Sega Master System

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After the relative failures of the Sega SG-1000 and Mark II consoles against the might of the Nintendo Famicom, Sega launched their Mark III machine, which maintained backwards compatibility with the previous generations, while adding more technical capabilities to match the Nintendo console, this was further enhanced by an FM sound module add on. Sadly for Sega, this machine did not put a dent in Nintendo’s market share in Japan, largely due to third party games developers not being allowed to produce games for other companies if they had a license from Nintendo.

In Japan, the company now chose to integrate the FM sound module into the machine, as this was the last area where the Famicom was superior, and the MK III became the Master System, Launching in Japan and the US, the machine was not a success. The machine was entirely backwards compatible with the SG-1000

In the US the Master System arrived well after the entrenched Nintendo NES, a lesson they would learn from when they launched their new machine the Mega Drive or Genesis as it was renamed over there, ahead of the new Nintendo machine.

Sega looked to territories where there was little or no competition from its rival, it settled on Europe, partnering with Virgin Mastertronic to distribute the machine, and Tectoy for Brazil, both companies would do amazing jobs to get the machines onto their respective markets

In Europe, Nintendo had made only a lethargic attempt to launch the NES in 1986, so after initial problems with demand over supply in 1987, the Sega Master System hit the ground running, and was soon attracting the top European software houses to produce games for it, Nintendo did not like the western software houses producing games for the NES, refusing licenses to those interested. Sega themselves concentrated on getting ports of Sega’s and others arcade classics to the system, Virgin Mastertronic marketed the it as a technologically superior alternative to the ageing ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64.

For Europe, the cartridge design was changed, so the machine's cartridge slot was wider than the Japanese model. It also did not have the FM module built into any overseas models.The Master System was also sold in packs, a basic one with just the machine, up to one that had 3D glasses and a lightgun.

Having the console market largely to themselves, especially in the UK, Sega built up a strong following for the Master System, which laid the groundwork for the Mega Drive when it arrived in 1990. Sega had held the machine back in Europe for two years so not to impact the sales of the Master System. When it did arrive, the Master System was reduced in price, both in games and software as a machine for younger players.

In 1992, the machine became the Master System II, a much cut down machine, removing the card slot and Composite scart socket, The machine was eventually discontinued in 1995.

Looks wise the case is a striking black with red lettering, and gained interest for its sloping shapes and hard lines. On the top it has its main cartridge slot, a handy pause button, a card slot is on the front allowing the use of some pretty forward thinking peripherals such as the 3d glasses and a light phaser, it was also for playing small game cards which have their origin on the Sg-1000 Mark II redesign where the new boss of Sega Enterprises did not like the black cartridges of the original games, which he likened to tomb stones, thus creating the MyCard, a small credit card shape cart that on the Mark I and II needed an adaptor called the card catcher.

The Mark III had both ports built in, and it continued into the European design, as a way of getting two formats onto the platform, the cards were cheaper, but the game size smaller, and the cartridges cost more, but allowed for greater capacity.

* CPU: 8-bit Zilog Z80A
o 3.5 MHz for PAL/SECAM, 3.6 MHz for NTSC
o 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)
o Screen resolutions 256×192 and 256×224. PAL/SECAM also supports 256×240
o 8×8 pixel characters, max 463 (due to VRAM space limitation)
o 8×8 or 8×16 pixel sprites, max 64
o Horizontal, vertical, and partial screen scrolling
o 4 channel mono sound (3 Square Waves, 1 White Noise)
o 3 tone generators, 10 octaves each, 1 white noise generator
o Sound (FM): Yamaha YM2413
o mono FM synthesis
o switchable between 9 tone channels or 6 tone channels + 5 percussion channels
o Included as built-in "accessory" with Japanese Master System (1987)
o supported by certain games only
o Boot ROM: 64 kbit (8 KB) to 2048 kbit (256 KB), depending on built-in game
o Main RAM: 64 kbit (8 KB), can be supplemented by game cartridges
o Video RAM: 128 kbit (16 KB)
o Game Card slot (not available in the Master System II)
o Game Cartridge slot (not included on newer Brazilian models, as these have built-in games)
o Japanese and South Korean consoles use vertical shaped 44-pin cartridges, the same shape as SG-1000 and Mark II
o All other consoles use 50-pin cartridges[6] with a horizontal shape
o The difference in cartridge style is a form of regional lockout

Manufacturer: Sega
Date: 1987

Other Systems Related To Sega Master System:

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Sega MegaTech Arcade Cabinet Sega 1986
Alien Syndrome Arcade Cabinet Sega 1987
Sega Naomi Sega 1998

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH4034. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Sega Master System

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