by Dark Watcher
In development for 2 to 3 years by Sega of Japan, the project known merely as GigaDrive (a word play for a more powerful
began with a goal of being the most powerful 2D console to date with 3D capability based on their arcade Model 1 hardware.
Initially the goal was to surpass another CD-based console called the 3DO. In November of 1993, technical specs for 32-bit CD-based console by Sony had surfaced. Not being pleased with the projects 3D capability (compared to Sony's), Sega of Japan's engineers scrambled to improve on the design.
Using planet-naming conventions used for their other projects (like Mars and Neptune), the new console was called the Sega Saturn. It was released in Japan on November 22, 1994 and was an immediate success. Sega had finally made a serious mark in Japan by even surpassing their long-term rival Nintendo (Sega consoles were more successful in the US markets in the past). They would however have to face a new contender to the market.
Sony finally released the PlayStation and used their financial
stability (deep ass pockets) to produce a strong marketing campaign, garner the attention of third party developers and purchase
exclusive rights to game titles. Sony ambitiously cornered popular game genres in Japan, but Sega countered with impressive 2D
shooters, fighting games and hentai titles (those Japanese...hahaha). The Saturn still sold remarkably well and they set their eyes
on other markets.
The original scheduled release for the US Saturn was supposed to be "Saturnday", September 2, 1995. However with the Sony PlayStation US premier looming over the horizon, Sega chose to release their console four months sooner (May 11, 1995). They got the jump on the market that they needed, but caught developers off guard. The console was released with a high $399 price tag, but unfortunately without many third party software titles.
Even after the stinging failure of the 32X, the Saturn still managed to sell pretty well initially. However, the Sony PlayStation was eventually released for $100 cheaper and eventually took over the US market. The Saturn failed to capture the success it garnered in Japan. So what happened?
The Saturn boasted an amazing amount of processors including its dual Hitachi CPU processors. However, this caused problems in game development. Apparently the two CPUs did not run in tandem and could not access memory at the same time. This complexity either caused developers to shy away from the Saturn or develop games in a manner that didn't fully utilize the systems capabilities (third party developers initially designed games only using a single processor). Eventually developers found away around Saturn's complexity, but not soon enough.
Another contributing factor to Saturn's struggle in America was Sega of America's management. The mishandling and eventual abandonment
of 32X had already damaged their credibility. The early release left some retail stores without Saturn stock and the initial high
price did not help sales. Also, Sega of America did a piss poor job of advertising its console. They also made the mistake of not
bringing many quality Japanese Saturn game titles over to the United States. Eventually the market grew more hostile with the release
of the Nintendo 64 'next-gen' system.
The Saturn may not have done well in the American market, but in Japan the system was a hot item. The console saw amazing game titles, which also became hot imports in America and Europe. The hardware specs were also licensed out to component manufacturers allowing them the ability to build their own model Saturns and spread the console out further. These models were available in Japan only.
All in all the Saturn was an amazing console that produced beautiful 2D gaming and brilliant 3D titles toward the end of its life cycle. The system was supported in the US until 1998 and in Japan until 2000.
FACT: One of the more innovative concepts of the Saturn was the cartridge slot. The slot itself was not meant for gaming, but could be used in a variety of ways. The more common uses were for an external memory cart for save game portability and for cheat devices such as the 'Game Shark'. However the slot was also used for Sega Netlink. This was a 28.8k modem built in a cart that could be used to access the web, check email, and even play someone online who also has Netlink. Another use that was never seen outside of Japan were RAM carts. These carts provided the Saturn with up to 4Mb additional RAM for better and more fluid sprite animation in certain select games. Goes to show some of the things we missed out on in America.