| CPU = 2 x Hitachi SH-2 32-bit RISC (28.6 MHz) | GPU = VDP1 & VDP2 | media = CD-ROM, CD+G | modem = 2400 bauds modem | storage=Internal RAM, cartridge | onlineservice = Sega NetLink | unitssold = | topgame = Virtua Fighter 2 (1.7 million in Japan) | predecessor = Sega Mega Drive/Genesis | successor = Dreamcast }} The is a 32-bit video game console that was first released on November 22 1994 in Japan, May 11 1995 in North America, and July 8 1995 in Europe. The system was supported in North America and Europe until late 1998, and in Japan until the end of 2000.
According to the 2006 book Invisible Engines: How Software Platforms Drive Innovation and Transform Industries by David S. Evans, Andrei Hagiu, and Richard Schmalensee, the Saturn had sold 17 million units; however, according to a July 2007 GamePro article, the Saturn had sold 9.5 million units.
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. At least during early Saturn 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. One such case was 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 parallelizing 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 because 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. Two different RAM cartridges were released for the system; a 1 MB RAM cart by SNK for King of Fighters '96 and a 4 MB 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.
Many of the games that made the Saturn popular in Japan, such as the Sakura Taisen series and numerous quirky anime style RPGs, were never released in foreign territories due to policies put in place by then Sega of America president Bernie Stolar. Some suggested that Stolar was taking orders from Sega of Japan's CEO Hayao Nakayama, who believed that RPGs (or even most Japanese games in general) were not appealing to the North American audience.
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 (May 11, 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.
However, the "surprise attack" launch backfired on Sega for several reasons. The Saturn was released at a high price point of US$399, while Sony announced a US$299 price for the PlayStation at E3 itself, as a response to the Saturn's earlier release.
The early launch also meant that the Saturn 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 as many successful Japanese titles were not 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, with some retaliating by supporting Sega's rivals. This resulted in Sega having difficulties with these distributors for the Saturn (and also for its successor, the Dreamcast). As an example: the leadership within KB Toys were so angered by Sega's actions that they refused to release the Saturn at all and even actually going as far as having some retailers removing anything Sega-related in stores, providing more retail space in many American shopping malls for the Saturn's competition instead.
By the time of the PlayStation's release on September 9 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 arcade 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, later known as the Dreamcast, console sales and released games dropped dramatically.
Saturn's failure caused Sega to lose US$267.9 million and layoff 30% of its workforce.
The last commercial licensed release in Europe was Deep Fear, released by Sega Europe in November 1998.
However, support 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 a large and extremely loyal fanbase.
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 and, by E3 in 1997, had begun talk of the system called the Katana (which would later be named the Sega Dreamcast). Sega America President Bernie Stolar, who was strongly in favour of the upcoming console, announced "The Saturn is not our (SEGA's) future".
As Sega began public discussion about their next generation system, barely two years after having launched the Saturn, it ironically became a self-fulfilling prophecy, some citing it as an example of the Osborne effect. This move, combined with Sega's recent history of short-lived consoles, particularly the Mega CD and 32X which were considered ill-conceived "stopgaps" that turned off gamers and developers alike, 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, while many planned games were canceled, causing the console's life expectancy to shorten substantially. While this let Sega focus on bringing out its successor, premature demise of the Saturn caused them financial problems. Even though the Dreamcast did address many of the problems with the Saturn, Sega's bad reputation caused customers and publishers to be skeptical and holdout to see how it would fare against Sony's PlayStation 2.
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, and because they were 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 also for Sega in general. Several major publishers such as Electronic Arts declined to support the upcoming Dreamcast, which played a part in its discontinuation as well.
Among the games planned to be released in North America or Europe that were canceled including 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.
The Saturn was discontinued in both Europe and North America in late 1998, far earlier than the typical 5-year life cycle of most video game consoles.
|Manufacturer & Model||Case Color||Button Color||Type of Buttons||Notes|
|Sega HST-3200||Gray||Blue||Oval||The original Japanese Saturn. Production was ended in favour of the White Saturn. This model had a black cartridge flap and came in a box labeled HST-0001. The power cord is un-notched and this machine has a drive access light.|
|Sega||White||Gray/Pink||Round/oval||Sega switched from blue to gray & pink buttons during the production run. 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 a very light gray and shares its color with the later Dreamcast. The cartridge flap is visibly gray. Limited models of the Saturn had oval buttons.|
|Sega Skeleton Saturn||Translucent smokey-gray||-||-||Included a matching smoky-gray controller. Both controller and system had "This is cool" printed on them. Only around 50,000 were produced. Has some compatibility problems, notably with Metal Slug and Space Harrier.|
|Sega Derby Saturn||Translucent blue||-||-||Released on March 25 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 system. After limited supplies of the Skeleton Saturn, the Derby Saturn was quickly bought in bulk by exporters and for a time was easier to find outside Japan than inside. Shares the compatibility problems of the Skeleton Saturn. Uses BIOS 1.0.1.|
|Hitachi Hi-Saturn||Charcoal||Khaki||Round||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. Controllers have the same color layout as the unit with pinkish-beige and dark bluish/gray buttons. The Hitachi logo appears on them. The machine was packaged in an almost all-black box with a light-gray/white border. Excepting some limited promotional bundles, the Hi-Saturn came packaged with an MPEG plug-in card allowing 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 and then flips around until it is readable.|
|Hitachi Hi-Saturn Navi (MMP-1000NV)||Charcoal||Khaki||Round||This is the only consumer Saturn to differ in functionality or shape. It is much thinner, and is flat instead of curved on top, 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.|
|JVC/Victor V-Saturn RG-JX1||Gray||Blue/Gray||Oval||Resembles the first Japanese Sega Saturn with oval buttons and access light. "V-Saturn" is printed on top of the machine. Features a V-Saturn logo in place of the Sega Saturn logo at boot-up.|
|JVC/Victor V-Saturn RG-JX2||Light Gray/Dark Gray||Blue/Green/Pink||Round||Resembles the white Japanese Sega Saturn with round buttons. 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.|
| Samsung Saturn|
|Black||-||Oval||Intended only for South Korea, this machine combines the older style oval-button shell with the smaller and newer mainboard which normally comes with a round-button shell. The Japanese language option was removed from the setup screen on some models.|
|Model||Type of Buttons||Manufacturing Period||Notes|
|MK-80000||Oval||6/95 – 3/96||Identical to the Grey Japanese Saturn except for color: the U.S. model is black. A few have been found with the backend molding of the MK-80000A and the notched power cord. It hasn't been determined what bios these really are.|
|MK-80000A||Round||3/96 – 9/96||Features a notched power cord, no drive access light and a 1.00a BIOS. Internal jumper locations are changed.|
|MK-80001||Round||7/96 – 98||Similar in appearance to the MK-80000A, this machine has some changed internal jumper locations.|
Early models came packaged with a redesigned controller that was slightly bigger than the Japanese variant. Eventually the Japanese controller was adopted.
European and Australian Saturns are 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".
|Model||Type of Buttons||Notes|
|MK-80200-50||Oval||Version 1.01a BIOS.|
|MK-80200A-50||Round||Lacks a drive access LED. Buttons are grey.|
The game manual is included in place of liner notes, and the cover will usually carry a bar similar in appearance to the spinecard, along with the Japanese rating, if there is one. The back liner usually features artwork or screenshots from the game and a black bar at the bottom containing necessary legal information, such as copyright notices. 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 non-standard, slightly thicker variant of the standard jewel case. Only about 20% of Saturn games used this particular type of case. The game Super Robot Wars F (a Japanese-only game produced by Banpresto) comes with this special jewel case, which is approximately 1 mm thicker, necessitated by its 54-page manual. Langrisser 3 and Riglord Saga 2 also used a similar case for the same reason.
In North America, the existing tall, single hinged case design used for Sega CD games was adopted for Saturn titles. The cases incorporate a white spine containing a 30 degree stripe pattern in gray (although this pattern was not used with later games), with white outlined lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". The manual slides into the case in the same manner as the liner notes in a normal jewel case, and the cover often carries a back insert with information about the game. The manuals were substantially larger than standard CD manuals, and as a result had more room for art. Games spanning multiple discs had special inserts to accommodate the extra discs; two-disc games had an extra plastic tray that slotted into the front half of the case to hold the extra disc, and three-to-four disc games had the extra discs packaged in paper sleeves specially cut to fit into the case.
These cases had several problems:
The European Saturn cases were custom designed and similar to a DVD case, composed of either a two piece clamshell enclosure held together by a single large piece of card comprising both the front and back covers and spine, or a single-piece plastic case with a paper insert detailing covers and spine underneath a flexible plastic outer window similar to a commercial VHS video case except in dimensions. Some titles, notably those from Electronic Arts, featured an extended deeper version of the VHS style case.
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 cases were redesigned closer to the end of the life of the console in Europe in later years, with a plastic case and a sleeve insert, much like a DVD case, the games cases were fairly hard to open but more sturdy and less prone to breaking, the later games were all released in these cases and some earlier games were released both in this case and the older one, like Athlete Kings and Sega Rally.
While the Saturn is capable of VGA (progressive/non-interlaced) video, no software ever used this mode and the system cannot force software to run in this mode. Some development systems had VGA ports, but no consumer units ever offered this or other high-res functionality.
Another technique developed for pseudo-hardware transparency was to rasterize polygons using one or two pixel tall sprites with transparency enabled to fill in horizontal spans. Because 2 of the 4 quadrangle points were identical, there was no framebuffer rewrite during rendering.
The Linux kernel contains code specifically designed for the Saturn; it is unclear if this effort was ever completed.
There were some titles that could be played on both U.S. and Japanese consoles. Street Fighter Alpha 2 was one of the titles that could be played on both regions systems without a converter. Scud: The Disposable Assassin, which was only released in the US, was compatible with both European and Japanese Saturns, in addition to US Saturns. It is one of the very few region-free Sega Saturn games.
In 1996, Sega started a marketing campaign that featured a naked woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. It used screenshots from the games to cover her breasts and pubic area. It was very successful, and EGM selected the campaign as the best ad during the 1997 Buyer's Guide.
For a time, Sega mailed out videotapes containing an infomercial advertising its system to potential customers. It ran roughly eight minutes long and featured gameplay footage and a collection of Saturn commercials. It has become somewhat infamous for its bizarre content (a bald woman with a ring around her head, a dancing slacker, etc).
A device resembling a Saturn appears briefly in Neon Genesis Evangelion episode 23, with a Sega-badged TV. Sega was a sponsor of the program and the movies, but it is unclear why it was not featured more often or more prominently.
A Sega Saturn can be seen in the movies, Mallrats, First Kid, and Dead man on Campus.
One of the more infamous marketing techniques used by Sega to promote the Sega Saturn was Mr. Segata Sanshiro - a man who devoted his life to the way of gaming. He would discipline himself to true power and then discipline those who did not play the Sega Saturn. His famous catch phrase is "Play the Sega Saturn!" Although his way of promoting the Sega Saturn could be conceived as quite sinister, he was received with critical acclaim in Japan. His reign did not reach any country other than Japan, however.
The Sega Saturn was also prominently featured atop Drew Carey's TV in The Drew Carey Show for some time, even after its discontinuation. Eventually, in Season 6, it was replaced with a Sega Dreamcast.
In Shenmue for the Sega Dreamcast, a Sega Saturn can be seen in Ryo's TV Room in his house. You can come back at a later time in the game to play it. It is humorous to note that the Saturn would not actually be released for another 8 years after Shenmue takes place. It may, however, be a subtle nod to the fact that the game began development on the Saturn.
In "Choukou Senshi Changerion" the main character owned a Sega Saturn that was prominently displayed on top of his tv, this was done also because the toys and show were sponsored by Sega.