Atari Releases the Jaguar in North America

The Atari Jaguar is a video game console, released by Atari Corporation in 1993.

It was designed to surpass the Mega Drive/Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in processing power. It was in competition with 3DO and later consoles that made up the Fifth generation of video game consoles. The console was first released in selected U.S. cities in November 1993, and the rest of the country in early 1994. Although it was promoted as the first 64-bit gaming system, the Jaguar proved to be a commercial failure and prompted Atari to leave the home video game console market. Despite its commercial failure, the Jaguar has a large fan base that produces homebrew games, making the console a cult classic.

The Jaguar was the last game system to be marketed by Atari Corp. Flare Technology, a company formed by Martin Brennan and John Mathieson, said that they could not only make a console superior to the Sega Mega Drive (also called the Sega Genesis) or the SNES, but they could also be cost-effective. Impressed by their work on the Konix Multisystem, Atari persuaded them to close Flare and, with Atari Corp. providing the funding, to form a new company called Flare II.

Flare II initially set to work designing two consoles for Atari Corp. One was a 32-bit architecture (codenamed "Panther"), and the other was a 64-bit system (codenamed "Jaguar"); however, work on the Jaguar design progressed faster than expected, so Atari Corp. canceled the Panther project to focus on the more promising Jaguar.

The Jaguar was introduced in November 1993 for a sale price of $249.99, under a $500 million manufacturing deal with IBM. The system was initially marketed only in the New York City and the San Francisco Bay areas. A nationwide release followed in early 1994.

The system was marketed under the slogan "Do the Math", claiming superiority over competing 16-bit and 32-bit systems. Initially, the system sold well, substantially outselling the highly hyped and publicized 3DO, which was also released during the holiday season of 1993; but the Jaguar was unable to sustain sales momentum past the holiday season. Among the factors contributing to forestalling sales: lackluster gaming library, due to poorly received launch titles; and Atari's history from its decade earlier 2600 console, which irreparably tarnished the firm's reputation in the eyes of retailers and would-be customers.

Jaguar did earn praise with milestone hits, such as Tempest 2000, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3D. The most successful title was Alien vs. Predator. Both it and Tempest 2000 are often considered the system's defining titles. With such a small library of games[5] to challenge the incumbent 16-bit game consoles, Jaguar's appeal never grew beyond a small gaming audience. Customers also complained the Jaguar controller was needlessly complex, with over 15 buttons.[6][7]

Lack of titles was attributable to two main factors: the Jaguar's questionable long-term prospects among third-party game-publishers, and the problematic nature of developing games for the Jaguar. Atari had one opportunity to convince third-party developers, vital for the diversity of Jaguar's game library, with a solid retail-performance, but as things played out, post-holiday sales figures questioned the viability of Atari's business; merely outselling the niche 3DO-system (which cost almost three times as much as the Jaguar) failed to attract third-party developers already committed to other game platforms. In addition, the Jaguar's underlying hardware was crippled by a flaw in the CPU's memory controller, which prevented code-execution out of system RAM. Less severe, but still annoying defects included a buggy UART. The controller flaw could have been mitigated by a mature code-development environment, to unburden the programmer from having to micromanage small chunks of code. Jaguar's development tools left much to the programmer's imagination, as documentation was incomplete. And so writing game-code was often an endurance exercise in the tedious assembler.

Competing with Sega and Nintendo's 16-bit consoles, the Jaguar was said to be 64-bit. Back then, bit width was a big deal in the gaming industry, just as polygon-pushing power is today. The Jaguar did not work off of a solitary 64-bit processor, but instead it had a collection of processors with bus widths ranging from 16 to 64 bits. The bit width of the Jaguar is still a source of considerable debate today, but consensus exists among those who are familiar with the system hardware that, because Jaguar's main data bus and some of the processors are 64-bit, the entire system can be considered 64 bit. It would otherwise be considered a 32-bit console.