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URL: http://www.loonygames.com/content/2.10/mouth/


Vol. 2, Issue 10
January 31, 2000
From the Mouth of Madness:

In Search of the Holy Grail

by Jason "loonyboi" Bergman

Before I get into this week’s column, I should apologize for the scattered updates last week. Sadly, e-mail problems disrupted my normal schedule, preventing a few of them from going up. All is well now, however, so don’t worry. We’ve got lots of great stuff for you this week

Regardless, I’m going to talk about a favorite subject of mine this week, classic console systems. As I’ve already stated here and elsewhere, I’m a collector of old game systems. In the last few days, I’ve acquired a NEC TurboGrafx 16, a brand new Atari Jaguar CD, and a boatload of new games. Not to mention that I’ve got my eye on one of those 3DO systems.

Like any obsessive collector, there are certain items that I would give anything to get my hands on. In every hobby this is the case...from comics to baseball cards, no matter what you collect, there are specific things that are truly the holy grail to collectors.

And so, I thought I’d use this week’s column to talk about the holy grail(s) of console collecting. And hey, if you know where I can find one, feel free to let me know. :)

There are rare systems, all right, like the original Odyssey system from Magnavox. It was actually the first home gaming system, and it’s difficult to find, no question about it. While the Odyssey 2 was released in the late seventies (and is relatively easy to find if you know where to look), the original Odyssey system was released in 1972. That’s a full 16 years before the Atari revolution. The system was pretty pathetic – it had no CPU (they hadn’t been invented yet!) and while it took cartridges, they didn’t actually add anything new to the system, they enabled games already programmed on the hardware to be played.

And of course, it didn’t really have any “graphics.” It came with overlays that you taped to your television in order to get any sort of graphical experience. And of course, it was black and white. It’s not too difficult to find an Odyssey, they are out there. But finding a working one with all the parts (it came with quite a bit) can be a bit of a challenge.

But at least that system actually exists. The real holy grails for collectors are the systems that never actually shipped...in some cases, the ones that were never even confirmed to exist by the developer.

First up: Atari’s Panther. In the late 1980’s when Atari decided they were going to get back into the video game business, they started a massive research project to get things underway. Those of us who were hardcore into the console scene back then recall rumors floating around about first a system called “Panther” and then later one called “Jaguar.” What was really wacky about the rumors, is that all kinds of numbers were floating around. It was a 32 bit system. It was a 64 bit system. It used cartridges, it used CDs. All manner of strangeness was coming out from Atari’s research division.

There’s that saying that there’s a little bit of truth in every rumor...well, in this case, there was a lot of it, but the problem was that all the facts got run together. In actuality, Atari wasn’t developing one system, they were developing two. There was the Panther, and then the Jaguar. The Jaguar, a pseudo 64-bit system (no need to get into technical details there) was eventually released, first as a console system, and later they released a CD-ROM add-on. But there was, in fact a second system, which was 32-bit.

It would appear that Atari’s original plan was to release the Panther first, and then follow it up with the Jaguar a few years later. What ended up happening is that the Panther turned out to be a mishmash of technologies from internal Atari development, and Flair, which Atari had purchased to kickstart their next-generation console development. The system was such a mess, that they decided to move ahead with the Jaguar instead (rather than have two half-assed system, they preferred to throw their whole ass into one).

The existence of the Panther has long been confirmed by former Atari employees, but it really entered into the realms of legend when Atari closed their doors. Smart collectors willing to shed some of their dignity went rummaging through their dumpsters late at night, and discovered all manner of things, but there are supposedly three Panther development systems out there. Thankfully one surfaced at the Home Computer Museum, so you can look at pictures of the box online. The other two...well, they’re still out there, possibly in the possession of someone who has no idea what they’re carrying.

Another Atari bit of gold, also from the Jaguar era, comes in the form of the Jaguar 2, or “Jag Duo” as it is sometimes referred to. The system was shown once, at the 1995 summer CES show in Chicago, and more than likely was just a non-working mockup. Still, if it was shown publicly, it must have existed in some form. The Jaguar 2 was a complete redesign of the console, that combined the cartridge base and CD add-on into a single unit. It’s a similar concept to the TurboDuo that NEC released, and like that system it is likely that it contained more RAM or a faster CD-ROM than the individual units. As you can see from the picture here (more are available at AtariHQ) the system sure was pretty, and improved greatly on the original Jaguar’s clunky appearance.

Then there’s the M2, which not only definitely existed, but still is out there somewhere. The M2 was the next-generation version of 3DO’s console, that they sold to Matsushita when the company switched exclusively to software development. Matsushita continued to develop the hardware, and there were even developers working on games (D2, which was just now released for the Dreamcast in Japan, started as an M2 title). The system is supposed to have rivaled the N64 in power, and was eventually scrapped. But again, the system was shown in public, and was in development for several years. A dumpster diver somewhere likely has one, and there are collectors across the globe hunting for these things.

Lastly, there is the real holy grail, Sony’s SNES project. Everyone knows the story – Sony works with Nintendo to make a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo system. Then, Nintendo decides to go with Philips. Sony’s mad, they have a working prototype, which they turn into a full CD-based system, and sell as the Playstation. The rest is history. But, what most people don’t know is that Sony created a dual SNES cartridge/CD-ROM based system called the “Play Station.” This was a different system from the PSX (“eXtension” as in the CD-ROM add-on for the SNES) and was formally announced. It was never shown, but rumors have surfaced that it did exist. If ever there was a holy grail, this is it.

Do I ever expect to own one of these? Well, maybe the Odyssey. As for the rest...well...I can’t say I really expect to. But jeez...would that ever be nice. :)

Until next week, stay loony!

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor in chief here at loonygames.


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