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Join The 16-Bit Revolution: Interview About the Production of “Mega Drive Mini” and “Genesis Mini” Part One

~First Part: A story from two core members, from the development history to the reproduction of detailed specs~

A cool design with a black body. High specs with a 16bitCPU. “Mega Drive” attracted video game fans all over the world from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s with many masterpiece titles by SEGA and third parties. The successful hardware has now been reproduced as the “Mega Drive Mini” and “Genesis Mini” by shrinking it to a palm-size while keeping the original design, and it comes with as many as 42 titles from classics to rare titles that have a premium price in a used market.

The machine was announced at “SEGA FES 2018” for the Japanese domestic market, but it gathered huge attention and response from fans all over the world, so the plan was changed. It was later decided to release a North American version of “Genesis Mini” with different titles, and European & Asian versions of “Mega Drive Mini” at the same time. Since the included titles were announced in stages, getting fans excited each time titles were announced.

“Mega Drive Mini” was finally released on September 19th, 2019 in Japan, North America, and Asia. At this time, we had an interview with Mr. Hiroyuki Miyazaki and Mr. Yosuke Okunari from SEGA Games who played an important role in the development project of the world-wide-welcomed machine and asked them about the story of the development and the history behind it.

Let’s explore deeply about the secrets of the hardware in the first part of this interview.

“Nintendo fans were happy about the reproduction of the legacy hardware. What about SEGA fans?”

OTAQUEST: How did this reproduction project start?

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: As you know, SEGA released the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast after the Mega Drive, but then the company withdrew from the hardware business. After that, we became a software manufacturer and a contents provider, but we had been having thoughts of redelivering many of the assets that we have created when we were a hardware manufacturer to fans all over the world. We knew that there was a demand for it and there were fans who were excitedly waiting, but we also knew that it was not easy to make it happen, so nobody said: “Let’s do it”.

However, Nintendo, who used to be our rival at that time when we released Mega Drive and now is our partner as we provide them gaming software, has released “Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer” (Famicom Mini) and it was widely accepted by the world. Their success made us re-realize that there was a demand for reproducing legacy hardware and titles from a business point of view and also that it made fans very happy. When we thought like “Nintendo fans were happy. Then what about SEGA fans?”, we thought “We have to do something”. This is the direct cause of how the Mega Drive reproduction project started. You can say that “Because of Nintendo, the project had started.”

OTAQUEST: It was originally supposed to be released only in Japan, but why was it released in the 3 regions simultaneously?

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: There was a plan to release in regions other than Japan from the beginning, but our original strategy was to release it in Japan first and then release it in other regions. We took steps to mirror the release of Mega Drive in that it was released in Japan first in 1988, and 1989 in America, and 1990 in Europe. However, when the development of the Japanese version of Mega Drive Mini was announced, the worldwide SEGA fans said “What? Only in Japan?”. Also, there were big reactions from our marketing staff in North America and Europe and they said: “Why don’t we release it here?” Then we reconsidered the plan to replicate what was highly valued 30 years ago in the world in the exact same form to each region and to release it worldwide simultaneously.

Mega Drive was sold as Genesis in America. In Europe, the name was Mega Drive, but the design was a little bit different. If we were going to do it, we wanted to replicate the details. Nintendo released the NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM which the design was different from the Japanese Family Computer and also released Famicom Mini as NES CLASSIC EDITION. We wanted to go beyond them.

OTAQUEST: What was the position of the Asian version?

Yosuke Okunari: Basically, for the original Mega Drive, we brought Japanese Mega Drive to Asia almost as it is. Due to the shipping handling, the package said “Asian Edition”, but the content was the same as what was sold in Japan. SEGA was selling Mega Drive officially that way in Taiwan and Hong Kong. For Mega Drive Mini, the design is the same as the Japanese version but the included titles are different.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: At that time, we were also selling game cartridges officially in that region.

Yosuke Okunari: In Korea, Samsung had the distribution license, and it was sold as Samsung Super Gam*Boy. The design was the exact same, but the logo was changed to Super Gam*Boy. The package was in Korean, but the content was the exact same as what was sold in Japan. For Mega Drive Mini, the same product as Asian version will be sold and it’s not the same as Super Gam*Boy.

“Carry Mega Drive by sticking our fingers in the cartridge slot.”

OTAQUEST: Mega Drive Mini looks just like a shrunken Mega Drive.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Although the size is different, it is better not to change the appearance since it’s a “reproduction”. As the time goes, the controller connector was changed to USB, and the output to a TV was changed to HDMI. Even if we reproduce the AV cable, modern TVs don’t support that cable… The size of AC adaptor at that time was about half the size of Mega Drive Mini, but we didn’t reproduce that either (laughs). All jokes aside, the day when you bought Mega Drive the first time and opened the box is the start of your “Mega Drive Era”, so we didn’t really want to disappoint them by the appearance. For that reason, Okunari worked so hard and made the cartridge slot so it can be opened. He was explaining to the designing staff that we are supposed to carry Mega Drive by sticking our fingers in the cartridge slot, not by holding from the side (laughs).

Yosuke Okunari: When I was just a user, everyone was holding it like that, so I wanted to hold the Mega Drive Mini in the same way.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: When I heard this same story from Mega Drive fans, I thought that the value and the status of this project would go down if we don’t take care about the body shape and its gimmicks. The more moving parts and other parts we add, the more costs are going to be added of course. If we had combined the slot and the slider into one part, the cost would have been so much cheaper, but we didn’t want to go cheap.

Yosuke Okunari: When I bought the Famicom Mini, the first and the biggest joy I felt was having something that I used to enjoy so much as a miniature version. I’m sure that many people felt the same way. Something you love is now miniature size. It makes me feel happy that it’s there as a decoration and you can play it too! But the lid for the front terminal was closed and I thought “Oh, this part doesn’t move….” Well, the gimmick is not a necessary feature for Famicom Mini, but if I had made it, I would have reproduced that. That was the first impression, so if SEGA was going to do it, I wanted to make it precise as a miniature when it’s placed in a room and also make what people would be happy to have.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: The most disappointing part was cutting the headphone jack because of the cost. We discussed so many times whether we should have it or not. The size of the cartridge part is obviously different, so the real cartridge doesn’t need to be fit in, but for a hole with the size of headphone jack, people would think that they can connect a headphone when they see the hole. If it fits, sounds should come out and the volume slider needs to be able to work as well. It would cost too much for us to make it happen, so we gave up on that, however, we left a tiny mark of the hole, so I wouldn’t doubt that some people might open a hole there and color it. I, as the manufacturer, don’t recommend doing that though LOL.

Yosuke Okunari: The lid for the expansion slot that was used for connecting “Mega-CD” at the back of the body also opens. For the original version, when you take it out, you can see a board, but for Mega Drive Mini, it’s not good if you can see the inside, so you can take it out, but the inside is blocked. When we were working on that part, we were saying “If this part can be removed, someone might make a Mega-CD add-on from scratch.”

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Eventually, we wanted to make a miniature version of Mega-CD by ourselves and we actually made gadgets for reproducing Mega Drive Tower. It won’t add any games and it won’t do anything though (laughs).

OTAQUEST: Do you have anything else that you struggled on with the exterior?

Yosuke Okunari: For the designing staff, the slide part for volume control was difficult. As Miyazaki said, it is a dummy part. There is no mechanical part inside, so if we make it with the same structure as the original Mega Drive, the slider is loose and moves up and down. To prevent that, the thickness of the part and slide is adjusted to make it stay.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: The color of small parts are actually different depending on where it was manufactured. Since there is no correct color, we discussed which color to use.

Yosuke Okunari: For the early version of Mega Drive, the letters “AV INTELLIGENT TERMINAL/HIGH GRADE MULTIPURPOSE USE” were printed on the circular plastic part around the cartridge slot. For the latter version of Mega Drive, there were no letters due to cost-cutting. Also, the wine-red-colored part under “16-BIT” was no longer printed, and it was changed to fitting a separate part with a different color. We compared the two and discussed “Which one we should go with?” Even more, we discussed at and even earlier stage about “Are we going to change the design between Mega Drive and Genesis?”

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Regarding that, I want to say to people who are going to design consumer hardware in the future, “if you want to expand worldwide, make various things in common!” For Mega Drive and Genesis, there are small differences like the color of the reset button is different between blue and white. Just for this reason, we have to prepare plastic parts with different colors! (laughs) The start button on the 3-button controller is also different between the west and Japan. I want to know why there are such differences.

Yosuke Okunari: Perhaps the color was changed due to ideas from marketing and sales from each different region. Maybe someone in America said “The Japanese blue reset button is ugly. Let’s change it to white.”

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Can OTAQUEST ask around and find “the person who changed the color of the reset and start buttons between Mega Drive and Genesis”? (laughs)

Yosuke Okunari: For American users, they might think “Blue reset button… Oh my god, that’s so ugly.” I’m curious how people overseas actually feel.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: I personally think white is better too, but I guess blue was chosen because it stands out. For Famicom and Super Famicom, it was matched with the body.

Yosuke Okunari: I guess they wanted to express that this button is special? Let’s hope that we find someone who used to work at SEGA in America at that time and knows about the truth. (laughs)

“Throw away stuff you don’t use for more than 3 years? You will use it 30 years later.”

OTAQUEST: The package design is following the original Mega Drive package design.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: The product name and specs are changed for Mega Drive Mini, but the design is almost the same as the original. For the Japanese original, there were 2 patterns of the package between the early version and the later version. Mega Drive Mini has 2 versions, the regular version comes with 1 control pad and W version comes with 2, so the first one uses the early version of the package, and the other one uses the latter version of the package. We reproduced the both packages. It stimulates the collector’s interests, right? (laughs) For Genesis Mini, in order to reproduce the original package, we took a new background photo of the Genesis.

Yosuke Okunari: The package of the Genesis has multiple versions, so it was difficult to choose which one is the most recognizable for most people. The most recognizable for most users was the one with the mysterious galaxy-ish picture and we decided to use that one. There were no photos used for the original package left. We needed the same background if we were going to use the design with Genesis Mini in the center, so the staff we have now re-created the picture by looking at the original package we actually had.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: They sprinkled sand or something. They tried so many times saying “Isn’t it like this?” to reproduce the package. For the overseas version, they had no choice but to do that because there was no film of the package left for printing.

Yosuke Okunari: We had a picture for the Japanese version and also had package designs for video game software, but there were not many materials left related to products made for overseas markets. That’s why we made them by looking at the actual product. At that time, nobody kept any pictures or assets which have been used as backup data as we do now.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: For the Mega Drive Mini, we were going to release miniature versions of game cartridges as an accessory, but for the cartridge labels, there is a designing staff who has been working at the company for nearly 30 years, and the staff accidentally kept the files in his desk. Thanks to the staff, we were able to reproduce the labels. He took out some original cartridge stickers from his desk saying “I have only 3 stickers…” Nowadays, some people say we can throw away stuff that we don’t use for more than 3 years, but I’d like to say that we might use it 30 years later. (laughs) I want young people to reconsider “the value of people who don’t throw things away”.

Yosuke Okunari: The data for the letters printed on the body was also a part that we were able to reproduce completely because of that kind of person who keeps things. Usually, we don’t keep such data like letters for printing such as “RESET”, because it will not be used in the future, but 2, 3 years ago, we accidentally found the artwork which was properly stored. At that time, we said, “This is important, so let’s not throw this away”. As a result, we were able to use it for the Mega Drive Mini.

OTAQUEST: When the Mega Drive was still major, was Japan doing the body and package designs for overseas?

Yosuke Okunari: I think overseas staff designed the original Genesis package.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: I don’t think it’s a Japanese style. (laughs)

Yosuke Okunari: For the Genesis Mini, Japanese staff made the North American package design that looks exactly like the original and sent it to local staff to check, but they said “It’s different.” and it ended up as a collaboration. There is no clear answer for it, but only local staff have a good sense of judging whether the look of the original package is replicated or not.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: The part which is different from the original is that there is the logo for 30th anniversary since this year is the 30th anniversary of Genesis in North America.

Yosuke Okunari: Japanese designers are well-conducted in that they make it pretty with organized design, but I have an impression of American design that they try to make it stand out at a store by using an unorganized design so that people would recognize it immediately as a gaming console. Definitely Japanese designers will not use a catchphrase on a package like “JOIN THE 16-BIT REVOLUTION”.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Also they don’t really care about fonts. For the Genesis Mini, the font of the product name “SEGA GENESIS MINI” is a general font, and it’s just randomly placed under the logo.

Yosuke Okunari: I think part of the reason is that the concept of the package design was to use the original logo as it is and not to add the word “Mini” to the original logo, though the Japanese used the designed letters for the words Mega Drive Mini. On the other hand, I feel like the font of Genesis Mini is like “the logo is there, so these letters don’t matter”. (laughs) But that’s the overseas style.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Speaking of which, recently people had been talking on the internet about the color difference of the SEGA logo between Japan and overseas. Actually, it always has been different. It has never been the same. All of SEGA staff are wondering why…. (laughs)

Yosuke Okunari: Both SEGA logos had a similar color in early times, but I think Japan has changed theirs to a brighter color…

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: There has been a red logo. Before Japan has changed it to what now is called “SEGA BLUE”, we tried to change the overseas logos together, but people overseas said “What?” (laughs) and it has never been standardized, because, at that time, SEGA games, especially for the consumer division, were sold overseas more, by far. Actually, the color is even different between America and Europe. Europe uses more elegant blue.

Yosuke Okunari: Since the logo used in each region is well defined, we have to change it accordingly for which region we ship to. The logo which appears on a startup screen is also changed accordingly for which region the game is turned on. We can change the language by setting on the Mega Drive Mini. Each time when it’s changed, the ™ or ® symbol appears with the SEGA logo accordingly when it’s turned on.

“What is the reason why Mega Drive Mini has 6 buttons and Genesis has 3 buttons?”

OTAQUEST: Is the inside board which is used for Mega Drive Mini something special?

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: The board is not something special in that it uses a regular chipset for the price. Its gaming software works on the Mega Drive emulator(*), and it’s not like the Mega Drive is challenging the limit of the hardware, however, from the Mega Drive’s point of view, the specs of Mega Drive Mini are way too high to even compare. (laughs)

(*an emulator is a reproductive program of previous hardware that makes an original gaming program of specific hardware work on different hardware.)

Yosuke Okunari: Dreamcast can’t even win when it’s compared to the chipset in Mega Drive Mini. The emulator is so reliable because it was made by the developer, M2, who has been our partner for a long time when it comes to SEGA’s transplant business.

OTAQUEST: Why is it that the Mega Drive Mini comes with a 6-button controller and the Genesis comes with a 3-button controller?

Yosuke Okunari: The 6-button controller was released for “Mega Drive 2” in April 1993 to use in “Street Fighter II Dash Plus: Champion Edition” (SF II Dash Plus CE) from Capcom. Mega Drive Mini was made with the concept of reproducing the early version of Mega Drive, so we were originally going to bundle a 3-button controller, but actually the 3-button controller for Mega Drive had a bad reputation in Japan. (laughs) So, we decided to go with 6 buttons by also considering expanding the variety of included titles. We told that to the US staff, and…

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: They strongly disagreed. (laughs) They were so angry like “Are you guys stupid? Genesis had 3 buttons!” In the US, 3 buttons were so popular that even Genesis 2 came with the 3-button controller. The 6-button controller was sold separately or bundled with “Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition”.

Yosuke Okunari: Size-wise, the 6-button controller fits well for the Japanese market but it was too small for Americans. As the result, the 6-button controller sold in the US was slightly bigger, but it had never been bundled with the console. Because of the history and also by considering “the importance of replication”, we decided to include a 6-button controller for Mega Drive Mini and a 3-button controller for Genesis Mini. We could have saved the cost by having 6 buttons for both, but we respected the users’ feelings in each region.

OTAQUEST: Both controllers were newly manufactured, right?

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: We had the original design drawings but there was no mold, so we manufactured everything from scratch. I think the feel should be almost the same too.

Yosuke Okunari: From the point of design, the inside of the same 3-button controller is slightly different depending on when it was sold. Even if we can’t see the inside, technology has been improved and some detailed adjustments have been made so that the touch of the direction button has been very different. For the Mega Drive Mini and Genesis Mini, they were manufactured based on the final version of the originals and some adjustments were made to get a better feeling of handling.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Mega Drive had been actively operated for 6 to 7 years. Parts for the body and controller get improved when a console is used for that long of a time. It keeps changing by having small improvements such as the durability of the screws gets longer or the recoil of pressing the switch gets stronger. Due to this, not every controller for the Mega Drive was the same from the beginning, and a Mega Drive Mini controller is not exactly the same as the original Mega Drive controller, but people who used to play the original Mega Drive would say it feels “almost the same”.

Yosuke Okunari: For the figure, we used SEGA’s design data as it is, and it was checked by the person in charge at that time, so it is made very precisely. Also, the game usability should be close to what it was.

OTAQUEST: Controllers of Mega Drive Mini and Genesis Mini are compatible, right?

Yosuke Okunari: It works with no problem even if you switch between a 6-button controller and a 3-button controller, since the basic software spec and the signal exchanged with the controller are the same.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: Since the connection is USB, if it’s just to plug in, you can connect it to any kind of USB device. The official products are announced on the official website. In Japan, we have some products from Buffalo. For overseas, you should be able to use products from Retro-Bit who are licensed by SEGA.

Yosuke Okunari: When we were working on the Mega Drive Mini production, the project, where Retro-Bit reproduced the Mega Drive controller for PC, was going forward at the same time. I happened to hear from the supervisor about the project and I said “You should make it work with Mega Drive Mini also”. Retro-Bit was very happy and said, “Yes, we will work on it!”

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: This is why the 6-button Mega Drive controller for PC by Retro-Bit was already out there before Genesis Mini was released in the US. If you use the controller on Genesis Mini, it will be easier to play “Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition”.

Yosuke Okunari: The controller is the same size as the slightly bigger 6-button controller which was sold in the US back in the day. Retro-Bit is a brand sold in the western market. Since they don’t sell in Japan, SEGA separately sells bundled accessories on the official SEGA website, and Buffalo sells accessories as a third party. USB is a very useful standard, but sometimes it doesn’t work properly or it could break the hardware in the worst case. We’ve learned by developing the Mega Drive Mini that it is difficult to check USB problems and to have the countermeasures, so this time, we’ve made the accessories other than officially licensed by SEGA not work.

Hiroyuki Miyazaki: For titles which support 4-5 multiplayer, you can play by using a USB hub as a multitap and connecting the necessary number of controllers to it, but please make sure to use official accessories.

In the next part of the interview, we are going to ask about the background of developing the included titles.

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Mr. Hiroyuki Miyazaki

SEGA Games Co., Ltd.  General Manager, Promotion Division, Asia Publishing Division, Japan

He joined SEGA Games in 1993 and has an experience of launching SEGA consoles and producing various game titles. He is one of the staff who knows about the history of SEGA. Currently, he is in charge of domestic Asia promotional management and also the head of eスポーツ推進室室長. For Mega Drive Mini, he led the overall project as a project lead.

Mr. Yosuke Okunari

SEGA Games Co., Ltd.  License Team Producer, Consumer Publishing Department, Asia Division

He was familiar with SEGA hardware when he was a child and joined SEGA in 1994. Since then, he had been the producer of PS2 “SEGA AGES 2500” from 2005 and has been in charge of reproduction of legacy SEGA titles, he became widely well known among SEGA fans. For Mega Drive Mini, he played an important role as a software manager such as selecting included titles.

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