By Ricardo Torres
The original Panzer Dragoon quietly hit stores on May 11, 1995. The game was one of a handful titles initially available for Sega's newborn Saturn hardware when Sega snuck the console into select retail chains in time for E3. Introduced at a time when games were making the evolutionary leap to 3D, Panzer stood out as a link between past and present. The game married old-school rail shooter gameplay with polygonal graphics and wrapped them in a unique story set in a postapocalyptic world where the last vestiges of humankind were struggling for survival in the wake of a great war. The game turned heads at the time thanks to its unique presentation and Space Harrier-esque gameplay. While Panzer Dragoon may look crude by today's standards, the game introduced many elements that Sega's software has become known for.
Panzer Dragoon was the first title developed by the Sega internal team that came to be called Team Andromeda. The team was one the first of the internal development groups to be formed at the start of the Saturn's life, and it came together in the first half of 1994. The group was initially composed of six designers, four project planners, and roughly five software developers. The staff was made up of a mix of veterans who came from arcade development, newer staff who'd been at Sega for a year or two, and fresh recruits. The team's name was influenced by a request from management to name themselves after a constellation that began with an "A." Eventually the group settled on "Andromeda," the name of a constellation and the wife of Perseus (yes, Clash of the Titans fans, that Perseus) from Greek mythology. The newly christened Team Andromeda was eventually joined by other teams such as Aquila (the Clockwork Knight team) and Ara (the World Series Baseball team) as Saturn development began at Sega.
After the team was formed, discussions were held to determine what its first game would be. As a result of those meetings, a core group of 15 began working on the game that would be known as Panzer Dragoon. Takashi Iwade, who worked on the opening CG and character models in the game, recalls that development on the new hardware was a truly unique experience: "Everything was new to us. It was our first experience at trying to create a completely different world and environment, unlike a simulation type of environment you would see in a racing game, with interactive computer graphics." During the development of the game, the team opted to create its own graphics library rather than use Sega's. Along with the library, the group also created their own mapping tools to ensure they would be able to make the most of their first effort on the hardware. The game's graphics and CG sequences were done with Softimage, while SGI workstations handled the 3D elements of the game.
All told, development on Panzer Dragoon took approximately one year. The team wanted to ensure that the game wouldn't look like anything on the market at the time and chose a fantasy theme to have the broadest palette with which to work. The game's unique look, which came to define the series and Andromeda's style, was the result of art director Manabu Kusonoki's vision and was inspired by a variety of influences, such as anime and manga. The game's natural look was a reaction to the somewhat sterile look of 3D games at the time, which leaned toward straight science fiction. The enemies in the game reflected a variety of disparate influences. "I got inspiration from antique clocks and various industrial products from the era of the industrial revolution for mechanics, and myriapods, marine mollusks, ammonite, and a rusty fishing boat for creatures when I started thinking of the original battleship," Iwade remembers. As luck would have it, the game's unique style meshed well with the Saturn hardware's capabilities. "I carefully made sure that the appearance of enemies would be easy to understand visually, and that they had a simple silhouette, and as a result of this, it matched to the characteristics of Saturn hardware," Iwade says. "So we had the art style first." The mix of natural and technological elements extended to the environments in the game, which ran the gamut from vast outdoor areas set above an ocean, a forest, and the ruins of a city to cramped indoor areas crowded with machinery and wreckage.