What if Sega had given up on the Saturn during development and become strictly a software company? The changing market, their faltering PR, their diminishing resources, and Sonyís gatecrashing the scene could reasonably have led to such a decision.
We would have seen Sega franchises old and new on the 3DO, Playstation, N64, SNES, and perhaps the Jaguar and other also-rans. Segaís remaining stock of already manufactured 32Xs, CDs, and Mega Drives would have been liquidated more easily/profitably than they were in reality after the Saturnís launch, as now they would still receive support in the form of downports and coreleases to Sega games on other machines. A Duo 32X might well have surfaced if another company, such as JVC did with the X Eye, were willing to purchase the manufacturing rights.
How do you feel about and what do you think would have sprung from this? Would Sega have survived longer, put out a larger surge of great games before going under by 2000, merged with another game developer, shifted their focus to sports titles?...Itís your call.
Also, youíre encouraged to imagine what might have become of any given Sega franchise.
The following are a few diversions courtesy of my crooked brain.
Some examples of how Sega franchises might have changed:
Nights into Dreams (N64): our harlequin friend is now a blurred low polygon count model flying about in an oh-so-bright world of low quality music. On the plus side, all Christmas Nights is inherent and incorporated in this version, full use of traversing the ground is made, 2 player co-op exists, and even a 4P competitive race mode is supported. It plays a bit naff with the 64 pad.
Panzer Dragoon (3DO & PS): sadly this does not advance the cause of Panasonicís machine; weíll focus on the superior PS version. In compensation for mildly drabber hues and a lower framerate we get levels 1-3 longer by 20%, an extra final level, and overall smoother graphics thanks to the Playstationís more established codecs (than the Saturnís were in reality); also, as a sop to Sonyís no-2D policy, every stage features conspicuous elevation changes. Unfortunately Sony retrenches the arcade feel by demanding an FMV interval every lv (it can be skipped) and the ability to save.
Panzer Dragoon Zwei (PS & N64): by now 3DOís out of the running. The first gameís success spurs Nintendo to finagle a contract for the sequel, and in the end we get two profoundly different versions of the game. The Playstationís is very much like the real world PD Zwei except lower in framerate, but the N64ís is built from the ground up around co-op using ideas foreshadowed by the then under way PD Saga. Both are commercial successes.
Sonic R (N64): this game is quadrupled in size and cast thanks to its inclusion of Nintendo mascots. Immensely successful. Sequels abound.
Sonic 3D: Flickiesí Island (MD, SCD, & SNES): the MD version is just what we saw. The SCD gets something like our Saturn version except that the emerald chases are replaced by an altogether disturbing sequence in which Tails appears as a giant, picks up Sonic who then transforms into a blue mallet, and proceeds to play a game of whack a moleóthe mole being of course Robotnik. However itís the SNES version thatís most remembered; Nintendoís emphasis on cuteness guaranteeing ĎFlickiesí Islandí will be how the gameís forever referred to. Just to pour salt in an old Sega wound the SNES version turns out superior in every way. Flickiesí Island comes alongside DKC 2 as the consoleís final pack-ins.
Ecco: The Black Abyss (3DO): 3DO is the only company to show interest in this franchise. The entire game is CG modeled with top tier FMVs and ambient sound (cf Heart of Darkness). Itís the 3DOís last great prestige title. In `98 itís ported without complete fidelity or any fanfare to the Playstation.
Shining Force III: winds up on the Jaguar of all places. Rather than validating Atariís woebegone machine it simply spotlights all its failings and is forgotten until the internet and collecting boom when it attains the cachet of such titles as Chiller and Pesterminator.
Phantasy Star V (PS): a traditional JRPG, this debuts as a cash-in on the RPG explosion created by FF7, but its directness, intense story, demanding combat, and whimsical ďbroken teleporterĒ system (which can send the party anywhere at random when teleporting between cities) catapult it into Greatest Hits sales whilst paving the way for widespread disappointment at the overwrought and perennially delayed Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Sega Rally (3DO, N64, PS): 3DO diehards are glad of the quality racing despite some very questionable polygon counts but on the other systems itís quickly forgotten.
Streets of Rage: The New Chapter (PS & N64): The franchiseís massively publicised foray into 3D and 4P co-op is a catastrophic bomb. The money lost developing and marketing it derails several current projects, one of which was to be Shenmue.