|Fast facts on Sega Master System|
|Variants: Sega Mark III, Sega Master System II, Sega Game Box 9, Tectoy Master System Super Compact, Super Gam*Boy, Super Gam*Boy II|
|Add-ons: Demo Unit II, Telecon Pack, 3-D Glasses|
|Main processor: Zilog Z80|
|Built-in games: Hang-On, Hang-On / Safari Hunt, Missile Defense 3-D, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Sonic the Hedgehog|
The Sega Master System (セガ・マスターシステム) or SMS, is a cartridge-based video game console manufactured by Sega. It is a rebranding of the Sega Mark III intended for western markets, which in turn was a successor to the SG-1000 and SG-1000 II. In South Korea the Master System was distributed by Samsung and known as the Gam*Boy (겜보이) and later Aladdin Boy (알라딘 보이). It was codenamed the Sega Mark IV during development.
The Sega Master System was the first of Sega's consoles to see widespread distribution, and went head-to-head with Nintendo's Famicom/NES across the world. Though it was unsuccessful at dethroning Nintendo in Japan and North America, the Master System was able to outperform other rivals (notably the Atari 7800) in those regions. The Master System found its greatest success in Europe and South America, regions where it outsold the NES. Worldwide, it hit second place in the third generation of video game consoles, selling over 16 million units worldwide, including over 1.7 million in Japan, 2 million in the United States, 5 million in Brazil, nearly 7 million in Western Europe, and 720,000 in South Korea. This paved the way for its successor, the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), gaining wider worldwide success.
The "Sega Master System" name is a relatively later creation, adopted towards the end of the 1980s after a release in Japan, Australia and a series of price drops and "improved" bundles forced the "Master System" name into use. During its first few years of service, the Master System was simply known as the Sega System or in some countries, just the Sega. It has also been (incorrectly) referred to as the Sega Master or Master. Depending on the package, the console may have also been referred to as the Sega Base System, Sega Super System, Sega Video Game System or Sega SegaScope 3-D System, with the console unit itself being referred to as the Sega Power Base.
The original 1986 model Sega Master System took a radically different approach to its outward design to the Mark III, released a year prior. The main unit, commonly referred to as the "Power Base" is a black 3D trapezium with red/orange highlights, measuring 143/8 inches in width, 65/8 inches deep and 23/4 inches in height. After a one-inch base, the machine is formed upward and inward to form the cartridge slot plateau.
The Master System takes much of its design cues from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), released in 1983 in Japan and 1985 in the US, with detachable controllers and power and reset buttons. But like prior Sega consoles (and virtually all cartridge-based systems going forward), the Master System is a top-loading machine. It also contains a card slot for the handful of games distributed on Sega Card, and curiously, a diagram or vague instructions as to how the system works (i.e. insert a cartridge, power the system on, and use the control pads to manipulate an image on a television screen). The Master System also has a built-in "pause" button for stopping play.
The Master System is a hybrid 8/16-bit console. The Z80 is an 8/16-bit CPU, with an 8-bit bus width and using 8-bit and 16-bit registers. Its VDP is a 16-bit graphics processor, with a 16-bit bus width and using 8-bit and 16-bit registers. In comparison, the NES is an 8-bit console, with an 8-bit Ricoh CPU and 8-bit PPU graphics chip. The Master System's CPU and VDP also have higher clock rates and faster bandwidths than the CPU and PPU of the NES, and the Master System's VDP displays 16 colors per tile, compared to 4 colors per tile for the NES PPU. The Master System was thus a more powerful console than the NES.
The Master System has an introduction screen which appears each time the system is turned on (with or without a game inserted). The Sega logo slowly "slides" into view mid-screen (with accompanying sound effect), and the text "Master System" appears underneath, with the two-tone "Sega" tune also being played during this sequence.
Unlike the NES, the Master System displays an instructional screen if the system is turned on without having a cart or card inserted, though as Sega moved to using built-in software, the console instead began to automatically load the built-in game instead. Early original Master Systems also contain the "easter egg" Snail Maze minigame - these earlier revisions of the console's BIOS are known to have trouble playing some later cartridges, including games published by Codemasters and later Brazillian releases by Tec Toy.
The 1987 Japanese release, whose design was also brought to South Korea, makes a number of important changes. Aside from adjusting the the cartridge slot, it has the Mark III's FM Sound Unit built-in from the get go, and supports the 3D Glasses without the need for an adapter (which usually plugs into the card slot).
Japanese Master Systems are quite difficult to spot, even though the cartridge size is smaller. They can be identified by the text on the left hand side of the unit - Western models read "Master System/Power Base", while Japanese systems simply read "Master System".
Master Systems have an expansion slot on the base of the system, in anticipation of future add-ons should Sega choose to release some. No such peripherals were ever released, and by mid-1990 Sega had conceded that the port had no practical purpose.
After a period of decline and the rise of the newly-released Sega Mega Drive, Sega constructed the Sega Master System II for overseas markets. There is virtually no resemblance to the earlier model, opting for smooth curves and rounded corners more akin to the Mega Drive, and is a great deal smaller (and, as a result, cheaper to manufacture).
The Master System II removes many features (usually unpopular ones) in an effort to cut costs. There is no card port (and by extension, no 3D Glasses support), the unused expansion port was removed and the reset button has been omitted in favour of a larger pause button. The swinging, hinged cartridge slot doors of the original model are replaced with a sliding cover (which cannot be closed with a cartridge inserted), and the number of video output options reduced (usually to just RF). Also missing is a power LED and the BIOS screen introducing the console when powered on.
Each region has its own set of cosmetic differences. In Brazil the system is known as the Master System III Compact, and in South Korea it was released twice, first as the Super Gam*Boy II and later the Aladdin Boy.
RF Converter: MGB3-VU3401, 8E388 PCB Component Side Markings: (c) SEGA 1988 : SEGA (R) M4 POWERBASE / NTSC 171-5533-01 : 837-6629 19 AUG 1988 CON2: 35 Pin Card Slot 209-5020 K16R CON3: 50 Pin Cartridge Slot PSB4D255-4R1 M18R CON4: 50 Pin Card Edge IC1: Zilog Z0840004PSC Z80CPU 8828 SL0965 IC2: 0821EX SEGA MPR-11460 W46 IC3: NEC JAPAN D4168C-20 8829P5007 IC4: SEGA (R) 315-5216 120U 8820 Z79 IC5: SEGA 315-5124 2602B 84 18 89 B IC6: NEC JAPAN D4168C-15-SG 8828XX215 IC7: NEC JAPAN D4168C-15-SG 8828XX215 IC9: SONY 8M09 CXA1145
SMS Control Pad Information:
5 4 3 2 1 9 8 7 6
Though the SC-3000 had been distributed across Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Sega's stomping ground was rooted firmly in Japan for the first half of the 1980s. While Sega had given itself a presence in the North American arcade scene earlier in the decade, a series of business decisions and changing market conditions had led to sell-offs and step-backs.
1985(?) saw the return of the firm in the form of Sega of America, and a successful holiday season for Nintendo and its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) prompted the company to think about the US home video game console market. The logical move was to bring the already-selling Sega Mark III into the country, but having felt the name would fail to attract customers, the console was therefore completely redesigned into the new "Sega System".
Sega of America's marketing arm was peanuts compared to Nintendo's. Its consumer products division had only opened in April 1986 and consisted of two men, Bruce Lowry and Bob Harris and a couple of administrators working out of a small office next to Sega's local coin-op division. J. Walter Thompson (JWT) was hired to manage Sega's $9 million USD marketing budget, producing the packaging for the console and its initial array of games and within two months the team at Sega had created a 1,800 square foot booth for Summer CES 1986, which could be cited as Sega's first meaningful attempt to introduce themselves as a big name in the video game industry.
Prior to Summer CES 1986, Sega had sold home video games in the US through third-party publishers and distributors, but the brand was not instantly recognisable - some at the event even mistook the company at the event for Saga Foods, bemused that a food distributor would enter the video game business. Nevertheless Sega were so pleased with JWT's handling of the CES booth that they cancelled a planned marketing review, and kept the firm in charge for a number of years.
The Sega System was announced for a September release, although didn't arrive on store shelves until October. Initially two bundles of the console were sold - the cheaper "Sega Base System" (containing just a Power Base (the console unit) and a control pad) for around $139, and the "Sega Master System" (which also included a second control pad and a Light Phaser) for $149. The latter bundle eventually proved to be more popular, and as future bundles intended to include more and more items to fight competition from Nintendo, the "Sega Master System" name was applied it to all future products, eventually dropping the term "Sega System" entirely.
Nintendo had control of 90% of the North American video game market as early as 1986, and Sega struggled to get a foothold in the region, not helped by the fact that the NES was retailing for $10 less at the time. Nintendo's distribution chain was also much stronger, with access to the likes of Toys 'R' Us and Sears which Sega lacked, leading to far greater brand recognition, particularly over the holiday period. Furthermore Nintendo was a household name for other reasons - Donkey Kong was the second biggest arcade game of 1981 (behind Pac-Man), and while Sega would begin to dominate the scene in the months that followed, games like 1983's Mario Bros. were still out-performing milestones such as Hang-On.
Within its first four months of sale, the Sega Master System sold 125,000 consoles to North American consumers. While the figure was bleak compared to Nintendo's, rival Atari 7800 had managed only 100,000 in its first six months of sale.
Winter CES 1987 saw Sega and Nintendo as neighbouring booths, with Sega demonstrating Mark Cerny's 3D Glasses and Nintendo famously demonstrating their (ultimately cancelled) knitting machine for the NES. There were a number of small success when Sega managed to get its console into Macy's, FAO Schwarz and Target, not to mention a favourable review by respected film critics Siskel and Ebert. Nevertheless, when Sega hit 100,000 console solds, 2 million NES consoles had been moved, and Nintendo continued to hold 86-93% of the market.
After several months of poor sales, Hayao Nakayama, then CEO of Sega, decided to invest less money into marketing the Master System, inevitably selling a two year distribution contract to Tonka in August 1987. While this meant Tonka was responsible for the bulk of sales and distribution (being seen to have a wider access to retailers), Sega of America would still handle support and its parent company in Japan would continue to produce software.
Retrospectively, move was considered a very bad one, as Tonka had never marketed a video game console and were clueless how to step up Sega's game. Lowry and Harris, unwilling to move to Tonka's headquarters in Minnesota, resigned shortly afterwards. Bruce Lowry then took up a job at Nintendo of Europe (though had worked for Nintendo prior to joining Sega as well).
Tonka were generous in their marketing of the Master System (initially budgeting a $30 million USD figure for marketing), but although saw $90 million's worth of sales between July and December 1987 (a figure 20% higher than expected), managed to sell considerably less than one million consoles in two years. Tonka's then-ownership of Parker Bros. did allow for more Master System exclusive titles, however.
In early 1988 and continuing for much of the year, Japan was hit with a chip shortage which affected Sega's production of Master System cartridges. The real loses during this period, however, were Nintendo, forced to delay big titles like Super Mario Bros. 2 into 1989.
When the contract expired in 1989, Sega reclaimed the rights to the system, but spent more effort in marketing its newly released Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis) in the region. In the Spring of 1990, the Master System's price dropped to under $70.
Sega soon created the cost-reduced Sega Master System II, a newer console which was smaller and sleeker but which, to keep production costs low, lacked several features that had been present on the original. The company did everything in its power to market the system, but nothing came out of it. By 1991, the Master System's sales were virtually nonexistent in North America, and production ceased.
Though the Master System was more technically advanced in some ways than the NES, it did not attain the same level of popularity among consumers in the United States. The licensing agreement that Nintendo had with its third-party game developers may have had an impact as well; the agreement stated, in effect, that developers would produce games for the NES only. However, Sega did have the advantage of being able to pluck titles from their ever-growing arcade game library at the time, and so was able to build up a strong library of exclusive Master System titles.
The Master System sold 0. However, it is likely that Sega achieved better results with the Master System than Atari did with their Atari 7800 console, released in the same year - while the 7800's backwards compatibility with Atari 2600 games gave it the largest games library of the three, its hardware was seen as too primitive when compared to the others.
In Canada, the Master System was distributed by Irwin Toy, though many games were imported from the US.
Pressure had been applied to Sega from the minute they entered the home console market in Japan. While the SG-1000 and SG-1000 II were profitable for Sega, selling above their initial expectations (as the Japanese gaming market was still young at the time), they were not as popular compared to the MSX computer standard and the rise of the Nintendo's Family Computer. Faced with marginalization, Sega released the much improved Sega Mark III in the hopes of gaining a bigger share of the market.
But the Sega Mark III failed to sell in the volumes Sega expected. By 1985 Nintendo held an estimated 90% of the market, and a Famicom "culture" had emerged in Japan, something which all new competitors would struggle to challenge.
In a last ditch effort, Sega brought the redesigned Sega Master System seen in North America to the Japanese market in late 1987. The Master System performed slightly better than the Sega Mark III, but faced stiff competition with newer systems, particularly with NEC's PC Engine, which launched two weeks later on October 30, 1987. The final Mark III release was Bomber Raid, released four months after the launch of the Mega Drive.
At the time, Europe was still a divided continent when it came to video games. Most consumers (especially within the UK) played games through home computers, such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. American video game consoles were sold in the region, but were not marketed heavily, leaving a big gap for Sega to fill.
The Master System arrived in Europe at different points, starting with Germany in October 1986 before seeing a more wider release in the United Kingdom, France and Italy during Autumn 1987. The PAL model was at the time, virtually identical to the North American model, however obviously output a PAL signal rather than an NTSC one. Sega distributed the consoles themselves, making a much bolder effort than Nintendo, and selling the Master System in regions Nintendo had neglected. The Europeans hence garnered lots of third party support for the SMS, forcing Nintendo to obtain licensing for some popular SMS titles in that market.
In the United Kingdom, the initial Master System release sold for £99.95 and came bundled with the card version of Hang-On. Over the course of three years, the console was stocked in branches of Comet, Menzies, Dixons, Toys 'R' Us, Woolworths, Hamleys and Virgin Megastores, with Rumbelows joining in late 1989.
Virgin Mastertronic also struck a deal with RCA/Columbia Video UK around this period, allowing console rentals from 1,200 outlets.
By 1993, there were 1,100,000 Master Systems in the UK.
The redesigned Sega Master System II was also released in Europe, however the colouring is slightly different; European SMS IIs are black, while their North American counterparts are grey.
Unlike the rest of the world, the Master System was able to outsell the NES in Europe (with the exceptions of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand), mainly due to the numerous poor marketing decisions and delays from Nintendo's European distributors (which arguably still continue to this day). The Master System was supported until 1996 in Europe, but was finally discontinued so Sega could concentrate on the Sega Saturn. Many Master System games were exclusive to Europe, and the console established a large user base to market the even more successful Sega Mega Drive to.
Brazil was one of the SMS' most successful markets. The Master System was marketed by Tec Toy, Sega's Brazilian distributor, and as there was limited competition, became the console of choice. Further re-releases of the console such as the Sega Master System III were released, and several games were translated into Portuguese or localised for a Brazilian audience (for example, Wonder Boy in Monster Land featured characters from a popular children's comic-book in Brazil named Turma da Mônica, known as Monica's Gang internationally).
Later in its life, Sega Game Gear games had been ported to the Master System, and several original Brazilian titles were made for the console. Tec Toy also produced a licensed version of the wildly popular fighting game Street Fighter II in 1997, one of the most technically impressive titles for the system.
The Sega Master System is still being produced in Brazil, though systems with cartridge slots faded away by the mid-2000s. For more information see Tectoy Master System.
At the time, tensions between Japan and other Asian countries meant that Sega could not market the Sega Master System themselves. Instead, Samsung were put in charge, renaming the system as the Gam*Boy and repackaging/translating software and hardware in 1989. There are several Master System games exclusive to South Korea, but rampant piracy means many of these games are also unlicensed. Many of these games are MSX ports, and so use the SG-1000 video modes as opposed to the Master System's more sophisticated video modes.
The version of the system released in South Korea is identical to the Japanese Master System, albeit without FM audio. It was advertised to retail at ₩119,000 and included two controllers and a "2MB Compatibility Pack".
South Korean cartridges are of the same form factor and pinout as Japanese cartridges, and so both regions are interchangeable with one another. South Korean control pads however have a more rounded look, and employ a different type of D-pad, similar to Nintendo's. Like its western counterparts, the console was redesigned and sold as the Gam*Boy II / Aladdin Boy, but it employed a completely different color scheme.
The Master System also saw a release in other parts of Asia, with the console being very similar to the redesigned Japanese model. The only major difference is that some regions required a PAL signal, while others an NTSC one. It is otherwise fully compatible with the Japanese game library.
Can Game Gear games be played on the SMS?
The Game Gear can run SMS carts, of course, but that is due to intentional backwards compatibility of the GG to the SMS, and such does not work in reverse. The only hardware difference known between the two on a chip level is that the GG can define 4096 possible colors, while the SMS can only define 64 colors. As the GG has more colors, it has a different method of setting each of the color registers than the SMS did: The SMS color can be determined by one byte and hence only needed one register, whereas a number from 0 to 4095 needs two bytes, and so the GG VDP has two color registers. Game Gear games which use the expanded graphics mode will run on an SMS, but with scrambled colors; the lack of a "Start" button also prevents many Game Gear games from being played. Several Game Gear games were straight ports of their SMS counterparts and will run through the use of a flash cart or homemade cartridge adapter.
In France, the original Master System (and the SMS II, which had the A/V port instead of RF jack) were sold with an RGB lead (model 3085). One end plugs into the SMS, the other into the SCART/Peritel socket on a TV, via a small box in the lead, labeled 'Adapteur R.V.B.'. As it utilizes RGB, it gives a sharper and more vibrant picture compared to RF or composite video. The box contains a small PCB, the purpose of which is to provide the blanking and function switching signals, so that the TV can automatically switch to RGB input.
|Sega Home Video Game Systems|
|SG-1000||SG-1000 II||Mega Drive||Mega Drive II|
|SC-3000||Mega-CD||Mega-CD II||Genesis 3|
|Sega Mark III||Saturn|
|Master System||Master System II|
|Sega Master System Hardware|
|Master System Variations||Asia | North America | Europe | South America|
|Add-ons||Demo Unit II | Telecon Pack | FM Sound Unit | 3-D Glasses|
|Game Controllers||SJ-152 | Control Pad | 3-D Glasses | Control Stick | Handle Controller | Light Phaser | Paddle Control | Rapid Fire Unit | Sports Pad | SG Commander|
|Misc. Hardware||Action Replay | Card Catcher | Action Case | Freedom Connection | Playkit|
|Unreleased Accessories||Floppy Disk Drive|
|Consoles on a Chip||Arcade Gamer Portable | Coby TF-DVD560 | DVD Karaoke Game DVT-G100 | Fun Play 20-in-1 | Master System 3 | Master System Evolution | Master System Handy | PlayPal Plug & Play | Poga | Time Plug & Play on TV|