- Sega Master System
Sega Master System
Above: The North American version of SMS. Below: The PAL version of SMS II
Manufacturer Sega Generation Third generation Retail availability Introductory price US$ 200 Discontinued
Media ROM cartridge and card CPU 8-bit Zilog Z80 at 3,58 MHz (3,579545 MHz) Storage capacity Sega Card (256 kbits max. capacity) Memory 64 kbits (8 KB) Display NTSC or PAL based on the TMS9918 video chip Controller input 2 controller ports
1 expansion slot
- INT 1 November 1986
Predecessor SG-1000 Successor Mega Drive (Sega Genesis)
The Master System (マスターシステム Masutā Shisutemu ) (abbreviated to SMS) is a third-generation video game console that was manufactured and released by Sega in 1985 in Japan (as the Sega Mark III), 1986 in North America and 1987 in Europe.
The original SMS could play both cartridges and the credit card-sized "Sega Cards," which retailed for cheaper prices than cartridges but had less code. The SMS also featured accessories such as a light gun and 3D glasses which were designed to work with a range of specially coded games.
The Master System was released as a direct competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the third videogame generation The SMS was technically superior to the NES, which predated its release significantly, but failed to overturn Nintendo's significant market share advantage in Japan and North America.
The console was redesigned several times both for marketing purposes and to add features, most notably in Brazil. The later Sega Game Gear is effectively a hand-held Master System, with a few enhancements.
- 1 History
- 2 Technical specifications
- 3 Media input
- 4 Peripherals
- 5 Variants
- 6 Compatibility
- 7 Games
- 8 In Popular Culture
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The SG-1000, along with its direct successor the SG-1000 II, marked Sega's first entry into the home video game hardware business, though neither system was popular.
Following its redesign as the Master System, the redesigned console was itself released in Japan in 1987, with the addition of a built-in Yamaha YM2413 FM sound chip, Rapid Fire Unit, and 3-D glasses adapter; all of which were separate accessories for the Mark III.
Neither the Mark III nor the Japanese Master System were commercially successful, due to strong competition from the Family Computer, which held the 95% of the market share there.
The last licensed release in Japan was Bomber Raid, released by Sega on February 4, 1989.
The Mark III was redesigned by Sato for release in other markets. This was mainly a cosmetic revamp and the internal components of the console remained virtually the same.
The system was sold in the United States under the name Sega Master System in June 1986, less than a year after the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released. The console sold for $200. The Master System was subsequently released in other locales and markets, including a second release in Japan in 1987 under the new Master System name.
By 1988, Nintendo commanded 83% of the North American video game market share and the rights to the Master System in North America were sold to Tonka, but its popularity continued to decline due to Nintendo's policies in spite of the company's success in gaining a position on the market for the system. One of Nintendo's policies was that its third-party licensees could not release any video game on competing consoles. The lack of third-party support left the Master System deprived of many arcade and NES hit titles. Activision and Parker Brothers were the only two third-party companies publishing for the Master System in North America, but both companies stopped supporting the Master System in 1989 and neither company had released more than five video game titles for the platform.
In 1990, Sega was having success in North America with its Sega Genesis and as a result took back the rights from Tonka for the Master System. It designed the Sega Master System II, a low-cost Master System that lacked several of the original's features. In an effort to counter Nintendo's Super Mario Bros, the new system included Alex Kidd in Miracle World playable without any cartridges; hence replacing the built-in Snail Maze and Hang-On/Safari Hunt of the original system. Sega marketed the Master System II heavily; nevertheless, the unit sold poorly in North America. In 1991, Nintendo was forced by the U.S government to abandon the restriction it held on its third party licensees, but the Master System had already been eclipsed long ago with no signs of ever recovering. By early 1992, the Master System's sales were virtually nonexistent in North America and production ceased.
In contradiction, the Master System was very successful in Europe for a gaming console. Sega marketed this console in many European countries, including several in which Nintendo did not sell its consoles. It enjoyed strong third party support in the continent, including from American video game publishers, that had not released titles for the platform in North America. In Germany it had some success, where it was distributed by Ariolasoft beginning in winter 1987, in France the console was distributed in 1987 by Mastertronic France, from September 1988 until September 1991 by Virgin Loisirs, and then from September 1991 onwards by Sega France. The Master System sold more than a million units in this region.
In the United Kingdom, it was distributed by Mastertronic (which later merged with the Virgin Group), and in Italy it was distributed by Giochi Preziosi. In its first years it overshadowed the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it wasn't as successful as the Atari ST and Amiga 500 Personal Computers, which were mostly used as gaming machines. The NES only gained a good market share in these territories later in its lifespan, after the release of the Sega Mega Drive. The console was produced far longer in Europe than in Japan and North America. It is generally considered a success in Europe, where it competed and managed to rival the NES. Because of the success in Europe, Sega decided to open its Sega Europe division.
The last licensed release in Europe was The Smurfs: Travel the World, released by Infogrames in 1996. Its successor, the Mega Drive, which was also successful in Europe, was supported up until this time as well. However, both were discontinued so that Sega could concentrate on the Sega Saturn.
Brazil was the most successful market for the Master System. Tec Toy, Sega's distributor in Brazil, was responsible for marketing and sales. Both the Master System I and II have slight differences in the external appearance of the console, but are still extremely similar to the Master System outside of Brazil.
At least five versions of the console were released between 1989 and 1995 and several games had been translated into Portuguese. Various Brazilian characters featured his games, but in various times only substituting characters of other games (for example, the game Mônica no Castelo do Dragão featured Mônica, the main character from a popular children's comic book in Brazil, created by Maurício de Souza, using modifications in Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Geraldinho, creation of the Brazilian cartoonist Glauco, had a game modified from Teddy Boy). Brazil also produced many original games, like Sítio do Pica Pau Amarelo (based on the works of Monteiro Lobato), Castelo Rá-Tim-Bum (from the TV Cultura series) and TV Colosso (from the Rede Globo series).
As of 2010, both Master System and Sega Mega Drive are still being produced in Brazil, now with several games running direct from the memory, and, as of 2006, the cartridge slots have been removed from the Master System, as the cartridges aren't marketed anymore.
The latest version is called Master System Evolution, and includes 132 built-in games.
In 2002, Tec Toy, motivated by the success of the Sega Master System in the Brazilian market, decided to continue producing more games. By the end of the 1990s, there were well over 70 Brazilian variants of the original Master System games. The system was re-released again by changing the color of the console to a white hue. A number of games were exclusively released in the Brazilian market for the Master System.
Later, Game Gear games were ported to the Master System and several original Brazilian titles were made for the system. Tec Toy also produced a licensed version of the fighting game Street Fighter II for the Master System. The console production was familiar to the Brazilians, which explains the success in that market.
One of the more notable Master System consoles in Brazil was wireless Master System Compact developed by Tec Toy. The console transmits the A/V signal through RF, dispensing cable connections. It was produced from 1994 to 1997 and is still a target for console collectors. A similar version, called Master System Girl, was also released in an attempt to attract female consumers. The only difference in this version is a strong pink casing and pastel buttons.
In 2009, Master System Evolution (a new version) was released in Brazil.
- Graphics: VDP (Video Display Processor) derived from Texas Instruments TMS9918A
- Up to 32 simultaneous colors available (one 16-color palette for sprites or background, an additional 16-color palette for background only) from a palette of 64 (can also show 64 simultaneous colors using programming tricks)
- Screen resolutions 256×192 and 256×224. PAL/SECAM also supports 256×240
- 8×8 pixel characters, max 463 (due to VRAM space limitation)
- 8×8 or 8×16 pixel sprites, max 64
- Horizontal, vertical, and partial screen scrolling
- Sound (PSG): Texas Instruments SN76489 (note that the Sega Master System, Game Gear, and Mega Drive used a slightly altered clone of the newer SN76489A, while the older SG-series used the original SN76489)
- Sound (FM): Yamaha YM2413
- Mono FM synthesis
- Switchable between 9 tone channels or 6 tone channels + 5 percussion channels
- Included as a built-in "accessory" with the Japanese Master System (1987)
- Supported by certain games only
- Onboard RAM
- Boot ROM: 64 kbit (8 KB) to 2048 kbit (256 KB), depending on built-in game
- Main RAM: 64 kbit (8 KB), can be supplemented by game cartridges
- Video RAM: 128 kbit (16 KB)
- Game Card slot (not available in the Master System II)
- Game Cartridge slot (not included on newer Brazilian models, as these have built-in games)
- Expansion slot
- Unused, pinout compatible with 50-pin cartridges (but opposite gender) in all regions
- Width: 365 mm
- Depth: 170 mm
- Height: 69 mm
One of the most unusual features of the Sega Master System is its dual media inputs: one cartridge slot and one card slot. The card slot accepted small cards about the size of a credit card, much like the later PC Engine/TurboGrafx.
The cards and cartridges both serve the purpose of holding software. However, the cartridges had a much higher capacity, while the cards were much smaller. Sega used the cards for budget games, priced lower than the typical game.
Almost all cards are games, but the 3-D glasses card served an entirely different purpose. The 3-D glasses plug into the console via the card slot, and allow 3-D visual effects for specially designed cartridge games. In this fashion, both media inputs worked in tandem.
The card slot was removed in the redesigned Master System II, providing support for only cartridges. This helped to reduce the cost of manufacturing the console since the cards were unpopular and few card-based games were made. Most of the card games were later re-released as cartridges.
A floppy disk drive add-on for the original Master System was developed but was never released.
- Controller 3: 2 buttons, hole for a screw-in thumbstick
- Controller 4: 6 buttons, very similar to the Mega Drive's 6 button pad; released in Brazil only.
- Control Stick: 2 buttons and a stick similar to a gear stick, but on the right side and the buttons are on the left side.
- Light Phaser: Light gun, not compatible with Mega Drive light gun games.
- Sega Remote Control System: remote controller
- Sega Sports Pad: trackball controller
- Sega Handle Controller: (Steering Wheel controller for driving-/airplane games)
- SG Commander: a standard controller with built in rapid fire.
The Master System controller has only 2 buttons, one of which additionally performs the function of the traditional "Start" button; the pause button is on the game console itself. The original controllers, like Sega's previous systems, has the cord emerging from the side; in 1987 the design was changed to the now-typical top emerging cord. Some controllers also include a screw-in thumb stick for the D-pad.
The controller uses the prevailing de facto standard Atari-style 9-pin connector and can be connected without modification to all other machines compatible with that standard, including the Atari 2600, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum with Kempston interface or similar.
When Street Fighter II was released (in Brazil only), a new six-button controller similar to the Sega Mega Drive controller was also released. The current Brazilian Master System consoles come with two six-button controllers.
The later Mega Drive controllers generally work fine on the Master System, with buttons B and C corresponding to 1 and 2 respectively and the other buttons not doing anything. A few Master System games, such as Alien Syndrome will not function properly with these controllers, and must be played with original Master System controllers, even on a Mega Drive equipped with a Power Base Converter.
The Light Phaser was a light gun created for the Sega Master System, modeled after the Zillion gun from the Japanese anime series of the same name. The phaser was heavier than its Nintendo counterpart, the Nintendo Zapper, but considered by some to have a more responsive trigger and more accurate targeting. As with the Japanese-market Nintendo Zapper, the Light Phaser looked realistic enough to warrant parental pressure to alter the device so that police would not confuse it with a real gun. Altered Light Phasers are distinguished by a hand-painted neon orange tip and are much rarer than their solid color counterparts. Tec Toy also released a blue Light Phaser in Brazil.
For the Master System there were a lot of games in development that specifically can be played with the Light Phaser, among others the following:
- Marksman Shooting
- Trap Shooting
- Safari Hunt
- Shooting Gallery
- Gangster Town
- Missile Defense 3-D
- Rescue Mission
- Rambo III
- Operation: Wolf
- Assault City
- Laser Ghost
- Space Gun
SegaScope 3-D Glasses
The LCD shutter glasses rapidly alternate between the left and right lenses being opaque, used in tandem with two different alternating images flashed from the TV synchronized with the switching of the 3-D Glasses to create a natural stereoscopic 3D effect. The Master System glasses can only be used in the original Master System, since it hooks up directly to the card port not found in the Master System II. This system allows 3-D graphics in full color. The technology takes advantage of the interlaced video output of contemporary CRT televisions, displaying the left image in the top field and the right image in the bottom field. Only eight Master System games are 3-D compatible.
- Blade Eagle 3-D
- Line of Fire (hold buttons 1 and 2 while switching the system on for 3-D mode)
- Maze Hunter 3-D
- Missile Defense 3-D (also requires the Light Phaser gun)
- Out Run 3-D (can also be played in 2-D mode without glasses)
- Poseidon Wars 3-D (can also be played in 2-D mode without glasses)
- Space Harrier 3-D (can also be played in 2-D mode without glasses via a code)
- Zaxxon 3-D (playable in 2-D via a code)
With the use of the Power Base Converter, all peripherals are fully compatible with the Sega Mega Drive.
Remote Control System
The remoteler is a joypad with a built infrared system and a receiver for the signals. Manufactured by WKK Industries, it is not an official product from Sega and was distributed only in small quantities.
During its lifespan, the Master System was built in several variations.
The Mark III was built similarly to the SG-1000 II, with the addition of improved video hardware and an increased amount of RAM.
The system was backwards compatible with earlier SG-1000 titles. As well as the standard cartridge slot, it had a built-in slot, formerly known as expansion slot for Sega My Cards, which were physically identical to the cards for the Sega SG-1000 "Card Catcher" add-on. While in Japan there were many titles in this format published for both the SG-1000 and Mark III, only a few were published in the West.
Sega Master System game cartridges released outside Japan had a different shape and pin configuration to the Japanese Master System/Mark III cartridges. This may be seen as a form of regional lockout.
Master System II
In 1990, Sega was having success in North America with its Mega Drive and as a result took back the rights from Tonka for the Master System. It designed the Sega Master System II, a low-cost Master System that lacked the reset button, expansion port (which was never used), and card slot of the original. Since the card slot was used as a connector to synchronize the 3D glasses with the original Master System, the SMS2 couldn't use the 3D glasses.
Master System 3
The latest version is the "Master System 3" (a completely different unit to the original "Master System III" which was a grey Master System II) released by Tec Toy. It has a brand new modern black design, with details in blue. Even with the visual changes, it was not renamed, save switching the roman number in the name to a decimal number. Although outwardly similar to the Master System II, the Master System 3 featured internal changes that allowed it to handle cartridges up to 8 megabits (1024 kilobytes) in size.
The Sega Master System was re-released in a smaller handheld form factor in late 2006. This small handheld device is powered by 3 AAA batteries, has a brighter active matrix screen, and contained 20 Game Gear and Sega Master System games. It was released under several brands including Coleco and PlayPal.
The Master System technology lived on in Sega's Game Gear, which was based on the technology found in the Master System. The console had two game formats which were cartridges and a Sega Game Card format. The cards held only 256K of data (cartridges held over 4 times that amount), but the advantage to both Sega and the consumer was the fact that the cards were cheaper to manufacture, and sold for less than the carts did. The console featured a range of built in games that played whenever a cart or card was not inserted; the different models of the console each featured different built-in titles. The Mark III was also backwards compatible with SG-1000 software.
Due to its architectural similarity to the Game Gear, software companies were easily able to make versions of their games for both the Master System and Game Gear. In fact, many Game Gear titles that were released in North America and Japan, were released alongside Master System versions of those games in Europe. As in North America, Sega launched the redesigned Sega Master System II in 1990. This system included Alex Kidd in Miracle World, and later Sonic the Hedgehog, as a built-in game.
The Mark III was backwards compatible with earlier SG-1000 titles. As well as the standard cartridge slot, it had a built-in slot, formerly known as expansion slot for Sega My Cards, which were physically identical to the cards for the Sega SG-1000 "Card Catcher" add-on.
The Mega Drive is backward compatible with the Master System, despite having a differently shaped cartridge slot. Sega developed a pass-through device for the Mega Drive, allowing Master System cartridges to be played on the newer system. It was called the Power Base Converter in the US, the Mega Adapter in Japan and the Master System Converter in Europe. The somewhat large device plugs into the Mega Drive's cartridge slot, covering the entire circular top of the system. Master System cartridges and cards can then be inserted into the device and played on the Mega Drive using Mega Drive controllers. Due to its size and shape, the converter will not fit properly with the Mega Drive II, necessitating the use of the Europe-only Master System Converter II, or a third-party converter cartridge.
On the original release of the Master System, a hidden game known as Snail Maze is built in the console, which was a number of labyrinth puzzles with a time limit. This game can be accessed from the system BIOS by starting the system without a game cartridge inserted and holding Up and buttons 1 and 2 simultaneously.
Astro Warrior is integrated into one version of the console (the Sega Base System, which was slightly less expensive and lacked the Light Phaser). Hang-On and Safari Hunt are also integrated into another version of the console. Additionally, the original North American release of the console (which included the built-in Snail Maze) came bundled with a cartridge containing both Hang On and Safari Hunt. Some versions only had Hang-On built in. Alex Kidd in Miracle World is integrated into Master System II consoles in North America, Australia and Europe. Sonic the Hedgehog is integrated into newer PAL Master System II consoles. It was later ported to the Sega Game Gear.
A marketing agreement between Sega and the producers of the anime Zillion resulted in a game based on the anime series in which the protagonists use a pistol which is nearly identical to the Light Phaser, including the cable.
A number of Master System games are available for download on Nintendo's Wii Virtual Console in North America, PAL territories and Japan. The first game released for this service was Hokuto no Ken, on February 26, 2008, and later, Fantasy Zone, released on March 11. Both were released in Japan, at a standard cost of 500 Wii Points (though Hokuto no Ken costs 600 points, due to the game's source license). In North America, Wonder Boy was the first SMS game released for the service on March 31, 2008. Fantasy Zone was also announced, but its release date was on April 14, 2008. In Europe, both Fantasy Zone and Wonder Boy were released on the same day. The option to switch to FM audio, for the handful of games that used it, is available for all regions.
In Popular Culture
A console bearing a resemblance to the Master System is seen frequently on the cartoon Regular Show.
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- Sega Master System at the Open Directory Project
- Sega Master System at Sega Archives (official website by Sega of Japan) (in Japanese)
- Sega Master System at SegaFans
- Sega Master System Museum
- SMS Console Database
- SMS Power - Unreleased games discussion/exhibition.
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