[ return : true > paper ]

And then there were three.

This is not an advertisement for the Dreamcast or any other system; it is merely a look at the slip of a great gaming giant from the hardware arena. While the following article may or may not be technically or historically correct (though I'm betting my two cents that it's pretty damned close), it's just this humble writer's feeling of loss for a gaming force that is now gone.

 

With last year's demise of Neo-Geo/SNK and the even greater loss of the King of Fighters chain, who knew that another would soon follow in its footsteps? I am, of course, referring to the recent loss of Sega from the console/hardware wars. From its humble beginnings battling it out with gaming giant that is Nintendo to its recent announcements of converting to a pure content provider, Sega has kept people guessing.

Back in the early eighties when all we had and all we knew were 8-bit machines capable of some-odd 256 simultaneous colors, we only had three systems to chose from. Atari, which quickly died a horrible death, was massively overtaken by Nintendo's NES (Ironically, Atari had the opportunity to distribute Nintendo's machine, only to turn it down just as quickly as it was proposed). Nintendo's Entertainment System (Famicom in Japan), was basically a machine strung together by bits and pieces of computer parts. . . but it took the video gaming world by storm. Sega's master system (although a great machine) was barely a blip on the radar at the time. A battle quickly ensued with Nintendo and Sega fighting it out with clever marketing gimmicks, fancy graphics and, of course, games. Terms like "Blast processing" or "Why go to the next level. . . when you can go light years beyond" became slogans hurled by partisans in a war we thought eternal.

Sega had an uphill battle to fight with the Master System, but by the time they released the Sega Genesis, Sega was no longer just some "other" company. They captured almost half of the market from Nintendo (North America) and fueled a war that would last for nearly two decades. With the help of Electronic Arts, which exclusively developed titles for Sega, they slowly gained a name for themselves. Other opponents entered the arena, but their over-priced set-top boxes were quickly shot down in favor of the more game-oriented cost-effective consoles. Jaguar came and went, Turbo-Grafix 16, 3DO, Neo-Geo, and even Phillips CD-I joined the fray, but only Sega and Nintendo remained standing.

One of the major reasons that Sega succeeded against Nintendo in the second console generation was not only because they had a more powerful machine then the NES, but also because they had an answer to Nintendo's already widely-known Mario. Designed by Yuji Naka, Sonic the Hedgehog was that sort of cool rebellious mascot -- an opposition to Mario's chubby quirkiness. A platform based on speed, it was the ultimate teenage representative. at least at the time I would have thought so. ^_~ In any case, it brought a new dimension the standard set by Miyamoto and his Mario series. In the end, Sega lost out to Nintendo in the 16-bit generation by a slim margin, but I wouldn't exactly consider capturing almost half of your competitor's North American market share 'failing', either.

Concerning Sega's Genesis, a common misconception is that Sega lost the 16-bit wars due to a multitude of confusing major add-ons. While it was true that they did release a few peripherals, there were in fact only two major ones, the Sega CD and the 32x. In fact, the Sega CD sold quite well. What kept it from becoming a major success was the absence of AAA quality titles and Sega's lack of consistent support.

With the 16-bit era well on in its 4-year reign, rumors of Sega's next machine and even Sony's venture into the video game market were legion. Nintendo was enjoying a huge success with the SNES, and the 32-bit generation was about to commence. Nintendo had plans for a CD add-on much like the Sega's CD, and had a joint venture with Sony to develop the new format. However, Nintendo quickly fell out of agreement with Sony, making the excuse of its previous contractual obligations with the Phillips CD-I.

Sony decided to take the bull by the horns and develop its own console, later referred to in code as the "PSX". Word got around that when Sony revealed its new machine it would boast revolutionary new 3D graphics, whereas previous consoles only provided 2 Dimensions. Sega, unprepared for this sudden change, was nearing the end-process of developing a new console geared towards providing the best 2d games, despite the fact that they were one of the first to display fully useable 3d technology in their Virtua arcade series'. As a last resort they added an extra Hitachi chip for that extra power boost, which eventually proved to be one of the major factors in the Saturn's downfall because of its programmability issues. Nintendo, on the other hand (and quiet as ever), comfortably watched as Sega and Sony fought out the PR battle, whilst only a few leaks of information concerning their new Ultra 64 console surfaced occasionally.

When Nintendo finally released details of its new machine, Sega and Sony had already been battling it for almost 2 years. Nintendo's decision to stay with the cartridge format proved to be the major reason as to why they lost Square. Squaresoft had originally been anticipating Nintendo's SNES CD add-on, but with the cartridge format still assuming priority, it was time for them to move on to bigger media. Sega and Sony were pretty much even with market share at the time, but with Squaresoft's final decision to support Sony's Playstation, Sony finally gained a huge following in Japan. Sega slowly drifted away until they cut off support for the console a bit sooner than loyalists would have hoped for. Surely this was a sign of things to come for Sega, but definitely not the last of their presence.

Enter the Next Generation

With Sega quickly dropping support for the Saturn, it was finally time for them to move on to bigger and better things. Enter the Dreamcast. A slick, easy to develop for console that provided state-of-the-art graphics tile-based rendering uber machine. Boasting the largest selection of games at launch of its time, Sega was finally on the path to redemption. Hardcore gamers would argue that it wasn't about the graphics that a console could pump out (which the Dreamcast could surely provide) but it was the games it provided that made it such a great console. With titles like Shenmue, Test Drive Le Mans, Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur, Phantasy Star Online, Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, Jet Grind Radio and many others, the Dreamcast certainly provided that great mix of high quality gaming bliss. Also notable is having been the first (and so far only) console to provide a built-in modem (incredible lag-free games on a 56k modem too!).

Despite all this, Sega's 4-year long debt kept it from going any further. Approximately 2 1/2 years after its launch, Sega met with insurmountable losses. Canceling all future production of the Dreamcast hardware (and perhaps even the rumored Dreamcast-on-a-chip as well), Sega finally decided to do what most analysts had suggested for years, become a 3rd party and make up lost revenue by providing games for a larger audience. Or, in other words, provide exclusive content for its competitors.

This is not to say that all Dreamcast production will be put on hold immediately, Sega still plans on releasing about 70 more titles before slowly fizzling out on focusing on other projects. Currently Sega has plans to release games for Sony and Xbox; yet rumor has it that (in conjunction with Nintendo), an online RPG in the vein of the Sonic and Mario universe will be produced. Sega and Nintendo will be together.

So what are we left with? A bitter taste, to be sure, but there may yet be hope. Perhaps a moment of silence is in order for the company that managed to kick and scream its way down that gaming aisle with Nintendo. . . always fashionably, of course. But with Sega semi-out-of-the-picture, one can only imagine how the next-generation war will be. With Sega developing on all fronts, who will be crowned leader? Whatever the case, despite the fact that they have left the hardware race, Sega will never be forgotten. Sega still will be providing great games, and where there are great games, there are profits to be had.

Thank you, Sega. . . here's to hoping your future is a prosperous one indeed.

—aldo with help and additions by adam