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

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

    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?


    A: It was requested by America. I’m sure of that, but I don’t know why they wanted that drive. That kind of info didn’t make it down to us in the design section.
    B: Yeah, that kind of thing was common with requests from overseas back then. They’d say, “Here’s what we want,” and we’d just get a single piece of paper full of requests.
    • 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.


    -The Sega Saturn had a high manufacturing cost. What was the price estimate for the Pluto?

    B: In all seriousness, if we based the price on the manufacturing cost, we were thinking it would be $799. Anything lower than that would have been difficult given the high cost. However, we were all shocked when Sega of America said they wanted to sell it for $399 or $499 (laughs). For the Mega Drive, the Sega president told us to get the price down to $199, but no matter what we did to cut costs, we couldn’t quite reach that point and still be profitable. That’s why we released the Mega Drive at the odd price of ¥21,000 [$210]. However, during the Saturn era, the way of thinking had softened a bit so that it became acceptable to lose money on the hardware itself. The reason was that everyone buys at least one game, so we were able to lower the price of the Saturn below cost with a buffer equal to the value of one game. Even with that, there was absolutely no way the Pluto was going to get down to $399 or $499.
    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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    Would rep again but says I need to spread it around first

    The only way I could possibly see this having any success is if you kept the initial price at $399 or whatever but require customers to buy a 2 year subscription that includes both Internet access and a ton of exclusive content. Probably have to partner with AOL or other nationwide ISP.

    The 2.5" drive makes sense when you consider the swappable drive bay takes up additional space. Also a 3.5" drive would generate more heat and then they might have needed to add a cooling fan or something.

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    Besides heat, laptop drives are quieter and use less watts.

    edit: About the purpose, it was probably intended as a cheaper internet terminal. Browser + email + gaming, for less than computers were going back then.

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    That's interesting on the price point. So one interview said Saturn was sold at a $100 loss at launch, but this says it's about the cost of a game? So I'm curious then if that $100 is their equivalent cost of one game, or if it was lower than that.

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    Can't wait for the rest of that interview.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    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?
    I always considered the Megadrive as Earth, and the Sega CD as the Moon. I'm not sure why. Maybe due to the planet backdrop it shows on bootup.

    Do we know if the Sega CD had any development codename?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    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.
    SOA was probably trying to leverage something new as a selling point, in this case modem play. They already had experience with that due to the Sega Channel with the Megadrive. Eventually they did get it done with the Netlink, which had a specific packaging that included a console, modem, keyboard in one pack. I don't think Japan ever got a pack like that, except for the modem alone, which did have one release with a huge bundle of games included (Decathlete and VF Remix plus two others).

    This reliance on the modem is definitely what later led to the Dreamcast netplay. Bernie sent a laundry list of options for the new console, like DVD playback, double analog stick on controller, modem, etcetera, Sega told them they can only afford one, and he picked the modem.
    So SOA at the time definitely prioritized internet play. The Pluto makes sense in this context.

    I always thought that it was something similar to the SKC-1000 karaoke commander. That was a Saturn, a Roland synthesizer, a NEC modem, a hard drive and an IBM scsi controller, all inside a large Denon amplifier. It was used in karaoke bars and could download new songs through the modem to store on its hard drive, plus also play Saturn games. The Pluto could've been the smaller brother to that. But it was in fact a SOA Netlink prototype. Huh.

    edit: suppose I should mention, the earliest Japanese Saturns also mentioned both a FDD and a HDD expansion in the manuals as an upcoming product.
    Last edited by zyrobs; 05-31-2022 at 09:44 PM.

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    I'm not sure they were thinking about netplay at that point. The first Netlink compatible games didn't come out for almost a year after the modem came out, and those are all based on Japanese releases for the Japanese modem. Up until that point the Netlink modem seemed to be aimed more at the WebTV market as just a device to browse the internet and do email. It seems more that Sega of Japan were the ones to think of doing online play with the Modem as theirs launched with online games using the Xband service, and it seemed to be their advertising focus for it there as well. What's really bizarre is Sega of Japan launched their modem before Sega of America and games like Virtual On, Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter Remix, Saturn Bomberman, etc. were all out with netplay support in Japan before the modem launched in the US. Yet they didn't come out until a year later, which meant all netlink owners could do in the US was browse the internet, chat in IRC, and send/receive email.

    It really makes you wonder WTF Sega of America was thinking and doing with the Saturn as you'd think launching the netlink modem with some games that supported it would be a no brainer to show what it could do and get it to sell.

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    I would imagine it started with the planned EDGE add-on for the Mega Drive and some inside SEGA saw the potential for that sort of stuff on the Saturn. At one point, its was heavily rumoured the Saturn would have voice commands and all sorts, seem to remember an interview with Joe Miller talking about how he wanted SEGA to do more online in like 1995/6 or something. Phillips looked to push the internet on the CD-i too, my friend even subscribed to its online service, it was quite amazing to surf the web on a console in 1995, hell it was amazing to just be online really. I remember me, my mate, his dad and brother all being around the TV, just amazed at being online. Maybe too what with the Pippin coming SEGA thought it needed a counter and a console with a built-in modem. I was always gutted SEGA Europe never brought the netlink out in the Pal, its seemed such better value to get online compared to the PC, if all you wanted was just to be online. I was quite disappointed it never did better in the USA for that fact alone and its a shame Pluto (despite its terrible name) never made it out, it was such a forward looking console

    It does also show that despite what Tom says, SEGA Japan was pretty ready to listen and help with SOA requests
    Last edited by Team Andromeda; 06-01-2022 at 11:29 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TrekkiesUnite118 View Post
    I'm not sure they were thinking about netplay at that point. The first Netlink compatible games didn't come out for almost a year after the modem came out, and those are all based on Japanese releases for the Japanese modem. Up until that point the Netlink modem seemed to be aimed more at the WebTV market as just a device to browse the internet and do email. It seems more that Sega of Japan were the ones to think of doing online play with the Modem as theirs launched with online games using the Xband service, and it seemed to be their advertising focus for it there as well. What's really bizarre is Sega of Japan launched their modem before Sega of America and games like Virtual On, Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter Remix, Saturn Bomberman, etc. were all out with netplay support in Japan before the modem launched in the US. Yet they didn't come out until a year later, which meant all netlink owners could do in the US was browse the internet, chat in IRC, and send/receive email.

    It really makes you wonder WTF Sega of America was thinking and doing with the Saturn as you'd think launching the netlink modem with some games that supported it would be a no brainer to show what it could do and get it to sell.
    With the inclusion of the hard drive I would have thought the goal would be DLC on either a paid or subscription basis. I would have rather have had that than netplay over a laggy dial-up connection.

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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    With the inclusion of the hard drive I would have thought the goal would be DLC on either a paid or subscription basis. I would have rather have had that than netplay over a laggy dial-up connection.
    Netplay worked with direct dial. It was actually pretty fluid and lag free. In fact it's more laggy now over modern internet with VOIP or Tunneling than it ever was over phone lines in the 90s. The feature still works to this day if you have a real landline. Myself and another person about a year ago streamed playing games like Bomberman, Sega Rally, Etc. over a real landline and showed it wasn't laggy at all. And I'm in Pennsylvania and the person I was playing with was in central Canada at the time. There's actually VHS captures you can look at from the time to see how it performed:



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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    With the inclusion of the hard drive I would have thought the goal would be DLC on either a paid or subscription basis. I would have rather have had that than netplay over a laggy dial-up connection.
    I could never get the online play to work, but I was in the UK and most of my Online titles were Japanese and you need to pay for a card.
    I will say mind that surfing the web on the Saturn was a rather enjoyable experience. I even paid BT the extra £80 needed back then to add a 2nd phone line to my bedroom
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    Quote Originally Posted by Team Andromeda View Post
    I could never get the online play to work, but I was in the UK and most of my Online titles were Japanese and you need to pay for a card.
    The Japanese modem required buying points on a card and being setup for a Sega Network service that was only available in Japan. So it's not really a surprise it wouldn't work in the UK.

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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    With the inclusion of the hard drive I would have thought the goal would be DLC on either a paid or subscription basis. I would have rather have had that than netplay over a laggy dial-up connection.
    It was more likely for things like email or maybe downloadable demos á la sega channel. DLCs would have been more challenging, and wasn't really a thing at the time except for PC expansion discs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TrekkiesUnite118 View Post
    Netplay worked with direct dial. It was actually pretty fluid and lag free. In fact it's more laggy now over modern internet with VOIP or Tunneling than it ever was over phone lines in the 90s. The feature still works to this day if you have a real landline. Myself and another person about a year ago streamed playing games like Bomberman, Sega Rally, Etc. over a real landline and showed it wasn't laggy at all. And I'm in Pennsylvania and the person I was playing with was in central Canada at the time. There's actually VHS captures you can look at from the time to see how it performed:
    Oh, I see what you mean, yes if it's a direct dial then it would be fine. I just think the presence of a hard drive indicates plans to download new content, particularly if they're making it user upgradeable. That would have been a unique approach for a mid 90s console.

    Quote Originally Posted by zyrobs View Post
    It was more likely for things like email or maybe downloadable demos á la sega channel. DLCs would have been more challenging, and wasn't really a thing at the time except for PC expansion discs.
    I replied before I saw your comment, yeah demos are the obvious thing to do its just that after someone has spent that much money on the hardware and/or subscription hopefully they get a little more than demos.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TrekkiesUnite118 View Post
    The Japanese modem required buying points on a card and being setup for a Sega Network service that was only available in Japan. So it's not really a surprise it wouldn't work in the UK.
    I did also get the US version too and it wouldn't work, mind you the only online US game I owned was VO. . I had a similar issue trying to get to play online vs with NFl 2k1 on the DC, despite all other US DC games I owned having no issues.
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    Quote Originally Posted by TrekkiesUnite118 View Post
    Netplay worked with direct dial. It was actually pretty fluid and lag free. In fact it's more laggy now over modern internet with VOIP or Tunneling than it ever was over phone lines in the 90s. The feature still works to this day if you have a real landline. Myself and another person about a year ago streamed playing games like Bomberman, Sega Rally, Etc. over a real landline and showed it wasn't laggy at all. And I'm in Pennsylvania and the person I was playing with was in central Canada at the time. There's actually VHS captures you can look at from the time to see how it performed:


    This is very cool stuff!
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