Sega CD attached to a Sega Genesis
|Type||Video game console add-on|
|CPU||MC68000 @ 12.5 MHz|
|Storage capacity||Internal RAM|
|Related articles||Sega 32X|
The Sega CD, originally released as the Mega-CD (メガCD Mega-Shī Dī ), is an add-on device for the Mega Drive/Sega Genesis video game console, designed and produced by Sega. It 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. It can also play audio CDs and CD+G discs.
In early 1991, Sega announced the Mega-CD for release in Japan in late 1991, North America (as the Sega CD) in 1992, and in Europe in 1993. While the add-on did contain a faster central processing unit than the Genesis, as well as some enhanced graphics capabilities, the main focus of the device was to expand the size of games. 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 for the controversy of violent video games including Night Trap, the expansion only sold approximately 2.7 million units worldwide by the end of 1994 and was often criticized for its severe hardware limitations.
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. 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 Sega Genesis CDX (Sega Multi-Mega in Japan and Europe). This console was a combination of the Sega 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 of 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.
In 1991, compact discs had already made significant headway as a source of storage media for music and video games. PCs had started to make use of this technology, as did video game companies. NEC had been the first to utilize compact disc technology in a video game console, with the release of the TurboGrafx-CD add-on. With the new technology catching on and the added benefits, including more storage space, Sega and Nintendo both rushed to complete CD-ROM peripherals for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, respectively. The opportunity for Sega to release a CD-based peripheral for the Genesis also allowed for the Sega CD to upgrade the graphical capabilities of the console by adding a more powerful processor and a larger color palette. It also provided for enhanced audio capabilities and added internal RAM to save data.
Partnering with JVC, the add-on was designed by Sega of Japan. 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. The Mega-CD would go on to be released in Japan on December 1, 1991, initially retailing at JP¥49,800. On October 15, 1992, the Sega CD was released in North America, with a retail price of US$299. The Mega-CD was launched in Europe in 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. Sega would go on to release the add-on's second model, the Sega CD 2, in 1993, at a retail price of $229. 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.
Within its first year in Japan, the Mega-CD only sold 100,000 units. Factors impacting these sales included the high launch price of the Mega-CD in Japan and only two titles being available at launch. 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. In 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 discontinued in 1996. 2.7 million units were sold by the end of 1994.
Controversy surrounding 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.
The Sega CD contains a large 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.
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." 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.
At the time of its release, the Sega CD was awarded Best New Peripheral of 1992 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. By contrast, in a special Game Machine Cross Review in May 1995, Famicom Tsūshin scored the Japanese Mega-CD 2 a 17 out of 40. More recent reception of the Sega CD is mixed, though it is often criticized in retrospect 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. Allgame writer Dave Beuscher noted that the Sega CD was 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. 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. SEGA releases this allegedly incredible add-on and the best they can do with it is Kriss Kross: Make My Video? Meanwhile, Nintendo releases games like Star Fox without asking gamers to buy an entirely new piece of hardware." 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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