Sega CD attached to a Sega Genesis
|Type||Video game console add-on|
|Units sold||6 million|
|CPU||MC68000 @ 12.5 MHz|
|Best-selling game||Sonic CD|
|Related articles||Sega 32X|
The Sega CD, released as the Mega-CD (メガCD Mega-Shī Dī?) in most regions outside North America, is an add-on device for the Sega Genesis video game console, designed and produced by Sega. As part of the fourth generation of video game consoles, the add-on was released in Japan in 1991, North America in 1992 and in Europe and other regions in 1993. The device adds a CD-ROM drive to the console, allowing the user to play CD-based games and providing additional hardware functionality. Other benefits of the add-on include a faster central processing unit and graphic enhancements. It can also play audio CDs and CD+G discs.
With the increasing popularity of CD-based technology at the time, Sega sought to create an add-on for the Genesis to utilize compact discs. The main benefit of the new add-on's technology was its larger disc space, allowing for larger games to be developed. This would manifest itself in the form of full motion video (FMV) games, including the controversial Night Trap, which became a focus in Congressional hearings in 1993 on issues of video game violence and ratings. In designing the add-on, Sega of Japan, partnering with JVC, refused to consult with Sega's American division until the project was completed—Sega of America had to assemble parts from various "dummy" units to obtain a working prototype. While it became known for several games such as Sonic the Hedgehog CD and Lunar: Eternal Blue, the add-on's game library contained a large number of Genesis ports and FMV titles. Numerous redesigns of the add-on were also developed, including one by Sega and several by licensed third-party developers.
By the end of 1994, the add-on had sold approximately 2.7 million units worldwide, compared to 29 million units for the Genesis sold by that time. In 1995, it was announced that Sega's support would shift away from the Genesis and Sega CD to focus on its new console, the Sega Saturn, and the add-on itself was officially discontinued in 1996. Total lifetime sales are estimated at 6 million units, compared to 40 million Genesis consoles. Retrospective reception to the add-on is mixed, praising the Sega CD for its individual offerings and additions to the Genesis' functions, but criticizing the game library as a whole for its lack of depth and low value for money, as well as issues with how the add-on was supported by Sega.
Released in Japan as the Mega Drive in 1988, North America in 1989, and Europe and other regions as the Mega Drive in 1990, the Sega Genesis was Sega's entry into the 16-bit era of video game consoles. In mid-1990, Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama hired Tom Kalinske as CEO of Sega of America. Kalinske developed a four-point plan for sales of the Genesis: cut the price of the console, create a U.S.-based team to develop games targeted at the American market, continue aggressive advertising campaigns, and pack Sonic the Hedgehog in with the console. The Japanese board of directors initially disapproved of the plan, but all four points were approved by Nakayama, who told Kalinske, "I hired you to make the decisions for Europe and the Americas, so go ahead and do it." Magazines praised Sonic as one of the greatest games yet made, and Sega's console finally took off as customers who had been waiting for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System decided to purchase a Genesis instead.
Shortly after the release of the Mega Drive, the Sega hardware R&D team, led by Masami Ishikawa, began to explore ways to expand the capabilities of the system through an add-on device. When development began, the add-on was not planned as a CD-ROM player, but was instead centered around increasing the graphical capabilities of the system, which lagged behind those of the competing Super Famicom system from Nintendo. Ishikawa's team implemented a new Digital Signal Processor (DSP) that allowed the Genesis to employ rotating and scaling graphics similar to the Mode 7 functionality of the Super Famicom. The team also greatly increased the amount of RAM available for programs, which proved to be one of the greatest technical challenges during development because the speed at which the Mega Drive could access the additional memory was initially too slow to run programs effectively.
By the early 1990s, compact discs were making significant headway as a source of storage media for music and video games. NEC had been the first to utilize compact disc technology in a video game console with the release of the PC Engine CD add-on in October 1988, which sold 80,000 units within six months. That same year, Nintendo announced a partnership with Sony to develop its own CD-ROM peripheral for the Super Famicom. In early 1991, Commodore International released a multimedia system called the CDTV centered around CD-ROM technology, while the long in development CD-i from Philips finally arrived before the end of the year. Faced with the increasing prevalence of CD-ROM devices in the marketplace, Ishikawa's team decided to incorporate a CD drive into their peripheral device, which soon gained the name Mega-CD. To transform the add-on into a CD-based system, Sega partnered with JVC, which had already been working with Warner New Media to develop a CD player utilizing the CD+G standard combining CD audio with graphics displayed on a television.
Up until the middle of 1991, Sega of America had been kept uninformed of the details of the project, without a functioning unit to test. According to former Sega of America executive producer Michael Latham, "When you work at a multinational company, there are things that go well and there are things that don’t. They didn't want to send us working Sega CD units. They wanted to send us dummies and not send us the working CD units until the last minute because they were concerned about what we would do with it and if it would leak out. It was very frustrating." Despite not being provided a functioning unit, Latham and Sega of America vice president of licensing Shinobu Toyoda put together a functioning Sega CD by acquiring a ROM for the system and installing it in a dummy unit. Also proving frustrating to Sega of America executives was the construction of the add-on. "The Mega-CD was designed with a cheap, consumer-grade audio CD drive, not a CD-ROM," stated Scot Bayless, former Sega of America senior producer. "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. We worked around the clock, trying to catch the failure in-progress, and after about a week we finally realized what was happening. The specified limit on time spent seeking the heads versus playing a track was 5 per cent. Some of our video-based titles were running around 90 per cent. We were causing the motors in the drives to catch fire."
Sega announced the release of the Mega-CD in Japan for late 1991, and North America (as the Sega CD) in 1992. It was unveiled to the public for the first time at the 1991 Tokyo Toy Show, to positive reception. The Mega-CD would go on to be released in Japan on December 1, 1991, initially retailing at JP¥49,800. Though the unit sold quickly, the small install base of the Mega Drive in Japan meant that sales declined rapidly after launch. Within its first year in Japan, the Mega-CD only sold 100,000 units. Other factors impacting these sales included the high launch price of the Mega-CD in Japan and only two titles being available at launch.
On October 15, 1992, the Sega CD was released in North America, with a retail price of US$299. Advertising for the add-on included one of Sega's slogans, "Welcome to the Next Level". Though only 50,000 units were available at launch due to production issues, the add-on sold over 200,000 units by the end of 1992. As part of Sega's sales, Blockbuster LLC purchased Sega CD units for rental in their stores. The Mega-CD was launched in Europe in the spring of 1993, at a price of GB£270. Only 70,000 units were initially available in the United Kingdom, but 60,000 units were sold by August 1993. Packed in with the Sega CD at its initial launch was the game Sewer Shark, a full motion video (FMV) game developed by Digital Pictures. Emphasized by Sega of America, the benefits of the Sega CD's additional storage space allowed for a large amount of FMV games to be published for the add-on, with Digital Pictures becoming an important partner for Sega. Despite the initial competition by both Sega and Nintendo to develop a CD-based add-on, Nintendo did not release a competing peripheral after examining the possibility of partnering with both Sony and Philips to develop one.
Sega would go on to release the add-on's second model, the Sega CD 2 (Mega-CD mk II outside of North America), in 1993, at a retail price of $229. Designed to bring down the manufacturing costs of the Sega CD, the newer model is smaller and does not contain the motorized disc tray used in the initial model. A limited number of games were also later developed that utilized both the Sega CD and the Sega 32X add-ons, the latter of which was released in November 1994.
Controversy surrounding video game violence
On December 9, 1993, the United States Congress began to hold hearings on video game violence and the marketing of violent video games to children. One of the games at the center of this controversy was the Sega CD's Night Trap, a full-motion video adventure game by Digital Pictures. Night Trap had been brought to the attention of United States Senator Joe Lieberman, who said of the game, "I looked at that game, too, and there was a classic. It ends with this attack scene on this woman in lingerie, in her bathroom. I know that the creator of the game said it was all meant to be a satire of Dracula; but nonetheless, I thought it sent out the wrong message." Lieberman's research later went on to conclude that the average video game player at the time was between seven and twelve years old, and that video game publishers were marketing violence to children. Similar issues were brought up in the United Kingdom, with former Sega of Europe development director Mike Brogan noting that "Night Trap got Sega an awful lot of publicity.... Questions were even raised in the UK Parliament about its suitability. This came at a time when Sega was capitalizing on its image as an edgy company with attitude, and this only served to reinforce that image."
As a result of the Congressional hearings, Night Trap started to generate more sales and also released ports to the PC and Sega 32X. According to Digital Pictures founder Tom Zito, "You know, I sold 50,000 units of Night Trap a week after those hearings." Despite the increased sales, Sega decided to recall Night Trap and re-release it with revisions in 1994, due to the Congressional hearings. After the close of these hearings, video game manufacturers came together in 1994 to establish the rating system called for by Lieberman. Initially, Sega proposed the universal adoption of their own system, the Videogame Rating Council. Objections from Nintendo and others, however, prevented the use of the Sega rating system, so Sega took a role in the creation of a new system along with other developers. This would materialize in the form of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, an independent organization which received praise from Lieberman.
Because Sega took a long amount of time to release its software development kit for the Sega CD, third-party development of games for the system suffered. As time had passed as well, the releases of new CD-based consoles such as the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and the Philips CD-i rendered the Sega CD technically obsolete, making public interest in the add-on stale. 2.7 million Sega CD units were sold by the end of 1994, compared to the 29 million Sega Genesis units sold by the same time. In early 1995, Sega announced a shift in focus to the Sega Saturn and discontinued all advertising for Genesis hardware, including the Sega CD. The add-on itself was officially no longer supported in 1996. Overall, the system is estimated to have sold 6 million units, compared to 40 million Genesis consoles sold.
Reasons for the Sega CD's limited sales include the add-on's high price, lack of significant enhancement to the Genesis console, and lack of ability to function without a console attached. Bayless, however, attributes the unsuccessful market to a lack of direction from Sega with the add-on. According to Bayless, "It was a fundamental paradigm shift with almost no thought given to consequences. I honestly don't think anyone at Sega asked the most important question: 'Why?' There's a rule I developed during my time as an engineer in the military aviation business: never fall in love with your tech. I think that's where the Mega-CD went off the rails. The whole company fell in love with the idea without ever really asking how it would affect the games you made."
Technical aspects and specifications
The Sega CD can only be used in conjunction with a Genesis system, attaching through an expansion slot on the side of the main console. Though the Sega CD is an add-on, it does require its own separate power supply. In addition to playing its own library of games in CD-ROM format, the Sega CD can also play compact discs, karaoke CD+G discs, and can also be used in conjunction with the Sega 32X to play 32-bit games that utilize both add-ons. The second model, also known as the Sega CD 2, also includes a steel joining plate to be screwed into the bottom of the Genesis, as well as an extension spacer to work with the original model of the Genesis.
The main CPU of the Sega CD is a 12.5MHz 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor, which runs 5 MHz faster than the Genesis processor. It contains 1 Mbit of boot ROM, allocated for the CD game BIOS, CD player software, and compatibility with CD+G discs. 6 Mbit of RAM are allocated to data for programs, pictures, and sounds; 512 Kbit to PCM waveform memory; 128 Kbit to CD-ROM data cache memory; and an additional 64 Kbit are allocated as backup memory. Additional backup memory in the form of a 1 Mbit Backup RAM Cartridge was also available as a separate purchase. Audio is supplied through a PCM sound source, and two RCA pin jacks allow the Sega CD to output stereophonic sound separate from the Genesis. Combining stereo sound from a Genesis to either version of the Sega CD requires a cable between the Genesis's headphone jack and an input jack on the back of the CD unit. This is not required for the second model of the Genesis. Two graphics chips included in the Sega CD serve to add scaling and rotation as capabilities of the system.
Though the Sega CD offers a faster processor and can handle more colors than the Genesis, its main purpose is to expand the size of the games. Whereas ROM cartridges of the day typically contained 8 to 16 megabits of data, a CD-ROM disc can hold more than 640 megabytes of data, or more than 320 times the storage of a Genesis cartridge. This allows the Sega CD to run games containing full motion video.
The Sega CD received six variations during its lifetime, of which Sega constructed three. The original model of the Sega CD retailed at US$380 when it was released in Japan, and later at US$299 upon its North American release. This original model utilized a front-loading motorized disc tray and sat underneath the Genesis. In 1993, Sega released the Sega CD 2, which was redesigned to sit next to the second model of the Genesis and featured a top-loading disc tray in place of the motorized tray of the original model. This second model initially retailed at US$229. In addition to the add-on models, Sega also released the Genesis CDX (Multi-Mega in Japan and Europe). This console was a combination of the Genesis and Sega CD into one unit, and initially retailed at US$399. Unique to this model was its additional functionality as a portable compact disc player.
Three additional system models were created by other electronics companies. Working with Sega of Japan, JVC released the Wondermega on April 1, 1992, in Japan, at an initial retail price of ¥82,800 (or US$620). The system was later redesigned by JVC and released as the X'Eye in North America in September 1994. Designed by JVC to be a Genesis and Sega CD combination with high quality audio, the Wondermega's high price kept it out of the hands of average consumers. Likewise was the case with the Pioneer LaserActive, which was also an add-on that required an attachment developed by Sega, known as the Mega-LD pack, in order to play Genesis and Sega CD games. Though the LaserActive, developed by Pioneer Corporation, was lined up to compete with the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, the combined system and Mega-LD pack retailed at nearly $1600, becoming a very expensive option for Sega CD players. Aiwa also released the CSD-GM1, a combination Genesis/Sega CD unit built into a boombox.
The Sega CD contains a library of over 140 titles. Included in this library are six games which, while receiving individual Sega CD releases, also received separate versions that utilized both the Sega CD and Sega 32X add-ons. Among the amount of titles released for the add-on were a number of FMV games, including Sewer Shark and Fahrenheit. Well-known titles include the critically acclaimed Sonic the Hedgehog CD and Lunar: Eternal Blue, as well as the controversial Night Trap, which resulted in Congressional hearings on video game violence. The Sega CD also received enhanced ports of games from the Genesis, including Batman Returns and Ecco The Dolphin. In particular, Sonic the Hedgehog CD has been noted for its excellent graphics and new time travel elements without changing the traditional Sonic formula. Unique about the add-on was its addition of scaling and rotating effects, similar to Mode 7 on the SNES.
Given the large amount of FMV games and Genesis ports, the Sega CD's game library has been criticized for its lack of depth. Full motion video quality was poor on the Sega CD due to poor video compression software and the system's limited color palette, and the concept never caught on with the public. According to Digital Pictures founder Tom Zito, "Sega CD could only put up 32 colors at a time, so you had this horrible grainy look to the images," though the system was able to put up 64 colors at one time. Likewise, most Genesis ports for the Sega CD added in additional full motion video sequences, extra levels, and enhanced audio, but were otherwise the same game as the Genesis release. The video in these sequences have also been criticized, with the quality being considered comparable to an old VHS tape. The Sega CD was further hurt by a lack of quality games due to Sega's refusal to provide development kits to third-party developers before the release of the add-on, leading to a lower quantity of releases.
Reception and legacy
Near the time of its release, the Sega CD was awarded Best New Peripheral of 1992 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. Four separate reviews scored the add-on 8, 9, 8, and 8 out of 10, citing the upgrades it provides to the Genesis and a few select titles, but noted anticipation of upcoming titles for the system. Later reception in 1995 by Electronic Gaming Monthly showed a more mixed response to the peripheral, with four reviewers scoring it 5 out of 10, citing its game library issues and substandard video quality. Likewise, in a special Game Machine Cross Review in May 1995, Famicom Tsūshin scored the Japanese Mega-CD mk II a 17 out of 40.
Retrospective reception of the Sega CD is mixed, though it has often been criticized for not offering enough to gamers to justify its steep cost. GamePro listed the Sega CD as the 7th-worst selling video game console of all time, with reviewer Blake Snow noting that "The problem was threefold: the device was expensive at $299, it arrived late in the 16-bit life cycle, and it didn't do much (if anything) to enhance the gameplay experience." Snow went on to note, however, that the Sega CD did have in its library "the greatest Sonic game of all time" in Sonic the Hedgehog CD. IGN's Levi Buchanan criticized Sega's implementation of CD technology for the Genesis, noting, "What good is the extra storage space if there is nothing inventive to be done with it? No new gameplay concepts emerged from the SEGA CD -- it just offered more of the same. In fact, with few exceptions like Sonic CD, it often offered some of the 16-bit generation's worst games, like Demolition Man." By contrast, Jeremy Parish of 1UP.com gave a positive review of the Sega CD, stating that "taken on its own merits, the Sega CD had much to offer—solid tech that more than doubled the Genesis' raw hardware power, interesting capabilities, and a strong software library."
The Sega CD has often been criticized as being the first link in the devaluation of Sega as a brand for consoles due to being poorly supported. Writing for IGN, Buchanan described an outside perspective on Sega's decision to release the Sega CD with its poor library and console support, stating, "[T]he SEGA CD instead looked like a strange, desperate move -- something designed to nab some ink but without any real, thought-out strategy. Genesis owners that invested in the add-on were sorely disappointed, which undoubtedly helped sour the non-diehards on the brand." In reviewing for GamePro, Snow commented that "[the] Sega CD marked the first of several Sega systems that saw very poor support; something that devalued the once-popular Sega brand in the eyes of consumers, and something that would ultimately lead to the company's demise as a hardware maker." Retro Gamer writer Aaron Birch, however, defended the Sega CD and wrote that "the single biggest cause of the Mega-CD's failure was the console itself. When the system came out, CD-ROM technology was still in its infancy and companies had yet to get to grips with the possibilities it offered... quite simply, the Mega-CD was a console ahead of its time."
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