The Sega Saturn (セガサターン Sega Satān?) is a 32-bit video game console developed and manufactured by Sega, it was first released on 22 November 1994 in Japan, 11 May 1995 in North America, and 8 July 1995 in Europe. The system was discontinued in North America and Europe in 1998, and in 2000 for Japan.
The system was popular in Japan due to its successful marketing, such as with the character Segata Sanshiro. However, the system suffered in North America and Europe due to a poor launch, extensive competition from Sony's PlayStation, difficulty to program by third-parties, and marketing woes. It also suffered in North America from the policies delivered by former Sega of America president Bernie Stolar. Such policies included the condemnation of games such as RPGs, with Stolar proclaiming that the genre would not be popular with American consumers, despite the fact that Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation was a huge success for Japan and North America alike.
Sonic 3D Blast
Cancelled Sonic games
- Sonic X-treme
- Sonic Saturn
- Sonic the Fighters (port)
- Sonic Adventure (development moved to Dreamcast)
This game features a number of unlockable bonuses such as the ability to play the demo stage as Sonic the Hedgehog, making this the first time Sonic was playable in 3D. In the Sonic the Hedgehog: Into Dreams... minigame, Sonic is only able to traverse the Spring Valley stage on foot, and the original game's Puffy boss is re-skinned as a "bouncy ball" version of Doctor Eggman. The music is a slightly remixed version of "Final Fever", the final boss battle music from the Japanese and European version of Sonic the Hedgehog CD.
The development of the Sega Saturn was composed of much speculation, since it was not the custom of many companies to disclose specific information when developing their products.
In mid-1991 there appeared several news stories about a new console being developed by Sega called the "Giga Drive", which would be based on a new plate that was beginning to be used in arcade systems. Just as the Mega Drive originated from the System 16 board, it made sense to believe that the Giga Drive was being developed using the System 32 as a base. Time passed and there was never an official confirmation about the Giga Drive from Sega.
In 1993 rumors began to appear on two separate 32-bit projects: the cartridge based Jupiter and the CD based Saturn. Technical specifications showed that the console was being designed to be the most powerful platform for 2D gaming. At the same time, Sony was developing what would become the PlayStation, with powerful video focused on 3D. Trying to resolve this situation, the design of the Saturn was altered and new processors were added, now giving greater support for polygons and 3D graphic processing. With this change, the Sega Saturn was now ready to compete with the Sony PlayStation. The first rumoured project didn't fade quite into obscurity, as the Jupiter became the Sega 32X add-on for the Mega Drive, though it suffered with little success and was outshone by the Saturn.
By the end of 1994, the 16-bit video game era was in twilight in North America, with gamers eagerly anticipating the new 32-bit machines from Japan. In early 1995, Sega president Tom Kalinske announced that the Saturn would launch in North America on "Saturnday" (Saturday) 2 September 1995. This date was greatly anticipated by gamers and the media. Sony would announce that the PlayStation would release just one week later, on 9 September 1995. However, at the first Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in May 1995, Kalinske announced that the "Saturnday" date was a ruse and that the system was being released nationwide by a few select retailers immediately, this being 11 May 1995. It appeared that Sega had a real opportunity to take a commanding 4-month lead in the 32-bit race by beating the PlayStation to the market. With an announced starting price of $399 USD, the Sega Saturn faced its first setback right there at E3, when Sony announced that the PlayStation would still launch at the end of the year, but at a price of just $299 USD.
The Sega Saturn was released in Japan on 22 November 1994 and was very successful, reaching more than 500,000 units sold by the end of the year. North America did not see as much commercial success, though.
Even with a lowered price and many promotions, the Saturn never caught on in North America, contrasting greatly with Japan's love of the console. The Saturn and remained in the lead until the release of Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation in 1997, but held the second position against the Nintendo 64 throughout its lifespan. In 1999, the Saturn was discontinued in favor of its successor, the Dreamcast.
Even today it is still debatable what was the main mistakes made by Sega Saturn during the era, though some of the most notable include:
- The Sega Saturn had a premature release without a large variety of games.
- Due to the more complex architecture, with three processors, developing games for the Saturn cost more and took longer than competitors' consoles.
- The initial development kits were very complicated and inefficient, which made the work more difficult and time consuming for the programmer.
- The console had no official mascot Sonic game, only a compilation (Sonic Jam), racing game (Sonic R), and a port of a unsuccessful Mega Drive game (Sonic 3D Blast). Sonic X-Treme was announced, but it was canceled.
- Inexplicably, some of the best Saturn games were never released outside of Japan. There were more than six hundred games released in Japan, while the international list has no more than 250 titles.
- There are no games from Namco on the console, due to the company finding the console too heavy to run their games and thus they became exclusive to the PlayStation.
- The games that would be planned for the Saturn they were canceled due to the end of life and were transferred to the Dreamcast, such as: Virtua Fighter 3, Fighting Force, Rayman 2, and Resident Evil 2.
- Originally, Sega planned to develop the game Sonic Adventure for the Saturn to replace the cancelled Sonic X-treme, but due to the end of the console's life, the game was eventually produced for the Dreamcast.
Sega's 27-member Away Team, comprised of employees from hardware engineering, product development and marketing, worked for two years to design the Sega Saturn's hardware. The Saturn was a powerful machine for its time, but its design that featured two CPUs and six other processors made harnessing the power extremely difficult. Also, many of the ancillary chips in the system were "off the shelf" components, increasing the complexity of the system because the components were not specifically designed to work together. Rumors suggest that the original design called for a single central processor, but upon hearing of the Sony PlayStation's capabilities, a second processor was added late in development to increase potential performance.
Third-party development was initially hindered by the lack of useful software libraries and development tools, requiring developers to write in assembly language to achieve good performance. During early Saturn game development, programming in assembly could offer a two to fivefold speed increase over the C language. To save development costs and time, some programmers would utilize only one CPU, such as with Alien Trilogy.
The implementation of dual CPUs within the Saturn was not ideal. The biggest disadvantage of the architecture was that both processors shared the same bus and had problems accessing the main system RAM at the same time. The 4 KiB of cache memory in each CPU was critical to maintaining performance. In general, very careful division of processing, in addition to the already-challenging task of paralleling the code, was required to get the most out of the Saturn. One example of how the Saturn was utilized was with Virtua Fighter's use of one CPU for each character.
Compared to the PlayStation, the Saturn's hardware was difficult to work with because of its more complex graphics hardware and lesser overall performance, as noted by Lobotomy Software programmer Ezra Dreisbach. In order to bring Duke Nukem 3D and PowerSlave/Exhumed to the Saturn, Lobotomy Software had to almost entirely rewrite the Build engine to get adequate performance from the Saturn. Also, during testing of an unreleased Quake port for the PlayStation, the Saturn's performance was found to be notably inferior for the game.
Unlike the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, which used triangles as its basic geometric primitive, the Saturn rendered quadrilaterals. This proved to be a hindrance as most of the industry's standard design tools were based around triangles. One of the challenges brought forth by quadrilateral-based rendering was problems with making some shapes, notably triangular objects. This can be seen in the Saturn version of Tomb Raider, in which triangular rocks are not rendered as well as other system's versions of the game. The hardware also lacked light sourcing and hardware video decompression support, the latter being a major disadvantage during a time when full-motion video was quite popular.
Still, if used correctly, the quadrilateral rendering of the Saturn had advantages. It could potentially show less texture distortion than was common with PlayStation titles, as demonstrated by several cross-platform titles such as Wipeout and Destruction Derby. The quadrilateral-focused hardware and a 50% greater amount of video memory also gave the Saturn an advantage for 2D game engines and attracted many developers of RPGs, arcade games and traditional 2D fighting games. With creative programming, later games like Burning Rangers were able to achieve true transparency effects on hardware that used simple polygon stipples as a replacement for transparency effects in the past.
The cartridge slot was useful for adding extra RAM or storage devices for saving games to the system. One ROM cartridge was released with King of Fighters '95, which contained part of the game data because not enough RAM was available in the standard console. Two different RAM cartridges were released for the system; a 1MB RAM cart by SNK for King of Fighters '96, and a 4MB RAM cart by Capcom for X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. Both companies were known for their sprite-based 2D competitive fighting games and many of their subsequent games utilized their respective cartridges.
The Japanese Saturn was released in November 1994, just a few weeks ahead of its rival, Sony's PlayStation. Approximately 170,000 consoles were sold the first day the Saturn went on sale.
Many of the games that made the Saturn popular in Japan, such as the Sakura Taisen series and various console role-playing games, or even most Japanese games in general, were never released in foreign territories as it was assumed at Sega of America and Sega of Europe that they were not appealing to a Western audience.
The last commercially licensed release in Japan and last official game for the system was Yuukyuu Gensoukyoku Hozonban Perpetual Collection, released by MediaWorks on 4 December 2000.
The early launch of the Sega Saturn in North America meant that the console had only a handful of games available at the moment, as most third party games were slated to be completed and rolled out around the original September 2nd launch date and many successful Japanese titles were not yet imported. Third party publishers, particularly these based in North America, were angered as the surprise launch prevented them from capitalizing on the momentum inherent in an anticipated, planned release. Essentially the only software available on the shelves at launch was software released by Sega. Many within the gaming industry viewed the early launch as a calculated move to give Sega larger sales of Saturn software at the expense of independent developers.
In addition, the retailers who were not included in the early launch, most notably Wal-Mart and KB Toys, felt betrayed and some even retaliating by supporting Sega's rivals. This resulted in Sega having difficulties with these distributors for both Saturn and its successor, the Dreamcast. For example, Sega's actions so angered KB Toys that the latter refused to release the Saturn at all, and actually went as far as having some retailers remove anything Sega-related in stores to provide more retail space for the Saturn's competition instead.
By the time of the PlayStation's release on 9 September 1995, the Saturn had sold approximately 80,000 systems. The PlayStation sold over 100,000 units upon release in the U.S., and Sega's dreams of early domination of the new generation of hardware were quickly forgotten.
From 1995–1997, the Saturn became the "other" system, running a distant third behind the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation. However, it was the preferred system for many arcade gamers who eagerly anticipated Sega's classic games being ported to the system. Sales of the Saturn would generally spike as new arcade ports were released, then die off shortly thereafter. By the end of 1997, with Sega publicly saying that it would develop a successor, console sales and released games dropped dramatically.
Saturn's failure caused Sega to lose $267.9 million USD and lay off 30% of its workforce.
Despite the successful results of previous Sega consoles in this region, as the Master System and Mega Drive were both the top-selling consoles, the Sega Saturn was launched in Europe in July 1995 to poor results. Releasing just months before the PlayStation, the momentum for Sony's console amongst consumers began to build rapidly, stalling Saturn sales in the region. As a result, the Sega Saturn never enjoyed the success it achieved in Japan or even the post-launch hype that was awarded in North America, leaving the market almost solely in the competition's hands. By the time that the Nintendo 64 hit European shelves in early 1997, the Saturn's sales had long since stagnated.
What support that remained for the Sega Saturn in the UK was bolstered by the successful publication of Sega Saturn Magazine. Although the publication of the magazine technically ran parallel to the last commercially released games, it dedicated the bulk of its pages to reviewing Japanese releases and news relating to the eagerly anticipated Dreamcast. In another marketing blunder, Sega refused to give EMAP, the publisher of Sega Saturn Magazine, the Official Dreamcast Magazine licence in the UK, despite there being a large and extremely loyal fanbase.
The last commercially licensed release in Europe was Deep Fear, distributed by Sega Europe in November 1998. The Saturn, along with all other consoles, was majorly outsold by the Mega Drive.
End of an era
As price drops continued throughout the 32-bit era, the system board design of the Saturn was not as easy to condense in a cost-saving manner, and thus Sega fell behind after Nintendo and Sony reduced their respective consoles' price tags. As a marketing strategy, Sega bundled three of its best selling games (Daytona USA, Virtua Cop, Virtua Fighter 2) with the Saturn in an attempt to keep the more expensive system competitive with its rivals. This was not entirely successful, as gamers preferred to purchase game titles of their own choice instead and turned to the cheaper options yet again.
By early 1997, the Saturn was trailing the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation in both North America and Europe to such an extent that senior management began planning a new platform. By E3 in 1997, talk of the system called the "Katana" had begun, which would later be renamed as the Dreamcast. Sega of America CEO Bernie Stolar, who was strongly in favour of the upcoming console, announced that "the Saturn is not [Sega's] future".
As Sega began public discussion about their next system, barely two years after having launched the Saturn, it ironically became a self-fulfilling prophecy, with some citing it as an example of the Osborne effect. This move, combined with Sega's recent history of short-lived consoles, led to a chain reaction that quickly caused the Saturn's future to collapse. Immediately following the announcement, sales of the console and software substantially tapered off in the second half of 1997, with many planned games being canceled as well. While this allowed Sega to focus on bringing out its successor, the premature demise of the Saturn caused them many financial problems. Even though the Dreamcast did address many of the problems with the Saturn, Sega's bad reputation caused customers and publishers alike to be skeptical and holdout to see how the console would fare against Sony's PlayStation 2 and Nintendo's GameCube.
The aggressive move to replace the Saturn resulted in a rift between Sega and many of their third-party developers and publishers. North American developers were already hostile to the Saturn because it was difficult to program for, along with them being left out by its early release, so the future project alienated what remaining support Sega had in that region. However, many Japanese developers had strongly supported the Saturn in its homeland and saw little reason for Sega to rush another platform to market. The announcement caused a substantial drop in software sales, causing frustrated third parties to cancel many planned releases. The early abandonment of the Saturn hurt third party software support not only for that system, but for Sega as a whole. Several major publishers, such as Electronic Arts, declined to support the upcoming Dreamcast, which played a part in its discontinuation as well.
The games planned to be released in North America or Europe that were canceled included highly anticipated titles such as Sonic X-treme, Policenauts and Lunar: Silver Star Story. A chain reaction of cancellations transformed the 1998 schedule of released games down to a minimum with titles like Steep Slope Sliders, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Burning Rangers, The House of the Dead, Shining Force III (only part one of the three-part series), and Magic Knight Rayearth.
In Japan, Sega licensed the rights to produce the Saturn to their hardware partners. Hitachi provided the CPUs and several other chips while JVC produced the CD drives for most models, although functionally identical Sanyo brand drives were sometimes used. SunSeibu released a model with a 7-CD changer for use in hotels.
|Case color||Console button colors||Button type|
|Gray||Blue||Oval||The original Japanese Saturn, with production being ended in favour of the White Saturn in 1996. This model had a black cartridge flap and came in a box labeled "HST-0001". The power cord is un-notched and this model features a drive access light.|
|1996-97||HST-3220||Light grey||[POWER] / [RESET]: Grey
|Round (most)||This controller was a matching white with multi-colored buttons, similar to a Super Famicom controller, with the bottom row buttons colored green, yellow, and blue. The 'white' plastic is actually a very light grey and shares its color with the later Dreamcast. However, the cartridge flap is visibly grey. Limited models of this Saturn had oval buttons.|
|Translucent smokey-gray||[POWER] / [RESET]: Black
|Round||Included a matching smoky-gray controller, with both the controller and system having "This is cool" printed on them. Only around 50,000 were produced. This model had some compatibility problems, notably with Metal Slug and Space Harrier.|
|Translucent grey-blue||Released on 25 March 1999, this model was only available as part of a promotion with ASCII's popular horse racing sim, Derby Stallion. It came with the same smoky-gray controller as the Skeleton Saturn but did not have "This is cool" printed on the casing. After limited supplies of the Skeleton Saturn, the Derby Saturn was quickly bought in bulk by exporters, becoming easier to find outside Japan than inside. This model shares the compatibility problems of the Skeleton Saturn. This console uses BIOS 1.0.1.|
|Charcoal||Khaki||Oval||This machine appears similar in color to the European and North American Saturn without close inspection. Hi-Saturn is printed on the CD drive lid, with the Hitachi logo appears on the controllers as well. Controllers have the same color layout as the unit with pinkish-beige and dark bluish/gray buttons. The machine was packaged in an almost all-black box with a light-gray/white border. Other than a few limited promotional bundles, the Hi-Saturn came packaged with an MPEG plug-in card which allowed for Video CD playback.
The start-up screen differs slightly from other models; instead of a shower of pieces forming the Saturn logo, the word "Hi-Saturn" shoots out from the middle of the screen then flips around until it is readable.
|Charcoal||[POWER] / [RESET]: Light grey
[OPEN]: Dark grey
|Round||This is the only consumer Saturn to differ in functionality or shape. The console is much thinner and to top is flat instead of curved in order to accommodate a folding LCD monitor that clips to the rear. It includes GPS capability, and has a standard port on the rear for use with an included antenna. Navi-ken CDs are used for map data. Since Navi-ken was only available in Japan, only Japanese maps are available. The aforementioned LCD screen and GPS were not bundled in with the console, and instead had to be purchased seperately.|
[RESET] / [OPEN]: Black
|Oval||Resembles the first Japanese Sega Saturn with oval buttons and access light. "V-Saturn" is printed on top of the machine and this logo is also featured in place of the regular Sega Saturn logo at boot-up.|
|Light grey/Dark grey||[POWER]: Blue
[RESET]: Light blue
|Round||Resembles the Japanese white Saturn with round buttons, though its case is light gray on top with a darker gray base. Features a V-Saturn logo in place of the Sega Saturn logo at boot-up.|
Early North American models came packaged with a redesigned controller that was slightly bigger than the standard Japanese version. Eventually, the Japanese controller was adopted.
|Case color||Console button colors||Button type|
|1995-96||Sega||MK-80000||Black||Oval||Identical to the Grey Japanese Saturn except for the color, with this model being black. A few have been found with both the backend molding of the MK-80000A and the notched power cord while using the 1.00a BIOS version.|
|1996||MK-80000A||Round||Features a notched power cord, no drive access light, and a 1.00a BIOS, along with having the internal jumper locations changed.|
|1996-98||MK-80001||Similar in appearance to the MK-80000A, this machine has some changed internal jumper locations.|
The European and Australian Sega Saturn is identical, as both regions share the same AC voltage and TV standard. There is no internal variation between PAL and SÉCAM machines as all were shipped with SCART leads. All models are black and externally quite similar to the North American variations. PAL and SECAM machines will have "PAL" next to the BIOS revision number on the system settings screen instead of "NTSC".
|Case color||Console button colors||Button type|
|1995-96||Sega||MK-80200-50||Black||Black||Oval||Version 1.01a BIOS.|
|1996||MK-80200A-50||Grey||Round||Lacks a drive access light.|
|Case color||Console button colors||Button type|
|Black||Oval||Intended only for South Korea, this machine combines the older style oval-button shell with the smaller and newer motherboard which normally comes with a round-button shell. The Japanese language option was removed from the setup screen on some models.|
|Case color||Console button colors||Button type|
|1996||180090||Light grey||[POWER] / [RESET]: Grey
|Basically the same as the Japanese White Saturn, HST-3220.|
|1999||180100||Translucent grey-blue||[POWER] / [RESET]: Black
|Almost identical to the Japanese Derby Stallion, HST-0022.|
The Sega Saturn's Japanese software was packaged in a standard CD jewel case with a gold and black spine card featuring the Japanese logo, along with lettering printed vertically. The spine card bears the title of the game to which it is attached. Saturn games re-released under the Saturn Collection label, a sort of "Player's Choice", have a red and white spine card with white lettering, the Saturn Collection logo under that, and the 2,800 yen price featured prominently. Games spanning multiple discs were packaged in diamond case, double CD cases, which are twice as thick as a standard case.
The game manual is included in place of liner notes, and the cover will usually carry a bar similar in appearance to the spine card, along with the game's rating. This liner sometimes had artwork printed on both sides, and a clear CD tray would be used, in place of the black tray that many Saturn games used, in order to see the artwork. Some games that came with thicker instruction manuals were packaged in a slightly thicker variant of the standard jewel case. About 20% of Saturn games used this particular type of case.
In North America, the existing single hinged case design used for Sega CD games was adopted for Sega Saturn titles. The cases incorporate a white spine containing a 30 degree stripe pattern in gray, with white outlined lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". The cover often carried a back insert with information about the game. The manuals included with Saturn games were substantially larger than standard CD's, and as a result had more room for art.
Unfortunately, these cases had several problems:
- Their sheer size made them difficult to store and vulnerable to cracking.
- The mechanism that keeps the cover closed wears out quickly if the cover is opened and closed too much.
- There is enough empty space inside the case that, if the CD comes loose of the case's spindle, it can easily suffer scratching or be shattered during case transportation. Some games, especially ones early in the system's life, came with a foam brick to keep the disc from falling off the spindle. This brick was left out later on to save costs, but an improved spindle design was implemented, which held the discs more securely.
- Because these cases were proprietary for the most part, replacements were difficult to find.
Games packaged with the system (such as Virtua Fighter) or a peripheral (such as NiGHTS Into Dreams...) often came in a standard CD Jewel case.
The European Saturn cases were custom designed and came in two styles: the first was similar to a DVD snap case, being a two-piece clamshell enclosure held together by a single large piece of card that made up both the front and back covers along with spine. The second style was a single-piece plastic case, with a paper insert detailing covers and spine underneath a flexible plastic outer window; the case was similar to a commercial VHS video case, although quite a bit smaller. When the case is opened, the disk rests inside the case to the right of the hinge, while the booklet was placed to the left. Standard art design includes a solid black spine and white lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn".
These cases had several problems:
- The cardboard hinges wore out very quickly.
- The spindles which held the discs in place wore out very quickly, causing discs to move around in the cases in transit and get scratched.
- There was nothing holding the manual in place. With these manuals often being heavy due to having with several languages, it was difficult to close the case without the manual falling out of place.
- The mechanism for closing the cases wore out very quickly and was quite ineffective to begin with.
The cases were redesigned in later years, being made out of plastic with a sleeve insert, much like a DVD keep case. These cases were fairly hard to open, but they were more sturdy and less prone to breaking. Later games were released only in these cases.
The Direct Link, also known as Link Cable, is a device that enables two Sega Saturn consoles to connect to each other for multiplayer gameplay. The device requires two televisions and two copies of the same game.
The Arcade Racer is a steering wheel type of joystick for the Sega Saturn, helpful when playing racing games. Unlike most controllers at that time which were digital, the Arcade Racer is analog. This gives the controller a smoother response. The controller works with a variety of Sega Saturn games including:
- Virtua Racing
- Daytona USA
- Sega Rally Championship
- Sega Touring Car Championship
Utilizing the cartridge slot behind the CD tray, portable storage cards could be inserted to store game information such as high scores and saved game files. This was one of the few accessories for the Sega Saturn to be available to third-party manufacturers.
- This console has the least amount of Sonic titles on it.
- The Saturn was going to have an attachment/sequel console called the "Sega Pluto," but only three prototypes were made.
- From 18 November to 31 December 1996 in the United States, every Sega Saturn console came with three free games included: Virtua Fighter 2, Daytona USA, and Virtua Cop.
- Virtua Fighter 2 is the best selling Sega Saturn game. This is unusual because most of Sega's other consoles had a Sonic game as the best seller.
- The Sega Saturn features a library of over five hundred games.
- The Sega Saturn is featured on the cover of Sonic the Hedgehog #59.
- A CD-based testing program contains an artwork of Sonic and Tails never seen anywhere else.
- Most American Sega Saturn discs can be played in Japanese consoles, but most Japanese games are locked for American and European consoles. Like in the Sega Mega Drive, the use of a switch to replace some jumpers will circumvent the region-lock without changing the language. In addition, the use of certain unlicensed backup/RAM cartridges will also allow a console to play games from different regions, except for games that use proprietary ROM-RAM carts. Games from different television systems may have graphical problems.
- A movie was going to come with the Sega Saturn, but was cancelled.
- This was the first Sega console to not compete with a Nintendo console, but instead with the Sony PlayStation.
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