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Sega Genesis - 1989-1997

System History
It was 1989. Nintendo´s NES had reigned supreme in the videogame market for nearly five years, and it was time for a new system to take over the throne. Sega´s Master System, while graphically superior to the NES, failed to make any kind of lasting impression in the U.S. market (although it was very popular in Europe), and Sega knew that their next system would not only have to be superior to everything else out there, but they´d have to have a lot of third-party developers lined up. The lack of third-party support is cited as the main cause of the Master System´s demise.
After two years of development, Sega introduced their "next generation" system to the world in late 1989. Known as the Genesis in the West, and the Mega Drive in the east, Sega began an aggressive marketing campaign, not only to customers, but also to developers.Although NEC´s TurboGrafx-16 had beat the Genesis to market by nearly four months, Sega quickly regained lost ground, thanks to their line-up of quality arcade conversions, killer sports games, and most of all, the full support of Trip Hawkins and Electronic Arts. Although the Genesis development kit was reportedly overly expensive and initially difficult to work with, by the end of 1990 there were over 30 third-party developers writing games for the new system, compared to four for the TG16.
From 1990 through to late 1991, the Genesis was pretty much the only kid on the block. The TG16, while boasting excellent games, hadn´t a hope of catching up, and Nintendo´s Super NES was delayed again and again. One reason for the numerous delays was that software was still being developed for the NES, and Nintendo didn´t want to risk losing any of those third-party developers to Sega.
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.
1992 was a turbulent year for the 16-bit systems. Early on, NEC announced that sales and distribution of the TG16 would be handled by a new company known as Turbo Technologies Inc. (TTI), made up of senior staff members of both NEC and Hudson Soft. Meanwhile, Sega and Nintendo battled it out for control of the videogame market. Despite the graphical splendor of the SNES, many critisized its slow processor speed, which was said to be rougly half of the Genesis´ 7mhz processor speed. Sega used this publicity well. 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 videogame 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. New SNES software was slow to arrive in 1992, and Sega´s huge third-party support helped carry them through the year, despite the fact that the promised Sega CD had yet to arrive in stores.
1993 was the year that Sega´s stronghold on the market began to slip for the first time since its introduction. Third-party support for the SNES was finally coming up to speed, and some truly remarkable games were starting to be released for it. Sega introduced the Sega CD late in the year, and despite all the hype that had been built up over the last two years, the Sega CD sold very poorly, partially due to its 200+ initial asking price. The Sega CD software was also extremely disappointing. While there were a few gems, most of the CDs were nothing more than straight ports of the cartridge versions with Redbook CD audio. With only the Sega CD to carry them through the Christmas season, Nintendo came out on top in 1993.
1994 was the year that the first 32-bit systems saw the light of day. Trip Hawkins had left EA in mid 1993 to form the 3DO company, and 1994 saw the release of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. While incredibly underpowered compared to later 32-bit systems (Playstation & Saturn), it was the first glimpse of what gaming could be like beyond the 16-bit realm, and both Sega and Nintendo realized what a threat this was to their supremacy in the videogame market. Although Sega of Japan had been developing their successor to the Genesis (the Saturn) for a few months already, Sega of America began developing the 32X, an add-on that claimed to turn the Genesis into a full-fledged 32-bit system. While this was a good idea in concept, the 32X turned out to be the final nail in the Genesis´ coffin (with the Sega CD being the first). The add-on, while cheaper than a new system, was still terribly overpriced. The games were disappointing, and definitely not up to the standards set by the 3DO.
In late 1994, Nintendo introduced Donkey Kong Country, a game that was promoted as giving 32-bit quality graphics and gameplay without any add-ons. It proved through advertsing that the SNES was indeed the most powerful 16-bit system on the market and even rivaled the quality of the full-fledged 32-bit (3DO, CD-I), and 64-bit (Jaguar) systems. Sega never recovered from the 32X fiasco, and many believe that the sales of the Saturn were also hurt by it. Hoping to revive interest in the Genesis, Sega released the Nomad, a 179 portable color Genesis. Its high price kept it from becoming very popular, but soon the Nomad could be found discounted for under 50 and it did succeed in invigorating interest in the Genesis somewhat.
From 1994 to 1997, the focus of the videogame market gradually shifted away from the 16-bit systems, and even the first-generation 32- and 64-bit systems. The 3DO, CD-I, and Jaguar were all laid to rest in the mid-1990s, and sales of the Playstation and the Saturn (in Japan) took . The 16-bit market share slowly dwindled, and 1997 marked the final year of production for the Genesis.
Games If you´re new to the Genesis, I´d definitely recommend checking out a game in the Sonic series. Sonic 1, 2, 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are superfast side-scrolling platform games and a must-see. Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast are pinball and isometric platform games respectively, and are; in my opinion, not as good.
The Genesis was noted for its abundance of sports titles. It is generally agreed that the Electronic Arts line of sports games (EA Sports) are the best overall.
Role Playing Games are few and far between on the Genesis, and there are a lot of Japanese RPGs that were never translated. Having said this, both the Phantasy Star and "Shining" series (Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force 1 & 2) are considered among the best RPGs on any 16-bit system.
Accessories The most notable accessory for the Genesis has to be the Sega CD. Although its transfer rate and access time is roughly that of a 1x speed CD-ROM, it more than doubled the Genesis´ available RAM, and added an additional sound processor and a chip that enabled hardware scaling and rotation, similar to the SNES´s famed Mode 7.
The 32X add-on was Sega´s answer to the 32- and 64-bit systems that began to arrive in 1994. It was extremely underpowered compared to the full-fledged 32-bit systems (such as Sega´s own Saturn) and it consequently sold very poorly. The production run of the 32x lasted only a few months, and Sega ended up losing valuable market share to Nintendo and Sony.
The Power Base Converter allowed Master System games to be played on the Genesis. It bypassed the main 68000 processor in the Genesis and used the Z80 sound processor to run the original Master System code. While rumors circulated of a Game Gear to Genesis converter, it never made it past the prototype stage.
The Mega Mouse was released around the same time as the SNES mouse, and to my knowledge only one title (the terrible excuse for an drawing program, Art Attack) supports it.
The Activator was Sega´s attempt at a "virtual reality" interface for the Genesis. It was a flat, octagonal piece of plastic and wires that translated the movement of someone standing inside it into movement in a game. Control was clumsy and imprecise, and after a few frustrated minutes of play, the urge to sit down and pick up a gamepad is nearly uncontrollable.
Emulation 1997, the year the Genesis was discontinued, was also the year that Genesis emulators reached near-perfection. Both Bloodlust software´s Genecyst and Steve Snake´s KGen are nearly equal in quality, both able to play over 80% of the existing Genesis and MegaDrive game library.
Unfortunately, most of the Sega Genesis ROM sites, including the Genesis section of The Dump have been shut down by an organization representing Sega.
Links This section was Researched and Authored by Jonathan J. Burtenshaw (Harry Tuttle). Author´s Note: "I searched far and wide for a Sega Genesis FAQ. I couldn´t find one, so most of this information ended up coming from my own brain. If any information is incorrect, please let me know". [mail to ]

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