Sega Mega Drive
From Sega Retro
The Sega Mega Drive (メガドライブ), called the Sega Genesis in North America and Super Gam*Boy (수퍼겜보이) (later Super Aladdin Boy (수퍼알라딘 보이)) in South Korea, is a video game console developed by Sega in 1988. The Sega Mega Drive is Sega's fifth home console, following the SG-1000, SG-1000 II, Sega Mark III and Sega Master System. It was codenamed the Sega Mark V during development and is part of what is now known as the fourth generation of video game consoles.
The Mega Drive is widely considered to be Sega's most successful video game console, with a reported 35.3 million consoles sold worldwide and over one thousand games released for the system in total. As well as competing with Nintendo's NES and later SNES for market domination, Sega also found itself fighting against NEC's TurboGrafx-16 (PC Engine in Japan), SNK's Neo Geo, the Atari Jaguar and numerous home computers in one of the biggest "console wars" of all time. It would be succeeded by the Sega Saturn and later Sega Dreamcast.
The 1980s was an experimental period for the video game industry, but also one of great importance. At the beginning of the decade dozens of companies were getting in on the video game craze, but by the end, video gaming was often associated with just one name - Nintendo.
With very little competition on the home console front, Nintendo and their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES; Famicom in Japan) had dominated the video game market. In the US they had tied up developers and regulated the industry on their own, and it seemed that nothing could unseat the Japanese powerhouse. But as time moved on, many began to question what the future of Nintendo's system held - arcades were entering their golden age, and a once-revolutionary system was starting to look dated.
A frustrated Sega had had two major attempts at unseating the NES. Once with the noticably inferior SG-1000, and again with the Sega Master System, which despite having built a following in Europe, had failed to resonate with the Japanese or North American public. But as arcade hardware manufacturers began to create games with more complex visuals and soundscapes than the NES could provide, Sega saw an opportunity for success — using scaled down versions of commonplace arcade components that would fit more easily in a consumer's budget, the plan was to create a console capable of providing a closer arcade experience at home.
Sega began working on its Mark V shortly after the release of the Mark IV (aka Master System). As was now tradition, the Mega Drive was built on Sega's existing Sega Master System hardware to keep manufacturing costs down. Hardware and software would be made backwards compatible, and the foundations for possible expansions would be laid to cover all bases.
Sega's then CEO, Hayao Nakayama contributed several ideas to the Mega Drive project, deciding that the console should be based on the company's successful Sega System 16 arcade architecture. "16-bit" processors were almost a requirement for major arcade releases, and so it made sense to bring this technology to the home. Though not the first home machine to contain a 16-bit processor, the Mega Drive was the first to print the words "16-BIT" in big, gold lettering onto the console itself, thus starting what is often named as the "bit wars", something featured heavily in advertising campaigns up until the Nintendo 64 in the mid-1990s.
Nakayama claims to have officially named the console "Mega Drive", with "Mega" representing superiority over rival machines, and "Drive" representing the speed of the chosen Motorola 68000 processor - the heart of the console. Unfortunately for Sega, the "Mega Drive" trademark could not be registered in North America and had to be replaced with the name "Sega Genesis". The trademark was held by a company known as "Mega Drive Systems", who specialised in creating storage devices for home computers.
The Sega Mega Drive was first released in Japan on October 29, 1988 with two launch titles, Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, and retailing at ¥21,000. Life was difficult for Sega - Nintendo's Famicom held a monopoly on the market, while NEC's PC Engine had already established the groundwork for a new "16-bit" generation a year prior, growing ever more popular by the day. From a home computer perspective, the MSX2 was continuing its dominance similar to its predecessor (also still supported at this point), the MSX1. The NEC PC-9801 and the still relatively new Sharp X68000 were also fighting for the "professional" computer market, though these were out of reach of many Japanese consumers at the time.
Most major Japanese developers and publishers of the day were in the pockets of Nintendo, NEC and Microsoft/ASCII, with Sega fighting an up-hill battle from day one. The Mega Drive found itself following the trends of arcade games at the time — shoot-'em-ups — and Sega also tried to woo over home computer developers (especially Sharp X68000 developers), establishing strong links with the likes of Toaplan and Telenet Japan, as well as initially gathering interest from Namco and Capcom.
Sega's catelogue of arcade ports kept the system alive, but the talk and subsequent launch of the Super Famicom in late 1990 kept Sega in third place (behind the PC Engine) for most of the generation. The release of SNK's Neo Geo AES may have also had an impact in the console's runnings. However, the situation could have been bleaker, as releases like the Shining games, Langrisser, Puyo Puyo, and the Sega Mega-CD kept the console from fully dropping out early.
The Mega Drive was axed in Japan by the end of 1995, with Sega releasing its last first-party game in December and Compile releasing the last game for the region the following year. Sega were very much keen on backing their Sega Saturn console instead, a move which saw it achieve much greater success than the Mega Drive in the years that followed.
Having achieved very little progress in cracking the American market with the Sega Master System, Sega's plans for the Mega Drive (renamed "Genesis") were far bolder, with aggressive marketing tactics in place from day one which openly criticised Nintendo and their Nintendo Entertainment System, which, much like Japan, dominated the video game console market. The Genesis launched in late 1989, and although had struggled against the PC Engine in Japan, quickly eclipsed the US-variant, the TurboGrafx-16.
The early Genesis game library and marketing campaigns in North America focused on the arcade-at-home stance, although Sega also took the decision to create celebrity-sponsored sports titles (as well as the famed Michael Jackson's Moonwalker), a tactic which proved reasonably successful. Sega also partnered with Disney to create platformers such as Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and QuackShot, the relationship running for several years into the mid-90s.
Most notably was Sega's strong ties with Electronic Arts, which saw rapid growth on the Mega Drive not least due to John Madden Football. EA stemmed from their history as computer game publishers during this period and turned in to a major player of the video game landscape, eventually becoming the world's largest video game publisher.
The Genesis made huge gains over Nintendo during the console's first couple of years, although for many it was assumed that the successor, the Super Nintendo, would reclaim its crown upon release. Though this eventually did occur, Nintendo's plans were set back dramatically by the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, as well as a wealth of high quality titles and strong advertising campaigns depicting the SNES, much like the NES, as the weaker system. Though damaged, Nintendo never truly went away - a number of strange Sega marketing blunders in 1994/1995 and the extended lifespan of the SNES (not to mention the strong support coming from Japan) meant that in the end, the Super Nintendo was able to take a victory.
Sega became disinterested in the Genesis by the mid-90s, focusing instead on the Sega Saturn. It did, however contract Majesco to continue manufacturing Mega Drives in the US through 1997 and 1998, and the few third party developers and first party studios that stayed on board produced games like Vectorman 2 and Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island and many compilations. In an ironic twist of fate, a straight port of Frogger would be the last officially released Mega Drive game released in the country - Frogger had been a series Sega held a license over for much of the 1980s, and coincidentally was one of the last SNES releases in the region too.
Sega did not form any direct distribution channels in Europe until the mid-1990s, so the Mega Drive's launch in Europe was somewhat disorganised. For one, the PAL Mega Drive was delayed - originally set to be released in 1989, it was pushed back to March 1990 due to manufacturing issues, and did not reach consumers until later in the year. By the time the Mega Drive hit places like Spain, for example, it was almost on its last leg in Japan. The late release saw a handful of games, primarily those released in 1990 in Japan or North America (most notably games released by Renovation Products), skip the European Mega Drive altogether, although this would be made up for in later years by more local releases.
"Europe" itself was not treated as one region until the late 1990s, so each country received games and hardware at different points in time (although only weeks and months, as opposed to years, separated launches). In the United Kingdom, the Mega Drive launched in September 1990 during the European Consumer Electronics Show (ECES) for the price of £189.99 (complete with Altered Beast), however the delay meant that many keen gamers had imported systems prior to this date (and magazines were reviewing imported games).
Virgin Mastertronic distributed the console in the UK, as they had with the Master System though also extended their reach to France and Germany. Sega bought the Mastertronic side of the company in September 1991 and began distributing consoles and software themselves, thus establishing Sega Europe.
Success of the Mega Drive was initially somewhat hard to measure, not least because in much of Europe, consoles were not particularly popular. Whereas Japan and North America had opted for dedicated video game consoles during the 1980s, the rest of the world was content with home computers, of which 16-bit varieties (the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST) had been launched around 1985-1987. Many consumers therefore saw no need for the Mega Drive - it was more expensive to adopt, yet less functional than a 16-bit computer, and was thus seen as a novelty item for wealthier families or something engineered for kids.
Though Nintendo had had a similar problem with the NES (and would continue to do so with the SNES, released very late in 1992), Sega reversed their fortunes with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, attracting numerous big software houses (such as Virgin Games and Ocean Software) and building a strong portfolio of games. Much of this success was built on the Sega Master System, which although had faced huge competiton from computers, had a respectible install base and was the most successful home console in much of Europe.
Like North America, the Mega Drive was replaced, perhaps prematurely, by the Sega Saturn in 1995 and discontinued in 1998 after 8 years in the European market. However, during its half-decade of service had become not only the most successful console of all time, but had began to change opinions on gaming as a whole. The IBM PC was putting traditional 16-bit computers out of action, with mice and keyboards being favoured over joysticks - games built for joysticks, which had once thrived on machines by Atari, Sinclair, Amstrad and Commodore found themselves on consoles instead. The Mega Drive also helped launch the hugely popular FIFA series, which continues to exist to this day.
The Mega Drive was the system of choice in the United Kingdom (there, it was known as the #1 retro games console of all time), and likely extended its dominance to France, Germany, Spain and Portugal. It was also big in Italy, Greece and Scandinavian countries, although much of the story is undocumented. Australia, though not in Europe, relied much on European stock, with the Mega Drive being a relatively successful console there.
In Brazil, the Mega Drive handled by TecToy, who was also responsible for the Master System's distribution in the country, where, similar to the Master System, it became the system of choice throughout much of the 1990s. TecToy tried to produce a number of original titles in 1996 and following, presumably ending at Show do Milhao 2 (2001?), part of a partnership with a popular regional game show.
In South Korea, the console was distributed by Samsung.
Mega Drives were also sold in "Asia" too.
Despite successes in North America and being the console of choice for Europe, Brazil and many smaller markets, the Sega Mega Drive ultimately failed to woo its homeland of Japan, which was the deciding factor when developing the console's successor, the Sega Saturn, which ironically flopped in most regions aside of Japan. Despite this, the Mega Drive is often used to represent Sega's "glory years", with numerous compilations and emulators released by the company since the late 1990s.
The Mega Drive also saw Sega play the console add-on game with the Sega Mega-CD, which impressed gamers in Japan with a rich variety of games released on the new compact disc technology, however overseas, marketing focused on "full motion video" games that continuously failed to impress. Sega also tried various forms of online gaming several times — the first-party Sega Meganet and Sega Channel and third-party XB∀ND. Various other add-ons would be made over the years.
Finally, in a combination of poor communication between Sega of America and Sega of Japan and the desire to keep the Mega Drive afloat, Sega of America released the Sega 32X, an add-on which added its own additional capabilities to the Mega Drive, such as a larger color palette and a two fast CPUs to facilitate higher quality 3D rendering than what was seen on the Mega Drive (which went as advanced as F1 unaided). The 32X was released too late, had manufacturing errors at launch, and was too expensive to impress, and promptly fell flat on its face.
Selected Mega Drive games are available through the Wii's Virtual Console service, Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. In addition, many PC compilations have been released. AtGames currently holds a license to reproduce legacy Sega hardware and has released a number of Mega Drive "consoles on a chip", some even containing cartridge slots. The Sega Mega Drive is also a top choice of platform for emulation, with a number of free Mega Drive emulators available to the public. Some, such as KGen are known to have been used by Sega themselves.
Mega Drive 1
The original Mega Drive measured 28 cm×21.2 cm×7 cm. The top of the unit is split into two components: a circular emboss with the cartridge slot and a tagline (which was omitted on later versions), and a control panel containing the power and reset buttons and the volume slider for the headphones jack. Audio output through the original model was mono through the A/V port, while the headphone jack was used for stereo sound. A third DE-9 port on the back of the unit provided additional peripheral support, though was removed from later revisions. Asian, Japanese and South Korean models had a cartridge lock which prevented cartridges from being removed when the power was on (which is why those cartridges, as well as the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge and various others, have a cut-out on the left side). Later runs included the TradeMark Security System, despite the feature having been planned early on.
Mega Drive 2
This smaller redesign, at 22 cm×21.2 cm×5.9 cm, was introduced internationally in 1993. One of the major revisions from the original model was the removal of the headphones jack in favor of stereo output through a redesigned 9-pin A/V port. American and European models used a momentary switch for power while non-western models used a switch. Furthermore, the audio mixing circuitry was modified, resulting in noticeably different quality audio output — here is a page with audio samples, provided by little-scale.
A common myth is that the Mega Drive 2 lacks a Z80 — the truth is that it lacks a Zilog Z80. During the Mega Drive's lifetime, Sega received various off-the-shelf chips from different manufactuerers, and sometimes would rebrand chips as their own or make them themselves, which is what happened here (and which is why each Mega Drive has a different manufacturer for its 68000). If the Z80 was missing, most games would have no sound (or not all sound). In later revisions, the Z80 was integrated into a custom ASIC which also incorporated the major chips of the system.
Portables: Mega Jet and Nomad
The Mega Jet and Nomad were portable Mega Drive systems released near the middle/end of the system's lifetime. The Mega Jet, released in 1994, was originally designed for use on JAL airliners but was later released for Japanese consumers. The Mega Jet is a semi-portable system; the system has a built-in controller but requires an external power supply and a TV. The Nomad was a full portable in its own right, having an integrated screen and sound capabilities, in addition to a battery pack.
Arcade Hardware: Mega Tech, Mega Play, and the System C
The Mega Drive hardware was adapted for arcade use several times over the course of its life. The Mega Tech and Mega Play allowed arcade operators to provide somewhat modified versions of popular Mega Drive games for arcade play — these systems use special cartridges containing games and players can choose from the games plugged into the system. The System C is a different board built from modified Mega Drive hardware, boasting improved color abilities and (in later revisions known collectively as the System C2) improved sample playback. The System C was primarily home to puzzle games — Columns and Puyo Puyo were released on this hardware.
Mega CD Combos: JVC Wondermega/X'eye, Pinoeer LaserActive, Sega Multi-Mega, and Aiwa Mega CD
Combination Mega Drive/Mega CD units were developed over the course of the Mega CD's lifetime. The Wondermega and LaserActive are standalone consoles; the LaserActive also plays Laserdiscs. The Multi-Mega is a portable audio CD player that can play Mega Drive and Mega CD games when plugged in to wall power and a TV. The Aiwa Mega CD is a Mega Drive/Mega CD packed into Aiwa's consumer-level portable CD stereos.
Computer Combinations: Sega Teradrive, Amstrad Mega PC, al-Alamiah Units
The Teradrive and Mega PC are combination Mega Drive/IBM-compatible PCs made for the Japanese and UK markets, respectively. The three al-Alamiah computers are combination Mega Drive/MSX computers for the Arabic market.
Modern System-on-a-Chip Compilations
A variety of companies now make licensed system-on-a-chip units in a variety of fashions that contain single-chip Mega Drive implementations and several licensed ROM images. TecToy-made SoaCs also contain several "new" MD games, however these are believed to be — and likely are — Java 2 Mobile Edition games running on additional hardware. For a full list of SoaCs, see the template at the bottom of the page.
The Mega Drive runs games housed in plastic cartridges uniquely shaped to fit the system. Though the technology exists to run Sega Master System games, the Power Base Converter is required to convert between the differing pin connections and slot sizes.
Official Mega Drive cartridges are generally smaller than their Master System/Mark III counterparts, with rounded edges and, in the case of "western" systems, bigger labels layered over the top and front of the cartridge. Region locking exists, albeit in a selection of rather crude forms - the TradeMark Security System, which is missing in many early Mega Drive systems, through software checks implemented manually by developers (which did not begin to feature in new releases until 1993), and differences in cartridge shape. Region locking is easily circumvented through the use of adapters - troubles only arise when dealing with 50Hz/60Hz differences between NTSC and PAL systems, leading some games to run too slowly while others, too fast.
As with the Master System, Sega-manufactured Japanese, Korean and Asian cartridges are shaped differently to those seen in North America, South America, Europe and Oceania, however the differences largely concern the aesthetics - "Eastern" Japanese-style cartridges opting for a more rounded approach with ridges, while "Western" cartridges being more angular and simplistic. Unlike the Master System, the Mega Drive has end-labels for easier reading and storage in western regions.
Pin layout is the same between the two types, however the base of the cartridge determines whether it can be safely inserted into the system - two extra pieces of plastic prevent Japanese cartridges from being inserted in western systems - these can be removed with modification, or as mentioned above, circumvented with adapters. This extra plastic is not present in systems such as the Genesis 3 and Sega 32X, nor does it exist in Japanese Mega Drives.
One interesting feature of Japanese cartidges is a inclusion of a cartridge "lock", which prevents the cartridge from being removed when the system turns on. A plastic piece from the system is slid across to a gap on the left hand side of a Japanese cartridge, securing it in place when the power switch is moved (similar tricks can be found in Super Nintendo consoles and the TurboGrafx-16). This locking mechanism is only present in Japanese Model 1 Mega Drives and is absent in all western models - the vast majority of western cartridges lack the gap required for cartridge locking, with exceptions being the likes of "special" cartridges, e.g. Sonic & Knuckles.
The lack of cartridge lock can be exploited, for example, to gain access to the level selection screen in Sonic 3D Blast.
Official Cartridge Designs
Cartridge designs for Altered Beast - though labels would change dramatically over the console's run, the physical shape would remain consistent.
Alternative Cartridge Designs
ZAX ERX 318P
The ZAX ERX 318P is a Motorola 68000/68010 hardware emulator licenced by Sega for use in the development of software titles for the Mega Drive. The default configuration consists of a Mega Drive unit, a card which connects through an ICE interface to the ERX 318P unit, which then has an SCSI connection to a proprietary host SCSI card used in a DOS/Windows 9x machine with the SegaDev32 development software.
ZAX ERX 308P
The ZAX ERX 308P is a Zilog Z80 hardware emulator licensed by Sega for use in the specific development of Z80 code, namely audio software, for the Mega Drive. The default configuration consists of a Mega Drive unit, a card which connects through an ICE interface to the ERX 308P unit, which then has an SCSI connection to a proprietary host SCSI card used in a DOS/Windows 9x machine with the SegaDev32 development software.
List of Games