By Brian Tucker
David Lewis was three years old when the Sega Saturn was released in 1995. He didn’t own one until 2009. The gaming console was not a success, overshadowed by the company’s mistakes and the more popular Sony PlayStation system that sold for a hundred bucks cheaper than the Saturn’s $399 asking price.
Today, Lewis is the creator of a YouTube channel called Saturnology. It’s a series of videos that review Sega Saturn games and all things Sega Saturn, including his recent invitation to MagFest 8.5 in which he represented his channel and Retroware TV. In a video from it Lewis briefly explains his reason for Saturnology and discussing the Sega Saturn – “Because no one else will.”
Lewis is expressing levity to some degree but his YouTube channel finds him at ease and knowledgeable on camera or narrating the videos. He does all the work, a labor of love that ahs grow in popularity since beginning in 2012. Still, why focus on a game system that’s two decades old and a footnote in history? There’s more to it than just nostalgia, like it becoming a system in which to play more games than during its initial run.
“I think the Saturn’s main appeal is its mystique,” Lewis said. “The Saturn is, essentially, an importers paradise.”
Lewis, who made video game review segemnts for Hoggard High School’s V-TV morning announcements, illustrates in the Q&A below that his Saturnology is primarily due to a fondness for the system.
“I chose to talk about the Sega Saturn because it’s a console that I rarely see get discussed among retro game critics. What it pretty much came down to was that I wanted to make a show that I would watch for this kind of information.”
How did this channel begin?
Lewis: I’ve always wanted to create a show or a video project along these lines for a few years now. In 2012, I came upon an opportunity to start making a web series, and to have it hosted on a platform where I could directly reach an audience instantly. An upstart gaming blog, called 1 More Castle, was looking for contributors to provide articles and video series for the website. I took the opportunity, and that’s how Saturnology came about.
How long after you started did it pick up steam or collect viewers?
Lewis: The numbers didn’t get sizeable for a while. I wasn’t really in it for the numbers; I just wanted to make Sega Saturn reviews for fun. It wasn’t until a website called Retroware TV took notice of the show that the views started going into the thousands. For years, I’ve been a huge fan of the content that Retroware put out, so to be asked to be a contributor for the website was awesome.
What’s the appeal of the game system?
Lewis: Not many people have played a Sega Saturn, and the fact that it was largely ignored by most developers during its lifetime on the market didn’t help matters either. The fact that I didn’t know anything about it was my main draw for buying one in 2009. From a software stand point, the main appeal is its massive Japanese game library. It’s incredibly easy to play import games on the console, and the fact that most of the highly regarded games never came here to the West was also a big draw for game collectors. Playing Japanese games can also be much cheaper than buying the English versions.
What was the game convention you attended recently?
Lewis: The convention was Magfest 8.5. The main Magfest convention is held in January every year, with the 13th festival taking place this coming January. Magfest 8.5 was their way of having a throwback festival, having it run the way it used to back in the day, with a smaller hotel and smaller attendance compared to how it is now. They chose “8” because the general consensus among attendees is that Magfest 8 was “the best one.”
I was invited to the event as a guest, representing my Saturnology channel and Retroware TV, along with a few other contributors. I took part in four different live panels, including my very own panel – “Saturnology: The Panel!” It was mainly just me, the audience, and a few other Retroware TV contributors playing and riffing on bad Sega Saturn games, with me handing out prizes to volunteers who got to play the games.
Why do you think the game system had an unsuccessful run?
Lewis: There are many different contributing factors to the Sega Saturn’s failure in the United States. In most cases, the general boneheaded, executive decision making from Sega themselves, and the competitiveness and popularity of the Sony Playstation are the main reasons for its downfall. Sega prematurely launched the Saturn in May 1995, ahead of its planned and announced September 1995 release.
The launch games went through rushed development cycles, with some shoddy looking graphics and glitches, and there weren’t many games for the early launch to begin with. Sony, on the other hand, released the console on its planned September launch date, with a large selection of games that looked stellar compared to the Saturn’s early offerings. The list of issues that the Sega Saturn had literally goes on and on. There’s too much to cover for that particular topic, from its incredibly difficult development architecture, to its lack of third party support.
How much work is this for you?
Lewis: Uninterrupted, an episode of Saturnology takes less than a week to produce. In very few cases, I’ve made an entire episode in an afternoon. I do all the work for the series – the script writing, the game play footage, the voiceover, and the editing. The only thing I don’t do is the music. I usually take those from the game I’m playing or from a creative commons archive. For any time I cover multiplayer games, I just have my friends play it with me. I record game footage using an Elgato Game Capture HD. It allows me to capture game footage into a standard video file that I can then use to edit together in an episode. For editing, I use stock iMovie on my Macbook Pro.
What’s your favorite game to play on the Saturn?
Lewis: My favorite for the console is Sega Rally Championship, an arcade style rally racing game. I’m a big fan of racing games, especially Sega racing games like Daytona USA and Sega Super GT. One of my episodes is about my Top 10 favorite Sega Saturn games, with a few stand outs being Sonic Jam and Street Fighter Alpha 2.
Will you feature other aspects of the Saturn on the channel – like repairs or how to find spare parts?
Lewis: I don’t really know much about Sega Saturn repair. It’s a topic that’s important, sure, but there are plenty of console modders and other people that can cover that kind of thing better than I can. I’ve covered console repair in the past, with the Sega 32X, but that’s a very simple repair that anyone can do. If I ever find myself in a situation where I have an unreliable Saturn console, I just go out and buy another one. I currently have four. Three of them work.
Have about a documentary on Saturn, like the Tetris doc a few years ago?
Lewis: I would love to make a documentary about the Sega Saturn. The only things holding me back really are time and the sheer manpower to put something on the scale I’m imagining together.