Western and Eastern Sega Saturn logos
|Type||Home video game console|
|Introductory price||JP: ¥44,800|
|Units sold||9.26 million|
|Media||CD-ROM, CD+G, CD+EG, Video CD, Mini CD, Photo CD, E-book|
|CPU||2× Hitachi SH-2 @ 28.6 MHz|
|Memory||2 MB RAM, 1.5 MB VRAM, 512KB Sound RAM, expandable with Extended RAM Cartridge|
|Storage||Internal RAM, cartridge|
|Graphics||VDP1 & VDP2 video display processors|
|Online services||Sega NetLink|
The Sega Saturn[a][b] is a home video game console developed by Sega and released on November 22, 1994, in Japan, May 11, 1995, in North America, and July 8, 1995, in Europe. Part of the fifth generation of video game consoles, it was the successor to the successful Sega Genesis. The Saturn has a dual-CPU architecture and eight processors. Its games are in CD-ROM format, and its game library contains several ports of arcade games as well as original games.
Development of the Saturn began in 1992, the same year Sega's groundbreaking 3D Model 1 arcade hardware debuted. The Saturn was designed around a new CPU from Japanese electronics company Hitachi. Sega added another video display processor in early 1994 to better compete with Sony's forthcoming PlayStation.
The Saturn was initially successful in Japan but failed to sell in large numbers in the United States after its surprise May 1995 launch, four months before its scheduled release date. After the debut of the Nintendo 64 in late 1996, the Saturn rapidly lost market share in the U.S., where it was discontinued in 1998. Having sold 9.26 million units worldwide, the Saturn is considered a commercial failure; the cancellation of Sonic X-treme, planned as the first 3D entry in Sega's popular Sonic the Hedgehog series, is considered a factor in its performance. The Saturn was succeeded in 1998 by the Dreamcast.
Although the Saturn is remembered for several well-regarded games, including Nights into Dreams, the Panzer Dragoon series, and the Virtua Fighter series, its reputation is mixed due to its complex hardware design and limited third-party support. Sega's management has been criticized for its decisions during the system's development and discontinuation.
In the early 1990s, Sega had success with the Genesis (known as the Mega Drive in most countries outside of North America), backed by aggressive advertising campaigns and the popularity of its Sonic the Hedgehog series. Sega also had success with arcade games; in 1992 and 1993, the new Sega Model 1 arcade system board showcased Sega AM2's Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter (the first 3D fighting game), which played a crucial role in popularizing 3D polygonal graphics. The Model 1 was expensive, so several alternatives helped bring Sega's newest arcade games to Genesis, such as the Sega Virtua Processor chip used for Virtua Racing, and the 32X add-on.
Development of the Saturn was supervised by Hideki Sato, Sega's director and deputy general manager of research and development. According to Sega project manager Hideki Okamura, the project started over two years before the Saturn was showcased at the Tokyo Toy Show in June 1994. The name "Saturn" was initially only the codename during development. Computer Gaming World in March 1994 reported a rumor that "the Sega Saturn ... will release in Japan before the end of the year" for $250–300.
In 1993, Sega and Japanese electronics company Hitachi formed a joint venture to develop a new CPU for the Saturn, which resulted in the creation of the "SuperH RISC Engine" (or SH-2) later that year. The Saturn was designed around a dual-SH2 configuration. According to Kazuhiro Hamada, Sega's section chief for Saturn development during the system's conception, "the SH-2 was chosen for reasons of cost and efficiency. The chip has a calculation system similar to a DSP [digital signal processor], but we realized that a single CPU would not be enough to calculate a 3D world." Although the Saturn's design was largely finished before the end of 1993, reports in early 1994 of the technical capabilities of Sony's upcoming PlayStation console prompted Sega to include another video display processor (VDP) to improve the system's 2D performance and texture-mapping. CD-ROM-based and cartridge-only versions of the Saturn hardware were considered for simultaneous release during the system's development, but this idea was discarded due to concerns over the lower quality and higher price of cartridge-based games.
According to Sega of America president Tom Kalinske, Sega of America "fought against the architecture of Saturn for quite some time". Seeking an alternative graphics chip for the Saturn, Kalinske attempted to broker a deal with Silicon Graphics, but Sega of Japan rejected the proposal. Silicon Graphics subsequently collaborated with Nintendo on the Nintendo 64. Kalinske, Sony Electronic Publishing's Olaf Olafsson, and Sony America's Micky Schulhof had discussed development of a joint "Sega/Sony hardware system", which never came to fruition due to Sega's desire to create hardware that could accommodate both 2D and 3D visuals and Sony's competing notion of focusing on 3D technology. Publicly, Kalinske defended the Saturn's design: "Our people feel that they need the multiprocessing to be able to bring to the home what we're doing next year in the arcades."
In 1993, Sega restructured its internal studios in preparation for the Saturn's launch. To ensure high-quality 3D games would be available early in the Saturn's life, and to create a more energetic working environment, developers from Sega's arcade division were asked to create console games. New teams, such as Panzer Dragoon developer Team Andromeda, were formed during this time.
In January 1994, Sega began to develop an add-on for the Genesis, the Sega 32X, to serve as a less expensive entry into the 32-bit era. The decision to create the add-on was made by Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama and widely supported by Sega of America employees. According to former Sega of America producer Scot Bayless, Nakayama was worried that the Saturn would not be available until after 1994 and that the recently released Atari Jaguar would reduce Sega's hardware sales. As a result, Nakayama ordered his engineers to have the system ready for launch by the end of the year. The 32X would not be compatible with the Saturn, but Sega executive Richard Brudvik-Lindner pointed out that the 32X would play Genesis games, and had the same system architecture as the Saturn. This was justified by Sega's statement that both platforms would run at the same time, and that the 32X would be aimed at players who could not afford the more expensive Saturn. According to Sega of America research and development head Joe Miller, the 32X served a role in assisting development teams to familiarize themselves with the dual SH-2 architecture also used in the Saturn. Because the machines shared many parts and were being prepared to launch around the same time, tensions emerged between Sega of America and Sega of Japan when the Saturn was given priority.
Sega released the Saturn in Japan on November 22, 1994, at a price of ¥44,800. Virtua Fighter, a faithful port of the popular arcade game, sold at a nearly one-to-one ratio with the Saturn console at launch and was crucial to the system's early success in Japan. Though Sega had wanted to launch with Clockwork Knight and Panzer Dragoon, the only other first-party game available at launch was Wan Chai Connection. Fueled by the popularity of Virtua Fighter, Sega's initial shipment of 200,000 Saturn units sold out on the first day. Sega waited until the December 3 launch of the PlayStation to ship more units; when both were sold side by side, the Saturn proved more popular.
Meanwhile, Sega released the 32X on November 21, 1994, in North America, December 3, 1994, in Japan, and January 1995 in PAL territories, and was sold at less than half of the Saturn's launch price. After the holiday season, however, interest in the 32X rapidly declined. Half a million Saturn units were sold in Japan by the end of 1994 (compared to 300,000 PlayStation units), and sales exceeded 1 million within the following six months. There were conflicting reports that the PlayStation enjoyed a higher sell-through rate, and the system gradually began to overtake the Saturn in sales during 1995. Sony attracted many third-party developers to the PlayStation with a liberal $10 licensing fee, excellent development tools, and the introduction of a 7- to 10-day order system that allowed publishers to meet demand more efficiently than the 10- to 12-week lead times for cartridges that had previously been standard in the Japanese video game industry.
In March 1995, Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske announced that the Saturn would be released in the U.S. on "Saturnday" (Saturday) September 2, 1995. However, Sega of Japan mandated an early launch to give the Saturn an advantage over the PlayStation. At the first Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles on May 11, 1995, Kalinske gave a keynote presentation in which he revealed the release price of US$399 (including a copy of Virtua Fighter), and described the features of the console. Kalinske also revealed that, due to "high consumer demand", Sega had already shipped 30,000 Saturns to Toys "R" Us, Babbage's, Electronics Boutique, and Software Etc. for immediate release. The announcement upset retailers who were not informed of the surprise release, including Best Buy and Walmart; KB Toys responded by dropping Sega from its lineup. Sony subsequently unveiled the retail price for the PlayStation: Olaf Olafsson, the head of Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), summoned Steve Race to the stage, who said "$299", and then walked away to applause. The Saturn's release in Europe also came before the previously announced North American date, on July 8, 1995, at a price of £399.99. European retailers and press did not have time to promote the system or its games, harming sales. The PlayStation launched in Europe on September 29, 1995; by November, it had already outsold the Saturn by a factor of three in the United Kingdom, where Sony had allocated £20 million of marketing during the holiday season compared to Sega's £4 million.
The Saturn's U.S. launch was accompanied by a reported $50 million advertising campaign that included coverage in publications such as Wired and Playboy. Early advertising for the system was targeted at a more mature, adult audience than the Sega Genesis ads. Because of the early launch, the Saturn had only six games (all published by Sega) available to start as most third-party games were slated to be released around the original launch date. Virtua Fighter's relative lack of popularity in the West, combined with a release schedule of only two games between the surprise launch and September 1995, prevented Sega from capitalizing on the Saturn's early timing. Within two days of its September 9, 1995 launch in North America, the PlayStation (backed by a large marketing campaign) sold more units than the Saturn had in the five months following its surprise launch, with almost all of the initial shipment of 100,000 units being sold in advance, and the rest selling out across the U.S.
A high-quality port of the Namco arcade game Ridge Racer contributed to the PlayStation's early success, and garnered favorable media in comparison to the Saturn version of Sega's Daytona USA, which was considered inferior to its arcade counterpart. Namco, a longtime arcade competitor with Sega, also unveiled the Namco System 11 arcade board, based on raw PlayStation hardware. Although the System 11 was technically inferior to Sega's Model 2 arcade board, its lower price made it attractive to smaller arcades. Following a 1994 acquisition of Sega developers, Namco released Tekken for the System 11 and PlayStation. Directed by former Virtua Fighter designer Seiichi Ishii, Tekken was intended to be fundamentally similar, with the addition of detailed textures and twice the frame rate. Tekken surpassed Virtua Fighter in popularity due to its superior graphics and nearly arcade-perfect console port, becoming the first million-selling PlayStation game.
On October 2, 1995, Sega announced a Saturn price reduction to $299. High-quality Saturn ports of the Sega Model 2 arcade hits Sega Rally Championship, Virtua Cop, and Virtua Fighter 2 (running at 60 frames per second at a high resolution) were available by the end of the year, and were generally regarded as superior to competitors on the PlayStation. Notwithstanding a subsequent increase in Saturn sales during the 1995 holiday season, the games were not enough to reverse the PlayStation's decisive lead. By 1996, the PlayStation had a considerably larger library than the Saturn, although Sega hoped to generate interest with upcoming exclusives such as Nights into Dreams. An informal survey of retailers showed that the Saturn and PlayStation sold in roughly equal numbers during the first quarter of 1996. Within its first year, the PlayStation secured over 20% of the entire U.S. video game market. On the first day of the May 1996 E3 show, Sony announced a PlayStation price reduction to $199, a reaction to the release of the Model 2 Saturn in Japan at a price roughly equivalent to $199. On the second day, Sega announced it would match this price, though Saturn hardware was more expensive to manufacture.
—Bernie Stolar, on his joining Sega of America.
Despite the launch of the PlayStation and Saturn, sales of 16-bit games and consoles continued to account for 64% of the video game market in 1995. Sega underestimated the continued popularity of the Genesis, and did not have the inventory to meet demand. Sega was able to capture 43% of the dollar share of the U.S. video game market and sell more than 2 million Genesis units in 1995, but Kalinske estimated that "we could have sold another 300,000 Genesis systems in the November/December timeframe." Nakayama's decision to focus on the Saturn over the Genesis, based on the systems' relative performance in Japan, has been cited as the major contributing factor in this miscalculation.
Due to long-standing disagreements with Sega of Japan, Kalinske lost interest in his work as CEO of Sega of America. By early 1996, rumors were circulating that Kalinske planned to leave Sega, and a July 13 article in the press reported speculation that Sega of Japan was planning significant changes to Sega of America's management. On July 16, 1996, Sega announced that Kalinske would leave Sega after September 30, and that Shoichiro Irimajiri had been appointed chairman and CEO of Sega of America. A former Honda executive, Irimajiri had been involved with Sega of America since joining Sega in 1993. Sega also announced that David Rosen and Nakayama had resigned from their positions as chairman and co-chairman of Sega of America, though both remained with the company. Bernie Stolar, a former executive at Sony Computer Entertainment of America, was named Sega of America's executive vice president in charge of product development and third-party relations. Stolar, who had arranged a six-month PlayStation exclusivity deal for Mortal Kombat 3 and helped build close relations with Electronic Arts while at Sony, was perceived as a major asset by Sega officials. Finally, Sega of America made plans to expand its PC software business.
Stolar was not supportive of the Saturn, feeling it was poorly designed, and publicly announced at E3 1997 that "the Saturn is not our future". While Stolar had "no interest in lying to people" about the Saturn's prospects, he continued to emphasize quality games for the system, and later said that "we tried to wind it down as cleanly as we could for the consumer". At Sony, Stolar had opposed the localization of Japanese games that he felt would not represent PlayStation well in North America, and advocated a similar policy for the Saturn, although he later sought to distance himself from this perception. These changes were accompanied by a softer image that Sega was beginning to portray in its advertising, including removing the "Sega!" scream and holding press events for the education industry. Marketing for the Saturn in Japan also changed with the introduction of Segata Sanshiro (played by Hiroshi Fujioka), a character in a series of TV advertisements starting in 1997; the character eventually starred in a Saturn game.
Temporarily abandoning arcade development, Sega AM2 head Yu Suzuki began developing several Saturn-exclusive games, including a role-playing game in the Virtua Fighter series. Initially conceived as an obscure prototype "The Old Man and the Peach Tree" and intended to address the flaws of contemporary Japanese RPGs (such as poor non-player character artificial intelligence routines), Virtua Fighter RPG evolved into a planned 11-part, 45-hour "revenge epic in the tradition of Chinese cinema", which Suzuki hoped would become the Saturn's killer app. The game was eventually released as Shenmue for the Saturn's successor, the Dreamcast.
As Sonic Team was working on Nights into Dreams, Sega tasked the U.S.-based Sega Technical Institute (STI) with developing the first fully 3D entry in its popular Sonic the Hedgehog series. The game, Sonic X-treme, was moved to the Saturn after several prototypes for other hardware (including the 32X) were discarded. It featured a fisheye lens camera system that rotated levels with Sonic's movement. After Nakayama ordered the game be reworked around the engine created for its boss battles, the developers were forced to work between 16 and 20 hours a day to meet their December 1996 deadline. Weeks of development were wasted after Stolar rescinded STI's access to Sonic Team's Nights into Dreams engine following an ultimatum by Nights programmer Yuji Naka. After programmer Ofer Alon quit and designers Chris Senn and Chris Coffin became ill, Sonic X-Treme was cancelled in early 1997. Sonic Team started work on an original 3D Sonic game for the Saturn, but development shifted to the Dreamcast and the game became Sonic Adventure. STI was disbanded in 1996 as a result of changes in management at Sega of America.
Journalists and fans have speculated about the impact a completed X-treme might have had on the market. David Houghton of GamesRadar described the prospect of "a good 3D Sonic game" on the Saturn as "a 'What if...' situation on a par with the dinosaurs not becoming extinct". IGN's Travis Fahs called X-treme "the turning point not only for Sega's mascot and their 32-bit console, but for the entire company", but noted that the game served as "an empty vessel for Sega's ambitions and the hopes of their fans". Dave Zdyrko, who operated a prominent Saturn fan website during the system's lifespan, said: "I don't know if [X-treme] could've saved the Saturn, but ... Sonic helped make the Genesis and it made absolutely no sense why there wasn't a great new Sonic title ready at or near the launch of the [Saturn]." In a 2007 retrospective, producer Mike Wallis maintained that X-treme "definitely would have been competitive" with Nintendo's Super Mario 64. Next Generation reported in late 1996 that X-treme would have harmed Sega's reputation if it did not compare well to contemporary competition. Naka said he had been relieved by the cancellation, feeling that the game was not promising.
From 1993 to early 1996, although Sega's revenue declined as part of an industry-wide slowdown, the company retained control of 38% of the U.S. video game market (compared to Nintendo's 30% and Sony's 24%). Eight hundred thousand PlayStation units were sold in the U.S. by the end of 1995, compared to 400,000 Saturn units. In part due to an aggressive price war, the PlayStation outsold the Saturn by two to one in 1996, while Sega's 16-bit sales declined markedly. By the end of 1996, the PlayStation had sold 2.9 million units in the U.S., more than twice the 1.2 million Saturn units sold. The Christmas 1996 "Three Free" pack, which bundled the Saturn with Daytona USA, Virtua Fighter 2, and Virtua Cop, drove sales dramatically and ensured the Saturn remained a competitor into 1997.
However, the Saturn failed to take the lead. After the launch of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, sales of the Saturn and its games were sharply reduced, while the PlayStation outsold the Saturn by three-to-one in the U.S. in 1997. The 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII significantly increased the PlayStation's popularity in Japan. As of August 1997, Sony controlled 47% of the console market, Nintendo 40%, and Sega only 12%. Neither price cuts nor high-profile game releases proved helpful. Reflecting decreased demand for the system, worldwide Saturn shipments during March to September 1997 declined from 2.35 million to 600,000 versus the same period in 1996; shipments in North America declined from 800,000 to 50,000. Due to the Saturn's poor performance in North America, 60 of Sega of America's 200 employees were laid off in late 1997.
—Bernie Stolar, former president of Sega of America giving his assessment of the Saturn, in 2009.
As a result of Sega's deteriorating financial situation, Nakayama resigned as president in January 1998 in favor of Irimajiri. Stolar subsequently acceded to president of Sega of America. Following five years of generally declining profits, in the fiscal year ending March 31, 1998 Sega suffered its first parent and consolidated financial losses since its 1988 listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Due to a 54.8% decline in consumer product sales (including a 75.4% decline overseas), the company reported a net loss of ¥43.3 billion (US$327.8 million) and a consolidated net loss of ¥35.6 billion (US$269.8 million).
Shortly before announcing its financial losses, Sega announced that it was discontinuing the Saturn in North America to prepare for the launch of its successor. Only 12 Saturn games were released in North America in 1998 (Magic Knight Rayearth was the final official release), compared to 119 in 1996. The Saturn would last longer in Japan. Rumors about the upcoming Dreamcast—spread mainly by Sega itself—were leaked to the public before the last Saturn games were released. The Dreamcast was released on November 27, 1998 in Japan and on September 9, 1999 in North America. The decision to abandon the Saturn effectively left the Western market without Sega games for over one year. Sega suffered an additional ¥42.881 billion consolidated net loss in the fiscal year ending March 1999, and announced plans to eliminate 1,000 jobs, nearly a quarter of its workforce.
Worldwide Saturn sales include at least the following amounts in each territory: 5.75 million in Japan (surpassing the Genesis' sales of 3.58 million there), 1.8 million in the United States, 1 million in Europe, and 530,000 elsewhere. With lifetime sales of 9.26 million units, the Saturn is considered a commercial failure, although its install base in Japan surpassed the Nintendo 64's 5.54 million. Lack of distribution has been cited as a significant factor contributing to the Saturn's failure, as the system's surprise launch damaged Sega's reputation with key retailers. Conversely, Nintendo's long delay in releasing a 3D console and damage caused to Sega's reputation by poorly supported add-ons for the Genesis are considered major factors allowing Sony to gain a foothold in the market.
Featuring eight processors, the Saturn's main central processing units are two Hitachi SH-2 microprocessors clocked at 28.6 MHz and capable of 56 MIPS. It uses a Motorola 68EC000 running at 11.3 MHz as a sound controller; a custom sound processor with an integrated Yamaha FH1 DSP running at 22.6 MHz capable of up to 32 sound channels with both FM synthesis and 16-bit PCM sampling at a maximum rate of 44.1 kHz; and two video display processors: the VDP1 (which handles sprites, textures and polygons) and the VDP2 (which handles backgrounds). Its double-speed CD-ROM drive is controlled by a dedicated Hitachi SH-1 processor to reduce load times. The System Control Unit (SCU), which controls all buses and functions as a co-processor of the main SH-2 CPU, has an internal DSP running at 14.3 MHz. It features a cartridge slot that allows for memory expansion, 16 Mbit of work random-access memory (RAM), 12 Mbit of video RAM, 4 Mbit of RAM for sound functions, 4 Mbit of CD buffer RAM and 256 Kbit (32 KB) of battery backup RAM. Its video output, provided by a stereo AV cable, displays at resolutions from 320×224 to 704×224 pixels, and can display up to 16.77 million colors simultaneously. The Saturn measures 260 mm × 230 mm × 83 mm (10.2 in × 9.1 in × 3.3 in). It was packaged with an instruction manual, control pad, stereo AV cable, and 100 V AC power supply, with a power consumption of approximately 15W.
—Yu Suzuki reflecting on Saturn Virtua Fighter development
The Saturn had technically impressive hardware at the time of its release, but its complexity made harnessing this power difficult for developers accustomed to conventional programming. The greatest disadvantage was that both CPUs shared the same bus and were unable to access system memory at the same time. Making full use of the 4 KB of cache memory in each CPU was critical to maintaining performance. For example, Virtua Fighter used one CPU for each character, while Nights used one CPU for 3D environments and the other for 2D objects. The Visual Display Processor 2 (VDP2), which can generate and manipulate backgrounds, has also been cited as one of the system's most important features.
The Saturn's design elicited mixed commentary among game developers and journalists. Developers quoted by Next Generation in December 1995 described the Saturn as "a real coder's machine" for "those who love to get their teeth into assembly and really hack the hardware", with "more flexibility" and "more calculating power than the PlayStation". The sound board was also widely praised. By contrast, Lobotomy Software programmer Ezra Dreisbach described the Saturn as significantly slower than the PlayStation, whereas Kenji Eno of WARP observed little difference. In particular, Dreisbach criticized the Saturn's use of quadrilaterals as its basic geometric primitive, in contrast to the triangles rendered by the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64. Ken Humphries of Time Warner Interactive remarked that compared to the PlayStation, the Saturn was worse at generating polygons but better at sprites. Third-party development was initially hindered by the lack of useful software libraries and development tools, requiring developers to write in assembly language. During early Saturn development, programming in assembly could offer a two-to-fivefold speed increase over higher-level languages such as C.
The Saturn hardware is extremely difficult to emulate. Sega responded to complaints about the difficulty of programming for the Saturn by writing new graphics libraries which were claimed to make development easier. Sega of America also purchased a United Kingdom-based development firm, Cross Products, to produce the Saturn's development system. Despite these challenges, Treasure CEO Masato Maegawa stated that the Nintendo 64 was more difficult to develop for than the Saturn. Traveller's Tales founder Jon Burton felt that while the PlayStation was easier "to get started on ... you quickly reach [its] limits", whereas the Saturn's "complicated" hardware had the ability to "improve the speed and look of a game when all used together correctly". A major criticism was the Saturn's use of 2D sprites to generate polygons and simulate 3D space. The PlayStation used a different design, based entirely on 3D triangle-based polygonal rendering, with no direct 2D support. As a result, several analysts described the Saturn as an "essentially" 2D system. For example, Steven L. Kent stated: "Although Nintendo and Sony had true 3D game machines, Sega had a 2D console that did a good job with 3D objects but wasn't optimized for 3D environments."
Several Saturn models were produced in Japan. An updated model in a recolored light gray (officially white) was released at ¥20,000 to reduce the system's cost and raise its appeal among women and younger children. Two models were released by third parties: Hitachi released the Hi-Saturn (a smaller model equipped with a car navigation function), while JVC released the V-Saturn. Saturn controllers came in various color schemes to match different models of the console. The system also supports several accessories. A wireless controller powered by AA batteries uses infrared signal to connect. Designed to work with Nights, the Saturn 3D Pad includes both a control pad and an analog stick for directional input. Sega also released several versions of arcade sticks as peripherals, including the Virtua Stick, the Virtua Stick Pro, the Mission Analog Stick, and the Twin Stick. Sega also created a light gun peripheral, the Virtua Gun, for shooting games such as Virtua Cop and The Guardian, and the Arcade Racer, a wheel for racing games. The Play Cable allows two Saturn consoles to be connected for multiplayer gaming across two screens, while a multitap allows up to six players to play on the same console. The Saturn was designed to support up to 12 players on a single console, by using two multitaps. RAM cartridges expand the memory. Other accessories include a keyboard, mouse, floppy disk drive, and movie card.
Like the Genesis, the Saturn had an internet-based gaming service. The Sega NetLink was a 28.8k modem that fit into the cartridge slot in the Saturn for direct dial multiplayer. In Japan, a pay-to-play service was used. It could also be used for web browsing, sending email, and online chat. Because the NetLink was released before the Saturn keyboard, Sega produced a series of CDs containing hundreds of website addresses so that Saturn owners could browse with the joypad. The NetLink functioned with Daytona USA, Duke Nukem 3D, Saturn Bomberman, Sega Rally, and Virtual On: Cyber Troopers. In 1995, Sega announced a variant of the Saturn featuring a built-in NetLink modem under the code name "Sega Pluto", but it was never released.
Sega developed an arcade board based on the Saturn's hardware, the Sega ST-V (or Titan), intended as an affordable alternative to Sega's Model 2 arcade board and as a testing ground for upcoming Saturn software. The Titan was criticized for its comparatively weak performance by Sega AM2's Yu Suzuki and was overproduced by Sega's arcade division. Because Sega already had the Die Hard license, members of Sega AM1 working at the Sega Technical Institute developed Die Hard Arcade for the Titan to clear excess inventory. Die Hard became the most successful Sega arcade game produced in the United States at that point. Other games released for the Titan include Golden Axe: The Duel and Virtua Fighter Kids.
Much of the Saturn's library comes from Sega's arcade ports, including Daytona USA, The House of the Dead, Last Bronx, Sega Rally Championship, the Virtua Cop series, the Virtua Fighter series, and Virtual-On. Saturn ports of 2D Capcom fighting games including Darkstalkers 3, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 were noted for their faithfulness to their arcade counterparts. Fighters Megamix, developed by Sega AM2 for the Saturn rather than arcades, combined characters from Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter to positive reviews. Highly rated Saturn exclusives include Panzer Dragoon Saga, Dragon Force, Guardian Heroes, Nights, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei, and Shining Force III. PlayStation games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Resident Evil, and Wipeout 2097 received Saturn ports with mixed results. The first-person shooter PowerSlave featured some of the most impressive 3D graphics on the system, leading Sega to contract its developers, Lobotomy Software, to produce Saturn ports of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. While Electronic Arts' limited support for the Saturn and Sega's failure to develop a football game for late 1995 gave Sony the lead in the sports genre, "Sega Sports" published Saturn sports games including the well-regarded World Series Baseball and Sega Worldwide Soccer series.
Due to the cancellation of Sonic X-treme, the Saturn lacks an exclusive Sonic the Hedgehog platformer; instead it received a graphically enhanced port of the Genesis game Sonic 3D Blast, the compilation Sonic Jam, and a racing game, Sonic R. The platformer Bug! received attention for its eponymous main character being a potential mascot for the Saturn, but it failed to catch on as the Sonic series had. Considered one of the most important Saturn releases, Sonic Team developed Nights into Dreams, a score attack game that attempted to simulate both the joy of flying and the fleeting sensation of dreams. The gameplay of Nights involves steering the imp-like androgynous protagonist, Nights, as it flies on a mostly 2D plane across surreal stages broken into four segments each. The levels repeat for as long as an in-game time limit allows, while flying over or looping around various objects in rapid succession earns additional points. Although it lacked the fully 3D environments of Nintendo's Super Mario 64, Nights' emphasis on unfettered movement and graceful acrobatic techniques showcased the intuitive potential of analog control. Sonic Team's Burning Rangers, a fully 3D action-adventure game involving a team of outer-space firefighters, garnered praise for its transparency effects and distinctive art direction, but was released in limited quantities late in the Saturn's lifespan and criticized for its short length.
Some of the games that made the Saturn popular in Japan, such as Grandia and the Sakura Wars series, never saw a Western release due to Sega of America's policy of not localizing RPGs and other Japanese games that might have damaged the system's reputation in North America. Despite appearing first on the Saturn, games such as Dead or Alive, Grandia, and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete only saw a Western release on the PlayStation. Working Designs localized several Japanese Saturn games before a public feud between Sega of America's Bernie Stolar and Working Designs president Victor Ireland resulted in the company switching their support to the PlayStation. Panzer Dragoon Saga was praised as perhaps the finest RPG for the system due to its cinematic presentation, evocative plot, and unique battle system—with a tactical emphasis on circling around opponents to identify weak points and the ability to "morph" the physical attributes of the protagonist's dragon companion during combat—but Sega released fewer than 20,000 retail copies of the game in North America in what IGN's Levi Buchanan characterized as one example of the Saturn's "ignominious send-off" in the region. Similarly, only the first of three installments of Shining Force III was released outside Japan. The Saturn's library also garnered criticism for its lack of sequels to high-profile Genesis-era Sega franchises, with Sega of Japan's cancellation of a planned third installment in Sega of America's popular Eternal Champions series cited as a significant source of controversy.
Later ports of Saturn games including Guardian Heroes, Nights, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers continued to garner positive reviews. Partly due to rarity, Saturn games such as Panzer Dragoon Saga and Radiant Silvergun are noted for their cult following. Due to the system's commercial failure and hardware limitations, Saturn projects such as Resident Evil 2, Shenmue, Sonic Adventure, and Virtua Fighter 3 were cancelled and moved to the Dreamcast.
At the time of the Saturn's release, Famicom Tsūshin awarded it 24 out of 40, higher than the PlayStation's 19 out of 40. In June 1995, Dennis Lynch of the Chicago Tribune and Albert Kim of Entertainment Weekly praised the Saturn as the most advanced console available; Lynch praised the double-speed CD-ROM drive and "intense surround-sound capabilities" and Kim cited Panzer Dragoon as a "lyrical and exhilarating epic" demonstrating the ability of new technology to "transform" the industry. In December 1995, Next Generation gave the Saturn three and a half stars out of five, highlighting Sega's marketing and arcade background as strengths but the system's complexity as a weakness. Four critics in Electronic Gaming Monthly's December 1996 Buyer's Guide rated the Saturn 8, 6, 7, and 8 out of 10 and the PlayStation 9, 10, 9, and 9. By December 1998, EGM's reviews were more mixed, with reviewers citing the lack of games as a major problem. According to EGM reviewer Crispin Boyer, "the Saturn is the only system that can thrill me one month and totally disappoint me the next".
Retrospective feedback of the Saturn is mixed, but generally praises its game library. According to Greg Sewart of 1UP.com, "the Saturn will go down in history as one of the most troubled, and greatest, systems of all time". In 2009, IGN named the Saturn the 18th-best console of all time, praising its unique game library. According to the reviewers, "While the Saturn ended up losing the popularity contest to both Sony and Nintendo ... Nights into Dreams, the Virtua Fighter and Panzer Dragoon series are all examples of exclusive titles that made the console a fan favorite." Edge noted "hardened loyalists continue to reminisce about the console that brought forth games like Burning Rangers, Guardian Heroes, Dragon Force and Panzer Dragoon Saga." In 2015, The Guardian's Keith Stuart wrote that "the Saturn has perhaps the strongest line-up of 2D shooters and fighting games in console history".
Retro Gamer's Damien McFerran wrote: "Even today, despite the widespread availability of sequels and re-releases on other formats, the Sega Saturn is still a worthwhile investment for those who appreciate the unique gameplay styles of the companies that supported it." IGN's Adam Redsell wrote "[Sega's] devil-may-care attitude towards game development in the Saturn and Dreamcast eras is something that we simply do not see outside of the indie scene today." Necrosoft Games director Brandon Sheffield felt that "the Saturn was a landing point for games that were too 'adult' in content for other systems, as it was the only one that allowed an 18+ rating for content in Japan ... some games, like Enemy Zero used it to take body horror to new levels, an important step toward the expansion of games and who they served." Sewart praised the Saturn's first-party games as "Sega's shining moment as a game developer", with Sonic Team demonstrating its creative range and AM2 producing numerous technically impressive arcade ports. He also commented on the many Japan-exclusive Saturn releases, which he connected with a subsequent boom in the game import market. IGN's Travis Fahs was critical of the Saturn library's lack of "fresh ideas" and "precious few high-profile franchises", in contrast to what he described as Sega's more creative Dreamcast output.
Sega has been criticized for its management of the Saturn. McFerran felt its management staff had "fallen out of touch with both the demands of the market and the industry". Stolar has also been criticized; according to Fahs, "Stolar's decision to abandon the Saturn made him a villain to many Sega fans, but ... it was better to regroup than to enter the next fight battered and bruised. Dreamcast would be Stolar's redemption." Stolar defended his decision, saying, "I felt Saturn was hurting the company more than helping it. That was a battle that we weren't going to win." Sheffield said that the Saturn's quadrilaterals undermined third-party support, but because "nVidia invested in quads" at the same time, there had been "a remote possibility" they could have "become the standard instead of triangles ... if somehow, magically, the Saturn were the most popular console of that era." Speaking more positively, former Working Designs president Victor Ireland described the Saturn as "the start of the future of console gaming" because it "got the better developers thinking and designing with parallel-processing architecture in mind for the first time". In GamesRadar, Justin Towell wrote that the Saturn's 3D Pad "set the template for every successful controller that followed, with analog shoulder triggers and left thumbstick ... I don't see any three-pronged controllers around the office these days."
Douglass C. Perry of Gamasutra noted that, from its surprise launch to its ultimate failure, the Saturn "soured many gamers on Sega products". Sewart and IGN's Levi Buchanan cited the failure of the Saturn as the major reason for Sega's downfall as a hardware manufacturer, but USgamer's Jeremy Parish described it as "more a symptom ... than a cause" of the decline, which began with add-ons for the Genesis that fragmented the market and continued with Sega of America's and Sega of Japan's competing designs for the Dreamcast. Sheffield portrayed Sega's mistakes with the Saturn as emblematic of the broader then-decline of the Japanese gaming industry: "They thought they were invincible, and that structure and hierarchy were necessary for their survival, but more flexibility, and a greater participation with the West could have saved them." According to Stuart, Sega "didn't see ... the roots of a prevailing trend, away from arcade conversions and traditional role-playing adventures and toward a much wider console development community with fresh ideas about gameplay and structure." Pulp365 reviews editor Matt Paprocki concluded that "the Saturn is a relic, but an important one, which represents the harshness of progress and what it can leave in its wake".
Ryoji Akagawa: If it wasn't for Virtua Fighter, the PlayStation probably would have had a completely different hardware concept.cf. Thomason, Steve (July 2006). "The Man Behind the Legend". Nintendo Power. Vol. 19 no. 205. p. 72.
Toby Gard: It became clear to me watching people play Virtua Fighter, which was kind of the first big 3D-character console game, that even though there were only two female characters in the lineup, in almost every game I saw being played, someone was picking one of the two females.
One of the key objections to 3D graphics that developers had been raising with Sony was that while polygons worked fine for inanimate objects such as racing cars, 2D images were superior when it came to animating people or other characters. Virtua Fighter, Suzuki's follow-up to Virtua Racing, was a direct riposte to such thinking ... The characters may have resembled artists' mannequins but their lifelike movement turned Suzuki's game into a huge success that exploded claims that game characters couldn't be done successfully in 3D ... Teruhisa Tokunaka, chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment, even went so far as to thank Sega for creating Virtua Fighter and transforming developers' attitudes.
Virtua Fighter's 3D characters have a presence that 2D sprites just can't match. The characters really do seem 'alive', whether they're throwing a punch, unleashing a special move or reeling from a blow ... The Saturn version of Virtua Fighter is an exceptional game in many respects. It's arguably the first true 'next generation' console game, fusing the best aspects of combat gameplay with groundbreaking animation and gorgeous sound (CD music and clear samples). In the arcades, Virtua Fighter made people stop and look. On the Saturn, it will make many people stop, look at their bank balance and then fork out for Sega's new machine. Over to you, Sony.
Hideki Okamura: [Saturn] was just a development code name for hardware that was adopted by the Japanese development staff. The name has become common knowledge and it has a nice ring to it.
Sega's knee-jerk reaction was to delay its Saturn development program for a few months to incorporate a new video processor into the system. Not only would this boost its 2D abilities considerably (something that Sony's machine was less proficient at), but it would also provide better texture mapping for 3D graphics ... Of course, Hitachi's link with the Saturn project goes much deeper. In 1993, the Japanese electronics company set up a joint venture with Sega to develop a CPU for the Saturn based on proprietary Hitachi technology. Several Hitachi staff were seconded to Sega's Saturn division (it's now believed that the same team is now working on preliminary 64-bit technology for Sega), and the result was the SH-2 ... As with most Sega hardware, Model 1 was basically an expensive assortment of bought-in chips. Its main CPU, an NEC V60 running at just 16 MHz, was simply too slow for the Saturn. And the bulk of Virtua Racing's number crunching was handled by four serial DSPs that were way too costly to be included in any home system. Sega's consequent development of the SH-2 meant that it could also produce a Saturn-compatible arcade system.
Sega Enterprises said today that it would base its next-generation home video game machine, due in the fall of 1994, on a new chip being developed by Hitachi Ltd ... One Sega official said Hitachi's chip was attractively priced and would be designed with Sega's needs in mind ... Yamaha is expected to provide sound chips and JVC the circuitry for compressing video images.cf. "Sega to add 64-Bit Processor to New Saturn System!". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Vol. 5 no. 53. December 1993. p. 68.
There are reportedly seven different processors in the Saturn. The main processor will be a custom 32-Bit RISC chip under joint development by Sega and Hitachi.
The early pictures and technical breakdowns have remained relatively close to the final system, perhaps because the system was completed far earlier than many people realize ... It was too late to make major alterations to the system, so, at the cost of pushing the launch schedule slightly, a video processor was added to the board to boost its 2D and 3D texture-mapping abilities. The real processing power of the Saturn comes from two Hitachi SH2 32-bit RISC processors running at 28 MHz. These processors were specially commissioned by Sega and are optimized for fast 3D graphics work.
Sega has spent the last nine months or so playing catch-up with Sony after a publisher-friend tipped Sega off about the power of PlayStation.
Tom Kalinske: I remember we had a document that Olaf and Mickey took to Sony that said they'd like to develop jointly the next hardware, the next game platform, with Sega, and here's what we think it ought to do. Sony apparently gave the green light to that ... Our proposal was that each of us would sell this joint Sega/Sony hardware platform; we'll share the loss on the hardware (whatever that is, we'll split it), combine our advertising and marketing, but we'll each be responsible for the software sales we'll generate. Now, at that particular point in time, Sega knew how to develop software a hell of a lot better than Sony did. They were just coming up the learning curve, so we would have benefited much more greatly ... I felt that we were rushing Saturn. We didn't have the software right, and we didn't have the pricing right, so I felt we should have stayed with Genesis for another year.
Kentaro Yoshida: We thought we'd have no problem making games that were superior to PlayStation games.
Scot Bayless: The 32X call was made in early January  ... There's a part of me that wishes the Saturn had adopted the 32X graphics strategy, but that ship had sailed long before the greenlight call from Nakayama.
Joe Miller: I'd say that the rhetoric around the deteriorating relationship is probably overblown a little bit, based on what I've read. Nakayama-san and SOJ knew they had a strong, proven management team in place at SOA, and while everyone was concerned about growing the business, neither side lost confidence in the other.
The December 3 ship-out of 100,000 PlayStations to stores across Japan ... was not met with the same euphoria-charged reception that the Saturn received ... Saturn arrived to a rapturous reception in Japan on November 22. 200,000 units sold out instantly on day one ... Japanese gamers were beside themselves as they walked away with their prized possession and a near-perfect conversion of the Virtua Fighter coin-op ... Sega (and Sony) have proved that with dedicated processors handling the drive (the SH-1 in the Saturn's case), negligible access times are possible.
This equates to the Saturn shifting an average number of 17,241 units a day and the PlayStation 15,789.
Lack of distribution may have contributed significantly to the failure of the Sega Saturn to gain an installed base. Sega had limited distribution for its Saturn launch, which may have slowed the building of its installed base both directly (because consumers had limited access to the product) and indirectly (because distributors that were initially denied product may have been reluctant to promote the product after the limitations were lifted). Nintendo, by contrast, had unlimited distribution for its Nintendo 64 launch, and Sony not only had unlimited distribution, but had extensive experience with negotiating with retailing giants such as Wal-Mart for its consumer electronics products.
Tom Kalinske: We needed to do something shocking because we were $100 more than the other guy ... I still think [the surprise launch] was a good idea. If I had it to do over again would I do it a little differently? Yeah, definitely. I wouldn't take the risk of annoying retailers the way we did. I would clue them in and do an early launch in a region or three regions or something so we could include everybody.
Although AM2 has managed to replicate the coin-op tolerably well, Saturn Daytona fails to capture the arcade experience that PlayStation Ridge Racer so convincingly delivers.cf. McNamara, Andy; et al. (September 1995). "Prepare Yourself for the Ultimate Racing Experience". Game Informer. Archived from the original on November 20, 1997. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
Daytona rules the arcade, but I think Ridge Racer dominates the home systems.cf. Air Hendrix (August 1995). "Pro Review: Daytona USA". GamePro. Vol. 7 no. 73. p. 50.
Daytona pales in comparison to Ridge Racer for the Japanese PlayStation, which takes an early lead with better features, gameplay, and graphics.
Namco took a significant risk in basing its Tekken coin-op on raw PlayStation hardware, considering that it would be competing directly with Sega's Model 2-powered Virtua Fighter 2 ... For once, a home system can boast an identical conversion of a cutting-edge coin-op ... Namco's research section managing director, Shegeichi Nakamura ... explains: "When Sony came along we decided to go for a low-cost system—in short, we've left the big arcade stores to Sega and VF2 and Tekken has been sold to smaller arcade centres" ... Namco has a further four titles planned for System 11, all of which are likely to make the jump to the PlayStation.
The graphics were state-of-the-art when this game was released in the arcades a year ago. Other fighters—notably Tekken and Toh Shin Den—now make better use of the polygon engine.
Sega of America Monday announced that, effective immediately, it will dramatically drop the price of its high-end Sega Saturn system to $299.
I'm far more impressed with this title than I was with Daytona.cf. "Top Gear". Next Generation. Vol. 2 no. 14. February 1996. p. 160.
Totally eliminates the hit or miss polarity of other light-gun games and adds a whole new level of detail to the genre.
[The VDP2] can generate and manipulate 3D backgrounds. This leaves the twin processors free to deal with manipulating the fighters themselves. The result is swift, elegant animation at 60 frames a second—the same speed as the VF2 coin-op ... Sony's machine does not have an equivalent of the VDP2, so the demands for better animation and more realistic movement are placing greater and greater pressure on its central processor.
The ultimate arcade translation ... the best fighting game ever.cf. "Excellent!". Next Generation. Vol. 2 no. 14. February 1996. p. 160.
A general attention to detail that sets a new mark for quality game design.
Sega of America Inc. (SOA) Monday announced that Shoichiro Irimajiri has been appointed chairman and chief executive officer. Sega also announced that Bernard Stolar, previously of Sony Computer Entertainment America, has joined the company as executive vice president, responsible for product development and third-party business ... Sega also announced that Hayao Nakayama and David Rosen have resigned as chairman and co-chairman of Sega of America, respectively.(Subscription required.)
Although a familiar face at Sega of America, Shoichiro Irimajiri has spent his first week in charge re-meeting all the staff.
Bernie Stolar: I'm also a big believer in RPGs as well. No one ever believes that because I came out of the coin-op side of the business. But I'm an older, wiser person these days.
Roger Hector: When it became obvious that Sony was taking the lead, Sega's corporate personality changed. It became very political, with lots of finger-pointing around the company. Sega tried to get a handle on the situation, but they made a lot of mistakes, and ultimately STI was swallowed up in the corporate turmoil.
Yuji Naka: The reason why there wasn't a Sonic game on Saturn was really because we were concentrating on Nights. We were also working on Sonic Adventure—that was originally intended to be out on Saturn, but because Sega as a company was bringing out a new piece of hardware—the Dreamcast—we resorted to switching it over to the Dreamcast, which was the newest hardware at the time. So that's why there wasn't a Sonic game on Saturn. With regards to X-treme, I'm not really sure on the exact details of why it was cut short, but from looking at how it was going, it wasn't looking very good from my perspective. So I felt relief when I heard it was cancelled.
The 3D environments were drawn by one processor, while another handled the 2D enemies, hoops and trees, melding them seamlessly to create a smooth, surprisingly fast-moving game that still looks striking today.
Ezra Dreisbach: And really, if you couldn't tell from the games, the PSX is way better than the Saturn. It's way simpler and way faster. There are a lot of things about the Saturn that are totally dumb. Chief among these is that you can't draw triangles, only quadrilaterals.
Kenji Eno: But, the PlayStation and the Saturn aren't that different, so moving it [Enemy Zero] to Saturn wasn't too difficult.
The PlayStation does polygons much better, but [Primal Rage] is a sprite-based game, and the Saturn obviously has better sprite handling. We can do better compression. One of the big differences between the PlayStation and the Saturn versions is that the Saturn has 64 colors for each of the dinosaurs and background sprites, as opposed to the PlayStation, which has only 16 color sprites.
Hackers are still unsure how some components work.
Sega of Japan recently announced it was going to produce a Saturn with Internet access built in.
But that doesn't mean it's a total bust. Numerous excellent games were released for the console, which was supported primarily in the mid-to-late 1990s, including a variety of original Sega classics and several stellar third-party releases. RPG and fighting game fans, in particular, enjoyed a healthy array of options on the platform.
This has to be one of the finest fighters to ever grace consoles.cf. Williamson, Colin. "Fighters Megamix Review". Allgame. Archived from the original on November 15, 2014. Retrieved December 13, 2014. cf. "Fighters Megamix". Next Generation Online. February 3, 1998. Archived from the original on August 31, 1999. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
The best console fighter yet.
Only Final Fantasy VII tops it.cf. "Panzer Dragoon Saga Review". Edge. March 25, 1998. Archived from the original on December 24, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
Adds a creative depth only SquareSoft games can currently rival.cf. "Panzer Dragoon Saga". Next Generation Online. May 14, 1998. Archived from the original on August 29, 1999. Retrieved December 19, 2016.
One of the best RPGs ever.
World Series Baseball is by far the smoothest baseball game ever made.cf. "Worldwide Soccer '98". Game Informer. January 1998. Archived from the original on September 30, 1999. Retrieved March 19, 2014.
The graphics are smooth, and the physics are perfect.
Steven Spielberg, CES 1995: This is the character! This is the character that is going to do it for Saturn!
This futuristic fire-fighting game was an instant cult classic ... The game has all the makings of a masterpiece, but is held back by both the Saturn's limited power and the fireman motif.
A wholly competent (but somewhat workmanlike, as the Saturn was not as good at 3D as the PSone or N64) action-adventure game.
Tomonobu Itagaki: Saturn was a great machine, great system. If someone were to ask me if I want to make a game for PSone or Saturn I would—100 percent of the time—make games for the Saturn.
One of the greatest games ever crafted by human hands ... Critically, the game was a smash hit, lauded as one of the year's best, and generally considered the Saturn's finest title. But despite glowing reviews across the board, Saga was destined to fail. Sega had moved on—shifted its focus to developing its next console, the Dreamcast, and wasn't willing to risk any more money on a system that had already lost so much. Therefore, less than 20,000 retail copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga were even made, making it a very rare title and a prize for collectors.
Even though some aspects of Guardian Heroes haven't aged well, the strength of the battle system, branching paths, and characters help this brawler retain its place near the top of the class.cf. Parkin, Simon (October 12, 2011). "Guardian Heroes". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014. Retrieved March 28, 2014.
One of the most satisfying combat games ever conceived.
I still can't believe that a game that came out in 1997 feels so fresh and exciting over 15 years later.
Sega executives started to quietly state that Virtua Fighter 3 was not going to come out for the Saturn.
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