Monday, March 19, 2007

Jaguar History - Technical Aspects

In 1991, the Sega Genesis was at the cutting edge of videogame technology in America and enjoying strong sales. NEC's Turbografx-16 was a distant second, and the Super Nintendo was yet to be released. Rumors swirled about various new peripherals and consoles - Genesis and Neo-Geo CD drives, the Sony Playstation, and a CD drive for the forthcoming Super Nintendo. Another rumor to circulate in 1991 was that Atari was back with a new 32-bit console called the Panther that was set to debut against the Super Nintendo later that year. However, after the Summer CES that year, Atari announced that the Panther was cancelled so that they could concentrate on a new machine, the 64-bit Jaguar. Behind the scenes, Atari had actually been developing both systems at the same time, but the Jaguar had progressed at such a rate that it made sense to skip the Panther.

Atari was very tight-lipped about its new machine at first, but then it began sending out press releases announcing the Jaguar with various technical specifications. Atari said they planned to debut the machine in 1993, and that there would definitely be a 64-bit RISC based processor at its core. This was exciting news to gamers, as it would seemingly make it the most technically advanced machine, well beyond the 16-bit Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Even better, Atari said the price would be between $100 and $150.

Technically, the Jaguar was impressive. Five processors reside in three chips, two of them being proprietary (Tom and Jerry) with a third being a Motorola 68000 coprocessor. The GPU runs at 26.591Mhz and is rated at 26.591 MIPS (Millions of Instructions Per Second). There is a 64-bit data bus for communication and two megabytes of fast-page mode DRAM. Development systems cost between $7,500 and $9,000 and ran on IBM PC or Atari TT030 computers, with art development possible on various other machines.

When Atari finally announced the official launch of the Jaguar, the price tag was $200 and was bundled with a Cybermorph cartridge and one controller. However, when it actually hit store shelves the price had climbed to $250. Even with a higher price tag, sales were brisk. IBM was manufacturing the system for Atari, and things were looking up. Atari was set to market the Jaguar with a $3 million advertising budget, a telephone support line, and promised support from over 20 third party developers. However, retailers and the media were still skeptical that Atari could deliver quality software and keep all of its promises.

When the machine actually hit the streets, the reaction was mixed. Some gamers were excited by the increased power, while some felt that the system fell short of its promises. Some people claimed that the the Jaguar wasn't actually a true 64-bit system, that it was simply two 32-bit processors working in parallel. However, Atari was pressing forward with their advertising campaign touting its 64-bit power, and an impressive number of third-party titles had been announced in development. Unfortunately for these developers, the Jaguar proved very difficult to program for and Atari did not have sufficient development tools. Many Jaguar games were consequently delayed, and others were rushed out the door and were less than impressive. Ultimately, many announced developers simply did not develop any Jaguar titles.

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