Through a series of articles, I detail the history of the video game industry in regards to specific companies, consoles, and pieces of hardware.
In this section I provide in depth reviews of game consoles, past and present, from my own collection. Included are details about the consoles' history, specs, and hi-resolution pictures.
A lot of first- and third-party hardware and software items are released that don't get the recognition that they deserve. In this section, I highlight some of the best.
Everyone who likes to play, collect, or otherwise has a love for video games has their two cents. I have a pocket full of pennies.
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Learn about me, my collection, how I got started colleting, and where I can see my collection going in the future. I also detail why I decided to make this site, and provide a means for you to contact me.
The History of Sega Part III
Sega's history can be called no less than "epic." It's a tragic tale of the rise and fall of a great company, divided amongst itself. In this series I will outline the history of Sega - from the company's begginnings in the home console market, to it's preceived victory in the 16-bit console wars, right through to the point where internal conflict and a total lack of direction ultimately ended up being the company's near demise.
Mega Drive/Genesis vs. PC Engine/Turbo Grafx 16
Thought the PC Engine had been released almost a year to the day before the Sega Mega Drive in Japan, poor software due to lack of third party support was hindering its success. In addition, gamers soon discovered that the 16-bit PC Engine was only almost 16-bit. Although the console was powered by twin 16-bit graphics processors, the actual system CPU was only a single 8-bit affair. Many questioned if the system should actually be called "16-bit" or not due to the 8-bit processor. Games for the PC Engine were obviously better looking than those found on the NES, but would never quite compare to the graphics quality of the Super NES or even the Genesis.
Though the system would eventually overtake the Mega Drive for popularity in Japan, North Americans would never quite fully embrace the North American version of the PC Engine - the Turbo Grafx 16.
Genesis vs. SNES in North America
In Europe and South America, the 8-bit Master System was king of the hill, even when compared to Nintendo's NES. This would go on to ensure that the Sega would remain ahead of Nintendo in those markets throughout the 16-bit years. Though this was an obvious plus for Sega, they knew that their major battle in the 16-bit era would be with Nintendo in North America, where the NES claimed nearly 90% of the entire video game market share. North Americans loved their NES' so much so that the name Nintendo became synonymous with video games the same way "Kleenex" is synonymous with tissues or "Q-tips" is synonymous with cotton swabs. Every game system was a "Nintendo," and to a lot of North American adults who had kids in the 80s, still is.
When the SNES was released in North America, Sega's marketing machine immediately began leveraging the fact that the Genesis, which had already been out for almost 2 years, had amassed a software collection of nearly 150 games. Although the SNES had a handful of excellent launch titles, developers under contract for Nintendo were busy adjusting to the new development platform. One magazine ad in particular featured a picture of a Sega Genesis perched atop a huge pile of game carts, towering over an SNES console set upon only 5 or 6. The ad put the new pack-in game Sonic the Hedgehog front and center while gloating "The other guys just don't stack up." Nintendo fired back with an answer to the Sega advertising jab "Genesis Does what Nintendon't" with "Nintendo is What Genesis Isn't." Not nearly as clever, but they didn't really need a lot of marketing to sell the Super NES anyway, as they were flying off store shelves.
Electronic Arts, Virgin, Taito, Vic Tokai, and Sega themselves were pounding out hit after hit for the Genesis, but all of the large Japanese game producers - namely Capcom, Konami and Namco - were still under restrictive development contracts with Nintendo. With Electronic Arts producing all the sports games an American consumer could ask for, Sega knew that it was up to their own internal development teams to produce answers to popular Nintendo-exclusive franchises like Capcom's Mega Man, Konami's Castlevania, and Nintendo's own Super Mario Bros. Sonic had been a smash hit, that much was obvious, but Sega needed more. Over the next few years, Sega would produce several memorable 16-bit hits and hit characters - almost all of which wouldn't be seen again after the 16-bit age. Toe Jam and Earl, Ristar, Vectorman, Ecco the Dolphin, Comix Zone, Shinobi, and the Phantasy Star series (which originated on the SMS) immediately come to mind.
The Game Boy was released in August of 1989 in North America and met with immediate success. The Game Boy would run on just four AA batteries for 10-12 hours, and the release price was only $90. The Game Boy was also the first handheld console to feature removable game cartridges, so compared to the single-game Tiger Electronics LCD handhelds that gamers were used to, the Game Boy was miles ahead of the competition.
Only a month after the Game Boy's release, Atari would release the first handheld console with a color LCD screen - the Atari Lynx. Like the Game Boy the Atari Lynx was cartridge-based, but required two more AA batteries for a total of 6, which only lasted 4 hours. The Atari Lynx was priced $100 higher than the Game Boy, and the software lineup was extremely weak. In the end, the color LCD and ability to play in the dark didn't justify the weak battery life, weak software library, and extra $100 cost of the Lynx, and it was quick to fail.
While Sega's largest development efforts were constantly firing the Genesis guns at the Super NES onslaught, smaller sections of the company were divide off to find revenue on other fronts. One project in particular, Project Mercury, would come completely out of left field and catch Nintendo off guard. Sega would take to heart all of the things that the Atari Lynx did wrong, and attempt to fix them. With Project Mercury, Sega essentially packed the classic Master System hardware in to a portable gaming console and beefed up the graphics processor. The console would contain the same Zilog Z80 CPU at 3.58Mhz, but would pull from a palette of 4096 colors versus only 64 on the SMS. This meant that SMS games could easily be ported to the handheld, and an adapter was even released to allow Master System cartridges to physically attached and played on the system.
Like the Atari Lynx, the physical layout of Project Mercury would attempt to fix the cramped style of having the controls directly under the LCD screen like on the narrow Game Boy, and instead put them on either side of the LCD. The restult was a console that was held horizontally and was thus much more comfortable for gamers with human-sized hands. Also like the Atari Lynx, the Game Gear received a color LCD display, which was backlit. Unfortunately, this also meant that the console would require more power. It too required 6 AA batteries, and suffered from poor battery life. Battery life on early models was around 4 hours, and on later models would improve to as much as 6 or 7 hours. Because of this, Game Gear owners typically found themselves having to either use a rechargeable battery pack - which made the already bulky console even more bulky, or using AC power - which sometimes defeats the purpose of the unit being portable.
Upon release, Project Mercury was officially called the Game Gear. In Japan the console failed to sell well at all. In the US, the console was a mild success, and was easily the greatest competitor to the Game Boy, but still managed to pull sales numbers of only a small fraction of what Nintendo was able to achieve with the Game Boy. In the end, Sega was able to sell 11 million Game Gear units worldwide, and in total produced about 390 games for the console. Although the Game Gear wasn't as big a success as the 118.7 million unit-selling Game Boy, the Game Gear was fairly popular in North America and saw quite a few good exclusive titles.
Compact Disc - "The Technology of the Future"
CD-ROM based PC gaming was starting to get big in the early 90's. Whereas some of the largest Sega Genesis cartridges made were capable of storing up to 3.5MB of data, a typical CD-ROM could store between 650MB and 700MB of data depending on type. PC gamers that played games based on CD-ROM technology were being treated to real digital voice, CD-quality real audio (versus synthesized or MIDI audio), and full motion video cut scenes and movies. None of this was capable on a cartridge format due to limited storage space.
CD-ROM technology was in its infancy in the early 1990's. PC CD-ROM drives read at 1X (150Kbps) or 2X (300Kbps) speeds, so load times were horrendous and drives were still somewhat expensive. Still, that didn't stop NEC from releasing the first CD-ROM based add-on to a home console. The PC Engine Super CD-ROM (and later the TurboGrafx CD in the US) was released on August 1st, 1990 at $399 and did not include a pack-in game. The CD-ROM add on was roughly 3 times the size of the PC Engine console itself, and due to the cost-prohibitive price and sluggish rate at which games were released didn't sell well at all in either Japan or North America.
This didn't stop Sega from engineering and releasing the Sega Mega CD a year later in December 1991. The Sega CD would eventually be purchased by 11% of all Mega Drive owners in Japan. The Sega CD didn't reach US shores until October 15, 1992. By this time CD-ROM technology was significantly cheaper than it had been in 1990 when the PC Engine Super CD-ROM was released, but disc access was almost just as slow. The first iteration of the Sega CD, which was aesthetically designed to complement the first generation Sega Genesis console, was mounted underneath the Genesis, and featured a tray-loading design, still relied on a 1X CD-ROM drive. Though the console itself contained its own 12.5Mhz 68000 CPU, which could be used by developers to bump up the color palette and processing speed of Sega CD games vs Genesis cart games alone, many reviews for Sega CD games complained of long load times.
Since not many game development houses of the early 90's had teams of 2D or 3D video animators or access to the ability to record real, orchestra-based audio for games, many were slow to jump on the CD-ROM bandwagon. Sure the extra 696MB of storage space that a compact disc could provide was nice, but was it really necessary? Most developers said no. The ones who embraced CD technology focused heavily on full motion video (FMV) games. These games relied heavily on pre-recorded video to tell a story, and offered very limited interaction from the player. The "wow factor" wore off quickly in gamers' minds when it came to FMV games. At first one might think "Wow, I'm PLAYING a movie!" Then later on the second or third play through, when everything was exactly the same as before, that same person would think "Wow, this 'game' has horrendous reply value. I've seen this all before."
Non-FMV games tended to have higher reviews for the system, as developers would take advantage of the extra disc space and more powerful Sega CD processor to create more "video-game-like" games. Sega's Sonic CD used the CD medium to provide an anime-style Sonic intro movie, which was much praised. They used the more powerful processor for sprite scaling and rotating effects, and the improved audio components of the Sega CD to create one of the best sound tracks featured in a Sonic game until the release of the Dreamcast some 8 years later. Mortal Kombat for the Sega CD was also praised as the best home port of the game within that generation of game consoles, easily beating out the SNES and Genesis versions which both required reduction in sound and visual quality from the arcade version due to processing limitations. Two other franchises, Lunar (a personal favorite of mine) and Snatcher would both go on to become cult classics.
The Sega CD would later be released in a "model 2" form factor, which was designed to aesthetically complement the Genesis model 2. The Genesis model 2 was released in fall of 1993 and was much smaller and sleeker than the model 1. Unlike the tray-loading design of the first Sega CD, the new design now sat beside the Genesis rather than under it, and the tray-loading mechanism was replace with a top-loading design similar to the first iteration of the Sony PlayStation. Though the first iteration of the Sega CD was designed to be used with the first model Sega Genesis, and the second iteration Sega CD was designed to be used with the Genesis model 2, either model Sega CD can be used with either model Sega Genesis.
The Sega CD would go on to sell 6 million units worldwide, and although it was not nearly as big a success as Sega hoped, it would remain the best-selling CD-based home console until the Sony PlayStation was released in 1995, producing a higher sales number than the TurboGrafx-CD, all iterations of the 3DO, Philips CDi, and Atari Jaguar CD combined.
In late 1991 and early 1992, third party developers like Activision, Core, Konami, Tecmo, Capcom and many more were beginning to develop exclusives for the Sega Genesis. Developers were finding crafty ways of circumventing their restrictive contracts with Nintendo, up to and including simply developing either Genesis-exclusive franchises, or Genesis-exclusive versions of titles in an existing franchise. A good example was Street Fighter II, which Nintendo had enjoyed as an exclusive on the SNES for a while. Capcom developed a special "Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition" for the Genesis, a sub-version which just different enough from the SNES version due to new features to be called a "different game."
By the end of 1992, Sega held 55% of the video games market share in North America... Nintendo now owned only 45%. In 1992 alone, Sega sold 2.2 million Genesis consoles in the US alone, and had over 10 million Genesis consoles in US homes. Compared to the roughly 2 million SNES console install-base, Nintendo's days of 90%+ market shares were over for good. Sega would go on to carry this market dominance in the US until 1994.
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