It’s well known (sort of) that our Adrian is a massive Jaguar fan, so much so that he’s converted at least one other Arcade Attack member (ahem! – Ed). A big part of this conversion was the talk of a SD solution (like an Everdrive) for the “64-bit” console. It appears that it is finally here courtesy of Retro HQ! Adrian bit all of our arms off to be able to have a chat with Retro HQ top dog James Boulton about the Jaguar SD itself and much more Atari/Jaguar goodness. And here’s the link you need to follow to pre-order one of the first round!
***Love Jaguar? Check out our “Top Ten Rarest Jag Games” article released this week***
James, great to have you here. We are huge Atari Jaguar fans here at Arcade Attack. Please tell us the latest on the exciting JagSD?
The first batch of Jaguar SD cartridges have been given the go-ahead for production, and I’m working on tidying up the user interface and firmware update procedure at the moment. We’ve tested all commercial titles are working correctly, and also a lot of homebrew has been tested.
We have support for many different file formats, covering the normal commercial ROM images as well as the different formats of homebrew. I have even included a development server in there so you can upload and execute your own code directly from your PC over USB!
What games can we expect to see on the JagSD and will they include Jaguar CD games as well?
The overall goal with my SD cartridges is to get all possible content working on the system, but my primary goal is always to make sure all the commercial releases for the system are working. So far we have the commercial cartridge library working, and the majority of homebrew.
There is also work-in-progress CD support which is running several CD games to some degree. This won’t be available in the initial release, but I plan to add CD support as a full feature after launch, if I can make it work well enough. There are no promises on this, but I’ve made good progress so far!
Which Jaguar game proved the most difficult to get working on the JagSD, and how did you get round this problem?
No particular game was more difficult than any other, as if the simulated ROM access is working correctly, everything just works. Although some games had a tendency to show up timing problems more than others. Tempest 2000 and the Phase Zero prototype were two titles I’d check when making any modifications to the ROM access, as they both use the ROM in a way which can show up as graphical glitches.
If you could choose one of the many infamous unreleased Jaguar games to be fully completed and on your JagSD, which game would you choose and why?
It would be the Conan demo from the 1995 CES. I’m a big fan of co-op arcade beat ’em ups, and by the looks of the demo this could have been a really nice game for the Jaguar. It’s one of the game genres the Jaguar is lacking, and one it could do extremely well!
When do you hope to complete the JagSD and where is the best place to keep up to date with its latest developments?
The first batch of cartridge PCB’s should be with me in about 3 weeks (this interview was conducted early July so this should have passed – Ed), but I need to get the cartridge shells produced and also write and get the manual printed! Not to mention finish tidying and fine tuning the cartridge itself. So there’s a few more weeks yet, but I’m on the finishing stretch, finally!
Please tell us a little about yourself, your background in video games and how you got started in all of this.
My pleasure! Growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s I feel lucky that I grew up as computers, consoles and games did. Year after year more awesome games and hardware just kept appearing, and arcades were the place you’d go to drool at the graphics and gameplay you just couldn’t have at home.
It was seeing the things that weren’t possible on home computers that drove me to try and figure out how it could be done and gave me a real interest in gaming technology. So unsurprisingly I ended up working in the games industry, specialising in the tools and technology behind many games from the PS1 era up to present day.
How was RetroHQ established and what were your initial goals?
RetroHQ is really a hobby which got a bit out of control! I’ve always been interested in electronics, sparking initially from wanting to know how the computers I was using actually worked, but I hadn’t done much about it until recently.
I decided I wanted to get a bit more experience in electronics, so I started on some simple electronics projects for old 8bit computers as a way of giving myself some practical experience. After doing a few of these small projects, and selling a few to other enthusiasts, I decided to have a go at something a bit bigger.
This became the Lynx SD cartridge, and this is when I realised there was actually some reasonable interest from other people in the things I enjoy building.
Can you run us through a typical day at RetroHQ and give us a little background on your products?
I’ve always got lots on the go, so I tend to end up jumping around between a lot of different things! You’ve got your standard day-to-day stuff like answering any tech support questions and keeping up with forum and Twitter posts, but I’ve also developed the website and online shop from scratch, so I have a little upkeep on that as well.
When all of the more mundane stuff is taken care of, I split my time between developing new products (such as the Jaguar SD at the moment) and refining existing products. A good example of this is the new selective laser sintered shell I designed for the NeoGeo Pocket SD recently, which improved upon the existing shell both in build quality and ease of production.
I’m also re-designing the Lynx SD at the moment — the Lynx SD Slim, I’m calling it! It’s using a laser sintered case and I’ve redesigned the PCB to make it compact enough to fit in the Lynx 1 & 2, as well as upgrading the microcontroller to speed up game loading.
I’m always going that extra mile to perfect things.
We see from your current works that you developed numerous SD carts. What are they and how do they work on classic consoles?
Most people know these type of carts as Everdrives or FLASH carts. It is basically a way for people to play the ROM images they would normally be playing on an emulator, on real hardware. They work by simulating the ROM that would be in a normal game cartridge by using FLASH memory or RAM, and allowing you to load your game of choice into the simulated ROM.
What is your personal favourite Jaguar game of all time and can you explain why?
I think it has to be Tempest 2000! I remember playing it a lot when I was a kid. I actually took a trip with a friend of mine to HMV in London to buy one of the first Jaguars in the country, and I remember playing a lot of Tempest 2000 with the Jaguar hooked up to my stereo.
Why do you think the Jaguar has had such a big resurgence in the homebrew scene and how do you personally reflect back on Atari’s last ever console?
I think with the Jaguar there’s just so much more it could have been! I’ve always been fascinated by the Jaguars hardware, just because it was really “out there” at the time. The potential power of all the custom chips is pretty impressive for a machine of its generation, and the Jaguar 2 hardware could really have been something to contend with the PlayStation.
I think this is the main reason the Jaguar has the following it does. It just could have been so much more than it was.
Have you ever coded your own video game or ever been tempted? And if so, can you explain to our readers below some of your creations or ideas?
I’ve been a professional game developer for the last 20+ years and have worked commercially on pretty much all consoles from the PS1 era up-to current day. I’m particularly proud of the work we did at Eiconic games, a company setup by myself and some ex-colleagues of Travellers Tales Oxford. I was responsible for all the tools and technology at Eiconic, and we did some really nice stuff for such a small studio. Take a look at Squeeballs for the Wii, Mercury HG for PSN/XBL and Squaddies for iOS for some of the things we did. The last commercial game I worked on was Project Cars 2 before moving to RetroHQ full time.
I still have the idea of writing a Jaguar game at the back of my mind, though! If there’s enough interest, it may happen one day. I’d love to do something along the lines of Vendetta for the Jaguar, and really push what it can do.
When working on retro consoles, are they simple to work on or does it depend a lot on each particular machine?
It depends very much on the console! Anyone who has worked on the Jaguar knows it’s a very unstable piece of hardware, much more so than most. Modern day hardware is certainly far easier to work with, but you are much further removed from the actual hardware. There’s something I really enjoy about pushing the limits of older hardware, much more so than modern consoles.
Do you think consoles with CD-ROMs as their media are a possibility for a future projects for RetroHQ?
Yes, I’ve had the NeoGeo CD and Mega CD at the back of my mind for the next big project! Although I think Furrtek is working on the NGCD ODE and the MegaSD pretty much makes a Mega CD ODE redundant now. So we’ll see where I go next!
What are your future plans for yourself and RetroHQ? Any big endeavours that you have up your sleeve that the gaming community would be interested to know?
There are so many games consoles and old computers out there, the options are pretty limitless! Another area I may explore are RGB or HDMI mods. I actually started an HDMI mod for the AtarI ST many years ago, a long time before anyone else was doing them, but lacked the skill to make it all happen at the time. So it’s an area I’d like to revisit.
Out of all the consoles that exist in the history of video games, what is your personal favourite and can you explain why?
That’s a tricky one. Oddly, I’m not really much of a game player anymore, and never owned a console as a kid. I always had computers, I went from a ZX Spectrum to an Amstrad CPC then to an Atari ST, where I really learned to program.
I think the console I was always most impressed by, though, was the NeoGeo AES (that’ll be music to our Anthony’s ears! – Ed). I remember seeing it for the first time in the flesh at Earls Court in London at one of the computer shows when I was about 15. How could you not love an arcade machine home console?! It’s still a stunning piece of hardware.
Do you have any advice to anyone looking to work in the classic consoles and retro scene such as yourselves?
You really have to be really passionate about the retro scene to make it a living. There are certainly niches out there, but it’s definitely not the easiest way to earn a living. But doing something you actually love for a living… can’t beat it!
Can you list and explain your top 3 video games of all time?
My top video games may be a little different from many! Being more of a computer user than console, mine are going to be computer based. Narrowing it down to three is really tricky, though! I’m a big fan of RPG’s and adventure games, so my choices are really influenced by this —
1: Daggerfall — this was the first game I really, truly, got lost in!
2: Quest for Glory — a cross over RPG adventure from Sierra.
3: Civilisation — one of the most engrossing strategy games of all time!
James, thank you for all the info and a great chat. One more before you head off to perfect the Jaguar SD, if you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?
Guybrush Threepwood. I reckon he’d have a plentiful supply of grog and more tall tales than you can shake a stick at.
Adrian & Anthony
Readers, don’t forget to check out Anthony’s official Neo-Geo thread over at Atariage and there’s of course lots of lovely Atari stuff there too!