This is an entry about the distant past and possible near future, and a big, blue, four-letter word that meant the world to me as a kid.
(Those who know will smile, the rest just read on.)
It’s funny to think of it now, as someone who hasn’t owned a gaming console for more than 10 years, but I used to be a bit of a video game geek. I guess almost all of us guys were back in the day, and our generation was unique in that it grew up with the video game industry – from the primitive pixels of Pacman to the huge, high-resolution virtual worlds we have today.
One of the things that defined the early history of video games was that it was pretty much a rivalry between two big companies: Nintendo and Sega. Either you played Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers or Alex Kidd and Sonic the Hedgehog. Fate landed me on the Sega side, and there I stayed for a very long time as a fervently loyal, card-carrying patriot.
I still remember the day one of our family friends came over and gave me his Master System – Sega’s first console; a pretty slick-looking (even by today’s standards) black machine. It was the first time I’d even seen a video game – which sounds ludicrous now, a 7-year-old kid never having held a controller and decimated monsters & aliens – but of course, this was the late ’80s and even PCs hadn’t become a household item yet.
Immediately I was hooked. The first game I played was Astro Warrior, a space-based shoot ’em up which lives on after all these years in my e-mail address – Surely Revive Zanoni being a mysterious Jinglish phrase that flashes after you destroy the first boss, Zanoni. So much joy was to follow – I received WonderBoy for Easter and then for my birthday, Fantasy Zone and The Ninja. Despite being a stupidly cutesy & bizarre shooter that sold for a bargain basement price of $20, Fantasy Zone is still one of my favourite video games of all time – highly original, addictive, easy to pick up & play yet a son of a bitch to complete.
My cartridge collection grew and the spot where my Master System lived, under the TV, became a little shrine to video gameage. For my 11th birthday I got upgraded to the 16-bit MegaDrive, which instilled a love for Sonic the Hedgehog that became borderline obsessive. I didn’t actually think that much of Sonic for the Master System, preferring the depth of the WonderBoy or Alex Kidd series, but Sonic 2 for MegaDrive blew me away with its gorgeous graphics, catchy music and pinballesque speed. I’d become a full-fledged, blue-and-white Sega fanboy, who recognized that Sonic’s real arch nemesis was not Dr Robotnik but another silly fat bastard with a moustache – Mario, Nintendo’s mushroom-stomping mascot.
As any guy my age would remember, Sega vs Nintendo was a big thing back then. We fought over it regularly at school. In Grade 5, the topic became so frequent and heated that in exasperation, the teacher set up a formal debate one day so we’d at least be civil and productive. We were, but the division only deepened. I still remember the teams: Joseph Pavone, Daniel Raso and Daniel Angelini on the Nintendo side, and me and Hakon on the other (possibly we had a third person, but for the life of me I can’t remember who). There was no clear winner, and so the arguing raged on.
High school eventually severed my connection with Sega. Consoles evolved into 32-bit and even 64-bit powerhouses, but rather than upgrading me to a Sega Saturn, my dad opted for a new PC for Christmas. I didn’t have the money to buy one myself, and armed with a CD containing demos of Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, I began to look to this new Pentium III for my gaming outlet. More importantly, I just didn’t feel the need to play games that much anymore. As suddenly and fanatically as I’d got into video games, I kinda lost interest, even as most of my friends continued to buy up the latest & greatest consoles. I guess partly because of that, I still had regular access to games – all I had to do was walk down the street to their place to battle it out on the latest Street Fighter.
Then in 2001, during my last year of high school, came the incredible news that Sega would cease making consoles and become a platform-neutral, software-only company. Just like that, the Great War of the video game industry was over. Like the Great War itself, there are many (including me) who say that Sega lost not because Nintendo and Sony “beat” it, but because it haemorrhaged from within thanks to mind-blowingly bad business and marketing decisions, as well as an increasingly arrogant, out-of-touch management at its Japanese headquarters that, fatally, ignored the vital but culturally very different American market. While Sega’s hardware technology remained as competitive as ever, it had been financially outsmarted by Nintendo and out-hyped by newcomer Sony and its much-anticipated PlayStation.
Even so, the white-and-blue went out with pride. Sega’s final weapon in the Great War, the 128-bit Dreamcast, was a technological feat miles ahead of its time, pioneering online console gaming and wowing gamers with its extraordinary graphics processing capability. The Megadrive, the sturdy black stallion that Sega used to hurtle out of ’80s obscurity, all the way past Nintendo into early 90s dominance, has just recently made a popular resurgence as a handheld console.
So anyway – that’s kind of a mixed history of Sega and my own Rise & Fall of Video Game Fandom. What got me to take this nostalgic trip was actually some articles floating around on the Web that Sega might, just might, be planning to become a console manufacturer again. To be fair, Sega’s CEO has come out and categorically denied this, but still… the tech industry’s full of surprises and strategically, Sega might want to make their prodigal return to the console arena a secret – rumoured but unexpected; a joyous surprise for all us latent ex-fanboys who spent their pre-teen indoor hours on Floating Island rather than Marioland.
Whatever the case, the likelihood/wisdom of a new Sega machine is not really what I want to write about… pretty much I just wanted to let the idea of it bring back all those innocent, pixelated memories. It’s also made me realize that Sega’s been the only brand that’s ever inspired loyalty in me. I have no brand loyalty whatsoever – I mean, I like and admire certain brands; I think Pioneer make excellent audio equipment for example – but I don’t necessarily stick with them if there’s a better deal around. Yet it’s interesting that after so many years, I’d still buy a new Sega console – should one ever make it out of the rumour mill into reality – even though none of the others interest me, and even though I could live the rest of my life quite happily without saving any more robotized animals or damsels in distress.
So Sega, here’s one customer you’re guaranteed to nab if you get back into making those slick black machines. But whether you do or not, the key thing here was to say thanks for all the fun 🙂 I had a blast.
Surely Revive Zanoni!