The legacy of the Jaguar

When you con­sider the Atari Jaguar failed so badly in the re­tail mar­ket it caused atari to quit the in­dus­try it helped start, it’s al­most stag­ger­ing to com­pre­hend the im­pact that it had. on the con­sole’s 25th AN­NIVER­SARY it’s time to ex­plore that legacy

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - Words by Kieren Hawken

We’ve cov­ered the his­tory of the Atari Jaguar on these hal­lowed pages many times be­fore, so we don’t want to go over that again, but a brief set­ting of the scene is def­i­nitely in or­der. Cast your minds to Novem­ber 1993 where after sev­eral de­lays the con­sole that was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped in Cam­bridge, Eng­land as the Flare 2 by a bunch of ex-sin­clair en­gi­neers fi­nally ar­rived. The con­sole had been hyped by Atari and the press, and Atari was promis­ing a re­birth of the com­pany as it re-en­tered the mar­ket it’d ig­nited with the launch of the Atari 2600 back in 1977.

Un­for­tu­nately not ev­ery­thing went as planned, the pro­duc­tion de­lays caused by man­u­fac­tur­ers IBM had not only pushed the launch much closer to Christ­mas than Atari had ini­tially wanted, but also left it woe­fully short of in­ven­tory. This meant the Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany was only able to re­lease the con­sole into two test mar­kets. New York and its own back yard of San Fran­cisco where it sold out in a mat­ter of days.

Dar­ryl Still and his team at Atari Europe had man­aged to build up im­pres­sive pre­order num­bers of over 2 mil­lion units, only to be told that they were only get­ting 2,000 units for the UK launch party at Ham­ley’s and would have to wait un­til the fol­low­ing year for a full-blown roll­out. By then it was too late, the gam­ing press had got bored of wait­ing, and the an­nounce­ment of the up­com­ing Sega Saturn and Sony Plays­ta­tion had left con­sumers hold­ing onto to their pen­nies. Atari was de­ter­mined to carry on, though, and de­spite the writ­ing al­ready be­ing on the wall, it lasted out un­til 1996, and, ul­ti­mately, we’re glad it did, be­cause from the clutches of fail­ure came a legacy that is un­matched by other failed con­soles.

We all know that a con­sole is noth­ing with­out games and one of the chief crit­i­cisms aimed at the Jaguar over the years is that it just didn’t have enough of them. Nei­ther did it have most of the big-name ti­tles that ev­ery­one wanted. But that’s not to say it didn’t have any good games. Once you start to ex­am­ine the Jaguar’s li­brary in more de­tail, you ac­tu­ally dis­cover that not only are there more good games than peo­ple give it credit for, but also a pretty

de­cent se­lec­tion of sys­tem ex­clu­sives that can’t be played else­where.

Atari faced a huge amount of re­sis­tance get­ting peo­ple to de­velop for the Jaguar, and then it faced even more is­sues when those devs dis­cov­ered just how dif­fi­cult it was to make these games. A poor de­vel­op­ment kit, com­pli­cated mul­ti­pro­ces­sor ar­chi­tec­ture, bugs in the chipset, Atari’s rep­u­ta­tion in the in­dus­try and a se­vere lack of money on Atari’s be­half were all huge stum­bling blocks. The lat­ter two of these meant that Atari went about re­cruit­ing de­vel­op­ers in a dif­fer­ent man­ner, look­ing for young up­com­ing teams with in­ter­est­ing new ideas rather than big-name es­tab­lished com­pa­nies.

One group was Ox­ford based Re­bel­lion, which is now an in­dus­try big-hit­ter but it wasn’t al­ways that way, co­founder Ja­son Kings­ley tells us about how Re­bel­lion got hired. “Well, it’s ac­tu­ally a slightly bizarre story! My brother Chris and I had put to­gether a demo of a game that in­volved Vik­ing long­ships and dragons fight­ing, which one day we might re­turn to. So we went along to Atari to pitch the demo to Alis­tair Bodin, who was im­pressed and said that

Bob Gleadow, the manag­ing di­rec­tor of Atari Europe should see it. So Bob came to meet us and look at the demo – in those days this was in Slough, and Atari was a shadow of its for­mer self. It was an of­fice that was prob­a­bly set up for 500 peo­ple, but there were about 20 peo­ple work­ing in it. So ev­ery­body had their own of­fice and an ex­tra of­fice, there was tons of space ev­ery­where, and brown Hes­sian wall­pa­per – very Sev­en­ties. Any­way, when Bob saw the demo he said, ‘Wow, this is bril­liant. This might work re­ally

It was an of­fice that was prob­a­bly set up for 500 peo­ple, but there were about 20 peo­ple work­ing in it Ja­son Kings­ley

well for our new con­sole.’ And Alis­tair said, ‘What new con­sole?’ And that was the first time any­body else in Europe knew about the Jaguar. Chris and I were just sit­ting there slightly em­bar­rassed as we re­alised we were there at one of those key mo­ments in a cor­po­ra­tion’s life. It was very funny.”

Sega had Sonic, Nin­tendo had Mario but who did Atari have? No­body, as it turned out. But it was nearly very dif­fer­ent in­deed, as Ubisoft’s Fred­eric Houde ex­plains. “We started our de­vel­op­ment on Ray­man for the Su­per Nin­tendo, tar­get­ing the new SNES CD be­cause of the size of our game. Un­for­tu­nately it never came to be, and so we had to choose a new tar­get and we knew at that mo­ment it had to be a next-gen con­sole. That left us choos­ing be­tween 3DO and Jaguar and while the 3DO scene was pretty ac­tive, Atari was an es­tab­lished games com­pany. Then we also dis­cov­ered that the 3DO was not able to ren­der our Ray­man demo at 60fps. This was some­thing very im­por­tant to us. A good ar­cade game or com­puter game that has a full screen scrolling should be 60fps! So we never built any­thing

on 3DO and started work on the

Jaguar game. We showed the demo to Atari and they liked it very much and wanted us to keep it on the Jaguar only. But once Sony showed up with their PSX and lots of cash Ubisoft were left with an easy de­ci­sion to make.”

Whether the Jaguar hav­ing Ray­man as its mas­cot would have brought suc­cess is up for de­bate, but the fact that the char­ac­ter still en­dures to this day shows his ap­peal. Sony’s in­ter­est caused Ray­man to be de­layed for nearly a year, but even when it did ap­pear as a mul­ti­for­mat game, the Jaguar ver­sion was very im­pres­sive. “Jaguar Ray­man is miss­ing some of the PSX fea­tures, such as the slid­ing and CD sound­track, be­cause of the dif­fer­ence in pro­duc­tion time but it def­i­nitely came off bet­ter,” Fred­eric says. “I re­mem­ber many of hor­ri­ble an­i­ma­tions that were edited for use on the PSX and that we used less colours, it def­i­nitely didn’t look as good any­way and the Jaguar ver­sion is def­i­nitely my favourite. I still think it looks amaz­ing 25 years on!” Although it wasn’t the first place he ap­peared, the Jaguar also got an ex­clu­sive Bubsy game, an­other char­ac­ter that’s re­cently starred in a new game.

With­out doubt, one of the Jaguar’s finest mo­ments was the ut­terly sub­lime Tem­pest 2000, although it was ported to other plat­forms later on the orig­i­nal ver­sion re­mains the best and was the only ver­sion coded by the le­gendary Jeff Min­ter. In fact, you could ar­gue that the hir­ing of Jeff was Atari’s best de­ci­sion in the Jaguar years as not only did it bring us the amaz­ing reimag­in­ing of Tem­pest but also an­other solid up­date in De­fender 2000, as well the Jaguar’s CD built-in Vir­tual Light Ma­chine. That amaz­ing piece of soft­ware pro­duced trippy graph­ics in time to the mu­sic and re­mains one of the best rea­sons to own a Jaguar CD. It was later recre­ated by Jeff him­self for both the VM Labs Nuon and Xbox 360.

We ask Jeff what his favourite mem­o­ries of the Jaguar were. “It has to be the first time I let my dad play Alien Vs Preda­tor” he ex­plains be­fore adding, “I stuck it on, gave him the con­troller and then turned the lights off to give him the full ex­pe­ri­ence. The mo­ment the Preda­tor ap­peared on the screen he jumped so high out of his chair I thought he’d go through the ceil­ing!” Jeff’s love for AVP is clear as he con­tin­ues to talk about it with us for a fur­ther ten min­utes. He even­tu­ally stops to tell us why the Jaguar should be re­mem­bered, and what he thinks its big­gest legacy is. “The Jag should be re­mem­bered for be­ing a con­sole where us coders were al­lowed to run free. Atari pretty much let us do what we liked, which re­ally bred cre­ativ­ity. I don’t think Tem­pest 2000 would have turned out so great with­out that cul­ture.

What’s its big­gest legacy? Well, I think it’s the con­sole that showed us there was new life in these old clas­sics, some­thing that very much seems to be the flavour of the month at the mo­ment. It also had that mul­ti­pro­ces­sor hard­ware that al­lowed you to do all sorts of crazy things, it was the first sys­tem of its type in that re­gard.” Of course Jeff’s own Jaguar legacy lives on to this day with the re­cent re­lease of Tem­pest 4000, a more-than-wor­thy suc­ces­sor.

One of the most im­por­tant games re­leased for the Jaguar was id Soft­ware’s sem­i­nal first-per­son shooter Doom. Not only is this still re­garded as one of the Jaguar’s best games but it also left quite a im­pact be­hind it that not ev­ery­one seems to be aware of. De­vel­oped by John Car­mack him­self, it re­mains the only con­sole ver­sion he worked on and was also the very first port to a non-key­board-based sys­tem. Be­cause of this, it also be­came the blue­print for all fu­ture con­sole ports with the Plays­ta­tion, Game Boy Ad­vance, 3DO and 32X ver­sions be­ing based on the Jaguar code. The man re­spon­si­ble for get­ting Doom onto the Jaguar was Atari USA’S Jaguar prod­uct man­ager Bill Re­hbock “It’s ac­tu­ally a pretty funny story, I had gone down to Lu­casarts to do a demo of the Jaguar CD and its Cinepak ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” he says. “After it was over one of the guys took me to the side and said, ’Hey, you’ve got to check out this new game called Doom?’ It was ac­tu­ally Mark Haigh-hutchin­son who was the lead pro­gram­mer on Zom­bies Ate My Neigh­bours, he’s sadly passed away now but he did me a solid favour that day as I got in con­tact with id al­most straight away.

“I flew over to Texas and showed them the Jaguar and John Car­mack loved the hard­ware, it was his kind of crazy tech­nol­ogy with its ad­vanced blit­ter and ob­ject pro­ces­sor. We signed the deal al­most straight away and he was great to work with. In fact, as he was get­ting to know the hard­ware he de­cided one week­end, when he was bored, that he would port

Wolfen­stein 3D to the Jaguar, too. Then he phones me up on the Mon­day morn­ing and says check your server, I think there’s some­thing there that you’ll like. So we wound up pub­lish­ing that too!”

Per­haps one of the most sur­pris­ing el­e­ments of the Jaguar’s legacy is its pop­u­lar­ity amongst de­vel­op­ers in the home­brew scene. With more new games be­ing re­leased for the sys­tem month after month, there doesn’t seem to be a sim­ple rea­son for this. Some at­tribute this new­found pop­u­lar­ity to the cult­like fol­low­ing it has as Atari’s last con­sole, while oth­ers spec­u­late that it’s be­cause the ma­chine was never truly ex­ploited like it could have been so presents an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge.

Jef­frey John­son of Wave 1 Games, one of the de­vel­op­ers rid­ing the Jaguar Home­brew scene, ex­plains why he likes to make games for Atari’s fi­nal con­sole. “Well I didn’t at first! I tried my hand at PC game de­vel­op­ment but I wasn’t able to find my mar­ket there. The more ideas I came up with for the PC the more I found my­self mim­ick­ing things like Tem­pest 2000 and De­fender 2000. Those games re­ally stuck with me and are part of who I am now. Even­tu­ally after mak­ing enough weird stuff on the PC I de­cided to see if there was a mar­ket for in­die games on the Jag. When I found the huge com­mu­nity de­voted to the old cat I shared some of my ideas and I quickly learned that this was the place for me to grow. Back when I had my orig­i­nal Jaguar in the early Nineties I was just start­ing to learn to code and I re­mem­ber fan­ta­sis­ing about what types of games I would make for the Jaguar if only I knew how. I never thought that one day games like Jag Zom­bies and Fast Food 64 would ac­tu­ally be a re­al­ity!”

And which school of thought does Jef­frey be­long to with re­gards to why the Jaguar gets so much sup­port? “My guess is that most peo­ple are just hun­gry for more con­tent for the Jaguar be­cause they be­lieved the hype back in the Nineties about it be­ing a su­per beast and they still be­lieve that to­day. Atari never re­ally showed what the Jag could do, [and] they want to try and cor­rect that.” Ei­ther way, it’s pretty amaz­ing that the Jaguar has the af­ter­life it does after all these years. It’s the con­sole that never dies and its legacy is pretty clear for all to see.

John Car­mack loved the hard­ware, it was his kind of crazy tech­nol­ogy Bill Re­hbock

» [Jaguar] Re­garded by many as the Jaguar’s best game, Tem­pest 2000 was re­cently res­ur­rected for the mod­ern age in the form of Tem­pest 4000.

» Ja­son Kings­ley’s stu­dio, Re­bel­lion was be­hind the crit­i­cally ac­claimedAlien Vs Preda­tor.

» [Jaguar] The Jaguar’s ‘killer app’, Alien Vs Preda­tor was a ground­break­ing ti­tle for the time.

» Fred­eric Houde was one of the pro­gram­mers for Ubisoft’s smash hit, Ray­man.

» [Jaguar] A se­quel to the Amiga and Mega Drive game, Power Drive Rally is one of the Jaguar’s best ex­clu­sives.

» Atari cer­tainly wasn’t shy when it came to ag­gres­sively ad­ver­tis­ing the Jaguar. It would turn out that Mario and Sonic had noth­ing to worry about.

» [Jaguar] Ray­man, this is a great ex­am­ple of the Jaguar’s 2D prow­ess with over 65,000 colours dis­played on the screen.

» An Alien Vs Preda­tor ad­vert, high­light­ing just how rev­o­lu­tion­ary the game’s con­cept was at the time of re­lease.

» Bill Re­hbock was re­spon­si­ble for Doom’s Jaguar ap­pear­ance.

» [Jaguar] With­out doubt one of best ex­am­ples of what the Jaguar can re­ally do is Re­bel­lion’s De­scent-like 3D shooter Sky­ham­mer.

» Jeff Min­ter cre­ated Tem­pest 2000, ar­guably the Jaguar’s best game.

» Jef­frey John­son is a well known name on the Jaguar’s bustling home­brew scene.

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