Useful Notes: Sega Saturn

"Sega Sataan, shiro!"Translation 

The Saturn, Sega's entry into The Fifth Generation of Console Video Games, had been originally been intended to be a 2D multimedia gaming device. Unfortunately, so many things went wrong.

Developers had just gotten excited about polygonal graphics, and Sega realized their next system should have that. The irony is that it was their own Virtua Fighter that got developers excited. The problem was, the original Saturn design had 3D capabilities that were barely any better than those of the 32X, and the rumoured capabilities of the then-upcoming Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 would have left the Saturn eating dirt.

Instead of redesigning the system to make it powerful enough to handle 3D, Sega just slapped on a duplicate Central Processing Unit and a duplicate graphics card. This is retroactively ironic, because CPUs with multiple cores are the norm in video game consoles and PCs today, but having entirely separate units just upped the cost and the complexity of the system. The complex hardware setup prevented most game programmers from exploiting its full processing power, though multiple CPUs were nothing new to veteran arcade game developers like Sega, who also adapted the Saturn hardware into their Titan Video (ST-V) arcade board.

While not ironic, the system was also suffering from a legacy of mismanagement from Sega, particularly a lack of communication between Sega of Japan and Sega of America. Sega of Japan launched the Saturn without telling Sega of America, so Sega of America created the 32X and got everyone on the bandwagon of that, took their money, and then they were told that the Sega Saturn was being released. The 32X was soon abandoned, which pissed Sega's customers off. Now, the 32X customers didn't trust Sega, which led to all the 32X customers not buying the Saturn.

One really weird mismanagement was Sonic Team hearing that the team developing the Sonic X-treme was using the engine Sonic Team made for NiGHTS into Dreams.... Sonic Team complained, and the Sonic X-treme developers had to make their own engine, but that wasn't enough and the game was scrapped. First of all, the creators of Sonic didn't want a developer using their own engine to make a Sonic game. That's ironic. It's also retroactively ironic because these days a developer would have to be crazy to stop a game from using a pre-existing engine.

Another odd bit of mismanagement was hiring Bernie Stolar, fresh from being fired by Sony Computer Entertainment America for his draconian and inconsistent policies, directly into the position of CEO for Sega of America. He then proceeded to start up a "five star game" policy (which basically just allowed him to veto whatever he damn well wanted) and basically took the ax to the Saturn. His policies drove away almost all of the American third party developers, blocked a metric ton of high quality games from being released stateside due to his thinly veiled "no 2D" attitude (again ironic, considering that most of the 2D games were miles above the system's 3D games in terms of presentation and general quality), and downplayed the Saturn as being dead in the water, giving the finger to the relatively small but still sizable fanbase. Once again, this was ironic as in the previous console generation, Sega was considered very friendly, supportive, and open with third-party developers, at least in comparison with its main competitor Nintendo.

From all that, Sega lost about $270 million on the Saturn, and the system sold just 11 million worldwide. It did do well in Japan, mostly thanks to the great advertising campaign involving Segata Sanshiro, a judo master who beat the living crap of everyone who doesn't play Sega Saturn, and has a considerable library there (in Japan, the Saturn was the favorite console of its generation for bishoujo games, in part because Sega was more permissive than Sony or Nintendo about releasing 18-rated games with nudity). Too bad Sega doesn't see the point of localizing them, and porting them to current systems. They would find a great home on the DS, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Virtual Console. And the PC, for that matter.

On the other hand, the relative lack of ports/remakes for Saturn games has made it a must-own Cult Classic system for hardcore retrogamers, especially now that they can easily look up the good games on the Internet. Too bad said games usually don't come cheap.


  • Two Hitachi SH-2 32 Bit RISC CPUs at 28.63 MHz each.
  • Hitachi SH-1 32 bit RISC processor (controlling the CD-ROM)
  • Two 32 bit video display processors running at 7.1590 MHz on NTSC Systems, 6.7116 MHz for PAL Systems).
  • Custom Saturn Control Unit (SCU) with DSP for geometry processing and DMA controller running at 14.3 MHz.
  • Motorola 68EC000 Sound controller running at 11.3 MHz.
  • Sound processor, "Sega Custom Sound Processor" (SCSP), running at 22.6 MHz.
  • Hitachi 4-bit MCU, "System Manager & Peripheral Control" (SMPC). Likely used for handling input devices like the controller ports and the expansion slot.

As can be seen, the system was really processor-heavy. Not a good thing in that day, when developers were just starting to grasp 3D graphics.

  • Each CPU has 4 KB of RAM Cache.
  • 2 MB main RAM, 1.5 MB Video RAM. The Extended RAM Cartridge (released in Japan only) added 1 MB or 4 MB to the main RAM.
  • 512 KB sound memory.
  • 512 KB CD buffer, which helped ensure smooth loading, if not fast loading.
  • 32 KB save memory with the battery backup. A 128 KB or 512 KB memory cart could be added to supplement this.

  • While the system was listed as having 200,000 fully-textured polygons per second, barely half could be done in real-time games. That was still an impressive amount for the time.
  • Unlike virtually every other console ever made, the Saturn used quadrilateral (rectangular) shapes in its 3D rendering, rather than the more traditionally used triangles. While this had some notable advantages (reduced texture warping, etc.), quadrilaterals were nothing short of nightmarish to work with in games, even moreso when you considered how hard it was already to create games for the Saturn. Moreover, it made it impossible to do direct ports of games from the PlayStation and Nintendo 64.
  • Overall, the Saturn could potentially have topped the PlayStation in terms of 3D graphics, but the system didn't last long enough to prove one way or the other.
  • 2D was another story, as the system was built initially with 2D in mind, and save for a few effects, the Saturn was a superior 2D device to the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Too bad it was mainly games in Japan that showed it off, unless it was a Capcom fighting game or a Neo Geo port.

Games originally for the Sega Saturn and/or ST-V include:

Games ported to the Sega Saturn include:


  • Alliterative Title: The full name of the console.
  • Bald Women: One magazine ad features a woman with rings surrounding her denuded scalp. Likewise, the promotional video (see below) starts off with a bald (and nude) lady with rings encircling her head. Considering how shocking the trope can be, it's a good way to attract attention and invoke the image of Saturn.
  • Christmas Rushed: The Sega Saturn release in America was pushed forward in an attempt to get a lead on Sony's (then) new console; the PlayStation. This however backfired as developers weren't told (or weren't told soon enough), leaving pretty much nothing (at least, nothing that also wasn't rushed) to actually play on it until four months later, when it was supposed to launch.
    • Indeed, many retailers were caught by surprise as well: many of them had to scrape by with limited supplies to sell for months, and Sony took advantage of this while preparing for their own launch. In fact, it so angered KB Toys that they actually dropped Sega Saturn from their catalogue altogether.
    • A lot of developers were also turned off, as they had "Saturnday" (September 9) as the target date of completion for their games and were hoping they could get a piece of the inevitable Launch Day Craze.
  • Dada Ad: The initial promotional video for the Saturn, clocking in at 9 minutes, infamous for not making any sense at all.
  • Ghost in the Machine: What seems to be the point of the launch ad, titled "Theater of the Eye", although it wasn't exclusively the mind portrayed. It focuses on how the Sega Saturn will make you weep uncontrollably, lose your hearing, have a nervous breakdown, and also make your bowels move violently. Because that's what you want to happen when you play a game console.
  • Irony: Once the Saturn's American ads finally started advertising it as a gaming system, one of them boasted about how the system had two 32 bit processors while the PlayStation only had one. The irony is that those "two 32 bit processors" made the system far more difficult to develop for and played a major role in third party companies favoring the PS.
  • Meaningful Name: The Sega Saturn's name has two possible meanings:
    • It was Sega's sixth stand-alone home console, following the SG-1000, SG-1000 II, the Sega Mark III, the Master System (Mark IV) and the Mega Drive (Mark V). Saturn is, of course, the sixth planet in the solar system, making it the "Mark VI".
    • It's a reference to other Sega platforms developed after the Genesis with planetary themed codenames, which included the Mercury (Game Gear), Venus (Genesis Nomad), Mars (Genesis 32X) and the unreleased Jupiter (a scrapped prototype to the Saturn). Other scrapped platforms with planetary codenames included the Neptune (a hybrid Genesis/32X console) and the Pluto (an unreleased redesign of the Sega Saturn with a built-in modem adapter).
  • No Export for You: A large quantity of games and peripherals released in Japan only, including the RAM expansion cartridges and their required games (which included arcade perfect ports of X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter).
  • Scapegoat Creator: Bernie Stolar, often blamed for the downfall of the Saturn in America. As you can probably guess...
    • Misblamed: While Stolar is very much responsible for not allowing many games into the west and pushing the Dreamcast to be released, the rest of Sega of America (including whomever was hired to market the system in the U.S., see below) are just as guilty. In addition, by the time Stolar came, the Sega Saturn was already losing the market and most of the games he refused to allow official releases were niche in the US such as Shmups and dating sims. On the other hand, Stolar's vetoing of Eastern RPGs on the console just when Final Fantasy VII was kicking off the JRPG craze in the west and giving sports titles (a genre that was waning in popularity at that time) a free pass instead is said to be one of the main reasons the Saturn failed.
    • Stolar's predecessor Tom Kalinske, who ironically was the man that brought Sega out of the dark ages and into the spotlight, is just as much to blame, as it was he who set off the system's stealth launch - the outcome of which is documented above. Not helping matters was his notoriously smug public persona, which people were rapidly growing tired of.
  • What Were They Selling Again?: The marketing team for the Saturn in the U.S. didn't quite make it well known they were advertising a video game system, let alone the Saturn.