Released as the Sega Mega Drive in Japan, Europe, and South America, and as the Sega Genesis in North America, it is Sega’s 16-bit console. It was the successor of the 8-bit Sega Master System and predecessor to the 32-bit Sega Saturn.
Learning from their previous mistakes with the Sega Master System, even thought it was graphically superior to the NES, Sega knew they had to develop more third party support in order to remain viable.
Sega’s goal was to give gamers a taste of arcade quality gameplay, made popular by their System-16 arcade boards, which was used to create hit games like Golden Axe, Altered Beast, and Alien Syndrome.
An image from the video game Altered Beast was even used as the console box art, to help sell the product as a 16-bit home arcade console. And Sega ran a series of legendary commercials, such as the famous “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” ads, promoting the console as a system that can produce arcade quality graphics.
The Sega Genesis was not as powerful as their 16-bit arcade cabinets, however. The console could only display 64 colors out of a possible 512 colors. This was very low compared to 4096 possible colors from the System-16 arcade boards. And the console could only display 80 sprites on screen, compared to the 128 sprites from the same arcade boards. Still, the basic structure allowed for many decent, but not perfect, arcade ports of their games. Even games that used arcade boards beyond Sega’s System-16 hardware, such as Bonanza Brothers, Alien Storm, Crack Down, and many others. In fact, the Mega Drive was able to produce many decent arcade ports of games that used the same or similar 16-bit hardware.
Although the Neo Geo and the TurboGrafx-16 had a head start as next generation consoles they simply could not compete with the Sega Genesis in term of price (Neo Geo) and Sega boasted a line up of solid arcade ports and killer sports games. Most importantly they had the backing of Electronic Arts.
When the SNES was finally released in September of 1991, Sega realized that the first real threat to their grip on the 16-bit market had surfaced. Sega spent a massive amount of money on advertising, promoting its superior game line-up and showing pictures of its “still-in-development” Sega CD. Although it would be nearly two years before the CD made it to market, this stopgap tactic was ingenious. Sales of Genesis consoles and games only dropped slightly in the Christmas season of 1991.
In the summer of 1992, Sega unveiled its secret project. Known as Sonic The Hedgehog, its stunning visuals pushed the Genesis to the limit, and earned the title of the fastest video game in history.The arrival of Sonic was a major blow to Nintendo. It proved that the Genesis wasn’t as primitive as Nintendo wanted everyone to believe. It was the console’s best-selling stand-alone game with over 6 million cartridges sold, while its best-selling bundled game was the original Sonic the Hedgehog, with over 15 million units sold.
During its nine-year production run, it was expanded upon numerous times. These add-ons included the Power Base Converter, allowing it to play 8-bit Master System games, as well as the Sega CD and the 32X. Additionally, two later models of the Sega Genesis were released.
The Sega Genesis had two main versions of its controller. The first was slightly larger than the other, with three face buttons and a slightly “sharp,” hard-plastic thumb pad. Although this controller was initially well-received, as the popularity of games like Street Fighter II rose, there was demand to produce a six-button controller.
Sega finally did release a six-button controller with a slightly streamlined look and feel, a softer thumb pad, and naturally three more face buttons. Many later Genesis games recommended the use of this secondary controller (many of them fighting games), as games that were played with the original controller and designed for the new six-button one would need to tap the start button to switch the three face buttons to the function of the other three.
In Japan, the Sega Mega Drive had network service available beginning in 1991. In order to use the service, players had to attach a Mega modem (which had a connection speed ranging from 1,600 to 2,400 bits/s) to the DE-9 port on the console. The few games available for download onto the Mega Drive were Sonic Eraser andPhantasy Star II Text Adventures. In 1995, the service reached Brazil, where two more games were available:Mortal Kombat II and Fifa Soccer ’95. The service was not successful, and was eventually discontinued.
Despite this, Sega teamed up with TCI and Time Warner in 1994 to release the Sega Channel in the United States. The Sega Channel was a hardware add-on meant to be placed on top of the Genesis cartridge slot. The add-on allowed players to download games directly to their Sega Genesis consoles and play the games for a monthly fee. They did this by connecting a coaxial cable (the same kind used on cable boxes) to the back of the cartridge add-on. One could then choose to browse games from a variety of menus. Categories like shooter, role playing, platforming, etc. contained many popular Genesis titles people could download and play. After 30 days the games available would change. Usually, the most popular games were kept in service while the games people hardly played were replaced with other games. The Sega Channel also kept track of new games that were released. The games were usually available a month after their official release dates. Japanese import games were also available to subscribers. The activation fee was $29.95, and the monthly fee was $14.95. The service lasted until 1998, when the 32-bit era was established with the Sega Saturn, and the Sony PlayStation. The Sega Channel was also the only way American gamers could play the Genesis last two best games, Alien Soldier and Pulseman.
CPU: Motorola 68000 at 7.61 MHz
1 MByte (8 Mbit) ROM Area
64 KByte RAM Area
Co-Processor: Z80 @ 4 MHz (Not Present in MK-1631)
Controls PSG (Programmable Sound Generator) & FM Chips
8 KBytes of dedicated Sound Ram
64 simultaneous colors of 512 color pallete.
Pixel resolution: 320 x 224
VDP (Video Display Processor)
Dedicated video display processor
Controls playfield & sprites
64 KBytes of dedicated VRAM (Video Ram)
64 x 9-bits of CRAM (Color RAM)
3 Planes: 2 scrolling playfields, 1 sprite plane
PSG (TI 76489 chip)
FM chip (Yamaha YM 2612)
8 KBytes RAM
Signal/Noise Ratio: 14dB