Sega Saturn European and US Logo Sega Saturn - Jap Model

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Virtua Fighter

Virtua Fighter 2

Space Harrier (Sega Ages)

Panzer Dragoon

Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei

Sonic 3D

Sonic R

Sonic Jam

The Saturn was Segas full 32-Bit console developed by Sega of Japan. The much hyped console was in part responsible for killing Segas earlier 32-Bit venture, the 32X and was to be the most powerful 32-Bit system available to the home user. Indeed, the Saturn is a very powerful piece of kit, but with power came complexity which proved too difficult for third party developers. With the advent of the Playstation the Saturn bombed in the western markets yet bizarrely being Segas breakthrough machine in Japan.

Unfortunately the very company behind the system would be in part responsible for the downfall of the console as well as some nasty tricks from the competition prematurely killing a real 32-BIT heavy weight.

The origins of the Saturn project dates back as far as the Mega Drive. Sega had in fact put this project on hold because of their initial venture into the realm of games on CDROMS would pan out. This was of course the Mega CD where some valuable lessons were learned. At a price.

The Saturn went through many design iterations whilst in development. At least 3 by all accounts. Initially it was to be a sprite scaling powerhouse designed to be the best 2D experience. This design was very close to the System32 arcade board Sega already had. When the proposed specs for the Playstation became available it was compared to Saturn and thus the system was redesigned to match anything that Playstation had.

The new designed Saturn would be a dual processor affair, coupled with dual VDPs amongst other processors which then made the system capable of creating 3D games. This in turn made the Saturns chipset costly to produce.

Developers had problems writing games for the Saturn. Whilst for the most part it was what programmers wanted, that is, a machine were each part could be programmed to perform a specific task, unless you had some real experience in writing games it was difficult to code for because the hardware was complex. It is estimated that only 1 in 100 programmers really knew how to tap into the power of the Saturn.

Sega also had a few Saturn programming difficulties at first but AM2, the department responsible for the Virtua Series, developed the Sega Graphics Library designed for the purpose of creating 3D games for the Saturn. This then allowed for the production of games to be quicker and easier although still relatively difficult.

Ultimately the Saturn lost the 32-BIT wars not long after they started. The high price of the console made consumers consider the Playstation and as 3rd party developers were finding difficulties in making games they opted for the Playstation and thus the Saturn did not build up a good game library very quickly. Despite these points, the Saturn has some of the best console games ever thanks mostly to Sega themselves and Capcom who bought some of their best arcade games over perfectly.

The Saturn is generally regarded as a true hardcore gaming machine.


The launch of the Saturn in Japan was a success for Sega. Their only launch title at the time, Virtua Fighter was selling the console initially. It was still a very popular game in the arcades.Japanese Sega Saturn Logo

The initial launch price was 44800 yen ( about $490) being a massively high launch price and then the price of a game on that also.

More games were promised but the release rate was slow due to production delays. Later games like Virtua Fighter 2 gained the system some great popularity.

Later when Segas announced that they were concentrating work for the Saturn only loads of top quality games surfaced. Not just from Sega but from many third party developers also. Outstanding titles with many of them coming from Capcom kept the system alive but unfortunately hardly none of these games made it to the west and the Saturn was disappearing here fast.

Eventually the Saturn became more popular in Japan than the Mega Drive was in but the Playstation had become the dominant machine.

The last game to be made for the Saturn was Final Fight Revenge from Capcom in 1999. There is possibly another game made in 2001.


Perhaps the most bizarre state of a affairs for a console launch ever. As Playstation was proving to be popular in Japan Sega ordered Sega of America to launch the machine early to be able to gain a foothold before Sony arrived in the US with their machine. As with the previous console war the US was again to be the main battleground.

Sega of America objected and stated that it was to early. The main issue raised by them was the lack of software as most of it was still in development. As a result there was no marketing campaign and worst of all hardly any games. The high price did not help much either.

Games available from the start were Virtua Fighter x and x. These would be the only games that would hit the machine in 6 months of launch time. Third party developers had to rush their titles.

As time passed the Saturn became more and more forgotten simply because there was little activity on the games front. Games released in Japan that were being raved about in magazines never made it to the US either.

Needles to say the Saturn did not make much of an impact in the US.


The Saturn was launched July 8th 1995 with an insane price of 399 which did not include a game. Games available on launch were Virtua Fighter, Clockwork Knight and International Victory Goal. The system only received a small response. Other games follows shortly being Daytona USA and Panzer Dragoon.

Again this market suffered almost the same fate as the US. Lack of games. It took ages for decent titles to emerge, the lateness of any Sonic title, a good one would have been better and none of the raved about games in magazines never made it out of Japan also.

Things did improve when the cost of the system was reduced and 3 games included and the launch of NiGHTS got the system some attention because it was a game that was actually advertised but people in Europe were still more than happy to stick with their Mega Drives which still had some excellent titles being released.

The Saturn bombed in the European market.

The Sega Saturn was originally designed to be the a sprite powerhouse for the ultimate in 2D which was still the state of games at the time the Saturn was being developed. However, after the announcement of the specifications for the Playstation, Sega of Japan quickly decided that their system was to be upgraded. Going from the traditional design of a single CPU and VDP which was easy to program for (as demonstrated with the Mega Drive) the final design included 2 Main 32-BIT CPUs, 2 VDPs, 2 Sound CPUs as well as a System Control CPU. This complex chipset drove up the price of manufacturing the console as well as difficulty in programming. This would later be a major problem preventing the Saturn from living up to its true potential.


Dual 32-BIT RISC SH-2 @ 28.6MHz (25MIPS)
32-BIT SH-1 @ 20MHz


16Mbit Work RAM
12Mbit Video RAM
1 Mbit Audio RAM
4Mbit CD Buffer RAM
256Kbit Internal Backup RAM


CD Player
CD+G, CD+EG Compatability
Photo CD Compatible (requires photo cd OS)
MPEG Video Compatible (requires Video CD card)


16.77 Million Colours
Sprite enlargement, rotation, reduction, transformation
Approx 1 Million Polygons per second using quads (flat shaded)
Texture Mapping
Fast Shading
Gouraud Shading
Wire Frame


5 Screen scaling, rotating, enlargement, reduction


16-BIT CISC 68EC000 @ 11.3MHz
PCM and FM sound sources
32 Channels
16-BIT sampling
Sampling rate 44.1KHz Max
Audio DSP


Intelligent Double Speed

Saturn Opening - European and US Versions

The SH-2s in the Saturn is the only similarity it shares with the 32X and still there are some differences. These chips are a RISC design ( Reduced Instruction Set Computing ) capable of 25 million instructions per second each running in parallel at 28.6Mhz. Both of these chips are connected directly to the RAM allowing for the data exchanges to take place without wait states. These chips basically perform the majority of the maths in games.

The SH-1 is another 32-Bit RISC CPU capable of 12.5 MIPS and runs at 20MHz. It was originally used in some of Segas arcade cabinets and may have included as part of the SVP project. See the 32X for more information.

The graphics processing of the Saturn is done by VDP1 and VDP2 which are both 32-Bit dedicated processors that are of a Sega custom design. Their available resolutions are 320x224, 640x224 and 720x576 with a 16.7 Million colour palette.

VDP1 is the sprite, polygon and geometry engine. It has dual 256KB frame buffers for rotation and scaling effects. It also supports texture mapping with 512KB cache for the storage of textures and goraud shading functions. The Saturns sprite abilities are far superior to that of the Playstation.

VDP2 is the background and scroll plane processor. Its abilities are 5 simultaneous scrolling background layers, 2 simultaneous rotating playfields, approx 500,000 polygons per second. Notice the use of the word approx. The Saturn VDPs are optimised to render surfaces in quads which are composed of four sides instead of polygons which are composed of 3. Typically developers never used this technique to optimise their games and stuck with standard polygons. Any comparison of the polygon output of Saturn and Playstation is pointless. Incredibly the Playstation was also optimised for working with quads but the system tended to distort the shapes on screen so developers stuck with standard polygons anyway. Oh the irony.

The Saturn has quite a large amount of memory at its disposal. Main work RAM is 16Mbit ( 2 MB ), 12Mbit (1.5MB) for video RAM in addition to the caches that each of the VDPs have, 1 Mbit audio for samples and tunes, 4Mbit ( 512K ) CDROM buffer / cache and 256Kbit of Internal Backup RAM for game saves so the machine does not need a memory card.

Sound inside the Saturn is composed by a 24-bit Yamaha Digital Signal Processor running at 22.6MHz assisted by a Motorola 68EC000 sound processor running at 11.3MHz. These provide 32 channels of PCM sound as well as 8 FM channels ( Frequency Modulation ) with sampling rates of 44.1Khz.

The Saturn CDROM drive is a double speed capable of a transfer rate of 300+KB a second. The specs say the drive is intelligent. What is intelligent about it is really unknown but the drive has its own CPU and cache and has DMA ( Direct Memory Access ) straight into RAM, a method used in PCs to reduce loads on CPUS. The system is able compatible with CD Audio, CD+G and CD+EG which was an extension to the CD+G standard for more colours. Other standards included Photo CD and Video CD which could be used through accessories.
Sega Saturn BIOS Sega Saturn BIOS

Launch Game


Space Ship Demo

Spaceship Demo

The systems BIOS has a reasonably advanced CD Player. The usual settings such as play, repeat and program etc are all accounted for but under advanced controls are settings to adjust the surround of a track and even remove the vocals. During playback the green cubes to the left and the right of the controls behave as a graphic equaliser. They adjust shape and colour depending upon the sounds.

Alternatively there is a rolling 3D polygon generated space ship demo. When activated the CD Player controls will move off the screen and the ship will take flight against the starry background.

The cartridge port is also 32-BIT and is generally used for accessories. It was originally planned that some games were to be released in cartridge format also.

The Saturn shares the standard Sega trait of having country lockout protection and the system will not read CD-Rs without a mod chip.

The system has a 32-Bit expansion port on the back of the machine covered by a plate where expansion cards are inserted. Officially the only accessory to use this port was the MPEG decoder card. Located here also is the master reset switch. When pressed this clears the internal backup memory and any settings. Settings are stored by means of a standard CR2032 coin cell battery. A high speed serial port is available and used primarily for linking 2 Saturns.

The control pad for the Saturn is probably the best pad design Sega have ever made. It is basically a Mega Drive 6 button pad with two flippers on the top of the pad. This flat pad design with 8 buttons are perfect for 2D games like Street Fighter.

The Saturn sports a range of peripherals turning the console into a full multimedia machine. The 2 inks below are scans of the accessories card that came with the European console.
Saturn Peripherals 1 [1024x768] Saturn Peripherals 2 [1024x768]

MPEG Decoder Card - Allows the playback of Video CDs. Fits into the expansion port at the back of the console.

Photo CD Operating System - Allows for the viewing and processing of Kodak Photo CDs. This is a software only accessory.

Virtua Gun - As the Saturn was home to the arcade conversions of Virtua Cop and Virtua Cop 2 the gun from the coin-op machine was recreated for the console. The Japanese model is black just like the coin op but the European version is bright blue. Sega Europe thought it would look too realistic if it were black even with the connector hanging out from the bottom.

Arcade Stick - The full sized arcade stick. Compatible with all games but best with those CPS2 conversions like Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Vampire Saviour not to mention Virtua Fighter.

Steering Wheel - Play Sega Rally and Daytona USA like in the arcades. It is a slightly weird design which can be a little tricky to use.

Analogue Control Pad - Similar to a standard control pad with an additional analogue D-Pad. The pad originally shipped with NiGHTS and is known to be unofficially compatible with many games such as Sonic Jam. Can be used as a standard control pad also.

Multi Tap - Allows the connection of upto 6 players for games like Guardian Heroes and Saturn Bomberman.

Backup Memory Cartridge - Provides additional backup memory for game saves. Move data to and from the Saturns internal memory and from the cartridge. Some 3rd parties made versions with larger capacities.

RAM Cartridge - There are 3 sizes of RAM expansion cartridge available 1MB, 2MB and 4MB. All of these cartridges expanded the main work RAM of the Saturn. Nearly all games that require the RAM cartridge are Japanese. Games that utilise the extra RAM sport faster loading times - sometimes no loading at all, smoother animation and more colours. Variations of this cartridge include additional backup RAM.

Link Up Cable - Links two Saturns together for 2 Player games like Sega Rally and Daytona. Connects to the serial port at the back of the console.

Netlink - The Netlink was a cartridge based modem that allowed connection to the Internet, e-mail and of course online play. The Saturn was actually the FIRST ever console to have online play. Netlink is still active but only in a cult status. There are many websites that continue to have Netlink games. The Sega Server for Saturn Netlink is:


It is generally known among gaming fans and especially Sega fans that the Saturn boasts some of the most playable games ever made as well as being Segas most dedicated machine ( at the time ) for porting their arcade smashes perfectly into the home. To play arcade perfect ports of Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop, Daytona USA and Sega Rally amongst others then there is no other system than the Saturn.

It is a common misconception that the Saturn and the 32X were compatible. This was not the case. The Saturn is much more than simply just a 32X with a CDROM drive. As a result games can not be swapped between the machines. On a side note there are no crappy FMV titles either. Sega and 3rd parties learnt their lessons from the Mega CD days.

As mentioned earlier the programming skills needed to get the best out of the machine were beyond that of many developers. The workaround some programmers used was to utilise only 1 of the systems dual CPUs and dual VDPs therefore the Saturn was immediately at a disadvantage to any of the competition.
Virtua Fighter Virtua Fighter 2

Virtua Fighter - Feature Online!

Virtua Fighter 2 - Feature Online!

Sega Rally Virtua Cop

Sega Rally

Virtua Cop

Some other great games for the system come from Segas internal development teams. The Panzer Dragoon series of games are widely renowned for their graphics and gameplay and are classics to any Saturn library.
Panzer Dragoon Page Panzer Dragoon 2: Zwei

Panzer Dragoon - Feature Online!

Panzer Dragoon 2 - Gallery and Soundtrack Online!

Sonic Team amazed gamers with NiGHTS into Dreams. The gameplay was typical Sonic Team and the graphics were fast and detailed showing the Saturns power. A true Sonic title never emerged for the Saturn. A game was in development under the title of Sonic X-Treme but it never came to be released.
NiGHTS Into Dreams


Where the great games mostly lie on the Saturn are the titles that require the infamous RAM cartridge. This was basically a cartridge that was expanded the RAM of the Saturn. They came in sizes of 1, 2 and 4MB. Games that tended to use this were generally 2D fighters, mostly made by Capcom and SNK. These titles included Street Fighter Alpha 3( coming extremely close to the Dreamcast version) and X-Men Vs Street Fighter from Capcom and some of the games in the King of the Fighters series and Metal Slug both from SNK.

People in the western markets had to suffer the fact that hardly any of the fantastic games that were released in Japan were never bought over. This is one reason why the Saturn did not receive much attention in the markets outside of Japan. Games like Metal Slug, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Vampire Saviour amongst many others were responsible for creating a pretty active import scene for the console lasting long after the console was discontinued in 98.
Daytona USA Radiant Silvergun

Daytona USA

Radiant Silvergun

Duke Nukem 3D Guardian Hereos

Duke Nukem 3D

Guardian Hereos

Saturn Games Gallerys

Games A to M

Games N to Z

Hands down the Saturn is more powerful than Playstation yet the machines power goes largely untapped. Virtually no Playstation owners know this and would instantly reject the statement. There was so much going for the Saturn but times changed two quickly in the way people made games and the Sony marketing machine did plenty of damage to send the Saturn to cult status.

The high price of the machine prevented early acceptance and the slow release rate of games did convince people to invest. A special not has to be made for Capcom as they were truly loyal to the machine like they are to all Sega machines. They created games right up until the last release and as such they made some of the best ones.

It is unfortunate that the Saturn did not live long enough. It is truly a great machine.

Today the Saturn is generally regarded by most casual gamers as yet another Sega failing and by some a bad memory. However, people who willing to explore the machine will find some truly excellent games regarded as cult classics.

The Saturn is still relatively alive thanks to the healthy import market. Though this has fell off slightly over the past few years with the arrival of the Dreamcast and other consoles there are a few games that are highly sought after. There are no longer any games being officially produced for the system, by Sega anyway, they discontinued support in 1998, yet the last game to be released was Final Fight Revenge by Capcom in 1999.

In January 2001 when Sega announced that they were to become software only it was suggested that some of the classic Saturn titles would make a reappearance on Playstation. Nothing since has surfaced but now some of the original titles are receiving updates. The classic Panzer Dragoon series is being brought to X-BOX with Virtua Cop being released for Playstation 2.

However, if it is the originals that you are after then there are still plenty of places within the UK which stock PAL consoles and games with the majority of them stock import titles also. Your local computer Exchange will normally have a healthy array of Saturn titles. Expect a console to set you back between 20 and 25 pounds and a PAL game between 3 - and 20. Some of the more rare titles regulary show up on Ebay.

For the collectors there is an ultra rare transparent Saturn otherwise known as the Skeleton Saturn. It was manufactured by JVC for demo purposes in Japan only but some of them made their onto the market. I have seen these babies for sale at 150 but have not yet seen them show up on Ebay.

As present there are no working emulators for the Saturn. There are some very promising ones coming up. They run under Windows and require DirectX. Presumably the problem with emulation the Saturn was the sheer complexity of the machine. Programming it alone was difficult enough to keep the third party developers away so emulation will be very difficult I would image.

The PC requirements for a Saturn emulator will probably be pretty high to get a decent frame rate. Youll want a mega fast processor probably around 1Ghz and some memory around 128Mb but depending on which version of Windows youre running you might want to consider doubling that. A good video card that can take advantage of all the DirectX functions would be good and dont forget a CD ROM drive.

Some promising emulators thus far include:


Check them out at VG-Network.

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