What is MyMedia Games Network Retrospective?
MyMedia Games Network Retrospective is a regular feature that will take a look at various video game systems, technological advancements and accessories from the past. This may be a trip down memory lane for some people or a history lesson for others. Over time many companies have contributed to the video game industry in their own way, whether it’s a revolutionary step forward for others to follow, or a prime example of what not to do. With that said, let’s take a peek into the past.
After a long absence from the video-game console market with the previous console being the Atari 7800 in the mid-80s, Atari made its triumphant return with the Atari Jaguar which ended up being the last new console ever manufactured by them. It all started with Atari negotiating with a company called Flair Technology which later became Flair 2 that was financially backed by Atari. Flair 2 had two systems in development; the Panther and the Jaguar. The aim was to surpass the Sega MegaDrive (Genesis) and the Super Nintendo plus compete against the fifth-generation of consoles while still remaining cost effective. The Panther was a 32bit system that got scrapped due to the impressive progression of the Jaguar. Cybermorph the bundled game with the Jaguar was originally made for the Panther.
The Jaguar never made its way to Australian shores with the only way to obtain one via an importer. The first to officially get their hands on the system were consumers in New York City and the San Francisco Bay areas in 1993 followed by the rest of America in early 1994. The Jaguar had a price tag of $250USD which was more that the previously promised $150 - $200USD during pre-release. Even with the increased price tag 250,000 units were sold and a further 250,000 were sold by the end of production.
A collection of Jaguar commercials
Atari pushed hard with their “Do the Maths” marketing campaign with commercials often boasting technical superiority over the 16bit consoles and claiming to be the first 64bit home console. The Jaguar did run rings around the SNES with its Chip enhanced game packs and the MegaDrive with hardware add-ons. This however caused a little controversy amongst technically knowledgeable gamers as many claimed that the Jaguar was not a true 64bit system because the Jaguars Motorola 68000 CPU was 32bit and the primary GPU delivered a 32bit instruction set while being supported by 64bit graphic accelerating co-processors. However due to Jaguars chip architecture and processing methods there was enough to backup Atari’s 64bit claim. Halfway through 1996 Atari further expanded their product marketing by using early morning infomercials that were aired on US TV. These infomercials ran for the duration of the year again boasting the systems power and specs but it was all in vein because at this point both the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn were claiming their fair share of the market. On top of that the Nintendo 64 was only around the corner.
The Atari Jaguar was powerful system for its time and many units were sold because of a loyal Atari fan base, many cleaver and innovative ideas for the Jaguar were in the pipeline many of which never made it past the prototype phase. The Jaguars success was hindered by a number of contributing factors such as the limited game library, software development issues, fierce competitors and corporate takeovers.
A combination Jaguar + Jaguar CD was due to come out
Once the Atari Jaguar was discontinued it wasn’t completely wasted as the Jaguars hardware was used in multiple arcade games like Area 51, Maximum Force, 3 On 3 Basketball, Fishin' Frenzy, Freeze, and Vicious Circle. The arcade chipset was called COJAG which stood for coin operated Jaguar. Even the moulding plates used for the Jaguars casing was used by Imagin Systems for their HotRod camera. The HotRod camera is piece of dental imaging hardware used by dentists that could fit inside the Jaguars casing with only a small amount of modification. The Jaguar cartridge packs were used as an optional memory expansion for the unit.
The software for a gaming console can make or break a console and unfortunately for the Jaguar software support was limited. There was only a small library of games for both the Jaguar and Jaguar CD with many of them being ports from other consoles, with just a mere handful of Jaguar exclusives, none of which were truly groundbreaking titles. On top of that the Jaguar wasn’t developer friendly with programmers having to cope with buggy release hardware and limited developing tools (even some of the documentation was incomplete). In the late-90s when Hasbro bought the Atari Corporation properties they declared the system an open platform for homebrew. Software developers Telegames, ScatoLOGIC, and Songbird Productions jumped at the chance and released previously unfinished games along with some new original titles which kept Jaguar fans happy for some time.
A close look at the Jaguar controller also showing the overlays
Atari wasn’t renowned for making the most ergonomic designs in controllers throughout its time in the video-games industry and this reputation reflected a little on the Jaguars controller. The controller is a simplistic square shaped design with a complicated button layout that consists of D-pad, three action buttons, start button, option button and numerical keypad. Certain games are supplied with an overlay that covers the numerical keypad indicating what each button is for. Later on Atari released the Pro Controller which is aesthetically identical but with three additional action buttons and two shoulder buttons similar to the Super Nintendo. Both versions of controllers work with all released Jaguar games thanks to the additional buttons added to the Pro Controller being mapped off the numerical keypad.
The Jaguar Pro Controller
Add-ons and Accessories
Manufactured by Phillips this CD add-on for the Atari Jaguar sits on top the Jaguar console by plugging into the cartridge slot. A second cartridge slot has been integrated into the Jaguar CD still allowing the use of cartridges without having to remove the Jaguar CD add-on. This slot is also utilized by the Memory Track cartridge that holds save game data from CD based games. The CD drive is a 2x drive with a built in VLM (virtual Light Machine) that displays colourful and sophisticated light shows on screen when an audio CD is played. Atari decided to create their own CD format rather than run with conventional CD-ROM format, these special Jaguar CDs could hold up to 790MB of data. Only 20,000 units we’re produced and were sold with bundled software that included Blue Lightning, Vid Grid, Tempest 2000 soundtrack (Audio CD) and a demo of Myst .
The Virtual Light Machine in action
The Jaguar and Jaguar CD combined consumers complained that the combined unit resembled a toilet
These days we take the four player multiplayer option in our consoles for granted, but before inbuilt quad controller ports and Bluetooth technology most consoles required some sort of peripheral to allow more than two people to play at once. The Jaguar was no exception and required the TeamTap accessory to plug in up to four Jaguar controllers and by using two TeamTaps an additional four controllers can be plugged. Software that supported big multiplayer games were in limited supply.
Jaguar Memory Track Cartridge
To keep tack of save games and top scores when playing games on the Jaguar CD the Memory Track cartridge was needed which simply slotted into the cartridge slot.
Jaguar Jag Link Interface
The Jag Link plugs into DSP port situated at the back of the Jaguar and allows users to link two Jaguar units together to allow networked game play. Only three games used this feature, Air Cars, Battle Sphere, and Doom: Evil Unleashed. Two other interface linking systems were in development, an infrared and a radio version. The radio version was planned to have a five mile radius with signals sent via miniature short wave radio signals. Both these wireless Jag Links were never released.
Cat-Box Expansion Box
The Cat-Box is an aftermarket expansion module made by ICD that adds addition ports to the Jaguar system that were not originally provided by Atari.
- Composite and S-Video Jacks
- RS232 and RJ11 CatNet communication ports
- Stereo/Mono Line-Out Audio Jacks
- Two Powered Headphone Jacks with Volume Control
- RGB Monitor port
- DSP-through connector
Jaguar VR Head set
The unreleased Jaguar VR head set was Atari’s answer to current craze of Virtual Reality as many of the big names in the videogame industry had some sort of Virtual Reality system in development. The Jaguar Virtual Reality head set was designed to be used while sitting down with safety triggers implemented if the player moves out of tracking range. The system plugs into the Atari Jaguar and consists of a VR head set, a tabletop mounted tracker and a two button virtual gun controller (the standard Jaguar controller can be used as well depending on the software). The VR head set was quite advanced for its time, featuring a 7" TFT active-matrix colour LCD screen that outputted a resolution 260 by 400 pixels and up to 65,000 colours and audio was delivered via two temple mounted speakers. The table top mounted tracking system known as the ‘Tracking Station’ used V-Trak infra-red tracking to sense the position of both the VR Head set and the Virtual Gun with a lag time of 4 milliseconds. The Tracking Station had a 100 degree tracking range but the option for multiple Tracking Stations to be linked together was available to achieve full 360 degree tracking, even though no full 360 degree games were in the pipeline during development.
Another innovative product for the Jaguar that didn’t make it past development was the Jaguar modem which had a maximum connect speed is 19.2k. The modem is powered by the Jaguar power pack then a cable from the modem would supple power to the Jaguar console. Voice communication would have been possible through a microphone and headphone jack built into the modem. The only title to have code written into the game to allow compatibility with this peripheral is Ultra Vortex.
Atari Jaguar Specifications
"Tom" Chip, 26.59 MHz
- Graphics processing unit (GPU) – 32-bit RISC architecture, 4 KB internal cache, provides wide array of graphic effects
- Object Processor – 64-bit RISC architecture; programmable; can behave as a variety of graphic architectures
- Blitter – 64-bit RISC architecture; high speed logic operations, z-buffering and Gouraud shading, with 64-bit internal registers.
- DRAM controller, 32-bit memory management
"Jerry" Chip, 26.59 MHz
- Digital Signal Processor – 32-bit RISC architecture, 8 KB internal cache
- Same RISC core as the GPU, but not limited to graphic production
- 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."
- General purpose 16/32-bit control processor, 13.295 MHz
- RAM: 2 MB on a 64-bit bus using 4 16-bit fast page mode DRAMS
- Storage: Cartridge – up to 6 MB
- Support for ComLynx I/O
Jaguar technical specifications sourced from wikipedia
Previous Retrospective articles
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Written by: Matthew Armitage