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Thread: Early Dreamcast - Next Generation Online reports on 'Black Belt' & 'Dural' in 1997

  1. #1

    Default Early Dreamcast - Next Generation Online reports on 'Black Belt' & 'Dural' in 1997

    I followed the development of Dreamcast very closely, beginning with Next Generation Online's first report on 'Black Belt' on March 13th, 1997.

    It was fascinating to understand how Sega developed this console.

    'Black Belt' & 'Dural' were actually not *the* beginning of Sega's road to finding a successor to the Saturn. That actually started before the November 1994 launch of Saturn in Japan. However Sega's earliest efforts in 1994-1995 were something else, something other than Dreamcast.

    The actual console that became Dreamcast went into development sometime in 1996. By early 1997, the press began reporting on it, starting with NGO.


    Codename: Black Belt

    Next Generation Online has received impressive first insights into Sega's next game machine - codenamed Black Belt.

    March 13, 1997

    Developers are now hearing the first details of Sega's next machine which is supposedly based upon two key technological elements. The first element is the inexpensive Videologic/PowerVR PCX2 chipset which is expected to cost manufacturers less than $30 in lots of 10,000 units. NEC has previously confirmed that they have spoken with Sega about the use of the PowerVR hardware in future systems. Such a system would provide hardware support for anti-aliasing, mip-mapping, z-buffering (albeit not a standard method), texture filtering and alpha-channeling.

    The system is also expected to sport some as yet to be named 64-bit CPU (rumored to be a PowerPC of some variety) as well as utilizing a CD format. There is still no word on the polygon handling capacity of the unit.

    The second major component of the system is said to be the Microsoft Arcade Operating System. Yu Suzuki has been rumored to have been in Redmond, visiting Microsoft a little less than a year ago investigating the OS. Such a system allows for easier development with more standardized tools. Furthermore, arcade games developed to use the OS could relatively easily be ported to the new system.

    Currrently Sega and SegaSoft are said to be working with the hardware in its current form. Some developers should be receiving development kits as early as this Christmas, with a system release possibly as early as Christmas '98.

    While the developers that Next Generation Online spoke to were unaware of the Black Belt's expected price point, all of them said that it should provide a much needed boost in performance and ease of development.

    Black Belt: More Details

    Next Generation Online has learned more details concerning Sega's next home console.

    March 15, 1997

    A Videologic source has confirmed that Black Belt will feature a PowerVR based architecture. As yet, the number and variety of CPUs is unknown as is the number of Image Synthesis Processors which are the basic unit of the PowerVR architecture.

    PowerVR is a chipset designed by Videologic and manufactured by NEC which is currently used in a variety of PC boards including Apocalypse. More manufacturers are signing on to manufacture these boards in the coming months.

    The Sega chipset will differ from that used in current PC boards in that it will most likely feature the equivalent of the PX2 chip. Current boards are PCX1 based. Future boards (and the Sega version) will therefore be able to handle mip-mapping and texture-filtering. The Saturn cannot currently handle such operations.

    Executives from Sega of Japan are currently meeting with Microsoft in Seattle and are negotiating for the rights to also use the Microsoft Arcade Operating System which will soon be available to arcade developers. However, Next Generation understands that the Microsoft deal is by no means signed. That aspect of the machine's future is still yet to be confirmed.

    Games under development at present include a basketball title, a soccer game and Virtua Fighter 3. Sega is aiming for a Japanese launch in late 1998 with a US introduction in 1999. This should mean that the machine will be shown behind closed doors at E3 this summer.

    Yet to be established are such issues s technical performance, third party support, price and market-positioning.

    Massive RAM for Black Belt

    Still more details are coming to light regarding Sega's Black Belt system.

    March 19, 1997

    According to sources close to Sega, the design of the Black Belt system is still not complete. But developers are being quoted that the unit will include:

    16MB General RAM
    2-8MB RAM for textures and audio
    An as yet undisclosed PPC CPU.

    Furthermore the timeline for launch is likely to be particularly strained because development tools aren't due to be in circulation until next spring. Such a move would only allow six to nine months for development before the system's tentative release in Japan for Christmas '98.

    Microsoft has declined to comment on any dealings it has had with Sega over the system, but has admitted to speaking to the game company for purposes of promoting its 'Arcade Initiative'. It would seem also that the deal for the graphics subsystem is not yet written in stone, as conversations with 3Dfx are also said to be in the works.

    Sega to Unveil Black Belt

    Sega is planning to officially announce the Black Belt on April 3rd, Next Generation Online can reveal.

    March 27, 1997

    Well-placed sources at Microsoft say that Sega of Japan will be making a joint announcement with Microsoft regarding the details of its next system, Black Belt.

    Microsoft's involvement with the system is expected to be in the operating system arena, which is similar to that being used in its arcade initiative.

    Details of the hardware are still unclear and the exact specs of Black Belt appear to be in a state of flux. According to sources, the new front-runner for the graphics subsystem is likely to be some variant of the 3Dfx Voodoo graphics chipset. The system itself is being designed in the US but has no involvement with long-time hardware partner, Lockheed Martin.

    As reported previously on Next Generation Online, the system will have 16MB RAM general RAM and 2-8MB Texture RAM. The CPU is still unknown but is expected to be a Power PC of some variety.

    The timing of this official announcement is nothing short of astounding. But Sega is furious that information regarding the system has leaked out prematurely, and may feel that its hand has been forced.

    The announcement is likely to be an effort to raise awareness in the development community and to curb unofficial leaks. It sets the stage for future developer solicitation at E3 in June. With the system specs still being in transition, it is also possible Sega is seeking developer feedback upon its proposed system.
    Last edited by parallax scroll; 06-24-2013 at 04:08 PM.

  2. #2


    Sega Withholds Black Belt Announcement

    Sega has decided against showing its new hardware hand this early in the game.

    April 5, 1997

    While both Microsoft and Sega were expected to make announcements regarding their roles in a new system, Black Belt, Sega has decided to hold back its announcement.

    Both companies know that leaks have revealed much of what current plans are, but Sega and Microsoft will be waiting before officially admitting the existence of the top secret hardware. It seems that the majority of Saturn owners are not pleased at the prospect of new hardware and the announcement of such a system is likely to `spook the horses' in terms of future Saturn sales.

    To recap what is currently known of the system (which is still being designed), it will have:

    A 3DFx-based graphics sub-system
    16MB general RAM
    2-8MB texture RAM
    A Microsoft OS likely to be some form of DirectX as a part of its `arcade initiative'

    The hardware design is being conducted in the US by both Sega and SegaSoft and does not include perennial hardware partner Lockheed Martin. Internal teams are already working on three games including Virtua Fighter 3, a soccer game and a basketball game. Third parties should be receiving development kits as early is the first quarter of 1998, with an ambitious Japanese release scheduled for Christmas 1998. The US isn't expected to see the system until mid-1999.

    3Dfx Confirms Black Belt and Banshee

    In a report to the SEC, 3Dfx confirms its role in the development of Sega's next console as well as the existence of its Banshee chipset.

    April 19, 1997

    According to its report to the SEC, 3Dfx filed for an initial public offering (IPO) yesterday, confirming the existence of both Sega's Black Belt and its own Banshee chipset which Next Generation Online has been reporting on for nearly a month.
    The document filed with the Security and Exchange Commission confirms that 3Dfx will be using its Voodoo Graphics architecture to develop a graphics subsystem for a new Sega game console. It would also seem that Sega is expected to invest heavily in 3Dfx, acquiring 700,000 of the initial 4.2 million shares that 3Dfx is offering. Furthermore, the agreement grants Sega the exclusive rights to the architecture for the next three years with regard to use in home consoles. Finally the report also confirms the existence of its Banshee board project that it so adamantly denied existed not more than a month ago when Next Generation Online first exposed the project.

    With regard to the Black Belt, the report itself states: "Voodoo Graphics technology is also the graphics architecture for the 3D media processor chipset that the company is developing for license to Sega Enterprises, Ltd. ("Sega") for use in Sega's next generation consumer home game console. "

    The Banshee project is clearly revealed with the report states: " The company has commenced development of Banshee, which is intended to be a high performance, fully-featured single chip, 3D/2D media processor for the PC and coin-op arcade markets. The company expects to begin commercial shipments of Banshee in the first quarter of 1998. All of the Company's products are manufactured, assembled, tested and packaged by third-party suppliers."

    It is somewhat surprising that 3Dfx has so boldly exposed Sega's hand as well as its own secret projects, but during a public offering a company must show what it believes to be its best opportunities. In doing so, an IPO is likely to be more successful in garnering investors.

    At press time neither Sega nor 3Dfx could be reached for comment.

    Sega Buries Head in Sand

    To nobody's great surprise, Sega has point-blank refused to comment on any of its dealings with 3Dfx.

    April 23, 1997

    Sega's official line upon its dealings with 3Dfx has been one of near silence. Said a spokesperson for Sega: "Sega hasn't announced any information about future platforms, plans or partners."
    While it's not surprising that Sega has decided to act like the ostrich burying its head in the sand, there is now so much information circulating regarding Black Belt, that its own confirmation is nearly irrelevant. At this point in time, Sega should be thinking about approaching more developers (which it is in the process of doing) by setting up appointments at E3.

    While it certainly won't be a part of Sega's E3 booth, it is a safe bet that many of the behind the scenes meetings happening there will concern the development future of the elusive system.

  3. #3


    Developers Debate Black Belt

    In Next Generation Online's continuing series of discussions with developers regarding the potential of Sega's Black Belt, Climax's Chris Bergstresser expresses his thoughts about the system's ease of development.

    April 23, 1997

    Yesterday's interview with Shiny's Dave Perry touched upon the corporate profiles of both Sega, 3Dfx and of course, Microsoft. Today's interview with the vice-president of Climax Entertainment, Chris Bergstresser enters new territory.
    "Considering the way Sega is looking to setup the Black Belt system and the proposed operating system, Sega has made a good move." says Bergstresser. "Judging from the proposed plans, development for the system is going to be incredibly easy and development cycles will be considerably shorter than typical titles now."

    Bergstresser went on to comment that if Sega is going to use the same Microsoft arcade OS that machines will be using in the arcade, "the process of porting games is going amazingly simple. All developers will have to do is sneeze and a game will pop out."

    Because of the short amount of time it will take to do PC or even arcade ports, developers will be forced to make original titles instead of cashing in on ports to the hardware. "In a sense I like this situation better, because it's more interesting and more of a challenge to do original titles," says Bergstresser.

    Expanding upon the ramifications of simple development, Bergstresser continues: "Because games will be so easy and fast (and thus cheap) to port to or even develop unique titles for, we may even see the retail price of games drop slightly." Berstresser qualified this statement: "Then again, we may see prices stay the same for a while as publishers recoup the losses they've been taking for the last few years [laughs]."

    With regard to Microsoft's involvement with the project, Bergstresser voiced some concern over how much of the system's RAM is going to be occupied by the operating system. "While it's cool that there is going to be a more standard OS that makes it simple to jump between platforms, it is going to be something that has to be adhered to. We still don't know exactly how good the OS is going to be for gaming and it may be an anchor weighing down system's performance." says Bergstresser. "The lazy developer will be thrilled that he doesn't have to work hard to get his game running, but until we know exactly how the OS will work, it's impossible to say that it's going to allow for new heights in gaming excellence."

    Tomorrow, Next Generation Online will be speaking with the president of High Voltage Software, Kerry Ganofsky about his thoughts upon Sega's proposed system.

    High Voltage on Black Belt

    High Voltage's vice-president of development, Scott Corley talks about operating system restrictions and potential system power for Black Belt.

    April 24, 1997

    As a number of hardware manufactures have learned in the past, a system is only as good as the software on it. To this end, developer support has been a major factor in a system's success or failure.
    As a part of our continuing series of discussions with developers regarding their current thoughts on the Black Belt, Scott Corley of High Voltage Software lends his insights.

    "With the Black Belt system, Sega could be in a really good position if they give it some time and look to release it in about two years." says Corley. "Sega needs to develop a system that's going to be competitive with Sony's and Nintendo's next systems."

    Corley also doesn't believe that there is necessarily the right technology to provide a major leap forward in gaming right now. "It doesn't seem like a system that is expected in the next year and a half is going to impress anybody." Referring back to the leap in game quality that the PlayStation provided when it was first shown in 1994, Corley says that Sony is likely to be investing a lot of R&D in providing a similar leap for its next system. "If Sega doesn't make that sort of leap and people can't distinguish the Black Belt from the Nintendo 64 or PlayStation, they're going to be in trouble."

    Returning to the software side of discussion, Corley feels that while Virtua Fighter 3 is a no-brainer title for the system it "won't blow anyone away or be a huge leap in gaming".

    Having worked with a number of systems that have attempted higher level interfaces with hardware, Corley feels much like Dave Perry did on the matter. "If Microsoft supplies services that are reliable and efficient then great. But if they are trying to 'hide' elements of the system than it won't be worth it."

    To sum up, Corley said "If Sega can get passed all these hurdles and given enough time, the system does have the potential to be excellent."

  4. #4


    Black Belt from a Lockheed Perspective

    Two former Lockheed Martin employees, N-Space's Erick D.yke and Dan O'Leary voice their views on Sega's move to use 3Dfx instead of a Lockheed Martin solution.

    April 29, 1997

    With experience in developing for Model 2 (Desert Tank) and having helped develop the Model 3 hardware while at Lockheed Martin, Erick D. and Dan O'Leary have indicated that it would have been difficult for Sega to make a better decision in terms of a graphics subsystem.

    "3Dfx has proven itself. Just look downstairs (at CGDC). Nearly every major demo at every booth is running off of some form of the Voodoo graphics chipset," said O'Leary. While consumers have yet to establish a standard in 3D acceleration, most of the developers projects and demos were using Voodoo as their target platform.

    Commenting upon the strengths of the proposed Black Belt D.yke. said: "Not only is Sega getting the hottest chipset around, but with Microsoft in its corner it will be getting useful libraries; something the Saturn desperately lacked."

    The major question facing the duo was why did Sega neglect its long-term hardware partner Lockheed Martin when designing the hardware? O'Leary stepped up to the plate answering: "Sega has to find the cheapest but most powerful hardware it can. Lockheed Martin is still trying to figure out how it fits into the consumer space seeing as it has traditionally worked in the simulation arena. 3Dfx on the other hand was created from the ground up to be a consumer level product. It isn't at all surprising that Sega has gone this route."

    When comparing Lockheed's Model 2 and Model 3 hardware to the proposed Black Belt specification, both O'Leary and Erick D. felt that that Black Belt would be far more similar to developing for the Model 2 than Model 3. "The Model 2 is a beautiful board that is simple to get right to the metal, " said Erick D. "The Model 3 was designed around more of a traditional simulator model with a host and GPU arrangement where the database runs the entire game."

    While Erick D. mentions getting to the metal easily, some developers such as Scott Corley and Dave Perry both voiced some concern over Microsoft's OS getting in the way. "Good developers will cut through the OS to get to the metal as they need it." says Erick D. "As long as Microsoft doesn't force the OS upon the developers it should be fine."

    With the ease of development that is expected to go along with the system, and the double-edged sword that this situation can present, Erick D. said that Sega's quality assurance program should help to weed out games from developers that are relying too much upon the base libraries or that are quick ports of substandard PC titles.

    Both Erick D. and O'Leary also pointed to one non-technical element that is different at Sega presently than it was at the launch of the Saturn: executive personnel. Both men cited the fact that Bernie Stollar was a major factor for the third party support that PlayStation enjoys and the fact that Stollar is now responsible for generating that same third party support for Sega. "They've assembled a really good team at Sega now and it's going to be interesting to see what the next generation brings." said Erick D.

    Black Belt CPU Comparison
    There are currently two processors being considered for the CPU of Black Belt. Next Generation Online explores the cababilities of both.

    May 2, 1997

    The PowerPC 603e and the Hitachi SH4 are currently the two processors under consideration by Sega for use in Black Belt. Both processors are extremely good at floating point calculations.

    PowerPC 603e

    16-Kbyte instruction and 16-Kbyte data caches
    Superscalar--3 instructions per clock cycle
    On-chip power management
    32/64-bit data bus mode
    Fully JTAG-compliant


    166 MHz
    SPECint95* 3.9 (1) - 4.5 (2)
    SPECfp95* 2.5 (1) - 3.3 (2)

    200 MHz
    SPECint95* 4.4 (1) - 5.1 (3)
    SPECfp95* 2.8 (1) - 3.7 (3)

    240 MHz
    SPECint95* 4.9 (1) - 6.3 (3)
    SPECfp95* 3.1 (1) - 4.6 (3)

    *Estimated performance.
    (1) 66 MHz Bus, L2 - 512 KB, 70 ns DRAM
    (2) 66 MHz Bus, L2 - 1 MB, 60 ns DRAM
    (3) 66 MHz Bus, L2 - 1 MB, SDRAM

    Hitachi SH-4

    While the SH-4 is not yet in production, it was initially announced at the Microprocessor Forum in October of 1996. Hitachi announced that it would have first silicon in the first quarter of 1997 with production beginning late in the second quarter of 1997.

    The design of the SH-4 itself lends itself well to generation of 3D graphics. Current specifications are:

    360 Dhrystone v1.1 MIPS
    2-way superscalar
    32-bit integer, 64-bit floating point
    8Kbyte instruction cache, 16Kbyte data cache
    5 stage pipeline
    floating-point unit that can do the following:
    scalar product in 3 cycles, fully pipelined (single-precision floating point) using just 1 instruction
    matrix transform in 7 cycles, partially pipelined, single- precision floating point, using 1 instruction. That's 16 multiplies and 12 additions, all single-precision fp, in 1 instruction.
    208 or 256-pin package
    1.8 Watts worst-case power consumption

    Even at the processor's initial announcement last October, certain magazines were already considering the possibility of its use in the next Sega console. According to the October 28th issue of Microprocessor Report: "The new core seems likely to appear in videogames, possibly from Sega, but it may not debut until 1998." Such predictions are looking more and more possible considering the proposed timing of Black Belt.

    Prices have not yet been announced for the Hitachi chip yet, but it is expected to be the cheaper of the two possible solutions before Sega right now. As it stands now, Sega has still not made a decision as yet upon which processor to use as its CPU.

    Black Belt Recap

    May 29, 1997

    Today's special include ten facts that everyone should know about Sega's next system, Black Belt.

    3Dfx has been contracted to provide the 3D sub-system for the unit. It will be some variant of its Voodoo graphics architecture but exactly how many texelfx and pixelfx units will be included or exactly what sort are as yet unknown. Because of this it is impossible to determine exactly what the capabilities of the system will be. As a side note, Sega will be purchasing approximately 17 percent of 3Dfx when it goes public in a few weeks. 3Dfx's involvement with the project was confirmed via a report it made to the SEC in trying to go public.

    In determining which 3D hardware to use, Videologic and NEC were approached by Sega to do work on the project using their PowerVR architecture.

    The unit will have at least 16MB general RAM in addition to 2-8MB dedicated texture and audio memory.

    Sega will be creating a lower level abstraction layer for the main OS for the unit, but Microsoft will also be providing higher level tools very similar to its DirectX APIs. Microsoft's involvement is expected to allow developers currently using DirectX on the PC and arcade to do easy and cheap conversions to the new Sega hardware.

    The name 'Black Belt' is the original project name. Members of the project in the US still use this name, while Sega of Japan is referring to the same project now as 'Dural'. Early on, Sega was contemplating a name change for the project and it appears to have done so.

    Games currently known to be under development for the system in the US and Japan are two sports titles (basketball and soccer) as well as Virtua Fighter 3.

    Sega still denies all knowledge of the project stating "Sega hasn't announced any information about future platforms, plans or partners."

    Developers will be solicited at this year's E3 behind closed doors to develop for the system. A number of traditional Sega supporters are already privy to many of the details surrounding the system.

    Developers Next Generation Online has spoken to have unanimously agreed that Sega's proposed hardware is indeed a step in the right direction with regards to ease of development, potential power and partners (3Dfx and Microsoft).

    Development kits will be available for third party licensees in April of 1998. The system is currently slated for release in Japan in late 1998 but this is a very aggressive timeline given length of development cycles. A US release is expected the following Fall ('99).

    A target price point for the system are currently unknown.

    3Dfx Loses Sega Contract

    July 23, 1997

    Just prior to press time, Next Generation Online received official word that Sega has terminated its development contract with 3Dfx.

    While earlier reports from some trade magazines and web sites had indicated 3Dfx had already lost its contract, the official decision was only made final this morning. 3Dfx itself issued a release regarding its situation.

    As first uncovered by Next Generation Online back in April, 3Dfx has been working under contract with Sega to create the 3D sub-system for its next console. During that period, Sega had funded the development to date for the new chipset and even had made an equity investment of nearly $2 million into 3Dfx.

    "We are disappointed with this notification and believe that it is without legal justification," said Greg Ballard, president and CEO of 3Dfx. "However it is important to remember that Sega is only a fraction of our business, representing less than ten percent of our projected 1998 revenue. Our base business of selling 3D accelerator chips into the PC market remains strong and is even strengthening. We will release our earnings after the market closes on Thursday, July 24, and anticipate that they will be consistent with analysts' expectations. In addition, the rest of 1997 already looks to be very positive."

    3Dfx believes that under the terms of its contract with Sega that the company will be explore its options including legal recourse.

    The other potential candidate for the contract was rival chipset company, PowerVR, whose Highlander technology (or some derivative thereof) is now expected to be in use. According to sources, Sega will have preliminary development kits in developers' hands by the end of this quarter. In the mean time the company has been encouraging developers to begin working with the PowerVR SDK for PC.

    With the termination of the Sega contract, it is expected that the three year exclusive rights to console applications of the Voodoo technology will revert back to 3Dfx. As a result, the company should be able to pursue other console vendors for similar opportunities.
    Last edited by parallax scroll; 08-09-2015 at 09:36 AM.


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