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They Said WHAT
Atari's Sam Tramiel Goes Freakin' Crazy
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on February 04, 2009   |   Episode 23 (Show Archive)  

   

NEXT Generation: The only magazine with the balls to put the Jaguar right on the cover!
A couple of weeks ago we decided to truth squad and debunk Tom Kalinske's 1995 interview with NEXT Generation magazine. Thanks to 14 years of etched-in-stone history I found it to be extremely easy to fact check Tom's outlandish predictions and announcements. Although I felt bad for Tom (who, after all, was only doing his job), it did felt therapeutic to call him out on his blatant untruths. With all of the crazy comments that came out of his mouth who would have thought that anybody could top Mr. Kalinske? Well they have, and that's why today I'm proud to present Sam Tramiel Goes Freakin' Crazy!

Back in the mid-1990s the Tramiel family was the owners of Atari Corporation, the same Atari that released the Jaguar. In this 1995 interview Sam contents that the Jaguar is just as powerful as the PlayStation ... and "leaps ahead" of the Sega Saturn. He also suggests that the Jaguar has a bright future, that Major Havoc may become Atari's Sonic the Hedgehog and that they could potentially sue Sony in the near future. But the real question is: Are any of these claims accurate? Of course they aren't, which is why Sam Tramiel is our newest victim of They Said WHAT?!? Join us as we set the record straight and put Sam in his rightful place in history!


Quote #1 - Gearing Up For the Jaguar 2?
"We plan for Jaguar to be here for a long time. We're working on a Jaguar 2 right now, downstairs, as we speak. And Jaguar 2 will be software compatible with Jaguar 1, so all the Jaguar 1 software will be compatible with Jaguar 2. We're not hyping it like Trip Hawkins is hyping M2, because Jaguar 1 has a long life ahead of it at $149."
Reality: I guess it all comes down to your definition of the word "long." This interview was published in mid-1995, so it was probably conducted in the early part of the year. One year later

Here we see Sam (right) and Leonard Tramiel staying comfortably far away from the video games industry!
Atari would be selling off all of their remaining units and raising the white flag of defeat. No matter what they did, Atari failed to attract enough attention to their "64-bit" console to keep things afloat. And trust me, they tried just about everything. They tried announcing a bunch of useless peripherals that would never see the light of day (Jaguar VR?), they tried lowering the cost to the same price as the 16-bit systems and they ran non-stop infomercials. They just had to face it, the Jaguar just wasn't the system that was going to resurrect this once-strong company.

But even though the fate of the Jaguar was sad, I cannot let Sam get away with suggesting that there were people hard at work on a Jaguar 2. Now don't get me wrong, it's not uncommon for a game company to be developing their next console long before the first one has given up the ghost. However, given the terrible launch and the complete lack of hype surrounding the unit, I have a hard time believing that anybody was actually actively working on a Jaguar 2. Maybe people were thinking about how cool it would be to have the funding to make a better Jaguar, but I can't imagine there were people downstairs slaving away at this thing. I do like the bit about playing Jaguar 1 games in your Jaguar 2, I'm surprised that Atari didn't sue Sony for making their PS2 backwards compatible.

Quote #2 - The Return of Major Havoc?
"Our competitor, 3DO, does not have an icon game. Sony does not have an icon game. But we do think it is nice to have an icon game. We're going to work on two of three different ideas at one time to see which one really takes hold. There's an old coin-op from the old Atari games called Major Havoc. It was a Tempest game from a

Yeah, this guy has "comeback" written all over his face!
technology point of view, with vector graphics. The game featured Major Havoc who goes out and saves a space station. He's a very cool character. We're going to modernize him and make him into an Atari character, bring him back from the '80s."
Reality: I can only assume that this is one of those things that would have happened had the Jaguar stuck around a little bit longer. Due to lack of interest (even at $149) Atari was forced to abandon their hopes in 1996 and scrap their dreams. That means that in that final year Atari never got around to unveiling the new Major Havoc game. Could that have been the game to save Atari's Jaguar? Would the Major be the character to put this struggling company back on track? Probably not, but at least the idea of an updated Major Havoc isn't as ludicrous as a Jaguar 2.

Oh, that reminds me, Atari really should think about bringing Major Havoc back. The original game is a bit dated now, but he was a cool character and I would like to see what they could do with him a quarter century later. Besides, it's not like Atari has much of an icon character as it is. A brand new Major Havoc game would go well next to that terrible Alone in the Dark sequel and the upcoming Ghostbusters game. What do you say Phil? Give us some Major Havoc ... just not as a Jaguar game.

Rumor #3 - Atari to Sue Sony?
"If Sony comes in at $249 or $299, we'll do whatever we can to have the ITC -- that's the International Trade Commission of the United States -- to go after them. That's called dumping. You can't have

I don't know why this excitement has to be kept to the federal government, the ITC should have their own kick ass Jaguar game!
the Japanese consumer paying a fattened dollar price, then subsidize the product and dump it in the United States for $249 and kill the U.S. manufacturers. It's against the law."
Reality: There's a trick to threatening somebody, Sam. You see, when you threaten somebody it's important that you follow through. I mean, I could threaten to stand outside of your house with a boom box blaring Peter Gabriel, but if I don't follow through occasionally then you're never going to take me seriously. So, when you threaten to contact the International Trade Commission you sure as hell better follow through.

Sadly Sam didn't follow through, which is what makes this quote so unintentionally hilarious. Sony did exactly what Sam said they shouldn't do, they released their system at $299. What's more, they also cut the price of their unit not long after it came out. But did Atari bring a lawsuit? No they did not, they just let it happen. Perhaps it's because they realized that they couldn't win against Sony's high price lawyers, or maybe it's the fact that they knew they didn't have much of a leg to stand on. Whatever the case, Atari opted against bringing this lawsuit to light, which is probably best for everybody.

Rumor #4 - The Cartridge Excuse!
"Well the Jaguar stuff you see so far is cartridge stuff. And it's hard to compare a cartridge piece of software to a CD piece of software. So it's hard to compare our games that way. From the gameplay point of view, I'll put up our stuff against anything that they have. And our CD stuff will be just as cool as theirs."
Reality: Okay, so let me get this right, the reason the Atari Jaguar games looked like ass was because it was a cartridge-based system? Why is it that I have a hard time believing that? So, Sam, if the problem was the cartridges, then why was it that most of the later generation Super NES games actually looked superior to what the Jaguar was pushing? What's more, the Nintendo 64 shared both a number and a cartridge format, yet the difference is night and day. What's more, your CD games didn't look all that much better than your cartridge titles. Check the pictures below and you'll see that in every circumstance the PlayStation, Saturn or Nintendo 64 game looks significantly better.








Rumor #5 - That's a Lot of Jaguar CD Units!
"Right now we're expecting that 50% of Jaguar owners will buy CD players. And if it's a higher percentage then, well, great."
Reality: And if the percentage is higher? Oh Sam, what were you smoking back in 1995? As a rule of thumb the best you could have hoped for was a 50% attachment rate for your Jaguar CD. Add-ons are notoriously risky; generally

You have to question the sanity of a man who knowingly releases a console that looks like a toilet!
you only get 25% (at most) buying each various accessories. An attach rate of 50% would have been better than anything Sega or Nintendo had ever accomplished, and given how many tries they made (Zapper, Power Pad, R.O.B., Activator, Sega CD, etc.) that's really saying something. The idea that it could be over 50% is ludicrous, and Sam knows that.

But the real question is, how close did Atari get to that 50% attach rate? From my best research I know that the Atari Jaguar sold around 250,000 total units, a small number when you consider that the PlayStation sold 102 million systems in its lifetime. The numbers for the Jaguar CD are a little murkier, however the last time Atari announced any sales figured it was hovering around 40,000. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I'll say that Atari moved a total of 50,000 units, which sounds more than reasonable to me. Unfortunately that means that Atari has a 20% attach rate, which is actually a little higher than what their competitors saw. Still, 20% is not the same as 50%, and Sam knows better than to promise more than they can possibly deliver.

Rumor #6 - Jaguar > Sega Saturn?
"The others are definitely not a leap ahead. As I said, Saturn is the same, if not a even less, technology than Jaguar. PlayStation is a little big more -- not more technology, but PlayStation does have more memory than Jaguar, it's using more silicon as a solution."
Reality: Yes, I can spend the next few paragraphs comparing the specs for all of these systems. I could sit there and tell you that the Sega Saturn was capable of pushing out many more polygons, had more memory, a faster processor and all around better hardware. I could bring in some expert that used to work for Sony and have him explain

These are some of the amazing graphics that Sam Tramiel is talking about!
that comparing the PlayStation architecture to the Jaguar is like comparing a flat panel plasma screen HDTV to a ham sandwich. Heck, I could even find some random Nintendo fanboy explain to you why the Nintendo 64 blows its 64-bit counterpart out of the water. But you didn't say you were better than the Nintendo 64, so I won't do that.

You see, I could do all of these things but I'm not going to. I'm not going to because I don't need to. You saw the pictures of the Jaguar vs. the PlayStation and Saturn. You saw how much better everything looked on the Saturn. It's not that the PlayStation and the Saturn look marginally better; it's that they don't even look like they are part of the same generation. You know something is wrong with your hardware when your very best looking game on your system is still hideous when compared to the worst looking Saturn game. And trust me, some of those Saturn games were butt ugly. You can talk all day long about how your system is better than the Saturn; it's hard to take you serious when you compare the graphics side by side. If Sam honestly believed that the Jaguar's tech was a "leap ahead" of the Saturn, then he truly was freakin' crazy!
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