What is MyMedia Games Network Retrospective?
MyMedia Games Network Retrospective is a regular feature that will take a look at various video game systems, technological advancements and accessories from the past. This may be a trip down memory lane for some people or a history lesson for others. Over time many companies have contributed to the video game industry in their own way, whether it’s a revolutionary step forward for others to follow, or a prime example of what not to do. With that said, let’s take a peek into the past.
SNK Neo Geo
Back in the early 90s when the video game arcades was still a booming industry people of all ages were loading up coin-op machines with loose change to enjoy a gaming quality that was not available on the current generation of home consoles. Sure there were plenty of arcade ports that eventually filtered their way down to the home consoles but the majority of them were scaled down versions to suit the platform they were released on and not a true rendition of what we played in the arcades. If true arcade quality gaming was what you desired to play in the comfort of your own home the only option was to fork out the big dollars and buy an arcade cabinet. Realistically that was financially out of reach for the average person and due to the large size of these units it also wasn’t very practical and this is where the Neo Geo AES console came into play.
Neo Geo Hotel Unit
SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku, or New Japan Project) first released the Neo Geo hardware into the arcades as the Neo Geo MVS (Multi Video System) in 1989 which was a cartridge swappable arcade system as apposed to the traditional units that used large costly PCB's to hold game data. The Neo Geo MVS was available in a single-slot, 2-slot, 4-slot, and 6-slot variations with the multi slot units having patrons select the game that they wish to play hence the name Multi Video System. A year later SNK used the exact same hardware from the MVS and encased it in a tidy console style shell and naming it the Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System). At first the AES wasn’t available for purchase instead the system was rented out for use in hotels. After some time SNK realized that there were enough people interested in buying the system for home use regardless of price so SNK began marketing the Neo Geo AES as a 24bit home console and launched the system as a package consisting of two arcade style joy sticks, a memory card and the pack in game Magician Lord.
Magician Lord was the first pack in game for the Neo Geo
Even though SNK marketed the Neo Geo hardware as a 24bit system was technically 8/16/32-bit multiprocessing running a 16/32-bit Motorola 68010 as the main processor backed up with a 48-bit Zilog Z80 coprocessor. This combination allowed the Neo Geo to display 14,096 colours and 680 individual sprites onscreen which made the competition at the time pail in comparison.
The physical comparison between MVS and AES ROM packs
Like most of the videogame systems of that era the Neo Geo also used cartridge ROMs but the ones used had a extremely large storage capacity compared to its rivals. SNK named their cartridges “MAX 330 MEGA - PRO GEAR SPEC” indicating that up to 330Mbit of data could be on the cartridge. Later on SNK bumped the storage capacity even further when the "GIGA POWER" cartridge which used bank switching to further expands the storage capacity to 716 Mbit. Both the MVS and the AVS shared the same programming code but cartridge pin out put was different. This was done to prevent arcade owners buying the cheaper AES cartridges for commercial use how ever this has swapped around and now the MVS arcade cartridges are cheaper than the AES version due to their value as a collectable. If an AES owner wishes to play MVS cartridges on their home system it is possible thanks to the Phantom-1 which is an aftermarket adaptor. These massive games came at a price though as the average cartridge was around $200USD+ brand new but these games required huge storage because of the amount of detailed frames of animation that was packed into each game.
A MVS 4 Slot arcade unit
The Neo Geo continued to push the 2D gaming scene well into 21st century with a total life span of 14 years which sits the Neo Geo in second position behind the Atari 2600 for longest running console and also making it the last cartridge based system produced. SNK delivered a slow but steady stream of quality titles for the Neo Geo platform before they packed up shop and declared bankruptcy. One major contributing factor to this was excessive piracy of Neo Geo games. The final game from SNK was that last instalment of the popular Samurai Shodown series, Samurai Shodown V Special that unfortunately received the hand of censorship prior to release. The censorship caused software bugs forcing SNK to recall the game and address the problems. An independent software developer called NG:DEV.TEAM let the Neo Geo go out with a bang by producing the game Last Hope which impressed many by using special effects not thought possible on the system. It wasn’t until August 31, 2007 when SNK announced the end of their repair service for the home consoles but arcade support still continued on.
The Neo Geo AES joystick and the Neo Geo CD control pad
As mentioned earlier the Neo Geo AVS was first released with two pack in joysticks this pack was called the Gold System. A later released Silver System only came with the one joystick and no pack in game but came at a cheaper price. To keep the arcade feel of the games the Neo Geo AVS joysticks was a close representation of the MVS arcade joysticks and used the same four button layout and having 280mm (width) x 190mm (depth) x 95mm (height) dimensions. Recently a remake of the Neo Geo AVS joystick was made for the Nintendo Wii dubbed the Neo Geo Stick 2 which is an exact representation of the original but with a few extra buttons. This joystick was made to suit recent Neo Geo titles being continually added to Nintendo Vitual Console system. When the Neo Geo CD was released SNK did away with the arcade style joystick and replaced it with a more conventional control pad but it wasn’t the most ideal controller for fighting games which the Neo Geo specialized in luckily the original AVS joystick is still compatible with the Neo Geo CD.
Neo Geo Memory Card
One neat feature of the Neo Geo was its memory card it functions just like any other with the ability to store high scores, unlocked items/characters and saved games but it could be used on both systems. For instance if you completed a certain portion of a game on the AES home system you could pick up where you left on the exact same game in the arcades.
In most cases the price of a videogame system is not that interesting to write about but when it comes to the Neo Geo it’s a little different. To avoid confusion I will be referring to United States Dollars as the currency. We all remember the uproar from consumers when Sony first announced the price of their latest console the PS3 slapping the unit with $599USD price tag. Now consider the amount of hardware and options you get for that price. Back in 1982 Atari released their Atari 5200 with a $330USD and when you factor in today’s inflation that works out to be $683USD. That’s $84USD more than the PS3 and the system was dismal failure. Then we have the Neo Geo AES that had a whopping $650USD price tag back in 1990 and again if we factor in today’s inflation that becomes $990USD by today’s standard. Compared to consoles of that era the Sega Megadrive, Super Nintendo and TurboGrafx the Neo Geo AES was the Rolls Royce of home video game consoles and the price paid for the system gave consumers the opportunity to play original SNK arcade games in the comfort of their own homes. Yes a number of SNK arcade titles did eventually get ported over to some of the previously mentioned consoles but what you got was a scaled down version of the original due to hardware limitations. One common trait most video games consoles and games have is depreciation. You pay full retail price for the latest system and the moment you walk out the door its lost value. The Neo Geo is a little different and thanks to its cult following. Some Neo Geo hardware and games can be worth a lot of money to the right buyer depending on their rarity. A prime example of this the European version of Kizuna Encounter that sold for $12,500USD.
Neo Geo CD
Neo Geo CD front loader model
In 1994 SNK redesigned the Neo Geo AES but this time utilizing the CD ROM format there fore renaming the system the Neo Geo CD. The Neo Geo CD cut production costs down dramatically and this saving help SNK reduce the system price to $300USD which is about the equivalent to purchasing one Neo Geo cartridge game. The significant price drop made the system more accessible but it didn’t succeed as well as planned. Very slow load times were the major complaint with load times bring the action to screaming halt for 30 to 60 seconds between stages. This load time varied depending on the game and was caused by the system trying to load up to 56 Mbits of data with only a 1 x CD ROM drive. The Neo Geo CD had the exact same hardware as its cartridge based counterpart with three versions of the Neo Geo CD released. The first featured a front loading disc dive that was only available in the Japan. The second was a top loader that was released world wide and is the most common of the three. The third version was the CDZ model and this was the version that SNK made an attempt to address the horrendous load times. Many were led to believe that the CDZ model had a 2 x CD ROM drive but this was wrong as the CDZ model still retained a 1 x CD ROM drive how ever the CD ROM motor was more efficient than the previous modes and more cache was fitted to speed up load times. SNK fixed one problem but was plagued with another as the CDZ model suffered from an over heating problem due to poor ventilation in the systems casing which often led costly repairs.
Neo Geo CD top loader model
Taking a little away from the systems arcade heritage the Neo Geo CD was packaged with a control pad rather than the sturdy arcade joystick that comes with the Neo Geo AES cartridge based system. Slow load times, poor marketing, faulty hardware (CDZ model only) and fierce competition from the polygon churning 32bit weapons from Sega and Sony started to make the Neo Geo hardware show its age eventually leading to the system being discontinued.
Neo Geo CD CDZ
- Main Processor: Motorola 68000 running at 12 MHz
- Co-Processor: Zilog Z80 running at 4 MHz. This is used as an audio controller.
- Sound chip: Yamaha YM2610 15 Sound Channels. 7 Digital, 4 FM synthesis, 3 PSG, and 1 Noise Channel.
- Main Memory (used directly by 68K): 64 KB
- Main Video memory :74 KB
- Video Memory:64 KB
- Palette Memory : 8 KB
- Fast Video RAM : 2 KB
- Sound Memory (used directly by Z80): 2 KB
Maximum Colours On-Screen: 4,096
Maximum Sprites On-Screen: 380
Minimum Sprite Size: 1x2
Maximum Sprite Size: 16x512
Maximum Sprites per scan line: 96
Background Layers: 0
Aspect ratio: 4:3
A/V output: RF, composite video, RGB (with separate 21 pin SCART cable FCG-9).
- Display resolution: 320x224 (many games only used the centremost 304 pixels)
- Colour Palette: 65,536
- Sound CPU: Z80 at 4 MHz
- Sound hardware: YM2610 at 8 MHz, stereo sounds up to 56 kHz, 4 channels FM (4 operators + LFO), 3 PSG, 1 noise, 7 4-bit ADPCM, Work RAM (sound): 2KB, Sound ROM 128KB on-board (only less than 32KB used) up to 512KB sound ROM on cartridges
- Source: separate DC 5 V(older systems) and DC 9 V adapter (newer systems).
- Consumption: 8 W older Systems, 5 W newer Systems
- Console: 325 mm (width) x 237 mm (depth) x 60 mm (height).
- Controller: 280 mm (width) x 190 mm (depth) x 95 mm (height).
- Removable Memory Card: 8 KB or 68-pin JEIDA ver.3 spec memory. Any 68-pin memory that fits the JEIDA ver.3 spec will work
Previous Retrospective articles
Click on the images to view previous retro articles
Written by: Matthew Armitage