Book Review: The Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works

Review-Mega-Drive-Collected-WorksOver the last few years we’ve seen an incredible rise in the number of retro gaming fan projects materialising following the arrival of Kickstarter. From brand new Nintendo NES games to HDMI upgrades for the Game Boy, all kinds of ideas are getting the support they deserve due to this revolutionary way of funding creativity. Amidst all these fantastic creations though is one that Kickstarter backers truly got their money’s worth for, the Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works.

With the late December 2013 Kickstarter campaign finishing at a massive £98,725 - well over the initial target of £30,000 - gaming book publisher Read Only Memory were well on their way to immortalising the history of Sega’s 16-bit system. The Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works was pitched as ‘the ultimate retrospective’ of the revolutionary Mega Drive console, featuring a huge selection of artwork, interviews, development sketches, and even hardware manufacturing plans, all from original developers, designers, and Sega themselves.

Having already gained a following and understanding of the medium after the Sensible Software retrospective book, everything was laid out for Read Only Memory’s Darren Wall to press on and do the legacy of the Mega Drive proud. Having promised just about everything retro gamers could want to read and observe within its pages, would the Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works meet the high bar it set itself?

Introducing the Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works

Upon receiving our package containing the Kickstarter funded book, our first reaction was a rather shocked one at how heavy the delivery was. Expecting various weighted packaging materials inside to accommodate this, we were soon amazed that the parcel’s mass was all contained within the book itself. It was at this point in time that we realised we were in for a treat. Arriving in a luxurious black hardback cover dressed with a sleek embossing of the Mega Drive console, the Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works starts out as it means to go on - with a good weighty impact.

Maybe our surprise here was unwarranted, but every now and then we’ve seen publications and coffee table books funded by Kickstarter, only to end up being lousy and flimsy cash-ins on the games we love. Read Only Memory’s creation, however, is a perfect example of all the project’s funding being poured into the labour of love that it is.

Opening to the first few pages of the book, you’re instantly reminded of those glory days when Sonic The Hedgehog was an international hero, and toy-like game consoles dominated living rooms around the world. Kicking off with a short foreword from Virgin Interactive and Shiny Entertainment’s David Perry, we’re given an interesting insight on how the likes of The Terminator and Aladdin arrived on the Mega Drive, along with how Cool Spot unfortunately paved the way for in-game advertising, and an amusing anecdote on the development of Global Gladiators being constantly met with the McDonalds frequently questioning ‘Where’s Ronald?’.

Shortly after Perry’s part, Keith Stuart (also known as being the games editor, technology and arts writer for the Guardian) gifts the book a lengthy history into the console, how it came to be, and the many ups and downs it faced, along with the all important Cyber Razor Cut. Taking quotes from various interviews and insider stories, a few pages in and you’ll be feeling well acquainted with Mega Drive’s past. The most interesting aspect to this is the section on how the ‘blue blur’ came to be, with Sega aiming to tackle Mario head on. All whilst you’re absorbing Sega’s history, each page is littered with early concept art, promotional prints, and just about everything else you’ve never seen before.

But if the book’s opening chapter doesn’t turn you into Mega Drive expert, what’s due to follow certainly will.

Mega-Drive-Blueprints

Plans, Blueprints & Confidential Files

Returning to our earlier point regarding other Kickstarter projects lacking that finishing touch, the Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works goes on to prove that nothing is impossible. While we’re unaware as to how these were obtained, Read Only Memory have been given the use of the original blueprints to Sega’s hardware. Folding out into a double page pull-out, the original design documents for the Mega Drive 1 and Genesis can be seen in all their glory. From the precise curves to measurements on where each and every screw and join belongs, there’s more than enough on show here for someone to start creating their own aftermarket console shells. Joking aside though, actually being able to see what was shared around Sega’s HQ and eventually given to a manufacturer to produce gives you a warm feeling - almost as if you were called into a meeting with Hayao Nakayama to discuss the 16-bit console’s production.

This exciting feeling soon continues as we arrive at early airbrush concept art for the console’s control pads, hardware and accessories. From kidney-bean shaped creations that look nothing like the controller we ended up with, to 3-button equivalents to the 6-button pad, you’re given a real sense of what could have been in our hands had things been different. Early art for the Mega CD add-on is also showcased, along with futuristic sketches of the never released virtual reality glasses/headset. This goes on and on to feature the likes of the Neptune - Sega’s unreleased 32X and Mega Drive combined into one.

To bring you back to reality, the next chapter is filled with stunning photography of all the finished products, however, it does leave you wondering if some of these concepts were better than what hit the production line.

Early-Mega-Drive-Control-Pad-Concept-Art

Painting The On-Screen Picture

As gamers today, there’s one thing we’re often deprived of, and that’s decent artwork used for promotional purposes and game boxes. With games edging closer and closer to life-like simulations, there’s no longer a need to spend hours painting gaming scenes, as all it takes is another 3D render and Photoshop composition to get the desired result. While yes, this may eliminate the issue of having atrocious box art (such as what’s found on the US release of Mega Man for the Nintendo NES), but it leaves behind the creativity and style of an era where a picture could singlehandedly sway you into a purchase.

The Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works has somehow managed to also take us on a ride where this is concerned, after sourcing countless visuals from the Sega archive. Starting out with high quality prints of game logos, including the likes of ToeJam & Earl, Bare Knuckle, Golden Axe, and even Landstalker, we’re given an even closer look at the many strokes that make up these familiar lock-ups. These are then backed up with full page prints of the accompanying box art, all of which are unaltered with nothing overlaying them - not even a Sega logo or the Mega Drive brand.

Many of these, for example, the artwork for Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, finally give us an insight into what was hiding under all of the familiar design features of a Mega Drive box. From monkeys hiding behind trees to jet propelled fish, we’re given a much more detailed representation of what Sega’s hired artists saw in each of these games. The most impressive of these in our opinion though is the unused artwork pitch for Gunstar Heroes drawn by Greg Winters in 1993. Unlike the more friendly and cutesy box art we’re more familiar with, Winters’ take on Gunstar Heroes adds a level of grit, determination, and power, all coupled with a futuristic war feel - something we believe to be a good take on the title. While this may have never seen the light of day, we’re thankful to Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works for showing us yet another glimpse of a possible parallel in our gaming lives.

Gunstar-Heroes-Early-Box-Art

Elsewhere you’ll see countless prints from the likes of Streets of Rage’s familiar fight scene, the muscular interpretation of Golden Axe, the lovable Ecco the Dolphin Tides of Time cover, and several Sonic The Hedgehog pieces to marvel at. Jumping much further ahead too, there’s a huge section on character artwork which made the cut, with 135 different designs filling the book’s pages. This is then proceeded by 682 carefully cut out sprites from the many games we know and love. From end of level bosses, familiar faces, entire level maps, and background tiles - the Mega Drive’s graphical prowess is given a much needed celebration through pages upon pages of pixellicious pictures.

Needless to say, you’re once again thrown into the deep end of what could have been a design debriefing at Sega’s meeting room.

Concepts, Pitches & Prototypes

Following on from the showcase of finished products, the Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works takes us back in time to a point before box art was even commissioned. Again, pulling material out from the depths of Sega’s vault, we’re treated to a wide variety of early sketches and concept art used to aid the development process of games. Starting out with a wax crayon take on Vectorman and coloured pencil sketches of the levels he’ll be facing, it’s incredible to get an behind the scenes insight into the games we grew up with. Where it takes an unusual turn though is through Naoto Ohshima’s 1989 mock-ups of Sonic The Hedgehog. While the speedy critter may be as recognisable as anything, he’s surrounded by a selection of unfamiliar faces - one of which being his scrapped human girlfriend, Madonna.

Finishing off this section we’re treated to storyboards of the Streets of Rage introduction sequence, early game specifications for E-Swat (or D-Swat as it’s known in its earliest form), and conceptual sketches displaying how Sonic should run round the famous loops found in Green Hill Zone. These documents also give us a brief insight as to how the designers anticipated each game to work. From a crudely drawn Mega Drive control pad, we’re given a handwritten explanation as to what the controls are in Streets of Rage - something which shows the questionable placement of the Special Attack being assigned to the A button very early on.

Looking at these mockups though, you cannot help but wonder if the games you designed as a kid on paper could have made the grade. After all, as great as it is seeing these game concepts, in reality some of them are no different to the games we designed on our school holidays using a brand new pack of Crayola crayons.

Streets-of-Rage-Introduction

28 Interviews with 16-bit Superstars

As you reach the back end of the Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works, you’ll instantly notice a drop in paper-weight and quality. With the last section of the book reserved for text-heavy interviews with various key people in the Mega Drive’s history, Read Only Memory have opted to stick to a more budget approach to delivering what each of these individuals had to say. Using nothing but blue print to cover these pages, it’s the only aspect of this rich and vibrant book which doesn’t have the same finesse visually. That said, don’t let this sway you in any way at all. Spanning a massive 70+ pages are detailed stories from 28 different people from Sega’s past - each providing a fantastic tale as to what input they provided over the years.

Starting out with the all important, Makoto Uchida (Planner), Mitsushige Shiraiwa (Product Designer), and the famous Yuji Naka (Game Designer and Sonic The Hedgehog creator), you’re instantly given a fantastic backstory as to how so many influential beings joined together over their love of video games. From various confessions as to Golden Axe’s Ax Battler being born out of Conan, to the history behind the Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic 2, you get a real sense that Read Only Memory have gathered up a wealth of questions gamers have wanted answered for decades.

Another interesting aspect to this section is the depth of interviews available. For anyone who’s recently watched Red Bull Music Academy’s Diggin’ In The Carts will have a real sense for the level of detail and love video game composers put into their work. This sentiment is echoed through-out these back pages, with the likes of Keisuke Tsukahara and Yuzo Koshiro pouring over their love for early audio technology, and of course their inspirations for the many soundtracks they created.

The only disappointment with this section lies within the single colour print these pages harbour, as mentioned above. With various additional character artworks and sketches littering the guttering of these pages, it’s a shame that these miss out on a flash of colour. Having said that though, given how much else is in this book and on show, it’s an easy thing to overlook when there are so many detailed interviews to be absorbed. After all, where else would you find out that Yu Suzuki drew inspiration from The NeverEnding Story for the worlds in Space Harrier?

Conclusion

Looking over each and every one of these pages you get a real sense of care and consideration, all coupled with an obvious love for the system. Both Darren Wall and Keith Stuart have gone above and beyond their original promises to do the 16-bit console proud. As it stands you’ll be hard pressed to find as much information, visuals, and stories covering the Mega Drive, nevermind them all being in one place. The behind the scenes additions are a fantastic bonus, and something many of us never expected to see.

With this in mind, we can only hope that Read Only Memory gift the likes of the Super Nintendo, PC Engine, and Game Boy similar compendiums, as what they’ve done here is without a doubt the most concise and enjoyable retro gaming book to date. At just £35 including free UK postage, you’d be mad to not pick this up while stocks last.

Link: Buy Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works from Read Only Memory


Last Updated ( 18 January 2015 )  

Cauterize

Better known as Adam offline, Cauterize is one of RetroCollect's final bosses with an unhealthy addiction to pixels. When he's not out searching the web for the latest retro gaming news or creating content for RetroCollect, he'll will most likely be found working on his Sensible Soccer skills.

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Comments 

-1 (Link to this comment) RetroBob 2015-01-18 19:47
It's a fantastic book, a work of art even.
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