Not being optimistic here
I will forever accuse Digital Crack brother-from-another-mother Punisher of trolling me into writing about this. Further, it’s my belief that he wants me to write this so resident Sony fanboy – and reformed SEGA fanboy – Grumpy Joe can have sparks fly out of his ears that are bright enough to be seen in space. Punisher denies it. I think he’s full of shit.
I told myself I would stay away from projects like this. As I said in a previous article discussing two crowdfunded projects, they’re a dime a dozen. I have to rip into this one, however, because it’s a project that has to die of natural causes. Lots of people are excited about the project. To me, though, it’s a whole lotta nope.
I doubt it because the people who are excited about this project have failed to answer two simple questions. The first one should be the easiest to answer but hasn’t been answered to anyone’s satisfaction. The second one is the most difficult to answer, but it needs an answer. Without the answer, the idea makes no sense.
WHY? AND FOR WHAT?
First, the details: Punisher recently shared a link to a YouTube video to the Digital Crack brainstorm channel. It spoke about a video game console called the SEGA Spartan. Actually, it’s just called the Spartan. The SEGA name is added on many videos and articles because of what the Spartan aims to be. It’s a fan project that is the basis for a proposal they want to present to SEGA of Japan. Put simply, their hope is that the Spartan concept is the console idea that convinces SEGA to return to the console arena.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is not the first proposal for a new SEGA console. The last one, the Dreamcast 2, was shut down after some internal strife. Now even though the folks from the Spartan project insist they’re not affiliated with The Dreamcast 2, also known as Dreamcast Reloaded, they did take over the previous project’s change.org petition three weeks ago. Currently, the petition has almost 35,000 signatures. So evidently, there are a lot of people that are interested in this project.
The Spartan website highlights some of the technical specs the proposed console will have. Their goal for this console is to sport native 4K graphics. To achieve this, they plan to outfit the Spartan with a 4GB GeForce GTX GPU (?), a 1TB hard drive, and 16GB of DDR4 RAM. They want this proposed console to slot between the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X in price.
Those are just basic details. Their website’s FAQ covers other things like features and OS. You should definitely check the site out if you want to get a sense of where this project is right now. As for me, though, I wanna get back to my two simple questions. I ask them to both the project team and the near 35,000 people that think this is a good idea. If any of you want to take a crack at these questions, feel free.
First off, WHY?
Why would SEGA of Japan re-enter a market they exited back in 2001 in failure? Hey, I love the original Dreamcast, too. But you do remember that the Dreamcast FAILED, right? Because I remember that. I’m still fucking bitter about that. So why would SEGA want to dip its bucket back into that well? I won’t even mention all the batshit-stupid business decisions SEGA made that caused their console failures. Why would they want to try again?
Better yet, why would they listen to THIS proposal? Because the project has a change.org petition with 35,000 signatures on it? Sure, the proposal will include a prototype. A prototype, by the way, with half-ass PC specs whose main “feature” – backward compatibility – relies on EMULATION! How will that coerce SEGA into getting back into the hardware business?
And that doesn’t even discuss the one problem I think should be evident: SEGA of Japan absolutely SUCKS at the console game!
I don’t know how well-loved SEGA is in Australia, where this project seems to be based. But Stateside, the only SEGA console that was really successful was the Genesis/Mega Drive. And the success it enjoyed here was thanks to SEGA of AMERICA and its wunderkind CEO at the time, Tom Kalinske. SEGA of Japan was too busy tripping over its own shoes to succeed at anything in the console space. While the Genesis topped the sales charts in North America, the Mega Drive was in THIRD place in Japan. It sold less than the NES and the PC-Engine, two consoles with 8-bit CPUs.
That is the company you want to lead the charge for Spartan. Why? If you can’t answer that convincingly, then this is all a whole lotta nope.
Here’s the second question, and the one I really want to be answered:
I want anyone – be they a project member, supporter, wishful fan, or Punisher and Grumpy Joe – to tell me what the Spartan will accomplish. Say SEGA loses its mind and buys into Spartan. Now what? SEGA is a (somewhat) successful third-party developer. They would have to decide to completely trash that business model and replace it with one that’s adversarial to its current business partners in order to work on Spartan. Then they’d have to buddy up to other third-party publishers like Activision and EA so they could potentially port games to Spartan. Of course, they’d have to start resurrecting old fan-favorite franchises like Streets of Rage and Phantasy Star so they can have first-party content ready for the Spartan. You know, the franchises they have shown NO interest in revisiting, even as a third-party publisher.
(For this next part, I’ll put on my tech wonk hat.)
Before all that, they have to source the actual parts for the console. Nvidia doesn’t make console CPU/GPU combos that are x86-compatible. That’ll make porting third-party titles from Activision or EA more difficult. So maybe that “4GB GeForce GTX GPU” shit that the specs glossed over (I wasn’t gonna let that one slide) might not fly. That means SEGA either convinces Nvidia to change that or seeks help from AMD. Maybe by then, AMD will have more affordable APUs based on Ryzen/Vega. If not, then SEGA will have to consider sticking with the current 8-core “Jaguar” APUs the PS4 and Xbox One already use. That’ll compromise the “native 4K” target the Spartan is aiming for. Well, that and the “16GB DDR4” Spartan touts. For reference, the PS4 and PS4 Pro use 8GB of faster GDDR5.
(Taking off the tech wonk hat now. It’s itchy anyway.)
I just spent two paragraphs carving out a by-the-seat-of-the-pants plan for SEGA. I’m willing to guarantee that it’s more comprehensive than the proposal the project members have, judging by the “4GB GeForce GTX GPU” and “16GB DDR4” shit the specs are chatting. And it’ll involve SEGA basically trashing the way they do business and do exactly NONE of the things they’re willing to do today. And that’s assuming their parent company, SAMMY SEGA Holdings, will even allow them to do so.
(But seriously, guys and gals behind Spartan. If you want to take what I wrote and incorporate it into your own proposal, go ahead. It might help.)
And all of this will happen for…what? So that SEGA can enter into a three-way fight with Sony and Microsoft, two companies that have a huge head start and legions of fans? Will they instead take on Nintendo, who has a stranglehold on its player base and who HASN’T forgotten all of its IPs not named Sonic the Hedgehog? Will it follow the project’s proposal and lean on its back catalog? A back catalog that Nintendo’s licensed before for its Virtual Console? A back catalog filled with games SEGA SAMMY Holdings doesn’t fully own the licensing rights for and will have to be emulated?
Help me out here, folks. What’s the endgame here? What’s will SEGA’s accomplish by getting back in?
Sorry, but the Spartan needs to ace both those questions. If not, then it’s a whole lotta nope.
I don’t like bagging on the Spartan project members. I’m sure they’re all retro gamers like me. We’re kindred spirits, after a fashion. But a dumb idea is a dumb idea. To paraphrase something I heard in a movie once, the odds of SEGA jumping back into the console race is somewhere between Slim to None. And Slim just left the building. The odds of them succeeding is even slimmer than Slim.
Will the Spartan project will affect any of those educated guesses? A whole lotta nope.
Oh, and Punisher. I still call bullshit.