32X

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Fast Facts on the Sega 32X

Made by: Sega
Variants: None
{{ #if: |Add-Ons: None
|}} Processor: 2xHitachi SH-2 (SH7095)
Released in US: November 1994
Released in EU: November 14 1994
Released in JP: December 3 1994

The 32X is a 32-bit based add-on for the Mega Drive, created and distributed by Sega. In Japan, it was distributed under the name Sega Super 32X. In North America, its name was the Sega Genesis 32X. In Europe, Australia, and other countries that use PAL, it was called the Sega Mega Drive 32X.

Initially released in late 1994, the 32X was designed to extend the capabilities of the Mega Drive and to give Sega a head-start over Nintendo's SNES system in terms of technical advantages, but it quickly became apparent that it was too late. It was overpriced and under-supported by developers and licensees, and was quickly overshadowed by Sega's next console, the Sega Saturn. As the name suggests, the Sega 32X's selling point it's 32-bit processor, setting it apart from the "16-bit" consoles of the time.

As the 32X is an add-on, it can only be used in conjunction with a Model 1 or Model 2 Mega Drive. it is plugged in where the cartridge bay is and cannot work by itself. Besides playing its own cartridges, it also acts as a passthrough for Mega Drive games meaning unlike the Power Base Converter, it is a permanent attachment. The 32X came with ten coupons and several spacers, so it would work with all versions of the Mega Drive. By the end of its lifespan, there were 34 games released for the 32X, six of which are enhanced versions of Sega Mega CD games which also require a Sega Mega CD in order to be played . All 32X consoles have regional lockout chips, meaning that 32X games from one region cannot be played on 32X consoles from a different one without modifications.

Enhancements

The 32X brought several large upgrades to the Mega Drive, including being able to display more colors on-screen (32768 at once, which was an important requirement for games featuring full-motion video and was a common complaint with the Sega Mega CD), enhanced scaling and rotation, and additional 3D graphics capabilities provided by its two Hitachi 32-bit RISC processors. Unlike contrary belief, all 3D rendering and graphics are done by one of the two 32-bit CPUs, as the 32X's graphics hardware consists of a simple double frame buffer. On top of the updated graphics capabilities, the 32X also brought with it multiple PWM channels for richer music.

History

With the release of the Super Famicom in Japan and the Super NES in North America, Sega needed to jump ahead in the console market in order to catch up to Nintendo in the technological department. The Sega Mega CD hadn't worked as well as Sega wanted it to.On January 8, 1994, Hayao Nakayama, then CEO of Sega, ordered his company to make a 32-bit cartridge based console that would be in stores by Christmas 1994. This would at first be referred to under the codename "Project Jupiter". However, during development it soon became clear that CD technology was the way forward, and the project was turned into the Sega Saturn.

Initial plans were drawn up to produce a new Sega Mega Drive with more colors and a 32-bit processor. Miller thought that an add-on to the Mega Drive would be a better idea, because he felt that gamers would not buy another console between the Mega Drive and Sega Saturn. This project was codenamed Project Mars, with Sega of America at the helm, and was soon officially titled the "Sega 32X". The 32X was primarily envisioned as a system which would extend the life of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and provide revenue while the installed userbase of the Sega Saturn slowly grew.

The video-gamer public first got a glimpse at the Summer 1994 CES in Chicago, Illinois. The console was unmasked as the 32X, with a price projection of $170, at a gamers' day, held by Sega of America on September 1994. It was released in mid-November 1994 in North America for $150, the same month that the Sega Saturn was released in Japan. It was then released in Japan in December 1994, and Europe in January 1995 for £150.Only 500,000 consoles had been produced for North American distribution, yet orders were in the millions.

Games had been rushed for the system in order to be shipped for the Christmas season and they came with errors in programming. Some ports were found to be incomplete, which is evident in Doom as many levels are missing and musical scores are scarce. Complaints trickled in from consumers claiming that their 32X was not working with their Mega Drive/Genesis or television, forcing Sega to give away adapters.

In Japan, the 32X was largely ignored, much like the Mega Drive and Mega CD before it. Consumers saw no reason to back the 32X as the Sega Saturn had already been released, and Sega of Japan abandoned it within a year. The 32X was also released in Brazil and suffered a similar fate to its North American and European counterparts.

To make matters worse six games were released under the "Sega CD 32X" label, making use of both the Sega Mega CD and 32X add-ons so that they could benefit from CD quality audio and increased graphical capabilities. With all these Sega consoles on the market (Mega Drive, Mega CD, 32X, Mega CD 32X, Sega Saturn, Game Gear and even the Master System) customers were often left confused as to which software would work with which machine/add-on.

By mid-1995 Sega executives realized their blunder and it was too late. Developers and licensees had abandoned this console in favor of what they perceived to be a true 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn. Even though the 32X add-on was a 32-bit system, the games weren't taking the full advantages of system's capabilities. Many games were 2D, rushed or slightly upgraded Mega Drive/Genesis titles. Customers perceived the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation as the true next-generation consoles, and abandoned the 32X as doubts had arisen of Sega's promise to support it. Others chose to skip the 32X completely, citing its expensive price. Store shelves became littered with unwanted Sega 32X systems, and prices for a new system dropped as low as $19.95 in the US. Sega planned a console named the Sega Neptune, which would have been a Mega Drive and 32X in one. However, by the time a prototype was developed, the Sega Saturn was due for release in the west, and it was presumed unprofitable.

The 32X ceased production by 1996 worldwide. The 32X badly damaged Sega's reputation, which was further tarnished when the Sega Saturn failed to compete with the Sony PlayStation/Nintendo 64 outside of Japan. It is often said Sega never truely recovered, and hence ultimately left the console business altogether. The Sega 32X fiasco is now considered one of the most badly planned console releases of all time.

Technical specifications

  • Processor: Twin Hitachi SH-2 (SH7095) 32-bit RISC processors with a clock speed of 23 MHZ, 40 MIPS
  • Co-processors: Overlay Mega Drive Motorola 68000, Zilog Z80, Genesis 32X VDP
  • Video: 320x224/320x240 double buffered framebuffer with three modes:
    • 8bpp "packed pixel" mode: 256 simultaneous colors on screen; each pixel is an index into CRAM (can use full screen)
    • 16bpp "run length" mode: 256 simultaneous colors on screen; each pixel is both a number of pixels to display and the index of CRAM (limits screen size)
    • 16bpp "direct color" mode: 32,768 simultaneous colors on screen; each pixel is the color value (limits screen size)
256KB VRAM ("DRAM") split into two 128KB segments for each framebuffer. A priority system allows partial overlaying of Mega Drive/Mega CD graphics.
  • Memory: 512k (4 MBit) additional RAM to Mega Drive/Sega Mega-CD memory
  • Audio: Stereo PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) mixing with Mega Drive sound; additional 2 channels
  • I/O: Same as Mega Drive; 32X upgradable; can upgrade the 32X
  • Storage: CD-ROM if you have a SegaMega-CD; speed same as Sega Mega-CD compatible with audio CD, CD&G, SegaCD and JVC WonderMega
  • Cartridge: compatible with all Mega Drive models, JVC Wondermega can store save game/score information.