Feb 3rd, 2015


While the console wars of specs is still alive and well today, the original war started when Sega released the Sega Genesis to combat Nintendo’s total domination of the home console market with the NES. Vicious words were slung on playgrounds about which versions of games were better and many lines were drawn where friendship ended based on the console you supported. Despite the vicious fanbase of the Genesis defending it as the superior console, the SNES dominated 16-bit gameplay the same way the NES dominated 8-bit gameplay.

In a recent Polygon interview, the Genesis’ creator, Masami Ishikawa discusses the challenges of putting a new system together, as well as the influences from technology that was already available at the time. Ishikawa mentions that the Super Famicom, which is what the SNES was called in Japan, was expected to have a certain amount of RAM and that SEGA wanted to make sure their system could beat those specs, so he had to modify his original design. Ishikawa says that led him to a better understanding of open design, as he ran into problems trying to modify his original design.

There was a rumor that Nintendo was going to release the Super Famicom, so towards the end of the design process my manager asked me to consider doubling the graphic memory capacity to dramatically improve the console’s performance. I had to redesign the way timing worked — the memory access 
cycle — and minimize the additional 
circuit size and number of IC pins needed.

I managed to increase the graphic memory capacity, but it resulted in only a very incremental performance improvement, for example, increasing the number of display characters. This was when I hit a brick wall. I learned the painful lesson that designers need to imagine all the eventualities that may appear later in a process, and so must design in a way that makes it easy to change the design later.

Despite Ishikawa’s improvements for the architecture in the Genesis, the SNES went on to dominate the market and its successor, the N64 succeeded where the Dreamcast failed. Despite that, this is an interesting look at the past history of a company who had closely competed with Nintendo in terms of hardware.

Now, Sega is a software company that still seems to be struggling, despite the popularity of their Sonic character. Most recently, Sega announced 300 job cuts and an intention to focus on PC and mobile games, rather than the console market.

local_offer    Nintendo  SEGA  sega genesis  SNES  wii u