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Sega 32X

The Sega 32X (Japanese: セガ スーパー32X), codenamed Project Mars, is an add-on for the Sega Mega Drive video game console by Sega.

In Japan, it was distributed under the name Sega Super 32X. In North America, its name was the Sega Genesis 32X. In Europe, Australia, and other countries that use PAL, it was called the Sega Mega Drive 32X.

Market history

With the release of the Super Famicom in Japan and the Super NES in North America, Sega felt the need to leapfrog Nintendo in the technological department. The Sega Mega-CD, known as Sega CD in North America, had not worked as well, in a business sense, as Sega had wanted it to. Sega had various developments underway, and focused most of its energy on the then new Sega Saturn. Some used System 16 technology, as the Sega Mega Drive and other arcade games did.

The 32X was released in mid-November 1994 in North America for $159, Japan on December 3, 1994 for ¥16,800, and Europe in January 1995 for £170 / DM400.

Technical aspects

The Sega 32X can only be used in conjunction with a Mega Drive/Genesis system. It is inserted into the system like a standard game cartridge, although it does require its own separate power supply and a cable linking it to the Mega Drive. Besides playing its own cartridges, it also acts as a pass through for Mega Drive games, so it can be used as a permanent attachment. The Sega Virtua Processor based Virtua Racing is the only exception - the game will not run on a Mega Drive with a 32X unit attached due to its processor (there was an enhanced version of the game, Virtua Racing Deluxe, available for the 32X, however). Also, Sega's Power Base Converter, which allows one to play Sega Master System games on a Mega Drive/Genesis, could not be used with the 32X attached. This is because the Power Base Converter uses all of the connection pins in the Mega Drive/Genesis itself, but the 32X only passes through those connections that are necessary to play games.

The 32X came with a spacer so it would fit properly with the Mega Drive II. It could be used with the Sega Multi-Mega/Sega CDX system, but the spacer would not accommodate the CDX, which created a number of user-unfriendly conditions in the unit. Without the use of the spacer on a Mega Drive II, some of the 32X hardware was left exposed and vulnerable. The combined unit was also very prone to tipping over, risking damage to the unit and games. In addition to the physical problems, there was also an issue with FCC approval.

Most 32X games cannot be played unless the distribution region of the game matches the region of the console. A few games are not locked and can be played on a console from any region (e.g. FIFA 96). Two games, Darxide and FIFA Soccer '96, were only released for the PAL 32X.

All but one of the games released for the Japanese market were released in the United States, albeit some had different names. The one Japanese-only game was Sangokushi IV (known as Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV).

In addition to regular cartridge-based 32X games, there were also a very small number of CD-ROM games for the 32X. These games were labeled with Sega Mega-CD 32X (Sega CD 32X in North America). As the name suggests, these required both the 32X and Mega-CD/Sega CD addons. The lack of a significant userbase due to the high cost of purchasing all three necessary components saw only five games released, only one of those developed by Sega. The most notable of these was a new version of the infamous Night Trap with 32,768 onscreen colors instead of the 64 found on the regular Mega-CD/Sega CD version.

A common misconception of the 32x is that the audio is based on Q-sound technology. This is incorrect. The 32x employs two PWM sound channels and are mixed through the audio lines of the main system's cartridge port. The size of the PWM width latch can be select by one of the audio registers. Any sort of wavetable synthesis requires one of the two SH-2 processors to do this in software. This includes frequency scaling and mixing of software channels back into the two channel output, though most 32x games used the PWM unit to playback fixed frequency samples such as drum kits, voices, and sound effects, and having the main part of the music run from the YM2612 and PSG channels. The PWM unit in the 32x is also similar to the two PWM DACs used in the GBA.

Technical specifications

  • Processor: Two SH2 32-bit RISC processors with a clock speed of 23.011 MHz, approx 20 MIPS each
  • Video RAM: Two linear framebuffers with support for RLE compression and an overdraw mode to simplify compositing objects with transparency. All scaling, rotation, and 3D operations are performed in software on the SH2 processors.
  • ROM (BIOS): 3 Kb
  • Color depth: 32,768 simultaneous colors on screen at standard Mega Drive/Genesis resolution. Video output can overlay Mega Drive/Genesis graphics or vice versa. Mega Drive/Genesis video effects such as shadow or highlight do not affect 32X video.
  • Memory: 256KB (2 MBit) program RAM and two 128KB (1 MBit) framebuffers.
  • Audio: Stereo 10-bit PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) mixing with Mega Drive/Genesis sound for a total of 12 audio channels of varying capability, 22 with the addition of a Mega-CD/Sega CD.
  • I/O: Same as Mega Drive/Genesis.
  • Storage: 32X cartridges are fundamentally the same as Mega Drive/Genesis cartridges with some small differences in the plastic casing. A few CD-ROM games were developed that also required a Mega-CD/Sega CD.
  • Compatibility: Compatible with Mega Drive/Genesis models 1 and 2, JVC Wondermega/X'Eye and the Multi-Mega/CDX. The 32X does not work with the Genesis 3 which lacks some of the necessary interface logic.
  • Size & weight (more or less) : 107x205x110 mm 495 gr

History

Development

On January 8, 1994, Hayao Nakayama, then CEO of Sega, ordered his company to make a 32-bit cartridge based console that would be in stores by Christmas 1994. This would at first be named "Project Jupiter", but after Sega found CD technology cheaper, they decided to modify it instead of dropping the cartridge project (that would be called "Project Saturn"). Hideki Sato and some other Sega of Japan engineers came over to collaborate about the project with Sega of America's Joe Miller. The first idea was a new Mega Drive/Genesis with more colors and a 32-bit processor. Miller thought that an add-on to the Mega Drive/Genesis would be a better idea, because he felt that gamers would not buy an improved version of the Mega Drive/Genesis. And so, this project was codenamed Project Mars, and Sega of America was going to shape the project.

The 32X was primarily envisioned as a system which would extend the life of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and provide revenue while the installed userbase of the Sega Saturn slowly grew.

Launch

The video-gaming public first got a glimpse at the Summer 1994 CES in Chicago. The console was unmasked as the 32X, with a price projection of $170 (USD), at a gamers' day, held by Sega of America in September 1994.

The 32X hit the market in North America in November 1994, during the same month the Sega Saturn was released in Japan. Many industry insiders speculated that the 32X was doomed from the beginning as the Sega Saturn hardware was widely regarded as more powerful than the 32X and had the support of many Japanese third party software developers (a necessary resource required for any gaming platform's long term success) which the 32X was sorely lacking.

Only 500,000 consoles had been produced for North American consumption, yet orders were in the millions. The console allegedly had numerous mechanical problems. Games had been rushed for the system in the run up to Christmas 1994. Some early games came with errors in programming, causing crashes and glitches on certain titles. Other games required leaving out parts in order to make the Christmas deadline; for example, the 32X version of Doom is missing seven levels present on the PC and even the Super Nintendo version; plus, Doom for the 32X was criticised for having worse sound than the Super Nintendo version. some consumers complained that their 32X was not working with their Mega Drive/Genesis or television and Sega was forced to give away adapters.

Since this was an expensive add-on system, Sega decided to offer a £50 discount on games with the console in Europe. However, the offer came in the form of rebate vouchers, which were difficult to take advantage of. Just like its North American counterpart, this console was initially popular. Orders exceeded one million, but not enough were produced, and supply shortage problems arose.

Decline

By mid-1995, the time the Sega executives realized their blunder, it was too late. Developers and licensees had abandoned this console in favor of what they perceived to be a true 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn. Even though the 32X was a 32-bit system, the games did not appear to take full advantage of 32 bit processing; many games were rushed and produced in 2D. Many were just slightly-enhanced ports of Genesis or old arcade games such as Space Harrier. In reality, as stated by Steve Snake, creator of NBA Jam, NBA Jam T.E. and Mortal Kombat II, these games were seriously pushing the limits of the console even though they looked like minor enhancements. He cites that people were expecting far too much from it, and over-hyping from magazines had helped to hurt it.

Customers perceived the Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64, and the Sony PlayStation as the true next-generation consoles, due to their rich launch titles and 3D graphics. Also, customers perceived that Sega abandoned the 32X despite promises to the contrary, due to the launch of the Saturn.

Store shelves became littered with unwanted Sega 32X systems, and prices for a new one dropped as low as $19.95 (some have claimed that video game exchange stores became so filled with 32X systems, the stores refused to accept the console--even at no cost). Sega planned a console named the Sega Neptune, which would have been a Mega Drive/Genesis and 32X in one. However, by the time a prototype was developed, the Sega Saturn was going to be released, and Sega canceled the Neptune.

The last game released for the 32X in North America was Spider-Man: Web of Fire (1996). The last ever 32X game was Darxide, released only in Europe, which had been intended by Frontier Developments to be a launch title for the ill-fated Neptune. Both these games now command a high value from collectors — but especially Darxide (up to $1000) due to its scarcity, reputation and auspicious creator (David Braben, co-writer of the groundbreaking game Elite). Nevertheless, it is exceeded in rarity by the European PAL versions of the games Primal Rage and T-Mek. For obscure reasons a mere handful of copies of these games are known to be in circulation - with T-Mek being so scarce that until a copy surfaced on eBay in late 2005, it was widely held that the PAL release was only a rumor. The appearance of a copy has fueled speculation that other rumored but unconfirmed PAL games may also exist, in particular BC Racers.

For many years prior to the 32X, console makers promised devices like the 32X (for consoles such as the ColecoVision, Intellivision II, and some Atari systems) that would extend and enhance the original system. Sega's 32X effort lacked the software titles and 3D capabilities the gaming community demanded; the add-on technology represented a dead end, ultimately punishing early adopters. Ignorant of the idea that console systems' primary strength is in standardization, Sega had created three different platforms (the Sega Mega Drive, and the Mega-CD/Sega CD and the 32X add-ons) all under the same banner, stealing valuable shelf space from itself and confusing both vendors and consumers in the process. The entire episode demonstrated that producing such add-ons is likely to have detrimental effects on a system's brand marketing strategy.

The final nail in the coffin for the peripheral came in October 1995, when Sega's CEO, Hayao Nakayama, ordered that the 32X and other Sega consoles be cancelled in order to focus its limited resources on the Saturn system.

Sega Neptune

The Sega Neptune was a two-in-one Mega Drive/Genesis and 32X console which Sega planned to release in 1994 or 1995. The proposed retail price for the unit was US$200.

Sega had admitted how expensive and problematic the 32X was, so it was decided to make a combined version of the Mega Drive/Genesis and 32X; however, by the time a prototype came out, the Sega Saturn was ready for release. Sega felt that consumers would not be interested in the Sega Neptune, so the project was scrapped. There are several prototypes, and at least one was declared to work.

Electronic Gaming Monthly used the Sega Neptune as an April Fool's Joke in its April 2001 issue. The issue included a small article in which the writers announced that Sega had found a warehouse full of old Sega Neptunes, and were selling them on a website.

See also

References

External links

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