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Atari VCS games really are just plain Linux desktop builds

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Now that the Atari VCS is out in the wild for plenty of IndieGoGo backers, we've seen plenty of reports of how it works and one GamingOnLinux reader gave us plenty of info.

Currently, it seems like the whole thing is still in something of a Beta stage. The software seems a little on the buggy side, and there's still not much in the way of games available for it. However, it actually does sound like a reasonable good little device - which I am sure will surprise plenty of naysayers.

User slaapliedje in our Forum has been going through details including how, yes, you really can load a plain Linux distribution up with Debian Buster tested working (once you do a couple small tweaks). All very interesting but even more so is how their own Atari World OS is clearly a normal Linux distribution with a fancy console interface on top.

Pictured: Atari 5200, 7800 and the Jaguar+CD with the Atari VCS - credit to slaapliedje

Very interesting to know just how close the VCS really is to a traditional Linux box. I thought they would have customized it more, but they appear to have stuck to what they originally said about keeping it reasonably open to the point of not even protecting the games you get on it. In an email to us, user slaapliedje mentioned how they've been able to move games on their Atari VCS over to an external drive, and then launch those games on their normal Linux desktop.

You can connect another drive to it (I am currently using a Samsung USB 3 SSD drive) and hit ESC on a keyboard, boot to USB. I installed Debian on it, which you have to use a distro that has signed keys for secure boot (so my attempt with GamerOS failed). But with the drive connected, you can copy the games from within AtariOS to other storage.

Keeping in mind this is the backer release, not the retail release, they still have time to fix up lingering issues. 

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Hardware, Misc
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45 comments
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soulsource 29 Dec, 2020
Not surprising.
The Xbox One is just a desktop Windows machine with a fancy console interface and mandatory cryptographic signatures for all executables. The PS4 is just a regular BSD with a fancy console interface and similar restrictions. Why should the Atari VCS be much different?
Liam Dawe 29 Dec, 2020
Quoting: soulsourceNot surprising.
The Xbox One is just a desktop Windows machine with a fancy console interface and mandatory cryptographic signatures for all executables. The PS4 is just a regular BSD with a fancy console interface and similar restrictions. Why should the Atari VCS be much different?
The point is it's another piece of hardware out there, that is super close to Linux and developers can easily bring games to / from it for Linux. It's just interesting information that plenty of people likely aren't aware of. Just because you might understand, doesn't mean others will.
const 29 Dec, 2020
Quoting: soulsourceNot surprising.
The Xbox One is just a desktop Windows machine with a fancy console interface and mandatory cryptographic signatures for all executables. The PS4 is just a regular BSD with a fancy console interface and similar restrictions. Why should the Atari VCS be much different?
Thanks for your in depth analysis of current console architectures and software ecosystems. Will you hold a talk on next CCC, showing us how to run PS5 games on BSD? Looking forward to it. Year of BSD desktop.
soulsource 29 Dec, 2020
Quoting: const
Quoting: soulsourceNot surprising.
The Xbox One is just a desktop Windows machine with a fancy console interface and mandatory cryptographic signatures for all executables. The PS4 is just a regular BSD with a fancy console interface and similar restrictions. Why should the Atari VCS be much different?
Thanks for your in depth analysis of current console architectures and software ecosystems. Will you hold a talk on next CCC, showing us how to run PS5 games on BSD? Looking forward to it. Year of BSD desktop.

Thanks for the nice and polite reply.

Of course it's not that simple - especially since the Xbox and PS4 make heavy use of AMD's HSA, and of course the cryptography is implemented in both ways - the executables built ny the respective toolchains won't launch on a system that fails to authenticate properly. But that was not the point I was aiming at.

I just wanted to point out that also the big console manufacturers are not reinventing the wheel but build on top of existing technology.
const 29 Dec, 2020
Sorry for beeing sarcastic.
It will be a big surprise if anyone will ever build an entire software stack ever again. The difference here is that Atari doesn't only grab what they can but doesn't do anything to make the ecosystem a walled garden, which is really nice.
I still doubt this system will find a big community, even less 3rd party studios in a large scale. Still wish them some success as I think this niche will get quite interesting with the next hardware generations. I really think the time for an open console generation is near, though I suspect that it will happen with ARM and a standardized implementation of Apples Rosetta hack.


Last edited by const on 29 December 2020 at 12:53 pm UTC
Corben 29 Dec, 2020
If you wanna see the device and its controllers, you can have a look into this unboxing VOD (skip to ~12 mins for the start of the unboxing though).


Last edited by Corben on 29 December 2020 at 1:27 pm UTC
slaapliedje 29 Dec, 2020
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Upon more digging, it also is running Debian (10.6, the initial OS before updates was 10.3) and running a 5.4.0 kernel. Anyone want some more digging?

I'll be doing an upgrade to 1tb m.2 SSD and 32GB RAM as soon as my order shows up.

Edit: To clarify, the Atari OS has backup partitions for when it does an update, so one rootfs partition showed /etc/debian_version to be 10.3 and the other 10.6. It had an update the second I plugged it in. So they're working hard on fixing bugs and pushing out updates. It's still in 'Backer-Only' mode, but in essence we are their beta testers until it rolls out to other people in March (I think that's when it's supposed to have a more general release).


Last edited by slaapliedje on 29 December 2020 at 6:29 pm UTC
slaapliedje 29 Dec, 2020
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Quoting: constSorry for beeing sarcastic.
It will be a big surprise if anyone will ever build an entire software stack ever again. The difference here is that Atari doesn't only grab what they can but doesn't do anything to make the ecosystem a walled garden, which is really nice.
I still doubt this system will find a big community, even less 3rd party studios in a large scale. Still wish them some success as I think this niche will get quite interesting with the next hardware generations. I really think the time for an open console generation is near, though I suspect that it will happen with ARM and a standardized implementation of Apples Rosetta hack.
My thought at this point is that Indie studios that ALREADY have Linux native games should reach out to Atari and start getting things published on their store while it's still in a 'starved for games' level.

I mean how many games did we have ported over right away once Steam was available?
RafiLinux 29 Dec, 2020
This is interesting. If I can see it in action, I may replace my HTPCs with it.
slaapliedje 29 Dec, 2020
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Quoting: RafiLinuxThis is interesting. If I can see it in action, I may replace my HTPCs with it.
Anything in particular you'd like to see?
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