SEGA MEGA-CD/SEGA CD AREA | HISTORY FEATURE

SEGA Mega-CD/SEGA CD

HISTORY

The Mega-CD/SEGA-CD is a CD-ROM drive add-on for the Mega Drive/Genesis giving access to optical media be it CD Audio, CD+G or most importantly proprietary software from SEGA. It also acts to an upgrade to the base hardware with an extra processor, extra RAM, graphical and audio enhancements.

Although originally envisioned to become much more, it resulted in being a footnote of the multimedia revolution of the 90s for the most part being of little interest to gamers because of the games it sported and earned little notice in all territories except the US where the raging console war would trigger a political debate (echoes of which can still be heard today) that would swiftly damage the fortunes of the system and the brand, although its creator did little to reverse its fate.

Inception

The state of the industry was such that game sizes were increasing and ROM cartridges were always costly to manufacture. Optical media was going to be the future with its massively increased storage for a fraction of the manufacturing cost. Rival NEC had already released a CD-ROM addon for their PC Engine console in 1988 and the medium was proving successful for games.

The system was designed to combat the PC Engine which and not the Super Famicom. Nintendo was already at work on a CD-ROM device in partnership with Sony. Now SEGA needed to investigate such a device to maintain its competitive edge and experience making an optical product for the inevitable leap. They knew it would never become as popular as the base console.

The decision to create the Mega-CD was considered to be such an experiment by SEGA that the upcoming 32-Bit projects were halted pending the results. Development of the hardware was by SoJ and was top secret. The engineers and programmers of the day operated on limited knowledge of their desired outcome and signed agreements to keep development details secret. Even SoA were kept in the dark until the very last moment and sent a crippled prototype.

The actual execution of the project proved more difficult than anticipated. Simply adding a CD-ROM drive only would not necessarily beat the combined competition of the PC Engine and the coming Super Famicom with its touted graphical abilities.

Very ambitious plans called for upgrades. These were an additional CPU (fast by the standards of the day), extra RAM and audio upgrades. A video ASIC for sprite scaling and rotations was added but compromised on to save cost. It essentially used the same graphics the MD and therefore the colour palette was not increased.

The unit now added significant power to the base console and could outperform the Super Famicom and handle more objects simultaneously, playback video clips, CD quality audio (Red Book) and a new sound chip for chip audio. CD+G compatibility was added for the increasing use of CD-ROMs as a medium for applications, most notably, Karaoke - a social staple in Japan – and would necessitate an accessory also. All this extra power would result in a high price tag. In theory Mega-CD games could greatly improve upon standard Mega Drive ones and initial excitement was high.

It was first unveiled at the CES 1991 with the main unveiling being at the Tokyo Toy Show 1991.

Regional Histories in Brief

Japan

Launched: December 1991 Available Titles: Heavy Nova, Sol-Feace.

Launched costing 49,800 yen (approx. $380). Despite the high price and very little enhancements from their cartridge counterparts the launch titles bought with them, 15,000 units sold on Day 1 but then did not achieve decent sales and was largely ignored by consumers and third-party developers.

However, Nintendo did not see this platform as a competitor and so their restrictions placed on developers for forbidding releases on rival machines did not apply. Capcom leaped at the opportunity. SEGA had initially reached out to developers of computer games in addition to console games. This had attracted the likes of Telenet Japan (WolfTeam), Micronet and notably Game Arts.

In an interesting move, JVC licensed the Mega-CD technology and made custom machines - the WonderMega (and later the X'EYE) – a combined Mega Drive and Mega-CD with some additional features with software to use them. They even created their own mascot – Wonder Dog – and featured in a game. These were released in Japan and the X'EYE in the US in small quantities, but and for extortionate prices. They are the rarest variations of the hardware. Pioneer and Aiwa would also produce models. For a full list check out the model's gallery.

Unfortunately, the majority of Japans developers went with established NEC and their CD-ROM platform and the Mega-CD lagged behind early on.

1992

By March, some 200,000 units had been sold but by now the issues with the add-on that would prevail could already be seen: high price and lack of quality games. Sales reflected this accordingly being low.

SEGA themselves had found that development for the new platform was considerably longer and its own software missed the launch. The launch titles were both third-party releases. None of SEGAs arrived until 5 months later/may.

RPGs were the first genre to arrive. Not only were they 'large' games but they did not necessarily require any fancy graphics. The genre was big in Japan and continues to be.

June saw the systems first hit. Developer Game Arts released Lunar: The Silver Star to critical and gamers acclaim and it was exclusive to the system. RPG fans took notice and sales improved. With the systems first killer-app more developers were attracted and began to sign up. RPGs were what the system became known for. The storage afforded by CD-ROMs meant many more times the amount of graphics and text could be added creating larger games which is what the gamers wanted instead of grainy FMV.

By the end of the year, some 100,000 units had sold despite the price remaining the same. The industry at large was considering whether these types of machines could be manufactured at a reasonable cost. SEGA then reduced the price.

1993-1996

In April, the re-modelled Mega-CD II was released for 29,800 yen. It was a slinkier design and sat at the side of the Mega Drive rather than on top with a flip-lid CD-ROM rather than front loading tray.

By June it was clear that that Mega Drive was dying and so the Mega-CD's fortunes.

Telenet – Japans largest third-party developer dropped support for all SEGA hardware (for reasons still unknown) along with a few others. SEGAs own releases had also slowed. Their efforts were to be concentrated on the US though JVC (Victor) continued to release a fair amount of games also providing a path for other third-party developers from Europe into Japan. For example, Core Design and their hit title Thunderhawk.

Unfortunately, very few releases that did not show the systems abilities. The initial good start stopped and the system never recovered in part to the low popularity of the Mega Drive in the region also.

SEGA tried a range of genres and did not see fit to release arcade conversions on the system nor did the majority of third-party developers with a few exceptions. They were sparred the glut of FMV based games.

And so, the Mega-CD did not become the revolution in console gaming that it was designed to be.

The total number of units sold in this region is unknown with conflicting reports however it is estimated to be rather low.

Last released: Shadowrun 1996.

North America

Launched: November 1992 Available Titles: Blackhole Assault, Chuck Rock, Cobra command, INXS Make My Video, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch Make My Video, Night Trap, SEGA Classics 4-in-1, Sewer Shark, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Vol 1, Sol-Feace.

The Mega-CD was renamed SEGA-CD for the US market and SoA had hyped the unit for almost a year before becoming available having been officially announced at the CES of that year. A much stronger line-up was needed for launch if the system was to have any success in the West and ignored the first Japanese launch games as they had sold badly and did nothing to showcase the system.

Moreover, there needed to be a killer-app that would show the system doing something not possible with a stock Genesis. That genre was to be 'Playing a Movie' and the game was to be Night Trap.

SoA also made great effort to publicise the unit the very start with a conference/soft-launch on October 15th and TV spots on some major TV shows.

Costing $299 it came with SEGA Classics 4-in-1/Arcade Collection, Sherlock Holmes, Sol-Feace, and two CD+G samplers.

The first shipment of 50,000 units sold out in 3 weeks. The small amount was due to avoiding a potentially disastrous situation. It had been discovered during the QA process that FMV games were causing excessive strain on the motors for the basic CD drive to the point units caught fire forcing a last-minute redesign.

The second batch arrived just before Christmas and had the packaged title of SEGA Classics 4-in-1 (Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Columns and Revenge of Shinobi) upgraded to 5-in-1 with Super Monaco GP added.

The initial success was largely driven by controversy caused by Night Trap - the really-controversial-yet-harmless-and-crap-actually interactive movie. For the in-depth feature check out here.

1993

By March 300,000 units had sold and the year would show developers finally getting to grips with the hardware. Decent releases such as Sonic CD and those from Core Design.

Eager to avoid a repeat of the situation in Japan, SoA threw considerable resources at development and in doing so became the biggest developer quickly outdoing SoJ.

The systems high price meant that as the Night Trap raucous went away so did the sales with not many titles warranting a purchase appearing. The higher prices for as opposed to their cartridges failed the justify the extra costs. Sales never recovered in the systems lifespan.

By June, the price had been lowered and the re-modelled SEGA-CD 2 was released. The bundled games were tweaked with the majority having Sewer Shark.

Some special versions of the hardware were released in the form of JVCs X'Eye (an enhanced version of their WonderMega) and SEGAs CDX – for eyewatering prices – and subsequently failed to catch on.

The high price still being almost twice of the base console was making it difficult to appeal. SEGA understood and tweaked the bundled games several times to make it more attractive.

But there were not enough differences that showed the benefits.

Static screenshots did not convey the advantages of sprite-scaling or vastly improved audio. The only games that appeared markedly different on the surface were FMV ones and the novelty of those worn off. Enhanced cartridges failed to justify their extra costs.

The market had several competitors: 3DO, Atari Jaguar CD, CDi and the PCCDROM all of which sported better FMV from the start. With SEGA pushing the FMV and being constantly critised for it only being able to display 64 colours. Many FMV titles were available on those systems. Additionally, there was the NeoGeo CD and NEC's TurboGrafx CD.

The system continued to be bombarded with the Interactive movies that everybody hated as well as a few Mega Drive conversions that did not really improve over their originals. Within a year the system went from being almost on top of the game market to the bottom.

Approx. 1 million units had sold by the end of the year.

1994-1996

Releases would continue, with a fair amount of these from SEGA with FMV titles covering various genres. They had recently invested some $10 million in the SEGA Multi-Media studio in Redwood California to mass produce these titles first release was Jurassic Park.

SEGA also released Eternal Champions – a superior version of a popular game that demonstrated all the advantages the hardware should have been used for and it was widely praised. For a full overview check out the [feature].

The fallout from the FMV craze turned the SEGA-CD from an enviable accessory into a joke and by the end of 1993 it was clear the system was not going to be a mass market hit.

In 1995, the price was lowered to a decent level, and a slew of excellent games would be released with the FMV craze seemingly passed and the hardware exploited properly. SEGA released Eternal Champions and third-party developers released Bloodshot, Space Adventure Cobra, Syndicate and Samurai Showdown each a good reason to own the system, however, this was just as people were preparing for new consoles and decided to hang back on spending.

Developers also were no longer interested in producing more. By now the 32-Bit revolution was all but here.

By 1996, approx. 2.5 million units had sold and support ended with the company policy to work on Saturn projects only.

Last Release: Demolition Man November 1995.

Europe

Launched: 2nd April 1993 Available titles: After Burner III, Cobra Command, Road Avenger, SEGA Classic Arcade Collection (5), Sol-Feace.

The Mega-CD was delayed to boost the line-up but this was now some 16 months after the Japanese launch. It was astronomically priced at £269.99 bundled with SEGA Arcade Classics 5-in-1, Sol-Feace and Cobra Command.

Surprisingly 60,000 units out of 70,000 that were allocated for the UK sold by August. The Night Trap controversy also played out in Europe even getting a segment on News at Ten prior to release. Germany refused to sell it.

The delay caused a few other issues. The remodelled Mega-CD 2 had already gone on sale in Japan at its cheaper price. This version was set to arrive in the UK before Christmas and most likely to cost less so many abstained. In other countries the rollout of both redesigned Mega-CD 2 arrived the same time as the original unit and before the arrival of the Mega Drive 2.

The system was publicised well with promotions with the likes of Coca-Cola and Sonic The Comic having a competition and small amounts of coverage with news and reviews.

Here there was competition in the form of the Commodore Amiga CD32 and it was selling more games than the Mega-CD.

With the first shipment of machines selling out SEGA were anxious to get the redesigned Mega-CD 2 onto the market. It was predicted for Autumn (Oct/Nov) but was brought forward to August for some select retailers.

1994

Releases were coming too slowly for the platform to gain any significant momentum and combined with a high price it limited its audience.

The system received a similar onslaught of FMV titles that the US suffered creating the same stigma around the unit for rubbish interactive movies.

1995

The Amiga CD32 had done reasonably well and had taken a good size of the market and sold more Mega-CD games. It Commodore brand had been strong since the Mid-80s and people who really wanted a CD-ROM produced opted for this. It had been well received by the gaming press and the FMV had been better from day 1. The system saw a quick death following financial issues at Commodore. Any gaming press attention was focused on the Atari Jaguar CD, 3DO (both of which vanished quickly) and the PCCDROM.

By June, 80,000 units had sold.

The Mega-CD plodded on selling slowly. The price of the unit dropped to a reasonable £99.99 when the last games were released selling less than 1 million units for the whole of Europe.

Last Release: Surgical Strike September 1995.

Legacy

Ultimately, sources indicate 2.24 million units sold worldwide with approx. 210 games in its library.

The system is not considered a success rather than a ‘notable failure' paving the way for future systems and a valuable contribution to gaming history.

It was held back by its high price and the failure to capitalise on added new abilities in time offering so many that developers seemingly did not have any ideas for them. Instead seen mostly as a way of Mega Drive/Genesis games from a CD-ROM costing more when it was known they could be manufactured cheaper, and all the rivals having better FMV. With this slow/unsupported start, by its mid-lifetime when releases justifying buying the system were happening, the gaming press was full of news of the upcoming 32-Bit consoles, including SEGA themselves touting the 32X and the Saturn, so interest was already lost at this point already considered dead.

Was this product a mistake for SEGA? No. The industry did all shift to optical media at the time so SEGA needed to do it. Perhaps if they executed it sooner with better vision and support.

The general conclusion is the glut of FMV based rubbish maligned the platform. There is no doubt that the underlying technology held these titles back, however, were they viable to begin with? It taught the industry players of the time that FMV to be used as an enhancement of a game rather than the game itself. Also, the technology itself was just too slow for large cinematic projects mostly because it involved moving parts.

Whilst SEGA get the brunt of this anti-cinematic-sentiment, all of the competitors were doing the same.

The system was the first, but not the last upgrade to the Mega Drive/Genesis and its lacklustre performance perhaps laid the foundation towards the anti-sentiment towards SEGA. And at the time there was nothing to suggest that a console upgrade was a bad idea. Several manufacturers had released products that were marginally successful.

The 32X itself was also an attempt to boost the platform – but again this was a relatively expensive investment at a time when full 32-Bit was merely months away, and then only 6 games were made and also available in the standard format anyway.

Throughout the lifetime of the system Nintendo was announcing CD-ROM based projects only for them to never materialise. Perhaps gamers held off investing (particularly in Japan) where they still dominated investing hoping Nintendo would provide something better?

The gaming press invariably view the unit as the beginning of negative consumer confidence in SEGA. It is often lumped with the 32X which is considered far more damaging. This is somewhat unfair as the platform was supported for some 5 years as opposed to 18 months.

Was it mishandled? Yes. Overall, the Mega-CD/SEGA-CD is a platform underutilised and abandoned but not forgotten by its fans retaining a cult status.

The Mega-CD/SEGA-CD Today

So today, the platform is for those more enthusiastic SEGA fans whom invested originally or those wanting to play some of the cult classics being mostly RPG's contained in its library.

Real hardware is becoming very expensive to buy but still easy to locate whereas the third-party versions are very rare and exceedingly expensive. There have been no hardware re-releases official or otherwise. The only official piece was the non-functional upgrades of the Mega-CD and 32X for the completist look for the Mega Drive Mini console.

Software preservation is great as quality of emulation superb and is available on several platforms most notably the PC. Additionally, with no copy protection games can be copied with any device capable or writing a CD-R so the originals can stay safe. It also allows the lost gems in the systems library more exposure.

The games have seen no re-releases or compilation titles though there have been notable remakes of Sonic CD, Snatcher and the infamous Night Trap was re-released in Xbox One, PC and PS4 for the games 25th anniversary and in HD!

Very few sites exist specific to the system but most SEGA community websites will have a dedicated section for offering discussions, historical finds, reviews and other content such as soundtracks, game hacks and prototype/unreleased games now surfacing.

As the system has no copy protection homebrew games work on real hardware. Unfortunately, there is very little development now and coding competitions seems to have ceased. The biggest was Sonic Megamix.

For much more content for Mega-CD/SEGA-CD zen then check out some if the URLs in the Links section below.


Mega-CD/SEGA CD SEGA!

SEGA Mega-CD/SEGA CD Feature

Back to SEGA Main Index

Top of Page Sitemap Homepage

Return to Homepage

Return to Sitemap

Return to Top of Page

Valid XHTML 1.1