|CPU:||7.67 MHz 68000
|Sub-CPU:||12.5 MHz 68000|
|CPU Co-Processors:||3.58 MHz Z80 (Audio) 3
Texas Instruments 76489 (PSG Audio):
4 Channels 4
Yamaha 2612 FM Audio:5
10 Audio Channels total
Hardware Shadow and Lighting 8
|Sub-CPU Co-Processors:||Ricoh RF5C68A Compatible:
8 Channel 12.5 MHz PCM Sound 9
Digital to Analog Converter10
Scaling and Rotation:
sprites and backgrounds11
|Resolutions:||256x224, 320x224, 320x448 12|
|CPU RAM:||64 KB|
|Video RAM:||64 KB|
|Sub-CPU RAM:||768 KB13|
|PCM RAM:||64 KB|
|CD Cache:||16 KB|
|Backup RAM:||8 KB|
|Boot ROM:||128 KB 14|
|Colors On Screen:||61 (30-75 in game, average 50) 15 16|
|Sprite Max & Size:||80 sprites 17at:
8x8, 8x16, 8x24, 8x32
16x8, 16x16, 16x24, 16x32
24x8, 24x16, 24x24, 24x32
32x8, 32x16, 32x24, 32x32 18
|Sprites per Scanline:||20 at 320x224, 16 at 256x224 19|
|Background Planes:||2 layers with 16 colors per 8x8 pixel tile20
VDP handles scrolling as single planes, independently scrolling 8 line rows, and independently scrolling lines.21
Each 8 line row can can be displayed over or under others. 22
The Sega CD's origins lay simply as an answer to the TurboGrafx CD-ROM attachment and Sega's own System 32 Arcade board. In 1990 Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) frequently speculated about what Sega and Nintendo's answer to the Turbo CD would be. Starting in February 1991 the rumors took on a new facet as EGM began forecasting a home version of Sega's 32-bit System 3223 arcade board as a counter to a rumored 32-bit machine from TurboGrafx manufacturer NEC.24 Game magazines' penchant for reporting future hardware and expansions for current consoles reveals public zeal for incremental upgrades in the early '90s.
Gaining the jump on its competition, Sega's CD-ROM attachment depended on an additional 12.5 MHz 68000 that invited EGM to question whether it was the rumored dual processor "GigaDrive."25 Slightly more cautious with its technological guesses, Gamepro also ran a special article about 32-bit systems from NEC and Sega. The two Sega systems previewed were supposedly based on Sega's System 32 but had dual 68000 processors instead of a single 32-bit CPU. The cheaper unit, according to Gamepro, cost around $800 and the high end $2000.
There was precedent for such expensive consoles in the form of the NEO GEO and CD-I. It is far more likely, though, that these feature rich systems were merely toyed with before the Japanese release of Sega's CD-ROM attachment, called Mega CD, that December. Interestingly, Gamepro reported one month before that development prototypes for the "MegaDrive/32" had already been shipped to mainstay developers Telenet, CSK, Sur De' Wave and Game Arts. Most of these were actually early developers for the Sega CD.26
The Sega CD hardware had not been finalized until just before its unveiling at the Tokyo Toy Show in June of 1991 and its thirty to forty licensees had not received development kits by Fall of 1991. To compensate, Sega encouraged Micronet and other developers to make their first Mega CD games, such as Heavy Nova, as an 8 Megabit, 1 Megabyte, Genesis game that could have cutscenes and CD audio added to the 600 Megabyte CD-ROM game later.27 At a critical first viewing, EGM and all of the Japanese media that were invited to see the Mega CD's bios screen, menu system and Heavy Nova gave the system "a unanimous 'thumbs up.'"
EGM reported that Micronet and Sega saw this presentation as a crucial moment for the Sega CD, and took the media's enthusiasm as a sign to proceed with the attachment's launch in December. Approval of the Sega CD by the media was also likely a pivotal moment that decided whether or not Sega would release a stand alone System 32 based console or continue to improve the Genesis with incremental upgrades.28
If anything can be gleaned from the rumors and speculations of journalists in 1991 it is that the Sega CD was not designed to compete against the Super NES. Nintendo and Sega considered CD-ROM games a separate platform, and NEC eventually focused most of its US releases on CD-ROM games. The most likely reason for their distinction is that CD-ROM games cost up to five times more to develop than cartridge games in 1991.29 The cost of additional development staff, voice actors and musicians coupled with the comparatively high retail price of the hardware segregated and limited the CD-ROM game market.30 Yet the format was thought to be significant enough that NEC had released its TG16 attachment in 1990.
Electronics giants Sony and Phillips scrambled to maintain their presence as a CD-ROM manufacturer for the Super Nintendo even after Nintendo had revealed that it was working with Phillips exclusively. Like Sega's Mega CD hardware, Sony emphasized CD-ROM access speed for their never-released SNES peripheral, but evidence that winter indicated that Sony had no intention of including additional graphics hardware.31 Phillips' already released CD-I contained even more RAM and ROM than the Sega CD, but the multi-media set-top box was far too costly to be considered a consumer level video game console.32
Universally dubbed "cutting edge," Sega's CD-ROM based Genesis add-on was covered in every monthly game magazine starting July of 1991. Prior to summer of 1991 Nintendo maintained a dominant presence in editorials about the Sega CD. EGM, for example, relegated the Sega CD to a sub column while giving several columns of speculation and an artists rendition to Nintendo's nonexistent CD-ROM.33 As Nintendo actually launched the Super NES in August of 1991 the Sega CD shared nearly equal space on the front cover of EGM. The excitement surrounding the Genesis CD-ROM add-on, though, was merely centered around its specifications.
EGM listed three times the "buffer," which should have been called RAM, than NEC's soon to be released 2 Megabit Turbo CD upgrade card. The Sega CD has 6 Megabits of RAM specially allocated for game data, which is twelve times the amount of the original Turbo CD's System Card. EGM also extolled the Sega CD's credentials as including a "custom high speed laser pickup," and an additional CPU that EGM guessed was half again more capable than the Genesis' CPU. Sega CD's "biaxial" scaling and rotation was also said to trump the SNES' single background two dimensional Mode 7.34
One Paul Daniels of Tampa Florida wrote in December of 1991 just to thank EGM for its monthly coverage of Sega's Mega CD, and compared the coverage positively to EGM's pre-launch Super Nintendo promotions.35 The same issue provided a summarized interview with Sega CD creator Tomio Takami, who's name is notably absent from David Sheff's Game Over or Steven Kent's Ultimate History of Video Games. Conjecture of industry heads are used by both authors to write briefly about the Sega CD's ultimate lack of commercial success. For Takami the situation was significantly more complex.
Sega originally sought a CD-ROM attachment for the Genesis that cost less than $150 and would not suffer load times every minute as first generation TurboGrafx CD games did. Takami was also charged to include additional processing ability in the Sega CD because scaling and rotation for sprites and backgrounds was a prominent effect in Sega's arcade games.36 The additional cost of the 68000 CPU, PCM audio processor, Graphics Co-Processor, 768KB of RAM, and 216KB of other types of cache and ROM elevated the launch price in Japan to $370. Marketing research in 1991, presumably conducted by Sega, suggested that "the majority of serious players" would see the additional features as worthwhile.37
The Sega CD was therefore designed for a market of early adopters and experienced game players, as opposed to cost conscious casual players seeking only the next best thing in cartridge gaming. Journalists charged with writing history on this topic consistently miss the likelihood that add-ons like the Sega CD and Turbo CD were never created in the hopes of achieving monumental success. NEC, Sega and several other hardware manufacturers were much more bent on staying on the technological edge in this generation than on achieving market dominance with any one console. The importance of this idea should not be understated.
Nintendo's approach carrying over from the NES days required that they spend as much money as possible putting their competition out of business. All other manufacturers at the time spent their money trying to stay in business and on top of the technology curve. Game developers, who depended on less than one dozen game releases per year, saw the Sega CD as significant enough. Third party licensees for the Sega CD progressed from twenty-seven by previous reports to forty interested parties by its Japanese launch that December.38
The end of 1991 was not only pivotal for the Sega CD, but for Sega as a whole. Sega's Genesis had outsold Nintendo's brand new 16-bit console and sold out nation wide.39 The Mega CD had coincidentally impressed all who had seen it even after its launch in Japan. Gamepro asserted in its January 1992 issue that the additional 68000 model CPU in the Sega CD "produces a 32-bit quality effect." So capable was the add-on, according to Gamepro, that Sega's 32-bit Rad Mobile and Power Drift, which ran on a Y board40 with three 68000 CPUs, could not only be ported but "enhanced with new courses and music." 41 The article also listed support from noted developers and publishers Game Arts, Renovation, Sierra, Tengen, and Wolfteam, along with unknowns Sur De' Wave and Victor Musical Industries.42 The fact that many of these developers were reputed to have been given development kits for a rumored "System 32 based" stand alone game console should not be missed. Neither should Sega's US launch of the Genesis with fewer licensees, just two years prior, be forgotten.
A rumored Genesis-Sega CD combo unit was predicted by EGM to retail for $450 due to its "second super-fast CPU, a state-of-the-art pickup arm to keep access times low, and the extra 6 megabits of memory." SNK's NEO GEO was by comparison still listed at $570 for the console alone.43 Due to the contemporaneous development of US multimedia studios and subsequent US game development delays, Sega CD games missed the Winter Consumer Electronics Show.44 Gamepro managed to list incorrect specifications for the Mega CD, including multiple new graphics chips that would increase onscreen characters and colors. Audio capabilities were also misrepresented, including "an 8 channel PCM sound generator [that] supplements the MegaDrive's 12-channel PCM generator.45 Speculation exemplified pre-launch Sega CD hype for the remainder of 1992 and consumer demand for impossibly powerful upgrades to the Genesis.
Answering Geoff Oster of Mesa Arizona, EGM used the significantly higher cost of development to justify CD-ROM titles retailing for the same price as 8 megabit cartridges.46 EGM described the Sega CD as "long awaited" and exciting as it introduced Sega's Director of Marketing Al Nilson. Nilson promised that Sega CD software would "clearly show people things that you can't do on a cartridge based system." 47 Specifications listed during this early preview emphasized the add-on's RAM, ROM and audio along with access time, Full Motion Video (FMV), CD plus Graphics compatibility, and its software control panel.48 Nilson compared Sega CD FMV to VHS and said the "bulk of the software for the U.S. market is being developed here in the U.S. Much of it is based on movies and TV shows utilizing footage that is very American in nature." Twenty nine world wide Sega CD developers were counted but not named in the same executive interview.49
Nilson also explained that Sega CD software was "way, way to (sic) early" to be talked about by Winter CES. The Sega-Multi-Media Studio was created "in house" for CD games that could not be made as cartridges. All four pages of EGM's expose' was broken up by NES and SNES game advertisements.50 Nintendo, in Sega's absence, showed an artist rendition of their Super NES CD-ROM while conveying that the add-on would have more RAM, better Full Motion Video, and faster load times while being half the price of the Sega CD. The attachment as described would have required a cartridge inserted into the SNES cart slot that included all of the RAM and ROM and the graphics co-processor. The article also claimed that Phillips was still working on a method to make the SNES CD-ROM support the high end CDI format while costing $200 total and potentially launching as early as September 1992.51
Nintendo's Director of Advertising and Marketing, Bill White, reiterated the SNES CD-ROM's superiority in performance and price in Gamepro's April 1992 issue. White described the SNES CD as being $200 with a special cartridge loaded coprocessor that would create "a quantum leap forward in software." SNES CD would provide, according to White, full motion video quality that would allow players to "control the outcome of the battle with the Sheriff of Nottingham" in Robin Hood: Prince of Theives.52
Old history comments, to be updated:
The Sega CD was the most successful add on ever made by any company, selling at 2.5 Million in the US from 1992-1995(8). Incidentally, the Sega CD and its software was selling moderately well in 1993, until Nintendo turned in a video of the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat (Acclaim) and the Sega CD game Night Trap (Digital Pictures) to Senator Lieberman. Senator Joseph Lieberman(D) then lead a very public witch hunt against violent video games, and pointed at Sega as the primary designer of such games. Despite Sega responding by creating the video game ratings board that eventually turned into the ESRB that all games are rated by today, sales of Sega CD hardware and software virtually stopped, and Sega Genesis sales began a gradual decline immediately following the televised Senate hearings(8). By selling as well as it did, the Sega CD was also the first add-on or console to introduce the CD medium to the masses, in the United States in the form of a console.
Sega CD Model 1 cost $300, and if one purchased the 17 games listed above, the Sega CD hardware would have cost $17.64 per game. Since the CD-ROM games were all priced at $50 or less, the total cost was $67.64 per game. Many cartridge games, especially the SNES’s chipped games, cost $70 alone at original retail.