Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Atari Jaguar Introduction - What and Why?

I’ve had some queries from people asking me what the Jaguar is? Why would I choose to code it? And since the Jag isn’t a really mainstream console will there be other versions of the project?

I would therefore ask those who are already knowledgeable about the Jaguar to bear with me while I cover the basics, in the hope that you stick around for the more technical discussions I’ll add in later posts.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Atari? They did that Enter the Matrix game that everyone slated right?

In a way yes, but not the Atari I’m talking about. To begin with and skim through a little history, Atari was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell. It rapidly became the first major video games manufacturer, under ownership of Warner Communications, for both arcades and the home with the famous VCS (or 2600), Atari was also amongst the first manufacturers of Home Microcomputers. All went swimmingly until the video game crash in the US in 1983 at which point Warner panicked and the computer section was sold off to Jack Tramiel, of Commodore fame to form Atari Corporation.

Many people will I’m sure be familiar with the ST line of computers which for a while at least were an enormous success. By the early 90s however the PC was beginning to dominate and as Commodore and Atari both began to fail they looked to diversify.

Atari already had the Lynx handheld but it had not been the success they wished and so they decided to return to Atari’s roots with one last attempt at a home video game console… the Jaguar. Unfortunately, of course, as we all know, the Jaguar was not the success Atari needed it to be, and they were sold to JTS in 1996, liquidating all Jaguar stock. Thence sold to Hasbro, the Jaguar was released into the public domain so that anybody so wishing could develop their own games without approval of Hasbro. In 2001 Atari was sold again, this time to their next owners, Infrogrames - earlier this year, ownership of Atari Europe was bought by Namco Bandai.

Atari Jaguar 64 – What is it?

Atari’s first proposed console was a 32bit effort called the Panther, despite announcements that it was ready for production in fact it was cancelled in favour of the more powerful Jaguar design. As time would show, this was to be Atari’s last console, a 64bit system advertised with the slogan “Do+the+Math” – unfortunately this was to cause image problems as debate raged and still does as to whether the Jaguar was a true 64bit system. In the absence of a universally agreed standard for determining this I’ll merely state that it undeniably contained many 64bit components and leave readers to make up their own minds.

It contains:

  • 26.6MHz internal clock
  • 8-48 Megabit ROM Cartridge (none were ever bigger than 32Mbit)
  • 16 Megabits of RAM
  • 64bit data BUS (internally - only 32bit to the Cartridge)
  • 16/32bit 68000 - general purpose processor at 13.3 MHz(as used in the ST, Amiga and Mega Drive)
  • 32bit RISC GPU - general purpose processor at 26.6MHz
  • 32bit RISC DSP - general purpose processor at 26.6MHz
  • 64bit Object Processor - essentially a sprite processor that handles 64bit instructions and data 64bits at a time
  • 64bit Blitter - essentially a line or block drawing/copying processor, which handles 64bits at a time and has some 64bit registers

In addition there was a CD add-on created late in the Jaguar’s life, infamously claimed to resemble a toilet seat, it is rare and expensive, but not without merit and something that it is our intention to support.

Why the Atari Jaguar?

We see the Jaguar as the first console powerful enough to cope with the game we wish to develop and the last console for which we believe that the project would be feasible for what is essentially a one man coding team without requiring more work than can reasonably be achieved alone.

In addition early research showed a highly active homebrew community and the release of several previously unreleased completed or almost completed games after the Jaguar’s commercial death indicating a healthy retro community. After downloading the development docs from Starcat’s site (he’s been a Jaguar follower far longer than us) and seeing the existence of 3D and Sound/Midi/Mod player libraries – it looked like a sensible place to code with a head start of existing libraries.

Unfortunately of course things are never as easy as they look and a combination of missing

libraries and dissatisfaction with the performance of the Atari examples led to the abandonment of all existing Atari code and thus the project began and has been completely coded from scratch.

And what is this Game?

Our vision is to develop a fully 3D action/adventure/rpg ... in this endeavour we've been inspired by the Legend of Zelda games.

Will we work on other hardware?

Yes – I’ve outlined why the Jaguar was chosen – but we do intend to develop an enhanced version for at least one other console from this original version.

Next Time: What’s this “Lay Off the 68k” and “GPU in Main” malarkey?

Joe (Atari Owl)

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