Those of you who grew up playing the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis may remember how fierce the competition was between the two during the 16-bit era. While Sega aren’t part of the hardware market anymore, they have plenty to look back to in celebration of their 30th anniversary. Famitsu joined in on the celebration in a fairly recent interview with Masami Ishikawa, known for designing the Sega Genesis and earlier consoles.
Masami Ishikawa serves in a managerial position at Sega’s research and development division. He entered the company in 1979, prior to their entry into the home console market in 1982, then began his work on hardware starting with the SG-1000 II (pictured above), followed by the Sega Mark III and the Master System.
Upon the completion of developing the Master System, Sega appointed him to work on the company’s first 16-bit console, the Sega Genesis.
“Yes, the designs for the graphics parts had already begun, and we had an issue regarding the cost, as it was quite a late stage when he had decided on the main CPU would be the 68000 (Motorola 68000 processor),” Ishikawa reminisces. “The reason we used two CPUs was because we believed that the load would be too heavy, had we used one to handle both sound and visuals. Due to that reason, we used the Z-80 as a sub-CPU to handle the sound, which reduced the load on the main CPU while maintaining compatibility.
“What became the base of the board was the one that was already being used for arcades, with the addition of the 68000 and Z-80 on the System 16. There was a time when it was said to make it 16-bit if we wanted to take a big step for home consoles,” says Ishikawa.
A couple years after the release of the Sega Genesis, the company had released a CD-ROM drive add-on device called the Sega CD, which was mainly created as a way to expand the size of games using discs.
“Originally, it wasn’t designed to play CD-ROMs,” Ishikawa shares. “Even so, the main focus was to increase its capacity. The Sega CD had the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) implemented into it, which provided operational processing abilities of scaling graphics. The functional inspections needed a huge lapping board, so moving it was always troublesome.
He continues, “We also had trouble with the random access. On top of having games being interrupted when the reading was slow, the capacity of data the RAM cartridge could read at once was low. It came to a point where we had to focus on increasing the speed of the random access. We went through some significant hurdles just to increase its performance, but thanks to having been able to increase the data capacity, we were able to create a nice RPG and were also able to expand our games.”
Sega then released the Sega 32X shortly after in 1994. It was made to be another add-on upgrade to the Sega Genesis; however, it did not sell as well as they had hoped, as it was around that time that the consumers were anticipating the succeeding console, Sega Saturn, along with Sony’s PlayStation. According to Ishikawa, it didn’t perform as well as they had expected, but it was a nice learning lesson during the time where they had began thinking in terms of polygons.
Famitsu concludes the interview by asking Ishikawa what kind of business he’s been involved in lately.
“I’m currently doing my best at Sega’s N Pro research and development section, where we are currently working on arcade games and new products. The ‘N’ stands for ‘New’ and ‘Next’ so I’d like to be able to deliver some news regarding the Sega Genesis in the near future.”