Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Sega Saturn (Japanese: セガサターン, Sega Saturn), a video game console of the 32-bit era, was released on November 22 1994, in Japan and May 1995 in the United States; 170,000 machines were sold the first day of the Japanese launch.
At one time, the Sega Saturn had obtained second place in the console wars, placing it above Nintendo's Super Famicom in Japan and Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in North America and Europe, but the Saturn was losing power because of some newcomers: Sony's PlayStation and the cartridge-based Nintendo 64.
The Japanese Saturn was rushed to the market, just a few weeks ahead of its rival, Sony's PlayStation, which led to very few games being available when the Saturn launched.
Sega's Away Team worked for an entire two years exclusively to make certain Sega Saturn was launched with the some of the world's best hardware and software. The 27-member Away Team comprises Sega employees from every aspect of hardware engineering, product development, and marketing. They devoted countless hours, resources, and brain cells into launching Sega Saturn. Their sole mission was to ensure that Sega Saturn's hardware and design met the precise needs of both the U.S. and Japanese markets.
The Saturn design, with two CPUs and 6 other processors, made it difficult to get the maximum performance out of the console. The parallel design was too complex for many game developers. Yuji Naka is rumored to have said "I think only one in 100 programmers are good enough to get that kind of speed out of the Saturn." Third-party development was also hindered by the lack of a useful Software Development Kit. Because of this, many Saturn games needed to be written in assembly language to achieve decent performance on the hardware. Frequently, programmers would only utilize one CPU to avoid some of the trouble in programming for the Saturn.
The main disadvantage of the dual CPU architecture was that both processors shared the same bus and had no dedicated memory of their own beyond a 4K on-chip cache, which could be configured as a 2K cache with 2K local RAM. This meant the second CPU would often have to wait for the first CPU to finish, reducing its processing ability — as all data and program code for both CPUs was located in the same shared 2MB of main memory (DRAM and SDRAM). This unusual design was employed in the Sega 32X as well.
From a development standpoint the architectural design problems of the Saturn meant that it quickly started losing out on third party support to the PlayStation; the main disadvantage of the Sega Saturn compared to the PlayStation was the lack of more flexible and correctly functioning hardware-aided transparency. Later games like Burning Rangers used software emulation to offer transparency effects.
Overall the CPU was very stable and unlike Sony's PlayStation console, Sega Saturn drew less glitches. Although Saturn was rumored to have half the number of texture mapped polygons (200,000 per second) than PlayStation (360,000 per second), the ram for 2D games engine gave it a great advantage in that genre. The Saturn shined for developers of RPG and arcade games. Sega Saturn is regarded as being more reliable and more powerful than the Playstation, but the difficulty in programming the console did not make its strengths obvious.
In May 1995, Sega launched the Saturn in the USA, a full six months ahead of schedule. This was announced at that year's E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) where Sega representatives were engaged in a public relations battle with Sony. This surprise move resulted in very few sales, however. This was due largely to the four hundred dollar price of the system and the lack of available software. Also, Sega chose to ship Saturn units only to selected retailers. This caused a great deal of animosity toward Sega from unselected companies, including Kay-Bee Toys .
There were several aesthetic changes made to the Saturn over the course of its lifetime. The original case design was a bit clumsy and was superseded by an improved one. U.S. and European cases were colored black, and models for the Japan market were white. A number of limited edition consoles in other colors were sold in Japan.
In 1996, a peripheral called the Sega NetLink (a 28.8 kbit/s modem) was released for the Saturn. Meant to be a cheap alternative to browse the web (compared to PCs at the time which retailed for roughly 1,200.00 US) using the console, it failed largely because of the high price and lack of compatible games. As mentioned above web browser was packaged in with the unit, programmed by PlanetWeb , who also programmed the web browser shipped with the Sega Dreamcast. A mouse and keyboard adapter was also made for the Netlink, which can still be used to view web pages with many Internet Service Providers. However, very few units were sold during the Saturn's life in the market.
Some titles used cartridges to increase the Saturn's memory and to avoid long CD load times. King of Fighters '95 and Ultraman utilized their own 1MB ROM cart, each containing their frequently accessed game data to provide instant loading from cartridge rather than from CD. Later, a 1MB RAM (used by SNK and Capcom) and 4MB RAM (only used by Capcom) cartridge were released for use with multiple titles, the majority being 2D fighting games that required many animation frames per character or instant access to multiple unique characters that were highly detailed. All of these cartridges were only available in Japan.
The Saturn was largely a failure in the U.S. market for a variety of reasons. Perhaps first among them was the distrust that gaming consumers were developing for Sega after a series of add-on peripherals to the Sega Genesis that were discontinued after only lukewarm support. Such add-ons included the Sega CD system and the Sega 32X. Because the Saturn had two separate processors 3D development was difficult and took time for developers to understand, as a result. The Sony PlayStation also had many more popular and flashy software titles much earlier in the race than Sega did. Cost was also a factor, with the Saturn initially costing US$400 compared to the PlayStation at US$300. As price drops continued throughout the 32-bit era, the system board design of the Saturn wasn't as easy to redesign in a cost saving manner, as a result Sega fell behind on price drops offered by Nintendo and Sony several times furthering their position behind the pack in North America.
Sega still had a large base of fans in the US and the Saturn was selling well in Japan. While Saturn systems were being outsold by Playstation systems in Japan in 1995-1997. Sega actually sold more software for the Saturn during the same time period. The result was that in Japan the Saturn became the platform of choice for more dedicated gamers while the Playstation had an audience comprised of more casual gamers who bought fewer titles.
Unfortunately, many of the games that made the Saturn so popular in Japan such as the Sakura Taisen series or many of the quirky anime style RPGs that sold well in Japan were never released in the US. Much of the reasoning behind this was due to policies put in place under the management of former Sega of America president Bernie Stolar who believed that RPGs were never to have great commercial success in North America.
After the holiday shopping season in 1996 the Saturn had fallen far behind the Playstation and Nintendo 64 in North America and Europe (while remaining competitive in Japan) and senior management at Sega wanted to produce a new platform get the jump on the next generation of systems ahead of their competitors. The result was that by E3 1997 Sega had already begun talk of the new system code named Katana which would eventually turn into the Dreamcast. As Sega started aggressively moving the Katana project forward it caused something of a rift between Sega and many third party developers. As mentioned before the Saturn was more than holding its own in the Japanese marketplace where the vast majority of game development is based out of. As a result many Japanese developers saw little to no reason for Sega to rush another platform to the market and in the process effectively kill the Saturn which had a large user base and many projects under development.
After another third place turnout during the Holiday season in 1997 a number of third party publishers started cancelling titles, as a result many games planned for a US Saturn release including renowned titles such as Policenauts and Lunar The Silver Star Story. A chain reaction of cancellations rushed through the Saturn market transforming a seemingly promising 1998 schedule of North American releases to a small handful of titles.
Consumers also noticed a change of marketing strategy at Sega of America, which traded the successful rebellious image of the Sega Genesis (for example, the Sega Scream television commercials) for a more conservative attitude. Perhaps most importantly, however, was the fact that Sega's flagship character and mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, never made a particularly major Saturn appearance - an enhanced Genesis port, a racing game and a compilation of his major Genesis adventures were made, but only the racing game was exclusive and it was hardly a major title. In fact, the one truly major title (Sonic Xtreme) wound up being cancelled.
The Saturn had a cartridge slot used for various purposes. Although it was designed primarily for memory cards, various other peripherals would go on to use it (see Peripheral listings below). Unfortunately, the internal pins in the cartridge slot would easily wear down (particularly from third-party cartridges) and the size and depth of the slot varied from various models of the Saturn. Carts would fit fine in one Saturn while needing to forced in on other models. The result was a lot of consumers found it difficult to get cartridges to work consistently.
The Saturn was far more popular than the Sega Megadrive in Japan, while the Sega Genesis, the Megadrive's North American counterpart, enjoyed more success than the Saturn in North America. This was partly due to advertisements with a character named Segata Sanshiro in it. Segata became well known throughout Japan.
A common misconception is that 3D capabilities were added as an afterthought to the Saturn to compete with the Sony PlayStation and later with the Nintendo 64. Its 3D display chip, VDP1, was a logical progression of the well established frame buffer-based sprite rendering hardware implemented in Sega's System 24 and System 32 arcade platforms.
US and Canadian Saturns are nearly the same. Consequently, they are referred to as "North American" or "NA" models.
European and Australian Saturns are identical. It would make sense since the AC voltage and TV standard is the same for both.
Japanese models are self-explanatory.
All Saturns are either NTSC or PAL. There was no SECAM Saturn. The "SECAM" Saturn models released in France were PAL models with a converter.
All NA Saturn models are black in color. There were at least three different subversions were released, and the differences varied, but were generally minor except cosmetic and jumper locations. Model numbers can be ascertained by viewing the back of the Saturn.
- MK-80000 (?): Manufactured from approximately 8/95 to 3/96. Looks very much like the Japanese Gray Saturn except in color.
- MK-80000A: Manufactured from 3/96 to 7/96. It featured a notched power cord, no drive access light, round power and reset buttons, and a 1.00a BIOS. Jumper locations are once again different.
- MK-80001: Manufactured starting 7/96. It's similar in appearance to the MK-8000A model, with difference being the jumper locations.
Gray Japanese Saturn
HST-3200 (in HST-0001 box): The original Japanese Saturn model is virtually identical to the NA first generation model except it is gray in color with blue buttons and the cartridge slot flap is also black in color. Like before, it has the drive access light, and a non-notched power cord. Production was later ended in favor of the White Saturn.
White Japanese Saturn
There are two models of the White Saturn. The first is based off the first generation Saturn with purple buttons, and the second is identical to the second generation with gray buttons. The systems came packed with a matching white controller with multi-colored buttons similar to a Super Famicom controller except only the bottom row buttons are colored green, yellow, and blue respectively. It is also rumored that the White Saturn may have a slightly faster CD access time. The Cartridge slot flap is also gray in color.
"White" Saturns are no more white in reality than Dreamcasts are; both are very light gray.
The Hi-Saturn is yet another early style Saturn but with the MPEG decompression hardware built in, and Hi-Saturn printed on the CD drive lid. It's manufactured by Hitachi, and was supposed to cost less than a White Saturn with an optional MPEG card added in (so, it's a good deal).
The unit is a dark charcoal color. It's not as black in color as the US Saturn but pretty close. You wouldn't think otherwise unless you got really close and examined the hues. Also, the buttons on it are circular, not oval, like subsequent Saturn units. The buttons are a khaki looking color. The machine has a very drab feel to it. The box it comes in is very plain looking almost all black with a light gray/white border.
The start up screen is different as well. Instead of a bunch of pieces forming together, the word "Hi-Saturn" shoots out from the middle of the screen and then flips around till it is readable and then it flashes on screen like other Saturns do.
Controllers have the same color layout as the unit. The buttons are khaki and a gloomy looking blueish/gray. The controllers say Hitachi on them.
MMP-1000NV: "Hi-Saturn Navi". This model has a lower, more square profile, and an add-on LCD monitor for playing games on. The system is completely flat on top and lacks the bulge of the CD drive. Also reportedly included an modem and a GPS receiver (with only Japanese regional software being available). This model intended to be a "portable" system for use in luxury cars though a joint deal with Nissan. In an earlier version of the FAQ, it was stated that NCS sold these models for $1,000 a pop. It is now believed that this was a somewhat misleading statement. NCS ordered the Navi Saturn only once, and in a very limited number. Five total were purchased. Three with the LCD screen and the special navigation software. One was kept in their private collection. Three were sold to other stores and the fifth went to a private customer (who bought one of the complete units). Due to the exceptionally high price, and low interest, NCS never received any more than these five.
Another authorized clone of Saturn. Built by JVC-Victor. There are two versions of this system. The casing is similar to that of any standard Saturn. The colors are different, as is the machine's circuitry, and "V-Saturn" is printed on top of the machine.
RG-JX1: Model with oval buttons. Two toned gray with black as bottom second tone.
RG-JX2: Model with round buttons. Two toned gray with darker gray as bottom color. From inspecting the later version, it is identical in every way to the Sega machine aside from color and markings, to the point one can suspect both are made by the same people, or at minimum are made out of exactly the same parts (all the plastic moldings are identical etc.). The boot-up sequence on a V-Saturn has the polygons form a V-Saturn logo instead of the SegaSaturn logo, of course. The boot-up screen on the second one shows "Ver. 1.01" just as it does on white Saturns have been seen to do...
The "Skeleton Saturns" were among the final Saturn models to be produced in Japan (and the world).
The single unique feature of the first model is the smoky grayish/black "see-through" case, and "This is Cool" printed on the CD drive lid. Other than that, this was basically identical to the second version of the white Saturn. They are a valuable collectors item, albeit rare. In the US they retailed for a little over $200 (even though you could pick up a stock US model for much less). Approximately 50,000 were produced.
HST-0022: blue "Skeleton Saturn" Saturn released on March 25, 1999, in a promotional tie-in with ASCII's Derby Stallion Saturn game (it came with stickers for the game and says something about the game on the box). There is no "This is Cool" printed anywhere on the system, and came with the same smoky gray controller as the other one (no clear blue controller was ever made). The BIOS version is 1.01. Supposedly, it's easier to acquire a blue Skeleton Saturn. Though this may just be because by the time it was released, few people cared anymore. Approximately 20,000 were produced.
Also, reliable sources have stated that the blue Skeleton Saturn will not play the Japanese version of "Space Harrier".
All black. Externally quite similar to the NA models except they naturally run at a 50Hz PAL frequency. Production run model numbers are very similar except they have a 2 in place of the third digit. A US MK-8000A would be an MK-80200A in Europe. The odd exception is the MK-80200-50, which has no US equivalent. Also, EU/AUS machines will have "PAL" next to the BIOS revision number on the system settings screen instead of "NTSC", unless the system has been modified.
There is no SECAM Saturn. The French used the same PAL Saturn as the rest of Europe but with a different RF/SCART adapter.
MK-80200A: Jet black, round buttons. One green power light next to the power switch, large trapezoid like eject button, usual Saturn styling, no air holes in the side casing like some later models. Version 1.01a BIOS.
MK-80200-50: Has the oval buttons, plus the power and access LEDs. Version 1.01a BIOS.
MK-80201: Also unconfirmed.
Japanese Saturn software usually come packaged in standard jewel cases, much like music CDs. They also often came with spinecards. These are three-fold pieces of light cardboard that hug the spine of the jewel case with the shrinkwrap holding it on (they are valuable to collectors, and necessary if one wishes to sell the game "complete". The spinecard also indicates that the CD is for use with a Sega Saturn console - specifically Japanese NTSC systems. There were also "double" CD cases, and a variant of the single case which was slightly thicker and VERY hard to replace.
Most of the time the spinecard will have a gold and black background with the Japanese Saturn logo and lettering printed vertically. Saturn collection games will have red and white spinecard with white lettering, the Saturn Collection logo under that, and the 2,800 yen price featured prominently. Manual is included with the cover seen through the front of the jewel case. The left side of the manual will usually have a bar similar in design to the spinecard. The Japanese rating, if there is one, will be included on the manual front (usually on one of the corners). There is also the insert on the back which may feature artwork or screenshots from the game. A black bar on the bottom of the insert contains information much like the spinecard, licensing information, et cetera.
The North American Saturn game cases were the same as a North American and European SEGA-CD/ Mega-CD case variant, these cases were tall and single hinged, and it is these cases that were used in the North American Saturn cases. The European Saturn cases were custom designed variants of a standard DVD case. The cases were simple in design, and the plastic used was quite thick. When the case is opened the disk rest inside the case to the right of the hinge, while the booklet was placed to the left.
The US case has a white spine containing a 30 degree stripe pattern in gray, with white outlined lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". The European case has a solid black spine, with white lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". The manual slides in the case just like a normal jewel case and there is a back insert with information about the game. The manuals were substantially larger than standard CD manuals, and as a result had bigger pictures and more room for things like art. These cases also had for several downsides:
- Their sheer size made them more vulnerable to cracking.
- The mechanism that keeps the cover closed wears out quickly if the cover is opened and closed too much
- There is too much empty space inside the case. If the CD ever came off the case's spindle on its own (caused by rough handling of the case), the CD ends up being tossed around the inside of the case, causing either huge amount of scratches on the disc from careful handling of the case or shattering the disc from continued rough handling of the case.
|NiGHTS Into Dreams||Saturn Bomberman||Virtua Fighter 2||Virtua Cop 2|
|Sonic Team (1996)||Glams Inc. (1996)||Sega (1996)||Sega (1996)|
|Shining Force III||Marvel Super Heroes vs.|
|Sega Rally||Panzer Dragoon Saga|
|Camelot (1998)||Capcom (1997)||Sega Sports (1995)||Sega (1998)|
- Two Hitachi SuperH-2 7604 32-Bit RISC processors at 28.6MHz (50-MIPS)
- SH-1 32-bit RISC processor (controlling the CD-ROM)
- Custom VDP 1 32-bit video display processor
- Custom VDP 2 32-bit video display processor
- Custom Saturn Control Unit (SCU) with DSP for geometry processing and DMA controller
- Motorola 68EC000 sound processor
- Yamaha FH1 DSP sound processor, "Saturn Custom Sound Processor" (SCSP)
- Hitachi 4-bit MCU, "System Manager & Peripheral Control" (SMPC)
- 1MB (8 Megabits) SDRAM
- 1MB (8 Megabits) DRAM
- 512KB (4 Megabits) VDP1 video RAM
- 256KBx2 (2x2 Megabits) VDP1 framebuffer RAM
- 512KB (4 Megabits) VDP2 video RAM
- 4K VDP2 on-chip color RAM
- 512KB (4 Megabits) audio RAM
- 512KB (4 Megabits) CD-ROM cache
- 32KB nonvolatile RAM (battery backup)
- 512KB (4 Megabits) BIOS ROM
- Two 7-bit bidirectional parallel I/O ports
- High-speed serial communications port (Both SH2 SCI channels and SCSP MIDI)
- Cartridge connector
- Internal expansion port for MPEG adapter card
- Composite video/stereo (standard)
- NTSC/PAL RF (optional)
- S-Video compatible (optional)
- RGB compatible (optional)
- EDTV compatible (optional)
- Saturn digital gamepad (8-way pad, 6 buttons)
- Analog gamepad (introduced with NiGHTS Into Dreams)
- "Stunner" lightgun (introduced with Virtua Cop)
- Multitap (up to 10 players)
- Sega NetLink
- Netlink PS/2 Keyboard Adapter (for use with Netlink modem)
- 1.44 MB 3.5" disk drive (interfaces with serial port, supported by only a few games)
- Arcade Racer Joystick
- Various MPEG cards allowing VCD playback using the Saturn
- RAM expansion cartridges
- Backup data Memory Cartridges
- Action Replay/ Game Shark cheat devices
- AC120 volts; 60 Hz (US)
- AC240 volts; 50 Hz (EU)
- AC100 volts; 60 Hz (JP)
- 3 volt lithium battery to power non-volatile RAM and SMPC internal real-time clock
- Power Consumption: 25 W
Dimensions (US/European model)
- Width: 260 mm (10.2 in)
- Length: 230 mm (9.0 in)
- Height: 83 mm (3.2 in)
- A second release of the Sega Saturn was planned for North America. Like the Genesis 3, Majesco planned to release it but cancelled plans due to lack of retail interest.
- Radiant Silvergun, a title released in 1998 by Treasure, is considered by many as the best shooter of all time.
- Panzer Dragoon Saga, which came on 4 CDs sold out immediately upon its US release and has since become one of the most collectable domestically released games ever.
- NiGHTS Into Dreams, a title released in 1996 by Sonic Team, is considered by many to be one of the groundbreaking titles in the 2.5D Genre
VDP1 transparency rendering quirk causes strips of pixels to be rewritten to framebuffer for 2-point (scaled) and 4-point (quadrangle) "sprites", applying the transparency effect multiple times. Rarely seen in commercial games (Robotica explosions), later titles implemented software transparency to correctly render polygons (Dural in Virtua Fighter Kids ).
- Console Database - Sega Saturn info.
- Dave's Sega Saturn Page - Famous fansite that was extremely popular during the Saturn's heyday.
- SegaFans - Sega Saturn commercial featuring Segata Sanshiro, reviews, and other resources.
- Sega Saturn Magazine - Reviews featuring a large amount of screenshots and editorials.
- Sonic the Hedgehog Information Treasury - Open database focusing on Sonic the Hedgehog and the software and hardware, including the Sega Saturn, that the games are powered on.
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