Interview de John Mathieson, le « père » de la Jaguar

Par QueST


Etant un fan inconditionnel d’Atari (ce n’est pas nouveau pour vous j’espère ;-)) et étant un possesseur de la Jaguar depuis 1994 (j’ai été parmi les premiers heureux français à avoir le fauve), j’ai toujours souhaité discuter avec quelqu’un d’Atari à propos de ma marque fétiche et de ma console préférée. Et si, en plus, cette personne s’avère être le père de la Jaguar, c’est l’extase.

Et bien, jeunes gens, je vous l’annonce sans plus attendre : j’ai fait l’interview de John Mathieson, le père de la Jaguar (en fait et surtout le père de TOM et JERRY - les deux monstres 64 bit RISC qui animent le fauve - et du concept Jaguar) par email. Je ne vous dirai pas comment j’ai obtenu son email (et d’ailleurs ne me demandez pas de vous le donner, je lui ai promis de ne pas le diffuser ; et puis de toute façon, je respecte la vie privée des gens donc il restera « top secret ») mais je l’ai obtenu.

Je souhaitais vraiment réaliser son interview pour le Toxic-Mag (c’est une exclusivité pour le mag !), pour compléter un article sur Jack Tramiel (et donc Atari) que je voulais réaliser pour le journal de mon ancienne école et aussi et surtout pour ma culture personnelle. Et puis, j’adore la Jaguar : la machine m’a toujours fait rêver ! Aaahhh, Alien Vs Predator, quel jeu ! ! !

Je tiens d’ailleurs à remercier chaleureusement John Mathieson pour sa gentillesse, sa disponibilité et pour avoir accepté de répondre à mes questions (qui, pour certaines, contenaient des fautes d’orthographe, bouh la honte ! Je m’en suis aperçu trop tard... Mais bon, j’ai une excuse : cela devait être l’émotion… Bein oui, il faut me comprendre : vous auriez du voir ma tête car j’ai ouvert ma boite mail et que j’ai découvert un email de John Mathieson en réponse au mien et dans lequel il acceptait de répondre à mes questions :-).

Ok, je vous sens impatient donc passons au vif du sujet : l’interview. :-) Ne voulant pas trop abuser de son temps, j’ai condensé les questions. Celles-ci sont d’ailleurs les questions que tous les Ataristes et les fans de la Jaguar se posent à propos de la machine. Il y a même des informations sur la Jaguar II et les successeurs de TOM et JERRY !

Sinon, j’en profite pour passer un petit mot à mon camarade Stéphane (Strider) : il ne faut pas qu’on se plante avec « Computer Tycoon » en sortant un jeu naze : John Mathieson a accepté d’être "bêta testeur" !!! :-)

Et puis, au fait camarade, quand t’achètes tu une Jaguar pour ta collection ?



(L’interview date du 22-23 Août 2002 et elle a été réalisée par email)

1) When and why did you decide the creation of Jaguar (and more especially the two main chips : TOM and Jerry) ?

The concept for Jaguar started in about 1990 with investigation of 3D rendering pipelines, and colour space. The early design work was all about the graphics engines. The video output path was based on an earlier project called Panther that got cancelled as Jaguar was making such good progress. Panther was the ultimate 2D graphics engine. Jaguar added the GPU and blitter which gave it its 3D graphics capabilities. Later when we wanted a solution for audio we added another GPU for sound, as it is a good general purpose DSP.

2) Why did you choose Atari as the manufacturer of Jaguar ?

We sold the idea of Jaguar to Atari as a concept, and they funded its development. We were looking for a manufacturer with some muscle to be involved in the project from the beginning, as we felt that was one of the reasons for failure of the previous project, Flare One.

3) What can you tell us about Flare One?

Flare One was designed after we left Sinclair in 1986. It was intended to be cheaper and better than the Amiga. It was licensed to a company called Konix, who were going to sell it as the Konix Multi System, but they ran out of money. It was also used in the UK by a company called Bell Fruit for pub quiz machines.

4) In your opinion, what's the best game for Jaguar ? In your opinion, what's the percentage of the power of Jaguar which is used by this game?

The games that pushed Jaguar hardest was either Doom or Iron Soldier 2. Both of these took the machine to its limit. The Doom port took a lot of personal involvement from John Carmack. The best game is of course Tempest 2000.

5) Before your answer, I thought AvP and Fight for Life were the games which pushed Jaguar to its limits. However, AvP seems to be the most popular game on Jaguar. Do you like it or do you prefer Doom (I know it is an old passionate debate :-)) ?

AVP was pretty cool as a demo, but the game was much slower. They spent too much time using the 68000 to track activity on the levels and not enough time on animation. The original demo version was much smoother, but had no game play :( Fight for Life pushed quite hard, but the programmer, whose name escapes me, was not all that good.

6) Some people told it was very hard to code on Jaguar. As the creator of the machine, what do you think about this affirmation?

Its a fair criticism. The hardware was quite limited. They say the same about PS2...

7) A lot of people think if Jaguar had got a CDROM in its standard version, the games would be more "impressive" (in comparaison with Playstation and Saturn games which used this support for add not interactive but beautiful video or precalculate animation) and thus the success of the machine would be more important.  Do you think the absence of a CDROM unit in the standard version of Jaguar was a real handicap?

Not at the time. It would have added about $100 to the cost at launch. Jaguar's handicap was the lack of games, or serious marketing. The CD would not have helped with these.

8) According to several videogames magazines, the reserve of Jack Tramiel about the CDROM (because it is very slow) was the main reason why Jaguar only used cartridge in standard. Is it true?

No. It was purely a cost issue. It made the console cheaper as I mentioned.

9) Do you know how many Jaguar were sold around the world?

I think it was around 250,000. Not certain of that.

10) Several Atari zealots think Jaguar was the Atari most impressive machine. I suppose that pleases to you :-)

Of course.

11) What about Jaguar II? Can you tell us if some prototypes exist or if it is a myth?

The replacement for Tom was fabricated and worked, it was called Oberon. The blitter was upgraded to a full triangle engine, and on-chip texture caches were added. It did anti-aliased texturing at full bus speed (i.e. same fill rate as Gouraud shading on Tom) and looked gorgeous. The companion chip, called Titania, which was Jerry plus another GPU with cache to act as CPU was never fabricated.

12) Taking into account that a part of Jaguar II was created (Oberon), do you know if any "real" uncompleted (without Titania) prototype of Jaguar II was created ?

There were 2 or 3 boards build with Oberon and Jerry.

13) If you know someone who owns a "real" Jaguar II uncompleted prototype, could you give me his address ? ( I will steal the Jaguar II for my collection of Atari machines! :-) )

I suspect they were scrapped when Atari went down. I don't know any more than that. Sorry.

14) To go back over " Oberon " and " Titania ", is there any patent, technical documentation or " real " chip(s) (given that Oberon was produced) somewhere ? I think the Jaguar zealots would like to see something about them (Jaguar II is become a mythical machine)

I will see if I can find the programmer's reference manual for it and send it to you.

15) What are your biggest regrets about Jaguar (technology, games...)? If you can back to the past (with a time machine for example :-), will you change anything about Jaguar (and what) ?

It should have been able to run C, and do texture mapping. When we started all games were written in assembly, and Gouraud shading seemed enough. We were wrong on both those assumptions. I am not sure what we could have done differently, given the limitations of chips at the time, but there would have been a different emphasis.

16) How do you imagine the videogame systems in 10 years?

Mindblowingly realistic, but probably very similar games. Nothing much changes in video games...

17) Hasbro put Jaguar in « public domain » and some development kits are creating around the world by the Jaguar zealots to develop games on Jaguar. There is a real enthusiasm for Jaguar in 2002. What do you think about this phenomenon ?

Amazing! Its great that there is access to a game console for people who want this.

18) You created the first 64-bit videogame system but are you a gamer ? What's your favorite game?

I am not much of a gamer, I don't have enough time. My favorite current game is Crazy Taxi on Dreamcast. I will probably go and get an Xbox soon, given where I work (nVidia).

19) What's your favorite machine (videogame system or computer)? Why?

The game machine I had the most fun with was a Sega Megadrive (Genesis), where I spent hours playing Sonic; also the Sinclair Spectrum which was the first computer I worked on.

20) What's your curriculum (studies) ? What have you been doing since you left Atari? What's you job today?

I have a degree in Computer Science. I spent most of the last 6 years at a company called VM Labs producing a technology called NUON which made DVD players into game machines. I have worked at nVidia for the last 9 months.

21) What do you think about the purchase of Atari by Hasbro and by Infogrammes?

Well, they did not buy it for Jaguar, did they :(

22) We are creating a "business computer game" in "open source". This business game is based on a game we (some mates and myself) made in the 90s on Atari ST and which won some prizes. Now, we are starting to develop it on PC on the principle of open source (and we hope it will be adapted on Falcon 030 and Jaguar). The game principle is focused on the videogame industry and the computer business with a lot of R&D. The objective is to create a very realistic business game. When we will have a playable version of the game, would you accept to play it and give us your feedback about it?


Thank you very much for your answers Mr Mathieson. We wish you all the best for the future. And we won’t forget you agreed to test our game : you will the first person in the world to receive the playable version :-)




Voilà, j’espère que cet interview vous aura intéressé autant que moi. Encore merci à John Mathieson pour avoir accepté de jouer le jeu des questions / réponses.

Pour tous les fans d’Atari et du fauve, sachez que la Jaguar a vu naître plusieurs kits de développement. En ce qui concerne la documentation technique officielle et les outils pour la programmer, ils sont disponibles en téléchargement sur l’excellent site suivant :

John Mathieson a d'ailleurs lui-même participé à la mise à jour d'un des documents techniques disponibles sur le site pour sa diffusion auprès des fans qui souhaitent développer sur la Jaguar.

Je vous rappelle également que Hasbro, à l’époque où ils étaient les possesseurs d’Atari, ont mis la Jaguar en « domaine public ». Des adaptations de jeux (Quake!!) ou des démos sur Jaguar, cela serait génial, non ? En tout cas, si des développeurs Jaguar lisent cet article, sachez que nous souhaitons que notre jeu « Computer Tycoon », une fois finalisé, soit adapté sur tous les supports possibles et inimaginables et surtout sur les machines Atari (Falcon 030 et la Jaguar plus particulièrement)! N’hésitez pas à nous contacter Stéphane (Strider) et moi !

En espérant que cet interview vous aura aussi intéressé que moi, je vous dis à la prochaine dans les colonnes du Toxic-Mag !

Et n’oubliez pas : « Do the Math » ! :-)

Cédric / QueST