Service Games: The Rise and Fall of Sega


#1

I just finished reading this book. It’s a complete history of Sega’s time as a hardware manufacturer, going from the early arcade days, through to their first home console (the SG-1000) up until the death of the Dreamcast.

The book is a bit long winded in places. It could have used some editing and less time spent on the Dreamcast (three chapters). But overall, it’s a solid work and probably the best history of Sega available. I learnt a lot that I didn’t already know (there were so many weird pieces of Sega hardware that I knew very little about) so I’d recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the company that gave birth to Panzer Dragoon.

Has anyone else here read it?


#2

I read the history of Sega that was relevant to me.

Sega of Japan screwed up the Saturn hardware. Fans can disagree with me on this from now until the end of time, but in the end we will have to agree to disagree. The truth of the matter is, the Saturn wasn’t competitive. Sega didn’t need to rush out the Saturn, because the Genesis was popular in the U.S. and Sega were kings of the arcades in Japan. Sega of Japan only seemed to really care about Japan in the end.

Pride goeth before the fall. Yes, the 32X was a mistake, but nothing compared to the Saturn. The Dreamcast, however, was ahead of its time. The hardware was extremely efficient. I just wish that Sega could have sold it at a bigger loss and made it more powerful.


#3

A large part of the problem was that Sega wasn’t unified. The 32X and Saturn should have been a single project, rather than Sega of America and Sega of Japan competing with one another. The Megadrive could have been kept around a bit longer while the Saturn was redesigned to be more competitive with the Playstation. Many of the 32X games such as Knuckles Chaotix could have been released for the Megadrive without downgrading them too much. Along with the Mega CD, the 32X was very much a temporary system that made customers and developers lose faith; it really shouldn’t have been released at all.

In the long run I’m not sure that Sega could have competed with Sony and Microsoft in the hardware business though. By the time the Dreamcast came out, Sega were struggling to afford the inclusion of DVD (which was one of PS2’s main selling points) so they settled with GD-ROM. Sony simply had more resources to put into the PS2’s hardware. It’s similar to what’s happening with Nintendo now as the Wii U struggles to compete with Xbox One and PS4.


#4

Sega could have finished second place in the 32 Bit console war as opposed to a distant third.

From there who knows what would have happened? The one thing I know for certain is Sega killed themselves.

The Saturn is more powerful than the Playstation on paper. The PS gave devs who didn’t want to waste time exactly what they wanted. Games like Radiant Silvergun and PD Saga are some of the best looking games of their generation. Dead or Alive looks better on the Saturn than the Playstation as well.

Obviously there’s a difference between numbers in theory and numbers in practice. Only a few devs could get the most out of the Saturn.


#5

It just goes to show how important good developer tools are. The developers at Team Andromeda really were masters of their craft to get Panzer Dragoon Saga to look that good. Most developers would rather program in C than Assembly code.

It’s a lesson to learn from. I think easy to use tools will produce the great games of tomorrow. I see a lot of game engines popping up that are making to easier and easier to develop games (Unity, HTML5 game engines, etc). Some of these may become the industry standard in the years to come instead of C++ based engines.


#6

Well I will disagree somewhat Geoffrey, the Saturn was no worse than the Playstation 3 in the technological context. What was very different was the market context, and the 32X was a much bigger mistake because it was responsible for much of that context, SoA was far too full of itself at that time and trying to force an ugly, jury rigged contraption that they knew could never get significant support onto the market was criminal. If SoJ was also guilty of hubris that is beside the point, it’s no coincidence that the Saturn WAS competitive in Japan, it was a viable and coherent platform there. I mean yeah, SoA didn’t like the Saturn and they really showed it, so a poorly supported console that its own sales branch didn’t believe in tanked, go figure.

It is what it is, mistakes were made. The Saturn was a dead end branch of technology and I still love it for that. In context the same can be said for the Playstation 2 and curiously enough that is the only Sony console I am truly fond of. I’m not saying the Saturn deserved to come out on top or anything, and the PSX probably had too many valid advantages anyway, but the shit show SoA put on set up a domino effect culminating in the real tragedy of the Dreamcast, so I still pin it on the climate of infighting and disrespect for the SEGA prime.

I mean this is a company that used to actually replace all the names of the people who actually CREATED a game with testers and marketers. That always said something to me. /sad


#7

Did you own Quake for the Saturn? I’m still impressed by the graphics engine and dynamic lightsourcing seen in that game. It’s a miracle that Quake even exists on the Saturn. The Gothic art is still great today much like the art in Panzer Dragoon.

If Lobotomy had converted Doom to the Saturn then it would have been the best home version. You shouldn’t need to be the best developers in the industry to do a simple straight port with extra special effects. Remember, time is money. No one wants to waste time unless it’s worth their while.

The Playstation more or less got the most out of the console from the very beginning. It was brutally competitive. I’m still impressed with Wipeout today. Every time I see dithered transparencies on the Saturn I die inside.

I still need to buy Dragon Force. Riglord Saga 2 looked better than the first game as well, but it has a distinctly more Asian theme than the first game which was more medieval.

The Saturn was actually a great console for Japanese RPGs. Grandia looks better on the Saturn than the PS too. I wish it had been translated, but Mister Stolar was intent on cutting the console loose which created the inescapable perception that Sega didn’t build consoles that last, which meant they were a bad investment. Microsoft doesn’t have this problem, because even though they clearly screwed up the Xbox One, they clearly aren’t going anywhere.

I’m in the process of completing my Saturn collection at the moment, but I still have a long way to go.


#8

The only time the dithered blend bothers me is when I know they could have worked around it with a little more effort, like in Symphony of the Night or Raystorm 2… grrr. Well and also how no one ever actually noticed the fact that Panzer Dagoon used a limited transparency for its lock on arrows as well… grrr. Some games just didn’t bother trying to make it look less shitty too, like they were intentionally insulting the Saturn by using the most garish contrast. Again in context it was a useful cheap ability, games like Guardian Heroes used it nicely to fade out foreground elements when characters moved behind them and it wasn’t conspicuous. And there’s a reason PSX games used blending sparingly and I can’t recall seeing any fullscreen effects such as the smoke / cloud atmospherics in Azel, alpha blending is not cheap and while the Playstation was a geometry monster its fillrate is comparatively weak.

I never did own Quake, one that slipped through my attention at the time, but I tried it once or twice. I’ll still take Exhumed even if it’s not strictly as miraculous looking, it’s more of a true Saturn game to me. But it is especially sad that almost no one else tried to do something unique like that with the sprite blending, Burning Rangers was technically impressive but it’s reaching too far just to make a statement, that no one really cared about in the end.

I know I’ve talked about this enough times, but my perspective is probably unusual since I never once felt envious of the Playstation, most of its supposedly best games looked distasteful to me even at the time. Not all but as a rule the image quality was generic and cheap. And the lighting / shading always looked the same, rather dull. (excepting Gran Turismo)


#9

Are you using S-Video or a RGB SCART cable to play Saturn games, or a Composite cable?

Many Playstation games haven’t aged well (the texture warping is especially awful) but looked great at the time IMO.

Wipeout and Resident Evil 1-2-3 are truly great games. Capcom were going to convert RE2 to the Saturn but they scrapped it for the Dreamcast. If they’d used Sonic Team’s graphics engine it could have been a faithful port. But like I said, it wasn’t worth the extra effort.

Dead or Alive, Grandia, Radiant Silvergun and Shining Force III parts 2 and 3 all should have been localized. The Saturn was born to render games that blend 2D and 3D graphics. I wish we had seen more of them, especially like Exhumed like you said.

Oh what might have been. Or as M Bison would say: The road not taken.

Games like Virtual Cop 2 have aged really well because they have a colorful art style. I wonder if Sega were even aware of that or if it was an accident of limited hardware, or simply a popular art style that no one knew would age well.


#10

I had an older TV at the time and only ever had a composite cable, but I saw how harsh S-Video could look with the Saturn for some games playing on a friend’s TV.

I don’t mean to dismiss the PSX’s games or its capabilities, some games did look amazing at the time, it’s just that I always knew what both had to offer. Or rather all three, Playstation, Saturn, N64, very different systems but the PSX is the least unique of the lot, technology wise PCs were the same thing but better already, just a lot more expensive.

If the Saturn wasn’t the anachronistic monster that it is, Guardian Heroes and Radiant Silvergun* and Shining the Holy Ark* would not have been made - StHA would not have been seen as technically impressive but it is wonderful, unique, and a loving postscript to an era. Tomb Raider may not have ‘happened’, or AMOK either. And of course Panzer Dragoon, the Saturn channelled this living story through the void, there is no question of that for me. And so I got the most beautiful game I have ever played.*

There is a certain technical characteristic seen in all three games, it is minute and probably invisible to virtually everyone who has played them, but I think it has an ineffable consequence. The way the ground or surface bitmap is accurately mapped all the way into the horizon and with that gorgeous gradient, it’s like an anchor of firmament, it proves the context of scale. Also the solid background image in general, compared to every PSX game with any kind of rotation or scaling that always looks flaky and shaky and flat.

*And sound, music, emotion. Three of the best chip tune soundtracks ever for me, including the peerless masterpiece of all soundtracks period. Azel is, well, just that and all that. I can only think of a few games since then that are in the same league for authentic chip works, but nothing from the Playstation either, so the Saturn represents the send off for an idiom there as well.

Ahh this is a dangerous topic for me, I could wax on for DAYS I’m sure. But it was never about thinking the Saturn was a better system than the Playstation, it was simply a clear and unambiguous personal choice if it came to it, Saturn had the goods I liked better.


#11

I believe that the Saturn could have had all those games and still had more mainstream games at the same time and could have been more competitive. Rushing out the Saturn was a fatal mistake IMO.

The unfamiliar hardware forced developers to be incredibly creative. What Team Andromeda did with scaling transparent Bitmaps really was a work of genius. We should ask them if they are human. >:)

Btw, Composite dilutes the picture quality of Saturn games too (also known as AV). The best picture quality the Saturn outputs is RGB SCART, which was, I believe, standard in Japan as JP-21.

S-Video seems to make things too clear, especially dithered 3D transparencies.

Watch the end of this video (15 minutes onwards) and you will see true Saturn picture quality (Nights looks pretty good apart from the dithered transparencies). You’d have extra trouble setting that up on American NTSC TVs, but the guy in the video explains how to bypass that:


#12

I have to agree with your assessment. Sega really rushed the Saturn out too quickly. They fortunately had some awesome developers that made it work, but if SOJ and SOA would have worked together and actually evaluated some of their choices, they might still exist today. Sega wasn’t the best run company. They sorted things out a bit more by the time the Dreamcast was released, but it was just too little too late. If they only would have put all the development effort of the 32x, Sega CD, and Saturn variants together, I imagine they could have had a much more compelling and easier to develop for system.

The developers were creative in spite of the Saturn’s hardware, not because. They probably would have been able to focus on producing content if they weren’t fighting the hardware. (My personal belief based on my own experience coding embedded stuff).


#13

I agree with this point, @frelled. Even though I haven’t written the type of code used by Saturn developers, in general programming at a higher level provides significant productivity gains. Sacrificing power for shared solutions moves focus from game technology to the game itself. It’s similar to today’s games, where most developers would rather use an existing engine (Unreal, Unity, etc) and build value on top of existing work, rather than write an engine from scratch.


#14

Sega screwed up the hardware. This makes me respect Team Andromeda even more. What they did with the Saturn was unbelievable.

It just makes me angry tbh. Camelot were also excellent Saturn developers. Somehow they managed to render true 3D transparency effects in Shining Force 3. If I remember correctly, they used the Saturn’s sound chip to stream graphics. Lol.

I don’t know if Sega of Japan were stubborn or stupid. Either way, they killed the Saturn. No one will ever convince me otherwise.


#15

ive read it and its inaccurate it says victor ireland was looking for an excuse to leave the saturn but here is victor HIMSELF debunking that saying he was going to localize many more games for saturn http://www.gaijinworks.com/interact/showthread.php?56-WD-Trivia-Storytime-Thread/page79 read this page onward


#16

think again