Talking All Things Atari With Jason Polansky, Associate Director of Production at Atari

Recently I spoke with Jason Polansky, Associate Director of Production at Atari about their Recharged series and exciting things happening with the company.

How did you get into the game business and what are some of the games you have worked on?

Quite a bit of luck. My first job was actually for a marketing agency that
“made games to sell games”, so I started making mobile advergames for brands like Nerf, Wendy’s, and the US Army. For games of note, I’ve lead the effort on the
Atari Recharged series since its small beginnings with Missile Command: Recharged on mobile through all eight premium releases. I was also the producer on Llamasoft’s Akka Arrh, released earlier this year.

How do you decide which games are featured next in the Recharged series?

It’s a team-effort consisting of feedback internally from Atari in addition to SneakyBox and Adam Nickerson, back when he was working on the titles. In the
beginning, we focused on arcade-style gameplay that we can modernize without breaking the formula.

Furthermore, when choosing a series of titles, we try to balance our more well-known titles like Centipede and Asteroids, with the lesser-known ones like Black Widow and Gravatar. Caverns of Mars most certainly fits in the latter category and represents that balance against the previous Missile
Command and Yars’.

What was behind the decision to make Caverns of Mars: Recharged the next
in the Recharged series?

Tadas Migauskas, producer on all of the Recharged titles at SneakyBox since

He wanted to do this one since we wrapped up Breakout and were
deciding on the next titles to do. Around the time of releasing Yars and
finishing Missile Command, we had something else planned but it was becoming a little too creatively ambitious.

In an effort to get back to the simplicity of what a Recharged title was, Tadas finally got his wish and we moved forward with Caverns of Mars.

How long is the process from selecting a game to get the recharged process
until final build in most cases?

It depends on the game. Centipede, Black Widow, Asteroids, and Breakout were
built on a different foundation than Gravitar and the ones that follow

In those cases, the first title of each batch (Centipede and Gravitar) take
the longest as it’s building systems that will be used for the following ones. Those
can take about 9 month of development time, not including various planning processes before that first kick-off meeting. Subsequent games can take anywhere from 4 – 6 months pending complexity. Gravitar was a bear.

It’s unlike any other Recharged title and took a lot more time than other entries, but that’s what we felt like we needed to do to properly give that game a Recharged treatment. It also happens to be my favorite of the

Is it easier or harder to update a game versus creating one completely
from scratch?

Both. It’s easy because you have a foundation of what the game is. On the
other hand, you’re being held to a standard of the game’s legacy and the
audience that comes in with expectations of their own.

For Recharged, there’s another
complexity which is avoiding going too far away from the game while also
modernizing something.

So we have to put some breaks on ourselves to make
sure we don’t got too far out of scope of the classic but put our own
unique spins that don’t break the nostalgic feeling for the fans.

How do you balance updating the game yet staying true to the original
while giving it a modern touch?

The constants for the titles would be simple art, easy to pick-up-and-play
controls, and true-to-the-original bones. The next step is optimizing for modern

The largest issue with playing those classic games now is that getting the
original hardware is kind of a pain. You can get as close as possible to
replicating the original feel with a current-gen controller, but it won’t feel 100%

To that end, building each game with controllers that 90+% of users will be using is a priority in capturing the feel of ~40 year old games that predated most
modern gaming sensibilities.

I have wondered why such classic games like Kangaroo have not appeared in any collections yet and have you ever considered a series like the 50th
Anniversary set where over time all versions from arcade to console would
be released?

I don’t believe we have the rights to Kangaroo… If I’m wrong, we’ll look
into it!

Is there particular classic Atari Arcade games you would love to adapt?

My two favorite classic Atari IPs are Centipede and Tempest. I obviously
jumped at the opportunity to do Centipede: Recharged the moment we got the green light to do that first batch of four titles, and Jeff Minter has made the ultimate Tempest game in Tempest 4000. There are others, for sure, but based on our pipeline, I wouldn’t want my wishcasting to be conflated with reveals of titles to come.

What were the biggest challenges with Caverns of Mars: Recharged and your
biggest triumphs?

As with all of the Recharged titles, depth from the simplest of concepts
is the most difficult challenge. How do you make something so simple replayable without players getting bored? To that end, the roguelike system brought into the Arcade mode was an excellent addition by the team at SneakyBox and really makes you think through each run.

That, and the destructible environments
would be the biggest triumphs. There’s nothing like tearing through a level with
a railgun in Caverns of Mars.

With the return of shows like E3 do you plan to be promoting your titles
at any of the live events?

We’re going to be attending GDC to unveil a new title. While that’s more
press-focused, we are actively looking into upcoming events to interact
with our fans again.

How is the new system doing as is the Atari hotel and Crypto still

There is still a strong licensing initiative at Atari which includes the
hotels, but also includes last year’s Cariuma and LEGO partnerships, among plenty others
announced and upcoming.

We, as the games team, are not currently doing anything related to the crypto
space as we remain focused on delivering the best gaming experiences to PC and console players. Atari has a separate team that operates independently from us, focusing on experiences for that particular audience.

What do you have upcoming?

So many things! Look forward to a ton of announcements from new Recharged
titles, unique takes on Atari classics, and at least one wildly exciting
new IP. Can’t say much more than that