June 22, 2007 4:01 PM |
[‘A Game Collector’s Melancholy’ is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. This week we dig through old boxes in the corner of the garage and empty out the hall closet, searching for old Sega Genesis hardware.]
High Grade Multi Purpose Intelligent Terminal
I developed my enthusiasm for video games a little bit later than most. Although the arcade and microcomputer scene fired my imagination in the late seventies and early eighties, most of my young adult-hood was concerned with other things. I have no sugary nostalgia for Nintendo and Saturday morning cereal bowls. The Atari 2600 was something that other kids got for Christmas and were already bored with by the time I came to visit.
Instead, my first console was the Sega Genesis and it colored all of my perceptions of video games since. I was reading Count Zero (along with Mondo 2000 and every RE/Search book I could get my hands on) at the time and in my mind the Genesis’ black surface, studded with vents and ports, seemed to be the embodiment of Gibson’s Ono-Sendai deck. The Genesis hardware pointed the way toward a looming digital landscape, wild and dark in potential and made all the more dangerous by its affordability. Over time, this exhilarating rush of possibility wore off, muted by endlessly replicating cute mascot characters. As the game industry grew and Sega struggled to find its place in it, my initial feelings of hope and wonderment were underscored by a melancholy strain of defeat.
The Sega Genesis came to America in the fall of 1989. Leaping beyond the NES’ aging technology, the 16-bit Genesis was powered by the same 68000 chip that was found in many personal computers. Known as the MegaDrive in Japan and Europe, the Genesis would see a bewildering array of model revisions and accessories over its approximately ten-year life span.
Formed out of black plastic, the Genesis model 1 looked modern and high-tech, comfortably taking up residence next to the VCR and stereo equipment. It came with a headphone mini-jack and volume slider as well as coaxial RF and composite video outs. The machine was also fitted with an expansion slot and a 9-pin EXT port. In Japan, a modem was available that utilized the port but it was not a success and the hardware was soon revised, removing the EXT socket.
The Genesis model 2 was a complete redesign released in 1994. Sega discarded the headphone jack and volume slider and simplified the video outs to a single 8-pin DIN port that allowed for RF or composite video. Other changes included a new power adapter (its yellow tip connector will not fit the model 1) and a 6-button controller.
In 1997, well after the Genesis’ glory days had passed, Majesco manufactured a low-cost version called the Genesis 3. Radically redesigned to be slightly larger than a game cartridge, the Genesis 3 had the model 2’s DIN video output but lacked an expansion slot, making it incompatible with the Sega CD. A revised chip layout inside also made the unit incompatible with the 32X and Power Base Converter as well.
Any of the three Genesis models are very easy to find. Garage sales and thrift stores are good places to find them cheap (beware of optional installed Brown Recluse spiders!) while online retailers sell them for between $25 and $35.
Power Base Converter
First of many hardware add-ons that Sega produced for its Genesis console, the bulky Power Base Converter looked somewhat like an Aztec pyramid plugged into the top of the console and enabled Genesis owners to play most of Sega’s 8-bit Master System cartridges and chip cards. The device was really only useful for playing Phantasy Star which was commonly found in bargain bins at the same time. If your interest in Master System games extends beyond just Phantasy Star, it might be wiser to acquire a complete Master System because several games are incompatible with the Power Base Converter.
Look for the Power Base Converter online and pay about $25.
The Sega CD was a single-speed CD-ROM drive released for the Genesis in 1992 and represented the company’s first steps down a long road of hardware incoherency. Sega’s marketing promised a new dawn of lush graphics and deep game play, but the reality was pixilated, low frame-rate FMV and heaps of movie-licensed shovelware. The Sega CD was also incredibly expensive, costing more than the Genesis itself, and consumers were reluctant to invest.
Like the Genesis, the Sega CD was produced in two different versions. The first was designed to sit beneath the model 1 Genesis and had a motorized front-loading CD tray. The second version was redesigned to cut manufacturing costs and featured a top-loading drive sitting on a tray next to the model 2 Genesis. It could also fit a model 1 with the help of a snap on extender. Both versions had RCA audio outs and a small amount of on-board memory for saving games. Sega also produced a Memory Card that plugged into the Genesis’ cartridge slot.
Despite the Sega CD’s failure in the marketplace, a few worthwhile games were published for it. Working Designs released LUNAR: The Silver Star, LUNAR: Eternal Blue, Vay, and Popful Mail while Konami brought Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher to the Sega CD. Other titles to look for are Sonic CD, Shining Force CD, Dark Wizard, Robo Aleste, and Rise of the Dragon.
Working Sega CDs are somewhat difficult to find now. A model 2 is worth about $50 while the model 1 in good condition will set you back around $75.
The CD-X was a deluxe item that condensed a Genesis and a Sega CD into a single, portable unit. Enjoying a very short production run in 1994, the CD-X could operate as an audio CD player using 2 AA batteries but required a power adapter to operate as a game console.
The CD-X’s high retail price guaranteed limited sales making it somewhat difficult to find. Expect to pay over $100.
JVC X’Eye and Pioneer LaserActive
Sega maintained an irrational commitment to its Sega CD format over the years and even licensed the technology to other manufacturers in hopes of growing the market. JVC created a device called the X’Eye that combined a Genesis and Sega CD into one elegantly designed unit that had microphone inputs for karaoke and a MIDI port that allowed connection to a music keyboard.
Pioneer produced a hybrid LaserDisc player in 1993 called the LaserActive CLD-A100, which had an optional module available that allowed the machine to play Sega CDs and Genesis cartridges, along with a small selection of LaserDisc formatted games called Mega LDs. For the truly obsessed collector, a TurboGrafx module was also produced. The LaserActive along with its game modules was astronomically expensive, ensuring that very few of the units were sold.
Both the X’Eye and the LaserActive can be found online for around $100.
Released late in 1994, the 32X was a hardware add-on for the Genesis that would upgrade the aging console into a 32-bit machine. Considering that the Saturn would be released less than a year later, the 32X was dead at birth. By the end of 1995, Sega dropped the accessory and stopped making games for it. Not that anyone cared. In the history of consoles, even the most hangdog machine will have one or two games worth playing. The 32X is unique in that there is not even one game to recommend for it.
The 32X was drastically marked down at retail and now can found for about $25.
A hand-held version of the Genesis released in 1995, the Nomad was a good idea that did not work out so well in practice. With a cartridge sticking out of the top and a battery pack attached to the back, the Nomad was about the size of a shoebox. And while the 3-inch backlit LCD screen was luxurious, the Nomad’s voracious appetite for batteries would chew through six alkalines in less than an hour. An optional (and expensive) rechargeable battery pack did little to improve the machine’s portability.
The Nomad had six controller buttons and a port for a second controller. A DIN video output allowed the Nomad to connect to a television but the LCD screen remained active, making it somewhat distracting to play.
Nomads sell for around $75 but beware of scratched LCD screens.
The Neptune was a piece of one-off concept hardware created by Sega engineers that combined a Genesis and a 32X into one unit. Never seriously considered for production, the Neptune lingers in the minds of video game collectors like a mythical unicorn. Every few years rumors are passed about a forgotten warehouse somewhere on the Yokohama Bayfront, stacked high with dust covered boxes of Neptune systems waiting to fill orders that will never come.
The Ark of Dreams
The first time you see a Genesis “boat” it shakes you a little. Combine a Genesis Model 1 sitting on top of a Sega CD Model 2 with tray extender and top it off with a 32X unit. With a tangled nest of cords dangling off the back and three power adapters dragging behind it, the resulting mess is a shocking testament to failed dreams and misplaced loyalty.
For Genesis cables, adapters, and accessories look to Sega-Parts.com.
[Jeffrey Fleming is an East Bay writer. To read more, please visit Tales of the Future.]
Categories: Column: Game Collectors Melancholy