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INTERVIEW
Ben Heckendorn

The mastermind behind creating the only portable Atari 2600
unit in existance, and how you can make your own!

MT> When did you first have the idea to hack up your existing VCS units and create your own portable?
BH> It was around the beginning of Febuary of 2000-ish. I was in-between projects and decided it was time to start one. Around the beginning of that year, I had kinda started to realize that their was more of an interest in old games & systems than I had previously thought. Even though I loved them, for some reason I didn't think many other people did. [shrugs]

MT> Did anyone try and discourage you and say that it simply couldn't be done? Any individuals cheering you on or supporting your endeavor?
BH> Um, well, nobody really tried to discourage me. I'm pretty well known for doing extravagant things like this, and this was no exception! I built the thing at work, and I think I got more support there than I did from my friends. Probably since the people at work saw the 'progress' of the thing more than anyone else.

MT> The design you created seems to be using ideas from existing portables, while having a few original ideas of your own - the battery slot makes me really chuckle! Was the shape and layout determined by the original unit itself - sort of a forced design?
BH> Oh, yes, the battery slot. Interesting, yes, but something I intend to not have on the next Atari unit! But, the battery had to be that way. There just wasn't much room left in the unit by time everything got installed. It's possible that the battery could have slipped in the side of the unit, but the problem was that the router that I used to make the case could only drill up and down. The bit can't turn sideways and punch a hole in the side of the case. Therefore, all holes, panels and what nots had to be on the top, not on the sides. The only exception is the 9 VOLT IN jack, which I drilled manually using a drill press. So, yes, forced. My first task was to get the main board of the Atari as small as possible and then go from there with the case design.

I did toy with the idea of having the screen in the center of the unit, a la the Game Gear, Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket, Game Boy Advance (geez, what didn't? The Gameboy and the Turbo Xpress? That it?) but AGAIN that would have conflicted with the inner guts of the machine so I used the design that you see now.

My next Atari I intended to have much more.... hm.... coin a term... "chop-pression" going on to make everything smaller and more stylish.


MT> How did you get the 2600 to power from a 9-volt battery (DC, or Direct Current) as opposed to it's original intended AC, or alternating current?
BH> Well, the Atari's intended input IS 9 volt DC. The power adapter thing that you plug in just takes a 120 volt AC and converts it to 9 volt DC. If you hook a 9 volt battery into the power plug on the back of your Atari, it will run without any modifications.

MT> Your Atari 2600 VCSp cost you approximately $200 in parts. This simply covers costs related to the final product, not the initial prototypes and testing. What do you calculate as your entire cost of production from beginning to end, including accidentally destroyed components, et cetera?
BH>Believe it or not, I did not destroy anything that I didn't intend to when making the Atari 2600. The case we had to mill about 3 times before we got that right, but it didn't cost me anything since it was >more or less< scrap material I was using. I hacked up a couple COMBAT and PAC MAN cartridges for testing purposes, Fear not! The creation of my next Atari has resulted in the death of 2 going on 3 Atari units. But, they are dying for a good cause. For research and development. The next Atari is going much further and is trickier than the last. So there will be more casualties. But they only regret that they have but one life to give to me.

MT> The Atari 2600 VCSp is certainly a labor of love. How many production hours have you invested creating the device?
BH> Oh, gosh, I don't know. In hours? I spent a lot of hours at work, after punching out, designing things. Lunch hours, too. Evenings spent soldering. Weekends out drinking, mostly sitting there thinking "How can I get that video (sip) working? (glug)". Maybe 80-100 hours total, over the 2 month period, including research. Might sound like a lot, but I obsess with projects.

MT> You have stated that you do make the Atari 2600 VCSp for sale, but have hinted at auctioning off the original unit? Any idea when this may happen if you do decide to part with the device?
BH> Well, yes, I contradicted myself, didn't I? First, I wouldn't sell the old unit until the new one is done, and I'm not sure when that will be. I have another project that has been back-burnered these last couple of weeks while I dealt with the fame of the VCSp. I have to work on that as well, since it involves many people who want it to be finished, and the Atari is my own personal project.

So I'm not so certain if the Atari would go on sale this year still... It might be early 2001. However, I might upgrade the old unit before I sell it. It could use some microswitches for the control pad, the Nintendo buttons WILL wear out eventually and I don't want (any potential buyer) to have to fix anything.


MT> You once were employed by Funcoland. Many people consider Funcoland a necessary evil. How do you feel about the company coming out from the inside?
BH> I LOVED THAT JOB! I really, really liked it! Sure I was 19 at the time which might have had something to do with it, but hey! It was in Rochester, Minnesota (free plug Phil if you're still the manager there) and I would go in CONSTANTLY and one day he asked me and a friend if we wanted jobs. Of course we said 'yes', so, we got part time jobs for the holidays. It was great, because people would bring in NES's to sell and they wouldn't work, so they'd just sell the games and leave the NES for garbage. A friend of mine figured out how to bend the pins (in the NES) back into shape and make it work like new! I got at least 4 this way.

I still go to Madison Funcoland at least once a month. Right now I'm trying to get a copy of Battletoads/Double Dragon for the NES. Eventually they'll have it in!

One thing, when I worked there we'd get asked at least once a day if we sold Atari. They should! Pay .25 to buy carts, re-sell them for 2 bucks. They'd clean up. Women especially go for those old games. Look how much that new Frogger game sold.


MT> So, the Vagabond is next! What advantages will this portable have over its older brother?
BH> The biggest and most obvious is that it'll be smaller. I want one that will fit easily into a coat pocket so I can take it everywhere this winter. It will have a removable screen cover so the actual screen cannot be damaged. Also the game will insert in the back, like a Gameboy. As for batteries, it will take 1 Sony Infolithium rechargeable, the kind they have in digital cameras and camcorders.

There are more improvements, (including what it will look like) but for the time being they are secret! Watch my web site for further details!

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my Atari VCSp! And everyone please wish me luck with the next one! (since it's going to be quite the task!)




Thank you, and we wish you good fortune in any of your endeavors.
Such innovation to keep classic games modern is much admired here at Good Deal Games!

Have questions? E-mail Ben
Visit Ben's Website for more information on how to make your own AtariVCSp!

 

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