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Clint Thompson

The worst system to code for...

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Found this online today and even though it's a small tidbit, it does make a lot of sense:

 

"You've coded on a lot of different systems. Which ones did you think were the worst and best, in terms of hardware implementation, development environment, manufacturer tech support (for developers)....?

 
Rebecca Heineman: The worst had to be the Atari Jaguar. Forcing everyone to use an Atari Falcon as a dev system and expecting us to use bug ridden and barely working compilers and other tools, it was a miracle any game was completed on that system. Best? The Apple II in it's simplicity. I loved programming the Apple II and then the IIgs, although the IIgs was really slow without an accelerator (Which was likely a marketing decision to force people to buy Macintosh computers). Dev environment? CodeWarrior! I wrote so many plug ins to allow me to use numerous scripting tools, it's a shame it's all but abandoned today, and at least Visual Studio is in a state today that it's my IDE of choice. Tech support? It was 3DO, they did everything they could including sending me at their expense to get training on making code on their platform and going out of their way to make sure I got my games out the door. Pity, their business model wasn't sustainable."
 
 
Truth be told, the idea of coding and/or completely developing on the Falcon does seems kind of insane, especially considering the extremely limited software available for the Falcon at the time... nevermind the fact that they just completely dropped it only after a year anyway. I completely understand what Atari was trying to do or ultimately wanted to do... create an eco-system where the Falcon was necessary to create games for the Jaguar on and push sales of their computers with hope that software would flourish and soon follow. Obviously there were a ton of other issues preventing that vision from materializing.
 
That same year the Pentium was released, software options alone would quickly overule any chance of using the Falcon as a standalone development workstation viable, nevermind the obvious speed difference the Pentium chips offered.
Edited by Clint Thompson

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Does anyone know what she worked on for the Jaguar? A Jag credit doesn't appear on her site, wiki or the Giant List of Classic Game Programmers (entry under her birth name, Bill Heineman). Maybe she was involved in Wolf 3D or Doom, given her association with the 3DO ports? Or it could have been some involvement with one of the abandoned titles.

 

Also, as I understand it, development systems could use an IBM pc or Atari TT030s (though some folks undoubtedly used the Falcon).

 

I do agree that creating a user friendly development environment is critical to 3rd party support and was a major barrier for jaguar software development.

Edited by atarilbc

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@Lost Dragon:  I tend to agree with your assessment.  However, I don't think that its unreasonable to suggest that the Jaguar wasn't pushed as far as it could have been.  In my view, this is simply because of its short commercial lifespan.  We really got 2.5 years of development.  Only a handful of developers did more than one title: ATD, Eclipse, Rebellion, Llamasoft, and id.  These devs could learn from the stumbles of their early efforts to get more out of their second games (except in the case of id where Wolf3D was a phone-in).  Further, I believe that only Eclipse and ATD had the same teams work on two titles: IS2 and Battlemorph, respectively.  Compared this to Saturn, released in '94 in Japan and continued to be supported through '98 in NA and '00 in Japan.  As such, devs used learned techniques to really push the software in later games - in many cases beyond what was accomplished on PSX.  Veteran teams were able to get 3 or 4 titles out in its lifecycle.

 

Additionally, Atari  didn't have the benefit of strong first party in-house development like Sega with Sonic Team, Team Andromeda and AM2.  These teams were critical to Sega's quality (stunning) first party output.  Compare this to the mostly inexperience (re:CHEAP) contractors that Atari hired for most Jaguar development. 

Edited by atarilbc

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Well, even if we did see the best the jag could do with 3D in merely it's second generation of games, they were good games and more of a similar quality would only have been a good thing. No, it wasn't going to compete with the Saturn, PS1 or N64, but i do think it could handle most of what the 3DO had in regards to 3D, even if it lacked the 1 meg of video ram and built-in texturing. I also don't know that the 3DO ever saw it's limits reached and maybe would have still out shined the Jag if both had made it to 3rd or 4th gen titles from good developers, but I'm sure the jag could handle good version of most of what was released on the 3DO up to that point, if it had the backing and the top programmers to do the job. The 3DO used lots of tricks to hide weaknesses and make you think some games were doing more than they really were. the Jag CD would have allowed similar tricks if it had ever really been used to it's potential (that is, the Jaguar with CD format really being used, I know the Jag CD didn't bring more power to the Jag, just a format that could allow it to overcome some limitations of the cartridge format)

 

I was also really looking forward to Dactyl Joust, LOTU, Freelancer, Black/Ice White/noise. And at least with BI/WN Alpha/Betas we see a glimmer of the Jag using the potential of CD.

 

And the Jag and 3DO would probably have lasted longer or even been successful if it was just Sega's Saturn as the next big thing, since it was so hard to program too. The Juggernaut of Sony getting into the arena was the real demise of the other systems. The N64 was still another year away, and by then, we would have probably had the 3DO M2 and Jaguar 2 to compete with it, as well as 3rd and 4th gen games on the 3DO and Jag, both at lower price-points.

 

Sony changed the entire industry and it took another Juggernaut in Microsoft to compete. Even Nintendo had to find their niche market to stay around with the Wii, though they were big enough to survive with the N64 and Gamecube to that point. And of course nintendo was making money hand-over-fist with their other markets such as Pokemon, and the hand-held gaming market.

Edited by Bakerman

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With huge thanks to Shinto for bringing this interview to my attention, Trevor Raynsford (Imagitec) talking of reality of Jaguar hardware and how it impacted game development:

 

"....For the Jaguar, Atari gave developers some nifty DSP code for playing samples with effects like flanging. It was easy to port 68000 based mod player code to the Jag and use the DSP for the PVM part.  It sounded great.  Only problem was, it didn't work in a game!  By default, the display hardware had a higher bus priority, which meant, even with the huge bus bandwidth and fast chips, in Humans the sound was trashed every time the player moved.  Raiden just sounded awful!  We tried setting the DSP to have a higher bus priority, the graphics got trashed instead.  (I think the bus priority mechanism was broken.)  I spent 20 minutes on the phone to one of the Tramiel brothers trying to explain there was a problem.  In the end I abandoned the DSP code and wrote a new version which did the bare minimum PVM and importantly played the next sample at the top of the timer initiated loop to ensure accurate timing."

 

 

 

 

Jaguar sounds very much like Sega Saturn, N64, 3DO, PS2 etc..fantastic specs given to developers, who soon realise they aren't going to be able to pull off what they expected due to very real hardware limitations and thus ideas abandoned, work arounds sought.

http://freejag.atari.org/forum/index.php?PHPSESSID=3sj7r63nl7852bs8aa15fgiok0&topic=51.0

 

Interesting to read. Hardware limitations due to bugs and underdeveloped development systems must be the absolute worst. Being promised a laundry list of features that work solo or independently only to find that all your work is a waste of time and you'll have to come up with some clever work-around does seem frustrating. Still seems like the 68000 was being used for far more than it was supposed to.

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And Super Burnout is a standout title. For me, the best bit here:

 

"A common attitude that pervades the internet is that the Atari Jaguar is a broken down machine that lacks the technical capacity to produce games of any quality. This is untrue according to Nallet. “Even if we had to code everything in Assembly (code), the ‘Graphics Processing Unit’ and Digital Sound Processor were extremely fast. This was very similar to the PowerPC / SPUs combinations that you find in the PS3.” However; unlike the PS3; “(in regards to the) Jaguar DSP’s they could directly access the whole memory - albeit more slowly - so you could keep your code structure and Direct Memory Access optimized as needed.”

 

“A lot of games were only using the 68K and a little of the "GPU" and used the DSP for sound” according to Nallet; lending credence to the notion that it was developer incompetence and not hardware concessions that made development for the Jaguar difficult. “I knew I had to push the GPU and DSP for Super BurnOut to stand out.”

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Interesting that the quote came in a response to a question about his favorite systems to code for. Maybe he liked the challenge?

 

The best hardware platforms are always built with the developer in mind. Nintendo products are almost always driven by software goals. Both 3do and most of the PlayStation line were produced with a keen awareness of developer needs. The Atari 3200 was reportedly cancelled do to an unfavorable response from Atari Inc. programmers.

 

In comparison, the Jaguar was hardware focused. The guys at Flare and Atari Corp. were hardware guys. They delivered a platform with great specs that was difficult for programmers to work on. The games would be cool as long as there was enough horsepower - programmers would figure it out. I think one of the reasons Atari focused on the hardware specs so much in Jaguar marketing is that the hardware was the beginning and end of their vision. Had Atari integrated a top-rate software house as part of the design team, maybe they would have launched something with better tools and mitigated some hardware bottlenecks. Unfortunately, Atari Corp.lacked in-house software expertise and didn't have relationships with the great third-party software houses of the day.

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Another thing I found interesting was how they required their cartidge casings to be used and the other laundry list of strange things as requirements.

 

Reading over the Kasumi Ninja II CD development exchange showed just how hateful everyone was by that point and it just seemed incredibly rude and unprofessional, even if they were right with disagreeing with developers.

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I think most of the difficulties in developing for the Jaguar were related to a few other factors.

 

Fact: The Jaguar was the first, and only console, to have a graphics processor capable of generating 3D graphics. No other console could do it until Saturn and PS1 came out later. In hindsight, a new type of gaming environment meant development that developers were just getting started in understanding.

 

The Atari Jaguar, in my mind, has become an icon. It's Made in the USA which is not something seen in electronics any more. As much as I am anti-Jack the Jaguar is a sexy beast and the only Atari Corp product I am really partial to. I would love to see more done with it.

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I've slowly started to jump into programming the Jaguar in a very cheating fashion by using Rb+ - it really gives you an idea of what the system is capable of and quickly makes you realize the limited resources it has. Primarily being RAM. 

 

The one very interesting feature I like about the Jaguar are the ability to have objects in different resolutions. The character can be 4bit, the background can be 16bit and then the sprites can be 8bit, for example. Maybe it's like that on other consoles, I don't know but it seems unique in its ability. 

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I don't think texture mapping hardware support is a fair flaw to point out or a flaw at all. The Jagauar had goraud shading that hardly anyone ever used. Martin Brownlow wanted to use much faster shading for Missile Command but Atari would've have it and instead made him texture map the game to death.

 

The memory constraints are kind of legitimate, especially in regards to cache bug of the GPU and inability to jump directly within memory. It's like modern day CPUs, if you disable the cache on the CPU, performance drops quite significantly.

 

However, every time someone may want to point out that the Jaguar is incapable of good performance, I want to point them in the direction of Rayman. Atari wanted it to be a machine it wasn't. Fans wanted it to be a machine it wasn't. The Jaguar just didn't have a fair chance regardless, too many things crippling it before it even got released and it all goes back to Atari.

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One other very fair thing to point out was it's the first time all game titles originally MSRP started at $69. After taxes for a single video game, that's absolutely absurd. To think that people or parents would pay $69 for Skiing and Snowboarding for a $259 system that is slightly better when you can get it on the cheaper SNES and much cheaper game for the same game, parents listened to Atari and they Did The Math.

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