Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Story | Nostalgia Nerd


In my last video we covered Sega’s most famous
8 bit console, the Master System and along with it, Sega’s early years. So for their epic 16 bit console we’re going
to dive right in at 1983; the point I believe the Mega Drive really began to form. As we know, Sega had been in the arcade business
for some years by now, but in North America, the industry was looking a little shaky to
say the least. However keen to stay ahead of the technological
curve, Sega Enterprises over in Japan had just released the Sega System 1. This was an adaptable hardware board used
to power various arcade cabinets between 1983 and 1987 including Choplifter, Flicky, Pitball
2 and Wonder Boy in Monster Land. In 1985 the board was updated to the Sega
System 2, allowing more flexibility than it’s predecessor. Both of these boards were based on the 8 bit
Zilog Z80 – the same CPU used to power their Sega Master System. Although the arcade boards had one dedicated
to graphics, one to sound and various custom chips including the Sega 315-5011 GPU, sprite
generators and tilemap chips. The hardware allowed Sega to release some
pretty significant machines, but back in the 80s, the arcades were the source of cutting
edge technology and it didn’t take long for home equipment to start catching up. Sega’s cutting edge solution was the Sega
System 16 board, released in late 1985, making use of a Motorola 68000 CPU, along with an
Intel i8751 Microcontroller, a NEC Z80 clone for sound working alongside a Yamaha YM2151
sound chip. This new powerful hardware powered experiences
such as Shinobi, Golden Ace, Altered Beast and Dynamite Dux. Although Sega had sold North American arcade
distribution rights to Bally in 1983, arcade machine manufacture was still their backbone,
with Japan leading the surge in technology. But as we know, Sega weren’t blind to the
home industry, currently witnessing a resurgence with Nintendo’s Entertainment System. In 1987 they managed to find some footing
in Europe for their first Western console, the Sega Master System. Early sales looked good in the region if a
little sparse in the rest of the world. But it was enough to solidify Sega’s belief
that home hardware was the future. Sega had sunk their claws into Europe and
Australia, but even with their superior 8 bit hardware, they were too late to rival
Nintendo on their home shores of Japan and North America. The obvious strategy was to head onwards and
upwards. They needed to go all out and this time; be
the first to grace the world with a revolutionary console that could blow the Entertainment
System clean out of the water. Nintendo could keep their 8 little bits. Sega were about to double it. Sega weren’t a company to pause. Having launched the SG1000, SG1000-II, Mark
3 and Master System in quick succession, work had already begun on the next generation of
console instigated by Hayao Nakayama and led by Masami Ishikawa with Hideki Sato as the
main designer. In October 1987 NEC in collaboration with
Hudson Soft released the PC Engine to great fanfare, the same time Sega’s re-packaged
Master System was failing on their own shores. The PC Engine’s technical ability over even
the Master System was impressive, and although the PC Engine’s Hudson Soft HuC6280 CPU was
technically an 8 bit processor, it had a 16 bit graphics processor and many advanced features
allowing some impressive arcade conversions. This further solidified Sega’s motives to
go big and they turned to the most obvious place, their System 16 arcade hardware. The new system’s board would be built around
the Motorola 68000 CPU clocked at 7.6MHz. Like the Sega 16 board, it was decided a Zilog
Z80 should take control of the sound provided by the 6 channel Yamaha YM2612 FM synthesiser
and 4 channel Texas SN76489 PSG chip. This combination also allowed backwards compatibility
with Master System titles, although sadly, not the Japanese Master System’s FM sound
capabilities. 72kB of RAM was provided, alongside 64kB of
Video RAM The YM2612 based Video Processor is an evolution
of the Sega Master System VDP. It allowed a palette of 512 9 bit RGB colours,
allowing a standard 64 on screen. This could be tripled through shadow and highlight
use and even further with clever direct memory palette swaps. The hardware can accommodate a maximum of
320×480 interlaced pixels in PAL mode with a total overscan of 423×624. Multiple multi direction scrolling routines
were made available, semi transparency and a total of 80 on screen sprites. Very early models had 9 pin DIN AV out, but
this was quickly replaced by a mono 8 pin DIN allowing stereo sound via. the front audio jack. Like the Master System an edge connector was
provided allowing bus expansion and the whole system can be fed from the same power supply
as their 8 bit line. As for the control pads. Well, they’re 3+1 buttons of absolute glory. Looks at those curves. Makes me weak at the knees just looking at
them. And the case design. Well. Ooooooh yeah. It’s like one of Batman’s gadgets. And we’re talking Michael Keaton batman, not
one of the crap ones. The design allowed for some impressive System
16 abilities in a much more affordable package. Initially named the Mark V, the initial prototypes
were ready in early 1988 and first appeared in the June 1988 edition of Beep! magazine,
however the “Mark V” moniker lacked the grunt to convey the new, impressive abilities of
this 16 bit beast and Sega finally settled on Mega Drive to try and best the already
grand sounding Master System. Launching on 29th October 1988 in Japan, the
date could hardly have been worse. Nintendo had launched Super Mario 3 just 1
week prior, and most front covers were awash with that bloody plumber rather than Sega’s
new system. However the coverage the console received
was positive none the less. The only problem was it’s rivals. The Famicom was still immensely popular, but
NECs new machine was now outselling it and would soon take a third of the total video
game market. This was assisted by some rather impressive
arcade conversions, and ever keen to cash in, this actually included some licenced Sega
titles! Still Sega’s plan of releasing arcade follow
ups on the new home platform seemed a solid one. Allowing a natural flow from the arcade into
the home with titles such as Space Harrier 2 and Super Thunderblade available from the
go, alongside Altered Beast and Nonsense Theatre. Compared to the Famicom and PC Engine however,
choice was somewhat lacking. Despite it’s impressive capabilities, the
Mega Drive would sell a moderate 400,000 units in it’s first year on home territory. Various bizarre and somewhat niche peripherals
were also introduced to push revenues, including the Sega Mega Anser, a complete online banking
package created for Nagoya Bank and the hardware was even adapted back to an arcade format,
released as the Sega C-” Board. But thankfully this was never really about
Japan – a bigger market was waiting, and if Sega moved quickly, they could get ahead of
the curve. As 1989 came around NEC were set to launch
their PC-Engine in North America as the remodeled TurboGrafx 16, drawing attention to it’s semi
16 bit architecture. This pushed Sega on to announce an initial
release date of January 9th 1989 – merely months after the Japanese launch. Originally Sega tried to convince Atari to
licence their machine. With the Master System still in the hands
of distributor Tonka Toys, Sega didn’t really have appropriate networking facilities in
America. David Rosen, who was then Vice President of
Sega Enterprises visited Atari’s videogame president Michael Katz who was interested
in the deal, but negotiations broke down over money, with Jack Tramiel more interested in
pushing the Atari ST. However, this negotiation was not fruitless
as it brought about a brainstorm of names for the US machine, required due to the Mega
Drive name being already used by Mega Drive Systems inc, a producer of digital storage
devices. The name chosen would be one of Atari’s suggestions;
The Genesis. Deemed appropriate given the somewhat Christian
nature of the population and connotations to starting something new. Sega would launch the console via it’s reduced
Sega of America subsidiary for $189, with a revised and limited launch occuring on 14th
August 1989 in New York and Los Angeles. Sega of America’s staff numbers were quickly
ramped up from the small team of 50 and Michael Katz was poached from Atari to come on board
as President of Sega, America. The TurboGrafx-16 would launch around the
same time on 29th August 1989 and things were going to be close. In fact, Nintendo’s president Hiroshi Yamauchi
dismissed Sega, being only a mere $700 million company and was far more concerned with NEC’s
offering, who were investing a hefty amount into marketing and had a whopping £3.7 billion
R&D budget – more than Nintendo’s annual sales. However, neither of them fully accounted for
Sega’s arcade experience, which was present from the go. Sega had learnt from their Master System years
about game bundling and included Altered Beast as the pack in game, a worthy conversion of
their coin-op. Nintendo’s 8 bit console was still selling
well, especially with Mario 3 on the loose, but an ever increasing thirst for an extended
arcade quality experience in the home was becoming ever more present. Machines like the Amiga and Atari ST models
could come close, but at a pretty high outlay for the consumer. At $189, the Genesis was affordable, at only
twice the price of an NES, and it had true 16 bit power. The only problem was Sega needed some killer
titles to convince the public to upgrade. Sega of Japan had made the pretty unpopular
call to integrate region lockout to circumnavigate differing release dates and prevent game importing. However, alongside Altered Beast, a number
of reasonable titles and arcade conversions were made available throughout 1989 with the
console itself in full distribution before the year was out. However Nintendo still had quite a tight grip
on the market and their restrictive licencing deals were preventing some third party publishers
from joining the 16 bit show, causing continued issues for both Sega and NEC. However, like Nintendo, Sega had adopted the
licensed marketing model, meaning developers had to pay a royalty to publish on their machine. Some might describe this as ensuring only
quality software houses published, others might call it shameless money making which
actually limited the amount of software for machines Thankfully for Sega, Trip Hawkins, founder
of EA had raised his head when the Mega Drive landed in Japan and imported one to EA’s labs. Their plan was to reverse engineer the hardware
and work out a way of circumventing Sega’s licensing costs. EA had already refused to publish for the
NES due to Nintendo’s strict exclusivity and licensing contracts, but with Sega there was
opportunity. After almost nailing the hardware, Hawkins
approached Sega for partnership, arguing that they’d publish without their consent otherwise. Given that Sega needed software and had already
started down the route of seeking celebrity endorsement to oust Nintendo’s exclusive rights,
EA Games with their previous experience under the hat seemed the perfect match. A $2 million licencing fee cap deal was arranged
and EA got to work bringing games like Populous, Battle Squadron and Budokan: The Martial Spirit
to the table by early 1990 with sports titles like John Madden Football following later
in the year. Rather than requiring Sega to build the cartridges,
the deal also allowed EA control over their manufacturing process, allowing for the little
yellow identification tab we became familiar with on their games. It would later transpire from EA Creative
Director Bing Gorden that EA hadn’t quite managed to circumnavigate all Sega’s lock
outs by that point, but took the risk anyway. From this point Nintendo bound companies such
as Namco even started jumping ship forcing Nintendo to rip up it’s exclusive licensing
requirements by mid 1990, giving publishers and developers more a more liberal roam on
the consoles of their choosing. The Genesis software collection was starting
to look substantial, and even NEC’s TurboGraphx with it’s existing Japanese software line
was trailing behind, not helped by the rather obscure omission of a second controller port
out of the box. Combined with the Genesis sound and graphics,
the remaining console scene was starting to resemble children’s toys and the 16 bit console
would rack up almost 500,000 sales within the first 6 months. But Sega wanted something big. Nakayama set the goal of 1 million before
the year was out. Michael Katz had held the regins well, even
with the “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” advertising which proved somewhat controversial to the
company’s Japanese board where aggressive marketing was not in the culture, but Sega
of Japan wanted something fresh and invigorating to hammer a pin into America and make sure
it didn’t come loose. This mid 1990 invigoration would come in the
form of Tom Kalinske fresh out of Mattel. Tom realised there was still a large hill
to climb against Nintendo’s Entertainment System and had observed that software support
was an essential part of it. After settling in, one of his first move was
to lower the price to $149, the console was also revised around this time – one of the
many cost cutting occasions where Sega revised the hardware, including the removal of the
rear serial port – used in Japan for modem devices, which could make use of MegaNet – a
online multiplayer service offering downloadable titles. Various PCB iterations were also rolled out. You may notice that the first Genesis and
Mega Drive models have “High Definition Graphics” around the edge. Later models removed this and some of these
suffer from sound degradation. Original models also don’t show the “Under
Licence From Sega Enterprises Ltd” boot message. This was added in to try and stamp out unlicensed
games by the likes of Accolade by forcing cartridges to display the Sega name and there-by
allowing a copy right infringement case if it appeared without Sega’s authority. However a subsequent case against Accolade
was lost, leading Sega to take them on as an official licencee. Any way, I’ve gone off track slightly. Back to Kalinske. As well as reducing the system price, he also
removed Altered Beast pack-in, which didn’t really fit with the Godly Genesis image and
opt for a certain other character. Sega had learnt about company mascots the
hard way, with Mario bolstering NES sales since 1985, and although Alex Kidd had helped
the Master System’s cause, Sega of Japan felt the need for something new and fresh that
would epitomise the speed of their new hardware. A company wide contest was launched which
included a design by Naoto Oshima called Mr. Needlemouse, sporting red sneakers and accompanied
by an anime-inspired egg. A tech demonstration was created by Yuji Naka
showing a fast moving ball careering through a winding tube, and when combined with Mr.
Needlemouse, Sonic, the astonishingly fast hedgehog was born. His colouring was changed to match the Sega
logo and his shoes were matched to something Michael Jackson had worn. After witnessing this little guy, Tom knew
he was a winner despite reservations from Sega of America’s executives who apparently
seemed puzzled as to what a hedgehog even was. Kalinske pushed Nakayama to have Sonic as
a pack in title, upsetting the Japanese board who felt their most impressive title should
be making money rather than given away for free, but was given free reign to do as he
pleased. Sonic was launched on June 23rd 1991 as both
the pack-in game and as a stand-alone cartridge. A US based team was also established to create
titles specifically for the American market and the aggressive marketing campaigns were
allowed to continue, and if anything, even notched up a gear. This was a good thing, because whilst this
was going on, 2 things happened; The first was that the Sega Mega Drive would
launch globally in 1990, landing in areas where the Master System had faired well, such
as Australia, distributed by Ozisoft, Brazil in the hands of TecToy and in the key area
of Europe on 30th November 1990, distributed by Virgin Mastertronic who successfully trumped
the NES with their Master System marketing. Thankfully Master System owners could still
access their diverse library vis-a-vi the Master System Converter, allowing cartridges
to plug through and access the compatible hardware. These region launches brought a wave of existing
software titles with them, providing a strong launch platform for a swathe of already loyal
Sega customers looking to upgrade, along with 8 bit home computer owners who were starting
to find their hardware a little long in the tooth. Perhaps even more importantly than this, the
Super Famicom had launched, albeit only in Japan at this point, on 21st November 1990. Poised to compete not only with the Mega Drive
and PC Engine, but also their existing 8 bit Famicom console. However, unlike the Mega Drive, Loyal Famicom
owners were overwhelmingly keen to get hold of the new hardware with the next installment
of Mario, and it’s initial shipment of 300,000 units sold within hours leading the Japanese
government to ask video game manufactures to schedule future console releases at weekends
to avoid disruption. As you can imagine, this sent shock-waves
through the bones of Sega who couldn’t rival Nintendo despite their 2 year head-start. But back in Europe and the States, things
were still looking rosy. News of the Super Famicom had traveled fast,
but not as fast as Sonic was powering across screens (even in 50Hz European regions). People were not only amazed at the graphical
and musical finesse of Sonic. They were enamored by the character himself,
slotting right in with Sega’s continued advertising pitching their machine as cool – even paying
for late night advertising aimed at adults – compared to Nintendo’s almost childlike
appeal. This tactic, along with bundling Sonic as
the pack-in game proved perfect, so perfect in fact that by the time the somewhat boxy
remodeled Super Nintendo hit the States on August 23rd 1991 for a reasonable $199, kids
were slightly deterred by the Nintendo name. A Sony focus group found that teenage boys
would not admit to owning a SNES over a Genesis and the Genesis continued to outsell the SNES
at a ratio of 2:1. Amazing titles like F-Zero and of course Super
Mario helped push the SNES forward but Sega held the definite advantage. Christmas 1991 would see Sega outsell Nintendo
for the first of four Christmas seasons in a row, holding a much larger library of games
than the SNES and infinitely cooler than the NES. Sega would buy out Virgin Mastertronic this
year forming Sega’s European presence for the first time. The Super Nintendo, back in it’s Japanese
form, would follow in Europe during April 1992, and was met with a similar, if even
more luke-warm reception than in the States. Over here, the Mega Drive didn’t even have
the NES as competition, with it’s main rivals being the Atari ST and Amiga. But the lower cost ensured that it quickly
dominated as the 16 bit home machine of choice. However this would also be the year the SNES
began to fight back. Arcade classics like Final Fight were released,
although somewhat cut down and not before Sega had already launched the arguably better
Streets of Rage. The first real blow would be the release of
Street Fighter II in August 1992, a clear year before the Genesis would see it’s own
incarnation. The amazing Mario Kart was also launched just
a month later, causing Sega’s bashing machine to go into full operation… Blast Processing was the ingenious result of Sega’s
Technical Director, Marty Franz discovering that you could pull some nifty tricks with
scan line interrupt timings. Senior Producer Scot Bayless then mentioned
to the PR team that you could “just blast data int the DAC’s”; a reference to how the
Direct Memory controller could push data into the graphics processor at high speeds, allowing
for some impressive visuals including 256 colour static images. The Mega Drive’s 68000 CPU also had a much
faster clock speed than the Super Nintendo’s WDC65816 processor at 7.6MHz to 3.58MHz, chosen
to offer backwards compatibility with NES titles, but unable to be successfully implemented. This is why the SNES was bolstered with an
additional maths co-processor, but it still meant Sega had something to wedge their pick
axe into, and they did, hard. You might think this is all marketing speel,
and indeed it mostly is, but even Trip Hawkins of EA acknowledges that the Mega Drive was
just faster at animating conventional games. Of course the Super Nintendo had various custom
chips both under the hood and in cartridges, offering impressive scaling and scrolling
techniques like mode 7, used somewhat ironically, in the very game they were panning…. but
Sega weren’t going to point that out! With 1992 drawing to a close and Blast Processing
soon to be firmly cemented into playground banter, Sega could claim to hold an impressive
55 per cent of the active video game market and for every Nintendo game in total, 1.4
Mega Drive titles alone were being sold. Sonic Two was released on Tuesday November
21st; dubbed as Sonic Twosday and in Super Mario 3 style, received even more impressive
reviews than it’s predecessor. Revenues stood at some $700 million, but yet
Sega’s marketing budget was only $20 million, a fifth of Nintendo’s. Nintendo even started exaggerating their console
sales at this point to appear they were performing better, which makes comparisons harder but
suggests the North American Super Nintendo install base was some 4 million at this point
compared to over double that for Sega. But Nintendo was a fighter and now had a huge
dominance over the home Japanese market, outselling the PC Engine, with the Western Turbographx
almost resigned to a footnote in the West. Sega and Nintendo were locked into a furious
battle. Whatever one company did, the other would
try and do better. The Nintendo Super Scope was swiftly followed
the the multi-part Menacer, and although both lacked a compelling selection of games, it
was another peripheral for gamers to drool over and argue about in playgrounds. Sega were again eager to get one up on Nintendo,
fearing their dominance may not last for long, but rather than a new console, that fear would
be realised in the form of the Sega Mega CD. Released in Japan in December 1991 and now
hitting US shores during October 1992 as the Sega CD. When it arrived, it was a pretty exciting
piece of hardware, showcasing some impressive games which looked like actual movies. But, this is a case where reality often fell
short of expectation. Although the Sega CD was a master-class in
expansion technology, it was still severely limited by the Genesis 16 bit bus and limited
colour palette. Data just couldn’t be shuffled around fast
enough, leading to games a little lacking in the play-ability factor, and many titles
were just Genesis titles with CD sound tracks. However there were some stand out games such
as Sonic CD and Final Fight CD; a vast improvement over the Super Nintendo port. The main problem was the expensive price tag
which many gamers just couldn’t afford or even justify for the games available. Technology was starting to get cheaper and
rather than spending more, many budget gamers were starting to enter the 16 bit market. To help with this, clones, both the official
and unofficial variety began to appear…. Along with these bootlegs, systems like the
JVC WonderMEGA appeared incorporating the Mega CD with the Mega Drive in one sleek package. There were even IBM PC Compatibles incorporating
Mega Drive functionality such as Amstrad’s Mega PC released in 1993 and modelled on the
Japanese TeraDrive released in 1991. These machines attracted a niche audience,
but with their PC hardware already somewhat out of date and the hefty price tags didn’t
make huge progress, still, by god, I wanted one bad. Sonic the hedgehog actually had a better brand
recognition than even Mickey mouse around this point and Sega even had plans to be bigger
than Disney, with plans for networked theme parks in Japan and America. But the Mega CD may have been the point the
high water mark was reached and began to show signs of receding, very slightly. By 1993 Sega America had 700 staff, with $3.6
billion in gross salaries, compared to 35 staff and gross salaries of $813 million in
1989 Sega had come a long way, but also had a longer distance to fall. Still the 16 bit industry wasn’t slowing down
much even in the face of new machines such as the Atari Jaguar or Amiga CD32, thanks
in part to the dwindling cost of the model 2 hardware. Released as the Mega Drive 2 in Japan & Europe
and just poised as another Genesis in North America. The Mega Drive 2 was sold at a discounted
price, thanks to some corner cutting in it’s design. Alongside the revised detail colouring, red
in Europe, black in America and blue and grey in Japan, the system lost the front audio
out, rear RGB connector (in favour of a smaller 9 pin A/V port, although allowing stereo)
and condensed internals which affected the audio mixing and quality even further than
previous hardware revisions. Thankfully, Europeans would still be able
to play their Master System games thanks to the Master System Converter 2. 1993 was also the year the Mega CD made it
to Europe, but due to some strange timing, also the year, the new, flatter, cheaper Mega
CD 2 arrived, leading to a strange situation where Mega CD hardware was price reduced quite
rapidly within a few months, denting consumer confidence somewhat. The UK especially was the region where the
Amiga CD32 was selling reasonably well, and offering direct competition to the Mega CD’s
market, slowed Sega’s penetration even further. The Mega Drive had some sold 30 million consoles
worldwide at this point and Christmas 1993 would mark the point I obtained my own piece
of 16 bit wonder, but the SNES was still gaining traction. Given that Sega already dominated across most
of Europe, our region hadn’t seen the aggressive Sega marketing against Nintendo and so the
SNES, with it’s vast colour palette was turning heads at an ever increasing rate. In fact, we hadn’t even heard of blast processing
over here. Our playgrounds were awash with kids holding
up specification sheets and chanting out clock frequencies rather than canned marketing slogans. The arrival of Street Fighter II Championship
Edition for the Mega Drive brought a new round of playground arguments and disputes and although
the SNES version looked and played better, the Mega Drive was still very clearly holding
it’s own. Even the issue of only having 4 buttons compared
to 8 on the SNES was addressed with the arrival of 6 button pads flooding into shops. But Sega was still thoroughly leading the
charge of cool gaming for an older generation. Games like Night Trap on the Mega CD and Mortal
Kombat, which retained the arcade’s gore via. a well distributed code caused uproar among
Governments and Sega themselves would instigate the Videogame Rating Council for all it’s
systems, including MA-17 rated adult games. Over in the UK Night Trap was given a 15 film
classification due to the use of real actors. Nintendo on the hand towed the family friendly
line of replacing the blood in Mortal Kombat with sweat and removing fatalities for more
relaxed finishing moves. Nintendo’s family friendly line certainly
sold consoles, but Sega were exposing a whole new market of the older generation who hadn’t
even considered gaming before this point. With this new market neatly carved out, the
new generation of consoles were on the horizon. Sony had already attempted to work with Nintendo
on a SNES CD hybrid and after falling on it’s face had also approached Sega. Given their knowledge obtained from the Mega
CD, they felt a partnership could be fruitful, however Sega executives declined and Sony
would continue alone. Sega of Japan were working on their own next
generation hardware, but Sega of America felt something was needed to fill the gap. Rather than having faith in their existing
hardware, the 32X unveiled at June 1994’s consumer electronics show was a product of
fear. Fear of Nintendo, far of Atari’s Jaguar and
even the CD32. Keen not to lose their hardware dominance,
Sega had decided that graphical advancement was key despite the shortcomings of the Mega
CD. Technically it was somewhat similar to their
forthcoming Saturn console, but designed to allow the massive Mega Drive market to jump
on the 32 bit bandwagon early, rather than jumping ship before the Saturn’s arrival. Like the Mega CD, third party development
was lacking, even more so due to the Saturn’s release in Japan at around the same time. The 32X would sell some 665,000 units by the
end of 1994 and would be discontinued in 1996 with a weak library of just 40 titles. 1994 would also see the release of the Sega
Multi Mega, or CDX in North America which incorporated the Mega Drive and Mega CD into
one small package. But oddly it retailed at $399.95 in the US,
roughly $100 more than an individual Genesis and Sega CD and what’s more, doesn’t work
with the 32X due to overheating and even electrical shock issues! Whilst Sega were faffing about with Hardware,
Nintendo were busy promoting and squeezing as much out of their 16 bit machine as possible. Titles like Donkey Kong Country arriving in
November 1994 developed by Rare really demonstrated the system’s abilities with pre-rendered 3D
sprites. This was platforming on a whole new level,
and although the Mega Drive would demonstrate it could do just as well with games like Toy
Story the following year, the 16 bit scales were now almost 50/50 between Sega and it’s
arch rival. The incorporation of Sega’s Virtua Processor
into Virtua Racing was also pretty ground breaking and even though it retailed for $100
in America and £70 in the UK, it was a pretty awe inspiring game on the increasingly dated
hardware. Something Nintendo had cottoned onto years
ago with their FX and FX2 chips built into various cartridge games. February 1994 also brought around Sonic 3. Regarded as the last “good” Sonic game by
some and for me heralding the decline of the Mega Drive, despite a few last hurrahs. Even the Doom craze failed to escape the Mega
Drive make over, with copy cats like Zero Tolerance and Bloodshot popping up to rival
the cut down Doom incarnation on Super NES. The Super Nintendo would outsell the Mega
Drive in most regions from 1995 through to 1997, with the Mega Drive officially discontinued
worldwide in 1997, although continuing to be sold as the Genesis 3 via. Majesco in North America up until the end
of the decade. The Super Nintendo hung on a little longer,
selling 49 million consoles worldwide, while the Mega Drive will still stand at almost
40 million, a pretty impressive figure. The Sega Saturn released in the West in 1995
became Sega’s main focus, and although successful in Japan, fell prey to the new player entering
the market, the one both Sega and Nintendo had declined to work with……. Sony. But that’s a story for another day. One thing the Mega Drive touched before most
of these other consoles was online gaming. I briefly covered the Japanese Meganet, which
would also appear in Brazil in 1995, but North America also witnessed it’s own “Sega Channel”,
launching in December 1994 and offering downloadable games amongst news and cheat codes. It lasted until July 1998 and was quite pricey
but was a clear forerunner for many services we take as granted now days. At it’s peak the channel had some 250,000
subscribers. Which isn’t too shabby at all for an online
service in the mid 90s! It wasn’t the only thing Sega were ahead of
the game on. Their Console VR system, which made it into
arcades, and was seen at the 1993 summer CES, was scrapped for the Mega Drive release. Kalinkse cited that it induced motion sickness
and headaches, although Sega said at the time that it was “just too realistic and people
could get hurt”… to be fair, it’s taken another 20 years to really get a handle on
this stuff. The Genesis Nomad was released in October
1995 for North America, and allowed portable Genesis entertainment. It had a solid library of games and could
even be plugged into a television set, buy Sega had over reached themselves and just
couldn’t support the Saturn, CDX, Sega CD, 32X, Genesis, Game Gear and another handheld
at the same time, and many of these products were frowned upon by Sega of Japan who preferred
to concentrate on their main product. Most were quickly dissipated to make way for
the Saturn. However, just like the Master System. This was far from the end for the Mega Drive. Numerous, possibly countless iterations of
the hardware would be and are continued to be released to present day, from 6 in one
boxes, to TecToy’s Brazilian efforts, which like the Master System was well received in
the area. A port of Duke Nukem 3D landed on Brazils
shores in 1998, offering a reasonable first person experience, especially for 10 year
old hardware and TecToy even released the “Mega Drive Guitar Idol” in 2009 – in your
face Playstation owners! This iteration also features some Electronic
Arts mobile ports such as The Sims 2 and Sim City!! There were even further cartridge releases
in the West, with 2006 heralding Beggar Prince by Super Fighter Team, a conversion of the
1996 Chinese original. Super Fighter team also released Legend of
Wukong and Star Odyssey, with WaterMelon Software bringing Pier Solar and the Great Architects
to the table in December 2010. In 2009 some console on a chip variants were
brought out by companies such as AtGames, with their Firecore able to play original
Genesis cartridges. There’ also the countless Mega Drive game
compilations for modern hardware, courtesy of Sega as the game churning – both good and
bad – factory they have recently become. Just last week Tec Toy announced a limited
edition run of actual Mega Drives featuring an additional SD slot and 22 bundled games. It appears this well loved machine just refuses
to die. The Mega Drive, Genesis, whatever you want
to call it, is considered one of the best and most inspiring consoles ever produced. It’s hardware and the games which ran on it
stimulated a plethora of developers who would go on to do great things for rival machines
and future hardware right up to this very day. The console war between Nintendo SNES is one
of the most fondly remembered of all time, and it’s those playground debates and the
experiences we had with these machines which ensure they continue to be discussed to this
very day.

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