Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com

2147-cart-wars-episode-1Mega Drive fans, for what you are about to read, I sincerely apologise. MegaBites Blog has written about Nintendo. Shock, horror, blasphemy! I know, I know… But it’s for a good cause; my latest contribution to RetroCollect.com – Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – Episode One. Despite such treachery, you’ll be glad to hear that the piece is evenly balanced with a heavy dosage of Sega goodness, and a brief appearance by our Lord and saviour, Mr Tom Kalinske. Phew!

During the console generations spanning the 8-16 bit era, no matter if your allegiances sat with Sega, Nintendo, SNK or NEC, as gamers we all shared one thing in common: the cartridge medium – video gaming in its most physical form.

Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge – Episode One is the first in a series of articles that charts the development of the video game cartridge format. Spanning the advent of the very first read-only memory cartridge console – the Fairchild VES – to the arrival of cartridge-based battery backups, yellow-tabbed EA carts and beyond, Cart Wars tells the tale of a bitter conflict fought amongst the backdrop of the almighty console wars. The cartridge-based battle, however, was was no less fierce and intense in its execution and was one that filled company Presidents with rage and gamers with sheer awe as the rapidly advancing format propelled their consoles to the very limit of their capabilities.

Here’s a taster:

In the land of Sega, things had turned nasty. The year was 1990 and over in the US, Electronic Arts had figured a way to reverse engineer the cartridges of the Sega Genesis. For Sega, it meant the potential loss of millions in revenue, but for you and I, it meant the arrival of the iconic EA yellow tab. Ever wonder why the majority of EA’s 16-bit Sega carts looked so different? Here’s why…

For developers such as EA, the mainstream dominance of the cartridge came with a sting in the tail – the third-party developer licensing deal. For each individual title that EA (and any other third-party developer, for that matter) wanted to release, Sega would charge between US$10-$15 per cartridge for their production. Considering that by now it was not uncommon for a popular title to sell in its hundreds of thousands, even in its millions, and you get a rough idea of the financial strain many developers were facing at that time.

$_57It was a sentiment that was also felt across the pond, as Geoff Brown, founder of US Gold revealed: “They [Sega] told you how many games you could release in a year. They had to approve the games, then they tested them and they had them manufactured. It increased your overheads phenomenally. If you were a small publisher, you just couldn’t do it.”

And so it came to be that EA developed a cunning method to circumnavigate Sega’s crushing cartridge policies. How did they do this? By manufacturing their own, of course.

Read more on RetroCollect.com

And stay tuned for episode two, coming soon!

Solving the Korean Console Conundrum

The Sega Mega Drive – one console, a thousand variants. During the 90s, amongst a host of hardware releases, the combined forces of Sega’s worldwide divisions brought us a vivid spectrum of gaming machines – the Sega Genesis, the Multi Mega, the CD-X, the Mega Jet, the Tera Drive, the Wondermega and the Nomad. From Europe, to the US, Japan and beyond, the list of licensed Sega upgrades and alternatives went on… and on. Yet, during that time, and far beyond the console war battlefield, an Asian tiger prowled its own territory. This was a land where the Sega name was all but a whisper – a video game market operating in a seemingly alternate reality, in which Samsung and Hitachi ruled the console roost, and where Sonic the Hedgehog called the mysterious Super Gam*Boy and Super Aladdin Boy consoles his home. This was South Korea – a country that also concealed one of the 16-bit era’s most obscure gems: the Sega ‘New Mega Drive’.

It was during a spot of online ‘retro’ research that I stumbled upon a website that detailed a system I had never seen, nor heard of before. “Very little is known about this product,” the website read. “It is assumed that it was released into the South Korean market quite late and was less successful than previous models. It is currently unknown who is responsible for this console or whether it had official backing.Of course, I was intrigued – even more so when I saw the image that accompanied the text. Could it be? Was this really a Sega Mega Drive?

Needless to say, I was hungry for more. A swift Google search followed, but ended as soon as it had began. The Internet could offer literally no solid information about this mysterious console. However, through a spot of cunning detective work, I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with Igor Shaburov – a Russian Sega collector and owner of one of these illusive consoles. Thanks to his generous input and valuable image contributions, MegaBites can now unravel (at least some) of the mysteries behind this Korean console conundrum. Continue reading

The Mega Drive Unleashed – Bad Apple

BadAppleBelieve it or not, this screenshot is taken from an animated demo sequence on the Sega Mega Drive. Entitled Bad Apple, and based on the Japanese indy vertical-shooter Touhou, this demo is arguably one of the strongest examples of full-motion video and near CD quality music on the Mega Drive. That’s right, the Mega Drive! In the latest addition to the Mega Drive Unleashed series, MegaBites catches up with Stephane Dallongeville – the man behind not only Bad Apple’s 16-bit Sega conversion, but also a rather special Mega Drive port of a SNES Super FX chip classic.

More on the ‘enemy’ later… First, here’s Bad Apple:

What is Bad Apple?

Initially conceived as a fully rendered full-motion video, Bad Apple was unveiled in 2009, upon Japanese video sharing site Niconico DougaAs a prominent showpiece of the Japanese MAD video subculture, what later transpired was a veritable supernova of ports, conversions, and homages to the iconic Niconico original. However, the origins of the Bad Apple musical theme can be traced even further back, to the mid-to-late 90’s and the cult video game series Touhou.

Revered for its colourful visuals, larger than life characters and addictive – if not obscenely difficult – gameplay, Japan’s Touhou saga is a series of vertical shoot’em ups created by one-man software house Team Shanghai Alice. Coded, designed, scored and illustrated by Junya ‘ZUN’ Ota, the first title in the series was released on the NEC PC-98 in 1996. Over the ensuing years, Touhou spawned a 20 further sequels in rapid succession, eventually making the move onto Windows PC in 2002. From the outset, Touhou received a huge following. However, it is with the fourth game in the series – Lotus Land Story – where our Mega Drive interests lie. Continue reading

The Mega Drive Unleashed: Titan Demo Group

Interview HeaderTitanIn the great console wars of the early 90s, no fight came as heavyweight as that between Sega and Nintendo. It was Sonic vs Mario, Mega Drive vs Super Nintendo, Mode 7 vs… err… the SVP chip, perhaps? Although the Mega Drive may have struggled to find an answer to the SNES’s graphical capabilities – not that it had a need to – it has recently become apparent that Sega’s 16-bit battler was a far more powerful machine than initially anticipated. In the first in a series of related posts, MegaBites uncovers the modern day pioneers who have discovered new hidden potential beneath the Mega Drive’s shiny back bonnet. First in line is Titan Group, with their incredible 16-bit demo Overdrive.

Through a fusion of fantastic graphical, audio and coding techniques, Overdrive combines a series of effects designed to push the Sega Mega Drive beyond its intended abilities. However, Overdrive is no game, nor is it a product of the 90s; it is a new breed of Mega Drive ROM – a demo to showcase Sega’s console not only as a games machine, but also as an art form. How is this possible you might ask? Take a look for yourself and read on…

Formed in 2004, Titan demo group was created by members Alien^PDX and Irokos – both founders originating from Holland and France respectively. In the years since, the group has grown to 25 members, encompassing Europe and beyond

Titan members (L–R): Arvenius, Sim1, Mueslee, Fizzer, Red, Iks, Moqui, Neoman, Fuxx, Alk, Medo, Kabuto

Titan members (L–R): Arvenius, Sim1, Mueslee, Fizzer, Red, Iks, Moqui, Neoman, Fuxx, Alk, Medo, Kabuto

Combining an array of disciplines – including graphics, graffiti, music and coding – Titan earned its place amongst the demoscene subculture, releasing a series of scene art packs and demo sequences, which breathed new life into retro consoles, in ways never seen before.

Of these consoles, Titan has produced releases for the Amiga, Atari ST, Gameboy Advance, Wonderswan and of course, the Sega Mega Drive. The group also extends its skills to a number of modern day equivalents such as the PSP, Nintendo DS, PC and Mac.

Continue reading

Sega’s Soccer Secret – Revealed

world-championship-soccer-2-cover-secretIn July 2008, the metaphorical hammer went down on a rather unique eBay auction – one in which UK collector Stewart Greenwood parted ways with precisely £751.99 for, what has now come to be regarded as, one of the Mega Drive’s most sought after PAL releases. You’d be surprised to hear that this title was no limited edition box set, nor was it encrusted in gold. As a game that was originally pushed by Sega for a lightning-fast release, it sadly faded into oblivion at an equally rapid pace. As such, key information about this title has since been lost or shrouded in the utmost secrecy – until now. With exclusive input from the game’s Artist, Stoo Cambridge and Producer, Wallace Poulter, MegaBites presents the secret story of World Championship Soccer 2.

Released to coincide with the 1994 US football World Cup, World Championship Soccer 2 provided the gamer with a tournament-accurate choice of 32 international teams. With options for fully customisable tournament lineups and team formations, the game also provided a 16-bit-tastic menu soundtrack and the very best in 90s in-match music. In a rather interesting touch, World Championship Soccer 2 also provided the opportunity to go back in time to relive the past glories/disappointments of the 1990 and 1986 World Cup tournaments.

A little known fact…

Pitch1Although World Championship Soccer 2. Was branded under the Sega Sports name, it is a little known fact that the gaming super-giant had very little input when it came to the game’s development. A quick glance over it’s contributors reveals a credit for the ‘Mystery Chefs’ – a pseudonym that hides the true identity of the creative minds behind the game. But who were they?

World Championship Soccer 2’s development process was conducted by one of the era’s most successful British software houses, one that had firmly demonstrated its capabilities in producing pixel-perfect football titles, quite literally from the top-down. The ‘Mystery Chefs’ were none-other than Jon Hare and Chris Yates. The developer – Sensible Software. Continue reading

A Quintasensible Conversation

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 18.29.44Earlier this year, MegaBites posted an article on the legendary British developer Sensible Software. The piece concluded by outlining the imminent release of Sensible Software 1986–1999 – a Kickstarter-funded publication that gives a pixel-by-pixel account of the sights, the sounds and the software of this quintasensibly British gaming software house. Hot on the heels of the book’s release, MegaBites speaks to Darren Wall – the owner and Editor of Read-Only Memories publishing.

As a company etched in video gaming folklore, Sensible Software was headed by long-term school friends Jon ‘Jops’ Hare and Chris Yates, who went on to realise some of the late 80s and early 90s greatest gaming successes. Sensible Software provided gamers with unforgettable memories of incredible gameplay, quirky comedy and some of the catchiest theme tunes this side of the Bitmap Brothers. From the creation of Commodore 64 classics, to iconic Amiga adventures, Sensible also went on to create some of the Mega Drive’s most beloved ports, including Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Mega Lo Mania.

Dust off your disk drives and blow out your cartridges as we uncover the making of a book that gives an account of a software house so vibrant and so revolutionary, it was anything but sensible. 

MegaBites: Let’s start with the book itself. What is Sensible Soccer 1986 – 1999 and what were your main motivations in seeing it realised?

Darren Wall: It all started around six or seven years ago, when I made a few trips to Japan. Out there, they publish a lot of magazine-book hybrids called ‘Mooks’. There’s a large number of Capcom publications in particular, with incredible production art and paintings. I bought stacks of these books while I was out there, on Mega Man, Street Fighter II, R-Type and various RPGs.

The concept for the Sensible Book sprung from a conversation with a friend, who was in Japan with me at the time. I had a strong desire to see books containing similar production artwork for the games that I grew up playing as a kid – games by Psygnosis and titles such as Another World came to mind. I wanted to see books that documented the ‘feel’ of what it was like to actually play these games. Continue reading

Sense and Sensibility

Welcome to the first in a series of company profiles, covering some of the Mega Drive’s greatest gaming developers.

First up… Sensible Software.

Sensible_software_logoEstablished in 1986, Chelmsford based Sensible Software went on to establish itself as a dominant force in the British software developer scene of the early, to mid 1990s. Following its demise at the end of the decade, the company has gone on to gain a cult following amongst gamers today.

Founded by Essex school friends Jon Hare and Chris Yates, Sensible Software was unique in its philosophy as an independent software house. A typically British sense of humor at its core, Sensible Software with its tongue-in-cheek gaming titles, and distinctive graphical style meant for a company who became synonymous amongst the video game industry.

Continue reading