Now, There Are No Limits.
The Sega Mark III was Sega
's second video game console in Japan, and their entry into The 8 Bit Era
. Their first one was known as the SG-1000
, which had an updated model called the SG-1000 II (which is where the "III" in "Mark III" comes from). Realizing the SG-1000 was not competitive enough with Nintendo
's Family Computer
, Sega significantly upgraded its hardware, which had been largely similar to the MSX
computer platform, giving the Mark III graphical capabilities superior to both the MSX2 and the Famicom.
The restyled international version of the Sega Mark III was initially sold in different bundles, each carrying its own name. The "Sega Base System" consisted of the core console (or "Power Base") plus two controllers. The "Sega Master System" included the contents of the Base System package, plus the Light Phaser gun controller and pack-in games. The "SegaScope 3-D System" added a pair of active-shutter glasses and additional game to the Master System package. Eventually, though, the console itself became known simply as the Master System, to the point where the redesigned version released in 1990 was branded the Master System II.
All things considered, the Master System was probably the most powerful of the 8-bit systemsnote
, although the NES was able to catch up somewhat with the help of add-on chips.
The Mark III was rereleased in Japan with the Master System name and styling, and also with an FM synth card (never included in the international version) to enhance the quality of chiptunes
. However, the console was discontinued early in Japan, soon after Sega introduced the 16-bit Mega Drive
. It lasted only a year or two longer in the United States, where it lost out not only to the NES but the Atari 7800
as well, although its failure to gain ground was largely due to Nintendo
trying to monopolize the market. However, it did gain a lot of ground in Europe and South America
. Heck, games were still being developed for the Master System in Brazil by the mid-to-late 90s (such as a port of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
). The SMS' popularity in the UK in particular was helped by a bungled distribution campaign from Nintendo which meant that the NES was so rare in Britain as to be practically mythical.
Although Sega's own series didn't really gain ground until the Mega Drive
, their popular Phantasy Star
series got its start here. Their handheld, the Game Gear
, uses hardware quite compatible with the Master System, and converters exist to run games on each other.
The Master System was the first console to put full game programs on small "cards", in addition to traditional cartridges. Due to the cards' limited memory, though, the format was limited to "budget" games (though HudsonSoft and NEC would improve on the card format with their PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16
platform). The SegaScope 3-D glasses were powered by the card port as well. The Power Base Converter, an add-on for the Mega Drive, allowed full backward compatibility with all Master System games (including the card and SegaScope games). However, the redesigned Master System II would drop the card slot, as game card production had already ceased, and Sega had already stopped supporting the SegaScope.
- The CPU, a Zilog Z80, runs at 3.55 or 3.58 MHz, depending on the region.
- The graphics are handled by the Video Display Processor, a modified version of the TI 9918/9928 GPU MSX and Coleco also used.
- Eight kilobytes of main RAM with 16 KB of Video RAM. Games like Phantasy Star really showed all this memory off.
- ROM size ranged from 8 KB to 512 KB.
- Like the NES, SMS sprites are 8x8 or 8x16 pixels, with up to 64 on screen.
- Resolution was 256x224 pixels.
- 32 colors were allowed on screen, out of 64 total.
- The system's basic sound functionality included three square wave channels, a noise generator and a DPCM channel. This was the only area in which the Master System's hardware was noticeably inferior to that of the NES, lacking a triangle channel and any of the nifty hardware effects that the NES could apply to music and sound effects, although it was still way ahead of what the Atari 7800 had to offer.
- That is unless you lived in Japan, where the latter versions of the console included an FM synthesis chipset, giving it vastly superior sound capabilities to any other of the 8-bit systems, and even putting it on a par with what the Genesis later offered. Sadly none of the versions released outside of Japan included this chip, though it can be added to the console with some modifications.
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