Archive for February, 2014

The sad case of the Sega Saturn

Posted: February 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

There’s a computing  history museum in Cambridge where the first thing you see when you walk in is a Sega Saturn setup for visitors to play on. Sega Rally was the game loaded when I last visited. It brought back all the memories of racing home from school to try to best my last lap time and try to finally come first in the fourth ice track.

Similar to the original xbox , the Saturn looked like a big solid best of a machine. A big black box, with two controller ports on the front, a top loading CD drive in the middle, a cartridge slot behind that and then power and video ports on the back. I always thought it looked better than the smaller grey PlayStation.

It was originally planned to be closer to the power of the 32x megadrive (genesis) console, but on discovering the specs of the PlayStation Sega did some quick last minute changes which included adding in an additional SH2 processor. This was great in some ways as it meant games like virtua fighter 2 and burning rangers could run better and look great. But, it made things much more difficult for developers writing for both the Saturn and PlayStation, which often meant the Saturn got the inferior version of cross platform games, tomb raider is a good example, put them side by side and you can easily tell the PlayStation got the better version.

Later in the consoles life things changed though. If you look at Daytona championship edition and compare it to the launch version of Daytona there’s a huge difference. Also some games were developed separately for the Saturn to the PlayStation, such as Duke nukem 3d. The lighting in the Saturn version of duke nukem is far better and smoother than the ps1 version. This proved that the Saturn did have the guts to compete with the ps1 but by then it was too late. The ps1 had taken a huge lead over the Saturn and the rest as they say is history.

Other notable games that showed off the true potential of the Saturn were:
Nights into dreams
Panzer dragoon zwei
Panzer dragoon saga
Guardian heroes
Virtua cop 2
Die hard arcade

What are your thoughts? Do you agree the Saturn was under rated? Or am I just being a Sega fan boy?


So Flappy bird is dead. He’s been removed from both the iOS appstore and the Google Play store. And what was the reason given? That the developer couldn’t take the pressure of the huge success of the game. Reports say he was making in excess of $50,000 per day in advertising revenue.

You could ask yourself, why publish a game if you don’t want it to succeed. Judging from most of the comments on forums, he’s not got a lot of support for his decision. Most people are saying he’s free to give them the burden and they’ll find a way to cope with the wads of cash being constantly stuffed through their front door, and to be honest, I think I’m of the same opinion.

My first thought on the news, was “Why not just hire someone to handle the game for you? Of licence it to a big games company to handle and you just take a cut of the revenue without dealing with the press or emails from users?” That’s what I’d do in his position, that and quit my job of course! He’d only have to keep up 50k a day for a month to make 3 million dollars! Enough for most people to never have to work again!


But the other part of the story, is how this could happen to anyone. Looking at the game, most people could have written it in a few days. So for a few days work you get to quit your job and live in luxury for the rest of your life. Sign me up! But it also shows that you don’t need to be a big games company to make a successful mobile game. I wrote a while ago about the return of the bedroom coder, I do believe bedroom coders still have a chance to succeed and Flappy Bird is another example of that.

So what if the graphics are ripped off from Super Mario World, or that the game is really simple? That’s what makes it a success! Simple graphics, and very simple controls that anyone will understand the very first time they see it. The instructions are the most simple you’ll ever see, just a prompt telling you to tap the screen with a picture showing a bird moving upwards. That’s it, couldn’t be simpler.

This is my goal now, to stop focussing on complex games and write some really simple ones and see what sticks. Even Tetris is complicated compared to Flappy Bird!

If anyone has examples of other games like this I’d love to hear about them.

I wrote a short review of ready player one a while ago. Now I want  to take a look at the technology talked about in the story and see how far we are from it right now.

The book is based about thirty years in the future from now, so the writer was able to be creative with the technology being used, but he still kept it based on current tech. So let’s start with the basics and move on from there.

The VR headset – The book describes it as a light weight headset that you put on like a pair of glasses and the earphones automatically go into your ears. The display is a full field of view high resolution display that projects directly onto your retina. Okay, while there are no retinal displays available for the consumer yet, the military have been using them for years, not for full virtual reality displays but for augmented reality applications. A company called Argent are working on a head mounted display which uses retinal projection technology for consumer release, not presently targeted at VR applications, more home cinema viewing, there’s no reason this couldn’t,t evolve into the headset described in the book.

Oculus Rift:

Avagant Glyph:

Earphones – we’ve had high quality surround sound earphones for years now. So nothing to look into here really.

These are the ones I use:

They give me full surround sound in games and often I have to remove them to see whether the sounds I hear are coming from the game or real life.

Haptic gloves – cyber touch gloves in development. No consumer products yet.

Cyber touch look promising, but they’ve been around for a long time and haven’t released any big consumer products yet.

Right now, the most promising are non glove technologies like the Razor Hydra:

or the STEM system:


Smell – TV manufacturers starting now to look at scent generators

GameSkunk looks interesting:

The oasis – The closest modern equivalent is Second life. It has a virtual currency much like the oasis credits in the book. Users can pay for new virtual items for their avatar such as clothing and weapons. Users move around by teleporting. Virtual nightclubs and shops exist. Companies setup virtual meeting rooms and showrooms. VR headset support is currently being developed for this. Users can buy virtual land, setup shops and have private areas that they only allow certain people access, much like Aech’s basement chatroom in RP1.

Network speed. To achieve the oasis, very high bandwidth would be required. Today up to 100 Mbit is getting more and more common in the western world while Asia is rolling out 1gig connections. To judge how network speed affects your virtual online world, either log into a big Minecraft server, or Second Life and see how the netowrk speed affects your immersion.

Oasis console – The average PC is not powerful enough to handle the network speeds and graphics returned of the oasis described in the book. A high end rig running a top i7 processor and an sli GPU setup might come close but would still struggle. I think we’re looking at a newer version of the SteamBox coming out that will be the goto standard for accessing the online virtual universe, it gets round the problem of average people building their PC’s, it’s operating system is designed to produce high end 3D graphics and interactive experiences without running things like printing services like Windows does.

The book also mentions the console can detect your body movements, do if you fall on the floor in real life then your online avatar will too. Thus could be done today with a kinect type device, to monitor your while body or just your top half. this video shows it best:

Public vr terminals
At one point in the story. We see a public cyber cafe type business offering access to the oasis network for an hourly charge. This is the same as internet cafes operate today. An issue that gets discussed on virtual reality forums today is the problem of not being able to physically fit the VR hardware into your house. The headset and gloves are obviously fine. But full size body suits and omnidirectional treadmills are much larger and wouldn’t fit in the average person’s home. Having the space to setup a number of full size vr rigs would allow users to access virtual reality in a way they never could at home, either through lack of space or lack of funds. I would guess that the types of businesses that could convert to offer this service would be current cyber cafes, laser tag centres, and arcades. Games arcades have been declining in recent years but I can see them becoming popular again as interest in VR picks up over the next five years.

Fast public WiFi
This is already becoming common place in many cities and even on transport networks such as trains and buses. The speed is normally awful with high latency but this will improve over time. One thing mentioned in the book regarding this however is the lack of privacy when accessing the oasis over public networks. Privacy online is currently a very hot topic in the press and in  government discussions. We’ll either see the government make the right decision to only snoop on users with good reason, or we’ll see a huge rise in the use of vpns and use of encrypted browser connections!

Online shopping
Wade has all his food delivered online in order to never leave his apartment. This is very much a real thing already. In a way it feels sad that you can live without any human interaction if you wish.

Intelligent computer generated characters
The oasis contains many NPCs (non player characters) that can be interacted with using voice alone and also without having to use special commands. There is a lot of research in this area for improving peoples interactions with things like mobile phones. The advancements over the last decade have been staggering, with mobile phones now able to act as virtual assistants merely by talking to them. Integrating this technology with a virtual environment should be no problem at all.

Online school

Pilotless planes
Airliners today can pretty much fly themselves. Right from leaving the date at the airport to landing and parking at the destination. So the idea of removing the pilot altogether isn’t a big stretch of the imagination.

Facial expressions
Characters in the book have the ability to show their facial expressions from real life in the virtual environment. This is mentioned when Wade is arguing with a classmate at school early in the story. There’s a project on kickstarter right now called FaceRig which uses your webcam to map your facial expressions into a virtual avatar. This is exactly how it works in the story except it’s the visor watching your face. Using something like the Oculus rift would make mapping facial expressions more difficult as much of your face is concealed. However this could be overcome by cameras inside the rift watching around your eyes and a camera on the bottom watching your mouth and chin.


So if you have any further thoughts on this, or want to point out some products coming out soon or already available that would contribute to creating the Oasis experience described in the book, let me know in the comments.