TE: Why replicate the internals of the Atari VCS for the Flashback 2, and not just emulate the hardware?
CV: The purpose was to give people the exact game experience, not to tamper with the existing designs on that particular project.
TE: How has the Flashback 2 done in sales since its original release? What's the latest possibility of a follow-up, a "Flashback 3"?
CV: Flashback 2 did exceptionally well. 860,000 sold in U.S./domestic. Unfortunately, Atari didn't order units in a PAL format for the U.K./European markets. Otherwise, we'd have easily broken the million mark.
A new product was developed, and if the timing can be worked out, there is a good chance of it making it to retailers shelves for the holidays.
TE: What is this "new product"? There have been rumors that the "Flashback 3" could be based on the Atari 5200, the 7800, the 2600 again - with new games, or with some form of cartridge slot - or a magical combination of any of these three. Can you hint what the next Flashback to come will feature?
CV: It will be based on the 2600 architecture, but this time we are enhancing the game experience with newer display and interfacing technologies and putting the system together into a form factor that Atari had never before delivered to gamers.
TE: The so-called plug-n-play TV game business isn't covered much in the mainstream gaming press. Is this still a profitable market, or has the appeal for these systems waned?
CV: It's still quite profitable and has evolved. When we designed the Flashback 2 and Atari sold it to retailers, it set the bar very high for the plug-n-play market. The Flashback 2 was not some "toy," but in fact a game console. Atari can now be considered the king of the "entry level console market" in a round-about way, I suppose.
TE: What's the coolest Flashback 2 mod you've seen?
CV: Someone had completely redone their case, and actually put the cartridge slot right back where it originally was on the original Atari 2600's and added some great switches to it; it looked fantastic. Another person did a whole Tron theme case. It's great to see all of the creativity that people have shown when modding their Flashback 2's. A lot more people did the cartridge mod than I thought would have, so it's good to see people having a lot of fun with the consoles.
TE: Nostalgia aside, what do you think has been the lasting appeal of the classic Atari games and consoles?
CV: Everyone knows and remembers Atari. Parents today were the arcade dwellers of the '80s. Now they can not only show their kids these great games, but they can probably beat them at them, too. It also comes down to something that even the industry itself is finally recognizing: It's not about massive amounts of CPU horsepower, full cinematic storylines or [Dolby] 5.1 or better stereo sound. It's about making games that are fun - fun but simple, too. Many would-be gamers don't want to invest 30 to 60 minutes just to understand how to play a game, its storyline, etc. Many want that "quick fix" - to step up to a game, pick up the controller and just play, have fun and enjoy themselves.
TE: Last question: Have you played Atari today?
CV: Not a day goes by that I don't.
Howard Wen is still pretty pissed off about how much the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man sucked.