the molding of the consoles and that they were, surprisingly, being used to create camera mounts for dental equipment: “The dental company bought it directly from Atari somewhere around 1998. Then they repurposed it. All the documentation from Atari, releasing all the titles and rights and interests in the Jaguar – I got all those letters when I bought the tooling, all the blueprints for the Jaguar, like 20 different prints. The release forms. But yeah, they repurposed it as a dental camera for many years. Then their technology moved on to the point that that particular product, they didn’t make it anymore. They put them up on eBay when they were done with them for, I think, six grand? And they never sold.”
He continued: “This was maybe four or five years ago, something like that. So I’ve just been following them. Then, last December, I called Steve at Imagine and said, “I want to come up and check out the tooling.” I met with Steve and saw the tooling for the first time. What’s amazing is that these tools, these punch-out molds, they still look great after 25 years. It’s pretty amazing. We got the tooling for the console shell and the cartridge shell. That’s what we’re going to be re-using.”
But while the Retro VGS will resemble the Jaguar on the surface, inside the casing it’s all new technology and will use a new controller design (which is good, as the Jaguar’s controller was pretty horrendous). The new controller has been designed by Interworks Unlimited, who previously designed a controller for the Wii U which took heavy inspiration from the classic Super Nintendo controller. Kennedy says that developers he spoke to wanted the controller to have dual analogue sticks, and that Interworks’ design for their Wii U controller was exactly what he had imagined for a modern controller for a retro console.
Like Retro Magazine before it, the Retro VGS will be funded via Kickstarter, with a campaign beginning sometime during the Summer. The campaign will also launch alongside Kickstarters for “about a dozen” a new games for the system. Kennedy cites the Kickstarter for the Ouya as one of the main reasons behind the decision. “When the Ouya launched it was Android. They were going to have games on it no matter what,” Kennedy tells Venture Beat. “There were only a few that they ever really mentioned. For us, we want to say, when this thing launches in April of next year or whatever, it’s going to have at least these 12 titles, if not more. We’re going to have a bunch of indies on board and stuff. We want to be able to tell everybody in the Kickstarter, here’s the pack-in game. We may have two or three pack-in games for the Kickstarter. We’ll probably do cartridges just for the Kickstarter backers or something.”
And as well as new and more modern games, Kennedy is also hoping to bring retro classics such as Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts to the console – dependant, of course, on whether they can raise enough funds and obtain permission from publishers like Capcom and Sega to do so.
Opinion: Given that gaming, in the past 15-20 years has been changing radically from cartidge to disc media, then from discs to digital-only being an option, the face of gaming has changed a great deal since the early Atari and Nintendo consoles. Having a piece of hardware which recalls the youthful years of colored instruction manuals, shelves of games along the wall, and the sheer unbridled joy of getting to blow in a cartridge and plug it in is, for many, a wonderful piece of nostalgia.
That said, given the sheer convenience of digital titles and always-available gaming on just one memory stick, going back to bulky shelves and gaming-only consoles might not fare as well as more nostalgic gamers hope. The new system needs to be able to appeal to a new audience as a well as an existing core fanbase if it hopes to become more than just a niche product.