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Consoles that won’t die: The Atari Jaguar

Image Credit: Ian Muttoo / Flickr

Another World Atari Jaguar screen

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Consoles
that won’t die

Out of This World (known as Another World outside of North America) is a true gaming classic, hitting systems as diverse as the Super Nintendo and iOS since its 1991 arrival on the Commodore Amiga. Creator Eric Chahi has now given his blessing to one more adaptation of the game on an unlikely console.

French computer scientist Sébastien Briais is the man at the heart of the project, and the platform of choice is the Atari Jaguar, a powerful machine that’s notorious for being one of the worst-selling video game consoles of all time.

Jaguar: Atari’s last console

Atari Jaguar console close upAtari led the video game industry in the late ’70s and early ’80s. But this dominance was a distant memory by the time of the Jaguar’s 1993 release — Atari never recovered from the Crash of 1983 that almost killed home gaming in America. Despite claims that its new console was technically superior to its rivals and some impressive software from Atari, the Jaguar simply didn’t sell.

A lack of support from third-party publishers such as Activision, Electronic Arts, or Capcom led to an understocked games catalog, and Atari had more or less accepted defeat by the time the new kids on the block, the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, released in 1995.

Atari’s report to stockholders that year was bleak: “From the introduction of Jaguar in late 1993 through the end of 1995, Atari sold approximately 125,000 units of Jaguar. As of December 31, 1995, Atari had approximately 100,000 units of Jaguar in inventory … . There can be no assurance that Atari’s substantial unsold inventory of Jaguar and related software can be sold at current or reduced prices if at all.”

Out of This World

Briais is an enthusiastic Jaguar programmer, and despite the console’s retail failure 20 years ago, he is confident that it will prove a worthy home for Chahi’s classic cinematic adventure game.

“The story began in 2007 when I attended the Atari Connexion in Congis not far from Paris,” says Briais. “This event was organised by the Retro Gaming Connexion. Eric Chahi was invited to the event, and he was very enthusiastic to see some crazy people still having fun coding on old hardware. Some friends of mine and I asked whether he would let us adapt Another World for the Jaguar.”

Eric Chahi GDC 2

Above: Out of this World creator Eric Chahi speaking at the European Game Developers Conference in 2010

Image Credit: Official GDC/flickr

Eric Chahi recalls his first meeting with Briais with equal clarity. “The event organizers presented me to [Briais' programming group] The Removers,” he says. “They asked me if it would be possible to port Another World on Jaguar. I was impressed by their ability to code on this machine. These guys sounded like crazy people, so I immediately said, ‘Yes.'”

But the Out of This World Jaguar project remained just a concept until 2010, when Briais finally had the time to seriously work on it. Chahi provided Briais with the original Atari source code, along with the latest data and enhanced graphics from the 15th anniversary edition. “I gave Seb technical info on the game engine,” he says, “and later I resized the graphics to the native size of the Jaguar so that there is no dithering [scattering of pixels to make up for a limited color palette].”

With Chahi’s support, Briais managed to not only get the game running but take it to a stage where it was outperforming the original. “About one year ago, [Eric] came to my home and tried a beta version,” says Briais. “I think he was quite impressed by the console, as the game runs very smoothly on it.”

“It was like jumping into an alternate reality in the past where someone coded Another World on this computer,” recalls Chahi. “I was amazed by the quality of this version. Seb coded it in assembly language  using the advantage of the Jaguar hardware. It is one of the best versions, clearly. The code is so well optimized that if the frame rate is not limited, it can run maybe at least five times faster than the original with all the enhanced graphics.”

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