First Impressions of the Atari VCS Vaults

Atari VCS Vault logo

Why oh why… is the Atari VCS Vault Vol. 2 not DLC (downloadable content)? Why is it a separate install instead of DLC for the Atari VCS Vault (Vol. 1)? Atari could save us an extra gigabyte on the VCS’s tiny internal storage. No, wait, that can’t be correct. The emulators can’t be taking up a gig! So, what is?

The entirety of MAME, for example, is maybe 400MB, but I doubt the emus in the Vaults are using anywhere near that (and, if they are, then helloooo DLC!). Probably well under 50MB for the emus. The size of a basic UI in fat Unity should be about 100MB. Maybe another 25MB for menu background music. The game ROMs are just a few KB each. The audio files for the nifty new haptics in the controllers can’t be very big either.

My best guess (SWAG) is that the devs, Code Mystics, got lazy on the images for the secondary content. They likely downloaded most of them from the public domain on the web. That means, most of them probably came in the form of JPEGs of various resolutions and quality, packed inside a PDF. (And, yes, the JPEG artifacts are clear in some images, like that lousy copy of the 2600 manual.) Someone probably then did a basic load of those JPEGs into Unity textures without much thought for data size. Um, hello?, Unity textures are optimized for speed and not size.

You can get away with such antics if you are packaging for, say, a DVD, where nobody is going to care if secondary content is helping to fill out the DVD and takes an extra disc read or two to load off the disc. But, when you are packaging for download onto tiny internal storage… yeah, we care. We care a lot.

Here’s the thing, Unity can read in JPEGs just fine on the fly. No extra package needed. Sure, a JPEG may take an extra blip to decode but, for content like manuals and gallery images, who cares? So, those original JPEGs? They should have been checked for quality and resolution, shrunk if higher than 200 or 300 DPI, and otherwise left as is. Any source image not found as a JPEG should become one at a reasonable quality setting (like 70/100). Only the textures for the 3D models in the menus (the arcade cabinets and box art) need to be Unity textures. Those, however, should still be checked for size and optimized where they can (even textures have compression settings). If, for example, you can use a texture half the data size and see only a 2% drop in UI quality, you probably should. Maybe not for DVD packaging, but definitely for download packaging.

Altogether, if savvy about image data, I would expect box titles to come in at around 1MB each, and arcade titles maybe 2MB each. In other words, Vault 1 should be under 300MB (not 1100MB) and Vault 2 should be under 250MB (not 1000MB). And, together, should be just 350MB (not 2100MB)! If you build just for the contract, and not for the system and the user, that’s a shameful fail.

Maybe I’m missing something significant, or am otherwise way off on my estimates… but I doubt I’m that far off.

Yeah, I’m just not convinced Code Mystics are the experts they claim to be with emulating old games. Even less convinced given the number of bugs I ran into right off the bat. The worst so far is the Skydiver arcade game. The player sprites are not visible half the time. How do you miss something like that? With slop like that, when you see funky stuff going on in other games, you don’t know who to trust. You ask “Is this a bug in the original, or the emulation?” Given what I’ve seen so far, bet against Code Mystics.

So, um, uh, again, while these likely-overly-fat textures make some cabinets look really good in 4K (and I appreciate that) why does the Millipede cabinet look so bad in any K? Quality is, simply put, all over the place.

Moving on… a 16-second intro as part of a 20-second total bootup time? Ugh. Just more pain for something like this.

UI noob fail. When you pop up a window with 2 buttons, if you can’t immediately tell which of the two buttons is selected, that’s a total fail and you have no business making UIs. The UI is half-brained and this is just the first clue.

Considering that the Atari VCS Vault is, it appears, the pack-in title for the VCS, you would think they would try harder to make a better impression with it.

2 stars. Tune the bloat down to a reasonable level and I’ll give them 4 stars. The bloat is, indeed, that annoying given the download time and percentage of the storage it steals. The sooner you fill up the internal drive, the sooner you discourage more purchases. Bloat titles get deleted first and reinstalled last. Redo the UI, cut down and/or let us skip the intro, and fix most of the bugs, and I’ll give that last star.

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