In 1994, Sega developed two 32-bit consoles at the same time: the Saturn, a CD-ROM based system and the Jupiter, a cartridge based system. Seeing that CD-ROMs were cheaper to produce and offered a greater storage capacity than silicon cartridges, Sega decided to proceed with the Saturn. The Jupiter became the 32X add-on for the Genesis system. In the final design, Sega did add a cartridge port to the Saturn console only for the purpose of external storage and future expansion.
Sega had Hitachi, Yamaha and JVC manufacture internal components for the Saturn system in an effort to get it in stores as fast as possible. Later Sega announced that each of the same three companies would distribute the Saturn system.
In March 1995 Sega of America announced that the Saturn would be released on September 2 in time for the Christmas holiday. Sega was in a race to beat the highly anticipated Sony Playstation which was also due out in September. However, despite the announcement, Sega surprised consumers in May, when a supply of 30,000 Saturns were released in American stores. Retail price on the system was $399. Included with the console was an eight button control pad and a CD-ROM of the arcade hit Virtua Fighter. Sega made the console available with no game for $349.
Also caught off guard by the early release of the Saturn were third party game developers. With no warning time, a minimal amount of software titles were distributed in the first months of the Saturn's American release.
The Saturn console was built around a double-speed CD-ROM drive. It featured a total of eight microprocessors. It was powered by two Hitachi SH2 32-bit processors that operate at 28.6MHz. The Saturn's parallel processing architecture was designed so both engines would be working in conjunction with each other. The two graphics processors could display up to five background planes and rotate two playfields for the enhancement of depth and perspective.
Among the peripherals available was the Sega Saturn Stunner. It was a light gun that featured single action firing and reloading. It provided a similar feel and appearance of a genuine arcade shooter. It could be used with Saturn shooting games like: Area 51 and Virtua Cop.
In 1996, Sega unveiled the Net Link add-on for the Saturn. It retailed for $199.99 and featured a 28.8kbps modem that plugged into the cartridge expansion port. With the modem, Sega packaged a CD-ROM that contained a custom-designed Net Link web browser that compensated for the low-resolution of television sets.
Users could type E-mail with an on-screen-virtual keyboard using the Sega Saturn Controller or an optional Net Link mouse. Unlike a home computer, the Saturn was only equipped with a RAM memory and could not permanently store downloaded data or E-mail. There was no printer available so all information needed to be read on-screen before turning the power off.
Net Link offered the feature of allowing Saturn players to compete against each other on-line. Unlike previous console modems, Net Link gave gamers using different platforms to the ability to compete. All players were required to have versions of Sega's customized software to participate. On-line games available for the Saturn include: Virtual On, Daytona C.C.E., Duke Nukem 3D, Sega Rally and Bomberman
Sega reported good initial sales for the Saturn but the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64 systems soon dominated the market. By March of 1998, Sega of America had reported losses of $309 million. Sega continued to sell software for the Saturn but began concentrating on the release of the 128-bit Dreamcast system, which was scheduled for release in Japan on November 20, 1998, and in America during the autumn of 1999. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide