This here is, literally, video game genius. When people want to deny the genius of SEGA as a game developer, I point them to this or to Panzer Dragoon Saga. This is Shenmue, but, not the Dreamcast version. This is Shenmue running on a Saturn, where the game originally began development. It’s important to note a few things:
1.) The SEGA Saturn’s architecture was a complete and total mess. The system was never originally intended to handle 3D graphics, and when SEGA found out what the competition was doing, they haphazardly threw in extra portions to the architecture in order to allow the system to keep up, creating one of the most unfriendly development environments of any modern console. Most developers of the time couldn’t even remotely wrap their heads around the system’s design and most failed miserably at getting any kind of proper 3D out of the system. People still think that the PS2’s architecture was difficult to work with, but the SEGA Saturn’s dual core design was nearly unheard of in consoles at the time and no one understood what the fuck to do with it.
2.) The SEGA Saturn also had this strange situation of being the only system outside of the 3DO to render in quadrilaterals rather than triangles when it came to its polygons. The tools at the time for developers were almost all triangle-based and this made the task of properly developing a game under these conditions a severe problem.
The SEGA Saturn was originally treated as being a great machine for 2D games, but one that would struggle with 3D games because of how it was designed. Even with all of this mind, watch that video above and notice the incredible and awe inspiring design of Shenmue running on Saturn hardware. It was a game that was doing a ton, with fully realized character models, facial and lip animations, a highly complex video game world with immense detail, excellent body animations, and not a single instance of pre-rendered backgrounds. That SEGA could even pull off a proper 3D game on a system like the Saturn speaks volumes, but, that SEGA could pull off something like Shenmue on a difficult piece of hardware, against all odds, is nothing short of magical. Keep in mind that games on other, much more powerful/better built console architectures at the time still looked like this:
…and even things at high end, still looked like this:
The same applies to Panzer Dragoon Saga. While Square continued its onslaught of success with the 3D Final Fantasy games that they increasingly made to look better (through use of pre-rendered backgrounds, mostly), SEGA developed and released a game like Panzer Dragoon Saga: an expansive RPG, with a complex world where every single NPC had voice acting, where there were no pre-rendered backgrounds and where one could explore the world at one’s leisure (somewhat). The game released only about a year after FF VII did.
I don’t think anything needs to be said about Shenmue for the Dreamcast; the game was on a system that was caught between two generations, which was severely underpowered compared to the competition, and for years and years to come, Shenmue looked considerably better and did more than most PS2 games. In the PS2’s defense: that system was also difficult to program for, but the point stands.
And, this, kids, is today’s lesson on why, although now you’d be hard pressed to find even a shadow of the developer that once was, once upon time, SEGA was ahead of the curve at nearly everything. Even Nintendo, an ingenious developer who is generally unfazed by the games of the competition, struggled against the likes of SEGA’s immense talent for development, creativity, and ability to take incredible risks. Nintendo, quite possibly the greatest developer to have ever existed (if we go by sheer quality), has only ever really had one rival, and that was SEGA, and when we study SEGA and the things SEGA achieved in both software and hardware development, it’s easy to see why even The Big N sometimes trembled in the presence of the company that SEGA once was.