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Industry History

Through a series of articles, I detail the history of the video game industry in regards to specific companies, consoles, and pieces of hardware.

Game Consoles

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.

Hardware/Software Reviews

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.

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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 IV

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.

Mortal Kombat

The History of Sega Part IVIn 1992, Mortal Kombat was all the rage in arcades across America. The game was, when compared to any other arcade or console game that had ever been released until that time, insanely violent. Parents and politicians alike were up in arms at the "grotesque blood and violence" that they thought was "poisoning their children" and were sure that violent video games would spell the end of decency as it was known. Gamers ate it up, and the negative press made it even more popular. Up until that time, Street Fighter II had ruled the roost of fighting games, but Mortal Kombat was special. It was darker, it was bloodier, and it had "Fatalities."

Once an opponent had taken enough damage, he or she would stand in place swaying dizzily and a dark, evil voice would say "Finish Him." It was at this point that the player could execute a button combination to exercise his characters "finishing move." Finishing moves, or "Fatalities" as the game called them, would range anywhere from pulling off an opponent's head (spinal column still attached of course) to ripping out their still-beating, still-bleeding heart and taking a bite out of it.

Inevitably, Mortal Kombat would see a port to home consoles in 1993. Parents were furious. Nintendo took a very verbal stand against the game, and allowed it to be released on the Super NES only if the blood was completely removed from the game, and if the Fatalities were toned down. This appeased parents somewhat, but angered SNES gamers. Sega took a different stance on the issue. Rather than censor the game Sega would create a game ratings system and put a warning label on the box, telling parents that the game's content might not be appropriate for children under the age of 13. In its out-of-box form, the Sega version of the game contained no blood, but the full blood and gore could be put back in the game with a simple-to-enter and simple-to-memorize "secret" code that everyone who owned a copy of the game knew by heart.

Sega's rating system would go on to influence the creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), but the ratings sticker on the box didn't matter to gamers at all. Like they usually do, gamers voted with their wallets - and Sega won the election. The Genesis version of Mortal Kombat outsold the Super NES version by a ratio of 4:1. Realizing their mistake, but not wanting to admit it, Nintendo retaliated by lobbying Congress about the dangers of violence in video games, and willingly provided videos containing footage from the Sega versions of Mortal Kombat for the Genesis and Sega CD, as well as Night Trap (one of the best selling Sega CD games at the time) to anyone who would listen.

Senator Joseph Lieberman stuck his nose in the industry's business and made some noise for a few months, using the whole situation to make himself a household name by driving fear in to the hearts of parents. Ultimately common sense prevailed, and everyone realized that it wasn't the responsibility of a video game company to raise children. Some games can be targeted to adults just as some movies can be targeted to adults, and it should be up to parents to keep their kids from watching or playing things they shouldn't.

Still, Super NES fans took issue and complained, loudly. Ultimately Nintendo decided to put its wallet above its morals. By the time Mortal Kombat II was set to release on home consoles a couple years later, Nintendo would allow the full content of the game - blood, Fatalities, and the lot - to be released on the SNES with a similar warning label.

By the start of 1994, Sega was still on top, but competition was as strong as ever, and Sega was quickly losing ground.

Looking Toward the 32-bit Era

By 1994, both the SNES and the Genesis were dropped to $100 each. Gaming magazines like Next Generation began spreading rumors leaked from industry insiders about the upcoming 32-bit generation of game consoles. All of the prototypes and specs released pointed to CD-ROM technology, which was now cheaper than ever and getting much faster.

The History of Sega Part IVNintendo had been in talks with Sony about developing an add-on CD-ROM drive for the Super NES. The add-on CD drive would sit below the SNES and connect via the expansion port (labeled "EXT" on the Super Famicom and Super NES), which had up until that time gone unused in every country except Japan. In Japan, the port was used for the SatellaView - a communications device used for digital delivery of games via satellite TV service. The Super NES CD add-on would extend the life of the Super NES, turn the Super NES in to a 32-bit capable console, and would leverage the large existing user-base of the SNES to provide an upgrade in to 32-bit gaming that would be less expensive than buying a whole new console. Ultimately Nintendo and Sony couldn't agree on nearly every aspect of development of the device and development was ceased. Sony would take what it had learned and go on to create the PlayStation - a move that would forever haunt Nintendo.

With the Nintendo / Sony information becoming mainstream news, Sega knew that it needed to get on the 32-bit bandwagon quickly. If they let Nintendo get there first, they'd be fighting the same battle they fought with the Famicom. They knew that their key to 32-bit dominance was being first to market with an excellent piece of hardware, just as it had been with the 16-bit consoles, and wanted to repeat the success they'd had with the Genesis by releasing a 32-bit console before Nintendo had the chance.

Project Jupiter and Project Mars

Meanwhile at Sega, Sega of America and Sega of Japan were in a bitter dispute about what to do in regards to their own 32-bit console development cycle. In a meeting on January 8, 1994 Sega of America and Sega of Japan sat down just before the Winter Consumer Electronics Show. Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama directed Sega of American to design and produce a new, cartridge-based 32-bit game console that was to be released before Christmas 1994. The console would essentially be a Sega Genesis with an additional Hitachi SH-1 32-bit processor. Sega of Japan called the console Project Jupiter. This would mean that SoA would have 11 months to design, market, and bring to sale a brand new console. Though it was unknown to the Americans, Sega of Japan was busy working on their own console project, Project Saturn, which would later become the Sega Saturn.

Sega of America called the idea of an all-new cartridge based console preposterous. They said that consumers would hate the idea of purchasing a brand new Genesis that would essentially be only slightly faster with a slightly better color palette and still rely on an old, cartridge-based technology. SoA expressed that an add-on to the Genesis would be less expensive, would be faster to design and build, and would be cheaper. Additionally, the add-on could build on the existing install base of Sega Genesis consoles already in American homes. Sega of Japan begrudgingly agreed, and gave Sega of America the green light to do whatever it wanted with the console.

Sega of Japan had its own agenda. They were quickly and secretly working on Project Saturn. Whatever would become of Project Jupiter, they saw it as a simple placeholder to get Sega through the Christmas 1994 season and that was it. After that, the console would be a "throw-away" item anyway and Project Saturn would be Sega's major entry in to the 32-bit generation of CD-based consoles. Sega of America, not knowing the full intentions of the Japanese, dove head-long in to development of the console add-on.

Project Jupiter, a stand-alone console, was scrapped for Project Mars. Project Mars would be, as Sega of America originally proposed, an add-on to the Genesis. The add-on would add two Hitachi SH-3 RISC CPUs and a very powerful VDP graphics chip to the Genesis. The Genesis alone had a single 16-bit processor at 7.67Mhz - which would now be complimented by two 23Mhz 32-bit CPUs. The combined color palette would also be improved, from 64 on-screen colors to 32,768 on-screen colors. The added horsepower would now allow the console combination to render 25,000 polygons per second, which was impressive for any console at the time and which would allow arcade ports of 3D games like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. Project Mars was released in the US as the Genesis 32X, in Japan as the Super 32X, and in Europe as the Mega 32X.

Sega 32X

The History of Sega Part IVAt the Summer CES show in 1994, Sega showed off a pre-production 32X to the masses. Magazines buzzed, gamers were excited, and the demos looked promising. Sega announced that the intended price for the unit would be somewhere around $170, and that it would be backwards compatible with all Genesis games. There would also be special combination 32X/Sega CD games that would take advantage of the 32X hardware and the Sega CD hardware should players have both. This would essentially allow Sega CD games to utilize the two new processors in the 32X, as well as the 32K color palette. It looked like Sega had a winner on their hands. Sega announced that 5 titles would be available at launch: Doom, Farenheit (CD/32X), Star Wars Arcade, Super Afterburner, Super Motorcross, and Virtua Racing. Five more titles would be coming soon after: Cyber Brawl, Fred Couples Golf, Midnight Riders (CD/32X), Stellar Assault, Super Space Harrier, and Tempo.

The History of Sega Part IVAfter CES, and while Japan was busy producing 32X hardware for release that fall, Sega of America's marketing machines gears began turning. Ads flooded magazines and television about the upcoming release of the 32X and how it would offer the most powerful home gaming experience to date and unlike the upcoming Donkey Kong Country title for the SNES, which was gaining plenty of attention in the industry, would be fully 32-bit. Most gamers of the day had no idea what "bits" were, but they knew that 16-bit was better than 8-bit, so 32-bit must be better than 16-bit.

The History of Sega Part IVThe Genesis 32X was released in North America on November 14, 1994 - just before the Christmas shopping season, as intended, for $149 with no pack-in game. Retailers saw the console as a potential success, and had pre-ordered over 1 million of them to stock store shelves before Christmas. Sega of Japan, given the fact that the console's production was extremely rushed, was only able to produce around 350,000 consoles before December 25th. They would ship only 600,000 before the end of January 1995. In addition to hardware being rushed, software titles were rushed as well. Sega was only able to ship out a limited number of development kits to third-party developers who were working on launch titles. Despite these issues, initial sales of the 32X were strong with over 200,000 units being sold in the first three weeks of availability and 500,000 units being sold or pre-ordered before Christmas.

Death of the 32X, Death of Confidence

The History of Sega Part IVMeanwhile in Japan, Sega had long finished the Project Saturn hardware and the console went on sale in Japan on November 22, 1994 - a full 3 weeks before the 32X was available. The Sony PlayStation also went on sale in Japan on December 3rd, 1994 - the same day as the 32X. The result was obvious - in Japan, the 32X was dead on arrival.

The History of Sega Part IVSega announced to US developers that the Saturn would be released in the United States in May of 1995, which essentially meant that they would have to choose to focus on either developing for the Saturn or for the 32X. Developers who chose to develop for both typically received their Saturn and 32X development kits on the same day. Given the specifications for hardware between the two consoles, the choice for development was more than obvious. The Saturn was faster, based on newer technology, and was CD-based. Kalinske and the rest of Sega of America had no idea what to think, but bad no choice but to stand by the 32X until the bitter end.

The History of Sega Part IVBy the end of the first quarter of 1995, 32X sales had dropped off significantly. Magazines were reporting that the Saturn was on its way, and gamers were deciding to save their money and wait to see what the next generation 32-bit CD-ROM consoles from Sony and Sega would bring. Sometime in the second quarter of 1995, Sega of America announced plans for a 32X/Genesis hybrid stand-alone console called the Sega Neptune. The console would be sold for $199. Prototype units of the console were manufactured, but the console was never officially released and never available to the public.

By the end of the second quarter of 1995, almost all of the third party developers that had originally signed on with the 32X declared that they were dropping support for the console. The price of the console quickly dropped to $99, and shortly after $59. In October 1995, Nakayama announced that the 32X was being discontinued so that Sega could focus on the Saturn. The remaining 32X consoles in retail circulation were dropped to $20 and sold off. Any 32X units that Sega had stored in warehouses were gutted, and their motherboards were used in the creation of a TV-based drawing tablet called the Sega Picture Magic (only released in Japan).

The overall lifespan of the 32X was less than a year, and less than 40 games were created for the system. The death of the 32X would do more than just mean another failed Sega console. Relations between Sega of America and Sega of Japan would be irreversibly damaged due to trust issues, and loyalties to Sega from its fans would be questioned as Sega chose to axe a console that Sega of America had assured gamers would be supported for, in Kalinske's words "to two three years." This bitter taste left in the mouth of Sega's fans, which was a direct result of internal struggles at Sega between the American and Japanese offices, would come back to haunt them when the real 32-bit console wars started to gain traction in 1995.


 
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