And on the first day God said…..Let there be light! And there was light. On the second day he said let there be the land and the rivers and the sky and there was. On the third and forth he created man in his image to rule over that which he had created and on the fifth and sixth day he did some other cool stuff too, on the seventh day he rested……
Well so a certain book will tell you. What actually happened is something altogether more awesome, on the 7th day God didn’t rest at all he in fact played video games and that boys & girls is what we refer to as Genesis!
Genesis is a console so monumentally astounding that I absolutely will run the risk of annoying all religious people by linking the introduction of this history article by making a clever pun. (mission accomplished) You can however put down the pitchforks and return to normal as from now on I shall be returning to it’s original name of the Sega Megadrive as that’s what it was called in it’s home territory of Japan and also what it was called in Europe.
The last thing I will say in this first set of introductory paragraphs is simply this…. The Sega Megadrive may very well be the most important games console EVER invented, bold words for sure however over the next few thousand words (yikes!) I aim to deliver on that statement and a belief I hold and defend quite strongly even though….Get this, I am technically a Nintendo Fan-Boy. Yeah….. That’s how amazing this console is. Sit down, put your feet up and please allow me to just go off on this one if you would be so kind because this old man loves this console and it’s my life mission to make sure it never EVER dies.
Previously on The World Of Sega……..
The Master System or Mark 3 (Japan) had been out since 1986 however outside of Europe it was making almost no impact whatsoever, Nintendo were still completely dominating the home gaming market, this quite obviously didn’t sit well with Sega as they were by that point churning out arcade hit after arcade hit but for some reason this wasn’t translating into customers homes.
In both Japan and America the NES ruled with an iron fist, seriously people everyone and their mum had one of these consoles, however as the late 80’s approached and other companies such as NEC with their Pc Engine and in places like Europe Commodore with the Amiga 500 showed very clearly… Time was moving on, the old 8-bit systems were looking very tired indeed graphically.
Now considering how little an impact Sega had made with their Master System you have to firstly give them credit for even trying again, only their arcade division at this point was working and even though I have no proof of this you just know that conversations in Sega HQ must have been along the lines of “ if we can get a system to look closer to what they play in the arcades we could really take Nintendo on here”. A new project had been formed, based off of the same tech behind their actual arcade hardware you may know as the System 16, Sega were going to go to the next generation and they were going to be one of if not the first to do it, the original thinking behind direct conversions of huge arcade hits that had been there when the Master System was conceived was still the number one priority and now their second system would have the power to deliver on this.
During this design process Sega actually had serious top level discussions with Atari about taking on the rights to the machine however the then boss of Atari decided that this would prove to be far too expensive for them and he seriously doubted Sega’s success after their previous attempt had fallen flat on it’s face, boy was he wrong! Sega went it alone.
On October 29th 1988 the Megadrive was released in Japan, this was the future, a 16-Bit console based on said arcade tech with the sole intention of turning heads, to say it did this would be a huge understatement. The 2 largest magazines of the time Famitsu and Beep! Had done some good work in promoting this new bit of kit and there was absolutely a buzz about it however much like many games systems Sega came to the party lacking killer software, the machine was perfect but the games….. Hmm
At the end of it’s first full year Sega had sold less than half a million units (estimates put it at around 400,000) and that was after Sega had released more games and cool peripherals like an actual online banking system and answering phone called the Sega Mega-Anser, this looked like another failure for them.
Some people put this down to the departure name wise from the Sega classic MARK line, the new console was originally to be called the Mark IV however bosses wanted a more catchy name that would have impact and after hundreds of proposals the Megadrive name was chosen. Whilst this may have had some impact I highly doubt it was the main reason, the fact of the matter was that the NES was still huge and Super Mario 3 had only just been released so chances are most gamers where simply still in love with Nintendo. Sega would end up coming third in this generation behind consoles like the Snes and the PC Engine Japan it seemed was not to be their territory. At this point I’m sure you are wondering exactly how things turned around or how everyone seems to know and love the Megadrive/Genesis name well don’t worry as the answer is about to be made clear.
The Megadrive changed it’s name and was launched in North America as the GENESIS on August 14th 1989, considering it was supposed to hit on January of that year shows just how long the Atari deal wrangling went on for and how hard it was for Sega to self launch this when they chose to go it alone, suffice it to say that Sega themselves struggled during this time. The bosses in this region had estimated they would sell over a million units inside the first year however they actually sold around half of that. The initial launch titles were very sports minded with a few arcade ports sprinkled around that in fairness were actually good however the top brass in America had no idea how to sell to that market.
At this point as things were starting to look very bleak indeed one thing happened next that completely changed everything, Sega changed their American division boss, a certain Tom Kalinkse stepped into the role. Tom was a strange choice because he actually had no idea or experience about video games, he was completely new to all of this but he did know how to market things. He knew how to sell and so he surrounded himself with a team of people that did know the industry itself then got them to implement his ideas in the correct way.
The first part of the 4 point plan was to reduce the price of the new GENESIS console which was aggressive and bold, the next part was to create a specific division to produce games for the western audience in order to make sure they had the pulse of that regions gamers and ramp up the way they sold this new console to the public (step 3 over the top advertising). The 4th and some would say most important part of his complete overhaul was to change the game given away with the Sega Genesis, Altered Beast was out and a new game that went by the name of Sonic The Hedgehog was in.
Interviews with Tom Kalinske since these events have shed light on his reason for getting rid of Altered Beast being that to him and most of what he calls Middle America Altered Beast sounded like a game about Devil Worship and sent out satanic vibes, considering how Christian America was back then you can see his point, however the impact of Sonic far outweighs the choice to remove the other title.
Sonic The Hedgehog had received glowing reports and reviews across the board, at it’s launch it was quite frankly un matched in both speed and style and along with the new aggressive but cool in your face marketing meant that gamers across North America lapped it up, Genesis consoles flew off the shelf. Sega had finally arrived and there was no going back. At this point the bosses of Sega itself back in Japan now had egg on their face as they never wanted Mr Kalinske in charge in the first place and strongly disagreed with his appointment, retro historians can easily trace the rift that would eventually destroy Sega as an effective coherent global company to this exact moment.
For the next year Sega in what seemed like a tidal wave completely washed over Nintendo to the point of destroying Nintendo’s total dominance, in fairness it was logical as the NES by this point and compared next to a Genesis looked old as hell, the flicker graphics and beep beep sounds replaced by arcade near graphics and stereo sound. By the time the Super Nintendo even got to America Sega had market dominance themselves and for the entire 16-Bitt era held that territory with a share of at least 60%, sometimes far higher.
During this whole entire period North America was bombarded by magazine and TV adverts re-enforcing Sega as the cool way to play games, as the 90’s loomed the age of dude and cool were now coming into play and Nintendo frankly dropped the ball completely, they had taken far too long to get the SNES ready and had not managed to move with the fashions at all. Nintendo have never regained control in North America since the NES days, firstly Sega would take their throne then Sony now Microsoft as a massive Nintendo fan myself I’m not gloating here in fact far from it I’m just making sure that I make the fact based point that Nintendo are not the all conquering giant some people would have you believe.
For Europe Sega as a parent company had decided to keep using the same approach for the next launch, the launch into the territory that had been the kindest to them during the 8-Bit era, Europe. The name was changed back to Megadrive for the European launch for many reasons some of which regarding brand matching with the Japanese original make sense and for sure the fact that Genesis absolutely didn’t suit Europe at all, it was far too religious sounding. On November 30th 1990 the Megadrive was unleashed, more than 2 years after it’s initial Japanese launch, man how long did it take back then eh?
In the UK where this writer is from the anticipation for the launch was unbelievable, seriously I cannot express this enough, the magazines were in complete and utter overdrive with publications such as C&VG going for all intents and purposes nuts! One off specials were produced, posters, pamphlets, stickers, videos etc were all thrown around like sweets as the various publishing houses went after a market they quite rightly saw as about to explode.
Europe as a whole was in love with Sega, no single European country had the same level of arcade culture that existed in places like America and Japan, don’t get me wrong we had arcades for sure but not on the same scale and absolutely not with the same vibe, most arcades in the UK itself even at their height still felt like dark dingy drug dens rather than cool vibrant showcases they were especially in Japan. Europeans however craved arcade games, Outrun, Space Harrier, Afterburner, Altered Beast etc were massive and as much as we had thrown cash at the Master System versions people went insane over the now almost actual arcade perfect conversions. To show what I’m saying in a more clear and concise way the same Altered Beast bundle that sat on shelves in North America walked off those shelves and into homes in the UK and the rest of Europe as well.
As stated in another article on this website the 16-Bit war had begun, Sega although a near total failure in their own territory of Japan had conquered America overnight and had now taken Europe, the first shot had been fired and it was nuclear, Nintendo you could see were shell-shocked and rightly so because this was a beast of a console, it was in basic terms all the looks and games power potential of something like an Amiga 500 (massive computer of the time) for nearly £350.00 cheaper, yeah…. I know right!
In America the Genesis was churning out games for fun and even at this point there was still no competition for Sega, the SNES was out but only just and the huge sales lead Sega had coupled with the marketing that Nintendo never got right over there meant that places like Europe now had a launch to die for, 2 years of jap games development and a year of American software lead time meant the Megadrive in Europe just picked up the Master Systems ball and ran with it, Sega at no point ever looked like they were in danger in Europe as the same mixture of arcade ports, sports sims and super cool dude advertising blew Nintendo and the SNES out of the water.
Sonic the hedgehog when it finally hit the European markets took an already massive success story and just pushed further into stupidly awesome mode, the game was/is and always will be a defining moment in the history of video games, much like Mario he represents everything that’s just so wonderful about not just Sega or the Megadrive but the whole entire 16-Bit scene. Now all of this looks like I’m a huge Sega fan boy and I kind of am but at the same time I’m really not, I didn’t want Olly023 to write this intro because all it would have been was about 50 words saying things like ‘best console ever’ and ‘buy one or I will kill you’ etc etc and he is right, massively so in fact but to show a sense of balance and fair play I’m writing this because 1.) I was lucky enough to be a good age when it hit so my memory is not clouded by rose tinted childhood memories, not that olly023’s is you understand and 2.) Sega made a better Nintendo and for this alone I both salute Sega and the wonderful console they unleashed on us all.
Until the last breath leaves my body I will if necessary fight a war for Nintendo, not the company that exists now because they are quite frankly an insult to the days that came before but for the memory of the golden period of their history, a golden period that would never have happened without Sega. The principal of Ying and Yang woks best here as an analogy in that one just wouldn’t work without the other, the impact of the Megadrive/Genesis forced Nintendo who had been quite frankly coasting on the NES to up their game completely and come back with my favourite actual console of all time the SNES, I firmly believe the machine Nintendo finally released was just that good because it had no other damn choice, the Megadrive was a revelation and they needed their A game.
As both Olly and I intend to do much more in-depth articles on things like the Megadrive V Snes war and the million individual battles such as advertising, magazines, promotions, TV adverts etc etc elsewhere on the website I’m going to stop short here but I needed to clarify why I wrote this and not the site’s biggest Sega nut.
Returning to the reason we are here, the Megadrive and one of the reasons why this site exists is to try and always keep the message that Sega are always relevant, during the Megadrive years gamers the world over were treated to such classics as….
Golden Axe,1,2 & 3,Afterburner 2, Space Harrier, ToeJam & Earl, Mickey Mouse Castle Of Illusion, Streets of Rage 1,2 & 3, Ristar, Gunstar Heroes, Ecco The Dolphin, Thunderforce 4, Hellfire, Gynoug, Truxton, Ea Hockey, fifa, Road Rash, Desert Strike, Kid Chameleon, Cool Spot, Shining Force, phantasm Star, Dynamite Heady, Comix Zone, Virtua Racing, Quackshot, Taz-Mania, Aladdin, Eswat, Mercs, Moonwalker, Splatterhouse 2, Alien Storm, Micro Machines, Wonderboy 5, Revenge Of Shinobi, Pga Tour Golf and of course every single one of the Sonic games, yup even Sonic Spinball (lol).
The Megadrive had all the games, seriously ALL THE GAMES, from arcade conversions to space sims like one of my personal favourites Starflight if you wanted a basketball game or even some crazy golf Sega’s greatest console (in my mind) was the system to own. I won’t go into tech specs because that’s not how I roll but the machine itself has almost no drawbacks, it was powerful had a fantastic colour palette, looked great, sounded amazing and the CPU moved everything along very quickly indeed, one could almost say it was like it had Blast Processing (wink). The controller was good to use, the D-pad although not super comfy responded well and the buttons although only 3 were nice. Later Sega in response to the huge Street Fighter craze would introduce a new and some say better 6 button pad with a better more comfortable feel to it.
In order to cut down costs a scaled down version of the console itself was introduced called the Megadrive 2, whilst it still ran all the same games it was cheaper to manufacture because of the removal of a few things such as the headphone socket and a smaller internal motherboard meant a smaller outside casing. The new look split’s the retro community even to this day as for some it was their first ever console and it’s small size and very nice styling absolutely has it’s merits however this writer will always love the original Megadrive because it is without doubt one of the nicest looking things your eyes will ever gaze upon, people be honest….it’s perfect.
So as we near the end of this intro my thoughts turn to those who have still yet to experience this console, my advice to all of you is to go and dive into one of the best games collections available for one of if not THE best console ever made, whilst you can absolutely argue that the Master System was awesome and the Dreamcast was just incredible there’s almost no real doubt that this was Sega’s finest moment,. Worldwide sales for this console put it anywhere between 38 and 45 million units as no exact data is available and the huge secondary markets opened late in it’s lifespan mean there’s simply no way of knowing however if you were older than say 8 years old in 1990 (I was 16) it seemed like everyone had a Megadrive so I would say I think they sold more than 40 million for sure.
This is about the 4th time I have sat down to write this intro and my first draft was massive because if you are not careful you can easily get carried away with the Megadrive, it’s impact was industry changing it’s legacy is eternal and I wont lie I have struggled to do it. Every draft simply felt incomplete and then today I realised it cant ever be complete, you could take a lifetime to talk through Sega and its golden era console in fact if you ever catch me and Olly023, Sieone or any other site member on an XBOX live party chances are at some point we will all get into a debate about something connected to this machine and it’s seemingly infinite industry reach.
I’m going to try and finish this now and I’m going to try and put it all into feelings because that’s the reason I just cant leave this hobby alone, its tattooed onto my very soul. To know the Megadrive is to know wonder, wonder because of the things it can do, wonder because you feel wonderful playing it.
From the beats of the Streets Of Rage soundtrack to the speed of Sonic, the Joy of running down that snowy hill in Strider as explosions go off behind you to the moment you hear ‘Rise from your grave’ on Altered Beast every single second of your time is something that will keep your memories warm through the coldest of winters. I’ve made friends because of the Megadrive, introduced girlfriends to it so I didn’t have to chose who to spend time with, it’s made bad times better and good times priceless and I could write thousands of words based purely on the amount of game nights playing stuff like Micro Machines and Fighting Masters until my eyes couldn’t stay open any longer. I suspect a great deal of people reading this know exactly what I mean right now.
I absolutely would not be the same person without this console, seriously I really wouldn’t as it pushed me onto things like the Mega-CD and of course the SNES then through the dark days until the Playstation hit and all those years of telling people that gaming was cool was finally proven right. Sega of course beat Sony to the punch years before, everyone knows that, gaming was always cool and Sega made it that way and whilst the Master System was more my childhood console the Megadrive was where I became a believer, I still very much hold onto that strong belief today and I know I always will because to be this good took ages, to be this good took SEGA.
Maybe Genesis was the right name after all eh? x