The Atari Jaguar Game By Game Podcast – Interview

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We love featuring other podcasts and this one strikes a particular chord with a certain Arcade Attack member called Adrian. His love for the Atari Jaguar is known throughout the land and we’ve done (by my reckoning) around ten podcasts on the thing and it gets mentioned EVERY podcast! But what about a podcast that solely investigates every game made for Atari’s 64-bit monster? That’s where Shinto comes in. His Atari Jaguar Game By Game Podcast is everything a Jaguar fan could wish for so it seemed only right that we fire a ton of Jag questions his way for your reading enjoyment. Ade should really podcast with him too, right?

 

Can you give our readers a little background of yourself and your earliest and fondest memories of gaming while growing up?

I am a husband and father, a software engineer and science nerd, a mediocre musician and an author of incomplete works. I also raise ducks (for eggs, not meat) and will recite the first hundred decimal places of pi on request. My earliest and best memories of gaming all revolve around Atari, collecting and playing games with my brother. We grew up Atari, moving from system to system, tracking our high scores and embarking on countless virtual adventures.

 

When did you first get the Atari bug and do you remember the first ever game you played on an Atari console?

It was Saturday, December 25th, 1982. My brother and I received an Atari 2600 console for Christmas, complete with the pack-in game Combat, which I was convinced was The Only Game We Would Ever Need. I did have a brief taste of Atari earlier that year, playing Asteroids on a Sears Video Arcade store display. Eventually we moved beyond Combat, with The Empire Strikes Back and Space Jockey as our next two games, though in which order I don’t recall. Our collection expanded over the years with the help of birthdays and Christmases, then flea markets and thrift stores and garage sales. It never shrank. The Atari bug was firmly established, and there was no going back.

 

You are a huge Atari Jaguar fan. Did you have an Atari Jaguar while growing up and what were your initial impressions of this 64-bit console?

I bought an Atari Jaguar as soon as it was available in my market. Sooner, actually, since I put down $100 to reserve a console from a local retailer. Before that, I had purchased one game (Raiden) and an extra controller because those were available before the consoles themselves. I loved the feel of the controller and the distinctive look of the cartridge, though I was surprised the cartridge design totally excluded end labels. Atari 5200 and 8-bit computer/XEGS carts looked great but were nigh impossible to identify when stacked. I had hoped Atari learned their lesson here with the Jaguar, but alas.

Tapping on a disconnected controller and examining a cartridge will only take you so far, so I’d have to say my Atari Jaguar experience improved significantly once my pre-ordered console actually came in. Cybermorph was neat, and Raiden was a lot of fun to play with my brother. First impressions were a little underwhelming, to be honest, given all the hype surrounding the Jaguar. But I only had a couple games, so it was time to go get some more!

 

 

What made you decide to embark on the hugely ambitious Atari Jaguar Game by Game podcast and what was your initial goals for the podcast?

Ferg. It’s his fault. I had been kicking around the idea of starting a podcast wherein I cover one game from my collection per episode. It would span all the Atari systems, 2600 through the Jaguar, and hundreds of games. But then Ferg came out with the 2600 Game by Game Podcast and I, well, I was jealous. “Hey, this guy stole my idea that I… never… told anyone about or did anything with.” Eventually I got over myself and started not only listening to his great show, but also recording and sending in audio submissions. His show has an excellent format, and to be honest, it’s better than what I was thinking about doing, anyway. He was so supportive and complimentary, he liked my stories and wondered why I didn’t have a podcast of my own. So with his encouragement, along with that of Phil the No-Swear Gamer (host of the Atari 7800 Game by Game Podcast), I decided it was time to get moving on my own show.

Ferg used to say that once he was done covering all the Atari 2600 games (no small feat to be sure!) he would move on to the other Atari consoles: 5200, 7800, etc. So I thought I would start at the other end, with the Jaguar, and work in reverse chronological order, meeting him somewhere in the middle. I figured I could do one game every other week, and that I would use a similar format to Ferg’s, where I announce the games in advance and solicit feedback to include in the pertinent episode.

Ferg gave me some great advice, he said that I should make the kind of show I would want to listen to. So I did. Maybe people wouldn’t like it, maybe they’d think the episodes were too long or that I drop in too many pop culture references or that I go too far off into the weeds examining some particular aspect of the game or another. What I know for sure is that I, personally, wouldn’t be happy if I put in less effort or paid less attention to the details. It’s honestly the kind of show I would want to listen to. Aside from my voice, of course, I’m not a big fan of my voice.

 

You are aiming to review and research each Atari Jaguar game from their initial release dates. I have been blown away by the amount of research, dedication and love and care that have been put into each podcast episode. Can you run us through a typical podcast episode, from the planning stage up to the final editing and releasing stage?

I like to think that each episode is akin to a love letter to the game. A celebration. Even if I don’t care for that particular title, I want to give it its due. SOMEBODY put a lot of time into it, so let’s learn as much as we can about each game. And that starts with the research. I have a 15-part outline template I fill out, beginning with company histories and moving on to the individual developers (artists and musicians, too, when appropriate) and the development history behind the game in question. How it came to be the way it is. If there are gaps in the story, I’ll reach out to the developers or producers. Sometimes I get responses, most of the time I do not. The upshot is that I typically spend many hours working on an episode before I even plop the game into a Jaguar.

My next step is capturing the audio. I try to record each piece of music and each sound effect in the game, isolate them, and prep them for insertion in the episode. This, of course, involves actually PLAYING the game, so I expand from there into figuring out all the mechanics, how everything works, beyond what is described in the manual. I try everything I can think of: test every option, push every button. This has led me to the discovery of, well, a fair number of bugs, but also the occasional undiscovered feature. Want to skip directly to the high scores in Club Drive from the title screen without having to wait through the attract mode? Push 6. You’re welcome. 🙂

Once all the pieces are in place, once I’ve gathered all the reviews and feedback and feel like I know the game inside and out, I’ll try to block off a period of several hours in which to record the episode. Mine is a busy house with busy kids and noisy dogs and a seemingly endless supply of laundry. See, my home office, where I record, is adjacent to the laundry room. I learned the hard way back in episode 01 that I can’t magically filter all that noise out, so there must be relative calm in the vicinity. When do I find multiple consecutive hours of silence? Early in the morning, well before sunrise, so that’s usually what I shoot for. Wake up, fill a big container with water, and click record.

Editing is done in bits and pieces, fits and starts, whenever I have a few minutes to spare. It’s time-consuming but rewarding, like carving a statue from a rough-hewn block of marble. Except not as messy and without any real artistic talent involved. I audit the show notes as I go, so that when I say “you’ll find a link in the show notes,” I’m not lying. When I’ve reached the end, I export to MP3 and listen to the entire episode using a different device with different headphones, like proof-reading but with audio. What is that, “proof-listening?”

I’ll find errors and make changes, adjust the balance between music and sound effects and the vocal track as needed, and re-export to MP3 over and over until I’m reasonably happy with the episode, or just tired of the entire process. Then it’s time to upload the episode to Libsyn, write out a hopefully-entertaining summary, publish the show notes to the podcast blog on AtariAge, and then release the episode to the wild. Following release there’s a prolonged period of panic and worry where I’m afraid I missed something major or made some big stupid mistake, and I wait for the hate mail to roll in. And then it’s off to the next episode!

 

 

So far you have released 27 bumper episodes. Do you personally own each and every game, and does that particular title take over your gaming life for a few weeks in preparation for the podcast?

A good excuse for doing a Jaguar podcast was that I already owned most of the games. There have been several, though, that I had to buy before I could make an episode about it. Not every Jaguar game is worth the money it demands on eBay, I can tell you that. Some have been welcome additions to my library, whereas others will likely never visit the cartridge slot on my Jaguar again. Thoroughly testing a game requires real hardware, in my opinion; I can’t get the full experience with an emulator or a Skunkboard. So I hit eBay or the GOAT Store and try to luck out with a low-priced find. I don’t see another path. T-shirt sales from the podcast store on RedBubble have helped with this, though; for example, they essentially paid for a copy of Cannon Fodder.

To be honest, I barely do any gaming outside of this podcast. I might play some Minecraft with my kids, or brush up on a game I’ll be talking about in one of my regular segments on the Atari Lynx Handycast or Turbotastic Podcast. Other than that, though, it’s all about the next Jaguar game.

 

Which Jaguar titles have you had the most fun playing and researching and can you explain why?

I often worry that I focus so much on testing and capturing audio that I forget to actually, you know, PLAY the game. And it happens. A lot. There are times, though, that I find myself playing beyond what I NEED to, simply because it’s fun and I don’t want to stop to jot down notes. Wolfenstein 3-D and I-War come to mind. These are games I didn’t spend a lot of time with before (or, in the case of I-War, didn’t even own before), but they grabbed me and I had a lot of fun with them.

 

Are there any games that you didn’t really look forward to playing and researching, but were surprised how fun they actually were?

There are several. I didn’t expect much from Bubsy in Fractured Furry Tales. I’d played it a little bit before starting the podcast and found it OK but frustrating and a bit same-y, largely because I’d never made it past the first world. Using level codes really opened up the game for me, and I was able to enjoy much of what it had to offer. Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding didn’t really grab me when I played it in the 90s, but in my research I discovered that the game actually had powerups on later slopes, making it much more entertaining.

I had never played Club Drive before the podcast, terrible reviews, but I ended up enjoying the game with my son. I hadn’t visited the likes of Cybermorph, Kasumi Ninja, or Brutal Sports Football in decades, and therefore didn’t expect much beyond what my old memories held. But after spending a lot of time with these games for their respective episodes, I was pleasantly surprised how much fun I had with them, and even had to adjust my ratings upward from the initial estimate.

 

Which Atari Jaguar game that you have not covered so far are you most looking forward to covering?

I’m most excited about the games I haven’t really tried yet. Digging into a new (to me) Jaguar game can be hit or miss (hit: Cannon Fodder, miss: any fighting game with the word “Dragon” in the title), but I find myself looking forward to these games more than the ones I’ve been playing for years. This is especially true for console exclusives. Say what you will about Supercross 3D, but I was anxious to get that episode started, being a Jaguar-exclusive game I had never played before. Highlander and Attack of the Mutant Penguins also come to mind, I’m definitely looking forward to those.

 

 

Your fine podcasts contain so much research and even some exclusive interviews and quotes. Which bits of research or interview answers amazed you the most?

I was surprised by the story behind Kasumi Ninja’s notorious announcer voice, and didn’t expect to learn that Sam Tramiel, an oft-vilified figure among Atari fans, was actually an unsung hero behind Alien vs. Predator. I, like many others, thought several early-release Jaguar games started out on the never-released Atari Panther, and was surprised to learn (from those inside Atari at the time) that this was definitely not the case. I am so thankful and humbled that legends like James “Purple” Hampton, Andrew Seed, Conrad Barski, Jonathan Court, Ted Tahquechi, and others would take the time to share their memories and stories with me to include in the podcast.

 

Which is your personal favourite Atari Jaguar game of all time, and can you explain why?

Oh, that has to be Fever Pitch Soccer because… nah, I’m kidding (oi! I like that game! – Ed). Tempest 2000. It’s T2K all the way. I’m a total sucker for color vector graphics. And pixelshatter effects, I definitely love me some pixelshatter. Tempest 2000’s bright, contrasting colors suck me in, and the primal keep-em-away gameplay and thumpin’ soundtrack and slick presentation hook me for good. It’s got it all. This is video gaming in its purest form, and is almost perfect in every way. My top game of all time across all platforms, right here.

 

Do you also hope to cover Atari Jaguar CD games and even homebrew games in the future?

Absolutely! I bought a Jaguar CD at launch and it still works (last I checked), so I’ll be covering both the add-on and its games starting at episode 33. As for homebrew games, I’ve only covered one so far, which is Rebooteroids. Colorful vector-style graphics, how could I NOT? There are a lot of homebrews out there, but my budget for new Jaguar acquisitions is hovering right around $0, markedly less than these games’ selling price. I’d like to cover more, but many homebrews are either out of print or just too dang expensive. I’ve had some listeners offer to lend me titles from their own collections, which is super generous, and I might just have to do that some day. Public-domain homebrews are far more accessible and I may mix some of those in at any moment, but mostly I’m focusing on the original commercial games right now.

 

Where is the best place for our readers to listen and keep track of your great podcast?

The most up-to-date source is the website, jaguar.gamebygamepodcast.com. Not only does this contain links to social media and the complete episode list and the podcast store, but I also make it a point to include the status of the current episode: where I am, specifically, in the research or recording or editing process. You can also find the show on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, and good ol’ RSS which you can plug into any podcast app. Links are in the show notes, err, on the website (sorry, force of habit).

 

 

Why do you feel the Atari Jaguar was a commercial disaster and if you could go back in time, what advice would you give to the company at the start of the consoles launch?

Gaming magazines at the time said that Atari needed the big third-party developers and publishers in order to make the Jaguar successful, the Acclaims and Capcoms and so forth. I actually disagree with that, I think the Jaguar’s success or failure hinged on bespoke games which explored new territory, and there weren’t nearly enough of those, especially at the beginning.

The Jaguar needed to truly differentiate itself. We were promised a 64-bit powerhouse, right? Isn’t that theoretically way better than the 16-bit consoles at the time? Then why were almost all of the launch titles the same basic thing we could get elsewhere, just prettier? Cybermorph was different, Cybermorph showed potential: it wasn’t just another shooter, but also mixed in exploration and puzzle elements, all at your own pace and in a full 3D environment. It was imperfect, sure, but no other console at the time could really pull off a game like that. Could the same be said about the other launch titles? Aside from the slick graphics, Trevor McFur was fundamentally the same game we’d seen for years. Raiden and Dino Dudes, too. Initial impressions can make or break a video game console, and the Jaguar launched with more promises than promise.

I don’t believe Atari had enough in-house developers working on titles for the Jaguar. My time travel advice would be for Atari to go on a hiring spree, pulling in designers to dream up new game concepts, programmers who grokked the hardware, and artists & musicians to join everything together. Build up this team well before launch, encourage them to share techniques and code with each other, and focus on things which leveraged the Jaguar’s strengths and glossed over its deficiencies.

Difficult? Expensive? Vague? Yes, all of the above! But only by showing fundamentally different games, early and often, could the Jaguar have carved out a niche for itself. And THEN, maybe, the Acclaims and Capcoms would come on board to broaden the library. I think games like Alien vs. Predator, Tempest 2000, and Iron Soldier sold more Jaguars than a port of Mortal Kombat 3 ever could have.

This is all opinion and conjecture, of course, quite possibly wrong and most likely impossible. Atari couldn’t have afforded such a large staff. It can also be argued that NO post-hoc alternative path would have saved the Jaguar, that it was the wrong product at the wrong time, and Atari simply lacked the resources to ever make it work. I could agree with that, too.

 

There are so many unreleased games that almost made it on to the Jaguar. Which unreleased games do you wish had made it onto the console and is this an area you may cover in future podcast episodes?

I loved what Atari and Rebellion had planned for AvP 2, and would have liked to have seen where a Kasumi Ninja 2 would have gone. Black ICE\White Noise was crazy ambitious and is probably at the top of my wish list, but even a less-ambitious title like Gotcha (from development studio The Dome) sounds like it would have made for some great multiplayer fun. Tiny Toon Adventures mocked us from the back of the Jaguar box from the beginning, and I remember being excited about Dactyl Joust.

I haven’t put any unreleased games on my schedule, but if I can play unreleased prototypes on real hardware (which in some cases I can), I think it’s something I’d like to cover once I’m done with the commercial releases.

 

 

Apart from the Atari Jaguar, which other consoles and games are you a big fan of?

The Atari 2600, 7800, and Lynx are also favorites, 5200 and 8-bit computers are pretty solid, too. But moving away from Atari systems, I rather like the Colecovision and its solid arcade ports, the distinctively quirky Virtual Boy, and the ahead-of-its-time Sega Dreamcast. Also, I am increasingly interested in the Turbografx-16 thanks to my regular segment on the Turbotastic Podcast.

I was really into first-person shooters for a while, the period of time between Wolfenstein 3-D and Half-Life 2. At its most extreme, I’d get together with my friends for multi-day gaming sessions we called Quakefests. That all ended, though, when my kids were born. But that’s OK. I’m still working through the Half-Life 2 expansion episodes, averaging a few minutes per year. I figure I’ll be done with them by the time Valve releases Half-Life 3, so it should work out well.

Modern gaming is passing me by. Technically, the newest console I own is a Playstation TV, the non-portable version of the Vita. I mostly got it for Llamasoft’s TxK, but have a number of other fun little neo-retro titles, some of which also work on our family Playstation 3.

 

What do you see yourself doing after the Jaguar Game by Game podcast is finally completed?

Jaguar game development. The RAPTOR API provides a powerful and relatively easy entrĂ©e into making Jag games, and what little I’ve done with it so far has been fun and exciting. Don’t expect any groundbreaking titles from me, though; instead, I’m aiming for fun, smooth, and polished. Also, polygons are well outside my skill level. Unless I decide to podcast my progress, I won’t announce anything until each project is complete, or very nearly so.

 

Do you have a personal favourite episode you have recorded, and do listener numbers and feedback change a lot depending on which game you have covered?

I think my favorite episode so far is actually episode 22 for Hover Strike. The research, the gameplay, the production, it all seemed to gel nicely, and I’m pretty happy with how that one turned out.

People are definitely interested in some games more than others. For listener engagement and download counts, there’s a lot more activity with the likes of DOOM and Kasumi Ninja than the less-popular (or notorious) titles like Brutal Sports Football and Double Dragon V. But that’s fine, that’s to be expected; I still put the same amount of care and attention into each game regardless of how popular it is. I want any episode I put out to be entertaining, even if the game, well, isn’t.

 

If you could share a few drinks with a Atari Jaguar based character, who would you choose and why?

Rayman. I just want to see how the guy drinks without a throat. How does that WORK, really?

 

Adrian

 

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