Atari Jaguar

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Atari Jaguar
Jaguar Logo.png
Atari Jaguar
Manufacturer Atari Corporation
Type Video game console
Generation Fifth generation
Retail availability
  • NA November 15, 1993[1]
  • JP November 21, 1994[2]
  • EU Q4, 1994
Discontinued 1996
Units sold 250,000 or fewer[3][4]
Media ROM cartridge, CD-ROM (Add-On)
CPU multi-processor
Predecessor Atari XE Game System

The Atari Jaguar is a video game console that was released by Atari Corporation in 1993. It was the last to be marketed under the Atari brand until the release of the Atari Flashback in 2004. It was designed to surpass the Mega Drive/Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Panasonic 3DO in processing power. Although launched one year earlier, it was eventually in competition with the Sega Saturn, the PlayStation, and other consoles that made up the fifth generation of video game consoles. The console was first released in New York City and San Francisco in 1993, and the rest of the US in early 1994.[1] Although it was marketed as the first 64-bit gaming system, the Jaguar proved to be a commercial failure and prompted Atari to leave the home video game console market. Despite its commercial failure, the Jaguar has a dedicated fan base that produces homebrew games for it.[5] It was the last console from an American company until the 2001 introduction of Microsoft's Xbox.

Development[edit]

The Jaguar was developed by the members of Flare Technology, a company formed by Martin Brennan and John Mathieson. The team had claimed that they could not only make a console superior to the Sega Genesis or the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but they could also be cost-effective.[citation needed]

Impressed by their work on the Konix Multisystem, Atari persuaded them to close Flare and form a new company called Flare II, with Atari providing the funding.[citation needed] Flare II initially set to work designing two consoles for Atari Corp. One was a 32-bit architecture (codenamed "Panther"), and the other was a 64-bit system (codenamed "Jaguar"); however, work on the Jaguar design progressed faster than expected, so Atari Corp. canceled the Panther project to focus on the more promising Jaguar.

Reception[edit]

The standard controller was criticized for complexeity of design.[6]

The Jaguar was introduced in 1993 at a price of $249.99,[4] under a $500 million manufacturing deal with IBM. The system was initially marketed only in the New York City and the San Francisco Bay areas, under the slogan "Do the Math",[4] claiming superiority over competing 16-bit and 32-bit systems. A US-wide release followed in early 1994.

The Atari Jaguar struggled to attain a substantial user base. In 1993, Atari reported that they had shipped 17,000 units as part of the system's initial test market.[7] By the end of 1994, Atari reported that they had sold approximately 100,000 systems and had reduced the price to improve the competitive nature of the console.[8] By the end of 1995, Sony and Sega had entered the marketplace with competing consoles and Atari's sales declined rapidly. In their 1995 annual report, they noted:

"Jaguar sales were substantially below Atari's expectations, and Atari's business and financial results were materially adversely affected in 1995 as Atari continued to invest heavily in Jaguar game development, entered into arrangements to publish certain licensed titles and reduced the retail price for its Jaguar console unit. Atari attributes the poor performance of Jaguar to a number of factors including (i) extensive delays in development of software for the Jaguar which resulted in reduced orders due to consumer concern as to when titles for the platform would be released and how many titles would ultimately be available, and (ii) the introduction of competing products by Sega and Sony in May 1995 and September 1995, respectively."[9]

Jaguar did earn praise with titles such as Tempest 2000, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3D.[10] The most successful title during the Jaguar's first year was Alien vs. Predator.[11] Both it and Tempest 2000 were named among the system's defining titles by GamePro in 2007.[4] With such a small library of games[12] to challenge the incumbent 16-bit game consoles, Jaguar's appeal never grew beyond a small gaming audience.

In 2006 IGN editor Craig Harris rated the Jaguar controller as the worst ever,[6] criticizing the complexity of the "phone keypad" and the VGA-style D-subminiature connector. A version that has six action buttons, the Pro Controller, is suggested for certain games.

Lack of titles was attributable to two main factors: the Jaguar's questionable long-term prospects among third-party game-publishers and the problematic nature of developing games for the Jaguar. Atari had one opportunity to convince third-party developers, vital for the diversity of Jaguar's game library, with a solid retail-performance, but as things played out, post-holiday sales figures questioned the viability of Atari's business; Atari failed to attract many third-party developers already committed to other game platforms. In addition, the Jaguar's underlying hardware was crippled by a flaw in the CPU's memory controller, which prevented code execution out of system RAM. Less severe, but still annoying defects included a buggy UART. The memory controller flaw could have been mitigated by a mature code-development environment, to unburden the programmer from having to micromanage small chunks of code. Jaguar's development tools left much to the programmer's own implementation, as documentation was incomplete. Writing game-code was often an endurance exercise in the tedious assembler.

In a July 1995 interview with Next Generation, then-CEO Sam Tramiel declared that the Jaguar was as powerful, if not more powerful, than the Sega Saturn, and slightly weaker than the PlayStation.[13]

The Pro Controller was released late in the system's life, but added more face buttons and L/R triggers.

By the end of 1995, Atari's revenues declined by more than half, from US$38.7 million in 1994 to $14.6 million in 1995.[3] In late 1995, Atari Corp. ran early-morning infomercial advertisements with enthusiastic salesmen touting the powerful game system. The infomercials ran most of the year, but did not significantly sell the remaining stock of Jaguar systems. In its 10-K405 SEC Filing, filed April 12, 1996, Atari informed their stockholders of the truly dire nature of the Jaguar business:

From the introduction of Jaguar in late 1993 through the end of 1995, Atari sold approximately 125,000 units of Jaguar. As of December 31, 1995, Atari had approximately 100,000 units of Jaguar in inventory.[3]

Atari had already suffered an ill-fated crash in the mid-1980s as a result of the oversaturation of the video game market by third-party developers.

Production of the Jaguar ceased after Atari Corp. merged with JT Storage in a reverse takeover.[14] In a last-ditch effort to revive the Jaguar, Atari Corp. tried to play down the other two consoles by proclaiming the Jaguar was the only "64-bit" system. This claim is questioned by some,[15] because the CPU (68000) and GPU executed a 32-bit instruction-set, but sent control signals to the 64-bit graphics co-processors (or "graphics accelerators"). Atari Corp.'s position was that the mere presence of 64-bit ALUs for graphics was sufficient to validate the claim. Design specs for the console allude to the GPU or DSP being capable of acting as a CPU, leaving the Motorola 68000 to read controller inputs. In practice, however, many developers used the Motorola 68000 to drive gameplay logic.

Over the short life of the console, several add-on peripherals were announced. However, only the ProController, the Atari Jaguar CD drive, and the JagLink (a simple two-console networking device) reached retail shelves. A voice modem[16] and VR headset[17] (with infrared head-tracking) existed in prototype form, but were never commercialized (see Loki and Konix Multisystem for early development).

Legacy[edit]

After the Atari Corporation properties were bought out by Hasbro Interactive in the late 1990s, Hasbro released the rights to the Jaguar, declaring the console an open platform and opening the doors for homebrew development.[18] A few developers, including Telegames and Songbird Productions, have not only released previously unfinished materials from the Jaguar's past, but also several brand new titles to satisfy the system's cult following.

In the United Kingdom in 2001, a deal was struck between Telegames and retailer Game to bring the Jaguar to Game's retail outlets. The machine was initially sold for £29.99 brand new and the software was ranged between £9.99 for more common games such as Doom and Ruiner Pinball, and up to £39.99 for more sought-after releases such as Defender 2000 and Checkered Flag. The machine had a presence in the stores until 2007 when remaining consoles were sold off for £9.99 and games were sold for as low as 97p.

This deal was seen as a move to remain competitive with Game's rival at the time, Gamestation, who were well known for stocking retro formats.

Imagin Systems, a manufacturer of dental imaging equipment, has since purchased the molding plates for the Jaguar's casing as with minor modification they were found to be the right size for housing their HotRod camera.[19] The game cartridge molds were reused to create an optional memory expansion card.[20]

The Jaguar continues to have a small and dedicated game development circle.

Technical specifications[edit]

The Jaguar utilized a multi-chip architecture that was difficult for most developers to use.

From the Jaguar Software Reference manual, page 1:[21]

Jaguar is a custom chip set primarily intended to be the heart of a very high-performance games/leisure computer. It may also be used as a graphics accelerator in more complex systems, and applied to workstation and business uses. As well as a general purpose CPU, Jaguar contains four processing units. These are the Object Processor, Graphics Processor, Blitter, and Digital Sound Processor. Jaguar provides these blocks with a 64-bit data path to external memory devices, and is capable of a very high data transfer rate into external dynamic RAM.

Processors[edit]

  • "Tom" Chip, 26.59 MHz
    • Graphics processing unit (GPU) – 32-bit RISC architecture, 4 KB internal cache, all graphics effects are software based.
      • Core has some additional instructions intended for 3D operations
    • Object Processor – 64-bit non-programmable; provides all video output from system.
    • Blitter – 64-bit high speed logic operations, z-buffering and Gouraud shading, with 64-bit internal registers.
    • DRAM controller, 8, 16, 32 and 64-bit memory management
  • "Jerry" Chip, 26.59 MHz
    • Digital Signal Processor – 32-bit RISC architecture, 8 KB internal cache
      • Similar RISC core as the GPU, additional instructions intended for audio operations
    • CD-quality sound (16-bit stereo)
      • Number of sound channels limited by software
      • Two DACs (stereo) convert digital data to analog sound signals
      • Full stereo capabilities
    • Wavetable synthesis, FM synthesis, FM Sample synthesis, and AM synthesis
    • A clock control block, incorporating timers, and a UART
    • Joystick control
  • Motorola 68000 "used as a manager".[22]
    • General purpose 16/32-bit control processor, 13.295 MHz
The inputs and outputs of an NTSC Atari Jaguar

Other Jaguar features[edit]

  • RAM: 2 MB on a 64-bit bus using 4 16-bit fast page mode DRAMs
  • Storage: ROM cartridges – up to 6 MB
  • DSP-port (JagLink)
  • Monitor-port (Composite/S-Video/RGB)
  • Antenna-port (UHF/VHF) Fixed at 591 MHz in Europe
    • Not present on French model
  • Support for ComLynx I/O
  • NTSC/PAL machines can be identified by their power LED colour, Red = NTSC, Green = PAL

Accessories[edit]

The Atari Jaguar CD and Pro Controller were released shortly before Atari Corp discontinued support for the system.

Atari Jaguar CD[edit]

The Atari Jaguar CD or Jag CD is a CD-ROM peripheral that sat on top the Atari Jaguar video game console and plugged in through the cartridge slot.

Memory Track[edit]

Released in 1995, the Atari Jaguar CD Memory Track is a cartridge that contains a 128 K EEPROM, allowing Atari Jaguar CD games to save persistent data such as preferences and saved games. The Memory Track Program Manager is accessed by pushing the option button while the system is starting, and exited by pushing the * and # keys simultaneously.[23][24]

Team Tap[edit]

The Atari Jaguar "Team Tap" is a multi-player adapter for use on certain Jaguar games. It was available by itself, or as a pack-in with the four player game White Men Can't Jump. Each Team Tap supports up to 4 players; by plugging Team Taps into both Jaguar cartridge ports, up to 8 players are supported.[25] The only games compatible with the Team Tap are White Men Can't Jump and NBA Jam Tournament Edition.

Jaglink Interface[edit]

The Atari Jaguar "Jaglink Interface" enables players to hook two Atari Jaguars connected to two TVs together with a phone cable, allowing multiplayer gaming on two separate screens. The only games to support this add-on are DOOM, BattleSphere, and AirCars. The Jaglink is also used to connect the Jaguar to a PC for game development using the JUGS DD (Jaguar Unmodified Game Server Dev Disc) dev system disk for Jaguar CD that was included in BattleSphere Gold, which also came with the "JUGS Device" (a DB9 to phone cord adapter) to connect a PC to a Jaguar via Jaglink.[26] Jaglink is also compatible with ICD's CatBox. Jaglink came in sets of two.

Atari Jaguar CD Bypass Cartridge[edit]

The Atari Jaguar CD Bypass Cartridge from B&C Computervisions allows players to boot unencrypted discs on an Atari Jaguar CD system.

CatBox by ICD[edit]

The "CatBox" is an unofficial expansion peripheral for the Atari Jaguar released in 1996 by the Rockford, Illinois company ICD. The ICD CatBox plugs directly into the AV/DSP connectors located in the rear of the Jaguar console and provides three main functions. These are audio, video, and communications. It features six output formats, three for audio (line level stereo, RGB monitor, headphone jack with volume control) and three for video (composite, S-Video, and RGB analog component video) making the Jaguar compatible with multiple high quality monitor systems and multiple monitors at the same time. It is capable of communications methods known as CatNet and RS-232 as well as DSP pass through, allowing the user to connect two or more Jaguars together for multi player games either directly or with modems. The ICD CatBox features a polished steel casing and red LEDs in the jaguar's eyes on the logo that indicate communications activity. An IBM AT type null modem cable may be used to connect two Jaguars together.[27] The CatBox is also compatible with Atari's Jaglink Interface peripheral.

Atari Jaguar VR Headset Prototype[edit]

Atari developed several Virtual Reality headset prototypes for the Jaguar. There were two models, a blue and grey high resolution unit, and a red and grey low resolution unit. After Atari merged with JTS in 1996, most of the headsets were reportedly destroyed, but not all of them. Supposedly, there are only two working units known to be left in existence. The only game released that was compatible with the Atari Jaguar VR Headset was Missile Command 3D.[28]

Atari Jaguar Cortina Web TV Adapter Prototype[edit]

An adaptor for the Jaguar that allows for WebTV access was revealed in 1998, one prototype is known to exist.

Jaguar Voice/Data Communicator aka Jaguar Voice Modem (JVM) Prototype[edit]

In 1994 at the CES, Atari announced that it partnered up with Phylon, Inc. to create the Jaguar Voice/Data Communicator. The unit was delayed and eventually in 1995 mass production was canceled all together, but not before an estimated 100 or so were made. The JVM as it became known, utilized a 19.9kbit/s dial up modem and had the ability to answer incoming phone calls and store up to 18 phone numbers. Players were required to directly dial each other for online game play. The only Jaguar game that supports the JVM is Ultra Vortek, the modem is initialized in the Ultra Vortek start up screen by entering 911 on the key pad.[29]

COJAG Arcade Games[edit]

Atari Games licensed the Atari Jaguar's chipset for use in its arcade games. The system, named COJAG (for "Coin-Op Jaguar"), replaced the 68000 with a 68020 or MIPS R3000-based CPU (depending on the board version), and added a hard drive and more RAM. It ran the lightgun games Area 51 and Maximum Force, which were released by Atari as dedicated cabinets or as the Area 51/Maximum Force combo machine. Other games (3 On 3 Basketball; Fishin' Frenzy; Freeze; Vicious Circle) were developed but never released.

Atari Jaguar Duo[edit]

The Atari Jaguar Duo was a proposed console similar to the Sega Neptune. It was an attempt by Atari to combine the Atari Jaguar and Atari Jaguar CD to make a new console. It was never completed and was thus never released. After cancelling the console, Atari was bought by Hasbro and ceased all console development.[30]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "ATARI SHIPS JAGUAR FOR NEW YORK AND SAN FRANCISCO MARKETS; WORLD'S FIRST 64-BIT INTERACTIVE MULTIMEDIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM AVAILABLE". PR Newswire. November 23, 1993. Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
  2. ^ "Atari Jaguar stalks Japan.". PR Newswire. November 21, 1994. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  3. ^ a b c ATARI CORP Annual Report (Regulation S-K, item 405) (10-K405) ITEM 7. MANAGEMENT'S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL C
  4. ^ a b c d Blake Snow (2007-05-04). "The 10 Worst-Selling Consoles of All Time". GamePro.com. Archived from the original on 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  5. ^ Goss, Patrick. "Redundant gadgets (Atari Jaguar entry)". Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  6. ^ a b "Top 10 Tuesday: Worst Game Controllers". IGN. 2006-02-21. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  7. ^ Atari Corporation Annual Report, 1993. pp 14.
  8. ^ Atari Corporation Annual Report. pp 11.
  9. ^ Atari Corporation Annual Report, 1993. pp 3.
  10. ^ Atari Jaguar History. AtariAge. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
  11. ^ Atari Corporation 1994 annual report. pp 3.
  12. ^ Greg Orlando (2007-05-15). "Console Portraits: A 40-Year Pictorial History of Gaming". Wired News. Condé Nast Publications. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  13. ^ "Atari's President talks back". Next Generation. July 1995. 
  14. ^ "Atari and JT Storage Reorganisation Plan". One Cle. Archived from the original on 9 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-25. 
  15. ^ "Jaguar 64-bit?? No.". 
  16. ^ Mowatt, Todd. Atari to Unleash new Jaguar CD and Jaguar III. Electronic Gaming Monthly. Issue 70. Pg 28. May 1995.
  17. ^ Gaming Gossip. Electronic Gaming Monthly. Issue 70. Pg 54. May 1995.
  18. ^ "Hasbro Releases Jaguar Publishing Rights". Hasbro Interactive. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  19. ^ "Atari Jaguar Revived As Dental Camera". 1UP. January 1, 2010. Retrieved October 24, 2010. 
  20. ^ "HotRod". Imagin. Retrieved October 24, 2010. 
  21. ^ Jaguar Software Reference Manual - Version 2.4. Atari Corp. 1995. 
  22. ^ Atari Jaguar Software Reference Manual, Atari Corp. 1995, Pg 2
  23. ^ Atari Jaguar CD Memory Track instruction card
  24. ^ Atari Jaguar CD Memory Track box
  25. ^ Atari Jaguar Team Tap box
  26. ^ Battle Sphere Gold manual addendum
  27. ^ Official CatBox Manual - Final Version 1.01c - May 8, 1996
  28. ^ "Atari Jaguar had a VR headset?! One of the two left intact is up for auction | Games". Geek.com. 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2013-11-18. 
  29. ^ Vinciguerra, Robert. "A Complete History of Online Console Gaming in the United States". The Rev. Rob Times. RevRob.com. Retrieved 5 December 2007. 
  30. ^ Edwards, Benj (2011-05-14). "10 Unreleased Video Game Consoles - Atari Jaguar Duo (1995) - Slideshow from". PCMag.com. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 

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