1995 was all about the incoming new generation of consoles and the looming wonder of virtual reality.
The “next generation” of the console wars began abruptly as Sega ships the first wave of their 32-bit Saturn console. All 30,000 sell-out immediately, despite not having a massive promotional campaign at its launch.
“Unwary players nationwide were browsing through their local video game shop when they simultaneously slapped their foreheads and exclaimed ‘Hey – Saturn!’ Game Players magazine writes in their news section. They theorize that the system’s install base could pass 600,000 by the end of the year.
Saturn’s Marketing Manager Tim Dunley said in an interview with Game Players “We’re definitely going to be the number-one next-generation system by the time Sony comes out … from what I’ve seen on the internet, people are ready to unload their 3DO’s!”. While Sega spokesperson Terry Tang said they would tear their competition’s guts inside-out and eat them from breakfast.
Dunley told Next Generation magazine that the surprise early launch was to draw a line in the sand against Sony, their number one competitor. Sony’s Steve Race said the move was to see “who blinks first?” to Next Gen. In their article about it, they hypothesize that the surprise launch will work in the Saturn’s favour having their new system on shelves first and generating some hype.
Sega was off to a hot start versus Panasonic and Sony and had a visible presence on store shelves already, but things didn’t exactly pan out for the Saturn as easily as the company predicted. Sony’s Playstation and the Nintendo 64 proved to be too stiff of competition, among other issues.
Tim Dunley now works for the American Institute of American Studies. On his bio page, it says “he oversaw the development and launch of a $400 million line” but doesn’t say what the line was.
As for Terry Tang, my internet sleuthing didn’t turn up much on Sega’s hypeman, other than old press releases promoting deals like free games with systems at discounted prices through 1995.
The machines were rolled out early ahead of their official launch “Saturnday” September 2nd.
Nintendo’s 32-bit Virtual Boy was released this month. Game Players called it “mysterious”, but were excited for the virtual reality console and it’s launch of titles which included 2 Mario games (one a tennis game, the other inspired by the original arcade game), a space-shooter called Red Alarm, a futuristic robot boxing game Teleroboxer, and a pinball game, because who doesn’t love pinball. These were all made by Nintendo and tried to use 3-D elements, with 100 other developers and third-party publishers set to contribute to the library.
Nintendo’s VP Peter Main said in an interview that they planned to ship 1.5 million hardware units and 2.5 million software units by the end of the year. Their plan was to outsell the 3DO and Atari’s 64-bit Jaguar in five months, but they weren’t even close.
According to Game Pro magazine, Nintendo only sold 770,000 units by December, the same month the system was discontinued. Players weren’t impressed by the black-and-red visuals, the clunky graphics, or the fact you had to slouch awkwardly to play it.
Atari tried to bust out their own VR headset in ’95, called the Jaguar VR. Set for an Xmas release, the $300 headset was going to be combined with the now-reduced $159.99 Jaguar system (Virtual Boy had a $179.99 price-tag). It was going to play games in full-colour and it was also reportedly to only weigh a pound. The controller was to be sold separately, though the Jaguar’s original controller would also work. Atari said it’s ‘V-Trak’ technology would eliminate any lag-time for players’ 1:1 experience and move in real-time to your head movements.
It never made it to store shelves and Missile Command was the only game developed for it. You can watch footage of a beta version of the game HERE. The Jaguar was off the market the following year.
The headset was made in conjunction with UK-based Virtuality who made virtual reality machines for arcades. Their assets were sold to other companies, like Arcadian Virtual Reality and DigiLens. You can also find similar VR products made with what looks like their assets from companies like Phillips.
Virtuality was also working on a project called Elysium for IBM at the time and IBM was also working on a VR baseball game with Interplay for the Saturn and Playstation.
Interplay’s VR Sports director of marketing, Cutis Broome said in an interview that a VR hockey game was right behind. The VR Baseball franchise hit the field in ’96.
VR would go pretty dormant until a new resurgence in popularity in the last couple of years.
Game Players magazine had a few interesting rumours published in their Aug ’95 issue. One is that Atari was planning to sue Sony for selling the Playstation for a much lower price in the US than in Japan ($200 lower).
The magazine cites an interview with it’s cousin Next Generation magazine who spoke to then Atari president Sam Tramiel who said he’d pursue litigation “in an nanosecond”.
I tried to dig up as much as I could about the lawsuit, but apparently it never made it to the courts. Defunct Games.com interviewed ex SEGA leader Tom Kalinske who said – “Whatever the case, Atari opted against bringing this lawsuit to light, which is probably best for everybody.”
Game Players also dropped rumours about LucasArts’ possible upcoming N64 game set in the “Star Wars” universe between “A New Hope” and “Empire Strikes Back”. That game would be the beloved “Shadows of the Empire”.
They wrote: “You reportedly take the role of an inter-galactic bounty hunter as you pilot a brand-new ship through space.”
Also Game Players dished that a Nintendo insider told them so much was cut from Donkey Kong Country that the remains could be repackaged for Donkey Kong Country 2. This also reportedly happened with Mario Galaxy and Mario Galaxy 2.
Top 10 US Games:
10: Virtua Fighter (arcade).
09: Sonic & Knuckles (Sega Genesis).
08: Mortal Kombat II (Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis).
07: Secret of Mana (Super Nintendo).
06: Earthworm Jim (Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis).
05: Doom (Sega 32X).
04: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis).
03: Killer Instinct (arcade).
02: Final Fantasy III (Super Nintendo).
01: Donkey Kong Country (Super Nintendo).
Top 10 Japanese Games:
10: Tukru Super Dante (Super Famicom).
09: Gunner’s Heaven (Sony Playstation).
08: Daytona USA (Sega Saturn).
07: Tekken (Sony Playstation).
06: Virtual Hydlide (Sega Saturn, published by Sony).
05: Jumping Flash! (Sony Playstation).
04: Fatal Fury 3 (SNK Neo Geo).
03: Chrono Trigger (Super Famicom).
02: Super Bomerman 3 (Super Famicom).
01: J-League Super Soccer ’95 (Super Famicom).