Friday, August 25, 2006


The Sega Saturn is a 32-bit video game console, first released on November 22, 1994 in Japan, May 1995 in North America and July 8, 1995 in Europe. Approximately 170,000 machines were sold the first day of the Japanese launch. 5,000 were sold in the weekend following the United Kingdom launch.

At one time, the Sega Saturn held 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 slowly lost market share to Sony's PlayStation and, outside Japan, the cartridge-based Nintendo 64.

The Japanese Saturn was rushed to the market, just a few weeks ahead of its rival, Sony's PlayStation. This led to very few games being available at launch.

The system was supported in North America and Europe until late 1998, and in Japan until the end of 2000. The last official game for the system, Yukyu Gensokyoku Perpetual Collection, was released by Mediaworks in December that year. Interestingly, a game called Sega Saturn: Lost & Found VOL #1 was released in the US by Older Games in August of 2004 (although it is not playable with a retail, unmodified Saturn).

Sega's 27-member Away Team, comprising employees from every aspect of hardware engineering, product development and marketing, worked exclusively for two years to ensure the Sega Saturn's hardware and design met the precise needs of both the U.S. and Japanese markets. The Saturn was a powerful machine for the time, but its design, with two CPUs and 6 other processors, made harnessing its power extremely difficult. Rumours suggest that the original plan called for a single processor, but a second one was added late in development to increase potential performance.

One very fast central processor would be preferable. I don't think that all programmers have the ability to program two CPUs - most can only get about one-and-a-half times the speed you can get from one SH-2. I think only one out of 100 programmers is good enough to get that kind of speed out of the Saturn.

Third-party development was further hindered by the initial lack of useful software libraries and development tools, requiring developers to write in assembly language to achieve decent performance. Programmers would often utilize only one CPU to simplify development in titles such as Alien Trilogy.

The main disadvantage of the dual CPU architecture was that both processors shared the same bus, and besides 4K of on-chip memory, all data and program code for both CPUs was located in the same shared 2 MB of main memory. This meant that without very careful division of processing, the second CPU would often have to wait while the first CPU was working, reducing its processing ability.

The hardware also lacked light sourcing and hardware video decompression support. Nevertheless, when properly utilized, the dual processors in the Saturn could produce impressive results such as the 1997 ports of Quake and Duke Nukem 3D by Lobotomy Software, and 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.

From a market viewpoint, the architectural design problems of the Saturn meant that it quickly lost third party support to the PlayStation. Unlike the Playstation's use of triangles as its basic geometric primitive, the Saturn rendered quadrilaterals. This proved a hindrance as most industry standard design tools were based around triangles, and multiplatform games were usually developed with triangles and the Playstation's larger market share in mind.

If used correctly the quadrilateral rendering of the Saturn would show less texture distortion than was common on Playstation titles, as demonstrated by several cross-platform titles such as Wipeout and Destruction Derby. The quadrilateral-focussed hardware and a 50% greater amount of video RAM also gave the Saturn an advantage for 2D game engines and attracted many developers of RPGs, arcade games and traditional 2D fighting games. A 4 MB RAM cart, released only in Japan, boosted available memory even further for games such as Capcom's X-Men Vs Street Fighter.

Tomb Raider was originally designed for the Saturn's quadrilateral-based hardware and as a result was incapable of displaying levels containing any triangular parts. This restriction remained in place for most of the 32-bit sequels. In the other hand, the quadrilateral ability allowed the Saturn to render First-person shooter games better than other consoles at the time, games like Quake, Powerslave, Duke Nukem 3D, HeXen. Also, the extra video RAM allowed larger levels than in PlayStation versions.

A true example of the Saturn's capability is widely considered to be the systems version of Shenmue, Yu Suzuki's multi-million dollar project that would eventually find a new home on the Saturn's successor, the Sega Dreamcast. Work on the title is believed to have been fairly complete, and several technical demos and gameplay footage have since been released to the public. The footage displays a system capable of producing fully rendered, entirely 3D locations and characters. The quality of image Suzuki and his team were able to achieve is quite extraordinary considering the Saturn's infamously complicated hardware. Certainly, Shenmue was graphically superior to anything that had been produced on the Saturn before it.

Performance in the North American and European marketplace

The Saturn was launched almost four months ahead of schedule in North America and Europe. This was announced at 1995'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 due to the USD$399 price of the system, versus the announced Playstation launch price of USD$299, and the lack of available software at launch.

In North America, Sega chose to ship Saturn units only to four select retailers which caused a great deal of animosity from unselected companies, including Wal-Mart and KB Toys. Additionally the summer launch broke with the tradition of launching in early fall to coincide with the Christmas shopping season [2]. Sega also struggled against distrust amongst gaming consumers after a series of quickly discontinued add-on peripherals to the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis, including the Sega CD system and the Sega 32X.

Asian models

In Japan Sega licensed the rights to produce Saturns to their hardware partners - Hitachi, who provided the CPUs and several other chips, and JVC who produced the CD drives for most models, although functionally identical Sanyo drives were sometimes used. SunSeibu released a model with a 7-CD changer for use in hotels. The concept of a multi-game player for hotel use is very common in Japan.

Sega HST-3200
Sega Saturn
Sega Skeleton Saturn
Sega Derby Saturn
Hitachi Hi-Saturn
JVC/Victor V-Saturn RG-JX1
JVC/Victor V-Saturn RG-JX2
Samsung Saturn

All North American models are black in color and were produced by Sega.

MK-80000 7/95 - 3/96
MK-80000A 3/96 - 9/96
MK-80001 7/96 - 98

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".


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, 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.

These cases had several problems:

* Their sheer size made them vulnerable to cracking.
* The mechanism that keeps the cover closed wears out quickly if the cover is opened and closed too much
* There is sufficient empty space inside the case that if the CD comes loose of the case's spindle then it can easily suffer scratching or be shattered during case transportation. Some games (especially early in the system's life) came with a foam brick to keep the disc from falling off the spindle.

Games packaged with the system or a peripheral such as Virtua Fighter and NiGHTS Into Dreams often came in a standard CD Jewel case.


* Two Hitachi SuperH-2 7604 32-Bit RISC processors at 28.2 MHz (50-MIPS) - each has 4 kB on-chip cache, of which 2 kB can alternatively be used as directly addressable RAM
* SH-1 32-bit RISC processor (controlling the CD-ROM)
* Custom VDP 1 32-bit video display processor (running at 7.1590 MHz on NTSC Systems, 6.7116 MHz for PAL Systems)
* Custom VDP 2 32-bit video display processor (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
* Motorola 68EC000 sound processor
* Yamaha FH1 DSP sound processor, "Sega Custom Sound Processor" (SCSP)
* Hitachi 4-bit MCU, "System Manager & Peripheral Control" (SMPC)


* 1 MB (8 Megabits) SDRAM
* 1 MB (8 Megabits) DRAM, combined with SDRAM to make the main 2 MB memory area
* 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


* Saturn Custom Sound Processor


* VDP1 32-bit video display processor
* VDP2 32-bit background and scroll plane video display processor


* Saturn double-speed CD-ROM drive


* 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)
* HDTV compatible (optional - never used)


* Saturn digital gamepad (D-pad, Start button, 6 face buttons, 2 triggers)
* Analog gamepad (introduced with NiGHTS Into Dreams)
* "Stunner" lightgun (introduced with Virtua Cop)
* Cobra light gun by Nuby, Also was compatible with non GunCon PlayStation games
* 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
* DirectLink
* Various MPEG cards allowing VCD playback using the Saturn (containing various MPEG video/audio decoder ASICs)
* RAM expansion cartridges (1 MB and 4 MB versions; expands Saturn RAM up to 6.5 MB)
* Backup data Memory Cartridges
* Action Replay/ Game Shark cheat devices

Power source

* 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)

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