Peripherals Update: Designed for Atari VCS, in partnership with PowerA

Atari VCS
9 min readMay 21, 2019

Atari VCS Classic Joystick and VCS Modern Controller updates!

When the Atari team set out to develop the new VCS, we knew that the input devices were just as important as the system box itself. The Atari VCS team and our peripherals partner PowerA have been excited to take on the challenge of designing the Atari VCS Classic Joystick and Modern Controller with the right mix of essential features, both old and new.

Atari VCS Classic Joystick and Modern Controller Update, May 2019
Atari CX40 Joystick

The one gaming accessory on the planet that’s as iconic as the original Atari 2600 is the classic Atari CX40 joystick. It’s a true icon of gaming history, intertwined with millions of happy gaming memories, and the new Classic Joystick will be a core part of the user experience for the new VCS platform. Meanwhile, a contemporary gamepad is essential for modern gameplay, and the new Atari VCS Modern Controller will enable users to play a vast assortment of newer games.

After months of testing, the Atari and PowerA teams have nearly finalized design and feature specifications, and the Classic Joystick and Modern Controller are almost ready to go into final production. That means we can now comfortably share the details on what backers can expect when they receive their Atari VCS peripherals later this year.

But before we dive in, the tattoo pictured here belongs to PowerA’s head of product, who personally represents the legend of the Atari CX40 every day. Partnered with Atari, he leads a team of passionate designers and engineers who are keenly committed to designing a new generation of Atari peripherals that the community will love.

Atari VCS Classic Joystick Update, May 2019

The all-new Atari VCS Classic Joystick

The all-new Atari VCS Classic Joystick has generated a whole lot of excitement ever since its reveal. The Classic Joystick features an all-new design, built from the ground up by Atari and PowerA, with essential functionality for anyone looking to play classic games on the Atari VCS (or on a PC). Designed to capture the spirit and functionality of the original and iconic CX40, the Classic Joystick combines modern functionality with wireless connectivity, while adding a few new twists along the way.

The all-new Classic Joystick retains the familiar 1980’s silhouette — sporting a chunky square base, tall center stick and the instantly recognizable red “Fire” button on the top corner. The center stick is fully digital and snaps back to center with default settings that map to the D-pad on contemporary gamepad controllers. That red “Fire” button still fires, and as you’d probably expect, also lets you select items when navigating the VCS dashboard and in-game menus.

Adding a Modern Twist

Now, let’s talk about the “twists.” The biggest twist of all (quite literally) is the inclusion of a rotating paddle function in the Classic Joystick. As most long-time gamers know, there are many classic games, such as Pong, Breakout, Night Driver and others, that are still best-experienced using Atari’s Paddle Controllers instead of the CX40 or other input device. Our new joystick combines the best of both worlds by putting the rotation right into the stick for whenever you are playing a game that is best-suited to a paddle: Simply rotate the stick between your thumb and fingers.

We unanimously agreed on including the paddle integration, and the team had a short list of other innovative and fun ideas to upgrade and modernize the new joystick experience.

Behind the Scenes: Classic Joystick Design and Engineering, 2019

Shaking Things Up a Little

One of our favorite — and arguably coolest — upgrades is the integration of rumble function into the Classic Joystick. When combined with the LED light ring surrounding the stick, gamers will have a device that offers unique immersive effects as a part of the Atari VCS experience.

Rumble has been a familiar part of the console gaming experience for many years now, but it became the norm long after the prime days of classic Atari hardware. What if there was a way to actually experience the feeling of your spacecraft’s destruction in Asteroids, the rumble of your tank treads in Combat, or the pop of the ball off your paddle in Pong? Imagine how cool that could all be, especially when combined with lighting effects keyed to explosions and other in-game events!

Atari VCS Modern Controller LED Light Animation Tests

Speaking of the joystick’s LED lighting effects; as some of the development photos demonstrate, the team went back and forth with the design a bit during the development cycle. You can see that some of the prototype images show the LEDs poking through the top surface of the Joystick body. This was because we were experimenting with having it look like the ring of raised orange dashes found on the CX40. Ultimately, we decided to stick with the more “stealth” design we displayed in the Indiegogo campaign photos and videos, but with a switch to orange lights (from red) underneath the surface that will better echo the CX40’s segmented ring.

We look forward to sharing lots more details about these effects, and their specific interactions with classic games, in a game-centric update coming at a later date. In the meantime, if you are a retro-gaming purist and these effects are not to your liking, please rest assured that you will be able to deactivate them if you wish.

Fire! Buttons and Triggers

Anyone who has spent meaningful time with the original CX40 knows how much it relies on your thumb to carry the main input load (aka — the beloved red Fire button). That’s a lot of work being done by a single human digit on a single button, especially in the modern day, where gamers are used to peripherals that have many more inputs and functions. We wanted the VCS Classic Joystick to be retro-inspired, but more versatile and with some key enhancements.

Atari VCS Modern Controller “Fire” Button

After the paddle function, we think the next most-exciting addition to the new Classic Joystick is its more ergonomic second “Fire” button, placed like a trigger on the corner of the unit body and easily activated with the tap of a finger on either the right or left side. It works much like a front bumper button on a modern gamepad and offers a far more comfortable and easier-to-use alternative to the top-mounted fire button. It promises to speed things up considerably when you are looking to blast hordes of rapidly advancing spiders, scorpions, fleas…and a Centipede.

The second trigger and paddle also create new functional options for designers when creating Joystick-specific games. All of the buttons, triggers, and inputs on the new Classic Joystick are re-mappable and programmable by the user. We hope the new Classic Joystick becomes a catalyst for creators to develop a new wave of awesome arcade-style and casual games that tap into its unique characteristics.

Like many other modern input devices, the previously shared iteration of the VCS Classic Joystick included “Home” and “Back” buttons, but we decided to move things around a bit and take the functions to a higher level with the goals of making navigation easier and adding access to more in-game options.

In the final VCS Classic Joystick design, the “Back” button with its familiar return arrow symbol remains where we have previously shown it. However, the button next to it — formerly labeled with a little house-shaped “Home” icon — now features another familiar glyph, the three bar “Menu” symbol that typically brings up loadouts and other in-game pop-up menus in newer games. The Atari “Fuji” logo on the corner of the joystick body, which previously was just etched into the plastic, is now an illuminated Atari logo button that handles the “Home” function for pausing or exiting the game and accessing other system-level functions, including turning the system on and off.

Modern Connectivity

Last, but not least, we think the new Classic Joystick feels really great in your hands. It has a nice weight and balance to it, and the ridges and rounded corners give it a natural fee and help ensure a secure grip in the hand during active gameplay.

As we previously announced, the Classic and all of our accessories are designed to be compatible out of the box with PC and Android devices via Bluetooth or USB. The Classic Joystick connects wirelessly via Bluetooth or the included USB cable to offer convenient play and charge capability while the rechargeable lithium battery is rated for at least 10–15 hours of uninterrupted playtime. It is still being tested and the engineers aim for it to last even longer, especially if users shut down the LEDs and rumble option.

Atari VCS Modern Controller Update, May 2019

The Atari VCS Modern Controller

Using PowerA’s already-excellent range of console controllers as our foundation, the Atari VCS team’s approach to the all new Modern Controller was far less of a departure than with the Classic Joystick. The VCS Modern Controller’s form-factor is widely-accepted in the competitive and casual console and PC communities, so we saw very little reason to mess with what’s already working for players around the world.

The buttons, bumpers, and triggers all operate just as users would expect. Consistent with the Classic Joystick, our Modern Controller features the same “Home,” “Back” and “Menu” buttons, that all operate the same way for navigation, power on/off, etc. The D-pad mirrors the center Joystick, and all the buttons and triggers will be fully re-mappable and programmable by the user. Rumble function is included, and rechargeable battery life will likely be even-longer than the Joystick, as there are fewer LEDs.

Behind the Scenes: Modern Controller Design and Engineering, 2019

Style is one place where we think this product really distinguishes itself. The Atari VCS Modern Controller is clearly the Classic Joystick’s modernized sibling. Matching Atari Fuji logo buttons share the same illuminated glow, while the “Atari Red” thumbstick and right trigger echo the classic CX40’s “fire” button. The illuminated battery indicator LEDs glow beneath the surface, similar to the orange-dashed light ring on the VCS Classic Joystick.

Our Atari VCS Modern Controller is a solid, reliable performer and it should please VCS owners, or anyone looking for a high quality, stylish Bluetooth/USB controller for PC and mobile gaming.

Atari VCS Hardware Prototyping, 2019

Entering Full-Production Soon and Shipping Alongside the VCS

The Atari VCS Classic Joystick and VCS Modern Controller are both in the final stages of pre-production. The PowerA factory is getting tooling ready and will be firing up for full production this summer. The very first units will ship out alongside the initial batches of Atari VCS systems already earmarked for our Indiegogo backers. As previously announced, these systems are all currently scheduled to start shipping before the end of 2019, with retailer shipments following in early 2020.

Since this is hardware manufacturing, before signing off we must always add that everything stated above and displayed in the accompanying photos and illustrations are technically works-in-progress. Everything remains subject to additional changes and finalization before finished products reach users’ hands. We have done, and always will do, our very best to provide the most complete and accurate updates possible. When the time comes, we hope that you will love these products as much as we do.

Until next time!

— The Atari VCS Team



Atari VCS

Atari's new PC/Console hybrid! Then new video computer system, with open platform for creativity and customization. Inspired by legend, built for the future!