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.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Graphics Showdown: Turbografx vs. Mega Drive

Let me just preface this article stating that I love the Mega Drive dearly and I do not mean it nor its legions of fans any disrespect by pointing out the obvious.

When you spend as much time looking through gameplay footage and screenshots for your reviews as me though you tend to notice things every now and then.  

One of those things I noticed was that an awful lot of Mega Drive games made their way onto the PC Engine and Turbografx and vice versa and I was interested in seeing what would be the more detailed, colourful port. This obviously doesn't take into account things like frame rate or layers of parallax. This is just a comparison in detail and colour. Also note that for all screenshot comparisons PC Engine is always on the left while Mega Drive is always on the right.

Afterburner 2 

 A staple in Sega's line up since its release Afterburner 2 should be better on the Mega Drive. You'd think. However, looking at these two shots here you notice that a horizon has been forsaken for floating status displays. Colours are also richer on PC Engine.

As for the resolution. I will ask you to bear in mind that if you were to hook either console up to a television and play them the difference would be negligible. I am chalking this one up for the PC Engine.

Air Buster

The two shots here for this great little shooter tell a couple of things. The first thing to do is notice that the buildings are larger on the Mega Drive. I quite like the effect. The buildings in the PC Engine are smaller and the horizon is tighter though. I feel that the effect is pulled off better on PC Engine. Now, look at the two bosses. The shading and colouring on the boss is much richer and defined on the PC Engine. It's like something out of a Super Nintendo game.

This one is a no-brainer. Not only are things more detailed on the PC Engine but colours are richer. They are more vibrant on the Mega Drive but it's to the point of being garish.

Altered Beast

If you ever wanted something to make you say: "What the hell happened?" over then look no further than Altered Beast on the Mega Drive. Comparing the two shots you not only see that the background is more detailed, more vibrant and with richer colour but the props are also packed with detail too. Compare the two buildings: Although the Mega Drive features a relief on the temple it draws your eye much more on PC Engine. Also, the character models are richer and more defined on the PC Engine. There is also texture to the ground where it is missing in the Mega Drive port.

Here it is immediately obvious that the temple is much more detailed in the PC Engine port than the Mega Drive. Not only is the detail bigger and grander but it is much more eye catching. For the sake of comparison here is the same shot from the arcade game: 

Now, look at the texture of the ground, enemy design, boss design, detail in the sky gradient, the detail in the temple. The PC Engine version is much more faithful. How could this have happened? It was released only a few months later on comparably weaker hardware but still manages to look and play better than it does on Mega Drive.


Cadash is an interesting port story. For some reason it was released faithfully on PC Engine and then Mega Drive game ended up getting a darker colour pallet. That is to say that it looks nothing like the arcade game. It doesn't look bad but the PC Engine immediately pulls in front by being more faithful.

Even with the more lighthearted art style the detail in the bricks, background elements, enemies and HUD all favour the PC Engine. It's easy to chalk this one up for NEC's console.

Devil's Crush (Dragon's Fury on Mega Drive)

In my opinion this is one of the best games ever made. It's a fast paced supernatural themed pinball game and it's exciting, adrenalin pumping and has an amazing soundtrack. It was released by Tengen (technically Atari) on the Mega Drive in North America and Europe and NEC themselves on PC Engine and Turbografx.

It's a beautiful game in any form for various reasons but if you look at them it is plainly obvious which looks better. The PC Engine. The Mega Drive port just looks like someone rolled a flash bang grenade into proceedings. It is way too bright.

The perspective is also slightly different on the Mega Drive and if someone was to ask me what looks more like I was leaning over a pinball table from hell it'd be the PC Engine port. Cleaner, more detailed. Overall, a  better looking game.

Dragon Slayer

It might seem immediately obvious which looks better. The one that doesn't look like you're looking at the game through a picture frame, right? Well, look a little deeper. Colours are much better on PC Engine however it's kind of hard to get past the fact that everything is tiny. The Mega Drive is looking like it's in front here.

Yep, I am happy giving this one to Mega Drive.


A very unique game Exile as seen here plainly looks better on PC Engine. There is no mistaking the richly coloured sand, the detailed character sprites, the subdued HUD versus the garish one on the Mega Drive.

Interior areas of the game are harder to judge. Character sprites and environments are richer and more colourful on PC Engine but look slightly more defined on Mega Drive. Without a clear winner I would be happy to call this one a tie.

Bomberman 94' (Mega Bomberman) 

Yes, that is a legitimate, honest to god PC Engine game. That is not a Super Nintendo game you're looking at on the left. There's no point in even analysing this as it is abundantly clear to even the untrained eye what the winner is here. Even the little Bomberman sprite in the HUD looks better on PC Engine.

What happened during the development of Mega Bomberman that made it look so washed out and ugly? It's like Hudson used 5 colours total to make Mega Bomberman while Bomberman 94' on PC Engine looks like something you'd see in a late generation Super Nintendo game. PC Engine is the clear winner here.


It's Outrun. How could Outrun look better on PC Engine when it is one of Sega's most enduring franchises? Are you looking at these screenshots? This is the same point in the game on both. Rich, vibrant colour, detailed lettering on "START", more defined environmental objects. The Mega Drive has a slightly bigger car and more sprites on screen but that's about it.

Sega also did that awful grain thing in the Mega Drive port again. The horizon is better on PC Engine, the clouds look better, the sky is better - basically everything is superior on PC Engine.

Rastan Saga 2 

To begin with; does this remind anyone else of Gods by the Bitmap Brothers? Anyway. There is much more detail packed into the PC Engine shot than in the Mega Drive shot. The character model stands out a little too much on PC Engine but look at the trees, the bricks, the mountains, the sky is brighter.

There is much more detail in the PC Engine game and with the PC Engine's now standard richer colour it ends up looking better and more catching.

Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition 

I bet you didn't know that Street Fighter 2 got ported to PC Engine. Well, you should have just assumed seeing as Capcom have a history of porting to every single working piece of electronics imaginable. Let's look at these shots. More detailed sky,water and bricks. Colour is richer and more detailed. The Mega Drive shot just looks washed out.

Here we are in Vegas. Home of sumo and boxers alike it seems. This one is easy if you look at the colour. Capcom did a better job of giving everything more natural colour while in the Mega Drive port things seem really garish in some places and washed out in others. 

For comparisons sake this is the same level being played on the SNES port of the game which is generally considered to be the best looking and most arcade faithful port. Look at how the PC Engine and SNES ports are almost indistinguishable. Just think about that. They're almost indistinguishable. PC Engine wins.


They're basically the same, aren't they? That's the conclusion I came to as well. Look, this is kind of a redundant addition to be honest because this port of Turrican is notorious for its poor music and the fact that Accolade used barely 16 colours to make this. The PC Engine is capable of displaying 400 colours on screen at once for reference.

If I was going to mention anything it'd be that the colour of the sky is more faithful in the PC Engine port of the game. Other than that...hey, it's Turrican.

Valis 3 

Valis 3 is another one of my favourite games and when it comes to whether it looks better on PC Engine or Mega Drive you will have trouble finding differences between the two ports (apart from Godzilla - look at the PC Engine screenshot carefully). This is one that comes down solely to personal preference. 

Basically look at the colour. Do you like darker colour as opposed to the lighter colours in the Mega Drive port of the game? That will be the deciding factor.


So, what have we learned through this comparison. Well, for one thing generally the PC Engine produced better looking ports when compared directly to the Mega Drive. We didn't even look at the quality of the graphics in games that were exclusive to the PC Engine and Turbografx as well. That's for another article though.

This doesn't mean the games play better though. Some people don't like the Turbografx and PC Engine controller. If they don't then they will naturally like the Mega Drive port better regardless of graphics. To that I say good, that is how it should be. You should be enjoying games based on the way you like to play them. Graphics are great but when good graphics come at the expense of quality gameplay that is inexcusable.

I love the Turbografx and PC Engine and have played all of these games. They all look, sound and play really well. That's why I like to do these showdowns. It gives me a chance to really scrutinise great games and see which ones edge out just that little bit to be the better port. That's the reason for this article and I hope you enjoyed it.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Waste Time With Classic Web Content

Here is a selection of classic Sega web content for you to peruse if you've got some time to kill. It's interesting (and occasionally really funny) to look back at all of this.

The archived version of Sega's site only goes back to the winter of 1996 (December 16 to be exact) and here was the logo they were using at the time. I love the quaint 3D lettering.

I wonder if J. Davis of Georgia ever got his Sega Saturn system? Or if this was one of those contests where you didn't actually get anything in the mail after months of waiting.

Fancy a shiny new NiGHTS into Dreams 
desktop theme courtesy of Sega? Click this
link to make all your 256 colour dreams come true: NiGHTS into Dreams theme


How about the NiGHTS into Dreams soundtrack as a digital download? And some free sample tracks to spur your interest? Here's a high definition rendition of the main theme for you.

While you're playing these awesome games why not
get the latest Netscape Navigator, right guys?!

If you have a browser that supports 
Shockwave (damn, I feel old) then you can
play some good old fashioned games in the Rec Room. What better way to kill some time than playing a 100x100 Shockwave version of NiGHTS into Dreams? 


As 1997 rolled around Sega's home on the
web underwent a little bit of a redesign.
Unfortunately a lot of links are broken on this
but the majority of images still load. 
How about some neat wallpapers that will
look really grainy and stretched out on your 

How do you feel about being scolded by Sarah Bryant while she tries to sell you
Fighters Megamix? Click on this 
link to hear it. Apparently this was run
as a commercial on the radio in the US
as well as being a curiosity to listen to
on the web. I can imagine back then it
took a couple of minutes to load this.

It looks like Sega got around to adding some new games around 1997. This one for Last Bronx is laughably bad. Check it out here.


It's April of 1997. You wake up, perhaps a bit
stiff from laying in a weird position. It's Sunday so you've decided to stay in and play some Sega Saturn because frankly; you've been behind on your gaming. Well, you sit down at your PC first to check your emails and after waiting five minutes for the internet to connect you finish replying to your email and then decide to check the news on to 
see if any new great games are coming out soon. Then you see it: a competition to win Die Hard Arcade. It's not the competition to excites you though, it's not that.
It's the fact that finally someone has finally given you the opportunity to share your love of "flight simlators" with someone.  

 Sega apparently used to run a "service" called "Segagrams" which we would now simply  
call an e-card. Remember those things? Terrible HTML laden e-mails that took forever to open and then sang Happy Birthday to you in a chipmunk  voice while a GIF of monkeys humping looped endlessly on the screen? Actually that sounds awesome. 

So, that's just a taste of what classic Sega sites have in store for you. I suggest you check it out because like Segagrams, there is always something cheesy waiting around the corner.