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.

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