The Atari Jaguar is a video game console, released by Atari Corporation in . It was designed to surpass the Mega Drive/Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in processing power. It was in competition with 3DO and later consoles that made up the Fifth generation of video game consoles. The console was first released in selected U.S. cities in November 1993, and the rest of the country in early . Although it was promoted as the first 64-bit gaming system, the Jaguar proved to be a commercial failure and prompted Atari to leave the home video game console market. Despite its commercial failure, the Jaguar has a large fan base that produces homebrew games, making the console a cult classic.
Flare II initially set to work designing two consoles for Atari Corp. One was a 32-bit architecture (codenamed "Panther"), and the other was a 64-bit system (codenamed "Jaguar"); however, work on the Jaguar design progressed faster than expected, and Atari Corp. canceled the Panther project to focus on the more promising 64-bit technology.
The Jaguar was released in November for a sale price of $250, under a $500 million manufacturing deal with IBM. The system was initially marketed only in the New York City and the San Francisco Bay areas. A nationwide release followed in early .
The system was marketed under the slogan "Do the Math", claiming superiority over competing 16-bit systems. Initially, the system sold well, substantially outselling the highly hyped and publicized 3DO, which was also released during the holiday season of 1993; however, the Jaguar could not shake the perception of having poor games after several dismal launch titles. It finally had its first hit game with Tempest 2000, and other successful games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D followed. The most successful title was Alien vs. Predator which, along with Tempest 2000, is often considered one of the system's defining titles.
Through its lifetime, the Jaguar had an overall small library of titles, due to being difficult to develop for. This was due in part to bugs in the released hardware (such as a memory controller flaw that could halt processor execution out of system RAM and a bugged UART). Other issues included a lack of development tools, requiring programmers to develop much of the system in assembler, as well as documentation being often incomplete. Customers also complained the Jaguar controller was needlessly complex, with over 15 buttons.
By the end of 1995, after the entrance of the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn, the Jaguar's fate was all but sealed. In an interview, Sam Tramiel, CEO of Atari Corp. and son of Jack Tramiel, declared that the Jaguar was much more powerful than the Saturn and slightly weaker than the PlayStation. He also predicted the price of the PlayStation to be $500 and said that any price from $250 to $300 would be price dumping and that Atari Corp. would sue to block sales, which they never did. His comments were selected as #3 in GameSpy's Top 25 Dumbest Moments in Gaming.
In a last ditch effort to rescue the Jaguar, Atari Corp. tried to play down the other two consoles by proclaiming the Jaguar was the only "64-bit" system. Technically-minded gamers debated the merits of Atari Corp.'s claim: some felt the Jaguar's principal "64-bit co-processors" were simply graphics accelerators,requiring external control from the Jaguar's primary processors; the primary GPU executed a 32-bit instruction-set, while the remaining CPU (68000) was already established to be a 32-bit unit. Others countered that the mere presence of 64-bit ALUs for graphics, was sufficient to validate Atari Corp.'s claim. Design specs for the console allude to the GPU or DSP being capable of acting as a CPU, leaving the Motorola 68000 to read controller inputs. In practice, many developers used the Motorola 68000 to drive gameplay logic and AI.
Finally, in late-1995, Atari Corp. ran early-morning infomercial advertisements with enthusiastic salesmen touting the powerful game system. The infomercials ran most of the year, but did not significantly sell the remaining stock of Jaguar systems. In their 10-K405 SEC Filing, filed 4/12/1996, Atari informed their stockholders of the truly dire nature of the Jaguar business:
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.
Over the short life of the console, several add-on peripherals were announced. However, only the Atari Jaguar CD drive and the JagLink (a simple two-console networking device) reached retail shelves. A voice modem and VR headset (with infrared head-tracking), existed in prototype form, but were never commercialized. (See Loki and Konix Multisystem for early development.)
The arrival of the Sony Playstation was devastating to Atari. The arrival of the new competitors had caused Atari's revenues to decline by almost half, from 38.7 million dollars in 1994 to $14.6 million in 1995. Production of the Jaguar ceased after Atari Corp. merged with JT Storage in a reverse takeover.
After the Atari Corporation properties were bought out by Hasbro Interactive in the late 1990s, Hasbro released the rights to the Jaguar, declaring the console an open platform and opening the doors for homebrew development. Several game companies, including Telegames, ScatoLOGIC, and Songbird Productions, have not only released previously unfinished materials from the Jaguar's past, but also several brand new titles to satisfy the system's cult following.
Some time later, Imagin Systems, a manufacturer of dental imaging equipment, purchased the molding plates for several of the Jaguar's casings as, with minor modification, they were the right size for housing their HotRod camera. Even the game cartridge molds were reused to create an optional memory expansion card. Later product casings also bear a significant resemblance to the Jaguar.
"Jaguar is a custom chip set primarily intended to be the heart of a very high-performance games/leisure computer. It may also be used as a graphics accelerator in more complex systems, and applied to work-station and business uses. As well as a general purpose CPU, Jaguar contains four processing units. These are the Object Processor, Graphics Processor, Blitter, and Digital Sound Processor. Jaguar provides these blocks with a 64-bit data path to external memory devices, and is capable of a very high data transfer rate into external dynamic RAM." (page 1)
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