The year was 1991, and times were a-changing in the world of video gaming. Gamers were thoroughly bored with the massive assortment of exciting, quality games offered on Sega's Genesis and Nintendo's Super Famicom Nintendo Home Entertainment System, and 80's home console behemoth Atari smelled digital gold from the depths of the digital sewer into which their companies sales had fallen.
Atari wasted no time in hiring some guys they suspected could design a revolutionary game system. These men, who wore glasses, white lab coats and carried clipboards, hit the proverbial drawing board with the sole purpose of creating the most powerful console system since the Atari 2600.
Unsurprisingly, they came up with the very same revolutionary game system they had been charged to make. The hardware developers wowed Atari's board of directors with a demo until a brash young executive noted the game being displayed was, in fact, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (video game), and that the new game system was simply a 2600 with the "2600" crossed out and "new game system" scribbled over it in Sharpie.
Atari wasted no time in firing the men they had hired and hired a new batch. These men came up with something they called the Atari Three-Toed Sloth, which boasted dual tri-core 64-bit processors. Atari's board loved the new design even more than the refurbished 2600 they had seen months ago, but insisted the console was given "an already well-known automotive" name. After much debate, Jaguar edged out Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Yugo, and Edsel.
Jaguar was released in the US in 1992 to much fanfare, some trumpeting and a good amount of bus fare. However, Atari blundered badly with its initial lineup of games, which featured no games designed for the Jaguar. Atari, perhaps banking on the fact that Jaguar was backwards compatible with several 2600 titles, including Combat, Custer's Revenge and E-T: The Extra Terrestrial, was shocked.
Atari then splurged hundreds of dollars on third-party developers to get games rushed to the market as the super-powerful, but unsupported, Jaguars lay mouldering on the shelves. The results were, at best, mixed, as there was scant interest in games for a system no-one owned. The shameful US Jaguar roll-out became the enduring model in the industry of how not to have a console roll out, though the Japanese ignored this message and proceeded to grace the gaming world with Virtual Boy, Sega CD, Sega 32X, and 3DO.
In Japan the system sold less copies than even the XBOX would a decade later, dooming Jaguar overseas. Eventually the Sony Playstation came out and the Japanese turned their attention to it, as it cost less and had better graphics and a built in CD drive. Atari countered that it didn't play 15 year old Atari 2600 games, nor did it have a 300 baud modem, tape drive, or dot matrix printer as the Atari Jaguar has. Turns out nobody cares about those things anymore.
Weeks of development were spent on the development of the two main processors; "Chuck" (a 64-bit graphics processor) and "Nancy" (a 32-bit central processor). These did most of the polygon pushing and rendering. Also included was "Phil" the display chip and "L'il Stinkums", the rotten little chip that none of the other chips wanted to play with. With this rather awkward layout developers were hobbled and many game companies turned away from Jaguar in favor of other available systems. To make matters worse, the only programming language that the Atari Jaguar supported was the Brainfuck language borrowed from the Amiga.
All of the sane game developers ran away from the Atari Jaguar, because even the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super Famicom) and Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) support sane languages like C, Assembly, C++, Python, and even good old COBOL and BASIC. When asked why he would not develop his Civilization series game for the Atari Jaguar, Sid Meyer was quoted as saying "Are you out of your frigging mind? I cannot even conceive how I could create Civilization on such crazy tech and crazy programming language tools as the Atari Jaguar has. Developing for the Super Nintendo will be a lot easier."
In 1995, Jaguar had lost Atari a whole bunch of cash, even though dozens of systems and hundreds of games had been sold worldwide. Atari, facing insolvency, pulled the plug on the system in 1996, and buried all remaining Jaguars in the same pit in which millions of copies of E-T: The Extra Terrestrial were dumped, at long last fulfilling the ancient prophecy that they would rise from the ashes only to go bankrupt once again.
Ultimately, it was the lack of games that critics pointed out as dooming Jaguar, not the poor system design, flight panel inspired controllers filled with rows of unused buttons, unintuitive GUI, buggy Kernel code, lack of processing and graphics power, and expensive $599 price tag. There were only 82 games released for the Atari Jaguar, to date the most popular of which is Doom, even though it took 45 minutes to load it via a tape cassette expansion, and the Playstation loaded the same game off of a CD-ROM in 3 minutes. It seems CD-ROM drives are faster than tape cassette drives, yet another engineering flaw.
Science has pondered long and hard over what made the Jaguar so darn powerful. Was it Jesus? Or was it 64 bits of raw, musky power lurking under its hot plastic hood? Let's take a closer look:
TECH SPECS FOR THE ATARI THREE-TOED SLOTH (AKA JAGUAR)
- CPU: Two (dual) Crustydump Industries tri-core 64 Bit processors. 64 + 64 = er, huh? (Do the math ._.) running at 1.21 Khz each
- RAM: 2 MiB (2,048 kibibytes)
- CD-quality sound (16-bit stereo) (16,384 millibits) (did not actually play CDs until CD Player upgrade)
- Storage Medium: High capacity "cartridge" format capable of storing upwards of 6 MiB (6,144 kibibytes)
- Atari 2600: Miniaturized on a single chip. 8 Bit 6507 CPU, 8 color graphics, 2 channel sound.
- Amiga 500: Leftover Amiga 500 parts, 7.16Mhz 68000 CPU for management issues, Fat Agnus renamed Tom, screen flicker problem from Hell.
- HAL 9000 personality program for the AI to play games against the user, which made the video games almost unbeatable.