At first I thought that this might be better suited to the confines of Arcade Heroes since it ultimately is about more content for arcades. But I’m not sure that readers there are too interested in my Atari rants. So we’ll keep it here.
Sorry about the delay in updates BTW. I’ve been very busy with life and when life gets busy, hobby blogs take a backseat. Even Arcade Heroes has taken a back seat as I remodel a new store to move my business into but that is finally calming down.
The Atari Jaguar is an oft maligned game system, in part because of arguments over it’s ‘bitness’, in others over the quality of games it had. It did have several great games for it but to have become a success, it needed more of those plus more depth to many titles that gamers were expecting at the time. It just came at a strange time in the business, much like the 3DO and it ended up being Atari’s last new game system.
Atari was working on the Jaguar 2 – a backwards compatible system that was allegedly “2 to 4 times more powerful that the PlayStation”. It would have resolved some of the Jaguar’s hardware bugs while upgrading some components from 32-bit to 64-bit and some others from 64-bit to 128-bit. Prototypes have been found but alas, it was canned before completion so we’ll never know what was to be, unless you want to count the NUON as a sorta Jaguar 2.
That said, there was a Jaguar 1.5 – the CoJag. Developed by Atari Games (the arcade company and not technically part of Atari Corp., the home division), it powered AG’s biggest hit of the 90s, Area 51. It also powered Maximum Force and some unreleased games: Freeze (puzzle game), Fishing Frenzy, 3 on 3 basketball and Vicious Circle (1v1 fighter).
What Makes The CoJag Board Interesting?
As a disclaimer, I’m no programmer or hardware expert. This is based on what knowledge I’ve pieced together from talking with people smarter than I over the years.
According to the Atari Jaguar FAQ, initial prototypes for the Jaguar hardware were slightly different from the final product. In fact, they were more powerful. As budgets go, things have to be cut sometimes. Those prototypes reported features up to 4MB of RAM (final design was 2MB) and they tested out different CPUs, such as the Motorola 68020 and 68030 (final design used the 68000).
This decision was made to not just save on cost but also make it easier to develop for as the 68k was used in numerous computer platforms (Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, etc) and game consoles like the Sega Genesis. It was used to boot the Jaguar as well as provide for I/O operations. This did create a big performance problem however – the Jaguar used a unified bus architecture (like the Xbox 360 would use) sp whenever the 68000 needs to use said bus, it cut performance down 1/4th. Not so much because of the clock speed of that chip (13Mhz, half of the GPU & DSP) but because the 68k is a 16/32-bit processor. That means internally it processes data in 32-bit chunks but once the data accesses the bus, it does so in 16-bit chunks. Having 16-bit access on a 64-bit wide bus means lower performance as the other chips had to wait their turn a little longer.
With the CoJag, this was no longer a problem as the hardware reflected one of the original prototypes. Area 51 used a 68020 (which is a 32/32-bit processor, thus not causing the same slowdown on the bus) while Maximum Force would use the R3000 (same processor family used on the PSX). It also uses 4MB of RAM.
In essence, the CoJag is the hardware that the Jaguar “coulda/shoulda” been, a Jaguar 1.5 if you will. It also appeals to me in that it is for arcades – the board would use HDDs to store game info, providing for much more space than you would ever get from a cartridge or CD. In recent years, modders have replaced aged and not-always-reliable HDDs with modern Compact Flash-To-IDE boards. In fact, I just barely upgraded my Area 51 with such a mod.
Are There Any Jaguar-To-CoJag Ports?
Nope, not at the time of this writing. By my understanding, the presence of a different CPU does present a challenge in taking Jaguar games and putting them on the CoJag as many Jaguar titles heavily relied on the 68000 to operate. Later titles in the Jag’s life would use the GPU/DSP to their higher potential but from what I hear, porting from 68000 to 68020 isn’t like going from HTML4 to HTML5.
Perhaps if there was a tool to make this easy, like the tools that have been made to port Atari ST to the Jaguar. Likewise, any games that didn’t use the 68k a ton would likely take less time to port.
As one programmer discussed on a now shuttered forum (Jaguar Sector II), one could apparently create a game by only using the 68000 to boot the system…otherwise a vast majority of the load could be handled by the more powerful GPU/DSP combo.
Fantasy Land: If Ports Were To Happen, What’s The Potential?
Let’s assume that an intelligent and enterprising coder develops some tools that makes porting or creating software on CoJag takes place. The existence of R3000 boards does throw a wrench into that challenge but thousands of Area 51 boards with the 68020 were made so I’d guess that would be the best focus.
I’m personally much more interested in seeing either Jaguar games ported to CoJag or original titles made for the hardware than I am in seeing something like Area 51 get ported to the Jaguar. Granted, I have a monetary stake in seeing new content for arcades since I could place such games on location. They wouldn’t make anywhere near as much as a brand new PC-powered title but not everything has to be AAA level either.
There are many arcade operators like myself or collectors out there who still have an Area 51; homebrew software made available for CoJag has a larger potential market of users than the Jaguar itself does. It would also reach more users as any arcade game on location can reach dozens of players a week.
It also would be great to see those games that did push the Jag hardware and how they might improve such as Alien Vs. Predator, BattleMorph, Doom, Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands or Iron Solider 2 although the games themselves would need quite a bit of redesign work to play in a way that the arcade requires. By the same token, games that suffered from some poor performance issues/graphics like Supercross 3D or Club Drive might benefit from that extra power. Perhaps BattleMorph could have a longer draw distance or more textures while maintaining the frame rate.
Without being a programmer I don’t really know what new effects (if any) could be added to these games but I would assume that frame rate issues could be sorted out, then possibly more of those great particle/pixel shatter effects that the system could handle. Also, the Object Processor was made to push large numbers of sprites on the screen. With more RAM, you could get bigger levels, bigger sprites, more animations or just more sprites on screen.
Area 51 and Maximum Force certainly showed off the capabilities of the sprites and digitization that it could do.
The system wasn’t a 3D texturing powerhouse but it had potential there as we saw with Iron Solider 2, Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands and Skyhammer. I have seen comments from former Atari staff that with a 68020 that the system could easily rival the Sega Saturn in graphics quality.
What Jaguar Games Would Be Best Suited To The Arcade Environment?
As the Jaguar came along during an era were arcade style gaming and culture played a deep role in influence, a number of games already have that arcade ideology behind them. All titles would still need modifications to work for the arcade environment. One would be to replace starting menus with attract modes; relegating options to a menu that only the operator can access to adjust game price, volume, difficulty, etc.
For titles that would make good candidates (in my mind) for arcade/CoJag ports. Along with some suggested changes apart from the obvious of needing inputs mapped to . I do not know if the source code/assets for these are publicly available in all cases:
The current arcade industry sees players still interested in 1v1 fighting games but no one is making anything ‘exclusive’ to the industry; if one does get an arcade release, that is just used as a marketing prop for the eventual console release. Sometimes that release happens within months, making the enormous investment of the operator practically null.
The Jag had two Mortal Kombat like fighters, Ultra Vortek and Kasumi Ninja. I prefer UV of the two, with Kasumi Ninja getting an edge graphics wise (much larger sprites, cleaner blood textures, great parallax) so if UV had KN style graphics and arcade controls, it would be a win-win.
– You could also take the opportunity to add more stages or make them larger thanks to the additional RAM
– Also add a few more characters. Defintely keep that character selection screen
– As I recall, you are collecting pieces of a key to a Vortex…the game could have made that more obvious that you were fighting the others to obtain those pieces, such as taking it off them at the end of a match.
It’s a real shame that this concept didn’t go farther as it was a great game for the system. Atari was going to release Kid Grid and Country Grid but those were never finished.
-This one might be a challenge as the videos would have to be licensed. With the code ported and working however, one could change the videos to something else.
– Trackball control
Trevor McFur In The Crescent Galaxy
I could possibly do another blog post on redesigning this game but to try and keep it short:
– Add music
– Shorten the levels
– Add 2p co-op
– Restore the original animations for the bosses which featured many more frames
– Add parallax scrolling (push it to the max…more like what Defender 2000 did)
– Change the ship design and reduce the hitbox area
– Add video animations and voice overs of the characters/bosses interactiing with McFur. Yeah it’s more Star Fox in that way but it would make the game have more character.
– Change up the space/asteroids levels to be like Defender (scroll both ways) and the objective is to clear the area of a fixed number of Asteroids before you can go to the planet below. Thus combining Asteroids/Defender and making the game more interesting.
– Keypad controller could provide the additional weapons options but keypads are often only used for PIN saving. The issue is that for most casual players, they ignore complex controls like that. You could do a larger keypad style grid of buttons with the weapons printed on them.
Obviously influenced by arcade titles like After Burner, Blue Lighting could work in the same environment as long as things like aircraft selection are timed.
– It’s been a while since I played this but I recall that some of the missions were long; you’d want to adjust that. Also provide variety by having the mission complete if you finish the objective; IIRC, you had to fly through the whole thing regardless.
– With extra RAM the sprites could get a resolution increase but that would probably require an artist to redo everything, which is a lot of work. If such an improvement could also be made to the aircraft sprites (or replace them with 3D models) to have smoother animations and improved control
– An arcade kit could include a JAMMA compatible flight stick; I’m not sure that many fans want to covert old After Burners into something like it.
Val D’Isere Skiing & Snowboarding
Perhaps this one would have made for a decent conversion for Alpine Racer 😛
Racing games are all a given so I’ll leave those for last; also no point in suggesting arcade ports getting ported back like Raiden. That said, the arcade remakes to grace the Jag make good fits:
Tempest 2000 – Bring the beat back…to the arcade.
-Convert an original Tempest to 2k or another cabinet that features a spinner/knob controller and a decent quality sound system.
– Remove the original Tempest and Tempest Plus games; keep the VS. mode but also make it possible for 2p co-op in the main game.
-The bonus rounds of the “bacon river” and the psychodelic rings would have to be removed or modified in a way that would operate with a spinner.
Missile Command 3D
Already one of the better performing Jag games that was designed for the unreleased VR headset.
– Add trackball control
– Not sure what new effects could be added; possibly frame rate improvements and a redesign to the laser beams
This would be better than the new Breakout that was recently launched as a videmption-only game.
– Add some more special effects with particles and spinner controls and you’d be set
Racing games are easy tie-ins for arcade gaming, with competitive gameplay made for short bursts of action. The controls make them more of a simulator experience and we can assume that any game ported would use them. We can pretty much assume that every Jag racer would improve and could also be developed as kits for existing 90s racer games (Cruis’n USA, Virtua Racer, etc.)
Super Burnout would be the first pick since it was practically made for an arcade. Not much would have to be changed apart from adding link ability and maybe a few new effects.
Atari Karts is the next one that comes to mind, I already wrote about re-designing that one but the amount of work needed to do so would be extensive (and having the source code would also help). It would probably be easier to start from scratch although the other snag here is using the Atari properties would certainly draw the legal ire of the current Atari Inc. unless you could obtain permission first.
There are two Formula 1 style racers for the Jaguar – the oft-maligned with good reason Checkered Flag and the obscure, post-Jaguar death release of World Tour Racing. The latter is superior to the former in every way and if the source code/assets could be obtained, I imagine the easier of the two to port and improve. The frame rate only needed some minor improvements and the textures needed perspective correcting. With the extra RAM, perhaps they could improve in resolution as well. Otherwise the track designs, music, options and controls were spot on.
Checkered Flag as it is would not do very well in any arcade even with a steering wheel. With the CoJag I imagine that the frame rate issues could be solved as well but even with solid control and smooth frame rate, the tracks and game AI still need work to not be a bore.
Power Drive Rally would also be a great game to port and wouldn’t need a lot of changes although to get multiplayer you’d have to link units together instead of taking turns on the wheel.
There have been a number of homebrews developed for the Jaguar that would be great to see on CoJag – namely Tube and Protector SE. Tube is a fun racing game that with a little more work (choose your race ship, maybe add a rival system and parts/tuning system like Maximum Tune) would make a perfect arcade game. Protector I would prefer over Defender 2000. While I liked D2k ok, it would need some work such as a smaller ship or camera view; then you’d have to worry about licensing.
Homebrews like Downfall+ might work but that game needs more to it in terms of challenge to be arcade worthy. I haven’t played Rebooteroids to see if that would work but from the videos I have seen, it appears it could also be a good candidate.
There is more but this post is already super-long so we’ll leave it at that. I don’t think that every game should be converted to CoJag. It also would be cool to see original developments for the hardware – especially if that offered titles that are/should be the Jaguar’s forte, competing with the likes of the NeoGeo hardware (that would be 2D games like scrolling shooters, 1v1 fighters, brawlers).
What do you think?