Sega a Gaming Industry Legend
Some of the most Influential titles and hardware ever created
Sega the Beginning
In 1966 Sega began designing and manufacturing original arcade machines. Their first was a submarine-themed shooting game called Periscope. The colossal machine was nearly ten feet deep and six feet wide and cost twice as much to play as competing machines, but audiences and arcade owners agreed that it was worth it. Periscope was so successful that SEGA began exporting their games to America, establishing them as an international company with a Japanese base. Not long after, SEGA was sold to Gulf + Western, with Rosen remaining on board to helm the ship.
The 1970s saw the complete reinvention of the arcade industry. Video games didn’t take long to overtake electro mechanical games and pinball machines. Not long after, microprocessors replaced discrete logic games. When Taito released Space Invaders in 1978, it was so in demand it famously created a coin shortage in Japan.
To keep pace with the rapidly-evolving gaming market, SEGA acquired San Diego-based Gremlin Industries to develop and manufacture new microprocessor-based arcade games. Shortly after this union, they released Head On, a game renowned for pioneering the maze chase genre further popularized by Pac-Man. It was also during this time that SEGA purchased a distribution company run by Hayao Nakayama. He was named vice president of distribution, beginning his long and important career as key part of SEGA’s story.
The company began expanding rapidly, producing more and more elaborate hits, and recruiting new developers that would help to define the company creatively. The Arcade industry was booming but the writing was on the wall and so Sega began looking at other means of revenue, In 1976, they released a large screen TV, Sega-Vision (not to be confused with their portable media player, Sega Vision. Ultimately the arcade business crashed and Sega launched into the home console market.
The SG-1000 was Sega’s first leap into the home console scene releasing at the same time as the Famicon (The NES stateside), Unfortunately Sega Had failed to utilize any of the ingenuity that they had brought to the arcade market and the Sg-1000 failed to impress while Nintendo rose in popularity. Sega did try to reboot the SG as a home pc as the SG-2000 with added keyboard functionality but if a tree falls in the woods…
The Master System
The Sega Master System was a nice machine but with virtually no support, Very few games poor branding and failed gimmicks. Although it was recognized as a superior home arcade experience, it couldnt crack Nintendo’s 90% market share.
Sega started the ’90s as the underdog. Nintendo’s control over the US and Japan was all-encompassing; it held sway over 90 per cent of the global video game market and had effectively swatted away the limp challenge of Sega’s Mark III (also known as the Master System). The 8-bit Famicom was under millions of TV sets in Japan, while the western variant – known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES – achieved similar penetration in North America.
However, that was all set to change with the unveiling of the 16-bit Mega Drive. Released in its native Japan at the close of 1988, the machine had struggled to unseat the incumbent Famicom, but it would be in the West where Sega’s true fortunes lay. With its Edgy marketing and great libary of games the Megadrive also known as the Genesis was able to unseat the Nintendo in the US as well as europe.
Houston we have a problem
Although it was a good idea in theory and quite innovative, Upgrading their 16 bit hardware while maintaining backwards compatibility, the Sega CD was flawed from the jump. The Sega CD was designed with a cheap, consumer-grade audio CD drive, not a CD-ROM. Quite late in the run-up to launch, the quality assurance teams started running into severe problems with many of the units – and when I say severe, I mean units literally bursting into flames.
The 32x was Sega’s response to the Jaguar , why they felt that the Jaguar was a threat I don’t believe anyone knows. Once again development problems grounded the 32x and with the Saturn coming right around the corner the 32x was largely ignored.
The Saturn was a massive improvement above their latest offerings and had a very strong launch, however technical issues held Sega back once again, the Saturn graphics hardware didn’t really understand 3D at all. Everything was square sprites that could be distorted to simulate projection in 3D space, but the way the sprites were rendered was horribly inefficient. The result was weak 3D performance. That was all newcomer Sony needed with their superior hardware to leapfrog Sega.
The Dreamcast was truly ahead of its time in terms of pure hardware power and Innovation. Great titles, a refocus on the sports genre and a strong launch had things all looking up for Sega. However internal bickering amongst Sega’s brass about being a hardware or software company. Perhaps their poor offerings from before still weighed on the consumers minds, or maybe it was Sega’s poor marketing, but the dreamcast quietly faded away despite having one of the most memorable libaries of all time.
Not all stories have a happy ending. SEGA is not dead, but they may be in shackles. Since thier takeover, the flow of internally-developed SEGA games has slowed to a small fraction of what it once was. Arcade operations have been pared down sharply, and Western developers have been handed the keys to SEGA’s franchises, even when the original creators are still on staff. Many industry legends still work there, but too few are being allowed to do what they do so well. Occasionally we are allowed glimpses of SEGA’s potential greatness in games like Yakuza, but more often we simply wonder what they could possibly be working on for so long.