As you have noticed, this is a jaguar heavy issue. Maybe because the jaguar has seen a rebirth or probably because I have one and only a cartridge and I’d like to know what I can do with it.
In that respect, every console out there has a way to load games that are distributed in binary form. With CD-ROM based consoles, in most cases it’s just a matter to burn the image in your home PC. With cartridge based consoles, there are flash cards etc that allow it to emulate a cartridge.
So far, the jaguar has had Alpine boards by Atari which are expensive and hard to find, BJL modifications that allow loading the executable in the main RAM (thus taking up space and limiting the possibilities for the game) and recently the Skunkboard. A flash card that does exactly what is needed but is unfortunately out of manufacturing with no plans to make another one. So either newcomers or people who missed the release of the Skunkboard are left with no options.
However, the hardware division of Jagware, namely SCPCD and Zerosquare are developing the JagCF. A small device that allows the possibility to have a CF card connected to your Jaguar and use it to load binaries, develop on the console and adds quite a few things to it. The development of this piece of hardware started a long time ago so we decided to talk to them about the JagCF and its current status and also give them an opportunity to address the various issues that have been raised concerning this kit.
LR: So let’s start by telling me a couple of things about you. How you got involved with the jaguar included 🙂
SCPCD: I love the jag since the day when my father came back from the Atari show with a jaguar and a lynx :p
Zerosquare: I didn’t know anything about the Jaguar until I met SCPCD in electronics engineering school a few years ago. He was very passionate about this console and I’ve always liked unusual hardware, so I thought “why not ?”
SCPCD: some years after that, I started to be interested in programming (on a MegaSTe, a TI92+ and on PC with Delphi), and I looked for a way to program the jaguar but I hadn’t enough knowledge to modify the jaguar for bjl. And I finally entered into an engineering school where I burnt the BJL rom onto a EPROM by the robotic club of the school and started jaguar programming and modding in the same year :p
LR: Did you have any other involvement with atari computers and consoles before the jaguar?
Zerosquare: nope, I never had any Atari hardware before the Jaguar.
SCPCD: yes, my father had a 1040 STe, a 520 STe, a MegaSTe (the one where I wrote my first Assembly program and that I used many years to assemble code for the jag) and he also had a Falcon 🙂
LR: So, SCPCD you are responsible for giving Zerosquare the Atari virus 😉
Zerosquare: basically yes 🙂
Zerosquare: I also discovered the ST and Falcon afterhand thanks to SCPCD and friends and I think they’re cool machines 🙂
LR: The two of you met at electronics engineering school and then you decided to develop the jagcf. What brought this decision?
Zerosquare: SCPCD. In fact it was already in development for some time. but he’ll explain it better
SCPCD: I had made in the past some prototype project to expand the jaguar. The first one that I have made is an IDE & ST cartridge interface for the jaguar for a “TIPE” (note: a kind of a 6 month assignment in French universities) that can use the Audio input/output interface described in an STmag. The second project was the “Jaguar Evolution 2” that is based on 2 IDE interfaces, ACIA interface (like an STe), memory extension, ATX connector, FPU, and several not finished expansion boards. But this one was cancelled when I started the JagCF (because it was much more powerfull)
LR: And what are the main features of the jagcf at its present (final?) state?
– Compact Flash connector
– 60 MHz custom RISC processor
– extra RAM
(but the base clock is 120 MHz ^^)
– USB connection to a PC
– PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports
– non-buggy networking of several dozens consoles
anything else I’ve forgotten, SCPCD ?
SCPCD: hmm, I don’t think so.
Zerosquare: so, with it you can run existing homebrews, commercial games (if the controversy about the piracy problems settle), and new JagCF specific games
LR: I see, before we talk about the piracy controversy, would you mind answering a few technical questions?
Zerosquare: no problem
LR: While the connectors and the cf slot are pretty much self explanatory, the extra RAM and the RISC aren’t. So I’d like to know if the extra RAM can be seen from the 68K and the other chips of the jaguar.
SCPCD: the jaguar can have access to all the extra RAM with a Bank Switch operation. Each ram page is 4Mbytes
LR: And what benefit will software developers see from that feature?
Zerosquare: not running out of memory for their games 😉 The Jaguar can use 64k and 16M color graphics, but they use a lot of memory. a lot of games could have better graphics but have to be scaled down because of the lack of RAM, same things with the sound.
SCPCD: the extra ram can be used for exemple to store data read from the CF to reduce loading time so that streaming HQ video is possible 🙂
Zerosquare: when you think of it, the Jaguar technically outperforms the NeoGeo easily, but the later use lots of memory to compensate
LR: And what about the DSP as I’ve seen you refer to it? What does it do exactly?
Zerosquare: the DSP is used to speed up math calculations, it can be used to calculate 3D objects, scale graphics, synthetize sound, decompress audio or video, etc
SCPCD: and can be used to make some work to discharge the jaguar
Zerosquare: yes, it can run in parallel with the other processors in the Jaguar, without needing bus access so it solves the problem of bus contention which is another common issue on the Jaguar.
SCPCD: but I haven’t yet finished the graphics part of the DSP, the finished part is like a boosted jaguar RISC. Also the DSP can directly address the whole SDRAM memory at a very high speed (optimised burst etc…)
LR: I see. Then again the Falcon’s DSP has been used for graphics without actually having graphics functions (selfnote: I should stop talking about the falcon in jaguar topics 😛 )
Zerosquare: yup, but graphics-specific functions are a plus. For example, the processor will include features for hardware-accelerated alpha-blending. It’s not something you see usually on the Jaguar because it requires too much processing power to do “by hand”
SCPCD: The DSP is used by the jagcf firmware for FAT16 read/write, remote debugging, network, audio stream
LR: A part of the controversy surrounding the jagcf is that with those two features the jaguar stops being a jaguar. You were frequently told to make a new console. Myself coming from a computer background I can only partially understand that argument though I don’t agree with it. What are your views on that? There is also the issue that this could raise the cost.
Zerosquare: hehe. What makes you think that we’re not planning on making a console from scratch someday ? :). More seriously, yes, it’s a valid argument but the fact is that you don’t have to use the new features. you can use it as a simple compact-flash reader if you like and the extra features doesn’t raise the cost much. a lot is implemented in a FPGA chip which would have been needed anyways. It’s basically a lot of firmware.
SCPCD: I think that it’s like the 32X or the CT60. It’s always a jaguar with it’s limits (cartridge bandwith for example), but with more potential and like Zerosquare said, the FPGA used in the Jagcf is more powerfull than the one originally planned, but it costs less ! (higher technology ! ;))
LR: However as I understand it it did increase the development time. Anyway, if you make a new console I’ll buy it 😉
Zerosquare: yes, it did increase the development time, but you’re not creating a new extension for the Jaguar everyday, so you tend to want to include as many bell and whistles as you can 😉
SCPCD: the thing that increases the development time is the job, when I started the jagcf I was at school, so much much more free time 😀
LR: What’s the current status of the project, how much is done and how much is left?
Zerosquare: the current status : one prototype has been manufactured so the hardware is basically done (save for the last-minute few tweak and fixes that you can’t avoid).Firmware and software development is now the priority
SCPCD: whith possibility to make 3 others when the first one is completly checked
Zerosquare: (I don’t know if you can estimate a percentage of how much is done, SCPCD ?)
SCPCD: hmm difficult to say
Zerosquare: anyways, don’t ask about a release date 🙂
LR: ha ha ha!
Zerosquare: we did try to set milestones in the past, but our day jobs and other factors always got in the way so to disappoint nobody, we prefer not to give false hopes 🙂
LR: the other dreaded question: cost estimate? I know it’s a function of quantity but let’s say for a realistic 100 units…
Zerosquare: do you still have your cost worksheets SCPCD ? While he’s looking for his files, we don’t plan on making any profit on it (or very low ones, at most), so the costs are purely based on the price of manufacturing
LR: yes, if you sell something you are required to make “some profit” by law
Zerosquare: also, the JagCF will be sold by preorders, so no shortage and the price will decrease if more people are interested
LR: right, the ct60 method
SCPCD: I should update prices because my worksheet is with chip cost of april 2009
Zerosquare: give an estimate anyways 🙂
SCPCD: but I think that it should be between 120 and 150 euros. The prototype cost us about 240euros
LR: that’s not a bad price 🙂
LR: Another issue with the jagcf are the piracy concerns. That people will use the jagcf to play pirated games and especially a specific game. What do you have to say about these things? How did it all start?
Zerosquare: well the Jaguar community seems to be very sensitive to piracy questions, much more than any other console community I’ve seen before. the fact that the authors of that specific game are mentionning it regularly is probably a significant reason. Honestly, I don’t think the JagCF will have any notable effect on piracy.
SCPCD: I think that jaguar community is based on atari fans and “collectors” that will always have original games and that the possibility to play original games onto the jagcf could permit to have more people that will play the jaguar.
Zerosquare: Jaguar games are not protected, and the technical ways to dump them have been available for years and there are also ways to copy games (Alpines, Flash cards, or just swapping the ROMs on a standard cartridge). Now there’s also the Skunkboard, which didn’t seem to disturb people when it was released. Regardless of all of these factors, piracy is very low on the Jaguar, much lower that in other scenes. A lot of people are willing to pay for homebrews even when they’re not technically impressive just to support the authors.
SCPCD: but the world is not a “bisounours” world, so there will be some guy who will use the jagcf in a pirate’s way, it’s life %)
Zerosquare: besides, on other machines, the availability of dumps doesn’t prevent games from being sold, so, basically, I think it’s a non-issue, it’s possible to pirate games using the JagCF, but you can also do it without it. And if you’re going to pirate that one specific game, burning EPROMs is even cheaper
SCPCD: yep, burning a cartridge is not difficult, burning a cd is not difficult…
LR: So I think I am covered about the jagcf. Do you have any other projects you’d like our readers to know about? Jaguar and possibly other old platforms?
SCPCD: On Jaguar we (me and Zerosquare) have planned one or two games using the jagcf
Zerosquare: yup :). I also tend to do various hardware and software projects on other consoles, so don’t be surprised if you see my nickname elsewhere 🙂
LR: well, if you do anything for the ST, give me a shout 😉
SCPCD: and I have another hardware project after the jagcf but this one will not be for the jaguar 🙂
Zerosquare: ChrisTOS: I’ve written some effect for a ST demo, but it was never released, because some members in the group are too lazy ^^.. maybe someday 🙂
LR: he he he. Demosceners are lazy! it’s a necessary quality to enter the demoscene 😛
SCPCD: I think that I will take some more time on the falcon after the jagcf 🙂
Zerosquare: and there’s a programmable cartridge project on the Bandai Wonderswan I have to finish ^^
SCPCD: Zerosquare, maybe i will finish the jagcf before 😀
Zerosquare: who knows 🙂
LR: Thank you very much for this interview. It was thoroughly informative and I enjoyed it. If you have anything else to say to our readers now is the time to do it. Also I’d like to invite you to the comment section after this article because I am certain our readers will have a lot of questions.
Zerosquare: Sure.Thanks for interviewing us and long live to your mag, it’s a fresh breeze 🙂
Zerosquare: what’s the saying already ? “stay cool, stay atari” ?
So, with a timeframe that rivals that of the CT60 and the CTPCI the JagCF is reaching completion. Let’s hope that it will deliver as much as the aforementioned projects did.