Why Sega should return to the hardware market

I have a lot of admiration & respect for the developers and the publisher (Past and present) known to the world as SEGA. Yes, I like Nintendo too. Both of these developers & publishers bring something different to the table.

Article by Cris Christou - follow him on Twitter at: @cheekycrissy

But Sega, for me personally, have something very unique about them, in that they have always tried something different (For both their software and in particularly their hardware) Fresh concepts that I have always found intriguing.

Throughout their decisions (good or bad) I have followed their many developments with great interest. Nintendo have always seemed to play it safe. (Yes, the company DID try out new concepts, some perhaps just as outlandish as Sega. Such VirtualBoy) It was Nintendo that invented the Gameboy, of which is right up there with todays Iphone or Ipod. It single handedly changed how we saw mobile gaming in particular. (Of course the term ‘Mobile Gaming’ hadn’t been coined back then, but ‘HandHeld gaming’ seemed to be a more particular terminology for what it was. ) Sega had an approach to gaming that was new, different & fresh & their games gave off that vibe, being more edgy than their Nintendo counterpart, who compared to them, seemed to take a more conservative approach in their games and marketing strategy.

Sega took one good concept from rival companies and inserting their own take and from then on, improved upon it. ‘Refining’ a graphical technique, of which soon became it’s trademark signature look that gamers today still think of quite fondly. Bold Colourful, but ultimately ‘Unique’. Bringing it’s offbeat sensibilities into our livingrooms. Games such as ‘Outrun’, a game, more possibly inspired by the concepts of Atari’s ‘Pole Position’ using a simple ‘Sprite Scaling’ technique. (A method of having a sprite on either side of the screen and making it grow larger, thus giving the impression of an other, coming TOWARD you)

Then adding a little more speed and more going on around the screen, experimenting with Hydraulics and movement. (‘Space Harrier) Then FINALLY allowing the player to experience a barrel roll in an F14 ‘Tomcat’ Fighter Jet. Some of my friends bought a Sega Master System, and there were some decent games that I can remember that had came out on that console. (Golden Axe, Outrun, After-Burner. ) But it was the snob in me, that rose to the surface, because in my mind nothing in the home could ever compete with the scope & scale of the technology that arcades could deliver.

Space Harrier1 1

This was my whole point of arcade conversions in the 80’s, there was nothing out there could match it, sprite for hand drawn sprite! This was until the Sega Genesis / MegaDrive came along… Ever since I was a kid I had wanted my own Arcade Machine. This, in my view was a STEP closer to having one. PCB (Printed Circuit Boards) games at the time had a similar pricetag to what a single console would cost and there was no way a teenage punk like me could ever afford one. You have to remember the Genesis / MegaDrive came BEFORE the SNES crashed onto the scene.

And before gaming consoles came around, it was the Commodore Amiga that was taking all of the glory in multi-format gaming magazines. Amiga & Atari ST were the two titans battling it out for people’s affections, (As well as Developers & Publishers) and it was because of what they could DO that became a major turning point in people’s attitudes toward gaming. It became more of a superficial time, when the ordinary ‘man on the street’ began to figure out that the more ‘bits’ in games, meant MORE power and the more power a machine had, the more detailed or photorealistic a game would eventually become. And since Arcades were the first ‘high powered’ machines people were exposed to in the ‘80’s, there was a growing demand for the same kind of quality in the home

Sure, even I was swept up in this new generation. But I failed to understand just how expensive 16 bit computers were at the time. My father broke out in a sweat when he saw me lusting for a commodore Amiga, (Of which I eventually settled for an Atari ST) Pricewise an Amiga was the PS4 / Xbone of it’s day. So when I went to college, I didn’t want to keep carrying a whole computer with me just to relax and game with in my room and the 16 Bit Sega seemed more portable enough to carry in a Gym bag. The machine was way ahead of its time with Stereo sound. (You plugged your headphones directly into it’s jack socket) The games I had to start off with were Sonic 2 & Road Rash 2. (Both sequels but fun in their own way. )

Road Rash3

But it was ‘Altered Beast’ that would blow me away for the machine to be in my eyes a bona fide Arcade game, IN MY DORMITORY! The MEGA CD arrived, and although that looked attractive, there wasn’t anything I REALLY wanted to play besides Final Fight, or Sonic CD , (from a sixteen year old’s point of view) it was out of my league. The ‘32X’ came after it, (By THEN I was living on my own and could afford stuff) a weird looking ‘Mushroom’ you connected into the cartridge slot. Star Wars Arcade was OK to play on it. (But that was it, it was ‘OK’) But it was DOOM, that showed me what the machine could do with 32 Bit technology that followed.

I didn’t have a powerful enough PC back then to run DOOM and this was as close as I could get. All the headshot, gore splattered limb removal was there in all of it’s chainsaw wielding glory! And I LOVED IT! The Sega Saturn was, if I remember rightly, was fun to play, Was the first CD based Sega Machine that I owned from lusting after the Mega CD as a kid. But it was a machine that sadly didn’t have a large library of games. This was mainly because the machine was ‘notoriously’ difficult for developers to work with. Nobody outside of Sega wanted to touch it. And if they DID, it would mean more man hours to get a conversion going right, along with the added pressure of a release date before Summer or Christmas.

It was a machine that had the hardware in there, it had similar to a ‘dual core processor. On paper it could out perform it’s new rival (Which came in the hulking great shape that was Sony’s ‘Playstation’) But it couldn’t it couldn’t handle 3D as well as Sony’s machine. (Not proper 3D anyway) But throw any of Capcom’s arcade ports at it and it could handle it like a dream! The problem Sega had (And to be fair this was not a flaw) Sega, as a company, you have to remember were Arcade Game Manufacturers, so they had always attracted that demographic of gamer. It was all they had known. They were well aware that Nintendo had ‘their’ gaming demographic, which were of a much younger audience to begin with.

They were touted as the family friendly end of the market. (Which is no bad thing) Sega were oblivious to a ‘New’ type of gamer, which was a guy that had never been exposed to any of it’s arcade games and was more a casual player, that was looking for something ‘different’ other than beat – em ups or Shoot em ups. Sony forged a relationship with an ever changing rave & dance culture at the peak of it’s popularity around the mid to late 1990’s with futuristic racing title ‘WIPEOUT’ it was a game rollercoaster –esque proportions of sharp turns and stomach churning tracks along with hypnotic dance tracks from real world artists and DJ’s.

Of Course Publisher Psygnosis released a Wipeout game for the Saturn (WipeOut 2097 / WipeOut XL in North America) But it was no match for the Playstation original, in that speed was a little sluggish and controls were slower to respond to the onscreen action. (Wipeout was a 3D game after all. And the Saturn wasn’t great at handling those kind of games) Sony opened the floodgates and invited third party companies to work on their machine. All with varying levels of success, but one thing can be sure.

Afterburner

The games were very much ‘different’ and the machine also spawned several new genres of titles (The first of many being the survival horror Genre) The shortcomings are sadly, fairly obvious. Programming polygon based titles on the machine was notoriously difficult. This wasn't all that big a deal in Japan, where the console did considerably better, but Sega USA's executives decided after awhile that they didn't want to publish any titles that didn't show off the consoles horsepower, which means those 2D titles dried up. (The 2D fighting titles from Capcom played like a DREAM) Even at the time, this seemed like a silly move, and in retrospect is was face slappingly stupid. Even the PSX's best selling games were mostly 2D.

Take the Final Fantasy titles for example, the vast majority of the games were essentially 2D, utilizing a small handful of polygonial models in front of a pre-rendered 2D background. Only the battles were fully 3D, and it’s a lot easier for a machine to pull off 3D when there are only a very limited number of possible animations to render. Instead, they pulled support after the console had only been out on the market for a few years, and essentially disappeared off the radar until launching the Dreamcast, meaning they squandered whatever consumer loyalty they had. They probably still would've lost to Sony when the PS2 was announced, but with more consumer loyalty the drop off probably would've been less dramatic.

Then the DreamCast came along..it was the first console in HISTORY to promise Online gaming. It was talked about even in the face of the Sega Saturn’s death. The Saturn originally, was going to be the console to offer this in it’s race to console Supremacy. (There was one of TWO Saturn Prototypes that even had a Netlink port) Released on a memorable date (09/09/99) Even the launch of the Original Playstation was somewhat lukewarm compared with todays standards.

Dreamcast Small

The launch of the DreamCast was of carefully orchestrated hype and anticipation of which the industry had never seen before. All the talk of Online gaming came down to THIS. The launch of the DreamCast. This machine was the EYE of that storm. The 1st console to ‘Officially’ achieve this. But the reality was anything but. As far as memory serves, there were not many DreamCasts that were physically ‘online’, but it was just incredible that the concept was made possible at all. (On Dial up technology no less. Remember ‘dial up’? *shudders) The DreamCast was the first of the sixth generation of console, of which 3D gaming had reached it’s maturity and technical limitations gave more freedom to game developers and designers in the same way the previous generation once did.

This console was closely followed by Playstation 2, Nintendo GameCube & a NEW entry to the console wars, Microsoft’s Xbox. The DreamCast was most notably Sega’s last stand of a once mighty Hardware Goliath; it was the company that snuck up behind Nintendo and applied a sleeper hold of epic proportions, toppling Nintendo’s gaming monopoly. After the crushing defeat of the 32 bit Sega Saturn, Sega underwent the most dramatic reinvention yet by pushing hardware up to 128 bit, on paper at least, it was enough to turn the tides and escape the inevitable.

Although, like the Saturn, it had a limited library of games, some of these games are STILL played and loved by collectors and retro gaming enthusiasts the world over, with favorites such as ‘Virtua Fighter’, Gory Arcade shooter ‘House Of the Dead’ Sonic the Hedgehog in an all new 3D setting to keep up with ‘Super Mario 64’ And new games such as Space Channel 5, with it’s Parapper the Rapper template and sexy young Space Reporter in Vinyl hoop skirt. ‘Crazy taxi’ is another fav, imitated by other games (GTA 3 & Vice City gives a ‘wink’ at this in it’s ‘Taxi’ missions) & Simpsons Road Rage (Of which Sega filed a lawsuit back in 2003, which was settled privately for an undisclosed amount) but never equalled, been brought back time and again on next generation of consoles on PSN & XBL.

Jet Set Radio is another fav, best described as a A Graffiti ‘Tagging’ Platformer with it’s much talked about Cel Shading effect, (Sure, ‘Road Avenger’ released on the Mega CD years earlier was cel shaded too, but Jet Set Radio took it to the next level) Is still fresh in people’s minds even today and brought back by popular demand on Playstation Store, XBL & Android. And we couldn’t end Dreamcast’s impressive list of gaming excellence without mentioning the open world exploration heavy adventure game set in Yokusuka, Japan, ‘Shenmue’ playing the role of martial Artist, ‘Ryo Hazuki. Engaging in martial art battles while taking in the sights & sounds of a realistic Japanese coastal town. Again there has been demand from loyal fans of this to be brought onto current gen consoles and if this year’s E3 is anything to go by, their prayers have finally been answered, with a sequel.

Jtbk2

Although the Dreamcast didn’t even last half a generation, it instead left a legacy that is still talked about today. What I truly believe, even to this day is this, in that one of the fundamental reasons for SEGA leaving the hardware business, was because they took this failure to heart. (The other, in the case of the Sega Saturn, was mismanagement) But rightly or wrongly, they sold a type of console, suited to a particular gamer and they were a company, they were a recognizable BRAND, that suited to a particular gamer, even today. (When you think of Sega you think of Sonic & all of their arcade classics )

Nintendo are very much identified as a family friendly company. Microsoft have been identified for the PC gaming demographic (The Xbox IS still a PC encased inside a console exterior, after all) But this is merely an observation. The Sony Playstation is still the media powerhouse it is, but with it’s focus now stripped back to being a ‘Gamer’s Machine’ This is the right time for Sega to come back to the Hardware Arena. Sega’s most hardcore, loyal fans STILL want to see a ‘DreamCast 2’ Older fans will still talk fondly of Sega Saturn or the original DreamCast, but make no mistake about it, those same fans won’t be looking at this new venture with rose tinted glasses.

If Sega does come back, it would most certainly be a complete shock and a surprise for current hardware developers. Yes, by all means, Sega should keep on making their great games. But their hardware knowledge behind their greatest arcade games is almost second to none. Yes, they would have a new rival now, in the shape of Microsoft, but this hasn’t stopped them before. They still have the magic. But in Sega coming back to the hardware business, this would show everybody, not just electronic consumers, that they are still fearless, that they still have new ideas that they are not afraid to show to the world. And that they are STILL the gaming power-house to beat.

Article by Cris Christou - follow him on Twitter at: @cheekycrissy

comments powered by Disqus
Scroll Top