Alternate History


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When a person thinks of a video game console of the 90's, they tend to think about such amazing consoles as the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, and the Nintendo Play station.


The Nintendo Playstation

The Nintendo Play station platform was developed in a partnership between Nintendo and Sony. The platform was planned to be launched as an add-on for the standard Super NES, but was later made into a brand new console. The console introduced advanced graphics and sound capabilities compared with other consoles at the time. It also had a cartridge slot to play Super Nintendo cartridge based games. It was also backwards compatible with Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) cartridges and Gameboy cartridges with a add-on called the Super Gameboy. But the most noteworthy feature of the console was the ability to read CDs and having fully 3D games on them.


The Super Gameboy which allowed backwards compatibility with Gameboy cartridges.


The relationship between Sony and Nintendo started when Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi became interested in working with video games after seeing his daughter play games on Nintendo's Famicom video game console. He took on a contract at Sony for developing hardware that would drive the audio subsystem of Nintendo's next console, the Super NES. Kutaragi secretly developed the chip, known as the Sony SPC 700. As Sony was uninterested in the video game business, most of his superiors did not approve of the project, but Kutaragi found support in Sony executive Norio Ohga and the project was allowed to continue. The success of the project spurred Nintendo to enter into a partnership with Sony to develop both a CD-ROM add-on for the Super NES and a Sony-branded console that would play both SNES games, as well as titles released for the new SNES-CD format. Development of the format started in 1988, when Nintendo signed a contract with Sony to produce a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. After several years of development, Sony introduced a standalone console at 1991's summer Consumer Electronics Show called the "Play Station." The system was to be compatible with existing SNES titles as well as titles released for the SNES-CD format.  

Launch of the Play Station

The Nintendo Playstation was released in Japan on thursday, November 17th, 1991 for 27,000 yen ($26.23). It was an instant success; Nintendo's initial shipment of 400,000 units sold out within hours. 

With the Nintendo Play Station quickly outselling its chief rivals, Nintendo reasserted itself as the leader of the Japanese console market. Nintendo's success was partially due to its retention of most of its key third-party developers from its earlier system, including Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Square, Koei, and Enix. Later Nintendo released the Play Station in North America for $199. It began shipping in limited quantities on February 23, 1992, with an official nationwide release date of  August 23,1992.The Play Station was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland in January 1993 for £160, with a German release following a few weeks later. The Nintendo Play Station was released with few games, but these games were well received in the marketplace. In Japan, only two games were initially available: Super Mario Kart and Super Star Wars. In North America, Super Mario Kart  launched as a bundle with the console, and other launch titles include Contra III: The Alien Wars, Mortal Kombat, Wolfenstein 3D, and The Simpsons: Bart's Nightmare.

Console wars

Main article: Console wars

The rivalry between Nintendo and Sega resulted in what has been described as one of the most notable console wars in video game history, in which Sega positioned the Genesis as the "cool" console, with more mature titles aimed at older gamers, and edgy advertisements that occasionally attacked the competition. Nintendo however, scored an early public relations advantage by securing the first console conversion of Capcom's arcade classic Street Fighter II for SNES, which took over a year to make the transition to Genesis. Despite the Genesis's head start, much larger library of games, and lower price point, the Genesis only represented an estimated 60% of the American 16-bit console market in June 1992, and and neither console could maintain a definitive lead for several years. It is said that when Nintendo launched the Play Station, Sega was doomed. According to Nintendo, the company had sold more than 20 million Play Station units in the U.S. According to a 2014 Wedbush Securities report based on NPD sales data, the Play Station ultimately outsold the Genesis in the U.S. market. 

Changes in policy

During the NES era, Nintendo maintained exclusive control over titles released for the system—the company had to approve every game, each third-party developer could only release up to five games per year (but some third parties got around this by using different names, for example Konami's "Ultra Games" brand), those games could not be released on another console within two years, and Nintendo was the exclusive manufacturer and supplier of NES cartridges. However, competition from Sega's console and the partnership with Sony brought an end to this practice; in 1991, Acclaim began releasing games for both platforms, with most of Nintendo's other licensees following suit over the next several years; Capcom (which licensed some games to Sega instead of producing them directly) and Square were the most notable holdouts. The company continued to carefully review submitted titles, giving them scores using a 40-point scale and allocating Nintendo's marketing resources accordingly. Each region performed separate evaluations. Nintendo of America also maintained a policy that, among other things, limited the amount of violence in the games on its systems. One game, Mortal Kombat, would challenge this policy. A surprise hit in arcades in 1992, Mortal Kombat features splashes of blood andfinishing moves that often depict one character dismembering the other. Originally to be altered by removing the blood and censoring the finishing moves called Fatalities, Mortal Kombat was the first Play Station CD game. Because it retained the gore without having to enter a code like it's Genesis counterpart, the Play Station version of Mortal Kombat outsold the Genesis and Super Nintendo versions by a ratio of five or six-to-one.

Game players were not the only ones to notice the violence in this game; US Senators Herb Kohl and Joe Lieberman convened a Congressional hearing on December 9, 1993 to investigate the marketing of violent video games to children. The hearings led to the creation of the Interactive Digital Software Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and the inclusion of ratings on all video games. With these ratings in place, Nintendo decided its censorship policies were no longer needed.

32-bit era and beyond

While other companies were moving on to 32-bit systems, Nintendo was already ahead of them all with the Play Station and it's wide library of games, including it's newly released Donkey Kong Country, a platform game featuring 3D models and textures pre-rendered on SGI workstations.

Donkey Kong Country Intro00:48

Donkey Kong Country Intro

The intro to Donkey Kong Country.

With its detailed graphics, fluid animation and high-quality music, Donkey Kong Country rivaled the aesthetic quality of games that were being released on newer 32-bit CD-based consoles. In the last 45 days of 1994, the game sold 6.1 million units, making it the fastest-selling video game in history to that date. This game sent a message that early 32-bit systems had little to offer over the Play Station, and helped make way for the more advanced consoles on the horizon.In October 1997, Nintendo released a  redesigned model of the SNES (the PS-101 model referenced by Nintendo as "New-Style Play Station") in North America for US$99, with some units including the pack-in game Crash Bandicoot 2 Cortex Strikes Back.


The PS-101 model of the Play Station.

Like the earlier redesign of the NES (the NES-101 model), the new model was slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, but it removed the cartridge slot making it impossible to play SNES, NES, and Gameboy games. Nintendo ceased production of the Play Station in 1999, about two years after releasing Kirby's Dream Land 3 (its last first-party game for the system) on November 27, 1997, a year after releasing Space Invaders (its last third-party game for the system). In Japan, Nintendo continued production of the Play Station until September 25, 2003, and new games were produced until the year 2000, ending with the release of Metal Slader Glory Director's Cut on November 29, 2000.

Many popular Play Station cartridge based titles have since been ported to the Game Boy Advance, which has similar video capabilities. In 2005, Nintendo announced that those Play Station cartridge titles would be made available for download via the Wii and Wii U's Virtual Console service. On October 31, 2007, Nintendo Co., Ltd. announced that it would no longer repair Family Computer, Super Famicom, and Play station systems due to an increasing shortage of the necessary parts.

Sega attempts to Strike back

Sega CD

After the successful launch of the Play Station, Sega announced the Sega CD add-on to combat the Play Station. The add-on was released on December 12, 1991 in Japan, October 15, 1992 in North America, and 1993 in Europe. The Sega CD lets the user play CD-based games and adds extra hardware functionality, such as a faster central processing unit and graphic enhancements. It can also play audio CDs and CD+G discs.

Sega CD

Sega CD

Seeking to create an add-on device for the Genesis, Sega developed the unit to read compact discs as its storage medium. Seeking to create an add-on device for the Genesis, Sega developed the unit to read compact discs as its storage medium. The main benefit of CD technology was greater storage capacity, which allowed for games to be nearly 320 times larger than their Genesis cartridge counterparts. This benefit manifested in the form of full motion video (FMV) games like the controversial Night Trap, which became a focus of the 1993 Congressional hearings on issues of video game violence and ratings. Sega Enterprises in Japan partnered with JVC to design the add-on and refused to consult with Sega of America until the project was completed. Sega of America assembled parts from various "dummy" units to obtain a working prototype. While the add-on became known for several well-received games such as Sonic the Hedgehog CD and Lunar: Eternal Blue, its game library contained a large number of Genesis ports and FMV titles. The Sega CD was redesigned a number of times, including once by Sega and several times by licensed third-party developers.

2.24 million Sega CD units were sold by March 1996, after which the system was officially discontinued as Sega shifted its focus to the Sega Saturn. Retrospective reception to the add-on is mixed, praising the Sega CD for its individual offerings and additions to the Genesis' functions, but offering criticism to the game library for its depth issues, high price of the unit, and how the add-on was supported by Sega.


Two years after the release of the Nintendo Play station in North America Sega released the 32X, an add-on for the Genesis that was supposed to expand the power of the Genesis and serve as a transitional console into the 32-bit era until the release of the Sega Saturn. Independent of the Genesis, the 32X uses its own ROM cartridges and has its own library of games.

Sega 32X box

The box of the Sega 32X

Unveiled by Sega at June 1994's Consumer Electronics Show, the 32X was presented as a low-cost option for consumers looking to play 32-bit games. Developed in response to the Nintendo Play Station and concerns that the Saturn would not make it to market by the end of 1994, the product was first conceived as an entirely new console. At the suggestion of Sega of America executive Joe Miller and his team, the console was converted into an add-on to the existing Genesis and made more powerful. To bring the new add-on to market by its scheduled release date of November 1994, development of the new system and its games were rushed. The console failed to attract third-party video game developers and consumers because of the announcement of the Sega Saturn's simultaneous release in Japan. Sega's efforts to rush the 32X to market cut into available time for game development, resulting in a weak library of forty titles that could not fully use the add-on's hardware, including Genesis ports. By the end of 1994, the 32X had sold 665,000 units. After price reductions in 1995, it was discontinued in 1996 as Sega turned its focus to the Saturn.

Reception after the add-on's unveiling and launch was positive, highlighting the low price of the system and power expansion to the Genesis. Later reviews, both contemporary and retrospective, for the 32X have been mostly negative because of its shallow game library, poor market timing and the resulting market fragmentation for the Genesis.

Sega Saturn

After both the failures of the Sega CD and 32X, Sega announced the Sega Saturn at E3 Tom Kalinske gave a keynote presentation for the upcoming Saturn in which he revealed the release price at US$399 ($449 including a bundled copy of Virtual Fighter), and described the features of the console. Kalinske also revealed that, due to "high consumer demand", Sega had already shipped 30,000 Saturns to Toys "R" Us, Babbage's, Electronics Boutique, and Software Etc. for immediate release.This announcement upset retailers who were not informed of the surprise release, including Best Buy and Walmart;KB Toys responded by dropping Sega from its lineup.

Sega Saturn

The Sega Saturn

Nintendo subsequently unveiled the retail price for the Nintendo 64: Nintendo of America president Todd Lincoln  took the stage, said "$299", and then walked away to applause.

From 1993 to early 1996, although Sega's revenue declined as part of an industry-wide slowdown,the company retained control of 38% of the U.S. video game market (compared to Nintendo's 54%). 800,000 PlayStation units were sold in the U.S. by the end of 1995, compared to 400,000 Saturn units. In part due to an aggressive price war, the PlayStation outsold the Saturn by two-to-one in 1996, while Sega's 16-bit sales declined markedly. By the end of 1996, the Nintendo 64 had sold 2.9 million units in the U.S., more than twice the 1.2 million units sold by the Saturn. After the launch of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, sales of the Saturn and Sega's 32-bit software were sharply reduced. The 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII significantly increased the PlayStation's popularity in Japan. As of August 1997, Nintendo controlled 87% of the console market while Sega controlled only 12%. Neither price cuts nor high-profile game releases were proving helpful to the Saturn's success.

Nintendo 64 and Sony DD

For a list of Nintendo 64 and Sony DD games see List of Nintendo 64 and Sony DD games


Producer and director Shigeru Miyamoto stated that he had conceived of a 3D Mario game concept while developing the SNES game Star Fox. He considered utilizing the Super FX chip in order to develop a proposed Super Nintendo Entertainment System game to be called Super Mario FX, but instead retargeted the idea of developing a brand new 64 bit console. This was not due to the former system's technical limitations, but because the N64 controller has more buttons for gameplay. According to former Argonaut engineer Dylan Cuthbert, a game titled Super Mario FX had never reached development status, and that "Super Mario FX" had been used as the internal code name of the Super FX chip itself.

Nintendo asked their partner Sony to develop the system refused saying "What's the point? We already got a console that plays both cartridges and CDs!" Nintendo eventually negotiated with Sony that if Nintendo themselves developed the console Sony would develop the disc add-on. The console's design was publicly revealed for the first time in late Q2 1994. Images of the console displayed the Nintendo Ultra 64 logo, a ROM cartridge, but no controller. This prototype console's form factor would be retained by the product eventually launched as Nintendo 64 due to a legal issue with Konami. the company now announced a much faster CD-based system, often stating the console was more powerful than the first moon landing computers. Atari had already claimed to have made the first 64-bit game console with their Atari Jaguar, but the Jaguar only uses a general 64-bit architecture in conjunction with two 32-bit RISC processors and a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000.

Later in Q2 1994, Nintendo signed a licensing agreement with Midway's parent company which enabled Midway to develop and market arcade games using the Ultra 64  hardware and formed a joint venture company called Williams/Nintendo to market Nintendo-exclusive home conversions of these games. The result is two arcade games, Killer Instinct and Cruis'n USA, which boasted their upcoming release on the arcade branch of the Nintendo Ultra 64 platform. Compared to the console branch of Ultra 64, the arcade branch uses a different MIPS CPU, has no Reality Coprocessor, and uses onboard ROM chips and a hard drive instead of a CD. Killer Instinct features pre-rendered character artwork, and CG movie backgrounds that are streamed off the hard drive and animated as the characters move horizontally.

The completed Nintendo 64 and Sony DD (which was the name of the CD add-on that Sony developed) was fully unveiled to the public in a playable form on November 24, 1995, at the 7th Annual Shoshinkai Software Exhibition in Japan. Photos of the event were disseminated on the web by Game Zero magazine two days later. Official coverage by Nintendo followed later via the Nintendo Power website and print magazine.

In the lead up to the console's release, Nintendo had adopted a new global branding strategy, assigning the console the same name for all markets: Nintendo 64 and Sony DD. The console was originally slated for release by Christmas of 1995. In May 1995, Nintendo pushed back the release to April 1996. The prospect of a release the following year at a lower price than the competition lowered sales of competing Sega consoles during the important Christmas shopping season Electronic Gaming Monthly editor Ed Semrad even suggested that Nintendo may have announced the April 1996 release date with this end in mind, knowing in advance that the system would not be ready by that date. To counter the possibility that gamers would grow impatient with the wait for the Nintendo 64 and Sony DD and purchase one of the several competing consoles already on the market, Nintendo ran ads for the system well in advance of its announced release dates, with slogans like "Wait for it..." and "Is it worth the wait? Only if you want the best!"


Popular Electronics called the launch a "much hyped, long-anticipated moment".

The console was first released in Japan on June 23, 1996. The Nintendo 64 was first sold in North America on September 26, 1996, despite having been advertised for the 29th. It was launched with just two games in the United States, Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64. In 1996, prior to the launch, Nintendo of America chairman Howard Lincoln emphasized the quality of first-party games, saying "... we're convinced that a few great games at launch are more important than great games mixed in with a lot of dogs". The PAL version of the console was released in Europe on March 1, 1997.

Originally intended to be priced at US$250, the console was ultimately launched at US$199.99 to make it competitive with Sega offerings ( The Saturn had been lowered to $199.99 earlier that summer).

Nintendo priced the console as an impulse purchase, a strategy from the toy industry. The price of the console in the United States was further reduced in August 1998.

Nintendo 64DD

The Nintendo 64 and Sony DD. (Disc Drive)

Sega's final console and downfall

As early as 1995, reports surfaced that Sega would collaborate with Lockheed Martin, The 3DO Company, Matsushita, or Alliance Semiconductor to create a new graphics processing unit, which conflicting accounts said would be used for a 64-bit "Saturn 2" or an add-on peripheral. Development of the Dreamcast was wholly unrelated to this rumored project. In light of the Saturn's poor market performance, Irimajiri decided to start looking outside of the company's internal hardware development division to create a new console. In 1997, Irimajiri enlisted the services of Tatsuo Yamamoto from International Business Machines to lead an 11-man team to work on a secret hardware project in the United States, which was referred to as "Blackbelt". Accounts vary on how an internal team led by Hideki Sato also began development on Dreamcast hardware; one account specifies that Sega of Japan tasked both teams, while another suggests that Sato was bothered by Irimajiri's choice to begin development externally and chose to have his hardware team begin development. Sato and his group chose the Hitachi SH-4 processor architecture and the VideoLogic PowerVR2 graphics processor, manufactured by NEC, in the production of their mainboard. Initially known as "Whitebelt", this project was later codenamed "Dural", after the metallic female fighter from Sega's Virtual Fighter series.

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