Through a series of articles, I detail the history of the video game industry in regards to specific companies, consoles, and pieces of hardware.
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The Sega 32X was released in North America in November of 1994, and is designed as an add-on for the Sega Gensis. The unit was designed to add processing power to the Genesis, thus extending its useful life. The 32X was officially called the Gensis 32X in the US, Super 32X in Japan, Mega Drive 32X in Europe, and Mega 32X in Brazil. Beacuse the unit was designed as a Genesis add-on, it can not be used by itself, without a Genesis console.
In the Box
The 32X shipped with the console itself, a plastic spacer that was designed to make the 32X fit more snugly on the Genesis model 2, two metal RF shield plates that were required for FCC approval, a Genesis model 2 video pass-through cable, a Genesis model 1 pass-through cable that attached to the model 2 pass-through cable to adapt it to the model 1's larger AV Out port, and an AC/DC power supply. The unit did not come packaged with any pack-in controllers or games initially. Later in its short life, the 32X came packed with a copy of DOOM.
The spacer that shipped with the 32X was a thin piece of plastic that was designed to fit between the 32X and the model 2 Genesis. This spacer was required for a more secure fit, as when the 32X is installed on a model 2 without this spacer, the 32X has quite a bit forward-and-back movement in the cartridge slot. This spacer was not required on the Genesis model 1 beacuse the model 1 had a deeper cartridge slot than the model 2 and held the 32X more firmly. This spacer is also not required when using the 32X with a Sega CDX. The Genesis model 3, released in North America by Majesco under license from Sega, is not compatible with the 32X.
The RF shields that shipped with the 32X were designed to fit in the cartridge slot of the Genesis. Many people found these difficult to install and simply did not use them. They were required by the FCC for the Genesis/32X combo to pass FCC regulations in terms of RF interfearance in the US. The Genesis/32X combo works fine without them, and they are not absolutely required for a successful installation.
The 32X was aesthetically designed to be used with the Sega Gensis model 2, but works with the model 1 as well. The unit looks like a natural extension of the model 2, with the same sleek lines and combination of matte and gloss finish.
The 32X doesn't contain any controller ports. When a 32X is used in conjunction with a Genesis, the controller ports on the Genesis are still used. The only non-AV or power port on the 32X that users typically access is a cartridge slot on top of the unit. Because the 32X interfaces with the Genesis through it's cartridge slot and not via the expansion slot on the side of the Genesis (like the Sega CD), natrually this means that the Genesis cartridge port is no longer avaialble. The cartridge slot on the top of the 32X accepts both 32X cartridges (which are slightly wider and shaped slightly different than Genesis carts), as well as Genesis carts.
The 32X contains two SH2 32-bit RISC processors with a clock speed of 23Mhz (approximately 20 MIPS) each. Video capabilities include scaling, rotation, and 3D operations which are all performed in software on the SH2 processors. The 32X supports 32,768 simultaneous colors on screen (up from the Genesis and Sega CD's 64 onscreen colors). The unit contains 256KB (2Mbit) of program RAM and dual 128Kbit (1Mbit) frame buffers. The 32X supports stereo audio with a total of 12 audio channels of varying capacity, 20 when used in conjunction with the Sega CD. The 32X weighs approximately 17.5 oz.
On the back of the 32X are AV In (video in from the Genesis) and AV Out (AV out to a television) as well as a DC in port for the 32X's own AC adapter. A common complaint with the 32X was that it did not run on power from the Genesis, rather it utilizes it's own AC adapter. Because of this, a Genesis/32X combo requires two separate AC/DC power supplies be plugged in at the same time. Another common complaint with the 32X from users is that by the time all of the AV cables and DC adapters are hooked up, you're left with a mess of cables on the back of the combined Genesis/32X combo.
Though the 32X didn't come packaged with any controllers, games for the 32X are generally designed for use with the Sega 6-button controller, although some games can make due with the older 3-button controller. For the best 32X experience, a 6-button gamepad should be used with all 32X games.
Some 32X units came with an expansion bay "dongle" that was to be placed on the Genesis expansion bay (for both the model 1 and the model 2) per the instructions. The dongle was only to be used if a Sega CD was not already attached to the Genesis. There is much speculation regarding this dongle, as it didn't seem to come with all 32X consoles, nor was it mentioned in some sets of printed instructions that came with 32X units with which it wasn't included. Some users report that this dongle is required for the 32X to work properly, and yet others claim that they are using the 32X without it.
Death of the 32X
The 32X was released in the US in November 1994 and officially killed in October 1995 - which means that the console's official lifespan was less than a year. Several major factors can be contributed to the console's death. One major cause for failure stemmed from disagreement between Sega of America and Sega of Japan on the direction the company in the console space. In January of 1994, Sega of Japan president Hayao Nakayama ordered the company to create a 32-bit cartridge based console, and to have that console on sale by Christmas 1994 (less than a year). The first iteration of this project, dubbed "Project Jupiter," would be a stand-alone cartridge based console similar to the Neo Geo. The console would allow Sega's 32-bit arcade titles to be played at home. Due to complications and budget issues, Project Jupiter was quickly scrapped in favor of "Project Mars," which would eventually become the 32X.
Instead of building a new console from the ground up, Sega of Japan and Sega of America engineers collaborated on a Genesis add-on console that could be made much more cheaply than a brand new console, and would be able to meet Nakayama's tight deadline. The overall purpose for the 32X was of much debate between Sega of America and Sega of Japan. Sega of America's official position was that the 32X was a console that the company would support for years to come, and when asked about the 32X, Sega of America reps religiously stated that the system was going to have a lot of third party support in the years to come. Sega of Japan saw the unit differently. They envisioned that the unit would have only short term support until the Sega Saturn hit the market the following year, and then the 32X would only be used to "carry" the company through the 1994 Christmas season until 1995, at which time the Saturn would be released and would become the company's major source of income.
Word of this disagreement was not kept private, and as a result many third party developers simply chose not to develop for the 32X. The console launched in the US at $159, which would eventually drop down to $99, and finally $19 within the first year. Only 38 games were released for the 32X in total. In October 1995, after less than a year on the market, Sega announced that the 32X would be discontinued. Given the fact that many considered the Sega CD a failure as well (though not as big a failure as the 32X by any means), some Sega loyalists and 32X early adopters felt betrayed. More importantly, the few third party developers who had active 32X projects felt betrayed and were forced to either change course for the Sega Saturn or scrap their projects completely.
The 32X itself is far from rare, and can be had fairly cheap with minimal searching. There are a few components that were pack-ins with the 32X that are harder to find than others. Typically the model 1 Genesis pass-through cable was thrown away by gamers with a Genesis model 2, so that cable typically costs more than the 32X itself. Just the cable typically commands $20-$35 on eBay. The RF shields that most people didn't install ended up getting bent or thrown away, so those typically don't come with used 32X's either. Since they're not required for the 32X to operate, they are virtually irrelevant. The plastic spacer that fits between a 32X and a Genesis model 2 can be more expensive than they should be as well, given they're basically just pieces of plastic.
A "complete in-box" 32X typically commands $60-$70 on eBay at the time of this writing (February 2012), while a new, sealed in-box unit can be had for approximately $150.
Games are generally cheap, although there are a few gems that were released late in to the lifecycle of the 32X that were extremely limited in production runs and fairly difficult to find. Spiderman Web of Fire, although not really a good game, is fairly rare and regularly sells for over $100 on eBay for the loose cartridge (no box, no book). Blackthorne and Knuckles Chaotix aren't nearly as rare, but are approaching $100 in value for complete in box examples. Darxide is a PAL 32X game that was only released in Europe on an extremely limited production run. Only a few of these have popped up on eBay and reguarly sell for more than $700 US. The PAL versions of T-Mek and Primal Rage are also both extremely rare and expensive.
Because the Genesis and the 32X can both be obtained so cheaply now, the 32X can be a system that's cheap and fun for the beginning collector. Unless you're shooting for a complete collection of PAL 32X games (which means you'll probably spend around $15,000 US combined for only T-Mek, Primal Rage and Darxide), a complete collection of all 32X games can be had relatively inexpensively. Not many other consoles are able to offer that.
Virtua Racing is the only Genesis game that is incompatible with the 32X. The Virtua Racing Deluxe cartridge contained a special processor that functioned much like the Super FX chips in SNES games. The processor was called the Sega Virtua Processor (or "SVP chip") and contained a Samsung SSP1601 fixed point DSP. Sega originally thought that using the SVP chip would be a viable way to extend the Genesis' life, but producing the chip was expensive, and as a result the only game that ever came with the chip - Virtua Racing for the Genesis - was $100 at launch. Due to a memory incompatibility between the SVP chip and the 32X, the 32X will not boot when Virtua Racing is installed.
Lack of third party development for the 32X did nothing to help the console. Most major third party developers are said to have received the development SDKs for the Saturn and the 32X at the same time - effectively making them choose bewteen developing for the 32X or the Saturn.
After the death of the 32X, Sega took its inventory of unsold 32X consoles and used spare parts, including the motherboard from the 32X as well as unused cartridge PCBs and molds in a TV-based drawing tablet called the Sega Picture Magic. The Picture Magic was only released in Japan.
Sega originally made plans to introduce a Genesis/32X hybrid console, codenamed the Sega Neptune. The console was manufactured as a working prototype but was never sold to the public. The prototype is believed to have been destroyed and has never surfaced for sale in the collector market, but the destruction of the console has never been 100% confirmed.
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