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Knyte's VGM #1 - Two Forgotten Console Heroes

Turbografx 16 / PC Engine

On October 30, 1987 the first 16-Bit home videogame console was released in Japan by NEC. The PC Engine was clearly a "next generation" system with it's amazing specs, and wallet sized card games called "HuCards".

The PC Engine was immensely popular in Japan, outselling the Famicom by a significant margin. Two years after its Japanese introduction, NEC announced plans to bring the PC Engine overseas. NEC dubbed the US release Turbografx-16, and prepared to dominate both Nintendo and Sega as they did in Japan.

In 1988, NEC took gaming to the next level. They were the first to use the immense storage capability of Compact Disk. NEC's CD-ROM add-on device was called Turbografx CD or TG-CD (PC Engine CD in Japan). It retailed for an expensive $399.

The console was redesigned several times in Japan (for example the Coregrafx released in 1989 and Coregrafx II in 1991).

In 1989, NEC decided to redesign the console, and upgrade it with more RAM. This new design called Supergrafx was sold in Japan only, and created to compete against the threat of Nintendo's Super Famicom console. NEC stopped distributing Supergrafx when they saw their PC Engine was still selling well. Only 5 games were made to take advantage of the upgraded Supergrafx, and it played all PC Engine games as well as use the CD add-on.

So how is it that a company that produced such state of the art gaming go almost unnoticed by the American gamers? So many factors contributed, but most stems from NEC's lack of marketing. Perhaps their success in Japan made them think the system would sell itself. Whereas you could find commercials and advertisements for Sega and Nintendo, you could not find any for Turbografx.

NEC was also introducing games, titles, and characters that American players simply werenít familiar with, and many truly excellent games were either ignored outright, or subject to Nintendo's "exclusive licensing" policy that was in effect at the time. The gist of this policy was, if a game was already available on NES, then game companies could not produce any versions for any other game system. Although this policy was later ruled illegal, it hurt the TurboGrafx a lot in the early stages of its life.

Hudson Soft, the primary producer of PC Engine software, was also producing games for the huge NES market. Releasing a game on TurboGrafx exclusively (as they would have to do) would restrict its potential sales (as the NES had a greater installed user base).

Even the Turbografx CD with it's amazing potential was marketed poorly. Not only was this item priced at a ridiculous $399, but only two games were even released for it during its first six months of existence. Neither TG-CD game, "Fighting Street" nor "Monster Lair", came anywhere close to taking advantage of the systemís capabilities.

Soon after... word began to spread that the TG-16 was not a "true" 16-bit system, as its CPU was only 8-bit. (The system used two 8-bit processors).

These factors caused the Turbografx to have a small impact in the US. NEC seemed to only focus on their Japanese market. Japan saw many quality games, console redesigns, and accessories. This helped the system to remain successful in Japan for quite some time.

FACT: NEC used the "Hucard" technology to produce "System Cards" that boosted the consoles RAM thus providing better quality graphics. The Arcade Card Pro card in particular added 16 megabits of RAM, and was used to play arcade quality games such as Fatal Fury and other SNK hits. Sadly the card was never released outside of Japan. This would also explain why Supergrafx was discontinued.



SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku, translated as "New Japanese Project"), a small third party software developer for the Nintendo NES, decided to try their hand in the arcade market in 1989. It seemed like a bad business decision since gamers no longer flocked to arcades. Nonetheless SNK released the MVS (Multi-Video System). The MVS allowed the arcade operator to house many different video games in a single cabinet.

The MVS's strengths lay in the design of its hardware. Its brain was composed of a 16-bit microprocessor (68000) and an 8-bit microprocessor (Z80). They were plentiful, cheap, and quite powerful for the time. Using them kept production costs down and made coding much easier. Both the 68000 and the Z80 were in common use at the time (Sega's Genesis had the same CPU combination, for example).

The real magic of the MVS lay in its custom graphics chipset, and its ability to hold up to four games at once while switching between them at will. While this multi-game concept had been tried before (one example being Nintendo's Playchoice system), SNK's hardware was far superior to any of the multi-game systems currently available, and its vast ROM storage capacity allowed for detailed graphics.

SNK took another gamble and created a home version of the MVS in 1990. The NEO GEO AES was released at a high cost of $650, and came with either NAM-1975 or Baseball Stars Professional. Other game cartridges came at a cost as high as $200 apiece. These cartridges played the exact same software as it's MVS counterpart, but were quite expensive due to the game' high megabit count.

At first SNK marketed the Neo Geo falsely by calling it a "24-Bit System" (due to its combination of a 16-bit and 8-bit processor). After the initial advertising campaign, SNK decided not to advertise their home system anymore, since games could be seen in nearly every arcade (and kind of advertised themselves).

SNK's gamble of entering the arcade / home game markets eventually paid off. In 1992, an game called Street Fighter 2 brought gamers back to the arcades. SNK took advantage of this by releasing similar arcade games such as Fatal Fury, and Art of Fighting. The games were quite successful, and many more were spawned. Third Party developers such as Data East began also producing titles for the Neo Geo AES / MVS.

SNK also created an innovative accessory that would become quite popular later. The Neo Geo 'memory card' could hold 19-27 save game positions, and worked on both the home and arcade systems. So a gamer could save their place in the arcade and take it home, and vice versa.

The Neo Geo was a phenomenal machine, but the high price tag catered to the hardcore arcade lovers only. Nonetheless it was an amazing machine that stood the test of time. The MVS alone managed to last over eight years in the demanding arcade environment, and its hardware has out-lived every other arcade hardware. Walk into any arcade, and you're bound to see a Neo Geo MVS.

The last game for the Neo-Geo system, Samurai Spirits Zero Special, was released on October 19, 2004. SNK ceased to manufacture home consoles by the end of 1997, but software for both formats and arcade hardware was produced for many years after. Measured from the introduction of the arcade hardware in 1990 to the release of the last home cartridge in 2004, the Neo-Geo's 14-year span of support from its manufacturer makes it the longest-lived arcade system, significantly longer-lived than either the Sega Naomi or the Capcom Play System 2.

FACT: "330 Meg Pro-Gear Spec" always seemed to appear in Neo Geo game intros, and was the ROM addressing technology of the Neo Geo. Truth is that the machine has no such limit. Back in 1990, SNK had to give a certain Megabit count as their maximum, and so 330 was used. However, Neo Geo titles eventually surpassed this 330 megabit standard. For example the game "King of Fighters 2001" was 892 megabits in size. Games over 100 megabits more this this limit, followed this screen by displaying an animation touting "The 100 Mega Shock". The original ROM size spec was later enhanced on cartridges with bank switching memory technology, increasing the maximum cartridge size to around 1 gigabit. These new cartridges also caused the system to display "GIGA POWER" upon startup, indicating this enhancement.

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About Knyteone of us since 5:48 PM on 07.18.2007

Knyte has been playing video games, since the age of 6 when he starting rocking on the Famous Commodore 64 & Mattel Intellivision. Since then, he has played and collected everything under the sun, or at least, what he can get his grubby little hands on.

He has a soft spot in his heart for all the underdog systems. But, that's probably because he always owned them, instead of the mainstream ones.

When all his friends had Atari 2600s, his parents bought him an Intellivision.
When all his friends had Nintendo Entertainment Systems, he had a Sega Master System.
When all his firends had Sega Genesis, he had a Turbo Grafx 16.
When all his friends had Playstations, he had an Amiga CD32.

See a pattern?

Now, he enjoys sharing his plethora of knowledge in the history of videogames, by opening the doors to "Knyte's Video Game Museum." So welcome, and enjoy your stay.

Xbox LIVE:TheKnyte


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