Ruiner Pinball Gameplay

Ruiner Pinball

I've got to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of pinball, either simulated or in real life. I do have a couple of pinball games for the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast, but I only really bought them out of curiosity, and the pinball machine section at Play Expo held my attention for about 5 minutes before I moved on. That's not to say I don't appreciate the heritage of the humble pinball machine and the appeal that they hold for's just that pinball ain't my bag.

That being said, Ruiner Pinball on the Jag is a little bit special. There's not really any need for a videogame version of pinball to have a story or a message (other than the theme around which the table is based, I suppose), but Ruiner seems to be built around some form of moral tale which touches on the deadly nature of the Cold War, and how everyone who would be killed in a hypothetical nuclear dawn would end up in Hell. Or something like that, anyway.

The brief intro shows a city being destroyed by a mushroom cloud and then the menu screen allows you to choose a table based either on a sort-of 1960s Americana where you have to stop the USSR from blowing up your homeland; or a table based on a vision of Hell which is dominated by a very large purple-skinned demon-woman with glowing eyes and massive breasts. 'Odd' doesn't even come close to describing Ruiner.

That aside though, it plays really well. The paddles on the table are controlled either with the D-pad or the C and B buttons, and you can 'nudge' the table to the left or right with the 1 and 3 keypad buttons. There's a hell of a lot going on across both tables, and the graphics are bright, bold and beautifully drawn and there's so much intricate detail that it's a shame so few people will have actually played this game. The sound effects are a nice touch and very fitting, and the music (what little you can actually make out) is perfectly suited. On that note (ha!), one particular track on the Tower loading screen (with the two demons holding the coffin) is eerily similar to the music from the Kurt Russell version of The Thing. Just thought I'd share that.

I can't really say that I'm an expert in the field of videogames based on pinball, but I must say that Ruiner was a pleasant surprise. It's mad, colourful and enjoyable and there's a hint of a cautionary tale in there too: play with nuclear weapons and the big-breasted purple lady will come for your soul.

There is another pinball game on the Jaguar - Pinball Fantasies, but I know very little about it. If I ever see it for a reasonable price, I'll be sure to nab it and see how it fares when compared to Ruiner.

Gameplay video here, me hearties!

Hawken / Wightman

Note the clever Frost / Nixon title there. Cough. Here's Kieren Hawken's insightful interview with Creative Edge's David Wightman, as originally published at Retrovideogamer

When did you first come into contact with it [The Jaguar] and what did you think of it?

From a development perspective we picked up a couple of Dev kits directly from Sunnyvale and brought them over to the UK ourselves. Compared to other consoles on the scene at the time the Jaguar kit had a home-brew feel which remained right until the end of it's cycle. The manuals were constantly evolving with faxed pages replacing entire chapters or adding missing details, half of the Dev kits were "hand made". The upside of this ever evolving chain was that you got to work far closer with the people and the company in Sunnyvale.  You knew what Atari were working on and you could influence that direction - which obviously worked both ways and unlike the other manufacturers you could sit with the chipset team and ask if X would work or Y would be a good approach to a problem you were having.

Tell me about your involvement with the Jaguar, what games did you work on etc.?

I personally worked on Baldies CD and a few unreleased titles which were in the works. Creative Edge had a particularly nice platformer in development plus a Soccer title which were near completion.

What was the Jaguar like to work with? Good and bad points!

Good points: The Jaguar had a European Soul with a Texan hat. With few exceptions, one of the reasons Euro teams had a better time developing on the Jag was due to it being a brain in a box. Coming from 8-bit Assembly coding then onto the Amiga/ST where you ignored the OS, then onto the Jaguar where you hit the hardware directly - it was a breeze, it was a just a big fat sprite chip with a pipe to the monitor which in those days was Developer perfection. American coders by route of their Apple2's and PC's had learned to go through a Bios and an Operating Systems to code, they had a tough time dropping down to Binary after the luxury of API's and Libraries which they had become accustomed to. That's a core reason why very few titles came from American Corporations before launch, they struggled to find people who understood how to program hardware without a soft pillow to sit on. The bad points were working with a certain Tramiel Family coder who would flip error codes without telling anyone then denying the codes had changed. It was funny until it started to effect timescales, navigating the politics was like telling the Queen she has spinach in her teeth.

Can you tell me any interesting stories about your involvement with the machine?

I did lobby Sam Tramiel over dinner to make a Home Computer version of the Jaguar. The thought of putting raw Jaguar Hardware into the hands of the European demo coders would be like putting a Camera into the hands of a young Ansel Adams. Sam to his credit thought it would sell well in Germany, the UK and Northern Europe but cracking Corporate America was always in the back of their heads.

Do you have a favourite game for the Jaguar and why that game?

Jaguar Baldies with the unreleased mouse add-on. We were supposed to ship Baldies with a Mouse as Atari had a warehouse of old ST mice they were trying to get rid of. We obviously had a game which needed a mouse -  a match made in heaven. In the end a certain Tramiel family member failed to write the Mouse handler routines in time so it had to ship without it rather than wait a few weeks.

In your opinion why do you think the Jaguar was a commercial failure?

At the time the mighty EA. never backed the machine, partly due to their 3DO connection through Trip (Hawkins). This dented it's software credentials, coupled with a City by City launch in the US which is just madness when you think about it now.

What do you think Atari could have done differently?

Everyone involved on the Software side became fatigued by Atari Marketing pushing for 3D titles when the Jag never had any serious 3D ability. The PS1 just launched and Atari were spooked by Ridge Racer. I'd personally have ignored 3D and gone all out as a turbo-charged SNES - which is what it actually was. The Jaguar could have produced some stunning Arcade inspired shooters and platformers if they had focused on their hardware strengths. 

Why do you think the Jaguar should be remembered?

I personally, and fondly remember the Jaguar as the last machine where Programmers were in control of the hardware. It's the last machine where someone like Minter could be let loose to create such mad 'code art' as VLM. 
Sadly the Jaguar has picked up a bad rap for the controller design. I never understood why as compared to the original Xbox jumbotron controller it's almost a classic.

Why do you think the Jaguar gets such a bad press these days and do you think it is justified?

The Jaguar never sold in great numbers,  the classic titles produced on the platform are in single figures and ultimately it's legacy is enshrined in those commercial facts. However, I'd like to think of the Jaguar not as a failure but a bookend to an incredible generation of creativity where designers, coders and small teams could dream up, program and launch some absolutely wild and wonderful games onto an eager public. What came after the Jaguar was the PSX which for all it's greatness, ushered in corporate development and with it the bleached, repetitive, bland titles which for the most part we're still playing today.


I realise I've already done a comparison of DOOM (it should always be capitalised!) on the Jag and the 3DO, but I thought this game deserved it's own mini review/blurb. Along with Alien Vs Predator and Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM is a first person shooter. Actually, it's the first person shooter - the one everyone refers to when trying to describe a game in a similar vein ("it's a DOOM game!") even to this day. The story is the usual guff you've heard multiple times before - you're lone space marine battling against hoards of daemons in a remote outpost on Mars or something. It's pretty thin, but that didn't stop Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson starring in a film version a few years ago. Hmmm.

Actually, I must admit that I quite like the film and it's action sequences...but that's hardly relevant here (if indeed anywhere). I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that every other console version of DOOM is based on the Jaguar version's code, simply because it was coded by John Carmack himself and not palmed off onto a third party developer (see the Sega Saturn version or further info!). I may be wrong, but that tidbit stuck in my mind for some reason. Anyhow, Jaguar DOOM is pretty special. It lacks some of the textures and levels of the PC version, but it's pretty much a completely faithful conversion - save for the music...which is something to do with either cartridge space or CPU clock cycles (no-one really seems to have a definitive answer), but the fact remains that Jaguar DOOM has no music (except in the end of level summary screens, oddly).

Personally, I get around this by plugging one of the audio leads into the 3DO and have the music running off the CD. It works seamlessly and one of the best reasons for owning both a Jag and a 3DO!

So DOOM on the Jag then: pretty awesome and every Jag owner should have it.

Robert Prince: Should've tried harder. 

20 Years - Do The Math

The guys from Jag Corner share their own memories and experiences in this cool video celebrating 20 years of the Atari Jaguar. Great vid, and well worth a watch!

Jag Pad Anomolies

I bought a new Jaguar joypad off eBay last week. And when I say 'new,' I actually mean it - the thing was still boxed, shrink wrapped and never opened or touched by the soiled palms and digits of any other human!

To be honest, I bought it simply because in all the time I've owned my various Jaguar consoles, I've never had two pads and consequently never played any games in multiplayer mode (and to be even more honest, I don't know anyone who wants to play Jag with me so this probably won't change even though I've now got two pads).

So the pad arrived in it's lovely box (see left/above), and I excitedly ripped it find a perfectly normal and ordinary Jaguar joypad.

Or so I thought...

Yes, like every amazing detective novel (yes, I'm actually comparing this tripe to an Arthur Conan Doyle book), the plot thickens. You see, on first glance the new pad looks no different to the standard one that comes with the console, but look a little closer...

Bask in the glorious cheapness.
...and you'll see that the colours are ever so slightly different - the new one is a totally different shade of grey and looks to be made of slightly cheaper plastic. The differences don't end there either. The keypad and Pause/Option button rubber is a different colour, and the numbers on the keypad look 'punched' into the plastic in a slightly sloppy manner:

Bundled Pad
Non-bundled Pad
Furthermore, on the back of the pad, various serial numbers and the 'Made in China' stamps are missing. Not only this, the whole pad just The A,B and C buttons rattle around and the D-pad is a bit crap to say the least. At first I thought I may have been sold a counterfeit pad...but then I thought: who in their right mind would go to the trouble of counterfeiting Atari Jaguar joypads, and boxing them up in real packaging?

Bundled (and slightly grubby) Pad

Non-bundled Pad.
The answer is: nobody. The sad fact is that this is a real-life officially licensed Atari Jaguar pad. It's just made with inferior materials and doesn't feel half as robust as the pad that comes packaged with the console itself. It still works ok, so it's fit for purpose...but if I'd paid £30 back in 1994 for a first party pad that looked and felt like this, I think I'd be well within my rights to write a strongly-worded letter (possibly in blood and/or faeces) to Atari. Or maybe my local MP. Or the village butcher. Um.

Alien Vs Predator

The game that the Jaguar is famous for, and one of my favourite games of all time - Alien Vs Predator. I'm something of an aficionado when it comes to the whole Alien franchise - I've seen Aliens (the second film) more times than I care to remember, and I have a similar fondness for the other films in the quadrilogy. Likewise, I have seen Predator and it's sequel on multiple occasions and could quote you any number of lines from any of them. Sad? Yes. Even sadder is that I own a Weyland Yutani jacket and actually wear it in public...but that's another story.

The main focus of this article is the Jaguar-based representation of the Alien universe, and as a self-confessed expert in the field, I can't help but say (write) that it's the best console-based Alien Vs Predator game in existence. Yes I've played the SNES version. Yes I've played the Xbox360 version. I've also played the arcade and PC versions, but they don't count (and this is still superior to the arcade (SNES) version, which is a side scrolling beat 'em up anyway). The original entry into the whole pantheon of AvP games (and films, to be honest) began with the Jaguar version. And, to quote Vasquez - it rocks.

The game is a fairly simple first person shooter in practice - you choose either a marine, an Alien or a Predator to play as. Each character has a different storyline, but the goals are ultimately the same - survive and kick the shit out of the other species roaming around. In practice, the three different races present three difficulty levels: the marine is probably the easiest, then the Predator, then the Alien. The Alien has zero projectile weapons but has the ability to cocoon human foes, thus allowing for potentially infinite continues (you restart from the last cocooned marine if you get gunned down), while the Predator has the ability to become invisible and also has various different infrared modes of vision. The upside to this is that marines (and Aliens) cannot see you, but any kills you make while invisible will detract from your overall score. And higher scores equal more advanced weapons, so being visible when you slice and dice is in your best interest. Lastly, playing as the marine is like playing your average first person shooter - you get various canonically correct weapons (pulse rifles, smart guns, etc) and limited health packs, and must make your way into the heart of the Alien nest to kill the queen...whilst avoiding hoards of Alien soldiers and a supporting cast of face huggers. Just another day at the office on LV426*, then. Happily, Carter Burke isn't around to add to your woes, but he was always expendable anyway.

For me, AvP is the most graphically impressive game on the Jag. Lots of detractors like to point and laugh at the console's 3D games, but most of them probably haven't seen this - it's fully textured and moves at a fair old pace, and while the ray-traced engine makes for some pretty boxy environments, the sheer atmosphere and tension makes up for that. The game reminds me a lot of Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels on the 3DO, in that there is so much atmosphere, so much 'not knowing what's around the next corner.' You can enter air ducts as the marine, and this instantly brings back memories of the whole 'air duct' sequence - "you always were an asshole, Gorman" - from Aliens...and this is stuff that's right up my street (air duct?!).

As you can no doubt tell, I love this game to bits. It has everything - from the sound of the pulse rifles and the motion trackers, to the Predator's laugh, to the Alien's squeals. AvP is without doubt one of the best games on the Jag and certainly on of the best Alien-based games out there. If you own a Jaguar, you should own this game, it's that simple.

* - I know this game isn't set on LV426, before you jump down my throat :)

Boot Screen Fun!

Most consoles have little Easter eggs built in - for example if you hold down Z on the Gamecube pad when it boots, the sound effects change. The Jag is no different, and came years before the Gamecube! Hold down the Pause button when you turn on your Jag, and use the D-pad to play around with the spinning Jaguar cube, as demonstrated in my exceptionally good video:

I can't take the credit for discovering this little gem - I read about it in my Official Gamer's Guide! Another reason why you should go and buy a copy right now!

Clock Speed

When I bought my Jaguar console off eBay a few months ago, I was dubious that it may be a bit worse for wear due to the 'untested' status of the machine. Quite why the seller couldn't just plug the thing in to see if it worked is beyond me...but I don't write the rules.

Anyway, when the system finally arrived, it stank of mildew and the little hole where the plug adapter goes into the console was worryingly loose - indeed, I had to wiggle the wire around until the machine powered on, and then hold the cord in place with a cup or other piece of household paraphernalia to stop the console turning off again mid-game. Which did happen a few times and it took a Herculean effort not to kick the Jaguar across the room: imagine racking up a monumental score on Tempest 2000, pausing to go for a pee and then coming back to find the console off. Quite.

I considered buying another complete console but a quick browse on eBay left me feeling a little ill - the prices of Jaguar consoles tends to be a little on the high side these days and the only reason I suspect I got mine so cheaply was because it was 'untested,' and more savvy gamers equate this to 'bollocksed.' After a few weeks, another 'untested' unit popped up on everybody's favourite auction site, and I managed to get it for about £11, with no cables or pads and in 'untested' condition.

As suspected, when it finally turned up, it didn't work. I took the lid off the newer Jaguar and saw that several of the chips on the motherboard were blown (usually this is down to some cretin using the wrong AC adapter), so decided that rather than buy another machine, I would do a DIY fix on my other Jag. So I borrowed a soldering iron from work and went about removing the power socket from Jag B and putting it into Jag A. To my surprise, I didn't fuck it up and Jag A now works perfectly. I also switched the top of the cases around as Jag B's was in much better condition that Jag A's. So that left me with a knackered and plug-less Jaguar motherboard and a slightly scuffed console case. And then I had a brainwave: why not turn it into a clock?!

I went down to the local market and picked up a rather disgusting looking clock that just happened to have some nice red and black hands:

I prised it open:

Carefully removed the mechanism (I actually destroyed it getting it out of the clock, but managed to put it back together with a little patience):

Bored a hole in the Jaguar case with a penknife (I knew my military training would come in useful one day):

And viola! A rather awesome Jaguar clock:

It's hanging in my retrogaming man-cave as I write this, tick-tocking away happily. I added the cartridge as an extra when I discovered I have two copies of Iron Soldier. Which was a nice surprise I guess!