There are some interesting tidbits in Melf's interview of Scot Bayless, in relation to Retrogamer's interview and the current understanding of the 32X's development. It is important to note that Bayless has been consistent with his account across both interviews, something in which Kalinske is somewhat the polar opposite. What I thought interesting in this new interview is that Bayless describes his job experience as a massive rush to getting the Sega CD up and running that was effectively cut off by the 32X's break neck development cycle. Perhaps more importantly though, is Bayless' insinuation that the final 32X was dramatically stripped down and cost cut from the original design.
Bayless doesn't give any specifics in this interview, but mentions that Sato, and Sega of Japan, forced SoA to keep the 32X below a certain cost, and that there was an original more powerful design by Marty Franz. The final 32X being inferior to the original design is attributed as the ultimate reason for the add-on's failure. I fail to see how a more expensive 32X would have succeeded even if it did made the Genesis as powerful as the Saturn. If anything, the high price of the real world 32X in the UK and South America doomed it to not only failure, but everliving ire from Genesis owners to this day. It is almost impossible to convince people from these regions that the 32X was easily cost effective in the US, in relation to the Jaguar and chipped SNES games especially.
Last edited by sheath; 03-01-2012 at 02:29 PM.
I don't doubt that the 32X was stripped to be as cheap as possible. I'd bet the SDRAM was probably 32 bits wide instead of 16, but they cut the memory in half; then all the ads and boxes all say the rotation and scaling is in HARDWARE... which got cut as well.
Oh, and your link is WAY wrong!
Hahah, oops. Fixed it.
That is an interesting point about the hardware scaling and rotation. I always just assumed that was marketing in direct competition to Nintendo's Mode 7 nonsense. I didn't even know what a frame buffer was back then, but I wanted the Genesis to have "scaling and rotation" that improved with each upgrade.
Would the 32X SH-2s have seen significant performance increases with a 32-bit RAM bus. I'm supposing they do all of their calculations at 32-bit even with 16-bit RAM. I would think that the 32X would need more RAM, or faster ROM, before it would need a 32-bit wide bus.
Last edited by sheath; 03-01-2012 at 03:25 PM.
Assuming they used the same restricting burst-access scheme for SDRAM, the advantage of 32-bit width would be double the bandwidth and having less overhead for bust accesses as well. (it should take 4 cycles less per burst to read the same 16 bytes since you'd only have to read 4 32-bit words rather than 8 16-bit words)
However, the framebuffers would still only be 16-bits wide (and rather slow), so that would remain a major bottleneck too.
Making heavier investments in the actual design/engineering work can make a massive difference in overall quality and performance within given cost constraints, albeit such investment isn't just money and manpower either, but also time. Time is one thing the 32x was definitely not given for its design. (approximately 6 months from napkin schematic to preproduction dev units, that's even more extreme than things like the Atari ST)
One could argue that they could have cut corners and accelerated development by making use of existing designs (building on parts of the Saturn and/or MCD, etc), but that's practically limited. (especially since few of those really catered to a higher performance system that would have cost similarly to the 32x)
Ideally, a 32x-like add-on for the Genesis (ignoring the practical disadvantages of marketing such an add-on relative to the Saturn, etc) would probably have been something architecturally closer to the Jaguar in as far as using a wide unified bus with cheap commodity RAM and a single relatively dense custom ASIC (somewhat like TOM in the Jaguar) containing all the interface and RAM control logic, embedded CPU/GPU, blitter, sound and I/O hardware. (so more like the hypothetical streamlined Jaguar Crazyace and I have been discussing in the 5th gen tech thread -in terms of omitting JERRY and cutting out the Object processor line buffers and CRAM from TOM in favor of a simplified system using a single ASIC with blitter and GPU/CPU with audio DACs and I/O logic added to TOM)
Of course, the Jaguar had a lot more time and R&D investment made in it than the 32x (albeit also with the disadvantage of having the architecture laid out in 1990, with limited foresight), so the context is different there for sure.
And as I've said before, in terms of getting a design from napkin sketch to production-ready in 1/2 a year, there's probably not a whole lot more that could have been done, especially with the constraints of it being an add-on. (albeit, from that standpoint, there's a bigger argument for not designing such an add-on at all, and that any such add-on would be much more practical to limit to much lower cost/complexity -like the SVP- and even then be arguably impractical for mainstream market success -especially on top of the MCD and with a next-gen system on the horizon)
Perhaps it wouldn't have been too unreasonable to use plain FPM DRAM for main RAM rather than SDRAM and make it 32-bits wide (probably still cheaper -or allow more like 1 MB of RAM), though that would increase the complexity of the DRAM controller/interface if they wanted to keep speed up (rather than limit it to framebuffer DRAM access speeds). But a decent FPM DRAM controller could actually end up giving better performance than the SDRAM allowed by not limiting the SH2s to bust accesses. (so single word reads/writes would be much faster)
Besides that, having a single 512kB 16-bit wide SDRAM chip (like those used in the Saturn) would have been more important than having 256 kB at 32-bits wide . . . especially if they didn't restrict it to burst reads/writes. (so single word accesses would be much faster -with the speed of the SDRAM being used, probably just 3 or 4 SH2 clocks per read/write)
And in terms of raw cost in the 32x's design, the 2nd SH2 was probably a major waste compared to investing in a larger custom ASIC with hardware graphics acceleration capabilities. (again, R&D could have factored in there for sure, but if manufacturing cost was the only factor, then more custom silicon dedicated to hardware acceleration -blitting/affine rendering/RGB blending/shading/etc, let alone polygon warping or rasterization- would be much more useful than a 2nd SH2 for 2D or 3D games; even a direct derivative of VDP1 might have made sense -using the framebuffer banks similarly to the Saturn and contending with the SH2 for textures in SDRAM or adding a dedicated texture RAM bank as well)
Getting a bit further off on this tangent, there's the argument that, if a lower-cost/interim/early next-gen console was truly felt to be needed (beyond the MD/MCD or SVP-class enhancements), then a standalone system rather than an add-on could have made much more sense. The 32x itself wasn't too far from being a standalone console (just a bit of I/O hardware and actually reduction in complexity by omitting the MD interface and Genlock hardware), and removing the add-on requirement should have allowed for more emphasis on other features (even with the limited R&D timeframe), though anything very close to the 32x would still have been pretty weak as a real 32-bit gen competitor and it would still have just been one more incompatible platform on the market. (which was one of Sega's bigger problems in that period)
So, as I've also argued before, in the context of an early/lower-cost next-gen console instead of the 32x (with all else the same in 1994), the most sensible option would have been something like the so-called Jupiter concept. (a stripped down, fully forward-compatible Saturn derivative with less RAM and no CD drive/interface but retaining provisions for expansion to Saturn spec as well as using carts that would directly play on the full Saturn as well -so still splitting the market somewhat, but allowing a lower-end option accessible to many more users in the 1994~96 timeframe and retaining much more cross-compatibility for next-gen hardware as well as software development -very straightforward ports to Saturn/Jupiter)
Beyond that, you get into the bigger arguments of Sega's management, the design of the Saturn itself, arguable nature/practicality of the Sega CD's market presence (and associated marketing/management), and various other historical business/marketing/management related issues. (along with technical issues)
Jupiter would have split the market such that the true potential of the Saturn would never be realized as developers target the LCD to ensure everyone can buy their games. The Saturn was already outclassed by early PSX games visually; I'd hate to think what comparisons to 32X-ish titles would have done for sales and the brand. No one would buy Jupiter. There would be no incentive.
Still the next big topic to discuss for another few years before we get such a substantial interview like this one again will be how the 32X was scaled down from its original design and then have Kool_Kitty89 hypothesise what it could have been like in some meaty posts.I wasn’t privy to the private conversations inside SOJ about how that went but I’d be willing to bet a buck that Sato was just as disappointed as anyone about that.
Hey, I also wonder if we'll get another writer using a few interview sources, and some old magazine clippings to hypothesis how the 32X was originally designed, and then afterward have there subjective narrative history qouted as the verbatim truth! *Cough Pettius* *Cough Saturn*
I think a cartridge based Saturn would not have worked at all though, my pocket history rewriter on my new dual core HTC smart phone says that the 32X plus Neptune could have generated more revenue for Sega in the critical years of 1994-1996.
The price of a standalone hardware upgrade drops as you purchase an entire library, but that goes for anything. How many consumers would you think would have interest in purchasing an entire add-on's library? How many people bought every since Sega CD game back in the day? I find that a silly point to make. At no point is it feasible to consider consumers to react in such a manner. People make cost-benefit decisions on their purchases, and the 32X library is (I believe) safely out of the range for what most people would consider making the add-on worth buying and far less so at launch.
Last edited by Benjamin; 03-02-2012 at 09:54 AM.
If Sega had stuck to the plan it simply could have rode the residual sales of the Genesis and Sega CD and 32X and their software while the Saturn took its time ramping up. It isn't just the TV industry that maintains different products simultaneously, all business diversifies or dies.
Last edited by sheath; 03-02-2012 at 10:49 AM.
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