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Useful Notes / Atari Jaguar

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Top: the Jaguar. Bottom: The Jaguar with CD drive and Pro Controller. The shape of the console is a perfect indicator of its other common use.

"Do the math!"

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 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 the Jaguar, and the system was out the door as early as 1993 with a price of $250 and an aggressive marketing campaign against its competitors, the 16-bit SNES and Sega Genesis and the 32-bit 3DO, urging consumers to "do the math" and choose the 64-bit system instead (because having more bits meant the system was obviously superior).

Unfortunately for Atari, in spite of the Jaguar's technical advantages, they didn't have the money to throw at high-quality software development, and the system was poorly documented and hard to program for (one major flaw being the inexplicable lack of dedicated sound hardware, hence why ports like Doom didn't have a soundtrack) so most of Atari's games looked hardly any better than those of its competitors, including the 3DO (especially in terms of 3D graphics) and even the Super Nintendo, which led to a common belief that the system wasn't truly 64-bit and that the technical specs were exaggerated for marketing by adding up the bit numbers of its multiple processors.note  The eventual appearance of the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64 with their sleek 3D visuals and simpler controllers condemned the Jaguar to an early demise, and resulted in the company withdrawing from console manufacturing until 2017, when they decided to reenter the market with the Atari VCS.


The Jaguar still has a cult following, which even caused the Jaguar encryption codes to be released so fans could make homebrew games.

You know, if you can find a working Jaguar.

Because the Jaguar had a CD add-on, the Jaguar CD. 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 




  • 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.
  • Sound: Atari "Jerry" DSP.


  • 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 is 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 Doom) only offering sound effects with no music during the actual gameplay.


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: Its critical and commercial failure prompted Atari to withdraw from the console market entirely for the next twenty-five years, 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 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.
  • Take That!: The aggressive advertising for the console took many snipes at competing consoles such as 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.

In the end, how ironic it was that the Jaguar CD, an add-on that looks so much like a toilet, was the straw on the camel's back that resulted in the Jaguar console, and Atari's entire line of consoles, being flushed.


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