In December 1993, the Atari Jaguar became the first 64-bit game system distributed in the world. It had come out a full two and a half years before the more famous Nintendo 64 was released. The Jaguar made its debut with high- resolution polygonal graphics, CD-quality stereo sound and a modem port.
In 1986, John Mathieson and Martin Brennan began their own computer design company in England named Flare 1. There they created the blueprint for a potentially exiting new game processor. After completing the design they realized that they needed to bring the chip up to a higher level of performance to make an impact on the market. They approached the Atari Corp., who liked what it saw and decided to back development of a new game platform. After sending several engineers to the U.S., Flare 2 was launched which evolved into the Jaguar system.
In 1991 Atari announced that they were developing a new 16-bit processor game system called the Panther. However Atari's more technologically advanced co- project at Flare 2 was taking shape faster than expected. The Panther was abandoned and Atari focused its energies on the Jaguar. After an extensive three years of research, Mathieson and Brennan realized that their new system would be featuring more highly evolved technology than the just-released Super Nintendo (1991) and 32-bit Sega CD (1992).
There has been a debate over whether the Jaguar is truly a 64-bit system. There are five processors in the Jaguar. Only two of them are actual 64-bit components. One of the microchips the Jaguar uses is a 16-bit Motorolla 68000. However, according to designer John Mathieson, "where the system does not need to be 64-bit, it isn't." Mathieson contends that the Motorolla chip acts as the "manager" of the system. The actual heavy load of work is done by the 64-bit Object Processor which builds the display, and the 64-bit Blitter which controls the 3D rendering and pixel shuffling.
Though they were not involved with the system design, Atari curiously decided to contract IBM to assemble and distribute the Jaguar. The system was introduced to minor advertising support. Retail price was $200.
The Jaguar was critically well received upon its release. Game Informer magazine awarded the Jaguar as "Best new hardware System of 1993." Despite the fact that Atari was the first to break 64-bit console barrier, there were not many titles initially available through 1994. Eventually, in October, "Alien vs. Predator," a game overdue by seven months from its targeted release date, made a successful debut. In November and December Atari released a slate of additional software titles.
On August 24, 1995, Atari released a system compatible double-speed CD-ROM unit for the Jaguar. The drive plugs into the cartridge slot. The CD-ROM format is non-standard and usable only on the Jaguar console. The CDs are encrypted and copy-protected. The CD-ROM drive permits the play of full-motion video at 24 frames per second. Release price on the drive was $150 and came with 2 games: Blue Lightning and Vid Grid.
Jeff Minter, creator of the best-selling Jaguar version of TEMPEST 2000 added a unique feature to the Jaguar CD-ROM, he created the VIRTUAL LIGHT MACHINE. If a CD is inserted with the Virtual Light Machine activated, spectral waves of over 65,000 colors begin to flow in synchronization to the music across the television screen. It adds a new dimension to even the most well worn music. Users can even pre-program their own effects with a built in editor.
A modem was also made for the Jaguar. It was designed to be plugged into the system's rear Digital Signal Processing (DSP) port. The modem came with a headphone and microphone jack for use on a headset. Players can communicate with each other during a game. The only modem compatible game released was Ultra Vortex.
Sales of the Jaguar were significantly less than Atari had anticipated. The end for the system was in sight when, on September 9, 1995, Sony released the 32-bit Playstation CD-ROM-based console. It opened with several strong game titles and acclaim from consumers.
On July 31, 1995 the Atari Corp. merged with JTS Corp. a small hard disk manufacturer. Atari would now entirely focus on the PC game publishing market. On Dec. 23, 1996, JTS began liquidation of Atari Jaguar consoles and software finalizing the long-awaited end to the system.
Top CD-ROM games for the Jaguar are: Iron Soldier 2 and Hover Strike.
Top Jaguar cartridge games for the Jaguar include: Tempest 2000, Alien vs. Predator, Ultra Vortek, Rayman, and Worms.
Third party manufacturers include: Telegames (Worms), Ready Soft (Dragon's Lair), Williams (Double Dragon 5) and 21st Century (Pinball Fantasies). ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide