Atari Jaguar 64-Bit Interactive Multimedia System
The Atari Jaguar is a fifth-generation video game system introduced as the World’s first 64-Bit console. It went on sale in Fall, 1993 with a $249 retail package that included the Jaguar, one controller, television connections, and a Cybermorph game cartridge. The Jaguar has a small game library with notable titles that include Tempest 2000, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Myst, and Alien vs. Predator, a game that is most often considered to be the Jaguar’s killer app.
Atari Jaguar Controller
The Atari Jaguar’s controller generally feels comfortable and responsive. The face of the controller has a Sega Genesis-style 3-button configuration (standard for the time) and includes an 8-way directional pad, 3 “Fire” buttons (A, B, C) “Pause” and “Option” buttons. The Atari Jaguar controller is often criticized for its size and use of a 12-button keypad and overlays reminiscent of the Atari 5200, ColecoVision and Intellivision video game systems.
The future designed by people of the ’90s.
The Atari Jaguar was unleashed on the world in the Autumn of 1993. This became a two-to-three year leap ahead of other Fifth Generation game consoles to come. The 32-Bit Sony PlayStation wouldn’t be introduced until nearly two years later on September 9, 1995, followed by Nintendo 64 in September, 1996. The near-generational gap between the Jaguar and its peers highlights how early to market the Jaguar had been. It also suggests that the Jaguar’s most serious competition hadn’t been from PlayStation and Nintendo 64, but rather 16-Bit goliaths Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis that dominated the video game landscape through the first half of the 1990s. Could Atari Jaguar have done better by spending another year in development?
“I don’t know if you can really call my games nonviolent since a lot of them are shoot-’em-ups, but they tend to be shoot-’em-ups in a really abstract context. I’m not really into a depiction of realistic murder or anything like that. I think I just like my games to be a bit humorous, and not take themselves too seriously. Games are games after all, and the moment you start getting too serious about them, then I think they lose some of their appeal, at least they do to me.”
– Jeff Minter, Tempest 2000
Do the math.
Atari chose to market the Jaguar as the first 64-Bit system. The Atari Jaguar has five processors in three chips, varying in strength and purpose: #1.) Graphics Processing Unit with 32-Bit RISC architecture (32/64 processor) that has access to all 64-Bits of the system bus and can read 64-Bits of data in one instruction. #2.) Object Processor with 64-Bit RISC architecture and 64-Bit wide registers. The object processor can act as a sprite engine, character-mapped system, pixel-mapped display, among others. #3.) Blitter with 64-Bit architecture and 64-Bit wide registers. Blitter performs high-speed logical operations, provides hardware support for Z-buffering and Gouraud shading. #4.) Digital Signal Processor with 32-Bits, CD-quality sound and full stereo capabilities. #5.) Motorola 68000 as a general purpose control processor running at 13.295 MHz. All of these processors can access the main DRAM memory directly, with the Jaguar’s 64-Bit DRAM memory controller. All five processors are intended to run in parallel.
“It’s interesting that the people who get off mocking Jaguar are the same ’90s kids who never had one. It’s almost like they felt left out and still feel bitter that other people had a lot of fun playing something they didn’t have.”
Atari Jaguar CD
Atari introduced a CD-Rom module for the Jaguar in September, 1995. It sold in a $149 retail package that included the Jag CD unit, a Tempest 2000 original soundtrack, a Myst demo disc, and two CD games; Blue Lightning and Vid Grid. Atari Jaguar CD games could hold as much as 790MB of data, though only 12 games were officially released during its lifetime: Baldies, Battlemorph, Blue Lightning, Brain Dead 13, Dragon’s Lair, Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods, Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands, Myst, Primal Rage, Space Ace, Vid Grid, and World Tour Racing.
Virtual Light Machine
Virtual Light Machine, a revolutionary music light synthesizer developed by Llamasoft’s Jeff Minter, came pre-installed on Jag CD. VLM provided interactive light visualizations when the Jag CD is used for playing music, and was set apart from simple music visualizers by an interactive mode that allows users to manipulate graphics generation on the fly. Jeff Minter’s Virtual Light Machine on the Jaguar CD contributed greatly to popularizing audio light shows in computers and video game systems.
“People look at me and think I was some kind of hippy and I did it out of some hippy ideal, but it’s not really that, I think it’s just my personal preference. For me producing a game was such a personal thing, it was like an entire whole that I kind of made myself, and I never really felt inclined to farm out any part of it.”
– Jeff Minter, Atari Jaguar Programmer
Atari Jaguar Virtual Reality Headsets
Before Oculus or Magic Leap, Atari was developing a virtual reality headset that was intended to be released around 1996. Atari teamed up with Virtuality, a pioneer in virtual reality experiences, to aid in development. The Jaguar VR provided a fully immersive 360° environment with motion tracking and stereoscopic 3D video. A retail release was planned for around $299 and a new line of VR games were being developed. Following the failure of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and its resulting catastrophic liability issues, the Jag VR was put on hold and ultimately canceled when Atari Corp. closed shop. Missile Command 3D was the only Jaguar VR game to have seen a retail release.
Atari Jaguar Duo
A major update to the Jaguar console was unveiled to developers and business partners in 1995. They were presented with a concise idea: integrate the original Jaguar and CD unit into a single, lower cost, all-in-one unit to compete with PlayStation and Nintendo 64. The console is referred to as the “Jag Duo”, referencing the TurboDuo – a combination of the original TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine console and TurboCD unit in a sleek package. Prototypes have surfaced and are often confused with the “Jaguar 2”, the Jaguar’s unreleased high-tech successor. While Atari produced a small run of cases for the console, the Jaguar Duo never made it into production.
Atari Lynx as a controller.
Somewhere buried in the Jaguar is support for Comlynx I/O communications with the Atari Lynx. There had been some talk about using the Lynx as a high-end interactive controller for the Jaguar. The Atari Lynx had incredible networking abilities, and could’ve been used as a controller with a screen, presenting endless options. The Lynx would’ve become the motion-tracking map for Alien vs. Predator. Another use would’ve let you choose your plays on a Football game. This predated by 20 years the same concept on the Wii U. Including the Lynx as the standard controller for the Jaguar would’ve literally placed the Lynx in more hands and driven software sales for both systems.
Atari Jaguar Pro Controller
The Pro Controller is designed with fighting games and more advanced titles in mind, and was introduced late in the Jaguar’s life. While the Sega Genesis had a similar three-button controller layout to that of the Jaguar (sans phone pad) and Super Nintendo offered four action buttons plus two Left / Right shoulder triggers. The early 1990s became huge for fighting games. Their massive popularity resulted in advanced six and eight button controllers being released for Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and PC Engine. Atari responded with the Pro Controller, a more aggressive fighting controller that features six red action buttons instead of the original three, and adds two Left / Right shoulder triggers for more intense gameplay. Too bad Jaguar never had Super Street Fighter II Turbo.
Atari Jaguar Game By Game Podcast
Atari Jaguar Tech Specs
In the Box
Check out the Jag Bar, now on YouTube.
So what happened?
“From the introduction of Jaguar in late 1993 through the end of 1995, Atari sold approximately 125,000 units of Jaguar. As of December 31, 1995, Atari had approximately 100,000 units of Jaguar in inventory. […] Atari recognized that despite the significant commitment of financial resources that were devoted to the Jaguar and related products, it was unlikely that Jaguar would ever become a broadly accepted video game console or that Jaguar technology would be broadly adopted by software title developers.”
– Atari Corporation Annual Report
The Jaguar died as a lack of support from Atari. Atari did little to advertise the Jaguar or attract third party developers and incredible games. This lack of games resulted mostly from the difficulty of properly programming for the Jag, and Atari’s inability to woo third party developers who were already developing for other game systems. Games that made it to market were sometimes half-baked and awkward, lacking music and detail. The Jaguar came to an end in July, 1996 when Atari ceased operations in a reverse merger with JTS Corporation – a company smaller than Atari that made disk drives. Atari closed with over $10 Million worth of Atari Jaguar merchandise left unsold.
The Jaguar was an incredible chance for Atari to jump back into the home console market they had all but abandoned. Though the 7800 had only been gone for less than two years, public perception was that Atari had been gone for generations. Kids of the day mostly knew Nintendo and Sega. By 1993 much of the public remembered Atari only for the 2600, and perceived Atari as an icon of the past. Though the 7800 had been capable, and the Lynx a monster, Atari Corp. had done little to remain at the top of people’s minds in the years leading up to Jaguar. Atari could’ve gone toe-to-toe with Nintendo and Sega, viscously challenging them at every point. That means spending money on product development, advertising, a mainstream controller, and giving people a reason to want the Jaguar by making incredible games people want to play. That’s how Atari’s competitors did it, and that’s how Atari did it with the 2600.
While Atari Inc. had a bad habit of being slow to obsolete themselves, Atari Corp. had the opposite habit. They couldn’t seem to understand that for all its pixels and processing power, a game system is a means to an end. You can have all the bits in the world, but without games what’s the point? Content is king. If you strip the Jaguar of its 64-Bit marketing, you’re left with a game system in need of games. The Jaguar barely made it into the glass case at Toys ‘R’ Us, and rarely saw memorable marketing on national television. As the story goes with the 7800 and Lynx, a lack of games and advertising meant most people who knew about Nintendo, Sega, and PlayStation hardly knew the Jaguar. Failure for Atari has always been a choice.