Wednesday, 19 June 2013

In Defense of the Sega 32X

Of all of the maligned, mistreated and irrationally hated “mistakes” in gaming’s rich and varied history the Sega 32X seems to attract some of the more ignorant vitriol I have seen.
Often viewed as nothing more than an expensive, pointless mistake contemporary commentary tends to ignore facts in favour of popular opinion in regards to the add-on.  
I will admit to failures on Sega’s part; mismanagement at Sega of America and Japan at the time was rife and many high profile games like Cosmic Carnage were rushed to release to meet a tight launch deadline. These aforementioned issues are facts that evidence supports. This article exists to show you the side of the 32X that no one ever showed you; that the 32X is more than just a port of Doom with a poor soundtrack. 

The Hardware
The 32X add on.
The hardware is difficult for me to comment on while also making this article accessible to those with limited knowledge of the innards of a typical video game console.
The best way for me to demonstrate is to show you a short video showing you how flat shaded (just a solid colour) polygons (the tiny triangles used to make up 3D models in a game), Gourard shaded (a process of shading flat shaded polygons to give them the illusion of depth and texture) and texture mapped polygons (polygons with small pictures applied to them to give them texture) look on the 32X.

A detailed description of everything featured in the tech demo

The 32X actually has the capacity to apply cleaner, more defined textures than the Playstation and surprisingly even the Sega Saturn as demonstrated in the video and screenshots. It is a capable polygon pusher as well with it being capable of displaying 50,000 polygons at a time (to put this in perspective the Playstation was capable of displaying 180,000 texture mapped polygons per second.) Basically, the higher the polygon count the rounder and more detailed things look.

Fight for Life on Atari Jaguar.
A more accurate comparison between consoles would be to compare the 32X with the Atari Jaguar. Without giving you a history lesson the Jaguar it was the closest competitor to the 32X in terms of processing power. The developers of Fight for Life; one of the most technologically advanced games on the Jaguar stated that the game ran between 30-40,000 polygons per second which is shy of the 32X operating maximum of 50,000.
Now you have grounding in what the 32X is capable of we will move onto examining some of the star games on the 32X and why they deserve more appreciation.

The Games

Instead of reviewing the following games we are going to look at why they are impressive titles and what makes them stand out as technical showpieces or simply as genuinely accomplished pieces of software.

Virtua Racing Deluxe

Released early in the life of the 32X the port of Virtua Racing to the unit showed how powerful it is. Offering near arcade perfect graphics, enhanced sound and eclipsing anything available on rival systems like Stunt Race FX. Stunt Race FX is often erroneously quoted as being technically on par with Virtua Racing Deluxe on the 32X.Stunt Race FX uses the Super FX 2 chip from Nintendo to provide polygonal graphics and it barely runs. The frame rate is almost unplayably low, the screen size is microscopic while Virtua Racing Deluxe runs in 320x240 resolution (the same as most Saturn and PlayStation games) and its graphics are undefined and ugly.

A closer comparison would be to Checkered Flag on the Atari Jaguar. While the colours are bold and objects are well defined the whole game lacks detail and is clearly lower polygon than Virtua Racing Deluxe. The frame rate is also similar to Stunt Race FX’s in that it’s almost unplayable


The fact that Virtua Racing Deluxe eclipses its two closest competitors at the time demonstrates its power early however there is more to come.

Virtua Fighter

Released later than the Saturn port of Virtua Fighter it is almost identical to its counterpart in every respect. The graphics are a little rougher around the edges as stated in most reviews at the time however it is almost flawless in its stylised presentation as an analog to the arcade game that people would want to be taking home with them on their cartridge.
Originally delayed so Sega could put polish to it and with journalists wondering whether it had actually be canceled as the 32X began to flail in the crowded gaming market it finally burst onto the scene in late 1995 and although it didn't save the 32X it showed how much power it had left to show.

Virtua Fighter on 32X.
Virtua Fighter on Saturn
The game runs at a high frame rate as well making it pleasurable to play. The sound is fantastic with voice samples being clear and displaying only minimal compression distortion. Virtua Fighter 32X was incredibly well received and is a stand out game in the library.


When the 32X add-on was still being referred to as the Sega "Mars" internally Sega approached id Software and propositioned them to develop a port of their smash hit DOS game Doom for the new hardware. John Carmack (the creator of Doom) was involved in the transfer and Sega was anticipating it to be a killer app for the 32X. They were willing to let id do whatever they wanted with the port anticipating if Nintendo attracted a port to the SNES they would repeat their censorship scandal that plagued the port of Wolfenstein 3D to their console and they would have the more complete, faithful port.
Contemporarily the port if Doom on the 32X is seen a miserable failure that looks and sounds terrible often drawing ridiculous comparisons with the woeful SNES port by Williams. I am going to address some common criticisms of Doom 32X

  •      The soundtrack is bad.
This is fair.  John Carmack has even stated he doesn’t like the soundtrack in the 32X port of Doom. However, how does this make it a bad game? Does the sound somehow vibrate the controller out of your hand
  • The graphics are low resolution
This is hardly a valid criticism to level at the port when you try to compare the SNES version favourably against other ports. 

You can see the resolution is much lower on SNES. Also. unlike the
SNES version you can actually see things in the distance in the 32X
  •  The port is missing levels from the PC original
Every port suffered from cuts in order to fit on a cartridge. The 32X port of Doom uses the original engine and assets from the PC game just at a lower colour depth which took up more space on the cartridge meaning Episode 3 had to unfortunately be cut.
  •      The port lacks monster infighting (monsters attacking each other) because of the use of only front facing sprites, the levels are simpler, the game lacks weapons and enemies from the PC original. 
Again – every port suffered cuts. The SNES game doesn’t even use the Doom engine. It uses some stripped down mini engine that can’t even render floors and ceilings. The levels are further simplified in theme, the controls are slow and clunky and the frame rate is almost unplayably low. 
Textures are big and defined in the 32X port.
No floors or ceilings, terrible view distance and poor frame rate in the SNES port.

So, the next time someone criticises Doom on the 32X and casually references SNES Doom as a superior port I have the perfect rebuttal for you: “At least you can actually play 32X Doom.”

Metal Head 

On a platform derided for its lack of quality games we've certainly seen great variety in the games we have already looked at; Racing, Fighting, First person shooting. Now, we move on to Mecha.
Metal Head is an impressive title on the 32X for a few different reasons. To begin with it's a fully textured, free roaming (as in you're not constrained to corridor crawling) mech shooter that basically boils down to a game of "shoot the things."
It's a fun title though and the brainless action contained therein is nice if you want to unwind with something simple. It's also quite forward thinking as it utilises a simple upgrade system for your mech in between missions that would be endlessly elaborated on in future mech games.

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