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Why Full Motion Video Was Horrible on Sega CD

Star Wars Rogue One

Looking back today Full Motion Video games on the Sega CD are quite painful to play. Not just because most are rather horrible, and I like the genre so that is saying something, but because of the video quality. Some titles were uglier than others and this was one of the sticking points for gamers. In general, the video quality, the one thing that FMV games needed to be right, is simply not good. Many would say this is due to the developers being new to the Full Motion Video genre, or CD-ROM based development in general.

What if I told you it was something else entirely?

According to YouTube member Matteusbeus (you will be seeing that name a bit in the near future), the Sega Genesis was capable of better Full Motion Video than the Sega CD was. For proof, he uploaded a BIN file containing footage from a recent Star Wars movie. The use of a newer movie like this was probably to silence critics that are just waiting to scream “fake”.

As you can see, the video is quite smooth and very detailed, if a little dark. The point is, it is smooth and fairly clean. This is on par with what gamers saw later in the life of the Sega CD, even better in many instances. One trick that was used in Sega CD releases to get the video quality up was to limit colors on screen, making the video area quite small, or just degrading via compression as much as possible.

Why was this though?

Well, Matteusbeus states it is because of the limited transfer bus between the Sega CD and the Sega Genesis. There simply was not enough bandwidth to get good quality video off of the Sega CD in a manner conducive to what FMV games required. Yep. Sega screwed over gamers due to not thinking ahead enough. Now, this could be because of cost saving measures or it could be because the needs of the CD-ROM platform were just far and above what they were expected to be. Either way, the blame lays at the feet of Sega on this one.

Would a bigger transfer bus have allowed for better looking Full Motion Video games? Yes. Would that have made them more appealing to the masses and maybe prolonged the life of the Sega CD, and Sega Genesis by default? Probably not. The FMV genre was just too limited in scope based on what developers were willing to do. Rather than going with quick action or mystery and horror genres, developers were too focused on giving gamers as close to interactive television as possible. Something current technology may be able to pull off but certainly not back in the day.

Source: YouTube

Carl Williams

It is time gaming journalism takes its rightful place as proper sources and not fanboys giving free advertising. If you wish to support writers like Carl please use the links below. https://www.paypal.me/WCW

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2 Responses to “Why Full Motion Video Was Horrible on Sega CD”

  1. Matt Bennion says:

    Hey, nice article! When I talk about bandwidth I’m referring to the 1x speed cd drive (note I didn’t say CD-ROM!) as the way the system reads data differs from a CD-ROM. Data transfer from a 1 speed CD drive is slow and that’s where the 150kb bottleneck comes into play.

    You do have a second bottleneck though using just the mega drive and that’s bus related. DMA limits you to transfer a set number of tiles within a single vblank (screen refresh) this is something I’ve dealt with in my own developments but this demo is using additional techniques to achieve something far more advanced!

    On a standard mega drive / genesis I can produce video close to 50/60 FPS with a resolution of 216×120 with 15 unique colours + black transparency. I limit myself to either 7.5 or 12 FPS for my demos though as there simply isn’t the cart space for higher frame rates.

    • Thank you for taking the time to reply with more details on the bottlenecks. Some great information there that sheds more light on just how limited developers were back in the day.

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