As the video game industry gets older, books are starting be written about bygone console generations that document the history of the video game industry. One I recently finished is Console Wars by Blake J. Harris. It documents in detail what went on behind the scenes at Sega in their quest to slay Nintendo--and also how Nintendo reacted to Sega's challenge to their throne.
Those of us who grew up on the #Atari2600 and the #NES, and then later on as teens in the early '90s, we watched Nintendo and Sega battle it out in arguably the most brutal console war the video game industry has ever seen. Sonic vs. Mario was on the lips of every kid who had even a remote interest in video games.
Here's a little taste of how the Super Nintendo/Genesis console war shook out that many may not be aware of.
1. Sega And Nintendo Really, Really Disliked Each Other
Sega of America and Nintendo of America sincerely detested each other. It wasn’t a marketing shtick, and it wasn't just the fans that would argue about who was better. Sega of America and Nintendo of America’s rivalry was deep and bitter.
The animosity ran all the way up the executive level on both sides, sometimes resulting in name-calling and hostile shouting matches when executives from the two were in the same building. Nintendo Of America's president, Minoru Arakawa, refused to meet with Sega Of America's president Tom Kalinske in spite of several invitations from Kalinske during the '90s.
2. Sega of America's Biggest Enemy Was Sega of Japan
Even given how bitter the animosity between Nintendo and Sega was, Sega of America’s most dangerous enemy wasn’t Nintendo. It was Sega of Japan, who were more interested in not being outdone by their American counterparts in Sega of America than they were in defeating Nintendo. It was Sega’s undoing and led to their eventual exit from being a console manufacturer.
The #32X and #SegaCD never would have happened in America if Sega of Japan hadn’t stubbornly insisted on it. Sega of America was adamantly against it and were constantly trying to warn SOJ about Sony and the danger they posed with their upcoming PlayStation console.
3. Sega Knew Their "Blast Processing" Ad Campaign Was Phony
Sega’s “Blast Processing” ad campaign against Nintendo was a direct reaction to Nintendo featuring and marketing their Super Nintendo Mode 7 technology in games like Super Mario Kart and F-Zero. Mode 7 allowed the Super Nintendo to play games in 3D, albeit crudely by today's standards.
Sega closely monitored everything Nintendo said and did. When they realized they didn’t have anything like Mode 7 technology in the Genesis, they manufactured an ad campaign out of thin air. They found an obscure feature of the Genesis architecture that the Super Nintendo didn’t have and concocted an ad campaign out of it. They called it "Blast Processing" and used it to mock Nintendo in TV advertising.
It was brilliant marketing, but had zero substance behind it, and Sega knew it. Nintendo was aware of what Sega was doing as well, and were not happy about it.
4. Miyamoto Had Nothing Bad To Say About The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Even though Nintendo of America knew that the Super Mario Bros. movie was going to be an awful disaster that could possibly hurt their brand, they went ahead and let it come out in theaters anyway.
George Harrison from NOA was tasked by NOA president Minoru Arakawa to escort #SuperMario creator Shigeru Miyamoto to an early screening of the movie in America.
Harrison thought #Miyamoto was going to be angry given how bad the movie was, but Miyamoto smiled and laughed all throughout the film. He seemed to enjoy it the whole way through, and when it was over, he had nothing bad to say about it. Harrison was quite surprised.
5. The Genesis Of Sonic The Hedgehog
The original design for what would become Sonic the Hedgehog was a hedgehog with a spiked collar, sharp fangs, an electric guitar, and a big-breasted, human female companion named Madonna (no joke).
Sega of Japan designed it, but Sega of America hated it and proposed changes. SOJ was reluctant to accept the changes at first, and went so far as to propose two different versions of Sonic, one for Japan and one for the West.
6. Nintendo Didn't Believe Westerners Could Make A Good Nintendo Game
Tony Harman, NOA president Minoru Arakawa’s right-hand man, went to Japan and personally requested the funding to make a hit game from Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi.
When #Yamauchi told him that his top developers (including Shigeru Miyamoto) didn’t believe that someone who wasn’t Japanese could make a good Nintendo game, Harman asked for $3 million to prove them wrong.
Three million dollars was roughly the amount Nintendo spent on one bad television commercial. Harman reasoned to Yamauchi that if the game failed, it would be no more of a financial loss than a bad commercial would be. Yamauchi gave him the money.
The game Harman eventually spearheaded with the money was Donkey Kong Country.
7. Nintendo Was As Amazed As Anyone By Donkey Kong Country
When Nintendo Of America’s president, Minoru Arakawa, first saw an early build of the original Donkey Kong Country for Super Nintendo, he was so amazed by what he saw, he thought it was a Nintendo 64 game.
When he was told it was for Super Nintendo, he immediately scrapped all of Nintendo’s plans for the upcoming CES in order to make Donkey Kong Country the featured game, and blow Sega out of the water with it.
Rare's #DonkeyKongCountry for Super Nintendo was the game for which Sega had no answer. The big ape was Nintendo’s death blow to the Genesis. The game was a monster hit for the Super Nintendo right when Nintendo needed it. Its success prolonged the life of the Super Nintendo, allowing Nintendo to delay the release of the Nintendo 64 all the way to 1996.
8. Ken Kutaragi, The Father Of The Super Nintendo Sound Chip
Many know that Sony created the sound chip for the Super Nintendo hardware. What many may not know is that it was Ken Kutaragi himself who developed that sound chip in secret and showed it to Nintendo, without the knowledge of his superiors at #Sony.
When Kutaragi’s superiors learned what he had done, they were furious and almost fired him. However, when they saw what #Nintendo was willing to pay for the sound chip Kutaragi made, they changed their minds.
9. Ken Kutaragi, The Father Of The PlayStation
When people say Ken Kutaragi is the father of the PlayStation, it is no exaggeration.
Sega of America and Sony's American executives had tried to find a way to convince their respective Japanese counterparts to develop a console together to take on Nintendo. However, Sega and Sony's philosophies in Japan didn't mesh and the whole thing fell through.
Kutaragi constructed the architecture for the #PlayStation, but did it (again) in secret from Sony’s top Japanese executives, who were not at all enthusiastic about creating a video game console and challenging Nintendo--even though Nintendo had humiliated Sony at CES by going behind their back and signing a hardware deal with Phillips, after signing one with Sony for the CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo.
Sony and Kutaragi went on to develop the PlayStation to huge success, and Sega went on to develop the Saturn which failed.
Did you own a Super Nintendo? A Genesis? Which one was your console of choice? Leave your comments below!