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Top: The Jaguar with a standard controller. Bottom: The Jaguar with CD drive and ProController.

"Do the math!"
—The Jaguar's marketing slogan
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Still lingering in the console race years after losing the gaming public's trust and playing a significant part in The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, Atari Corp decided to chip in with a new effort to get a head start on the next generation in gaming. They hired some outside help to engineer both an experimental 32- and 64-bit console, codenamed "Panther" and "Jaguar" respectively. The 32-bit Panther was scrapped in favor of solely working on the Jaguar thanks to how well its development was going, and the system was out the door as early as 1993 with a price of $249.99 and an aggressive marketing campaign against its competitors, the 16-bit SNES and Sega Genesis and the 32-bit 3DO. Consumers were urged to "do the math" and choose the 64-bit system instead, because apparently having more bits automatically meant the system was obviously superior and it was definitely not just marketing hype.

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While Atari claimed that the Jaguar was a beast of a 64-bit system, many games barely looked better than what you'd find on either of its 16-bit competitors or the 3DO, especially compared to the latter when it came to 3D. Because the Jaguar was poorly documented and hard to program for, developers often defaulted to using the system's Motorola 68000 chip as the main processor instead of its 32-bit chips "Tom" and "Jerry". The 68000 was meant to function as a "manager chip" that wouldn't actually do any heavy lifting, but due to the aforementioned poor documentation and its history of use in previous computers and game consoles, it was the only part of the hardware most developers were comfortable using; unfortunately, the end result was that the Jaguar effectively became an overclocked Sega Genesis when the 68000 was used this way. The system also inexplicably lacked dedicated audio hardware,note  famously leading to its otherwise decent port of Doom missing its soundtrack. These issues led to a common belief that the Jaguar wasn't truly 64-bit and that the technical specs were exaggerated for marketing by adding up the bit numbers of its multiple processors. The real answer of whether or not the Jaguar is a 64-bit system is... complicated, but it definitely isn't on par with the Nintendo 64 and is actually weaker than the PlayStation, a 32-bit system.note 

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The Jaguar's controller tried to combine a numpad-style button layout that was in vogue during the tail end of The Golden Age of Video Games with a traditional controller, which led to it having a whopping 17 buttons. It was criticized for being overly complicated and cumbersome to use. Ironically, the controller was ill-suited for fighting games despite its excess of buttons and Atari's attempts to make the Jaguar appeal to that specific crowd. A new ProController had to be released to make fighting games playable on the system.

The Jaguar's issues making game development difficult and Atari's inability to properly fund the system meant its library ended up extremely lacking, with it receiving less than 60 games. Despite this, it managed to nab some notable third-party ports, such as the aforementioned Doom (oddly the only console port of the game to be developed by id Software), Dragon's Lair, and Wolfenstein 3D. Other notable games include the first Rayman and Alien vs. Predator; Rayman was actually developed and released for the Jaguar first before getting ported to other consoles, while Alien vs. Predator was a relatively popular exclusive that was the closest thing to a Killer App the Jaguar had.

The eventual appearance of the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64 with their sleek 3D visuals, simpler controllers, and superior libraries condemned the Jaguar to an early demise. It was discontinued in 1996 and sold less than a quarter million units in that time, making the it a huge flop. The Jaguar's failure heavily contributed to Atari's withdrawal from hardware manufacturing until 2017, when they decided to reenter the market with the Atari VCS.

Despite all its issues, the Atari Jaguar still has a sizable cult following. Hasbro Interactive (then-owners of the original Atari Corporation's trademarks and patents) even released the Jaguar's encryption codes into the public domain in 1999 so fans could make homebrew games. The homebrew community has supported the system all the way into The New '10s, more than doubling the amount of games in its library.


Specifications:

Processors

  • CPU: Motorola 68000, 13.3 Mhz. Officially this was just supposed to handle communication between different parts of the system, but in practice it was almost always used as the main CPU, as developers were already used to coding for it on other platforms such as the Genesis and Amiga.
  • GPU: Atari "Tom" 32-bit GPU, 64-bit object processor, and 64-bit blitter, 26.6 Mhz.
    • The "Tom" chip did have texture-mapping capabilities, but, the system was not designed with texture-mapping capabilities in mind and thus was very bad at it, which is why many games look like higher-res Super FX games.
  • Sound: Atari "Jerry" 32-bit DSP, CD-quality stereo sound (likely intended for streaming audio from the Jaguar CD), wavetable and AM synthesis, I/O controller, 26.59 Mhz.
    • While it was intended as the system's de-facto sound chip, many developers opted to use it as a math co-processor instead. Trying to make the chip do both at the same time was extremely taxing on the hardware, which is why many games lack music.

Memory

  • System: 2 MB, with cartridges having up to 6 MB.
  • The Jaguar CD added an extra 8 MB of RAM, with 512 KB of RAM for the disk drive.
    • The CDs themselves hold 790MB. While this is larger than conventional CDs (which are usually 650MB or 700MB), it forgoes most error correction coding.

Display

  • Up to 720×576 resolution.
  • 24-bit color.
  • Up to 10,000 polygons per second. Most of the games released for the system struggled to get even a tenth of this number, though Battlemorph is believed to have come fairly close.

Sound

  • 16-bit stereo. The Jaguar had sound abilities that in theory were fairly close to the SNES, but suffered probably the system's most glaring flaw in that actually using said capabilities severely impacted performance. This led to a lot of the system's games (most infamously the port of Doom) only offering sound effects with no music during the actual gameplay.
  • Wavetable and AM synthesis.

Add-Ons and Accessories

  • The ProController is a slight visual facelift of the original controller with 3 extra buttons — for a total of 6 face buttons and 20 overall buttons — and the addition of triggers. It was made due to complaints about the original controller's design, especially since it was ill-suited for playing Fighting Games. Despite this, it was not bundled with the system.
  • The Team Tap plugged into one of the Jaguar's two controller ports to split it into four controller ports. Using two Team Taps allowed for up to eight ports, but no games took advantage of this. It was only compatible with White Men Can't Jump and NBA Jam Tournament Edition.
  • The JagLink allowed the console to connect to the internet via LAN for online play. Yes, online play did exist back then.
  • The Atari Jaguar CD is a CD add-on in the same vein as the Sega CD for the Genesis. It had only 15 games released for it, didn't add any extra hardware beyond the capability to read CDs (by comparison, the Sega CD included upgrades to the console's graphics and sound chips), and its abysmal hardware design (One of the developers who worked on the Highlander tie-in game for the add-on noted that the add-on was clearly buggy and resource constrained, and that everything for it had to be coded by hand from scratch to make games for it) and worse production quality (on some units, the CDs were jammed in so tightly that they couldn't spin, which could lead to further mechanical problems in the already failure-prone motor) gave it a poor reputation. note 

Games:


Tropes invoked by the hardware:

  • Accidental Innuendo: Combined with the CD add-on, the system ended up looking like a toilet.
  • Billions of Buttons: The controller had 17 plus the D-Pad, all front-mounted (supposedly, they were going for an "arcade" feel, but the end result looks more like a calculator instead). The upgraded controller added three more buttons in the front, plus two shoulder buttons, amounting to 22 buttons total. Cited by IGN as one of the worst controllers ever.
  • Creator Killer: Atari was barely hanging on in the video game market after their downfall during the The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, and the critical and commercial failure of the Jaguar finally did them in. Atari was forced to withdraw from the console market entirely for the next twenty-five years as a result, surrendering its dominance as a developer as a consequence.
  • Metaphorically True: Atari aggressively pushed the Jaguar as the first 64-bit console of its kind; its games rarely demonstrated this owing to the console's complex hardware, and was 64-bit strictly through a technical loophole Atari exploited in promoting the system.
  • Never Needs Sharpening: As discussed often on this page, Atari attempted to claim that the convoluted rig of processors involved in the Jaguar's specs actually made it the most powerful thing on the market.
  • Obvious Beta:
    • It's pretty clear the Jaguar CD wasn't very thoroughly tested (assuming it was tested at all), due to how easily it breaks down. One of the developers who worked on the Highlander tie-in game for the add-on noted that the add-on was buggy and resource constrained, and that everything for it had to be coded by hand from scratch to make games for it.
    • Engineers going through teardowns of broken units found that closing the lid of the CD unit causes the door to press down directly onto the CD inside. This causes extra stress on the motor spinning the disc and prematurely burns it out.
    • The system itself is a hardware example. It was released in late 1993, and had a couple major bugs with the hardware, combined with buggy development tools and incomplete documentation, made the system very hard to code for, and caused a lot of games to become Vaporware.
    • For as much scorn as Atari's then-CEO, Sam Tramiel took for claiming that the system was somewhere between the Saturn and the first PlayStation in terms of overall power, John Carmack later said (while discussing the system's port of Doom) that if they'd included a better CPU than the Motorola 68000, and if they'd included some cache and a few extra registers on the graphics unit, Tramiel's claims would actually have been more or less accurate (even if the lack of CD storage would have been an issue in the longer run). Atari's cost-cutting and rushing the system out the door ended up making it far less potent than it could have been.note 
  • Take That!: The aggressive advertising for the console took many snipes at competing consoles such as the Sega Genesis and even the short-lived 3DO Interactive Multiplayer System, again boasting its supposedly superior bit power. In the end, both systems ended up outselling the Jaguar by wide margins.

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