by Dark Watcher
Sega made a good attempt at the market with their Master System against Nintendo's virtual monopoly of the
console industry, but they were about to introduce next generation gaming to the masses.
After two years of development the Sega Mega Drive was released in Japan on October 19, 1988 and was the first true 16-bit console to enter the console market. The Mega Drive achieved moderate success in Japan after being beat to the market by NEC's PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) only four months earlier. Sega had a lot of hits in the arcade such as After Burner and Golden Axe, and part of the appeal of the Mega Drive was that now these games were not only playable at home but were fairly close to the arcade versions. Once again Sega set their sites on the rest of the console playing world.
Sega began an aggressive marketing campaign, not only to customers, but also to developers. They quickly gained the support of western third party developer Electronic Arts and produced a line-up of quality arcade conversions and killer sports games (which were appealing to American gamers). The Sega Genesis released in America in September 1989. By the end of 1990 there were over 30 third-party developers writing games for the new system, compared to only four for the TurboGrafx-16. The Sega Genesis reached a great level of success in America, but launched the system to all new heights of popularity when they released a secret project in the summer of 1991.
Sonic the Hedgehog pushed the Genesis to the limit with spectacular graphics, animation and sound.. all with incredible speed. Sonic also became the official mascot and icon for Sega, becoming part of marketing campaign to compete against Nintendo's soon to be released console which contained a slower processor (Sega dubbed the techniques used in Sonic as "Blast Processing").
The Genesis saw many changes over the years. The console was remodeled in 1994, and offered a sleeker / smaller case with a reduced
price (at the expense of the head phone jack and volume control). In 1998, Majesco reserved the rights to manufacture certain
Sega systems. They decided to redesign the Genesis yet again. The Genesis 3 was released in the US for under $50. It
was made even smaller, but lacked the ability to interface with Sega CD and 32X.
FACT: Over the years the Genesis \ Mega Drive became the center point to many upgrades and add-ons. The Powerbase converter allowed Master System games to be played on the Genesis. It bypassed the main 68000 processor in the Genesis and used the Z80 sound processor to run the original Master System code. While rumors circulated of a Game Gear to Genesis converter, it never made it past the prototype stage. Others served as upgrades, namely the Sega CD and 32X.
by Dark Watcher
It was in the early 1990s when ole DW began feeling "Genesis" envy. The 16-bit powerhouse carried near arcade conversions of Golden
Axe and Altered Beast. Nintendo was still milking the teat of their NES and NEC really did not seem to be putting much effort
into their own 16-bit console in terms of advertising. Sega did their homework and got our attention with competitive
advertising, impressive hardware and a software library that offered everything a gamer could want. Fanboy battles began,
Genesis apparently did what "Ninten-Don’t" and it was a magical time to be a gamer.
Not to sound misogynistic, but Sega's console designs were the leggy mini-skirt in a room of pant suits (Ok…ok…like a buff bare chest dude in a room of sweater vests). You will notice that we mention designs in plural. The Genesis seemed to change like the seasons. There are many different models of the Sega Genesis each with varied motherboard revisions.
The original Sega Genesis model 1 (MK-1601) was sleek, black, with rounded contours. It had the large Genesis logo on top near a top-load cartridge slot and featured raised lettering emphasizing its 16-bit capabilities. It also featured a headset jack with its own volume slider that was unique for the time (more on that later) and contained a Z80 processor to allow backwards compatibility (using a base convertor) with the Sega Master System. We call this model the luxury edition.
The Sega Genesis model 2 (MK-1631) was the first redesign of the console and was released in 1994. Sega gave the console a more square-like shape while keeping the black contoured exterior and reduced the console to nearly half the size of the original. Of course, some features were removed like the headset jack.
In 1998, Sega allowed a company named “Majesco” to release a third model of the Genesis (MK-1461). Majesco managed to reduce the size even smaller and made the console even more affordable. However, the size reduction came at the cost of the expansion port that allowed add-ons like the Sega CD, the Z80 co-processor and minor details like a power LED. The Genesis 3 also lost some game compatibility. There are other models such as the portable Sega Nomad (1995) and the more recent licensed Sega Firecore (2009), but we have not gotten our claws on any of those yet.
All three models of Genesis mentioned have the black durable case exterior. The cases are very easy to clean (particularly the newer remodels). The top-load cartridge slot has shutter doors that keep dust out. They appear to be built to last and as of this writing our Genesis model 2 has survived 17 years with absolutely no issues.
The original 3-button controller is well designed for its time. The controller is rounded to fit in the hands comfortably. The digital pad is raised and very responsive to diagonal movements. This is a good durable controller, but we are not fans of the in-line 3-button layout nor the below average cord length (same as other consoles of the time).
The Sega Genesis put out amazing graphics for its time with a 16-bit processor, 64 out of 512 simultaneous colors and maximum 80 sprites on-screen. It outputs up to Composite quality with a max screen resolution of 320 X 224 interlaced (sure specs say 320x448, but that only applies to split screen games). Game programmers put out games with good 2D sprite detail, character animation and graphic effects like warping, transparency, scaling, pseudo 3D, and rotation. Ironically, some Genesis consoles look better than others. Each motherboard revision and remodel seemed to have a different video encoder depending on where it was manufactured (Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, China, etc) and was likely a cost saving measure during production. Each revision contained the original Sony CXA1145 encoder or a Fujitsu MB3514, Samsung KA2195D or the Sony CXA1645. The other encoders produced darker and\or pixilated composite video output with the exception of the Sony CXA1645 found in some Genesis model 2s and Genesis model 3 (credit and thanks to Ace from Sega-16 for charting the differences!)
Audio wise, the Sega Genesis put out some really good music, voice-overs and sound effects using six channels for FM synthesis and PSG
channels consisting of three square wave channels with one white noise channel. The original model of the Sega Genesis used two
separate sound amps\mixers for Mono and Stereo sound. The standard connection only produced mono sound, but interestingly the
headset jack put out full stereo sound! By using a 3.5mm stereo to RCA plug, you could get the best quality sound the Genesis
had to offer. Unfortunately, other models and revisions changed or replaced the Yamaha YM2612 sound chip and lost much of the
sound quality. This is why we call the MK-1601 model the luxury edition.
Like other consoles of the generation, Sega used the cartridge format. The cartridges were small and compact, durable, black, with rounded edges. Like Nintendo, Sega also used chip enhancements (Sega Virtua Processor) in some of their carts and the games were originally stored in colorful DVD-like protective cases that feature great artwork. The cases work great for game libraries and Sega also experimented with "lock-on" cartridges that added new features to old games. The games themselves span many genres with a huge library of memorable titles that found sequels and remakes on newer generation consoles.
In terms of innovation, the Sega Genesis was the first true 16-bit videogame console, offered backwards compatibility and was the hub for many Sega add-ons like the 32x and Sega CD. Definitely a true classic that belongs in any retro gamers collection.