Saturn: Sato, legendary hardware designer at Sega, father of Megadrive and other platforms, talks about the difficulties they encountered with Saturn. Beep21, the online heir to the classic Japanese magazine Beep! has published an extensive and priceless interview with Hideki Sato, the father of most of Sega’s consoles, including SG1000, Master System, Mega Drive, Saturn and Dreamcast, as well as one of the company’s presidents (2001-2003) . Access is paid (and in Japanese), but a group of fans in the Sega-16 forums have translated a very significant part about the development of Saturn, the turbulent process of creating the 32-bit and contributing new information that results exciting for those interested in the history of videogames. Some of this information was already known from a past and extensive interview collected in the form of a book about the life in Sega of the engineer, but here new ideas are contributed such as the possibility of having taken a drastically different path.
“I regret not having based it on the Model 1”
Perhaps one of the biggest new revelations of the interview was to know that there was an idea on the table to base Saturn on the Model 1 recreational board, on which the company began to dominate the 3D board in arcades with aesthetically groundbreaking proposals such as Virtua Fighter, Star Wars or Virtua Racing. That idea would have meant a clear commitment to 3D for the new domestic platform and could have put it in another position with respect to Playstation, a machine oriented without complexes to the polygons that would end up imposing in the industry.
From the vantage point that looking to the past gives us knowing what is going to happen, the architecture of Saturn has always been identified as one of its main problems. It was a capable machine, but it took a lot more time and effort for the developer to achieve optimal results compared to the Playstation, a problem that is also associated with an initial lack of tools and documentation. Sato retells the reasoning for that decision: “To be honest, at first, I wasn’t thinking about Saturn’s 3D capabilities at all. This was partially my fault, but also, the developers at Sega had no 3D development skills. They had all grown up in an environment of 2D sprites and scenarios, and the only developers who had real experience with 3D were Yu Suzuki and AM2 with the Virtua series. The only one who had shown interest in the recreational polygon license plate proposals was Suzuki. All the other developers wanted to continue developing using the same systems they were used to. ”
“What was special about Yu Suzuki at that time? He graduated from university with a mathematics degree. More than electronics, you have to be good at math to work in 3D. That was why Yu Suzuki was ahead of the rest when it came to creating 3D polygonal games. So the situation at Sega was that developers would have to study the fundamentals in math and geometry from scratch. Even the designers would have to. I studied our development teams and my conclusion was that it was impossible for them to make 3D games. There were 1000 developers in the development division at Sega, Saturn was going to launch in 1994, but software development would have to start in 1993, perhaps 1992 in some cases. They couldn’t make 3D. However, Playstation fully embraced polygons. “