Behold The 60Hz Ultra Jag!

There are three types of gamer in this world. There are the ones who just play games they enjoy, and don't really give a toss about stuff like borders and speed and PAL, NTSC and all the other guff that you can get wrapped up in. Then there are the others who like nothing more than discussing the intricacies of an RGB output or the slight differences in frame-rate between one version of a game and another. Then there are people like me who sort of straddle the two. Sure - I play import games occasionally and I do sometimes dabble with a soldering iron and tinker with the innards of various systems...but to be totally honest, I can take or leave all that stuff. As far as I'm concerned, if a game can be played - I'll play it.

This probably stems from just having PAL systems as a kid and not really having the means to investigate the 'superior' 60Hz stuff from exotic places like Japan and America. I had what I was given, and I was happy to play it. Ignorant? You bet. Did I have much of a choice? Nope! Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the whole 'PAL stuff is crap' thing never really bothered me, and to my untrained eyes, the difference between 50Hz and 60Hz is something I'm just not arsed about.

Recently however, my learned friend and co-writer here at Do The Math (we'll call him 'Andrew') told me that via the medium of arcane magic (also known as electronics) he could add a switch to a Jaguar console that would enable me to effortlessly move hither and thither between the plain old 50Hz I'm accustomed to; and the spangly 60Hz usually reserved for the rich, famous, politically motivated and bourgeois. So I sent one of my cats - that's how I affectionately refer to my Jaguars - off to Andrew in the far, treacherous and leper-ridden North; and nary a week later it was back with me in the South, smelling strongly of coal dust...but with an additional switch festooned upon it's side:
This little nubbin allows me to switch between 50Hz and 60Hz signals. It can't be done 'on the fly' like some other mods I've seen recently (you have to turn the system off before hand) but this isn't really an issue for me. The extra calories burned by moving my hand 30cm from the switch to the on/off button and back again are negligible. Andrew also kindly supplied me with some pictures of the modification process being undertaken:
This is all very good, I'm sure you'll agree. But what about the actual differences this type of modification makes to the operation of the games themselves? Well, I have to be honest here - I wasn't really expecting to see much of a difference because I had been informed that a lot of Jaguar games were programmed by European software houses and as such are optimised for the 50Hz console. And, for a lot of the games I have tried...I have to confirm that this is indeed the case. There are a couple of things that are instantly noticeable though, regardless of the game you're playing - the visible screen is noticeably bigger in 60Hz mode and the boot sequence does run slightly faster...but for the most part with a lot of carts, this is the only real difference. However, this isn't the case with every game. Oh no.

Certain games are improved to the point that the increased speed makes them feel like totally different experiences. Games like Doom and Wolfenstein are examples of this, and Doom in particular moves so much more smoothly than the 50Hz version that it's actually quite stunning. Super Burnout too, feels a little quicker...if that's actually possible. There doesn't seem to be any particular rule at play here - some games benefit massively from the switch to 60Hz, while others (rather disappointingly) do not. One game that I thought might be sped up by the change is AvP...but alas the only difference on display is the increased real estate on the screen. This is probably more to do with the actual game engine than the frequency of the console, but I was hoping for more. That said, this is a really interesting subject and below is a selection of screen shots from various games that illustrate the increased play area if nothing else.
60Hz Vs 50Hz Doom
60Hz Pitfall
50Hz Pitfall
60Hz Boot
50Hz Boot
60Hz AvP
50Hz AvP
All in all, I'm really impressed with the modification that Andrew performed and I pretty much exclusively use the 60Hz Jag now just because of the increased screen size on my TV. It's an operation that's well worth investigating and if you're interested in having this done yourself, drop us a message in the comments section and we'll get you sorted.

Jaguar The Musical

I was browsing the internet t'other day and one of those random adverts popped up in the sidebar of a website. Don't know what I'd been looking at for Google to target Cats the Musical at me...but it did. As I glanced at the advert, I noticed an alarming similarity between it and the logo of another 'thing' involving felines...

Or maybe my affection for the Jaguar has gone just a little bit too far.

Guest Article: Steve Mitchell (Lore Design) Interview

Lore Design was the company responsible for the production of Highlander: The Last Of The McLeods on the Jaguar CD. Released in October 1995 the game was an impressive Alone In The Dark style 3D adventure that used motion-captured characters along side 24-bit true colour backdrops. It was based on the Gaumont Multimedia animated TV series, that was in turn based on the film starring Christopher Lambert. A further two games were planned but never released. Here, freelance games journalist Kieren Hawken interviews Steve Mitchell, the owner of Lore Design and producer on all three Highlander games.

What are the origins of Lore Design in the video game industry?

The company was founded to do the Computer Moderated Play By Mail game Lore Lords of Britain, which ran for most of the life of the business. Whilst in a gap year I did the BBC Micro ports of the James Bond game License to Kill and Atari arcade game Return Of The Jedi for Domark with my college friend Chris Lowe.

Around the time I graduated I completed Kung Food for the Atari Lynx with Paul Johnson, Tim Harper and Christian Urquhart (who is famous for being employed by Ocean Software in the 80s while still at school). Working with Christian taught me a lot about gameplay and Paul was an inspired artist who could script whole games himself and proved to be a good at business too.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Highlander came about?

Atari licensed the Highlander animated series for a Jaguar CD game. They picked Lore to develop it as we had completed several Lynx games and Dave Worton, who worked with me on some of them, had started working with 3D Studio on a pre-rendered Z buffered backdrop that allowed for the limited polygon characters that were needed for the Jaguar system and the Alone in The Dark style perspective that Atari had picked for the game. Atari also paid for state of the art motion capture studio to be built at our development studio. They paid for all the original voice actors to be flown over and provided footage from the cartoon series for us to use. Sadly this was the last game completed by Lore as a dispute with the then Atari Corp on future titles resulted in the insolvency and ultimately the voluntary receivership of the business in around 1997.

It has long been rumoured that both Highlander II and III were completed, what can you tell us about the sequels?

There was a PC version of Highlander and the sequels were in production but unreleased, as they were licensed games and those licenses had expired. I can't imagine there being any official versions released however. But it is not impossible that either from QA (testing), Atari or an ex-Lore member that something may be out there. So I can't squash the rumour, though I'd be very surprised if it was a final version.

What was the Jaguar like to work with?

Personally I much preferred the Lynx over the Jaguar for development. Generally cartridge consoles had not only RAM but also ROM to work from directly. Adding the CD meant reads had to be cached into your RAM instead of just sitting in the ROM making the CD system less potent that the straight cartridge system.

The PlayStation was a much nicer console to develop for than the Jaguar with better tools, eight times more effective RAM and it could do basic texture mapping. Despite the lack of experience they also offered excellent support, something Atari and the Jaguar didn’t have.

What happened to the members of Lore Design and what have you all done since?

Many of the team stayed in the northwest and joined Magenta Software (who also worked on Highlander but still survive as a business to this day). Paul was a founder of Magenta and still runs it today developing console games for major publishers.

I myself had just got married and started a family back in 96/97 and so left Lore and become Development Manager (Internal) at SCEE in London. Whilst I was there I produced Total NBA ‘97 and NBA Shootout ‘97 before returning north and starting Diamond Apple Ltd. I still run Diamond Apple today making games, accessories and other game technologies.

I work with and see many of the people from the Lore period on a regular basis. For example our original producer on Highlander, who worked for Atari Corp at the time, is visiting the UK right now from the US. Some of the people on my team now were with me back at Lore or during my time at SCEE afterwards.

Are there any funny stories you can tell us about your time at Lore Design?

Whilst visiting Atari Corp in the mid 90s I was invited to a meal with Jeff Minter and some Atari QA guys, this was around the time Jeff was making the seminal Jaguar title Tempest 2000.  Jeff had taken us to a curry house he'd found near the Sunnyvale Atari offices in the Bay Area at which he had persuaded the proprietors to serve vindaloo strength curry to the Atari employees. I distinctly recall him telling the testers, at some point before the meal, to "Put the Bog Roll in the Fridge..." or similar such words followed by a wry smile. Jeff's time in California was legendary amongst the Atari Corp team at the time but I can only confirm this one anecdote from personal experience. The curry was good! I do not know if the QA guys took his advice though!

Do you have happy memories of your time as first party producer for Atari?

I personally loved making Lynx games and would still code for it if I had a development kit!

The Jaguar not so much!

Interview by Kieren Hawken. Special thanks to Steve Mitchell.

Read a full article on the history of Lore Design in issue 128 of Retro Gamer magazine.