Author Topic: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)  (Read 1721 times)

Gone

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Fred Gill

    

Do you remember when you first heard about the Jaguar and what was your initial reaction to it?

It was through John (Mathieson), Martin (Brennan) and Ben, of Flare Technology; they were working on the chipset and design with Atari. Attention To Detail (ATD, I was a founder and Technical Director) had previously worked with Flare on the Konix Multisystem – we created a number of tools for the system to help developers maximise that system.

We were initially contracted by Atari to work on demos for the Jaguar, but pitched to create the game Cybermorph – based on what we called a flying carpet demo (think David Braben’s Virus landscape) using a vehicle that could fly above water, as well as turn into a submarine (I am pretty sure we pitched for it to be able to drive on land in the sequel, Battlemorph, but that had to be cut due to schedules).

We were excited by the concept of the Jaguar – a number of us had grown up on Atari consoles (VCS), and when we first created ATD, we used the Atari ST for all our development, including creating our own assemblers. We had moved to the PC as our development platform by the time we were working on the Jaguar (mainly as a result of having created all the tools for the Konix), but still had a soft-spot for Atari, and were keen to see them have a successful console again.

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

We worked closely with a contractor, Brian Pollock, on Cybermorph. He worked remotely, and we used RCS for code version control (1992) to make sure we could both work on the same source files at the same time. This was all via dial-up modem – bleeding edge technology in those days!

I remember when Cybermorph was chosen to be the pack-in game for the Jaguar (ahead of Trevor McFur) – we were over the moon; we thought that the freedom that Cybermorph showed (we considered it open-world – OK, not a very big world, but you could fly almost anywhere) was the future, not a side-scrolling shooter with pretty graphics but suspect gameplay.

We also worked on Blue Lightning (not our finest hour – ATD had grown and we hadn’t managed that growth well, and didn’t manage the team that produced it very well) and Battlemorph, on which I was lead, and which I am still incredibly proud of.

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

Bad was the main processor – a 68000 @ appox. 16Mhz – underpowered when we launched; for a short while the both the 68020 and 68030 were considered, but dropped due to cost.

Good – it was multiprocessor; one of the first where we could submit jobs to co-processors to run in parallel; an engineer’s delight scheduling jobs on the Tom & Jerry (graphics and audio) processors – we did a lot of that on BattleMorph to improve the frame rate.

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

Take your pick!

About 4-5 months prior to ship Cybermorph was crashing, and we were pretty sure that it was a hardware problem; initially Flare and Atari were sceptical, but they indulged us (just in case). I remember driving over to Cambridge (where Flare was based) from Warwick three times a week for approximately a month, whilst we tried to reduce the code from several thousand lines of assembler to tens of lines which reproduced the bug. Pretty early on, we proved it was the hardware, but couldn’t work out why. It was very stressful, with an imminent launch, and no definite cause or workaround, but we did manage to recreate with 20-30 lines of code, and John/Martin worked out the issue and patched the hardware within hours.

Atari were very cost-conscious, and initially flew the Flare team out to the USA on the cheapest flights available; once this even included Aeroflot – I am not sure what happened on that flight, but after that the Flare team booked their own flights and re-charged them to Atari.

Leonard Tramiel was the technophile and had learned about the new Sega and Sony consoles, which even though 32-bit, had texture mapping units. I remember that we (ATD) had major arguments with him about texture mapping in Battlemorph – he wanted everything to be texture mapped, but we were insistent on about 10-15% of the polygons being texture mapped to keep the frame rate up and the game responsive. Ultimately Leonard produced a fully-texture-mapped game (Battle Tank?) to prove that the hardware was capable, but it ran at 6fps and was atrocious to play.

Reading files from the CD-unit was problematic – you would make a request, but the hardware would only guarantee to read within 6 sectors, so you had to build this into your filing system (there was no O/S to do this – everything was done via direct access to the hardware). We discovered a hardware issue about 4 weeks from going final, where the wrong sectors were returned; we had to add another layer into the file system to ensure each file had a uniquely identifiable signature.

After the Jaguar launched, we were called by John Skruch (who headed up development at Atari, a great guy with a difficult job) to ask if we could reduce the cost of manufacture for Cybermorph. Cybermorph originally shipped on a 2Mb cartridge, and Atari needed it in 1Mb. We did some analysis and I think we agreed a price of $5,000 – it took about 4 hours to remove the assets (mostly animation frames) and rebuild.

After the launch, and with Cybermorph as the pack-in game, we were told by Atari that we had earned no royalties (from memory Cybermorph cost less than $100K). We were very sceptical and after much deliberation threatened Atari with an audit. Magically, about 2 weeks later a cheque for $2,000 appeared. I remember framing it and I don’t think we ever cashed it as British banks did not like cheques from American banks - (international banking has improved lot in the last 20 years)

Not as relevant - I remember the Tramiel family being generous (Jack, Sam and Leonard all being in the business). Sam had season tickets to the San Jose Sharks, which he, after we expressed interest in seeing hockey, gave to us whilst we were finishing Battlemorph – 4 hours of the most electric atmosphere, which really did break up extended stay in San Jose.

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

I really enjoyed Battlemorph, both creating and playing. AvP was good, and I also really liked Iron Soldier for its technical excellence and gameplay - the team that created it discovered a small area of memory that could be used as a texture source (256-bytes or words of palette) and it was the same speed as flat and Gouraud shading (twice as fast as normal textures) – they used it to great effect.

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

I think Atari were, unfortunately, already in a downward spiral; they couldn’t afford to create and launch a new console, and so everything was done on a shoestring budget. They couldn’t attract enough high-quality 3rd-party IP, nor enough of the best developers and publishers to the console as they didn’t have a compelling story - indeed Sony and Sega were both courting the same developers and publishers…

Interview by Kieren Hawken with special thanks to Fred Gill
« Last Edit: August 26, 2013, 00:03:11 AM by The Laird »

Gorf

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2013, 00:29:14 AM »
Dear Fred,

If you are reading this, it is just a blessing to hear what you have to say about the Jaguar hardware.
I've argued the same points you made over and over only to fall on deaf ears(which is no surprise
since the morons I argue with can't get over their love affair with the 68k)

Can't agree more. I am the guy who came up with the workaround to allow jumps and code to run
in main ram for the GPU. Would love to discuss this more with you and get your insights about it.

Another bloke of ours, Atari Owl, also figured out how to jump back and forth from main RAM
to local RAM and it is very stable.

It is a definite gain in performance over using the 68k and frees up the bus contentions greatly.
There are a few rules to follow, like 6 or 7 and performance is definitely increased  as long as
one is careful about tight loops and proper interleaving.

If you can't answer here, I'd love to hear what you think through our mutual pal Mr. Hawken

Cheers

Steven Scavone
3DSSS, LLC
« Last Edit: August 26, 2013, 00:34:53 AM by Gorf »

TrekMD

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2013, 00:56:44 AM »
Nice interview!  Thanks!

Rogue Trooper

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2013, 01:23:36 AM »

Looking at Fred's answers in the interview ATD gave to Edge (appeared in Feb'95):

He said Flare technology rang them up, to test the functionality of the new chip they'd designed, so they (ATD) gave them some help debugging the chipset and some suggestions for instructions that could onto it.then since they had that experience, it seemed silly not to be doing a product, Chris (Gibbs) then said they were asked to do some demo.software, to show off said chipset, but that soon turned into a requirement  to turn it into a game....

Odd the debugging and instruction suggestions not mentioned, as i'd loved to have known just how much debugging was done and what if any of their suggestions were taken on board, plus what sort of time frame they needed and were given.

Very interesting to hear his point about Atari wanting everything texture-mapped soon as they learnt of PS1/Saturn.Developers of Jag CD Freelancer 2120 said exactly the same thing, Atari as they put it, going into completely and utterly mental mode, suddenly everything had to be texture-mapped and the Jaguar hardware just was'nt upto that.


Smacks of Atari struggling to face a new and powerful threat on 2 fronts.Jaguar which had been pitched as the console to rip the guts out of it's 16 Bit competition (SNES+MD), now facing Saturn+Playstation at a time media snobbery in games press was sneering at anything that was'nt 1000's of polys per second, texture-mapping etc.

Flare also introduced ATD to Bell Fruit where i believe ATD were involved in creating arcade games for them.


I'll have to dig out the earlier interview ATD did with Edge where they talk more about their time with the Jaguar.Interview i mentioned above just more focused on where they were then, plans for the future.

I was also under the impression ATD were working on  2600VCS projects (at that point still a huge market) when they got the call about taking a look at the Flare stuff planned for the Konix.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2013, 12:13:04 PM by Rogue Trooper »

Alberto 2K

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2013, 10:56:59 AM »
Very nice read! :1:

I never liked much the textures in classic games, they look awful most of the times. I love the clean and beautiful Gouraud shaded poligons on Jaguar games, much more pleasant for the eye no doubt. :8:
Don't be surprised, my broken English is legendary!

Rogue Trooper

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2013, 14:27:49 PM »
Cannot find said issue of Edge i wanted to check 2nd interview, in fact all it's done is make me think this bank holiday, a lot of magazines are going in the recycling bin, (as have them on scans on DVD) and given time passed since Fred did said interview, doubt he'd recal much of what was said back then.


Cryptic33

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2013, 14:37:28 PM »
Great interview. Thanks Kieren and of course Fred :113:

Kind courtesy of the Fox

DreamcastRIP

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2013, 14:46:36 PM »
Some truly fascinating titbits of information in Fred's responses there. Particularly so, for me, what he said about Leonard Tramiel, Cybermorph royalites and the texture trick. Further discussion of the latter will doubtlessly interest the Jag homebrew coders here such as Gorf and rush so it'd be great were Fred to join here.
Owned: Spectrum Jaguar JaguarCD Lynx ST 7800 Dreamcast Saturn MegaDrive Mega-CD 32X Nomad GameGear PS3 PS PSP WiiU Wii GameCube N64 DS, GBm GBA GBC GBP GB VirtualBoy Xbox Vectrex PCE Duo-R 3DO CDi CD32 GX4000 WonderSwan NGPC Gizmondo ColecoVision iPhone PC Mac

TrekMD

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2013, 19:26:04 PM »
I'm hoping Gorf is able to get a reply to his post.  That'd be great!

Shadowrunner

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2013, 19:32:01 PM »
Great interview! Thanks  :)

Gorf

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #10 on: August 27, 2013, 00:15:44 AM »
Very nice read! :1:

I never liked much the textures in classic games, they look awful most of the times. I love the clean and beautiful Gouraud shaded poligons on Jaguar games, much more pleasant for the eye no doubt. :8:

I too always thought the Jaguar's charm was it's G-shaded polies.

Gorf

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2013, 00:17:13 AM »
I'm hoping Gorf is able to get a reply to his post.  That'd be great!

Your lips to God's ears! :38:

TrapZZ

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #12 on: August 27, 2013, 00:32:03 AM »
Awesome interview, thanks for posting it!
Join my brother and I as we drink beer and review every US NES game ever made (the actual games on the actual hardware, not emulated).
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Rogue Trooper

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2013, 10:34:00 AM »
Found that original interview with ATD from Edge (issue 5/Feb'94).Fred Gill+Chris Gibb interviewed...

Few quotes from Fred:


'....and more importantly at that time the chipset had'nt been debugged.so they needed someone to find all the bugs for them.that was 18 months ago now:we've had the Jaguar longer than anybody else in the country-probably even the hardware designers, i think'

Chris then said: 'We had about 12 wks to test and debug and to see what the machine could and could'nt do, it was a really productive time because lots of little things came out of the hardware and we made suggestions about things we'd like added'

Fred: 'There are a couple of 'bits' left unused here+there in the blitter chip, and we asked them if they could include a mode where, when you're texture-mapping, you can add a constant value to the pixels, so it does depth-shading-AVP uses that to good effect.They also asked us if we had any instructions that we wanted to put into the processor and we thought of a couple.It's nice to see hardware designers listening to software people'

For people who slag off Cybermorph looking worse than SNES Starfox:Fred+Chris talk about the game using the Jaguar hardware...the Head Hunter nastie that flies over undulating terrian and occ.sinks through it was only possible via Z-buffering, as were the bio-blobs that attach themselves to your ship, Fred talked of how they drew all the objects, then drew the landscape underneath and Z-buffering took care of everything, also how every terrian made use of light-sourcing.

Hell even Edge caption praised it:Cybermorph certainly shows off some of the Jaguars 3D graphical capabilites, such as Gouraud shading and Z-buffering'


Performance wise Cybermorph was, according to Fred: 'there's between 400+600 polygons a frame and it's running at between 10 and 18 FPS,.When it's moving 600 polygons, it's about 10 FPS-so it handles around 6,000 polygons a second.

We have'nt really done any statistics, because  the polygon sizes vary so much.But we definitely reckon we can get 50-100% speed up on the engine.You can equal it if you do flat-shaded polygons:a 486 at 66 Mhz with local bus will probably do the same, but not with Gouraud shading'

Fred also talked of how issues they'd encountered with Jaguar hardware whilst developing Cybermorph:

'...originally we were hoping that some of the processing power would be left over in Jerry (sound DSP), so that we could say, do the 3D rotation code in there, then Tom would start rendering that whilst Jerry was doing sound.But as it turns out, everything is using the DSP to it's full, so there's no spare memory, no spare processing power'.


Fred also talked of Atari consulting ATD on what hardware should be in Jaguar 2 and how Jaguar Mk 1 was originally intended to be 40 Mhz, and the chips turned to be very hard for manufactuers to produce, they would'nt guarantee them at 40 Mhz....

Cryptic33

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Re: Atari Jaguar 20th Anniversary - Fred Gill (Attention To Detail)
« Reply #14 on: September 22, 2013, 22:17:02 PM »
Interesting stuff indeed. Though I may not fully understand the technical comments I am feeling the love for this fabulous machine. I like the part about software and hardware developers working together, something more common these days but a big step forward back in the day. History can teach us much.

Kind courtesy of the Fox