Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cover to Cover: Jaguar EGM Promo (cover - p. 3)

Back in the mid-1990s, Atari's Jaguar console was trying to gain a market foothold.  It was a tough road -- the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System were still going strong with solid software support, the 3DO was out and arguably flashier with its CD-ROM standard hardware, and Atari was having a hard time convincing gamers and developers to commit to its new system. 

The struggling Atari lacked the marketing capital to run a major television ad campaign, and mainstream retailers were quite happy with the Sega and Nintendo lines; the demand for the Jaguar was failing to materialize according to plan.  So the company engaged Sendai Publishing to include a 16-page full-color brochure in an issue of the company's popular Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine.  (I'm inclined to believe that Sendai's design department had a hand in it, as well, as some of the "new" material looks a lot like the EGM of the time.)

The cover features Atari's always striking Jaguar logo, which promised mind-ripping 64-bit power that the software library didn't always live up to.  There's also a good picture of the memorable "toilet" CD-ROM add-on:

Good thing I didn't sit down!

Atari's promotion, like its Lynx ads at the time, treated the hardware specs as the main selling point.  The Jaguar was a complicated system, with a mixture of 64-bit and 16-bit processors that made programming the beast a bit daunting.  Witness the carnage as Atari attempts to link the system's raw power to the gaming experience, both overstating -- "combat games that'll drain pints of your blood" sounds dangerous -- and misstating -- what the heck is 850 million pixels-per-INCH rendering speed supposed to mean?

Feel the turf burn!

There's no question that the system had power -- the Cinepak rendering did make Dragon's Lair look better on the Jag than on the competing 3DO and Sega CD systems, and Jeff Minter was clearly able to synthesize psychedelic gaming intensity out of the complex array of processors.  And Atari's foray into VR gaming was forward-looking, although it never came to market despite its "Coming Soon!" promo below.  The table-of-specs marketing approach, used to sell stereo systems and home consoles in decades past to a knowledgeable geek-insider market, was starting to become obsolete as video gaming became more mainstream.  I doubt this carried a lot of weight with mid-90s EGM readers:

Tote bags!  Oh yeah!

The hardware was impressive, but you'll note that none of the awards listed on the right were for specific games.  The Jaguar's power didn't necessarily lead directly to great software -- the few third-party publishers that did produce Jaguar games generally played it safe, producing experiences that were not too different from the 16-bit systems already on the market.   We'll take a look at the Jaguar's library as this cover-to-cover series continues.

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