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.
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. Outside of the fact that determining power based on the bit number is a gross oversimplification of how bits work, the Jaguar was poorly documented and hard to program for, so 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" that wouldn't actually do any heavy lifting, but due to the aforementioned poor documentation and the chip's 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. Whether or not the Jaguar is a true 64-bit system isn't entirely agreed upon, but it definitely isn't on par with the Nintendo 64 and is actually weaker than the PlayStation, a 32-bit system. Many consider the Jaguar to be the biggest blow to the "bits" marketing gimmick due to this; while the Nintendo 64 would still make use of it, the Jaguar's poor showing was what thoroughly cemented public indifference in its usage.
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.
Another factor that didn't help was the actions (to put it mildly) of then-Atari president Sam Tramiel (son of Jack) in trying to promote the Jaguar in the press. Several interviews he gave, most famously one that was given to Next Genration magazine, revealed Tramiel to be completely out of touch with the technical specifics of the Jaguar, often giving vague non-answers to questions regarding the Jaguar's power compared to it's contemporaries. Another of Sam's antics that lost him a lot of goodwill was a letter he wrote to GamePro magazine, blasting the magazine's writers and editors for pointing out the lack of third party support (specifically Capcom and it's stable of arcade titles) and giving a response that sounded almost pleading, saying "We at Atari are doing all we can to cultivate new and exciting experiences on the Jaguar...I ask gamers to write to their favorite publishers and ask them to write software for the Jaguar." and ended the letter with "We...welcome comments from the enthusiasts who read GamePro." GamePro, never ones to hide an opposing voice, called Tramiel's bluff and printed both the letter and the address of Atari's offices in their April 1994 issue. Incidents like these did a lot to damage Atari's already tenuous relationship with industry press and gamers.
These issues 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 a decent selection of 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 3-D. Other notable games include the first Rayman and Alien vs. Predator; Rayman was actually developed and released for the Jaguar first before being 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 it a huge flopnote . The Jaguar's failure heavily contributed to Atari's withdrawal from hardware manufacturing until 2017 and was the end of the Atari Corporation as an independent company. Jack Tramiel would sell the company to Hasbro Interactive, who relegated the label to remakes and compilations of classic Atari games, before selling the company again to Infogrames, who adopted the Atari name and is the Atari that exists today. In 2017, they decided to re-enter the market with the Atari VCS.
Despite all its issues, the Atari Jaguar still has a sizable cult following. During the period when Hasbro Interactive held possession of Atari and its relevant trademarks, they released the Jaguar's encryption codes into the public domain in 1999 so fans could easily 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 triggersnote . 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. To further elaborate on how shoddy the Jaguar CD was, it took The Angry Video Game Nerd three attempts to get a working copy, the first two of which didn't work even after trying to get it repaired. The Spoony One had a bit more luck, but his unit suffered from constant crashes and eventually fried itself completely after a few days' operation. Due to the absurd hardware failure rate and the fact that hardly anyone bought one to begin withnote a working Jaguar CD is incredibly hard to find and will run you at least $1,000 USD.
- Alien vs. Predator (1994)
- American Hero (1996): originally meant for the Atari Jaguar but canceled, finally released in 2021 on PC, Playstation 4/5, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.
- Atari Karts
- Attack of the Mutant Penguins
- Blue Lightning
- Brain Dead 13
- Breakout 2000
- Brutal Sports Football
- Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales
- Cannon Fodder
- Checkered Flag
- Club Drive
- Defender 2000
- Doom: The first (and only) console port of Doom to be developed in-house by id Software, and was the basis for the other console ports except the SNES version.
- Double Dragon V
- Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
- Dragon's Lair
- Fight for Life
- Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods
- Hover Strike
- Iron Soldier
- Kasumi Ninja
- Missile Command 3D
- NBA Jam: Tournament Edition
- Pinball Fantasies
- Pitfall!: The Mayan Adventure
- Primal Rage
- Rayman: The game (and the Rayman series as a whole) originated on the Jaguar, surprisingly enough, but in cartridge format rather than CD.
- Ruiner Pinball
- Space Ace
- Super Burnout
- Tempest 2000: A 3D remake of the arcade classic, notably having a high energy soundtrack that was so popular, it got its own CD album released!
- Theme Park
- Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy
- Ultra Vortek
- Vid Grid
- Wolfenstein 3-D
- Zool 2
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 as they were bounced around two other companies who bought them out.
- 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.