Back in 1994, Sega and Sony both released new video game consoles in Japan. However, it was no secret that Sony’s PlayStation out-powered Sega’s Saturn in many ways. Even among Sega’s internal development teams, the PlayStation was a hot topic, and many development teams were worried Sony was going to eat Sega’s lunch.
During a classic postmortem on the Panzer Dragoon series at GDC, ex-Sega producer Yukio Futatsugi shared a story about how he snuck into a PlayStation developer showcase before the release of Sony’s console. Futatsugi was blown away by the 3D rendering capabilities of the PlayStation and in particular Namco’s racing game Ridge Racer.
“We rode the train home thinking, ‘What the hell are we going to do about this?’” says Futatsugi. “That’s how much we were thinking about the PlayStation at Sega.”
What Sega hoped to do was compete with the PlayStation by squeezing every ounce of power out of its Saturn console. One of the few things that the Saturn was really good at was scrolling through 3D environments, and Futatsugi believed that his team could create a 3D shooter that moved through environments much faster than even the PlayStation’s fastest racing games, and he pushed for speed while developing Panzer Dragoon.
The original Panzer Dragoon was an on-rails post-apocalyptic fantasy shooter that released in the middle of 1995. For the time, Panzer Dragoon was a visual wonder and produced a sense of speed that was unheard of at the time. In fact, the action in Panzer Dragoon was so frantic that many Saturn owners felt that it was too hard. However, Futatsugi and his team believed they had produced a visual style that couldn’t be replicated on the PlayStation.
“The Saturn didn’t pack much of a punch, but looking back, I think we were able to create these unique visuals that mesh very well with the dry world of Panzer Dragoon,” says Futatsugi. “It wasn’t something that was very shiny or glamorous, but we created visuals that were impossible on the PlayStation.”