|Type||Handheld game console|
|Release date||September 1, 1989|
|Units sold||2 million|
|CPU||"Mikey" (WDC 65SC02 8-bit CPU + Sound processor + LCD driver)|
|Memory||64 KB RAM|
|Display||160 × 102 standard resolution (16,320 addressable pixels)|
|Graphics||"Suzy" (16-bit custom CMOS)|
It arose as the first handheld game console with a color LCD screen. Its advanced graphics and ambidextrous layout competed with Nintendo's Game Boy (released two months earlier), and with the Game Gear and TurboExpress, both released the following year. It was discontinued in 1995.
The Lynx system was originally developed by Epyx as the Handy Game. In 1986, two former Amiga designers, R. J. Mical and Dave Needle, had been asked by former manager at Amiga, David Morse, to design a portable gaming system. Morse now worked at Epyx, a game software company with a recent string of hit games. Morse's son had asked him if he could make a portable gaming system, prompting a meeting with Mical and Needle to discuss the idea. Morse convinced Mical and Needle and they were hired by Epyx to be a part of the design team. Planning and design of the console began in 1986 and was completed in 1987. Epyx first showed the Handy system at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 1989. Facing financial difficulties, Epyx sought partners. Nintendo, Sega, and other companies declined, but Atari and Epyx eventually agreed that Atari would handle production and marketing, and Epyx would handle software development. Epyx declared bankruptcy by the end of the year, and Atari essentially owned the entire project; both Atari and others, however, had to purchase Amigas from Atari arch-rival Commodore to develop Lynx software.
The Handy was designed to run games from the cartridge format, and the game data must be copied from ROM to RAM before it can be used. Thus, less RAM is then available and each game's initial loading is slow. There are trace remnants of a cassette tape interface physically capable of being programmed to read a tape. Lynx developers have noted that "there is still reference of the tape and some hardware addresses" and an updated vintage Epyx manual describes the bare existence of what could be utilized for tape support.: ch.2, 8 A 2009 retrospective interview with Mical clarifies that there is no truth to some early reports claiming that games were loaded from tape, and elaborates, "We did think about hard disk a little."
Atari changed the internal speaker and removed the thumb stick on the control pad. At Summer 1989 CES, Atari's press demonstration included the "Portable Color Entertainment System", which was changed to "Lynx" when distributed to resellers, initially retailing in the US at US$179.95 (equivalent to about $390 in 2021).
Its launch was successful. Atari reported that it had sold 90% of the 50,000 units shipped in the launch month in the U.S. with a limited launch in New York. US sales in 1990 were approximately 500,000 units according to the Associated Press. In late 1991, it was reported that Atari sales estimates were about 800,000, which Atari claimed was within its expected projections. Lifetime sales by 1995 amount to fewer than 7 million units when combined with the Game Gear. In comparison, 16 million Game Boy units were sold by 1995 because of its ruggedness, half price, much longer battery life, bundling with the smash hit Tetris, and superior game library.
As with the console units, the game cartridge design evolved over the first year of the console's release. The first generation of cartridges are flat, and designed to be stackable for ease of storage. However, this design proved to be very difficult to remove from the console and was replaced by a second design. This style, called "tabbed" or "ridged", adds two small tabs on the underside to aid in removal. The original flat style cartridges can be stacked on top of the newer cartridges, but the newer cartridges can not be easily stacked on each other, nor were they stored easily. Thus a third style, the "curved lip" style was produced, and all official and third-party cartridges during the console's lifespan were released (or re-released) using this style.
In May 1991, Sega launched its Game Gear portable gaming handheld with a color screen. In comparison to the Lynx it had a higher cost and shorter battery life (3–4 hours as opposed to 4-5 for the Lynx), but it is slightly smaller and has significantly more games.
Retailers such as Game and Toys "R" Us continued to sell the Lynx well into the mid-1990s on the back of the Atari Jaguar launch, helped by magazines such as Ultimate Future Games which continued to cover the Lynx alongside the new generation of 32-bit and 64-bit consoles.
During 1990, the Lynx had moderate sales. In July 1991, Atari introduced the Lynx II with a new marketing campaign, new packaging, slightly improved hardware, better battery life, and a new sleeker look. The new system (referred to within Atari as the "Lynx II") features rubber hand grips and a clearer backlit color screen with a power save option (which turn off the LCD panel's backlighting). It replaced the monaural headphone jack of the original Lynx with one wired for stereo. The new packaging made the Lynx available without any accessories, dropping the price to $99 (equivalent to $210 in 2021). Although sales improved, Nintendo still dominated the handheld market.
In 1993, Atari started shifting its focus away from the Lynx in order to prepare for the launch of the Jaguar; a few games were released during that time, including Battlezone 2000. Support for the Lynx was formally discontinued in 1995.
After the respective launches of the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation caused the commercial failure of the Jaguar, Atari terminated all internal game and hardware development in late 1995 and, by early 1996, agreed to a reverse merger with JTS, Inc. which was completed on July 30, 1996.
The Atari Lynx's features include being the first color handheld, with a backlit display, a switchable right- and left-handed (upside down) configuration, and the ability to network with up to 15 other units via its Comlynx system (though most games network eight or fewer players). Comlynx was originally developed to run over infrared links, codenamed RedEye. This was changed to a cable-based networking system before the final release. According to Peter Engelbrite, when players walked through the beam, the link would be interrupted. The maximum stable connection allowed was eight players. Engelbrite also developed the first recordable eight-player co-op game, and the only eight-player game for the Atari Lynx, Todd's Adventures in Slime World, using the Comlynx system. Each Lynx needs a copy of the game, and one cable can connect two machines. The cables can be connected into a chain.
The leading-edge display was the most expensive component, so the color choice was one of economy. If the low-cost glass and drivers would have supported a million colors, I would have done it.
The Lynx was cited as the "first gaming console with hardware support for zooming and distortion of sprites". Featuring a 4096 color palette and integrated math and graphics co-processors (including a blitter unit), its pseudo-3D color graphics display was said to be the key defining feature in the system's competition against Nintendo's monochromatic Game Boy. The fast pseudo-3D graphics features were made possible on a minimal hardware system by co-designer Dave Needle having "invented the technique for planar expansion/shrinking capability" and using stretched, textured, triangles instead of full polygons.
- Mikey (8-bit custom CMOS chip running at 16 MHz)
- WDC 8-bit 65SC02 processor (based on the MOS 6502) running at up to 4 MHz (3.6 MHz average)
- Sound engine
- 4 channel sound
- 8-bit DAC for each channel (4 channels × 8-bits/channel = 32 bits commonly quoted) these four sound channels can also switch in analogue sound mode to generate PSG sound (LFSR with modifiable "feedback bits" that can generate pseudo-white noise, square waves or a variety of user-defined waves; it is difficult to obtain the sound timbre you want with LFSR). Atari reports the range is "100 Hz to above the range of human hearing"; spectrum analysis shows the range may go as low as 32 Hz.
- Stereo with panning (Lynx II PAG-0401 only, original Lynx and early Lynx II are mono)
- Video DMA driver for liquid-crystal display
- Eight system timers (two reserved for LCD timing, one for UART)
- Interrupt controller
- UART (for Comlynx) (fixed format 8E1, up to 62500 Bd)
- 512 bytes of bootstrap and game-card loading ROM
- Suzy (16-bit custom CMOS chip running at 16 MHz)
- Unlimited number of blitter "sprites" with collision detection
- Hardware sprite scaling, distortion, and tilting effects
- Hardware decoding of compressed sprite data
- Hardware clipping and multi-directional scrolling
- Math engine
- Hardware 16-bit × 16-bit → 32-bit multiply with optional accumulation; 32-bit ÷ 16-bit → 16-bit divide
- Parallel processing of CPU
- RAM: 64 KB 120ns DRAM
- Cartridges: 128, 256, 512 KB and (with bank-switching) 1 MB
- Headphone port (3.5 mm stereo; wired for mono on the original Lynx)
- ComLynx (multiple unit communications, serial)
- LCD Screen: 3.5" diagonal
- Battery holder (six AA) 4–5 hours (Lynx I) 5–6 hours (Lynx II)
Lynx was reviewed in 1990 in Dragon, which gave it 5 out of 5 stars. The review states that the Lynx "throws the Game Boy into the prehistoric age", and praises the built-in object scaling capabilities, the multiplayer feature of the ComLynx cable, and the strong set of launch games.
On March 13, 1998, nearly three years after the Lynx's discontinuation, JTS Corporation sold all of the Atari assets to Hasbro Interactive for $5 million. On May 14, 1999, Hasbro, which held on to those properties until selling Hasbro Interactive to Infogrames in 2001, released into the public domain all the rights relating to the Atari Jaguar, declaring it an open platform and allowing anyone to freely create and publish software for the Jaguar without the need of a license. Internet theories say that the Lynx may have also been opened up to the public at the same time as the Jaguar, but this is clearly disputed. Nevertheless, since discontinuation, the Lynx, like the Jaguar, has continued to receive support from a grassroots community which would go on to produce many successful homebrew games such as T-Tris (the first Lynx game with a save-game feature), Alpine Games, and Zaku.
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