Sega Mega Drive / Genesis Jul 20, 2014 15:10:09 GMT
Post by The Laird on Jul 20, 2014 15:10:09 GMT
The Sega Mega Drive was the machine that kicked of the era of the 16-bit console and is widely considered one of the greatest gaming devices of all time. While 16-bit systems were nothing new, computers such as the Atari ST, Amiga and Apple Mac had been around since the mid-eighties, nobody had yet made a fully 16-bit console. In Japan the PC Engine was released in 1987 and had taken the market there away from Nintendo and their Famicom. But the PC Engine only had a 16-bit graphics chip, at heart it was still an 8-bit machine. So Sega went one better and made a fully 16-bit console that included a Motorola 68000 CPU, as also used in the ST, Amiga and Sharp X68, stereo sound and a custom graphics. It was also fully backwards compatible with their 8-bit Master System thanks to an add-on that changed the size of the cartridge slot for you. It debuted in Japan in October 1989 with the North American release following in August 1989 and then the rest of the world (including Europe) in November 1990. In North America the machine is known as the Sega Genesis, this is because the Mega Drive name was already taken in that region.
There is actually an interesting story behind the North American release that involves another big player in the console industry – Atari. After the failure of the Master System in the United States, where it was beaten into 3rd place by the dominant NES and Atari 7800, Sega were looking to partner with somebody new in that region after seeing the poor job toy company Tonka did. Atari hadn’t yet announced a 16-bit console and were of course an American company so they seemed a good fit. At first Atari were very interested in the deal and even set up a new office in Chicago to market and develop games for new machine. A little known story is that it was actually a programmer at Atari called Steve Ryno who came up with the Genesis name. Apparently Sega originally wanted to call it the Tomahawk, favouring an “American” sounding name. But the Atari guys soon pointed out that this could offend the Native American community and sounded pretty rubbish, so they had a brainstorming session of their own. Steve suggested Genesis, to mean a rebirth of the console market, and the name stuck! Unfortunately for Atari they couldn’t agree terms for the final release of the machine. Atari wanted to market the machine in Europe as well as North America, where they also had a large market presence, but Sega had also had success in Europe with the Master System and already had a deal in place with Virgin Mastertronic.
The Mega Drive went from strength to strength in nearly every market and in it’s early years it was marketed as a home arcade machine. A big part of it’s early success, especially in the US, was down to it’s brilliant “Sega does what Nintendon’t” advertising campaign. But it was the release of Sonic The Hedgehog in 1991 that propelled the machine to new heights and saw Sega dominate the worldwide console market. It also gave Sega a new mascot to rival Nintendo’s Mario that was seen as been much more grown -up and cool compared to the fat Italian plumber. When the Super Nintendo joined the market around 2 years later the Mega Drive had some serious competition and the battle has never been settled to this day. Worldwide sales figures for both consoles remain about even with the SNES having the edge in Japan and North America and the Mega Drive taking the spoils in Europe, South America and Australasia. The Super Nintendo was marketed on the back of its custom graphics chips and “Mode 7” while the Mega Drive took the approach of bragging about it’s “Blast Processing”, which referred to the much faster CPU speed of Sega’s machine that allowed it to games like Sonic. The life of the machine was extended first by the Mega CD add-on that added extra capacity as well as custom graphics but was generally wasted with a stream of rubbish grainy full motion video games. And then again by the 32X add-on, that was meant to turn the machine into a 3D capable 32-bit console but failed miserably. The Mega Drive is still produced and sold today in South America by official partners Tec Toy who were still making their own officially licensed games for the machine up until 2002.