Sega CD

1 2
Lifespan: 1992-1995
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
6 Channels:6
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
Graphics Co-Processor:
Scaling and Rotation:
sprites and backgrounds11
Resolutions: 256x224, 320x224, 320x448 12
Video RAM: 64 KB
Sub-CPU RAM: 768 KB13
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
Color Palette: 512
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 Terminator CD - Sega CD - 1994

Final Fight CD - Sega CD - 1993


      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

     In reaction to speculation over which new formats would become dominant, EGM's Steve Harris reminisced: "not since early 1989 have there been so many new types of hardware on the horizon." 53  Citing the Mega CD, Nintendo CD, Sony's Play Station SNES add-on, Gameboy Color and an NES to SNES adapter, Harris claimed that many people perceived so much new hardware as a sign of the industry's vibrance.  Harris denied any unilateral pronouncements of CD-ROM or any other format "in an automatic place of preeminence above the current cartridge format." 54 

      Two columns were dedicated to EGM's international coverage, and how readers could "play games for a living," followed by arguments for and against the Mega CD's regional lock out.  Against region lock out was one Angel L. Quinones of Jersey City New Jersey, who claimed that Sega should spend more time translating Japanese games saying "the second an 'All My Children" CD/FRPG comes out I will melt down my Genesis and use the plastic as my new Gameboy Stand."55  Implicit in EGM's response and Quinones' argument is that Sega was blocking imports specifically to leave Japanese games in Japan, while releasing licensed television and movie based games instead.  EGM responded that 90% of its readers were against region protection and inferred that Nintendo would handle regional software differently.  The editor posited whether Nintendo should "do the same thing with their CD machine," despite the fact that cartridge based systems were already region specific.56

      EGM's May issue opened up with an editorial by Ed Semrad dedicated to the advent of CD-ROM gaming.

     "While it only seems like yesterday that we made the jump from 8 to 16 bit gaming, very soon, we will leap   from 16 bit cartridge to 16 bit CD-ROM entertainment.  It all begins at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show when Sega (and possibly Nintendo) will unveil this new generation of games. There is a problem though.  While the technology is there ... the industry - the game designers and programmers, may not be ready yet."57

With that EGM again cast doubt on whether developers and programmers could make enough CD-ROM games to sell the systems into the Mass Market.  Additional questions include the hardware price and time needed to develop "spectacular software," citing Sonic the Hedgehog's one and a half year development cycle. Even with these doubts listed Semrad admitted "there will be enough Wow! type CDs at [Summer CES] to build interest, but the Fall launch of the system will only have a couple of spectacular games." 58

      In response to James Clar of Watertown Wisconsin, EGM explained that it had "devoted five pages to the Mega CD and its games.  In this we literally ripped the system apart and described every little detail." 59  Again EGM felt the need to point out Sega's low-key presence at the previous Consumer Electronic Show, but added that an article on the Genesis CD combo called Wondermega was printed in the same issue.60  To Andre Antoine of Kingshill St. Croix the Mega CD would definitively conclude the argument over whether the Genesis or SNES was "best."  Yet the reader questioned what the real price of the Sega CD and SNES CD would be.  EGM admitted that the printed "cost figures were estimates." 61 

     Christopher Friedberg of Bensalem Friedberg asserted in EGM's June issue "Like many I am eager to purchase the long awaited Sega Mega CD-ROM machine.  It'll wipe out the competition, no sweat."62  Brazen predictions aside, Friedberg actually wanted to know how the Mega CD was selling in Japan.  The response was less than enthusiastic, EGM wrote flatly "without good games, the system's popularity declined."  The promise of "the next generation of software" later on in 1992 lent EGM to claim "it is likely that the system's sales will pick up again." 63 

     EGM then dedicated nearly a full page, three and three fourth's columns, of letters and its own explanations to the Sega CD.  One Nathan Maas from Brooklyn, New York, insisted that he was "very concerned about Sega, its games and the new Mega CD-ROM."  Maas, perhaps sarcastically, wondered whether Sega still existed because EGM had not provided enough updates to satiate his curiosity.  Bryron (Sp) Snyder of Spokane, Washington, complained to EGM "first you were bragging about ... Mega CD specs and now it seems that you are taking Nintendo's side.  Are you a fair weather fan and side with whatever is newer and more newsworthy?"  Naturally EGM published a third letter from a Ron Moore of El Paso Texas who only wanted to complement their coverage of the Mega CD and stand alone Wondermega.  EGM assured its readers that they were just "as concerned about the future of Sega" and that the only limitation to what news they published was what was available from sources at press time.  In the case of the Sega CD, EGM insisted that Sega of America had "cut off U.S. press" and so all of their information had to come from England and Japan, which was apparently co-editor Ed Semrad's job.  From England EGM managed to glean that the western name of the Mega CD would, in fact, be the Sega CD.  EGM's Japanese sources reported that the Sega CD would cost $299, which was unavoidably compared to Nintendo's promised SNES CD price point of $200, with three pack-in-disks to lessen the blow.64

While the reader letters section published questions and news about the newly dubbed Sega CD, the next CD-ROM related page that June was about the still unfinished SNES CD-ROM.  EGM teased "the most important new fact" was that the coprocessor "in the S-NES CD-ROM System Cart will clock out at an unbelievable 21 Mhz." 65


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.

     The Sega CD also made some very notable additions to the Genesis' hardware features(8). These included hardware scaling and rotation, over twelve times the RAM that the Genesis has, a SNES like Mode 7 scrolling technique also in hardware, streaming audio, and the advantages of the CD medium’s massive storage capacity, when compared with 512KB carts. The Sega CD was supported through 1995, primarily by Sega, Core and Working Designs and has a library of over 200 games including the Lunar Series, Sonic CD, Final Fight CD, Silpeed, Snatcher, Popful Mail, Shining Force CD, Dark Wizard, Rise of the Dragon, Thunder Strike, and Soul Star, amongst many more average titles like Terminator, Wolf Child, WonderDog, which featured a nearly endless variation of enemies, BC Racers, Batman Returns CD, and a number of Full Motion Video titles. It was also the Sega CD which inspired Nintendo to go to Sony for their CD add-on for the SNES, which eventually led to the Sony Playstation(8).

    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.



  1. 1. Sam Pettus, SegaBase Volume 4 - Sega CD / Mega CD, (accessed May 27, 2010) available from ( March 30, 2008).
  2. 2. Christian Schiller, Sega CD programming FAQ revision 0.15 (scdpfaq_015.txt), available from (December 6, 1998, accessed on March 16, 2010).
  3. 3. Can write to VRAM
  4. 4. 3 tone generators and 1 white noise, "Nemesis," GENESIS Technical Overview 1.00, (accessed April 1, 2010),  119.
  5. 5. Frequency Modulation is synthesized audio like PSG but considerably more complex
  6. 6. Nemesis," GENESIS Technical Overview 1.00, 92.
  7. 7. Charles MacDonald,  E-mail || Homepage, Sega Genesis VDP documentation Version 1.5f (genvdp.txt)  $01 - Mode Set Register No. 2, (August 10, 2000, accessed March 11, 2010), available from; internet.
  8. 8. MacDonald,  genvdp.txt, 16.) Shadow / Hilight mode.
  9. 9. Sample wavelength 32 KHz max, scdpfaq_015.txt, IV.  Hardware information.
  10. 10. 16 bit D/A converter, 8x internal oversampling digital filter, PCM and CD sound mixing, Mixing with mixing terminal possible, , scdpfaq_015.txt, IV.  Hardware information.
  11. 11. scdpfaq_015.txt, IV.  Hardware information
  12. 12. Interlaced double resolution mode, used in Sonic 2 splitscreen 2-player.
  13. 13. 256KB Word RAM is accessible Simultaneously by the Genesis CPU.  Four 128KB banks of RAM are exclusive to the Sub CPU.  The Genesis CPU can halt the Sub CPU and gain access to all four 128KB banks of RAM. "Chilly Willy," "Comparison of 4th generation ("8/16-bit") system hardware,", accessed July 19, 2012,
  14. 14. CD game BIOS, cd player software, CD+G compatible, scdpfaq_015.txt, IV.  Hardware information
  15. 15. four 15-color palettes plus one background color
  16. 16. Direct 9-bit RGB (512 colors) available at half horizontal resolution, 160x224 or 128x224 visible, "Oerg866," "Nemesis" and "Chilly Willy," "Direct Color Demo using DMA,", accessed March 1, 2013,
  17. 17. MacDonald, genvdp.txt, 15.) Sprites
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  19. 19. MacDonald, genvdp.txt, Sprite Drawing Limitations.
  20. 20. Each tile shares colors from four 15 color palettes between the background and sprite layers, MacDonald, genvdp.txt, $0B - Mode Set Register No. 3.
  21. 21. MacDonald, genvdp.txt, $0B - Mode Set Register No. 3.
  22. 22. Hardware function of the VDP, MacDonald, genvdp.txt,  14.) Priority.
  23. 23. Toby Broyad, "System 32 Hardware," (accessed May 29, 2010) available from, ( May 1, 2008).
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  28. 28. "Electronic Gaming Express...Sega and Micronet Give EGM Exclusive Look At The First Production Mega-CD-ROM and Games," Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1991, 46.
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  31. 31. "Electronic Gaming Express...Sony Unveils Play Station Technology At Interactive Electronics Show," Electronic Gaming Monthly, December 1991, 36.
  32. 32. "Electronic Gaming Express...Major Hardware Manufacturers Show New CD-I Compatible Machines," Electronic Gaming Monthly, December 1991, 38.
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  44. 44. "Electronic Gaming Express... Mega CD/MegaDrive Combo Unit in Final Stages of Development," Electronic Gaming Monthly, January 1992, 46.
  45. 45. "The Whizz," "Cutting Edge," Gamepro, February 1992, 14.
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  56. 56. "Interface: Letters To The Editor, Mega-CD Encryption Pro... And Con..." Electronic Gaming Monthly, April 1992, 18.
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  58. 58. Ed Semrad, "insert coin: CD-ROM, Is The Industry Ready For It?..." Electronic Gaming Monthly, May 1992, 8.
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  60. 60. "Interface: Letters To The Editor, 'More Mega CD..,'" Electronic Gaming Monthly, May 1992, 16.
  61. 61. "Interface: Letters To The Editor, 'Mega CD Too Expensive?...,'" Electronic Gaming Monthly, May 1992, 18.
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  63. 63. "Interface: Letters To The Editor, 'Mega CD ... Popular?,'" Electronic Gaming Monthly, June 1992, 18.
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  65. 65. "EGM Express, First Look At Super Nintendo CD-ROM Schematic" Electronic Gaming Monthly, June 1992, 48.