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Rise and Fall of Sega.

We take a look into the past of Sega and where they went wrong in the console wars.

Techmo Bowl sucks, I got Joe Montana. You�re still playing Mario, Dude! Ask your Mom if you can come over. I�ll let you play on a real video game system. My Genesis has 16-bit graphics, what�s yours again? 8-bit, that�s funny. Oh the good old days of harassing Nintendo players. Being the first kid to own a Sega Genesis on my block was the biggest thrill of my adolescent life. Until Mark �My Parents are so Rich� Bradley brought in his Neo Geo instruction manual, everyone was my friend. But that�s another story for another time. It was a time when wearing British Knights and Air Jordans was as important as having a Triple Fat Goose and a Starter hat to be in the upper echelon of public middle school society. It was the pinnacle of Sega�s Pax Romana. Sadly, like a VH1 �Behind the Music� episode, the downward spiral soon began.

After being released in Japan back in 1985, the Sega Master System was brought to the United States with no great success. Almost every one I talk to fails to remember it at all. �What�s this?� I remember asking when I opened a present from my Father. Being rather disappointed that all my friends had the NES with �Rob the Robot� and I got stuck with some crappy black brick, I barely played it. While everyone else was getting it on with Super Mario Brothers, Excite Bike, and Legend of Zelda, I was sulking in the shadows with the likes of Rambo and Alex Kidd. Let�s just say, as a venture console here, it was a flop. Third party games were flocking to the NES while Sega was producing only their own games.

With mediocre sales in Japan and U.S. markets, Nintendo was looking down its nose at Sega. European sales of the Master System, strange as that sounds, brought Sega enough money to give birth to the greatest of its consoles, the Genesis. I literally shredded the box opening it when it released in1989. My hands were shaking so bad I could barely open the packaging. In minutes I was punching and kicking my way through Altered Beast in search of those magic blue floating orb thingies filled with super steroids. After gaining 50 lbs of muscle and some mystical glow around my fists and feet with the first two juice injections, I found the third one and got taken to an awe-inspiring cut scene of my guy morphing into a werewolf (Hooowwwlll). That�s when I knew Nintendo�s days were numbered. Genesis games were averaging $50 at Toys�R�Us. I begged and pleaded to get Styrder, which was the most expensive game out at $69.99, and finally got it and Streets of Rage for Christmas that year. Phantasy Star, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pat Riley�s Basketball, Shinobi 3, Truxton, Shining Force, I could go on and on about all the awesome games that came out. Sega became number one here in the U.S with a battle cry of �Genesis does! Genesis does! You can�t do this on Nintendo,� and the �Sega!� Yell. Come on, who doesn�t remember those commercials? They were great. I was a little daunted about my Genesis� console supremacy when the Turbo Grafix 16 came out, but laughed when I saw how rushed and full of bugs it was. I continued in my reverie until Nintendo struck back with the Super NES in 1994. It came with a six button controller and was the first system to bring Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat to home gaming. Not to be outdone, Sega ported the games and made a redesigned controller housing six buttons, but this did little to bring back Sega�s dominance.

While everyone was playing their new Super Nintendo, I was thinking of what Sega was going to unleash next. Boy was I disappointed in the end, but I�ll get back to that ballyhoo later. I�m going to rewind, then fast-forward a little here. See, there was this thing called the �Gameboy,� and Nintendo was making a killing with it. There was no such thing as mobile gaming on your cell phone back in the late 80�s early 90�s. Cell phones then were owned by rich people who wore power suits and rode around in limos. So, if you didn�t have a �Gameboy,� you had Tiger handheld games if you wanted mobile games. Well, that and thumb wrestling. Sega thought since they were dominating the home gaming industry, and 99% of people already have thumbs, then they should try and dominate mobile handheld games too. In 1991, Sega unveils its own hand held. Sound the trumpets; here comes the �Game Gear.� Good idea, but if you weren�t near a wall socket with the AC adapter or just happen to be carrying a pound of AA batteries with you, you were sucking. They said it had a three-hour power capacity with new batteries, but I think it was more like 20 minutes. Energizer must have had stock in that thing, I swear. There weren�t many new or innovative games for it either. Most of them were just Genesis games formatted into 8-bit graphics. Basically, crappier looking games you�ve already played, on a battery-devouring black brick. I don�t know who devised the design, but it seems the black brick thing is here to stay. I was not impressed when I got this, but it was in color. That�s right color� oooh� ahhh. Next, we fast-forward four years to the Nomad. Of course Sega didn�t learn their lesson with the Game Gear. Instead of crappy looking 8-bit versions of Genesis games, they made a hand held that you could play all your Genesis games on. All right sweet, I can play my Genesis games on the bus�what the�man this thing eats more batteries than the Game Gear. I guess Duracell found out about Energizer�s stock in the Game Gear and wanted to get in on the action too. I didn�t own one, but my friend Kevin did. I�ll give you one guess on what it looked like. That�s right a black brick. How�d you guess?

Now, I am going to bring up the dumbest, bass-ackward, WTF time period for Sega or any video game company for that matter. I�m sure at the time it must have sounded like a great idea, but why would any company make itself a competitor? I guess when you�ve been backed into a corner you�ll do anything to fight your way out. They�d try one thing and when it didn�t get results right away they brought out something new. After the huge loss of revenue at the hands of the SNES, Sega tried to return to its powerhouse sales - and failed horribly . Let�s begin in 1992 shall we?

Genius idea #1: Sega CD. As the name implies, the games were on CD; hurray! Who�s laughing now Turbo Grafix 16? It was an add-on, or should I say large black brick looking tray thing, that the Genesis sat on top of and slid over to connect them via a side port. It costs a wallet-raping $299.99. The Sega CD had its own games. About the only one I liked was Lethal Enforcers, but it was really expensive too. You had to buy the gun(s) to really play the game. The Sega CD had a very limited run of games because Sega was really stingy with its development tools. With so few games and a huge price tag it flopped horribly, driving profit further into the red.

Genius idea #2: The 32X. It was another add-on that plugged into the cartridge slot of the Genesis, doubled the bit rate, and cost a measly $159.99. It had its own games with their own special cartridges. It did have a few cool games like Afterburner, Doom, and my personal favorite Space Harrier. Initially the Sega CD and 32X were supposed to be compatible, but that fell through. So, those of us who picked tobacco, mowed lawns, and bucked hay in the middle of summer to earn money so our parents would buy us this got screwed. The result of such a poor idea and implementation was mass revenue loss.

Genius idea #3: Enter the Dragon of the Sega Saturn. For only $399.99 you could own the newest installment of Sega consoles. If gamers and parents weren�t already confused and unsure in 1995, they were after Sega released the Saturn. �Which system does my kid own?� I heard in many game stores from parents not in the know. I never bought a Saturn because I was about to finish high school and go off to the Navy. Other than getting to play Panzer Dragoon at a friend�s, I didn�t get a lot of exposure with the system. The biggest problem besides all the different consoles Sega manufactured was an upstart in the gaming industry called Sony. That and the fact Sega still hadn�t learned to make it easier for developers to make games. Sony�s debut of the Playstation that year was the straw that broke the camel�s back. Sony quickly grabbed Sega�s reeling gamers who felt betrayed and used by the company. I was one of those gamers who cut my losses and turned my back on a franchise I had loved for years.

After almost four years of nothing, Sega announced the Dreamcast woud go on sale on 9/9/99. A lot of gamers felt the same as I after the CD/ 32X/ Saturn fiasco: �Why should we show you any brand loyalty after everything you put us through?� . Undaunted, with the backing of Microsoft and with their super-hyped �Next-Gen� system as a bayonet, Sega rallied for one last charge into the trenches of the console war. They had great first year release games like Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, House of the Dead 2, Power Stone, and Sega Bass Fishing. With that, Sega seemed on the rebound sporting the best controller ever made to date (It is the best and I don�t care what anyone else says on the matter), an innovative memory card which you could play mini games on, and online play forecasted in the �then� near future. My faith returned to the Sega name after a short stint with my new Dreamcast. I brought my Dreamcast and game collection with me when my ship was being deployed to the adulation of the rest of the crew. Not since Golden Eye for the N64 had there been gaming marathons onboard. Young, old, enlisted, and officers alike waited their turn to take on the current champ of Soul Calibur or in some 4-way Power Stone. I remember getting woken up many times by people asking to borrow it so they could try their luck at fishing or owning some zombies. When the PS2 dropped in 2000, I laughed at the release games and left EB Games without one. I did eventually buy one, but I used it as a DVD player for the longest time. In 2001, good games did start coming out for the PS2 and Sega was once again cast from the forefront. After two years of production Sega pulled the plug on the Dreamcast and sold off many of its franchises.

Sega started as a small business from which spawned a gaming giant. As with all great Empires, they eventually rot, crumble, and fall from their own ever-grasping hand. After the Genesis they tried to go in too many directions at once and spread their resources too thin. They knew they would have major competition from other game developers, but I bet when they started, they never imagined they would be their own worst enemy. If Sega had used the CD unit as a springboard until perfecting the Saturn, things might have gone differently. Alas, you can�t re-fight Sunday�s battle on Monday, for which I�m sure the then CEOs are still kicking themselves. I still have fond memories of my childhood and younger adult life playing some of the greatest games ever made. Sega had numerous wonderful ideas, but none ever came to profitable fruition.

Posted by Ed on June 20.

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