Sega's much maligned 32 bit games console, the Saturn came out a little before Sony's Playstation. Crushed by Sony's superior marketing, and largely ignored by consumers who had been stung by Sega's poor support for their Mega-CD and 32X expansions for the Megadrive (AKA Genesis), the Saturn is widely considered to have been a failure.

However, the Saturn boasts a number of excellent games, personal favourites being NiGHTS into Dreams, Sega Rally and Saturn Bomberman. The Saturn was also the first console to boast a Tomb Raider game. It was marketing and lack of third-party support that killed the Saturn, and not technical inferiority.

Until the arrival of the Dreamcast, the Saturn remained the platform of choice for sprite-heavy 2D fighting games, with their strong following in Japan -- at least for those who could not afford a Neo-Geo.

Sega's 32-bit system that was a failure for many reasons.
The only thing preventing it from being a complete failure is Sega's extraordinary first party development teams and arcade ports.
You could probably find a Saturn exremely cheap these days. Snag it while you can, there are some GREAT games for the system!


Why it failed

I payed a lot of attention to the Saturn, trying to figure out why it failed, and I think the best answer, in the end, was the lack of third party support. The Sega CD and 32X certainly hurt Sega as well, and perhaps without an already doubting public the Saturn would have achieved the necessary third party support. Why didn't it though?

The Sega Saturn is actually, from everything I've read, even PSX fans, technically superior to the Playstation. The Saturn actually has TWO chips, each only a bit slower than the Playstation's single chip. This made the Saturn hard as hell to program for. Yu Suzuki and Sega's first party development teams did some amazing things with the system, but no third party developers thought it was worth the time to code specially for the Saturn.
The Playstation on the other hand was extremely easy to publish games to alongside the PC. The PSX has a huge library of fast cheap mass-market games with no inherent value besides marketability. Why take a lot of extra coding time to reach the Saturn's small user base when a game can be published simultaneously to the PSX and PC with ease?

Why was Saturn's user base small? No third party games! Why no third party games? User base is too small to warrant the extra time! Vicious cycle eh? ::sigh::

Sega learned well from this. Thats why the Dreamcast can actually run Windows CE: there is now no reason for game publishers not to port to the Dreamcast.
Some tech specs:
  • CPU: 2 x Hitachi SH-2 @28.6 MHz, 25 MIPS
  • APU: Motorola 68EC00 @ 22.6 MHz
  • DSP: Yamaha FH-1 @ 11.3 MHz (FM, PCM, 32 voices)
  • RAM: 2 MB SDRAM
  • VRAM: 1.5 MB SDRAM
  • SRAM: 512 kB
  • CD Buffer: 512 kB
  • ROM: 512 kB
  • CD Controller: Hitachi SH-1
  • CD-ROM: 2x JVC mechanism, 320 kB/sec transfer rate
  • Playfields: 5 background, 2 rotation
  • Resolution: 352 x 224, 640 x 224
  • Colours: 24 bit palette, 32 000 onscreen
  • Dual frame buffer
  • MPEG Interface
  • Cartridge Slot
  • Battery Backup (32K)

The Saturn may not have Gunhed, or R-Type, but if you want a system with a lot of shoot 'em ups, I'd say it's easily on par with the PC Engine. Examples: Radiant Silvergun, Soukyugurentai, Shienryu, Donpachi, Dodonpachi, Strikers 1945 (& II), Thunderforce V, Thunderforce Goldpack 1 & 2, Sexy Parodius, The Game Paradise, Silhouette Mirage, Assault Suits Leynos 2, Batsugun, Battle Garegga, Arcade Gears: X-Multiply and Image Fight, Arcade Gears: Gun Frontier, Layer Section, and lots more. Just leave some for me! :)

The other thing the Saturn is famous for (asside from Sega games of course) is the near perfect conversions it recieved of SNK and Capcom's arcade games; particularly near the end of it's life-span, when they took advantage of the 1 and 4 megabyte memory upgrades. Some of the SNK stuff: Metal Slug (1M), King of Fighters '95 (ROM cartridge), '96 (1M), and '97 (1M), Real Bout Garoudensetsu Special (4M). Some of the Capcom stuff: Marvel Superheroes (1M), X-Men Vs Streetfighter (4M), Vampire Savior (4M), Pocket Fighter (4M), Street Fighter Zero 3 (4M), Capcom Generations 1-5.

And if you want some RPGs, I recommend you check out Dark Savior, Shining the Holy Ark, Shining Force 3, and Panzer Dragoon Saga (if you're ever lucky enough to find a copy that is).

The Sega Saturn failed because of a lack of advertising, early rush to market (being first isn't always the best), and poor relations with Kay Bee Toy Stores, who felt snubbed by being left out of the initial console ship date. Sony also played aggressively by making exclusive contracts with game publishers to not develop or distribute games for the Sega Saturn in the US. Eventually, the Sony Playstation eroded enough of the US market away from Sega to eclipse Sega's efforts to turn the console around. The Saturn did very well in Japan, however, leaving many Saturn owners wondering exactly what the hell happened on this side of the pond. Many very good games never made it over to these shores, while others were delayed heavily. Another classic example of two divisions not agreeing on how to handle a product.

Although the Saturn was a flop, like many of its owners, SluggoSlacker loves his Saturn. Many of the games were top notch, though it never had a killer app. Still, it was many's first choice, over the Playstation and N64.

Sega was the only of the 32-bit/64-bit generation to offer an internet connection, the Net Link, which plugged into the system's cartridge slot. At least 2 dozen games came out utilizing this feature before its demise.

But the biggest feature that SluggoSlacker liked the best was its 512k in system memory, meaning that the user didn't have to own a memory cartridge to save their games.

The SEGA Saturn was an Incredibly successfull videogame console - that is, if you hold quality over quantity. Sony may have sold more units - 50 million playstations to the Saturn's 3 million - but a lot of what can only honestly be called crap passed by the saturn. (you know, those worthless $10 "games" a couple publishers shovel upon us)

I have owned a SEGA Saturn for over a year now, and it gets far more play from me than my playstation. some of its better games not already mentioned are:

Sonic R
Robopit
Grid Runner
Blast Chamber
Darius Gaiden
Baku Baku
Bust a Move 2
Shining Force 3
Legend of Oasis
Virtual On

I'd just like to point out that, IMHO, the Saturn had the coolest CD player in any console, ever. It has pitch adjustment, speed adjustment, and, if my memory serves me right, it also has a remove voices effect. Not to mention the little space ship that flew around behind all of this in 3d, plus the areas of the interface that thump to the beat.

Why on earth Sega didn't put this stuff on the Dreamcast's cd player (who's nifty-ist feature is a rippling 3d wave background) is beyond my comprehension...

The complete list of games released in the United States for the Sega Saturn. Many more games were released in Japan, but many of them were never released in the US. The list of publishers is not complete and being worked on, /msg me with any updates, or games missing from the list.

The Sega Saturn's demise can be traced at least partially to the difficulty of programming the system. While it had two SH-2 CPUs, writing code to utilize both of them was non-trivial at best and exasperating at worst. Developers described the system as a pile of chips on a board; You could do anything with it, but the burden of figuring out how was your own. As a result, most systems make poor use of the second CPU. By comparison the Playstation has a single MIPS R3000 CPU (fabbed by LSI Logic.) While the unit clearly has less CPU power (though the R3000 is a more fully-developed core than the SH-2, which doesn't even have a floating point unit) the playstation is easier to write game software for. The Playstation also had sound hardware which could be played essentially like a MIDI device with loadable voices, a feature much-desired and appreciated by game developers at the time.

Another technical barrier to acceptance came from the lack of a transparency unit in the Saturn's graphics system. Any transparency effects had to be carried out in software, which was a common use of the second CPU. Unfortunately, transparency effects done in this way were still inferior to those carried out by the Sony Playstation (PSX) at the time. The Saturn will do 2D hardware transparency in the same style as a GIF image, which is to say some color (or mask) will be replaced with whatever it is displayed over. You can use this to do fast screen-door transparency in software, an effect seen (For example) on the Saturn port of Daytona USA. (This title is ideal for pointing out the Saturn's use and behavior because it was included with nearly all Saturn systems.)

Sega put good graphics hardware in the successor system, Dreamcast, but overcorrected on the lack of development tools by choosing Windows CE (WinCE) as the primary development platform. Developers did not see CE as much of a choice, and primarily avoided it. Many WinCE games were bad (and unstable) ports of Windows games which flopped badly, all of which led to the eventual demise of Sega as a console game manufacturer.

The sega saturn was special (especially for its time) in terms of capabilities and capacities. It has nearly twice the ram of the playstation, internal memory with a battery backup (Using the standard CR2032 lithium cell), an expansion slot which could be fitted with a Video CD player, and the ability to play CD+G discs (for karaoke.) The system supported two controller multitaps for a maximum of twelve controllers supported simultaneously, though the only title I am aware of which uses more than four is Saturn Bomberman which uses ten, either on two of the six-port standard multitaps or a single custom multitap intended to look like Bomberman's head. The unit had both a double-speed (300kBps) CD-ROM drive suitable for playing VideoCD, but also a cartridge slot in the top of the unit which was used for cheat code carts (like the game shark and action replay), save game memory (both directly accessed and memory you could use when not in a game to back up your save files in the internal memory), and as a 4MB RAM expansion for a couple of games. We have seen only one console system with a memory expansion since, the Nintendo 64. It in fact also used a 4MB RAM expansion, though it uses RDRAM rather than ordinary DRAM. In addition, one game (Marvel vs. Capcom 2?) used the slot as a ROM expansion, to hold the game sprites for faster access than getting them from the CD.

In addition, the original controller used was much like the genesis fighter controller (six buttons) plus two digital triggers. The saturn later got a "3D Control Pad" which had six buttons, two analog triggers, a gamepad, and an analog "joystick" which looked like a ball with a bite taken out of the top into which you placed your thumb. Interestingly enough when Sega made the Dreamcast they deleted two buttons from the layout but the controller is otherwise similar.

The Saturn still has a strong cult following in the US even though it did very poorly here due to the paucity of games, leading to the eventual death of the platform (See above.) Some of the games with the highest hype-to-players ratio are on this platform, including Virtual On (complete with optional twin stick controller), Saturn Bomberman (possibly the culmination of the series, and it certainly supports the most players), Dragon Force which is a fantastic and deep fantasy RPG, Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble 2, 2X and 3, possibly the best examples of that series, and many more. It was also the home to many excellent true-to-arcade ports of fighting games including the Street Fighter series (On Street Fighter 2 Collection), Marvel vs. Capcom, and others. Until very recently, even in 2000 or perhaps 2001, Japanese developers were still making new titles for the Saturn.

The Saturn can be modded much like other consoles, removing copy protection features. Unlike other systems which require only one chip, generally a small and simple microcontroller, Saturn protection mods are actually a small PC Board which plugs into a socket on the motherboard and has a socket on it to take the flexible circuit which it displaces. The games can then be copied as if they were any other CD. Saturn games generally consist of one ISO9660 "Yellow Book" track, and one or more CDDA "Red Book" tracks. Unfortunately for those who would play copied games on the Saturn, few types of recordable CD are readable by the Saturn's antiquated laser unit; The older blue CDs generally work, but the newer green ones do not.

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