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Atari Sparrow Prototype

Atari Sparrow Prototype

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#26 DarkLord OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jul 1, 2013 2:44 PM

You're probably right - here's a quote from Curt Vendel of the Atari Museum:

"The Atari Panther was going to be Atari's original video game console system before
the Jaguar, it was a kludged combination of the Atari ST and the Transputer Blossom
video card."

Specs say it did have a 16mhz 68000 CPU too.

#27 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jul 1, 2013 3:11 PM

"Martin Brennan
Throughout that period we did consultancy work - we did work for Amstrad (we designed a fax machine for them and a hard disk controller). At one point one of the guys from Sinclair joined Atari. He had worked for Perihelion - Richard Miller. He became a director of Atari in Sunnyvale and he had a project called Panther - It wasn't called Panther when I joined. Panther was the name of the car my wife had just bought, a Panther Kallista and the chip had no name and I wanted to give it a handle - so it was called Panther.
The design and specification had already been started, and they said "somebody's left - here's the concept" and it was only the video part of the chip - there was no sound.
It was a novel video architecture that allowed you to create windows of different sizes and different bit depths. Essentially you didn't have a frame store - it was a composite of frame stores - a kind of smart video frame store. It would have allowed a great deal of sprite style animation. Sprites in general in those days would have been of a fixed size e.g. 16x16. The games looked 'spritey' because of that, this would have been quite an interesting departure. I wasn't keen on it, but I designed it and the chip was built.
But while I was over in California in '89, I actually convinced the bosses at Atari that 3D was the way to go, with the experience we'd gained on Flare one - if you didn't just do flat rendering, but shaded rendering you got a 3D appearance.
At the time, I was seeing pictures in magazines where computers were rendering photo realistic 3D wire meshes and I said "these are static images, but they only contain a very few number of polygons - we could take that, animate it and you could produce a game that was a quantum leap away from the current games".
So the Jaguar project was born from the Panther project.
In essence Atari looked at the Panther and looked at what we were promising for the Atari project and said can the Panther project.
The original design for the Jaguar was that it was actually going to be a 128bit computer, it wasn't going to be 64bit. We felt we had the pins to do it. We were going to have 2 banks of memory at 64bits and do double data rate and achieve a 128 bit architecture on 64 pins. It was really pushing it - but in the end the economics said that 128 wasn't necessary and it would have been too expensive."

http://www.konixmult...nt=martin#start

Informatio from first hand! ;) - does not need to be true, it is first hand :)

#28 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jul 1, 2013 3:11 PM

@darklord - Richard Miller came to Atari from Perihelion, company involved in Transputers! Richards jobs in Perhilion was development of Bloosom graphics card for Transputer.

(If i remember corectly! But it can be easely checked on gooogle!)

And Martin B. In interview said that Richard got video chip project at Atari.

Btw other part of Jaguar project, John Methison, now lead Tegra project at nvidia (to be precise: from start) :)

Edited by calimero, Mon Jul 1, 2013 3:21 PM.


#29 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jul 1, 2013 3:22 PM

As I said at atari forum: I am interesting to find out who and how design Falcon (if it is possible from first hand ;))

#30 kool kitty89 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jul 1, 2013 4:10 PM

Wasn't the Robin going to be an ST based game console?

There's not much I've seen on it in general, but by Curt's comments it was going to be a "normal" computer form factor, but it certainly seems to have been angled towards the gaming (and lower-end consumer) market compared to the 520ST and was apparently being pushed by an internal effort of former Atari Inc staff at Atari Corp to make the ST more competitive/attractive as a next-gen games platform.

See:

The industry as a whole was moving to computer-gaming, even magazines were changing their names to either have computing added or changed from Video to Computer Gaming... Computers like the C64, Apple //C and ][GS as well as the Atari 800XL and XE's were all very inexpensive (well maybe not the GS) and it appeared at the time video gaming was moving in that direction.... the moment the ST's and Amiga hit the shelves, companies saw them as great gaming platforms...

In fact there was a grass roots effort within Atari by Rob Zydbel and several other programmers who actually went out of their way to port games like Star Raiders, Moon Patrol and many other tried and true Atari titles and licenses to the ST with hopes of getting the Tramiels to make the ST technology into a game platform and their efforts almost convinced the Tramiels... There was project "Robin" which was an ST in an XE case that was in the works...





I think that Panther was Atari in-house project for game console (based on ST technology).

They shut it down when Flare guys come in with Jaguar.

^
I would said that text on wikipedia is not accurate! Later I will post interview with john mathias where he said that atari already have console project without name, based on st, and that he gave it name Panther!...

Yes and no, and the wiki article is mostly accurate, but isn't super detailed either.

I believe there were plans for an ST based console at one point, but that ended up being abandoned in favor of an all-new design which became the Panther. The Panther uses an object processor similar to that of the Jaguar (but more limited) as a complex/flexible/programmable sprite/bitmap graphics system generating rectangular "windows" or vaying sizes and color depths (it's actually rather similar to the 7800's MARIA chip, at least conceptually -a display list based processor generating windows/objects/sprites of arbitrary sizes, not like the traditional fixed-size hardware sprite systems or tile/character BG/playfield based systems or framebuffer of most other consoles/computers)

The project was started some time before 1989, but Martin Brennan was brought in under contract (in '89) to complete the design after one of the Atari engineers left. He completed the chip design (just the graphics chip) and there were prototype developer systems using that chip. It was cancelled later on and all efforts for console development went to Flare II (Jaguar) under Brennan and John Mathieson. Apparently Brennan convined Atari management that the Panther was too weak to be really worthwhile and a more advanced followon would be a better investment. (which I can understand, though the huge gap from '90-93 after the 7800's decline meant they had no product to directly compete with NEC/Sega/Nintendo --and worse, they were in general decline at that time in all divisions, so the Jaguar ended up being released by an extremely weak and unstable company)

In any case, the existing Panther design (at cancellation) was intedned to be configured with 32 kB of 120 ns SRAM shard between the Panther (object processor) and CPU (16 MHz 68000) on a 32-bit wide bus. An Ensoniq DOC II sound chip was intended (OTIS had been planned at one point, but the cheaper DOC II was later preferred) on its own (slow) 8-bit bus with dedicated DRAM and/or ROM for samples. Resolution was fixed at a maximum of 320x200 with up to 32 colors per scanline from 18-bit RGB (262144 colors, same as PC VGA), and obects could be 1, 2. 4. or 8-bits per pixel (1, 3, 15, or 32 colors -plus transparent, selected from 32 CRAM palette entries -using an 8-bit offset, so any 1/3/15 colors in a row of the 32 palette entries). 8bbp objects were limited to 32 colors due to the CRAM space on-chip. (otherwise it could be 255 colors, and 1/3/15 color objects could select any consecutive colors from 256) Objects could also be scaled, like in the Jaguar, something none of the competition could do. (though the Sega CD could, the Panther techically should have allowed for faster scaling though with other trade-offs -like no rotation effects or 3D texture perspective plains with rotation)

As it was, that main RAM limit was going to be a huge bottleneck, as was the 7800/Jaguar-style configruation of direct CPU/GPU bus contention (but without the advanced bus sharing/bufering of the Jaguar -albeit 68k still worked poorly there). The use of SRAM meant adding more main RAM would have been relatively costly (though perhaps up to 128 kB would have been feasible for the time), but designing it to use DRAM from the start (at somewhat added complexity) would have made things a lot more flexible. (or, with SRAM, they could at least have taken advantage of SRAM's characteristics more and allowed for things like interleaved bus sharing to reduce/elliminate CPU contention on a shared bus -like Amiga/ST/AppleII did with DRAM, but SRAM allows that at considerably higher speeds while DRAM favors serial -burst- access for best speed/bandwidth much more as speed goes up) Then there's the use of the Ensoniq chip when simple/cheap software mixed DMA sound probably would have been fine.

But that's enough of that . . . this isn't an Atari Panther thread after all, and I've done plenty of speculation on this issue before with Kskunk and Crazyace. :P (and BTW, most of that tech info isn't readily available online AFIK, but in the prototype developer manual which Curt hasn't ended up posting AFIK -looks like he meant to on atarimuseum at one point)


Take a closer look at that quote again, there's no mention of the ST at all. (and analysis of the dev manual and other tech information close the issue)
http://www.konixmult...&content=martin

Martin Brennan
Throughout that period we did consultancy work - we did work for Amstrad (we designed a fax machine for them and a hard disk controller). At one point one of the guys from Sinclair joined Atari. He had worked for Perihelion - Richard Miller. He became a director of Atari in Sunnyvale and he had a project called Panther - It wasn't called Panther when I joined. Panther was the name of the car my wife had just bought, a Panther Kallista and the chip had no name and I wanted to give it a handle - so it was called Panther.
The design and specification had already been started, and they said "somebody's left - here's the concept" and it was only the video part of the chip - there was no sound.
It was a novel video architecture that allowed you to create windows of different sizes and different bit depths. Essentially you didn't have a frame store - it was a composite of frame stores - a kind of smart video frame store. It would have allowed a great deal of sprite style animation. Sprites in general in those days would have been of a fixed size e.g. 16x16. The games looked 'spritey' because of that, this would have been quite an interesting departure. I wasn't keen on it, but I designed it and the chip was built.
But while I was over in California in '89, I actually convinced the bosses at Atari that 3D was the way to go, with the experience we'd gained on Flare one - if you didn't just do flat rendering, but shaded rendering you got a 3D appearance.
At the time, I was seeing pictures in magazines where computers were rendering photo realistic 3D wire meshes and I said "these are static images, but they only contain a very few number of polygons - we could take that, animate it and you could produce a game that was a quantum leap away from the current games".
So the Jaguar project was born from the Panther project.
In essence Atari looked at the Panther and looked at what we were promising for the Atari project and said can the Panther project.


Edited by kool kitty89, Mon Jul 1, 2013 4:24 PM.


#31 kool kitty89 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jul 1, 2013 4:21 PM

You're probably right - here's a quote from Curt Vendel of the Atari Museum:

"The Atari Panther was going to be Atari's original video game console system before
the Jaguar, it was a kludged combination of the Atari ST and the Transputer Blossom
video card."

Specs say it did have a 16mhz 68000 CPU too.

Curt has clarified several times that his comments on the Blossom card were mistaken . . . Panther has absolutely no relation to that (again more akin to the 7800's MARIA and Jaguar Object Processor). It was using a 16 MHz 68000 though. (but due to contention with the GPU for typical games, that "16 MHz" would effectively be less -same way the 7800's CPU is effectively less than 1.79 MHz)

However (as in by previous post), the Panther design also has nothing to do with the ST. Any ST based console designs came prior to the Panther and were abandoned in favor of it by 1989. (also good to keep in mind that in mid/late 1988 Atari had also been in negotiations with Sega for North American Mega Drive distribution rights, but that ended up falling though due to Dave Rosen and Jack Tramiel disagreeing on various terms -I'd guess conflicts of interest over the European market also came into play- though it's important to note that Michael Katz was in favor of the Sega deal at the time, and interestingly enough he ended up being pulled in by Sega of America as President in late 1989 -albeit partially by chance since he'd left Atari Corp in early '89 for an intended extended vaction from the industry in general, and then got picked up by Sega just after the Genesis launched iirc -a similar sort of thing happened with Tom Kalinske shortly after he left Mattel ;))

#32 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 2, 2013 12:01 AM

Thanx kool kitty for clarification!

#33 DarkLord OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 2, 2013 11:01 AM

Yep, thanks!




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