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The Last True Atari


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I have a soft spot in my heart for the Jaguar. In fact, it's the only Atari console that I have a complete retail collection for. I bought my first Jaguar with Wolfenstein 3D and Raiden in 1994. Twenty years on, a Jaguar is always hooked up to a tv and regularly played. But what is it about the Jaguar - the last true Atari - that makes it so endearing?

As much as it was an epic commercial failure, the Jaguar also signified wide-eyed hope and optimism. It was Atari's 64-bit Hail Mary pass. You get the sense in reading the interviews with Sam Tramiel that Atari Corp. genuinely believed that they would be dancing in the end zone and send Nintendo, Sega and that upstart 3DO back to the lockers. I loved that about the Jaguar and I was on board.

As it was, the dream wouldn't materialize. Atari would become a logo for officially licensed product and Jaguar would be unduly maligned by countless adolescent you tubers hoping to be the next AVGN. But if you can get past the hate, there are number of great games on the system - many exclusive to the Jag.

Indeed, for every Checkered Flag or Double Dragon V there is an Iron Soldier, a Tempest 2000, a Rayman or an AVP. Better still, many great games continue to come out on the Jaguar twenty years later. Games like Skyhammer, Iron Soldier 2, and Zero 5 are all fantastic post Atari releases. Plus, there are a handful of active developers like Reboot, MD Games and Orion that are showing this cat has many, many more lives.

So Jaguar fans, what do you love about the last true Atari?

 

 

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I must first preface this by saying I have a soft spot for the Jaguar too. Yes, it failed to steal the spotlight from Nintendo and Sega but it was a valiant effort from an underdog who put out some decent games on a console that was years ahead of its time. It hurts my heart to see it so deeply maligned, often unfairly. That happens a lot with Atari, from E.T. all the way up to the Jaguar. I love the Jag very much and respect it for what it is. With that said, I don't want what I'm about to say to sound like a bash.

 

I had a pre-release console in November, 1993 and totally bought into the Bit Wars that had been going on ever since Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 went that route against Nintendo. "64-Bit! That means Jaguar is EIGHT TIMES better than the NES!" I proclaimed to my friends, who looked at me with a tremendous amount of skepticism. 

 

It became a tradition to have all the friends over for gaming Friday after class. At first everybody wanted to see the Jaguar. In 1993 Cybermorph came across as really impressive. Tempest became a group favorite.

 

Shortly after these gaming get-togethers became routine, somebody asked about the Atari 7800 sitting under the TV next to the Jaguar. "What games does that Atari play?" asked a friend, picking up the joystick and examining it oddly like a foreign object that fell from space. A decade after its release, with everybody in the room looking on, I put in Centipede and started it on Team Play. From that point on, nothing would ever be the same. We'd still play the Jag, but EVERYBODY came to play these classic arcade games on the 7800, and they would show up energized and excited. Even 2600 games like Warlords did well. We spent countless Friday afternoons playing Dig Dug, Xevious, Joust, Galaga and the rest, but Centipede would remain the favorite among the group.

 

So to be completely honest, what I love most about "the last true Atari" is that it taught me the most important lesson I would ever learn about play value in Silicon Valley: "Graphics don't make the game."

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Wait we're giving away a Jaguar? How about we give it to me.

 

I hate saying the Jaguar "was an epic commercial failure" though I don't fault you for saying it. True, Jaguar barely chinked the armor of Nintendo & Sega in its day, but I wonder how many kids went in to buy a Sega CD, saw the Jag and changed their minds. "Epic commercial failure" is relative when compared to 3DO, TurboDuo, FM Towns Marty, Amiga CD32, LaserActive, PC-FX, Sega CD, 32X, and even the Virtual Boy. (Yeah, Virtual Boy was an epic commercial failure.) Remember, this was the era of alternative systems. We don't see that much anymore, underdog systems providing a gaming alternative to the big 3 manufacturers. As far as underdogs go, I think the Jag did pretty well. $249 bought you a lot of fun when compared with rivals like 3DO selling for $700. 3DO was Time magazine's 1994 product of the year, but Jaguar made it into Kay-Bee Toys and Walmart. Unlike other underdogs, the Jag at least took on the big boys in big retail turf. It lost the fight, but it was a fight against Nintendo and Sega both in their prime. For an underdog I think that's pretty cool.

 

What I love about "The Last True Atari" is that it was like the Klingons. It didn't care that it was the underdog. It marched straight into a hopeless battle and picked a fight with the big boys and fought with honor. It went up against MASSIVE marketing campaigns from Nintendo and Sega, against great products, against more niche systems than ever, and fought that battle in a flooded market. Had Sam Tramiel's Atari developed better relationships with 3rd party publishers maybe the story would've been different. I love the Jaguar for its bravery in Silicon Valley's cold cruel world.

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Hi my name Philip, but you can call me ptw-ace or just ace... That was my user name in previous Atari Jaguar forums. I've been thinking about selling my Jag. I've had since 2004 and have had a lot of great moments with the system and the Jag community. If I was mention everything, I'd have to write a four page topic on my experiences with the Jag and the community once existed. What I can tell is that for years people wanted to see new games released for the Atari Jaguar system and put tremendous effort in to doing so from creating the infamous "Skunkboard" where you can plug it in the cartridge and program the Jag via USB... But before then there was the "BJL or Behind Jaggy Lines" where you physically had to remove the Jags bios chip and replace with the BJL software and then program it from a PC or an Atari ST or an Atari Falcon if you had one. Songbird productions, which is still selling games for the Jag has a game called "Protector"... This game has a limited version of BJL on it when you press the zero button; the game was released I guess around 03 or 04, it could've been earlier, but it was at the time when you could program the Jag via printer "printer port to Jag controller port".

 

I myself, wasn't really a programmer and to this day, still don't know how to program like I should, but boy it's been quite the learning experience where if you stick around a thing long enough, you'll gain more understanding about a system then you had when you first started. Well... The Jaguar is infact a 64bit system because of the Blitter that was 64bit with a either 64bit bus or could produce 64bit output despite the other processors being 32bit (I always wind up going back to the tech manual for that info so don't take what I said too litterally, if you see anything wrong just correct me). Whatever the case the potential for the Jag to really be the next gen system of it's time was all there, but the Jag system design was riddled with bugs due to a poor system design. It was suppose to be a big shot 3D system, but the programmers, although could do 3D on it, would constantly run into problems and didn't really pin point the core causes of where the problem came from. The biggest problem that stuck out was the "Motorola 68000 processor" that would hog the systems BUS whenever it was in use... Latter the expert homebrew Jag programmers would conclude that the best way to take advantage of the system was to let the Motorola set the tone for the other chips to work and then cut it off, but being that the Atari community comprises of Atari ST enthusiast; a computer that also uses the 68000, would often beg to differ. Me personally thought it would be a waist of a chip to not use it for something, but I also believe that turning the chip off and using the other processors is probably right on point. For me I wanted to do a game for the Jag for sometime now, but real life demands required more of my attention then the Jag, which was the case for most people who wanted to make homebrew games for the Jaguar. My thing was the 2.5D games like "DOOM and Phase Zero"; no so much the game, but the pesudo 3D engine behind the game... The reason I believe most of Atari 3D games lagged so badly was because everyone was using the Motorola 68000 to handle game logic not truley realizing that the chip was actually slowing the system down; that's why games like Checkard Flag, Cybermorph, Missle Command 3D, and even some 2.5D games like AVP and "White Men Can't Jump" ran very slow because the main plan was understood to use the 68000 for game logic and let the other chips do all the 3D work; that's the way Atari sold it. The M68K was put in there to give people a quote "Warm and fuzzy feeling"... It did anything but that in the end, however it didn't stop the ambitious from trying after Hasbro released the system to the public in the mid 90s.

 

:) They say when one doesn't learn from history, one is doomed to repeat it so it's always a good idea to tell your story even though I might be comming off a little strong in a new forum like this. It's always good to hear another side of the spectrum and as you can probably guess from the rambling, I could go on and on about the many adventures in "Jaggy Land" as in BJL, behind JAGGY lines, get it... ;) I've been thinking about selling my Jag collection and have already sold a few games on ebay; I even have the infamous first and second generation "Skunkboards". For what it's worth I've enjoyed the Jag for many years now and I've learned more about computers fooling with the Jaguar reading the tech manuals other tools Atari release to the programmers of the day. The Jag system (The Big Cat) can be quite a system to tame if you'r just starting out and does require prior programming knowledge. They say it's best to just start simply by learning C programming language, but you WILL have to know how to program in Assembler because the C tools Atari released to the programmers is in efficient unless you're using the 68000. The Jag GPU doesn't have access to the main RAM unless you create a work around, which does exist out there, but for C programming, you'll only have internal cache memory in the GPU and the DSP (sound chip) due to an unresolved hardware issue. I know the message I'm giving is a little generalized, but they are very much key to having some level of success programming that system; the Jaguar was really rushed out the door too soon in an effort to capture the market of it's time, but if Atari had put more time and effort in to the system and released it around 95 when the PS1 was released, it would've out performed Playstation and Saturn becuase of the 64bit blitter the Jag contained and the other processors as well. The game "Tempest 2000" is a wonderful example what the blitter was capable of using the GPU for the 3D and the Blitter for all of the special effects.

 

If the 68000 chip had it's internal memory like the other processors did, they would have given the programmers some head way to make up for any lost effeciency because the Atari Jaguar data bus is a bottleneck with all five processors sitting on top of it with the GPU having no access to main RAM without a work around. Some suggest the 68020 would've been a bit more expensive, but more appropriate because it having it's on intern memory in it.  But as you can see, I can go on and on, but it just shows the nature of the Atari Jaguar internal workings and I still didn't cover it all, but I hope this little information will be helpful in some way to someone. ;)

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Welcome to the forums ptw-ace  :)  I agree with your assessment of the 68000 chip. They say the Jaguar was designed for the 68020 and Jack Tramiel wanted to cut costs and demanded they go with the 68000. I'm not a historian and I don't know how much truth is in that, but the 68020 would have put the Jaguar over the top. For me though, as earlier, it all comes down to the games. What 3rd party support do you have, how many great games are there, and why should I buy this tech? I have a Panasonic 3DO-M2 Accelerator. It's a development console and I don't have any games to play with it. Without games processing power doesn't mean shiz. 

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Not really. Just that the 68020 would have had more power, hopefully the jaguar wouldn't have been so screwy to write for. An ease of programming would have lead to more 3rd party vendors and hopefully more great games. We're playing the "what if" game though..

 

Staying on topic, the Jaguar as it was, not what I wish it had been, meant a lot to me. It's a part of my youth and the lesson of "great graphics do not correlate to great games" as that commercial would have you believe, is a lesson I'll have with me for the rest of my life.

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@Dr. Octagon - Thank you for comparing the Jaguar to the Klingons. It absolutely made my day. I can just see Sam & Co. facing off against Sega and Nintendo and shouting "Today is a good day to die!" :)

 

@Fire_In_The_Valley - I couldn't agree more regarding graphics vs. gameplay. I believe that this is why we're seeing a resurgence of indie developers in the mobile and console space.

 

Other things that I love about the Jaguar:

 

- The pro-controller. In my opinion it is the most comfortable controller this side of a dual shock.

- The retro updates: Tempest 2K, Defender 2K, Missile Command 3D and Breakout 2k.

- The VLM. This was great at parties circa 1995 and it still impresses today on a giant flat screen.

- The vaporware: Jaguar VR, Jaguar Duo, Jaguar 2.

Edited by atarilbc
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I have a soft spot in my heart for the Jaguar. In fact, it's the only Atari console that I have a complete retail collection for. I bought my first Jaguar with Wolfenstein 3D and Raiden in 1994. Twenty years on, a Jaguar is always hooked up to a tv and regularly played. But what is it about the Jaguar - the last true Atari - that makes it so endearing?

 

As much as it was an epic commercial failure, the Jaguar also signified wide-eyed hope and optimism. It was Atari's 64-bit Hail Mary pass. You get the sense in reading the interviews with Sam Tramiel that Atari Corp. genuinely believed that they would be dancing in the end zone and send Nintendo, Sega and that upstart 3DO back to the lockers. I loved that about the Jaguar and I was on board.

 

So Jaguar fans, what do you love about the last true Atari?

 

I'm not sure where you get they were "the last true Atari." Remember, Atari Inc. was started as a coin company and chiefly identified as one, and that original part of the company survived until 2003. 

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Well, sadly I must admit I've never played the Jaguar. I have a few games for it like Tempest 2000, Alien Vs Predator, and Cybermorph. I just need to find one. Local retro store has one, complete and in box with all cords and cables for 80. Is that a good deal? Well, is it worth it I should say. I bought AVP and Tempest just so I had something good to play if I ever found one haha!

I post pictures and videos regularly of retro games, hardware, and mods/fixes on Instagram. Feel free to follow me @PVGLuke

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Well, sadly I must admit I've never played the Jaguar. I have a few games for it like Tempest 2000, Alien Vs Predator, and Cybermorph. I just need to find one. Local retro store has one, complete and in box with all cords and cables for 80. Is that a good deal? Well, is it worth it I should say. I bought AVP and Tempest just so I had something good to play if I ever found one haha!

$80 is a great deal for a working CIB Jaguar. If you decide that you hate it, you'll have no trouble making it back on eBay or trade. You already have two of the best games (and Cybermorph isn't bad!). I would take the plunge. :)

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Happy to find atari.io. I am an avid collector of all things Atari, and founder of Run PC Inc., which started out as an Atari Dealer. I thought some members may enjoy reading an Atari press release from one of our last ventures with Atari and the Jag. We had lots of success with concept, and big plans for the future.

 

ATARI CORP. AND RUN PC OPEN JAGUAR MALL STORE; SPECTACULAR GRAND OPENING SELLS OUT OF HOT SYSTEM TITLES

 

LONGMONT, Colo. — Nov. 7, 1995 — Run PC, a regional retail leader in computers and next-generation game systems, has opened the first Jaguar Mall Store.

The store is located inside the 550,000 square foot Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont, and is anchored by JC Penney, Sears and Joslins Department Stores. The prototype store exclusively demonstrates and sells the Atari 64-bit Jaguar home entertainment system and the Lynx handheld color gaming system. Atari has provided high-end interactive merchandising materials including arcade-style "hands-on" displays, banners and signage.

"We are proud to have worked with Run PC and to have opened the first ever Jaguar-only mall location," stated Ted Hoff, Atari's president of North American operations. "We support the concept of selling product in locations where customers can see and play the Jaguar system themselves."

In the first two days since opening on Saturday, Nov. 4, Run PC has sold out of the most popular Jaguar-related products. "Everyone who purchased a Jaguar had to have a copy of 'Alien vs. Predator'," said Jon J. Willig, president of Run PC. "It's clear that I have to reexamine my staffing and inventory to prepare for greater sales throughout the holiday season."

Willig added: "As a retailer, we strongly believe in the Jaguar system. For less than $150, we are finding that the system literally flies off the shelves, outselling competing systems sold in other mall stores many times over. Atari has always been responsive to our needs and requests, it's a pleasure to serve our customers with their support."

The Jaguar-only store is open during mall hours and is located in the Twin Peaks Mall on South Hover Road in Longmont. It is the largest shopping mall in Central Boulder County with a trade area population of well over 310,000. The Atari Jaguar is the world's first 64-bit multimedia gaming system and the only game system manufactured in the United States. About 40 powerful game titles are already available for the Jaguar including award-winning hits like "Doom" and "Tempest 2000," as well as new releases such as "Highlander," "Ruiner Pinball," "Pitfall!" and Time Warner Interactive's "Power Drive Rally."

Soon to be released titles include: "NBA Jam Tournament Edition," "Myst," "Primal Rage," and "Zoop."

For more than 20 years, Atari has provided consumers with high quality, value-priced entertainment. Atari markets Jaguar, the only American-made, advanced 64-bit entertainment system and is located in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Note to editors: Atari is a registered trademark of Atari Corp. Jaguar and Lynx are trademarks of Atari Corp. All other products are trademarks or registered trademarks of their owning companies. "Alien" and "Predator" are trademarks and copyrights of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Used under sublicense from Activision.

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