Alien vs Predator – Atari Jaguar
Platform: Atari Jaguar
Release Date: 1994
Genre: First Person Shooter
The Jaguar version of Alien vs. Predator is completely different from the Arcade and SNES games of the same name. The Jaguar version takes place entirely on a Colonial Marine Training base. A ship infested with Aliens is found floating near the outer-space training facility. Of course, once the Aliens get inside the base, they kill off nearly everyone. Meanwhile, the Predators dock their ship on the training base as well. They see this as an opportunity to catch an Alien Queen, and bring honour to their clan.
So there are three scenarios in which to play: First, you can play as a Marine. Your job is to find a way to self-destruct the base, and make your way to an escape pod before it blows. The second scenario allows you to play as an Alien. Here, your job is to find and protect the Queen from the Marines and the Predators. Finally, you can play as the Predator. The Predator must simply find and kill the Alien Queen. The game plays like a first person shooter. The play field consists of the 5 levels of the training base, plus areas for the Predator and Alien ships. All the areas of the ship are inter-connected, giving the game a huge virtual environment. Depending on the scenario you choose, you will have to choose different strategies based on the capabilities of your character. For example, the Marine will have to make use of his weapons and his ability to use the ship’s computer terminals. The Aliens, on the other hand, will have to make use of their great numbers and ability to cocoon their enemies. And finally the Predator must fight with honour, and not over-use his invisibility capability.
Alien vs Predator CD
Atari producer James Hampton revealed that an AvP CD version was planned. Atari released the Atari Jaguar CD peripheral in September 1995 which allowed for game sizes up to 790MB, significantly more than a 6MB cartridge.
Virtual Reality Sequel
It was rumoured that Atari was in negotiations with Beyond Games (developer of Ultra Vortek) to make a sequel to the Alien vs Predator game on Jaguar and it may well have used Atari’s virtual reality helmet which surfaced in 1995 but was never commercially released. Atari was eventually forced to abandon the Jaguar due to struggling sales and exited the video games market. You can view a scan below from CVG magazine from 1995 which mentions the sequel.
Here is an interview with Rebellion founders Jason and Chris Kingsley who spoke about the Jaguar version in an interview with Retro Gamer Magazine.
How did the game as we know it today evolve? Was it always intended as a First Person Shooter, and as a Jaguar game?
We won the game contract then were told that we only had half the budget that we’d negotiated and that we had signed up to do. Atari originally asked us to develop a side scrolling fight-em-up based on the Alien and Predator license they got from Activision who had themselves got the license from Fox.
After we’d spent some time investigating the technical power of the Jaguar we knew we could do a much more exciting and ambitious game concept and take the visuals to a whole new level using [photorealistic] texture mapping to create something that no-one had seen before. Luckily, Atari were receptive to our new idea, and after we showed them a demo of what we could do, we focused on making a realistic fully texture-mapped first person shooter.
Is there anything you’d like to reveal about the practicalities of developing for the Jaguar or circumnavigating particular technical problems while coding the game?
It is always a technical challenge working on a new console, but we’ve faced this many times and we thrive on these sorts of challenges. You have to work with changing hardware specs, incomplete documentation and buggy or incomplete compilers. The main development hardware we used for Alien Vs Predator was the Alpine Boards, but we eventually got to use modified Jaguar consoles. Luckily the early documentation was in English, and reasonably good in the areas we needed the most, but some of it was incomplete. On occasion we’d stumble across a hardware bug and have to work around it. IIRC we did most of the game coding in C on the 68000, and all the graphics in Assembler on the GPU and Blitter. The Blitter was fast, but it took quite a while to set up all the registers so for short runs of pixels it was often quicker to write them directly to the screen buffer.
One of the great things about the Jaguar was that it had lots of different graphics modes. When we were creating the different vision modes for the Predator we were able to cheat for at least one of them by just changing the screen mode and the result looked really cool. Unfortunately we couldn’t use this shortcut for all of the vision modes as they not only had to look cool but they also had to have a game play effect.
How long did the project take to complete, and were there any delays or set-backs on the way?
[The game] took longer than anticipated, but remember the budget was halved right at the start, and the tech was incomplete as were lots of the tools we had to use. We put a lot of time and effort into compressing the game into a 2Mb cartridge, and then about a month from completion the cartridge size was doubled to 4Mb. We could’ve saved a lot of time and effort if we’d had that cartridge size decided earlier on.
We had a programmer come in to help on the project for, as it turned out, about 3 months, but he actually made things go backwards and we had to rip his code out in the end and completely rewrite that part from scratch.
How much of a factor was securing the original AvP for allowing Rebellion‘s successful continuation of the series on PC hardware?
It was hugely influential. Fox saw what we had done and contacted us when they were setting up Fox Interactive. They were delighted that we’d developed the first great game based on one of their licenses. Before AvP all other titles just lived off their licenses whereas ours added to it. It is something we’ve continued to try to do with every licensed game we’ve ever worked on.
Here is an interview with Atari producer James ‘Purple’ Hampton:
On his main roles as Producer:
As the Producer, my duties were to be the project champion and leader. As a designer, my role was to help create, nurture and defend the vision for what the game was going to be. As the main point person for the game, I was there to take care of whatever needed to happen to get Alien Versus Predator to the finish line. At the time, Atari didn’t employ game designers, so I utilized my role to directly shape the design of the game. This included campaigning with the executives at Atari, Activision and 20th Century Fox to change the design away from just being a port of the Super-Nintendo title, and into the three-sided first person shooter game it became.
During the course of the 23 months that I worked on Alien Versus Predator (in its Lynx and Jaguar form) I did your typical Producer jobs (overseeing and organizing the production team, being the liaison with the licensor and executives at Atari, Activision and 20th Century Fox, etc.). And the Producer side also allowed room for a lot of designer work (reviewing builds and provide direction to the game in progress) and as I believed that our version of AvP mattered I involved myself in as many aspects of the game’s production as I could. This including doing things like watching them shoot the AvP television commercial and recruiting artists like Andrew Denton, to use an early Amiga based version of Lightwave to create the 3D rendered image that became the box art for the game.
On the unfinished Jaguar hardware:
Working on software for hardware that is also in development is always challenging, and making AvP while Atari was building the Jaguar was no exception. While the basic hardware was far along when the Jaguar AvP development began, a lot of the supporting software and tools were in process, making the engineering efforts difficult. The extra time the team had with final release version of the console at the end of the game development, allowed the engineers to focus more on the game play, and learn more about what the Jaguar hardware could do.
On the ‘crunch’ phase of AvP‘s development.
The long-distance development process had its share of obstacles, and at a critical time in the development cycle, in the Spring of 94, we decided to bridge the gap and brought the two Rebellion programmers (Mike Beaton and Andrew Whittaker) over to the US to work on-site with the Atari AvP development team which included all of the level design and testing (Lance Lewis, Hank Cappa, Andrew Keim, Hans Jacobsen, Dan McNamee, Sean Patten), audio development and sound composers (James Grunke, Nathan Brenholdt, M. Stevens, Tom Gillen), engineers (Mike Pooler) and artists (Keoni-Los Banos, Jefferey Gatrall) to take the basic functioning AvP engine and create a solid and engaging game experience with it. The team then worked closely together, frequently around the clock and on weekends, through the end of the summer when we finished the game in time for its release in the fall. It seemed extreme at the time; however looking back that team effort really made the difference in making the game what it was.
And I’d just like to say that none of that would have been possible without the approval from Atari President Sam Tramiel, who to his credit, resisted the urge to just ‘ship it’ in the spring (as both Rebellion and the Atari marketing dept were urging him to do), and was willing to listen to my campaign to ‘make the game great’ and let us fully develop the game and release it in the fall of ’94 instead.
I was especially happy when considered that there were a number of times when the game came close to being shipped in an unfinished form, with a large amount of features ripped out (for example there was a strong push to cut the feature that allowed players to play all three sides.) Each time things got tense, the AvP team fought hard to defend our vision and keep the material in the game, and we persevered and were able to release the game the way we wanted it to be.
The ‘Wish List’
As part of the AvP post-mortem, the team at Atari prepared an extensive list of features and design plans for what we could do with a CD version of the game. And while the Jaguar AVP CD never got made, it was nice to see a lot of our ‘wish list’ end up in the PC version of the title that would be released four years later.