Creation... The Genesis Way!
The best part of a website like RGG is that the content on show is essentially like a hive mind or collected conciousness. Every person who visits here and contributes helps to form something bigger each and every day. With this in mind one of the RGG members who is a huge Sega lover has submitted this article for your enjoyment.
One of the reasons the Golden Era was in fact so named was due to one very special company who pushed technology boundries and new hardware/peripheral concepts. Take it away Vectra my good man...
Tinker, Tailor, Thinker, Maker.... The creator they call Sega!
Sega is a company that has brought many gamers joy over the years, their consoles may not have sold the most compared to the competition but one thing the company did was bring innovation to the home, and of course great games. Those that owned the Master System, Megadrive or any other Sega machine understand. An arcade giant, Service Games (Sega) had to keep thinking of ways to bring people into the arcades to spend money.
The games had to do something interesting to attract the gamer and make them spend money, they had to be easy to pick up as an arcade cabinet leaves very little room for instructions and above all difficult to master so the player comes back to try and better themselves and progress further into the game.
Sega understood this and brought that into the home, expanding on the arcade mode with exclusive modes for the home so the titles had better longevity and value over their arcade counterparts. They also pushed several innovations the likes of which some of the industry are only just catching up on years after the company exited the hardware business. Like them or loathe them Sega machines are very much like the Amiga system, very much ahead of their time. So without further ado I bring you some of Sega's innovations:
The Sega Master System 3D Glasses...
Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus, Ha! The humble Master System pushed 3D glasses way back in the 8-bit sector with Sega having an eye on bringing virtual reality into the home. Sure the graphics on the Master System won't immerse you in super realistic worlds but the fact that Sega even thought of and pushed this shows just how the company loved to innovate.
The headset was compatible with a handful of 3D releases including Missile Defense 3D, Space Harrier 3D, Zaxxon 3D and Maze Hunter 3D. The glasses were released in 1980 and is known in some territories as the Sega 3D Scope, like more modern equivalents the glasses possess two LCD shutters which open and close over each eye in a synchronised fashion. This rapid flickering between the lenses on each eye produced the illusion of depth and gives the image being displayed its 3D appearance.
At the time of release the glasses were met with a mostly positive critical response, with a total of eight compatible games the glasses didn't take off in a big way and it was quite rare to find one on your local high street. The glasses are also not compatible with the revised edition of the Master System console the Master System 2 as it connects to the system via the card slot present only on the original models.
Mark III / Master System Sega Cards...
Cartridges were so 1970s by the time the Master System came out, Sega had another format that its home system could utilise.
The Master System (Model 1) in addition to a cartridge slot featured a second slot that could load games for the user to play from tiny cards. The cards offered around 4-32KB of storage and were designed to be cheaper than cartridges and therefore allow developers an avenue to produce cheaper games for the system.
The cards were physically a lot smaller than cartridges and only around 2mm thick, this meant less materials were used for production and smaller boxes and packaging could be used for titles sent out for retail. Some games did appear on the cards but it was quietly dropped due to the limited storage capability available by the format.
Cartridges on the Master System allowed up to 512KB of storage and as games became more complex the cartridge format was the preferred choice of content delivery. As a result only a handful of card games were released.
A very special game was released on this format as one of the launch set of titles, can you guess which one that would be? Here's a clue, It's Transbot and he's pretty much everywhere on this website! All Hail Transbot!!!
The MegaDrive Powerbase Convertor...
Companies may not care much about backwards compatibility these days but Sega did when the Megadrive came out. Back when the Megadrive was launched, Sega wanted everyone to go out and get its new 16-Bit machine but also didn't want to upset existing owners of it's hardware.
While the machine was launched and new titles were developed Sega decided in a genius move to create a device which allowed the playing of Master System titles. The Power Base was launched and sat on top of the Megadrive once inserted into the cartridge slot. This allowed not only Master System cartridges to be inserted and used, but you could also use the game cards as well with the device.
This meant for owners of Sega's previous machine that their game collection wouldn't become redundant if they upgraded and they could still enjoy all the games they already had without having two machines connected to the TV. For a little bit more on top of the cost of the Megadrive owners of a Master System could essentially take their collection with them (minus the built-in game).
Sega's main competition at the time didn't have such a feature but Sega did, fans of the SNES that upgraded to a NES for instance could not play NES cartridges in a SNES. Eventually other manufacturers did do backwards compatibility such as Nintendo with their portable range but the path for consoles was lead by Sega..... Standard!
The Sega MegaDrive Meganet...
Think Xbox Live and PSN were the first taste of online gaming in console land? Guess again, Sega launched their Meganet service in 1990, that is correct 1990! The system allowed online multiplayer on a pay to play basis which is the formula used by both Microsoft and Sony currently to this day.
Users of the service could go online and browse Sega's site where they could download several titles that were available on the service which were specially adapted to provide online play against other users of the service. Most of the games were adapted to compensate for the speed of connection at the time and were quite small in size so they would be as quick to download as possible.
Of all the titles available on the system only the titles Columns, Flicky, Fatal Labyrinth, and Teddy Boy Blues ever saw a cartridge release outside the service. The modem wasn't only about games however and could be used for more serious tasks. To complete the package for this very purpose Sega offered some additional peripherals to aid in tasks such as online banking which included a keypad and a printer to give customers everything they needed to organise their finances using their Megadrive.
At the time consoles had a stigma of being considered toys, with such a move Sega showed that a console could be used for more than games. The modem and Meganet service were available exclusively in Japan and Brazil.
The Sega Saturn 3D Analogue Controller...
The N64 often gets the praise for unleashing the analogue stick to the console market but technically Sega was the first to do this.
The Sonic Team were working on their latest masterpiece Nights Into Dreams which required precise movement around an impressive 3D landscape. The regular controller had just a digital pad which while it worked, wasn't as precise for navigation around the levels. So the R&D department locked themselves away and came up with this, the Sega 3D controller.
Not only does the 3D controller feature an analogue stick but it also possesses analogue triggers too, which means that in supported racers on the Saturn you would have greater control of your vehicle. You could feather the accelerator or floor it as necessary for instance rather than the off/on nature offered by digital alternatives.
The controller also features 6 face buttons, a D-pad, start button and a switch. The switch allows the controller to be placed in analogue or digital mode. This is vital as some Saturn games aren't compatible with the analogue controls and switching the controller to digital allows it to be used just like a regular Saturn pad with games that would be otherwise incompatible. Outside of Sega such triggers weren't seen again on consoles until the Dreamcast/PS2/Xbox/Gamecube generation.
The Sega GameGear Gear TV/TV Tuner Pack...
Think the Smartphone was the first combination device ever to bring gaming as well as more traditional entertainment together? Sega did this with the Game Gear and a TV peripheral that allows you to watch live broadcasts.
This device was before digital TV of course so you'll need to be in a good spot to get decent reception but thanks to Sega you didn't need to carry around a portable console and a portable TV as you now had a combination device. The Gear TV peripheral sits in the cartridge slot of your Game Gear and features an analogue tuner along with an antenna.
The Gear TV also features a mono A/V input, this allows the connection of a VCR or even another games system to be connected to the Game Gear essentially turning it into a portable monitor. Several versions were released due to the different standards used around the world such as PAL or NTSC. Some versions even also feature an external aerial socket.
The Gear TV was powered by the Game Gear itself and as a result has higher battery usage than playing a game on the system, with this in mind it was never very practical on the move unless used with the in car charger meaning that a lot of the portability aspects were lost in this manner.
Dreamcast VM Unit...
The Wii U's controller is not the first to feature a second display. The Dreamcast had the Video Memory Unit, a memory card which featured a small LCD screen of its own.
Not only does the VMU store your saves but it also displays information from games you are playing such as little animations, scores and other details. In addition to all this the unit has a battery which allows you to take it around with you and play little portable games while on the move.
It features a controller, two buttons and a speaker on the unit itself for this very purpose. The VMU features an 8-bit Sanyo processor and 128kb of memory which is divided into 200 blocks. The LCD screen has a resolution of 48x32 and is powered by two CR2032 batteries. In typical fashion for the time several colours were released as well as matching controllers.
Only Sony with the Pocketstation was ever able to offer the same experience with a practical memory card solution that allowed for more complex secondary functions. However once again Sega were the first to get the product to market in Japan beating Sony by 6 months. One of the last times when Sega showed just how forward thinking they truly were!
They also gave us TRANSBOT but that's another story...
So there you have it, seven reasons why Sega are innovators rather than just followers, and why they are way ahead of their time when it comes to hardware design.
When they were involved in the hardware side of the industry not only did they bring powerful hardware to the table but more ways to experience and enhance your overall user experience. One can only wonder what the Sega of old would come up with now if they were still around for this generation of consoles.
Perhaps they'd have a machine with the most accurate motion sensing controls around or a controller that uses your brainwaves to control the action on the screen. The Sega of old were fairly unpredictable and always looking for new things. Some of it worked, and in some cases they headed back to the drawing board and tried something else.
The bottom line is that very few companies can match Sega when it comes to taking the hardware experience to the next level. They of course had to back these innovations with excellent software and they did just that, making new IPs with such frequency that it all looked effortless. The games are another story however for another day. For now let us bask in the delightful glow of Sega in their prime, a much-loved and revered company who did what they did best, innovate. Sega thank you for showing others the way of the future.