To many non-gamers Atari is nothing short of an obscure word, and that’s probably because the company, once flagship of an entire industry, died when most of them weren’t in this world. Atari died as a console manufactured in the middle of the 90s and today we celebrate its swan song. The console that had to resurrect Atari, the Jaguar, was launched today, November 23rd, 25 years ago, in 1993. It shockingly failed and it brought with itself a company that since then, for most young gamers, has become only a weird word.
The story in a nutshell
The story of Atari is that of the company that invented the videogames. Even though they weren’t the first to ever manufacture a console, their VCS, later known as 2600 became a milestone in the history of entertainment. After the long life of the console, many time redesigned and updated, Atari looked like they couldn’t top their initial success. After the dramatic 1983 video games crash, the company was better known for its name, not for the consoles they produced. After the huge failure of the 5200 and the insuccess of the 7800, Atari tried to enter the handheld market with the Lynx, finding itself sandwiched between Nintendo and Sega, the new dominators of the video games world.
Atari, almost broked, tried to challenge the competitors on the “bit” battlefield: by the early 90s, the big N was selling its 16-bit console, the SNES, while Sega was pushing the Genesis so the Sunnyvale company decided it was time to go 32-bit. Plans for the release of the Atari Panther were concrete, but it wasnt enough, so probably biting more they could chew, Atari began to work to a 64-bit console with the help of Flare Technology.
Released in 1993 with the price tag of 249,99$ after three years of development the console, despite an aggressive marketing campaign and and incouraging debut, failed to resurrect Atari and killed it once and forever, after its 1996 discontinuation and poor sales.
Marketed as the world fist 64-bit console in a market where the 16-bit were the standard and the 32-bit were considered the state of the art, the console should have been technically super-capable.
Whether or not it was really a 64-bit console and not a 32-bit on steroids (I don’t have the knowledge to tackle this kind of argument), the Jaguar has a multi-chip architecture that was one of the reasons the developers kept the distance from a system so difficult to program. Beside a “Tom” chip clocked @ 26.59 MHz that controls the GPU and the DRAM, there’s a “Jerry” chip, always clocked @ 26.59 MHz responsible for the sound and a general purpose Motorola 68000 chip.
Oh boy. That’s another sore point. The joypad. A controller that was old even in 1985 on a cutting edge console released in 1993.
Not only it was bulky as f**k but it has also had a 12-button numeric pad that was outdated already on the Intellivision. And it supported overlays. OVERLAYS. In 1993. A couple of instructions, a D-pad and three action buttons weren’t enough? You really needed 12 extra buttons? And that thing is gigantic! How can you handle a thing like that, it’s like a steering wheel!
By the way Atari, aware of the big mistake made with the controller, later redesigned it and they released the Pro controller…
It’s the same s#!t, but with 5 more buttons. Five! For a total of 20 action buttons and a D-pad!!! Flying a plane requires less stuff!
Despite the 64-bit (or 32…) most of the developers didn’t explot all the graphic capabilities of the console with the result that the games looked exactly the same as they could had looked on a 16-bit console. Even 3D games were less impressive than other games on 16-bit consoles. If you compare for example, Star Fox on the SNES and Cybermorph on the Jaguar it’s difficult to spot some difference…
Another (should it be needed) sore point. A shame of only 50 games were released for the console, of which 31 published by Atari itself. To these 50 games, 13 have to be added for the Jaguar CD add-on for a total of 63 titles. The 5200 had more games than the Jaguar. The 5200.
Of course, drawing up a top-10 list would be impossible and useless and just a fistful of games can redeem the vast majority of awful titles. One of these is the surreal Attack of the Mutant Penguins with its colourful graphics, even though the gameplay looks like it was designed by someone on crack.
Tempest 2000 is another game that is universally praised as one of the best for the system, but again, maybe even a pumped 8-bit system should have been enough for it and it was a waste of bits on a next-gen console.
Another brilliant game on the system is Doom, which represent probably the best Doom version ever on a console. If it weren’t for the fact that lacks COMPLETELY any kind of music. Probably three chips weren’t enought to to all the job?
Other games were good, like Wolfenstein 3D, Syndicate, Theme Park or Zool 2, but again, these were games designed for 16-bit consoles. The Jaguar did absolutely nothing to improve them or to come up with new ideas. And this was a good thing because when they tried to do something new they created Bubsy 3D…
I hate them for this, seriously. I loved Bubsy in its 2D universe and they killed him forever with this masterpieceofshit (all in a word, yes).
Atari tried in every way to keep the console alive, even though all of their efforts were completely vain due to a doomed hardware. In September 1995 they released an add-on, the Jaguar CD to catch up with the competitors but the peripheral suffered huge problems and the games designed for it were total junk.
They also announced the Jaguar VR, an headset for virtual reality to compete with the Virtual Boy. Atari was so desperate that couldn’t even tell what was the competitor.
Rumors of Atari already ceasing the development and production of the console started in 1995 until in 1996 the company confessed their dramatic situation: in three years they produced 225k units and 100k were still unsold. On April 8, 1996, Atari Corp. merged with JT Storage in a reverse takeover.
The glorious company that invented the video games was dead.