Sega Saturn

Sega Saturn
Sega Saturn
The original NA Sega Saturn
Model 2 Japanese Sega Saturn

Top: Western and Japanese Sega Saturn logos
Middle: Model 1 "Oval Button" NA console with model 1 controller
Bottom: Model 2 "Round Button" JP console and controller
Manufacturer Sega
Generation Fifth generation era
Retail availability
  • JP November 22, 1994
  • NA May 11, 1995
  • EU July 8, 1995[1]
Discontinued September 10, 1998[2]
December 4, 2000 (Japan)
Units sold Worldwide: 9.5 million[3]
Media CD-ROM, CD+G
CPU 2 × Hitachi SH-2 32-bit RISC (28.6 MHz)
Storage capacity Internal RAM, cartridge
Graphics VDP1 & VDP2
Online services Sega NetLink, SegaNet (XBAND spin-off)
Best-selling game Virtua Fighter 2 (1.7 million in Japan)[4]
Predecessor Mega Drive (Sega Genesis)
Successor Dreamcast

The Sega Saturn (セガサターン Sega Satān?) is a 32-bit video game console that was first released on November 22, 1994 in Japan, May 11, 1995 in North America, and July 8, 1995 in Europe. The system was discontinued in North America and Europe in 1998, and in 2000 in Japan.

While it was popular in Japan, the Saturn failed to gain a similar market share in North America and Europe against Sony's PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, its main competitors.

According to a July 2007 GamePro article, the Saturn sold 9.5 million units worldwide.[3]

In 2009, video game website IGN chose the Saturn to be their 18th best video game console of all time, out of their list of 25.[5]



Sega's 27-member Away Team, comprising employees from hardware engineering, product development and marketing, worked for two years beginning in February 1993 to design the Sega Saturn's hardware. Since the project was top secret, Hayao Nakayama dubbed the project "Aurora". The Saturn was a powerful machine for the time, but its design, with two CPUs and six other processors, made harnessing this power extremely difficult. Also, many of the ancillary chips in the system were "off the shelf" components, increasing the complexity of the system because the components were not specifically designed to work together. Rumors suggest that the original design called for a single central processor, but upon hearing of the PlayStation's capabilities, a second processor was added late in development to increase potential performance[who?]. At the roll out of 3DO in 1993, Sega of America president Tom Kalinske boasted that "we have a more powerful machine waiting in the wings, but the time's not ready yet." However, one major design change was forced on Sega, and the culprit was the Sony PlayStation.[6]

One very fast central processor would be preferable. I don't think 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 that only 1 in 100 programmers are good enough to get this kind of speed [nearly double] out of the Saturn.

Yu Suzuki reflecting upon Saturn Virtua Fighter development.[7]

Third-party development was initially hindered by the lack of useful software libraries and development tools, requiring developers to write in assembly language to achieve good performance. At least during early Saturn development, programming in assembly could offer a two to fivefold speed increase over the C language.[7] To save development costs and time, some programmers would utilize only one CPU, such as with Alien Trilogy.[citation needed]

The Saturn's dual-CPU architecture was the source of some difficulty for developers. The biggest disadvantage was that both processors shared the same bus and had problems accessing the main system RAM at the same time. The 4 KB of cache memory in each CPU was critical to maintaining performance. In general, very careful division of processing, in addition to the already-challenging task of parallelizing the code, was required to get the most out of the Saturn. One example of how the Saturn was utilized was with Virtua Fighter's use of one CPU for each character.[7]

Many of the Saturn's developers, such as Lobotomy Software programmer Ezra Dreisbach, found it difficult to develop for compared to the PlayStation because of its more complex graphics hardware.[8] In order to port Duke Nukem 3D and PowerSlave/Exhumed to the Saturn, Lobotomy Software had to almost entirely rewrite the Build engine to take advantage of the Saturn's unconventional hardware.[8] Also, during testing of an unreleased Quake port for the PlayStation, the Saturn's performance was found to be notably inferior for the game.[8] However, some developers have contested that the Saturn's shortcomings in these respects are overstated at best. WARP leader Kenji Eno, when asked how WARP managed to produce the impressive 3D visuals of Enemy Zero (a game originally developed for the Playstation) on the Saturn, replied, "...the PlayStation and the Saturn aren't that different, so moving it[Enemy Zero] to Saturn wasn't too difficult."[9]

Moreover, later programming techniques employed by Sega's AM2 saw an improvement in performance. Video exists of a canceled version of Shenmue - later released on the Sega Dreamcast - running on a stock Sega Saturn. The video was included in the Dreamcast title Shenmue II.[10][11]

Unlike the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 which used triangles as its basic geometric primitive, the Saturn rendered quadrilaterals. This proved to be a hindrance because most of the industry's standard design tools were based on triangles. One of the challenges brought forth by quadrilateral-based rendering was problems with making some shapes, notably triangular objects. This can be seen in the Saturn version of Tomb Raider, in which triangular rocks are not rendered as well as other systems' versions of the game.[8] The hardware also lacked light sourcing and hardware video decompression support, the latter being a major disadvantage during a time when full-motion video was quite popular.

It's fair to say there has been some criticism of the Saturn architecture recently; the apparently hap-hazard board design has been criticized, and negative comments of a similar vein have been circulating. The complex architecture has been causing problems for programmers up until now. This seems to have been most evident in arcade conversions like Virtua Fighter, which has been roundly castigated in areas of the videogame press for its poor, glitchy graphics.

Sega has responded to these criticisms in two ways. First, it has developed a new set of graphics libraries which it claims makes the job of programming the machine much easier. In fact, Sega of Japan has presented the new graphic libraries as an entirely new operating system.

Second, it has been pointing out that despite the early programming difficulties, the games are going to get much better with time, as with nearly every other console system. (Virtua Fighter 2 is only 70% done and is said to be the fastest and best looking Sega Saturn game to date)

—From Next Generation Magazine "So many 32-Bit Systems To Choose From" issue: (vol 1, #12)[12]

If used correctly, the quadrilateral rendering of the Saturn had advantages. It could potentially reduce the texture distortion common in PlayStation titles,[13] as demonstrated by several cross-platform titles such as Wipeout and Destruction Derby. The quadrilateral-focused hardware and a 50% greater amount of video memory also gave the Saturn an advantage for 2D game engines and attracted many developers of role-playing video games, arcade games and traditional 2D fighting games. With creative programming, 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.

The cartridge slot gave the potential for adding extra RAM or storage devices for saving games to the system. Two ROM cartridges were released with Sega Saturn games: one with King of Fighters '95 and the other with Ultraman: Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu. The ROM cartridges contained part of the game data because not enough system RAM was available. Two different RAM cartridges were released for the system; a 1 MB RAM cart by SNK for King of Fighters '96 and a 4 MB RAM cart by Capcom for X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. A RAM expansion cartridge was also required for the games Groove on Fight & Final Fight Revenge. Both companies were known for their sprite-based 2D competitive fighting games and many of their subsequent games utilized their respective cartridges. (such as "Vampire Saviour" & "Cotton 2" [by Takara]).

Performance in the marketplace


A first model Japanese Sega Saturn unit

The Japanese Saturn was released in November 1994, just six weeks ahead of its rival, Sony's PlayStation.[1] Approximately 170,000 machines were sold the first day the console went on sale.

Many of the games that made the Saturn popular in Japan, such as the Sakura Taisen series and various role-playing video games, were never released in foreign territories as it was assumed at Sega of America and Sega of Europe that they were not appealing to a Western audience.

The last commercial licensed release in Japan and last official game for the system was Yuukyuu Gensoukyoku Hozonban Perpetual Collection, released by MediaWorks on December 4, 2000.

North America

The second model NA Sega Saturn with model 2 controller

By the end of 1994, the 16-bit video game era was in twilight in North America and gamers were eagerly anticipating the new 32-bit machines from Japan. In early 1995, Sega of America president Tom Kalinske announced that the Saturn would launch in the U.S. on "Saturnday", (Saturday) September 2, 1995.[14] This date was greatly anticipated by gamers and the media. It also allowed Sony to announce that the PlayStation release date would be one week later on September 9, 1995.[15]

However, on May 11, 1995, at the first Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Kalinske announced that the "Saturnday" date was a ruse and that the system was being released nationwide by four select retailers (Toys "R" Us, Babbage's, Software Etc. and Electronics Boutique[16]) immediately.[17] It appeared that Sega had a real opportunity to take a commanding 4-month lead in the 32-bit race by beating the PlayStation to the market.

The surprise launch backfired on Sega for several reasons. The Saturn was released at a high price point of US$399, while Sony announced a US$299 price for the PlayStation at E3 itself, as a response to the Saturn's earlier release.[18]

The early launch also meant that the Saturn had only 6 games available at launch,[19] as most third party games were slated to be completed and rolled out around the original September 2 launch date, and as many successful Japanese titles were not imported. Third party publishers, particularly those based in North America, were angered as the surprise launch prevented them from capitalizing on the momentum inherent in an anticipated, planned release. Essentially the only software available on the shelves at launch was software released by Sega. Many within the gaming industry viewed the early launch as a calculated move to give Sega larger sales of Saturn software at the expense of independent developers.

In addition, the retailers who were not included in the early launch (most notably Wal-Mart and KB Toys) felt betrayed, with some retaliating by supporting Sega's rivals. This resulted in Sega having difficulties with these distributors for the Saturn (and also for its successor, the Dreamcast). For example, Sega's actions so angered KB Toys that they refused to release the Saturn at all, and actually went as far as having some retailers remove anything Sega-related in stores to provide more retail space for the Saturn's competition instead.

By the time of the PlayStation's release on September 9, 1995, the Saturn had sold approximately 80,000 systems.[citation needed] The PlayStation, on the other hand, managed to sell over 100,000 units in its first weekend of availability in the U.S.[20]

From 1995 to 1997 the Saturn became the "other" system, running a distant third behind the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation. However, it was the preferred system for many arcade and import gamers. Sales of the Saturn would generally spike as new arcade ports were released, but would die off again shortly after. By the end of 1997, Sega had announced that it would develop a successor (the Dreamcast), causing console sales and game releases to drop dramatically.

The Saturn's commercial failure caused Sega to lose US$267.9 million and lay off 30% of its workforce.[21]


Despite the success of Sega's previous consoles in Europe and although the Sega Saturn was launched in Europe in July 1995—a few months before the newcomer PlayStation's release—the momentum for Sony's console amongst consumers began to build rapidly, stalling Saturn sales in the region. As a result, the Sega Saturn never enjoyed the success it achieved in Japan or even the post-launch hype the machine was awarded in North America, leaving the market almost solely in the competition's hands.[citation needed] By the time that the Nintendo 64 hit European shelves in early 1997, the Saturn's sales had long since stagnated.

The last commercial licensed release in Europe was a survival horror game called Deep Fear, released by Sega Europe in November 1998.

However, support for the Sega Saturn in the UK was bolstered by the successful publication of Sega Saturn Magazine.

End of an era

I believe if we look at [the Sega] Saturn, it was a system that shouldn't have been launched. It was too difficult to develop for therefore the games were not fun and the games weren't there. This isn't a matter about hardware, this is about software. Software has always driven hardware. You don't have the software, the hardware will fail.

—Bernie Stolar, giving his view on the failure of the Saturn.[22]

The Saturn's motherboard was complex and difficult to consolidate, making it expensive to produce.

As price drops continued throughout the 32-bit era, the system board design of the Saturn was not as easy to condense in a cost-saving manner and Sega fell behind after price drops offered by Nintendo and Sony. As a marketing strategy, Sega bundled three of its best selling games (Daytona USA, Virtua Cop, Virtua Fighter 2) with the system in order to keep the more expensive Saturn competitive with its rivals. This gave the console a boost in sales, but it wasn't enough to cause any significant impact in the console race.[citation needed]

By early 1997, the Saturn was trailing the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation in both North America and Europe to such an extent that senior management began planning a new platform and, by E3 in 1997, had begun talk of the system called the Katana (which would later be named the Dreamcast). Sega of America President Bernie Stolar, who was strongly in favor of the upcoming console, announced "The Saturn is not our [SEGA's] future."[23][24]

As Sega began public discussion about their next generation system, barely two years after having launched the Saturn, it became a self-defeating prophecy, some citing it as an example of the Osborne effect.[who?] This move, combined with Sega's recent history of short-lived consoles, particularly the Sega CD and 32X which were considered ill-conceived "stopgaps" that turned off gamers and developers alike, led to a chain reaction that quickly caused the Saturn's future to collapse. Immediately following the announcement, sales of the console and software substantially tapered off in the second half of 1997, while many planned games were canceled, causing the console's life expectancy to shorten substantially.[citation needed] While this let Sega focus on bringing out its successor, premature demise of the Saturn caused them financial problems. Even though the Dreamcast did address many of the problems with the Saturn, Sega's damaged reputation caused customers and publishers to be skeptical and hold out to see how it would fare against Sony's PlayStation 2.[citation needed]

The aggressive move to replace the Saturn resulted in a rift between Sega and many of their third-party developers and publishers. North American developers were already hostile to the Saturn because it was difficult to program for, and because they were left out by its early release, so the future project alienated what remaining support Sega had in that region.[citation needed] However, many Japanese developers had strongly supported the Saturn in its homeland and saw little reason for Sega to rush another platform to market. The announcement caused a substantial drop in software sales, causing frustrated third parties to cancel many planned releases.[citation needed] The early abandonment of the Saturn hurt third party software support not only for that system, but also for Sega in general. Several major publishers such as Electronic Arts declined to support the upcoming Dreamcast, which played a part in its discontinuation as well.[citation needed]

Several games intended for release in North America or Europe were canceled. These titles include Sonic X-treme, Policenauts and Lunar: Silver Star Story, the latter two remaining as Japanese market exclusives. Further cancellations in 1998 followed cutting the western release lists down to titles such as Steep Slope Sliders, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Burning Rangers, The House of the Dead, Shining Force III, Magic Knight Rayearth (North America) and Deep Fear (Europe).

The Saturn was discontinued in 1998 in most countries, and in 2000 in Japan.[citation needed]

Saturn models

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 seven CD-changer for use in hotels, called the SGX.[25] The concept of a multi-game player for hotel use is very common in Japan.[25]

Manufacturer and model Case color Button color Type of buttons Notes
Sega HST-3200 Gray Blue Oval The original Japanese Saturn. This model had a black cartridge flap and came in a box labeled HST-0001. The power cord is un-notched and this machine has a drive access light.
Sega HST-3210 Gray Blue Oval Second model. It looks the same as the HST-3200 but the inside layout is similar to the early model HST-3220. Production was ended in favor of the White Saturn.
Sega HST-3220 White Gray/Pink Round Sega switched from blue to gray & pink buttons during the production run. This controller was a matching white with multi-colored buttons similar to a Super Famicom controller with the bottom row buttons colored green, yellow, and blue. The 'white' plastic is a very light gray and shares its color with the later Dreamcast. The cartridge flap is visibly gray. Limited models of the Saturn had oval buttons. Later units have some compatibility problems.
Sega Skeleton Saturn (HST-3220) Translucent black Black Round Included a matching translucent black controller. Both controller and system had "This is cool" printed on them. Only around 50,000 were produced. Has some compatibility problems, notably with Metal Slug, Out Run, and Space Harrier.
Sega Derby Saturn (HST-3220) Translucent blue Black Round Released on March 25, 1999, this model was only available as part of a promotion with ASCII's popular horse racing sim, Derby Stallion. It came with the same translucent black controller as the Skeleton Saturn but did not have "This is cool" printed on the system. After limited supplies of the Skeleton Saturn, the Derby Saturn was quickly bought in bulk by exporters and for a time was easier to find outside Japan than inside. Shares the compatibility problems of the Skeleton Saturn.

Uses BIOS 1.0.1.

Hitachi Hi-Saturn (MMP-11 and MMP-1) Charcoal Khaki Round/Oval This machine appears similar in color to the European and North American Saturn without close inspection. Hi-Saturn is printed on the CD drive lid. Controllers have the same color layout as the unit with pinkish-beige and dark bluish/gray buttons. The Hitachi logo appears on them. The machine was packaged in an almost all-black box with a light-gray/white border. Excepting some limited promotional bundles, the Hi-Saturn came packaged with an MPEG plug-in card allowing Video CD playback. The start-up screen differs slightly from other models – instead of a shower of pieces forming the Saturn logo, the word "Hi-Saturn" shoots out from the middle of the screen and then flips around until it is readable.
Hitachi Hi-Saturn Navi (MMP-1000NV) Charcoal Khaki Round This is the only consumer Saturn to differ in functionality or shape. It is much thinner, and is flat instead of curved on top, in order to accommodate a folding LCD monitor that clips to the rear. It includes GPS capability, and has a standard port on the rear for use with an included antenna. Navi-ken CDs are used for map data. Since Navi-ken was only available in Japan, only Japanese maps are available.
JVC/Victor V-Saturn RG-JX1 Gray Blue/Gray Oval Resembles the first Japanese Sega Saturn with oval buttons and access light. "V-Saturn" is printed on top of the machine. Features a V-Saturn logo in place of the Sega Saturn logo at boot-up.
JVC/Victor V-Saturn RG-JX2 Light Gray/Dark Gray Blue/Green/Pink Round Resembles the white Japanese Sega Saturn with round buttons. Case is light gray on top, with a darker gray base. Features a V-Saturn logo in place of the Sega Saturn logo at boot-up.
Samsung Saturn
Black - Oval Intended only for South Korea, this machine combines the older style oval-button shell with the smaller and newer mainboard which normally comes with a round-button shell. The Japanese language option was removed from the setup screen on some models.

North American models

The first North American "oval" model.

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

Model Type of Buttons Manufacturing Period Notes
MK-80000 Oval 4/95 – 4/96 Identical to the Grey Japanese Saturn except for color: the U.S. model is black. A few have been found with the backend molding of the MK-80000A and the notched power cord using the 1.00a BIOS version.
MK-80000A Round 4/96 – 10/96 Features a notched power cord, no drive access light and a 1.00a BIOS. Internal jumper locations are changed.
MK-80001 Round 7/96 – 98 Similar in appearance to the MK-80000A, this machine has some changed internal jumper locations.

Early models came packaged with a redesigned controller that was slightly bigger than the Japanese variant. Eventually the Japanese controller was adopted.

European models

European 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".

Model Type of Buttons Notes
MK-08200-03 Oval Drive access LED and black buttons.
MK-80200-50 Oval Version 1.01a BIOS.
MK-80200A-50 Round Lacks a drive access LED. Buttons are grey.

Technical specifications


  • Two Hitachi SuperH-2 7604 32-bit RISC processors at 28.63 MHz (25 MIPS)—each has 4 kB on-chip cache (4-way associative), of which 2 kB can alternatively be used as directly addressable Scratchpad RAM
  • Custom VDP 1 32-bit video display processor (running at 28.63 MHz on NTSC and PAL Systems) for sprites/polygons
  • Custom VDP 2 32-bit video display processor (running at 28.63 MHz on NTSC and PAL Systems) for backgrounds/video out
  • Custom System 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 / 1.5 MIPS)
  • Yamaha FH1 DSP sound processor, "Saturn Custom Sound Processor" (SCSP), running at 22.6 MHz
  • SH-1 32-bit RISC microcontroller (for the CD-ROM and CD security checks; uses preprogrammed embedded ROM, not programmable by software)
  • Hitachi 4-bit MCU, "System Manager & Peripheral Control" (SMPC)


  • 1 MB SDRAM as work RAM for both SH-2 CPUs (faster)
  • 1 MB DRAM as work RAM for both SH-2 CPUs (slower)
  • 512K VDP1 SDRAM for 3D graphics (Texture data for polygon/sprites and drawing command lists)
  • 2x 256K VDP1 SDRAM for 3D graphics (Two framebuffers for double-buffered polygon/sprite rendering)
  • 512K VDP2 SDRAM for 2D graphics (Texture data for the background layers and display lists)
  • 4 KB VDP2 SRAM for color palette data and rotation coefficient data (local, on-chip SRAM)
  • 512 KB DRAM for sound. (Multiplexed as sound CPU work RAM, SCSP DSP RAM, and SCSP wavetable RAM)
  • 512 KB DRAM as work RAM for the CD-ROM subsystem's SH-1 CPU
  • 32 KB SRAM with battery back-up for data retention.
  • 512 KB Mask ROM for the SH-2 BIOS


SCSP 1st version.

Audio generation was provided via a specialized multifunction sound chip developed by Yamaha, the YMF292, also known as the Saturn Custom Sound Processor or SCSP. The SCSP included 32 sound channels with both FM and PCM (up to 44.1 kHz sampling rate) functionality and fully configurable channel linking for modulation purposes, a 128-step DSP, and internal DAC. The SCSP was used in conjunction with the Saturn's Motorola 68EC000 co-processor and dedicated audio RAM, and MIDI compliance allowed use of an external MIDI controller, such as a keyboard.


VDP1 1st version

The Sega Saturn is equipped with dual custom VDP chips for graphics processing. The VDP1 chip is primarily responsible for sprite generation. Polygon generation is accomplished through manipulation of the sprite engine. Texture mapping and Gouraud shading is also handled by the VDP1.

The VDP1 renders primitives to two 256 kB frame buffers that is most commonly configured as 512x256x16 with a 320x240 visible area. For medium and high resolution games, a 1024x256x8 frame buffer is used. Games running at 30 frame/s, like Virtua Fighter Remix and Die Hard Arcade, this gives a visible area of 640x240. For games running at 60 frame/s, like Virtua Fighter 2 and Dead or Alive, taking advantage of interlacing allows the two frame buffers to be combined for an effective size of 1024x512 per frame, with a visible area of 640x480. Having two separate frame buffers allows double buffering of the display and provides more time for rendering. The active framebuffer is read out to the display by the VDP2, which can apply data from a coefficient table to modify the scanning process, for effects like rotation, scaling, and general distortion of the entire frame buffer as a single entity.

The SCU (system bus control unit) provides DMA across a dedicated bus commonly labeled as the "B-bus" that the VDP2 and VDP1 are connected to, allowing transfer of data from them to and from main memory. Keep note that transferring data from and to the same bus is prohibited by all 3 SCU DMA levels.

  • Rendering engine for command tables: textured and non-textured polygons, untextured "polygons," "polylines," and lines along with command tables that controls the frame buffer.
  • "Sprites" are textured polygons with specific rendering modes:
    • Normal sprite (one point), shrunk/scaled sprite (two points), distorted sprite (four points)
    • Other rendering modes:
      • Overwrite (replace frame buffer contents)
      • Shadow (underlying frame buffer pixels rewritten with 1/2 brightness, primitive not drawn)
      • Half luminosity (primitive rendered with 1/2 brightness)
      • Half transparency (primitive and underlying framebuffer pixels averaged together)
  • Gouraud shading for RGB-format textures only
  • Dual 256KB frame buffers
  • Programmable frame buffer depth of 8 or 16 bits per pixel
  • Automatic erase feature to clear framebuffer with single color

Some commonly quoted specifications are highly dependent on the rendering modes for the polygons and other factors that burden the system load:

  • 200,000 texture-mapped polygons per second
  • 500,000 flat-shaded polygons per second
  • 60 frames of animation per second

In order to better understand the differences between the PlayStation GPU and Saturn VDP1 rendering capabilities, here are some varying factors:

PlayStation GPU

  • The GPU has a unified 1 MB block of memory for the texture data and frame buffers. This allows for complex effects where the framebuffer is in turn applied as a texture again.
  • The GPU has a 2 kB texture cache.
  • The framebuffer portion of the GPU RAM must be manually erased.
  • Commands are sent to the GPU via DMA, buffered in a FIFO, and executed in the order of being sent.

Saturn VDP1

  • VDP1 memory is split: 512 kB for texture data / command lists, 256 kB for one frame buffer and 256 kB for another. Because of the split, it is not possible to use the frame buffer as a texture.
  • The VDP1 has no texture cache, but since texture memory and the frame buffer have separate buses and can be accessed simultaneously, there isn't a speed penalty.
  • The two frame buffers have a high-speed auto-erase feature.
  • Commands are stored in a linked list in RAM, multiple lists can be stored, the list can be processed by the VDP1 without wasting a DMA channel.
VDP2 1st version.

The VDP 2 serves as the Sega Saturn's background processor. Certain special effects such as texture transparency and playfield rotation and scrolling (up to five fields at any given time) are handled here.

Both the VDP2 and VDP1 32-bit video display processor have direct access to the both bitmap display per background

  • Programmable memory access controller for VDP2 VRAM
  • Two simultaneous rotating playfields
  • VDP2 can rotate VDP1 framebuffer position while scanning out to display for rotation effects
  • Color RAM supports 15-bit (32768 colors) and 24-bit (16.7 million colors) display modes
  • Programmable priority at the per-background / per-tile / per-pixel levels
  • Background color tinting/fading, and transparency effects
  • Background blur effect (gradation) to simulate distance
  • Programmable display resolution:

    • Horizontal sizes of 320, 352, 640, 704 pixels
    • Vertical sizes of 224, 240, 256 scanlines, non-interlaced
    • Vertical sizes of 448, 480, 512 scanlines, interlaced (only PAL consoles support 256 and 512 scanline displays)
    • Hi-Vision (EDTV) and 31 kHz (VGA) display support:
    • 31 kHz: 320×480 or 640×480, non-interlaced (progressive scan)
    • Hi-Vision: 352×480 or 704×480, non-interlaced (progressive scan)


    The Sega Saturn video game console features a double speed CD-ROM drive manufactured by JVC-Victor (some models may have been manufactured by Hitachi or Sanyo). The drive has a transfer rate of 320 KB/s, and a 512 KB data cache. Drive related functions are controlled via a single Hitachi SH1 32-bit RISC processor operating at 20 MHz.

    • Audio CD compatible
    • CD+G compatible
    • CD+EG compatible
    • CD single (8 cm CD) compatible
    • Video CD (required optional MPEG add-on), Photo CD, Electronic Books, digital karaoke (optional)


    The NA model 2 controller, which was the same as the Japanese controller
    • Two 7-bit bidirectional parallel I/O ports (controller ports)
    • High-speed serial communications port (Both SH2 SCI channels and SCSP MIDI, also used for the Serial port)
    • Cartridge connector
    • Internal expansion port for optional MPEG adapter card (different models available from Sega, JVC, and Hitachi)
    • Composite video/audio (standard)
    • NTSC/PAL RF (optional RF adapter required)
    • S-Video compatible (optional cable required)
    • RGB compatible (optional cable required)
    • EDTV/Hi-Vision compatible (custom cable required, not commonly available)

    While the Saturn graphics hardware is capable of VGA (progressive/non-interlaced) video, no existing retail software ever used this mode and the system cannot force any such software to run in this mode. Moreover, neither Sega nor third-party manufacturers produced or sold the cables required to support such high-resolution modes on any type of display.

    Power source

    • AC120 volts; 60 Hz (US)
    • AC240 volts; 50 Hz (EU/Asia)
    • AC100 volts; 50/60 Hz (JP/TW)
    • 3 volt CR2032 lithium battery to power non-volatile RAM and SMPC internal real-time clock
    • Power Consumption: 25 W
    • Power Consumption: 12 W (JP)

    Dimensions (US/European model)

    • Width: 260 mm (10.2 in)
    • Length: 230 mm (9.0 in)
    • Height: 83 mm (3.2 in)


    A VDP1 transparency rendering quirk causes strips of pixels to be rewritten to framebuffer for 2-point (scaled) and 4-point (quadrangle) "sprites", applying the transparency effect multiple times. Rarely seen in commercial games (Robotica explosions), later titles implemented software transparency via direct framebuffer access to correctly render polygons (Dural in Virtua Fighter Kids).

    Another technique developed for pseudo-hardware transparency was to rasterize polygons using one or two pixel tall sprites with transparency enabled to fill in horizontal spans. Because 2 of the 4 quadrangle points were identical, there was no framebuffer rewrite during rendering.


    In addition to playing games, all of the Saturn models could play music CDs, CD+G, and CD+EG discs. A software disc was sold by Sega to allow the playing of PhotoCDs ('Photo CD Operating System'). An MPEG decoding hardware module was released by Sega, JVC and Hitachi, allowing VideoCD playback. JVC later released a VideoCD module that included the software for displaying PhotoCDs, eliminating the need for a software disc. However, these modules were released in Japan and Europe only due to the popularity of the Video CD Format. In order to use one on a North American Saturn, a region converter must be used.

    There were some titles that could be played on both North American and Japanese consoles, with Street Fighter Alpha 2 being one of the titles that could be played on both regions systems without a converter. Scud: The Disposable Assassin, which was only released in the North America, was compatible with both European and Japanese Saturns, in addition to North American Saturns.[26]

    Marketing techniques

    In 1996, Sega started a marketing campaign that featured a naked woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. It used screenshots from the games to cover her breasts and pubic area.[27] It was very successful, and Electronic Gaming Monthly selected the campaign as the best ad during the 1997 Buyer's Guide.

    For a time, Sega mailed out videotapes containing an infomercial advertising its system to potential customers. It ran roughly eight minutes long and featured gameplay footage and a collection of Saturn commercials. It has become somewhat infamous for its bizarre content (a bald woman with a ring around her head, a dancing slacker, etc.).[28] The launch advertising campaign in the United States, titled "The Theater of the Eye", was also in this unusual style, describing psychological effects of playing the Saturn.[29]

    One marketing technique used by Sega to promote the Saturn was Segata Sanshiro (せがた三四郎 Segata Sanshirō?), a parody of Sanshiro Sugata portrayed by Hiroshi Fujioka.[30] He is a Judo master who tracks down and punishes those who do not play the Sega Saturn.[31] He uses two catch phrases, "You must play the Sega Saturn!" (セガサターン、シロ! Sega Satān, shiro!?) and "Sega Saturn, White" (セガサターン、白 Sega Satān, Shiro?), which sound similar to his name. Sanshiro lives as a hermit high on a mountain, devoting his life to intensive Sega Saturn training. He trains physically every day by carrying around a giant Sega Saturn on his back and punching buttons on its giant controller, as well as mentally by breaking stacks of Nintendo 64 cartridges with his head. The character dies in his final commercial, where he sacrifices himself to stop a missile launched at the Tokyo headquarters of Sega. He appears in the games Segata Sanshirō Shinken Yūgi and Rent-a-Hero No. 1 and was also considered for Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.[32] He was received with critical acclaim in Japan.[33] The Sanshiro character was originally planned to be in the Dreamcast title Segagaga, but licensing issues prevented this from happening.

    Another notable commercial was released right after the Nintendo 64's launch. It consisted of Nintendo 64s launched into the air like clay pigeons and then shot one at a time. It was referred to as a "Pretendo" and at the end of the commercial the narrator said, "Face it Pretendo, you weren't worth waiting for."

    During the first year-and-a-half of the Saturn's US life, Sega also had a marketing campaign similar to the one used for the Sega Genesis in the early 1990s, where they would directly attack the PlayStation through a series of aggressive MTV-styled ads. Typically, they would showcase a Saturn exclusive like Nights Into Dreams... and end with a reminder that such a game was "not on PlayStation." In some advertisements for the core Saturn system, Sega also boasted that the system had two 32-bit processors while the PlayStation only had one.

    A device resembling a Saturn appears briefly in Neon Genesis Evangelion episode 23, with a Sega-badged TV. Sega was a sponsor of the program and the movies.[citation needed] Another device resembling a Saturn also appears briefly in You're Under Arrest episode 48, with the case opened and being repaired by Miyuki.[citation needed] A Sega Saturn can be seen in the movies, Mallrats, First Kid, and Dead man on Campus.[citation needed] Also in the Jet Li movie Black Mask, Tracy Lee is playing a Sega Saturn with various games while she is being held hostage by Tsui Chik, with two of the games being Virtua Fighter and Darius Gaiden.[citation needed]

    The Sega Saturn was also prominently featured atop Drew Carey's TV in The Drew Carey Show for some time, even after its discontinuation. Eventually, in Season 6, it was replaced with a Dreamcast.[citation needed] In Shenmue for the Dreamcast, a Sega Saturn can be seen in Ryo's TV Room in his house, which can be played on later in the game.[citation needed] In Choukou Senshi Changerion, the main character owned a Sega Saturn that was prominently displayed on top of his TV; this was done also because the toys and show were sponsored by Sega.[citation needed] In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Toji Suzuhara and Kensuke Aida are seen with a Sega Saturn, and Asuka Langley Soryu is seen playing a video game with a Sega Saturn-type controller.



    The DirectLink, also known as Link Cable, is a device that enables two Sega Saturns to connect to each other for multiplayer gameplay. The device requires two televisions and two copies of the same game.

    Only 8 Games utilize the Link Cable:

    • Daytona USA (CCE Netlink Edition)
    • Doom (European Version Only)
    • Geoblockers
    • Gungriffon
    • Hexen (accessed through debug mode)
    • Steeldom
    • Virtual On: Cyber Troopers
    • Wipeout (Japanese Version only).

    Action Replay

    The Action Replay can be used to change the code of certain games in order to gain access to features not meant to be accessed or to advance further into a game using cheats. Another feature of the Action Replay was the ability to back-up saved games for when the battery dies. It was also possible to play imported games from any region without any modification to the system.

    Arcade Racer

    The Arcade Racer is a type of joystick designed after a steering wheel for the Sega Saturn. As the controller is an analog control mechanism instead of the digital input of the standard controller, it possesses a smoother response. It was compatible with games such as Virtua Racing, Daytona USA, Sega Rally Championship and Sega Touring Car Championship.

    3D Pad

    The 3D pad was an analog controller, released in 1996 to coincide with the release of Sonic Team's Nights into Dreams. It featured a ball shaped analog stick, replaced the shoulder buttons of the regular Saturn pad with analog triggers, and included a D-pad so that it could also serve as a standard controller. A number of games were compatible including racers such as Daytona USA: Champion Circuit Edition, Sega Touring Car Championship, and Manx TT; first person shooters such as Quake and Doom; and specialized platform games such as Sonic 3D. Most first-party Saturn games released after the 3D pad were compatible, even games in which analog control has no function, such as Shining the Holy Ark. The 3D pad was also able to emulate the earlier "Mission stick" analogue joystick, and in some cases the arcade racer, allowing for games written to take advantage of the mission stick or arcade racer's analog control to be played using the 3D pad.

    Storage Cards

    Utilizing the cartridge slot behind the CD drive, Storage cards are inserted to store game information such as high scores and saved game files. This was one of the few accessories for the Sega Saturn to be available to third-party manufacturers.


    The Sega NetLink was a 28.8k modem that fit into the cartridge slot in the Saturn for direct dial multiplayer. In Japan a now defunct pay-to-play service was used. However, all compatible games work today with the western version because it was direct dial. It could also be used for web browsing. Only five games are compatible with the North American version: Daytona USA (CCE Netlink Edition), Duke Nukem 3D, Saturn Bomberman, Sega Rally (Plus) and Virtual On.

    See also


    1. ^ a b "Saturn Release Information for Saturn - GameFAQs". GameFAQs. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
    2. ^ David S. Evans, Andrei Hagiu, Richard Schmalensee (2006). "PONG" (PDF). Invisible Engines: How Software Platforms Drive Innovation and Transform Industries. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 131. ISBN 0-262-05085-4. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
    3. ^ a b Blake Snow (2007-07-30). "The 10 Worst-Selling Consoles of All Time". GamePro. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
    4. ^ "Japan Platinum Game Chart". The Magic Box. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
    5. ^
    6. ^ Next Generation magazine vol. 1 #12 Dec 1995 page 46 paragraph 3 (Note: According to Next Generation Magazine, The Sega "Away Team" was created By Sega America for the launch of the U.S Saturn)
    7. ^ a b c "Sega Saturn." Next Generation magazine, February 1995: 43.
    8. ^ a b c d "Interview: Ezra Dreisbach". Curmudgeon Gamer. 2002-07-09. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
    9. ^ "Kenji Eno: Reclusive Japanese Game Creator Breaks His Silence". 2008-08-07. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
    10. ^
    11. ^
    12. ^ Next generation Magazine Vol. 1#12 Dec. 1995 pg. 47-48)
    13. ^
    14. ^ "Let the games begin: Sega Saturn hits retail shelves across the nation Sept. 2". Business Wire. March 9, 1995. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
    15. ^ "Sony Computer Entertainment of America debuts PlayStation". Business Wire. May 11, 1995. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
    16. ^ "Saturn lands first at Toys 'R' Us". Discount Store News. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
    17. ^ "Sega president and CEO also announces immediate availability of Sega Saturn in 1,800 retail outlets in U.S. and Canada". Business Wire. May 11, 1995. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
    18. ^ Rudden, Dave. "Eight Extremely Embarrassing E3 Moments". Retrieved 2008-07-14.  "at the same E3: Sony's keynote speaker went up on stage, said "Two hundred and Ninety-Nine Dollars" and walked off the stage."
    19. ^ "Sega Saturn launch takes consumers and retailers by storm". Business Wire. May 19, 1995. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
    20. ^ "Sony PlayStation sales exceed 100,000 units in first weekend". Business Wire. September 12, 1995. Retrieved 2011-05-07. 
    21. ^ "Sega Dreamcast". Game Makers. G4 (TV channel), Los Angeles. 2008-08-20. No. 302.
    22. ^ G4 (2006-01-31). "G4 Clip: Icons "Sega Dreamcast". Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
    23. ^ IGN Presents the History of SEGA
    24. ^ E3: Past, Present, and Future
    25. ^ a b "The Sega SGX". nfggames. Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
    27. ^ Sega Saturn Advertisement (JPEG)
    28. ^ System - Infomercial
    29. ^ Press release
    30. ^ SEGATA SANSHIRO! Article
    31. ^ "Segata Sanshiro Commercials". Retrieved 2009-02-17. 
    32. ^
    33. ^ Sparrow X. "Segata Sanshiro! Article". Retrieved 2009-02-17. 

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