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16-Bit Wars Heat Up: Introducing NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 & Sega’s Genesis

The video game industry is going to become fiercer than ever with two brand new 16-bit machines coming to the market later this year. Right now Nintendo enjoys almost a 90% market share of the business with its NES still selling extremely well after its 1985 test drive in New York. For the past few holiday seasons the Nintendo and its games have been the hottest toy on the market. Sega and NEC hope to change that this year.

NEC, the Japanese computer giant, is entering the video game realm with its new TurboGrafx-16 home gaming system. It was recently shown off at a press conference in New York and it looks like it will give Nintendo a run for its money. Featuring a special 16-bit graphic chip (the NES is only an 8-bit system), the games look more colorful and vibrant than anything seen thus far on the Nintendo. What this means is that titles will look closer to what arcade machines can pull off, but it comes at a price.

The TurboGrafx-16 is expected to retail for around $200 when it launches this fall. It will come packed in with a game called Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, a sort of sci-fi adventure game that should appeal to a slightly older audience than what Nintendo markets to. And it will need to court customers with more money because this super system is over double the price of the NES and the games are expected to come in at around $50 a pop. Still, this system has been a huge success in Japan, where it is known as the P.C. Engine. With plenty of games available across the Pacific (over 100 and counting) and room for expansion modules like a CD-ROM attachment, NEC could be onto something big. The question is whether or not the software will be compelling enough to prompt millions of NES owners to jump ship. Right now we’re not so sure and the overall cost of the system and its games is sure to turn away parents.



We also can’t help but be skeptical of the hidden costs associated with the machine. For example, only one control pad is included in the box. If you want to partake in a two player simultaneous game you’ll be forced to purchase another controller, which we’re being told will run around $25. But wait, there’s more! In a sort of head-slapping move, the designers of the console have only included one controller slot! That means to add more controllers you have to also purchase a multiplayer adaptor, which is another $25 or so! On the plus side this allows up to five people to play in games that support the feature, but of course that means shelling out even more money for more controllers. Another hidden cost comes in the form of an AV Booster, which is an attachment that allows players to hook up the system with A/V cords – something the NES comes standard with! You get a better picture with the composite cables versus the RF adaptor, so if you want to show off your pretty new games in the best possible light, you have to shell out more money for this device. Enthusiasts will no doubt eat this stuff up, but the general gamer and kids won’t have the funds to do so.



The other competitor entering the fray is Sega, who is no stranger to the video game market. They’ve been going up against Nintendo for the past few years with their 8-bit Sega Master System. It has barely made a dent in the video game sphere, but they hope their new 16-bit console will change all that. From what we’ve seen this thing is truly a beast. It boasts a true 16-bit CPU and features stereo sound (complete with a headphone jack right in the system) and is capable of playing some of Sega’s hit arcade games with near-identical graphics! In fact the new system, which is being called Genesis in the U.S., will come packed in with the arcade hit, Altered Beast. The system can create large characters and features special effects, like parallax scrolling, which adds more detail than ever seen in a home console before.

Sega is taking up the marketing and distribution duties this time around instead of farming them out to Tonka. This could mean a leaner and meaner Sega that can quickly pivot if something isn’t quite working out as well as they thought. The system is going to retail for about $189 and will also only come packaged with one controller. We’re not sure what these companies have against two-player gaming out of the box, but if were to guess it’s probably a cost saving move to try and keep the price tag as low as possible. Luckily you don’t have to buy a multiplayer adaptor or an AV Booster for this machine, which instantly makes it more appealing from a cost perspective.

As always it will come down to the game library and marketing to see if either of these companies has what it takes to dethrone Nintendo. With expensive asking prices, we’re doubtful they’ll really have an impact for now, but we’ll see how things shake out over the next few years.



Meanwhile, Nintendo isn’t sitting idly by letting the video game industry slip through their fingers. No, in fact they’ve got their own 16-bit mega console in the works. It was supposed to debut last year in Japan, but it was delayed until this fall. It’s called the Super Famicom (which would translate to Super Nintendo over here) and it’s expected to feature some custom chips to really set it apart from the other machines. Little is known at this point about the machine; other than the controllers will feature double the action buttons (4 instead of 2) as well as two shoulder buttons and the select and start keys. Even if the system were to launch this year in Japan, we’re being told not to expect it to make it to our shores until at least a year later (fall of 1990). We’ll keep you updated!



The New York Times has a piece on NEC and the TurboGrafx-16. Check it out:


NEC Tries to Zap Nintendo In the Video Game Market


Published: May 24, 1989

A Japanese company is stepping up to challenge Nintendo for a piece of the $3.5 billion American market for home video games.

NEC Home Electronics, an American subsidiary of NEC, the Japanese computer and telecommunications giant, announced yesterday that it will begin selling a new video game system this fall. It contended that the system would have better graphics, sound and special effects and longer playing times than Nintendo games, which have 75 to 80 percent of the American market. The game will sell for about $200 – about twice the price of the Nintendo system – in toy and electronics stores.

The announcement was the first in what promises to be a tumultuous year in the video game industry, with one company after another planning to introduce video games with more computing power than ever.

The new NEC game ”allows us to provide the user over 10 times more color, and 16 times bigger characters,” said Keith Schaefer, senior vice president of NEC Home Electronics. ”You will be able to see them cry, you can see the eye movement, the muscle movement. In the baseball games, you will be able to see dirt on the players’ uniforms when they slide.”

Electronics and toy industry experts said yesterday that NEC’s reputation and resources – it is a $22 billion company, worldwide – automatically gave it a chance of success in the home video game market. Since late 1987, NEC spokesmen and industry analysts said, it has had great success in Japan with the same home video game that it is bringing to the United States.

The key to the system is a 16-bit graphics processor that provides images that are clearer and more detailed than those generated by Nintendo’s smaller processor. Nintendo does not release the size of the processor, but it is widely believed in the industry to be 8 bits. There is also an optional compact disk player attachment that produces high-quality stereo sound to accompany the games.

But Nintendo spokesmen, reached at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., yesterday said they were not impressed. Nintendo revived a moribund home video game market after 1985 with its games, which are believed to be in 17 percent of American households.

NEC ”is a hardware company, and we think they are looking at this from a hardware, rather than a software point of view,” said William White, Nintendo’s director of advertising. ”Their software is offering improved graphics, but it’s not offering another level of play and challenge to the player. We believe that’s not enough to justify the investment that NEC is asking for their system.”

Still, Nintendo is planning to introduce a new, 16-bit machine itself in Japan this summer, and may introduce it in this country as early as next year. Mr. White said Nintendo had decided to offer the new machine in Japan only after its software programmers had devised new programs of ”extraordinary” nature, that made full use of the 16-bit chip.

Sega of America, a manufacturer of arcade video games, is also planning to release a home video machine with a 16-bit microprocessor this spring. The microprocessor, not to be confused with the 16-bit graphics chips in the NEC and new Nintendo machine, will give the Sega machine more computing power and thus potentially far greater speed and special effects than the other machines.

Analysts said computing power was not necessarily the crucial ingredient, however. What Nintendo has proved, they say, is that success in home video games relies as much on clever marketing and software.


Craig Majaski

Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He's currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.

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