Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2 – MegaBites on RetroCollect.com

Cart-Wars-Episode-2Avert thine eyes! Nintendo alert! Once more, this site is graced with imagery of Sega’s mortal enemy, and for that I apologise. However, it’s all for a good cause – MegaBitesBlog.com’s latest article on RetroCollect.com – ‘Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge, Episode 2’.

During the early-to-mid 1990s, the bitter rivalries between the console superpowers were hard to ignore. It was Sega vs Nintendo, plumbers vs hedgehogs and Mega Drive vs Super Nintendo. Amongst these battles, one gaming format had risen to the top to rule supreme over the video game industry – the cartridge. ‘Cart Wars: The Evolution of the Cartridge’ is the story of that medium, and with it, the incredible lengths taken by developers of that age to topple the competition and reshape the gaming market forever.

Episode 2 picks up the tale as the handheld formats took their place on the front line. On one side of the battleground the Sega Game Gear stood proud, equipped with its almighty TV tuner cartridge peripheral. Whilst across enemy lines lurked the Game Boy, with the all-seeing Game Boy Camera, ready to pounce and stake its claim at the pinnacle of the Cart Wars’ 8-bit podium for supremacy.

Meanwhile, Sega and Nintendo locked horns in an entirely new and innovative form of cartridge combat – namely, the processor chip:

(Excerpt from RetroCollect.com) It was the 26th August 1992 – the height of the Sega vs Nintendo rivalry and a date that marked the arrival of the fourth annual Shoshinkai Software Show, a hardware and software showcase akin to the Consumer Electronics Show. But unlike its western counterpart, Shoshinkai was an event exclusive to all things Nintendo, as Peter Molyneux witnessed first-hand: “The show was held at one of the big exhibition halls in Tokyo – one that dwarfs somewhere like Earls Court.”

But no size of venue could eclipse the scale of the announcement that Nintendo’s then President, Hiroshi Yamauchi, would make that day. You see, Shoshinkai ’92 marked the announcement of Nintendo’s revolutionary new cartridge upgrade, the Super FX Chip. “It’s been designed by UK games developers Argonaut,” Molyneux continued. “It lets the Super Famicom do super-fast 3D vector stuff – top quality flight sims should now be possible.” And of these ‘flight sims’ came Star Fox/Starwing.

Clearly irked by Nintendo’s penchant for cartridge chip enhancements, Sega vented its frustrations in a 1994 edition of GameFan magazine: “Nintendo would like you to believe that by adding chips into their cartridges, they will be saving you money. If Donkey Kong Country, priced at $69.99 is any indication of the money they are saving you, it’s a good thing they are a game company and not your banker… By adding more chips to every cartridge game, Nintendo raises the cost of every cart.”

And how did Sega respond? Virtua Racing.

segasvp

Read more on RetroCollect.com

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!

Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com

2017-finding-the-hidden-palace-part-4

Regular visitors to this site may have been aware that, since January 2014, I’ve been compiling a rather special series of articles on RetroCollect.com. I’m now proud to announce that this epic Sega saga has finally reached its conclusion…

MegaBites Blog presents Finding the Hidden Palace Part 4, on RetroCollect.com – the Internet’s first fully compiled account of the 21-year hunt for Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s mysterious deleted level, Hidden Palace Zone.

Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant, Casino Night and Mystic Cave… Just a few of the legendary zones that make up one of the greatest games to ever be committed to cartridge – Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Yet, for every spike pit, for every loop, for each pinball flipper and hellish underwater section – unbeknown to Mega Drive and Genesis gamers everywhere – there was one vital zone that had been sorely omitted.

MP MagEven before Sonic 2’s 1992 release on the now legendary ‘Sonic 2s Day’, video game magazines of the period teased images of a mysterious zone surrounded in golden rock and green emerald. As the years went by, unreleased prototypes of the game unveiled the very same stage – a land filled with cascading waterfalls, prehistoric Badniks and a mysterious ‘Master Emerald’. What was this zone? Why was it never included?

It’s name was Hidden Palace Zone.

Receiving its official release a full 21 years after Sonic 2’s release, the story behind its unveiling is one steeped in retro gaming legend, involving industry luminaries from Yuji Naka, to Al Nilsen and Sega Technical Institute Artist Craig Stitt. Oh yes, and also… Melissa Joan Hart (seriously).

Here’s a snippet of part 4:

“Hello Mr Payne. Glad to have you here with us,” the interviewer began. “What can you tell us about the elusive Hidden Palace Zone?” an eager fan interjected. “Ahh…” replied Mr Payne in a response that cut through the atmosphere like a knife.

It was the 30th July 2009, at the 14th annual online Sonic Amateur Games Expo, where one fan posed that ever recurring question to Sonic 2 Zone Designer and Badnik Illustrator Tom Payne. Although Tom could shed no further light on the fate of Hidden Palace, it was during the discussion that he fetched an “ancient box with all my Sonic stuff in it,” as he described. “You should start drooling now,” he exclaimed as he unveiled an absolute treasure trove of designs, documents and disks direct from the development desks of Sega Technical Institute.

Read part four in its entirety, on RetroCollect.com

Or, to follow the tale right from the very beginning, make your way over to Finding the Hidden Palace – Part 1.

(Huge, huge thanks go out to Adam at RetroCollect.com for the artwork wizardry, the encouragement and for the hosting the series.)

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

Finding the Hidden Palace – Part 2

Finding-The-Hidden-Palace-Part-2As this humble blog continues to expand its horizons, fans of Sonic the Hedgehog can read the latest episode of MegaBites’ Finding the Hidden Palace on RetroCollect.com.

In a continuation of part one’s epic tale, the second chapter in the series picks up from the events following the fabled ‘Sonic2s Day’ – the North American and European release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. After months of publicity, previews and speculation, the 1992 release of Sonic 2 hailed the release of what is arguably the series’ finest release.

Homing in on the period 1992–1999, part two continues to document the myths, unravel the cryptic clues, and decode the conundrums, behind one of Sega’s greatest hidden enigmas; Sonic 2’s unreleased level – Hidden Palace Zone.

And here’s a little taster for you:

It was early 1999 and Canadian Sonic fan Simon Wai embarked on an online Sonic beta hunt. As far back as 1992, in Hong Kong, Simon had been one of the early few to play a black market copy of the Sonic 2 toy show beta. Now, seven years later, he had a renewed determination to rediscover it.

Beginning his journey on Chinese ROM sites, Simon soon came upon a lone Geocities page. It was here where he located the rather a inconspicuous file named ‘MD8123.smd’ – uncovering the syntax of which provided valuable insight into the file’s origin and identity.

‘MD’ stood for Mega Drive, ‘8’ represented an eight-megabit file, ‘123’ identified the file as the 123rd in its sequence and the ‘.smd’ extension identified it as a file created by a Super Mega Drive – a piece of hardware with the ability to extract a Mega Drive cartridge to floppy disk. It was only when he came to load the file that its true identity was revealed. Simon Wai’s memories came flooding back in an instant.

(Read more on RetroCollect.com.)

Be sure to visit MegaBites soon, as we have a further set of ‘mega’ exciting posts lined up, which you simply will not want to miss!

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

MegaBites vs BoxedPixels.co.uk – A Christmas Challenge

Xmas MB BPWhat do you mean it’s Christmas 2013? Where did 2012, 2011 and 2010 go? More to the point, whatever happened to the 90s? I was only just getting started!

As fleeting as time may be and as swift as the passage of time may pass, Christmas 2013 marks a significant milestone here on the MegaBites blog – my 20th anniversary as a Mega Drive gamer.

The 25th of December 1993. It my first day in ownership of the Sega’s black-boxed bombshell – a day overloaded by pixels, platformers and gaming perfection. Such a shame that my little brother got carried away with the sweets and vomited down the cartridge slot. But let’s not dwell on that little saga.

As I pondered how I might celebrate this Christmas on the MegaBites Blog, I received a rather interesting Christmas request from a fellow blogger – one with a passion for a console that evokes such venomous rivalry, I can barely bring myself to write its name in full-sized text. This blogger was Julian Hill, the owner of BoxedPixels.co.uk – a website dedicated to the Super Nintendo. That’s right, the Super Nintendo. .

kris_and_tell

Boxed Pixels: MegaBites, my Sega-gaming nemesis, it’s Christmas once more – a time of goodwill and cheer to all. This in mind, I thought I’d transform you into Kris of Super Play fame. How do you like your new look?

MegaBites: Kris? Super Play? Wasn’t that a Super Nintendo magazine?

BP: It’s what people had instead of blogs twenty years ago. Although, it was much more effort as you had to turn these things called ‘pages.’

MB: Perfect, just perfect. Happy Christmas to me and a Merry Mode-7 holiday to you!

BP: I see that this Christmas marks your 20th anniversary as a Mega Drive gamer. Any intention of getting your younger brother to mark the occasion as he did in 1993?
MB: You’ll be happy to know that Christmas 2013 has every intention of a being vomit-free affair. That is, unless you plan on bringing the SNES over…

BP: You leave my majestic white box alone!

MB: You see, although the unfortunate events of that Christmas still haunt me to this day, I fondly remember Saturday 25th December 1993 for one thing – the day my obsession for all things Sega Mega Drive began. That entire day was an epic 16-bit odyssey, one that ultimately shaped my future as a gamer and all round Sega obsessive. How was the 90s Christmas experience from across 16-bit enemy lines?

BP: For me, Christmas was the one time I got to see my games on the big-screen TV – if you indeed consider 22″ to be ‘big’. Donkey Kong Country looked fantastic on it. You’ve heard of Donkey Kong Country right?

MB: Donkey-who?

BP: You know, it’s that game with pre-rendered graphics that would never have been possible on your beloved Mega Drive.

MB: I’m sorry, I must have been too busy eagerly anticipating the blast-processing prowess of Ristar. That’s right blast-processing!

BP: I’ll let you in on a little secret MegaBites, Donkey Kong Country was the last thing I ever got from Father Christmas. For that reason alone, it holds a special place in my heart. Why don’t you give it a go?

MB: MegaBites? Nintendo? Are you mad?… Only if you promise me one thing.

BP: Name it.

MB: I’ll play your Donkey Kong if you play Ristar and write all about it on this blog. Deal?

BP: Deal.

MB: Where’s the sick bags? Continue reading