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|Type||Home video game console|
|Predecessor||Atari 7800, Atari XEGS|
The Atari Panther is a cancelled video game console from Atari Corporation that was going to be the successor to the Atari 7800 and the Atari XEGS. It was developed by the same ex-Sinclair team, Flare Technology, who were previously responsible for two cancelled console projects: the Flare One and the Konix Multisystem. The Panther was planned to be a combination of the Atari ST and the Atari Transputer Workstation Blossom video hardware.
Work started in 1988 with a planned release in 1991 to directly compete with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis. Atari abandoned the project in favor of the Jaguar after the team at Flare convinced them that they should create 3D Graphics hardware instead. Prior to its cancellation, development kits for the Panther had already been sent out to several developers. Several games were in development, which were halted by the console's cancellation.
The system features three chips, consisting of a Motorola 68000 running at 16 MHz, an object processor called the "Panther", and an Ensoniq sound processor nicknamed "Otis", featuring 32 sound channels (presumably an ES5505). The Panther was never commercially released as the design was eclipsed by that of the Jaguar.
Three games were planned for the Panther's release:
The Atari Panther's development was not announced to the public until the console was already cancelled, although it had been rumored to exist. The console was fully developed and operational at the time of its cancellation. In a July 1991 issue of The One, it was reported that a week prior to the Panther's cancellation, Atari's UK office was beginning to reveal details of the console for an Autumn 1991 release. The One speculates that the US division of Atari did not communicate this change of plans to the UK division until it was already announced. Atari UK's marketing director Peter Staddon stated in regards to the cancellation that "The Panther was taking longer to market, the other project taking less - we'd have left ourselves with a gap between the two launches of only six to nine months."
In an August 1991 issue of The One, The One met with Atari UK in their Slough office to report information about the console post-cancellation. The One notes speculations that the Panther was cancelled due to problems during production that resulted in Atari cutting their losses, or the popularity of the Sega Genesis and Super Famicom prompted Atari to cancel the Panther due to overwhelming competition. Atari's official recount of events is that the Panther was cancelled due to the development of the Jaguar. The One reports that development kits for the Panther had already been sent to developers prior to its cancellation, with "anywhere between six and 13" publishers receiving them. Psygnosis had a Panther conversion of Shadow of the Beast in development, and Domark was developing a Panther port of Pit-Fighter, with these projects being immediately halted when Atari cancelled the console.
The Panther was purported to be capable of handling 3D graphics due to a "sophisticated hardware maths capability" without slowing down, and the Ensoniq sound processor had 32 voices in stereo which could be filtered with frequency interpolation, looped forward/backwards, and each voice's volume and stereo panning was to be controlled through software. The Panther had an internal memory of 32Kb, and a maximum cartridge size of 16Mb. The Panther was to have four digital joystick ports, two analogue joystick ports, and two light gun ports. The Panther object processor was responsible for handling the system's graphics, freeing the main processor for other operations. The Panther object processor takes sprite data from memory and writes it to the screen, and was capable of performing fast memory-to-memory transfers (as with a blitter chip in an Amiga or the Atari STE) which gave it the ability to copy entire screens almost instantly. Sprites and background graphics could be scaled up or down, flipped, rotated or skewed easily. The Panther's display memory was to accommodate a palette of 32 colors, but was able to switch palettes while the screen is being updated, down to each individual line. The One states that "a finished screen could boast anything up to 8,384 colors from a staggering range of 262,144" and that the hardware could "simultaneously handle up to 83,840 sprites of any size [without slowing down]".
Several demos for the Panther were created by Jeff Minter, including a demo portraying antelope running from a Tyrannosaurus titled "The Antelope Demo", and a demo of asteroids hurtling towards the screen, titled "Prioritize Test #1", and a test with an unknown title featuring abstract psychedelic imagery and using a multitude of colors. "The Antelope Demo" showcased the Panther's sprite handling abilities, with The One stating that "no matter how many of these [antelopes] appear on screen, the rate of movement never slows down" and states in regards to "Prioritize Test #1" that "The asteroids begin as tiny sprites in the distance, then the Panther's sprite-scaling abilities are put to good effect to bring them hurtling forwards at a phenomenal speed." The Panther's sprite scaling was capable of being defined to any size, and reduced to any size.
- "Video Game Systems :: Jaguar :: Atari Panther". www.atari-explorer.com. Archived from the original on December 2, 2003. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
- "The Extinct Panther". The One. No. 35. emap Images. August 1991. p. 42-43.
- "Zogging Hell!!! Atari Panther". Zhell.co.uk. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
- "Atari Locks Panther Away". The One. No. 34. emap Images. July 1991. p. 15.