(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 21, 2011 by Jon Rivera for an outside publication)
After the commercial failure that was the Sega Dreamcast, Sega has been out of the hardware market for quite some time. With game development and publishing being the two main priorities for the company Sega has been churning out a great deal of titles for all major platforms including Nintendo systems. It was hard to believe that Sonic the Hedgehog games would ever be developed for the same system that Mario titles would be released on. It would seem that hardware does not exist in Sega’s future.
However, several patents issued from Sega have unearthed old questions that originally had answers. One thing to keep in mind is that Sega has been using a pretty advanced arcade hardware for its current arcade game development endeavors. One of the first games to use this hardware technology was a robot combat game easily paralleled with the Virtual On franchise called Border Break. The hardware it used was the Ring Edge system board. This hardware is essentially a computer in a horizontally set enclosure which has ports on the back for display signal, power peripherals. In terms of the device’s specifications Ring Edge the CPU is a 1.8 GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core, the GPU is an Nvidia GeForce 8800GS with 384 MB of video memory, Supports DVI (could be adjusted to support VGA / HDMI), has 3 USB ports, contains a 32 GB solid state hard drive, has support for Ethernet and Sega ALL.NET, uses the Microsoft Windows Embedded operating system variant, and supports 5.1 high definition audio.
These are all features that one would expect to be in a current generation game system and a solid state drive for file storage is a nice feature. Though this is for arcade applications, there is a slightly less powerful variant of this hardware known as Ring Wide which cuts a couple of features like storage and the amount of ports. The Ring Wide architecture is more of a viable candidate for making a home entertainment platform.
However, these two hardware skews would a moot point without the fact that Sega Enterprises is the assignee of a few patents approved from 2008 to 2010 that reveal controller designs and concepts for modular expansions. Some of these features range from something as simple as an arcade joystick to having add-ons like a six axis pack and support for precision control with a trackball attachment. There also patents for a basic controller that can be used for classic games if the platform had support for an online infrastructure that allow users to download and play classic Sega games. The last patent was for a memory unit that is able to interact with both a controller and the console.
These patents use some design styles that look like something belonging to the Dreamcast or the Saturn. However, it is common for conceptual design patents to use aesthetic designs from previous devices if the concept is still in its infancy. This is most likely true for the controller designs that take on the appearance of the Sega Saturn 3D controller. The retro game controller is obviously a new controller design in terms of aesthetics which does not look like anything that Sega would have designed in the 1990’s. The Dreamcast-esque look in the memory storage device abstract may be relevant to Sega’s past registering of the Dreamcast 2 name for a website domain. As of right now, the domain name expired on June 19, 2011 and has not been renewed yet. It is not confirmed that Sega is planning on getting into the hardware business again, but just the fact that Sega has the decent hardware that can be repurposed on top of patented designs for control and memory storage devices makes it easy to think that Sega is up to something. Though the failures of the Sega CD, Sega 32X, Saturn and Dreamcast nearly destroyed Sega the company has been making a comeback with publishing and developing software in house. Perhaps Sega is capable of getting back into the game.
If Sega were to attempt a platform push the company would have to figure out how to slowly separate from developing for the three major hardware platforms and rekindle the company’s relationship with third party publishers and developers. It would great to see Sega restore itself to its original glory as seen in the Genesis days. Unfortunately it may be some time before this ever comes to pass if it does at all.