Amidst the furor surrounding the launch of the Saturn in the Western hemisphere, NEXT Generation has uncovered details of a follow-up machine under development at one of Sega's affiliate companies.
Forida-based defense and NASA contractor Lockheed Martin -- pioneer of the graphics technology used in Sega's Model 1 and Model 2 arcade boards -- has been working on technology for a higher-specification Saturn system since last September. It's believed that this second generation machine will be made available to developers late next year.
It's not unusual for a company in the business of selling videogames hardware to begin work on a successor system before the release of its market-ready hardware. However, in the case of the Saturn, the tide of disappointment that swelled from developers and internal staff over the machine's fundamental shortfalls and architectural untidiness has forced Sega to adopt a strategy that may result in the original machine (which is still under a year old) being prematurely upgraded or perhaps even phased out altogether.
Now Sega has conceded internally that Saturn will face tough competition from the Playstation and will not be able to match the onslaught from the Ultra 64 in 1996. Lockheed Martin has therefore been given the go-ahead to start work on Saturn 2, although it's not yet known exactly what form it will take. The current understanding is that the system will be a standalone console, but it's possible that Sega could save money by using the existing Saturn as an I/O device, CD drive and power supply.
As with Sega's coin-op IG boards, Lockheed Martin will be concentrating on the graphics side of Saturn 2, providing a R3D/100 graphics chip which includes both a geometry processor and a graphics processor. It's quite possible that Hitachi will supply the front end (Possibly PowerPC-based) -- it was rumored that Yu Suzuki and other Sega coin-op honchos had wanted Lockheed Martin to handle the whole project, but this was vetoed internally because of delays with LMC's development of the Model 3 IG board.
The division of Lockheed Martin Corporation responsible for Saturn 2 and other IG (image generation) hardware is the Information Systems group, headquartered in Orlando, Fla. This group was originally part of General Electic Aerospace and was located in Daytona Beach. Fla (across the street from the Daytona International Speedway). After the completion of the Model 1 arcade board, GE Aerospace was bought out by Martin Marietta and was integrated into the Orlando Information Systems group. Martin Marietta merged with aerospace giant Lockheed last April.
LMC's involvement with Sega dates back to General Electric's co-development of the Model1 board first used in Virtua Racing. When Sega's own engineers failed to make significant progress toward an advanced texture-mapping version of their leading IG board (which would become Model 2), the US company was called in to lend assistance, and Model 2 appeared in early 1994. At the time, it was known that Yu Suzuki was eager to give the whole project to Lockheed Martin, not just the IG side.
As well as the development of Saturn 2, LMC has been central to the work on Model 3 -- Sega's hugely delayed successor to the technology behind Daytona USA and Sega Rally. The ultra high-end board was supposed to be ready in time for three Model 3 games due for release this year. As well as Virtua Fighter 3, NEXT Generation has learned that the watered-down Indy 500 (see page 136) was originally targeted for Model 3, but delays in the board's progress meant it was coded up for Model 2 instead. It is also understood that Lockheed Martin is still working on Model 3 prototypes, with testing still some ways off.
Whereas Model 2 was a combination of Sega's Model 1 polygon engine technology and a Martin Marietta-designed texture-mapping board, Model 3 has little in common with its forerunner. It is based on LMC's high-end R3D/Pro-1000 -- a high-specification chip designed for low-cost, high-end visual simulations and capable of delivering 750,000 textured polygons on screen -- which is unrelated to the R3D/100 destined for inclusion in Saturn 2. It also uses a Hitachi-designed PowerPC host board.
There appears to be little doubt that, when it finally appears, Model 3 will be the most powerful low-cost IG board in existence, despite the ground gained by home entertainment systems currently in development. One expert close to the project commented: "Model 3 was created for one thing, and one thing only -- to push lots of textured polygons for as few dollars as possible. Nothing compares to it on those terms."
Where Model 3 will leave new high-tech rivals such as 3DO's M2 for dust is in the amount of RAM available. NEXT Generation's contact points out: "You can build a box that can pump three million polygons only if you have enough RAM to store 300 million polygons' worth of models. It doesn't mean anything for a machine to be able to MIP-map textures if you don't have enough VRAM to store multiple copies of each map at different resolutions."
Since Model 3 is now unlikely to appear until the 1996 JAMMA show in Tokyo (and with Model 4 already being specced up), it seems likely that Sega's arch-rival Namco could get a considerable head star in the entertainment IG arena with its rumored System 23 board.