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New Info on the Pluto, the Origins of the Saturn Name, and More (!!!)

Discussion in 'General Sega Discussion' started by Gryson, May 31, 2022.

  1. Gryson

    Gryson

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    The new online Japanese magazine Beep21 has come through again with amazing Sega history. They've just posted the first part of an interview with two hardware designers that worked at Sega in the 1990s. Both remain anonymous. The topic of conversation was the Sega Pluto. New photos of a Pluto prototype numbered 04 have surfaced, and Beep21 tracked down the designers to question. The photos are behind the magazine's paywall and I will respect their wishes not to leak them, but they are the same as the Pluto prototypes already known, just unpainted. I will, however, translate the important details for you here.

    If you need a refresher, the Pluto was a modified Saturn with modem/HDD that was first revealed by a former SOA employee in 2013. Not much is known about it.

    Here are the revelations from the interview:

    • The Pluto was a modified Saturn that included a modem and a 500 MB 2.5-inch hard drive. It functioned identically to the Saturn hardware in every other way.
    • Five functioning prototypes were made. Two (01 and 02) were painted and given to Sega of America. Three more (03, 04, and 05) were unpainted and were created to test the casing in Japan.
    • The Pluto was ordered by the head of Sega of America during mid-1995. It was absolutely never intended to be released in Japan. The prototypes were finished around January 1996.
    • Why did the Pluto use a more expensive 2.5-inch HDD rather than a 3.5-inch HDD?
    • Both the modem and the HDD were modular and could be easily removed or swapped. This was intended to allow for easy upgrading to a faster modem or for more storage.
    • The cost of the Pluto would have been outrageously high if it were actually manufactured.

    Naming Origins
    • There was no real thought given to the ordering of the planets used as codenames for hardware development, despite numerous fan theories over the years.
    • So, where did the whole planet-based naming system come from? It turns out it was taken from IBM!
    • IBM used names of stars as project codenames. IBM referred to the TeraDrive as “Spica.” The people at Sega working on the project were influenced by that and decided to refer to it as “Terra” (meaning Earth; they spelled this as “Tera”). However, Sega found out at the absolute last moment that another company had a trademark for “Terra,” so they revised it to “TeraDrive” with the logic Mega -> Giga -> Tera.
    • Following that, the staff continued to use planet names for the future hardware projects.
    • It also turned out that another company had a trademark for a toy based on the Saturn rocket, so Sega had to revise the official name of the console to “Sega Saturn” [Japanese is ambiguous as to whether this is one word or two].
    • The Saturn software codenames such as Andromeda (for Panzer Dragoon) were also inspired by IBM’s star-based system.

    This is the first part of the interview. The second part is supposed to be even longer and will include the reason why SOA ordered the Pluto. It will also apparently include more info on the Jupiter. I will update the thread when it is released.

    There's a lot to take in here. It's interesting to read that the Saturn was priced (presumably at launch) at a loss equal to one game's value.

    Perhaps the coolest thing to me here is the whole TeraDrive = Terra comment. All along, Earth was represented in the lineup and nobody ever realized it. Does this mean the TeraDrive is the device to rule them all?

    And what was SOA thinking? I really want to know the plan for the Pluto. Hopefully the details will be good in part 2 of the interview.
     
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  2. Dark Sonic

    Dark Sonic

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    Ooofff that is a bad sticker price. Kinda makes sense they never released the thing, really don't even see the point of it, it had a modem but did many Saturn games even make use of that?

    I'm reminded of the old Simpsons episode the car built for Homer, where he designs a ridiculous car that ends up having a ridiculous sticker price which effectively ruins his step brother's company.

    I guess in this case SoA is Homer and SoJ is Homer's step brother. But in reality both sides were thick headed in the 90s it's no surprise they eventually dropped out of the console market.
     
  3. saxman

    saxman

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    If Pluto was intended to be retailed, I would guess it would play into Sega's online strategy they pushed at the time with the NetLink. Get one of these in every home, and if it catches fire, then they've got a clear advantage over Sony and Nintendo. The steep price delta id a bit risky though, and I would have to guess why they ultimately decided against it.

    Really interesting info though. I especially find the TeraDrive/Earth thing fascinating.

    And someone was just mentioning in another thread how Saturn games were branded with "Sega" in front, as opposed to the Genesis and others. Maybe that's why then.
     
  4. Captain L

    Captain L

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    Damn, I made an RPG game that had a trivia quiz segment, one of the questions was “what planet has Sega not used as the code name for hardware”, and the correct answer was Earth. Guess I have to update the game now.
     
  5. Black Squirrel

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    The Saturn + NetLink package retailed at $449.99 in October 1996, so it's (I guess) not totally out of the question that a combined unit could retail for about $400 (or $420 or whatever). It's that desire for a hard drive that baffles me - this exercise would free up the cartridge slot, so you're nearly doubling the price for no reason.

    idk maybe I've been using my Saturn "wrong" for 25 years, but I got by with just the single memory cartridge (and the internal memory of course). A lot of games couldn't even save!
     
  6. Hydr0city

    Hydr0city

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    Part of me wonders if they were going for some fancier shit and wanted to experiment with people downloading games/other things to their console? I can't think of any other reason they'd want to do so, because you're right that the Saturn wasn't really a storage-hungry machine. They could've wanted to learn into some kind of hybrid computer/console, and the fact they mention things being swappable "for more storage" makes me wonder if that was the case. Which if it is, is incredibly fascinating as it's some super forward thinking. Could be thinking too hard about it, but it's neat to think about. :V
     
  7. JaxTH

    JaxTH

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    Jack shit.
    It is Sega's blessing AND curse.
     
  8. SpiderInStockings

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    Echoing what others have already said, the decision to go with a 2.5" hard drive for an unspecified reason is what intrigues. It feels like there's something more to the entire premise that just hasn't been brought up or discovered yet because in relation to the Saturn, it makes no sense. Only two things I could think of would be digital games (taking SegaNet to a new level by allowing you to save to the console, hence the hard drive + network capabilities) or (and this is probably less likely) PC-like capabilities allowing you to access the internet and install games onto the hard drive via floppy/optical disc as was standard at the time.
     
  9. Black Squirrel

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    I can vaguely envison some kind of "install and you can load faster" thing going on, similar the 360/PS3 - even in 1995 there were gains to be made, but it still relies on developers implementing the feature, and putting in a faster CD-ROM drive seems more cost effective.

    I also don't remember game loading being much of a thing on the Saturn. I mean it wasn't speedy, but some PS4/Xbox One titles take upwards of a minute - it was never that bad, and the PlayStation was roughly the same. The obvious bottleneck with Saturn gaming was in 3D rendering, and this Pluto console offers nothing on that front (and tbh you wouldn't want it to, since then you've got two classes of Saturn user).


    My best guess is a crude form of DLC, like more multiplayer maps or something. Maybe even patches (although god knows how that would work) - I can't see them wanting to split the market with special "install only" games, and I'm not sure how much 1995/1996-era internet can offer (although if the modules were interchangable, I guess you can't have online + hard drive? Or maybe you can?).

    I wouldn't say I'm "glad" the project never came to anything, but it seems misguided at best.
     
  10. Hivebrain

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    500MB is quite generous for the mid-90s.

    I did end up filling the memory on my Saturn back then, so the hard drive would have been handy. NiGHTS took up a lot of space with its A-life thing.
     
  11. Azookara

    Azookara

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    Kinda makes you ask where this 500MB hard drive / modular slot was for the Dreamcast. That would've been VERY useful for pushing the "online" angle.
     
  12. Yuzu

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    Yeah, this would have been fantastic for the Dreamcast and it’s just kinda jarring that they didn’t iterate on this concept at all for it.

    I guess they assumed it wasn’t worth the production cost of including a hard drive.
     
  13. Elratauru

    Elratauru

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    Regarding planet code names:


    Reminder of this beautiful anniversary video (it has English CC's) that explains that Megadrive was retroactively named Earth afterward they decided on Saturn (because of it being a 6th generation console for them, and Saturn being the 6th planet).

    MegaDrive was always the Mark V for them before that.
     
  14. Gryson

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    Just to be clear - I don't think the video actually says that, does it? Miyazaki says he thought the Mega Drive was codenamed Earth, but he learned that was incorrect.

    It's also probably incorrect that the Game Gear was codenamed Mercury. It came out even before the TeraDrive. If it was called Mercury, that was probably applied later.

    The OP interview does say there's a lot of incorrect info floating around about these codenames.
     
  15. Azookara

    Azookara

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    I'm sure it had to do with the arbitrary "it has to be $199" rule they put on themselves. One of those rules that I think did the console in, tbh.
     
  16. JaxTH

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    It does not. It's about the Mini being codenamed "Moon" because of the misconception that the Mega Drive was Earth.
     
  17. Black Squirrel

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    The Dreamcast had a better launch than the Xbox. In fact, it was record-breaking... before the PS2 broke the records again.

    Europe in particular was not receptive to the Xbox at first - I'm not entirely sure why that was, but if price wasn't a factor I'd be very surprised.
     
  18. Ted909

    Ted909

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    Unless my machine translations are way off, early coverage in Weekly Famitsu of the amusement theme park concept and its original mid-size attractions additionally seems to indicate that the tentative name for Sega's first location under the scheme was also going to be "Terra":
    [​IMG]
    This was October 1992/March 1993, so indeed long after they'd discovered that it was already trademarked by another company (the first location would of course become Osaka ATC Galbo). Just a coincidence, or indicative of preferred internal project titles among Sega's top brass?
     
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  19. Gryson

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    Nice find. So the Terra name was in use elsewhere. Trademark applications are field-specific, so Sega probably still could have called their theme park Terra.
     
  20. GerbilSoft

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    2.5" vs. 3.5" is easy: 3.5" drives add significant bulk and noise to the system. (Think the original Xbox.) Problem is, a 500 MB 2.5" HDD in 1995 would have been very expensive. (1 GB 3.5" HDDs were starting to become affordable around that time.)

    EDIT: From a 1995 price guide: https://www.reddit.com/r/pcmasterra...5_pc_hard_drive_and_optical_drive_price_list/
    A Quantum 514 MB 2.5" IDE HDD cost $339. That's definitely an expensive add-on for a console that cost $399 to begin with.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2022