Reality is stranger than fiction, and despite the fact that the supposed potagia magic of Blast Processing of Mega Drive was more of an amazing marketing campaign than technology, the truth is that that crazy fantasy that SEGA used in its commercials and advertisements to mock NintendoIt has more truth than myth. A bit.
Well more or less.
Let’s put ourselves in context: 30 years ago, the titanic Nintendo and the irreverent SEGA got along like cat and dog. The Super Nintendo came later and had an advantage in terms of brand, own titles and hardware that opened new doors from the console or through chips included in the cartridge. But SEGA… Oh SEGA. That was not only a game console: it was a new way of seeing video games.
With Sonic as the flagship, and being aware that the Mega Drive and its catalog of games appealed more to teenagers than to the little ones in the house, SEGA created an amazing brand image backed by its own great games and titles shared with SNES seasoned with themes and features that, due to internal Nintendo policies, had no place in the Brain of the Beast and they consolidated the character of the black beast.
That does not mean that anything was published on the Mega Drive, nor that it was behind Nintendo: SEGA struck first and in addition to the successes of its arcade games, its playable proposal was backed by a more hooligan catalog and, over time , peripherals that will put it at the forefront. Of course, at the marketing level, SEGA was always three steps ahead, and the greatest proof of this was how this one sold us on Blast Processing.
Blast Processing is used to sell Mega Drives. No?
The term Blast Processing it’s brutal. Maybe not so much in Spanish if we stay with its equivalent of “explosive processing”, but the truth is that it doesn’t sound bad for a console feature either. SEGA knew it. And what is better: he was very clear about how to turn those two magic words into sold consoles.
The term was not coined Scott BaylessFor the record, although it occurred to him to use it as a battering ram when it came to highlighting the Mega Drive against the 16-bit Nintendo. What’s more, it had what we can consider a revelation in this regard: as commented by the senior producer of SEGA of America (until 1994) it was used as a simple marketing trick.
In the lead up to the western release of the Sega-CD I was interviewed about what made the platform technically interesting, and at some point I may have mentioned that it had Blast Processing and they loved that. And the truth is that I also liked the word “Blast”. That was the true origin of the famous ‘Blast Processing’.
SEGA took advantage of every opportunity in its prime, and those magic words were pure gold. So much so that, in the middle of that super-campaign against Nintendo based on the “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t“(Mega Drive does what Nintendo can’t) didn’t make muscle out of Blast Processing but instead advertised it as a technology that turned its console into a supercar compared to the tartan offered by the competition. Literally.
“The SEGA Mega Drive does blast processing. The Super Nintendo can’t”
And not only that: SEGA used the term Blast Processing very liberally and whenever he could in his TV or print commercials. Giving as an example the transgressive speed of the Sonic games or the power of its amazing direct conversions of arcade games.
And what was Nintendo doing? Well, the house of Super Mario and Donkey Kong not only did not agree with the campaign, despite the fact that his pulse did not tremble when it came to getting into the mud with SEGA, but also spent money to deny it and make it clear, and for written, that the hedgehog company was lying. Because that was a lie ¿no?
With Nintendo we have come across!
No matter how much you liked Nintendo at the time: SEGA made advertising more fun and hooligan. And that worked very well for him: his unfamiliar brand image fit better among the not-so-little ones. SEGA’s consoles and video games came bundled with big announcements, and SEGA knew very well who to address them to and how to get their messages across and make them stick.
Even when he didn’t even bother to explain how the Blast Processing thing worked.
Because saying that their games were going like a rocket (or like a cucumber) should be enough as long as good titles and transgressive proposals are offered. And despite the fact that the Mega Drive did not have as many colors as the SNES, its amazing versions of Aladdin, Taz-Mania or Jurassic Park not only put Nintendo in a compromise, but also managed to sow doubt among the players.
Faced with these, the Big N had no choice but to get into the conversation and say things clearly: directly, it paid for advertising space in magazines in which it emphatically stated that the Mega Drive Blast Processing thing was a lie. literally, that what they were selling was smoke.
With a layout similar to that used in the magazines of the time, although making it clear that it was a paid advertising article, Nintendo published pieces titled “Smashing the Myth of Speed & Power” (destroying the myth of speed and power) in which it was verbatim that Blast Processing was not very different from that smoke (referring to hot air) that the SEGA marketing department used to inflate the giant balloon of Sonic the Hedgehog. Traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
In this article paid for by Nintendo -as it could do with any other page showing its consoles and games- and published in media such as GamePro and EGM, questioned SEGA’s business strategy head-on and, more specifically, the very existence of Blast Processing as such, establishing that Sonic’s speed had nothing to do with that technology and that he could run just as fast on a SNES as he could on a Mega Drive and, in the process, muscle up. of the specifications and catalog of the Brain of the Beast.
What’s more, this piece specified that they had spoken to developers who had also worked on Mega Drive games and they had confirmed that Blast Processing only existed in the imagination of SEGA’s marketing department. That it was neither hardware, nor technology, nor a system of any kind capable of optimizing games.
Taking into account that SEGA struck first and with a lot of mischief, Nintendo was not without reasons for making this move. Which brings us back to square one, was that Blast Processing just smoke? or was there something else?
The truth about blast processing
The magic of Blast Processing in the Mega Drive games that SEGA promised in the 90s it was a lie, but that amazing term did not appear by birlibirloque art: it was a technique -or rather a trick- that could be done with that 16-bit machine. More specifically, with the Yamaha YM7101 VDP graphics processor.
As established by Scott Bayless himself in issue 61 of Retro Gamer (2009), Blast Processing is a trick that is used to change the color palette on a Mega Driveso it is possible to display amazing static images of 256 colors on the screen.
The problem: the process was so unstable that it was not used in games.
Unfortunately, I have to take responsibility for that slogan. Marty Franz (Sega CTO) discovered that you could do this nifty trick on a screen by interrupting the scanline (or a line in a raster image) and firing a DMA at just the right time.
Typically, the result was that data could get stuck on the graphics chip during the scanline drawing process, which meant that DACs could be driven with 8 bits per pixel.
Game developers already did incredible tricks with similar possibilities on the Mega Drive. The water areas in the Sonic games are the perfect example, since no layer is added on top of them to alter their color. But this was not Blast Processing.
The reason: the use of Blast Processing, as a cheat, was risky and unstable and, consequently, not only did it have nothing to do with the way in which SEGA promoted it in its campaigns, but it also had to do a real juggling to really manifest itself on the screen.
So in practice smoke was being sold, but technically blast processing was real then. And it still is now.
Assuming you could get the timing right, you could draw 256 color static images. There were all kinds of niceties over time and the trick didn’t work reliably on all iterations of the hardware, but you could do it and it was great.
The best? As you can see in the following Digital Foundry video, two decades after SEGA launched its last home console, fans of retro video games have found a way to use Blast Processing without problems.
In other words: despite originally being a publicity stunt, thanks to Mega Drive fans the Blast Processing cheat is no longer unstable. And, by extension, not only is it real, but now it can be used.
Blast Processing was neither a chip, nor a piece of technology, nor two very impressive but meaningless words. We can agree that the way SEGA was promoting it almost made it a lie, but there’s no denying that this was and is a very real trick. One that was not useful then -and specifically- for a hedgehog to run at supersonic speeds on our tube TVs, but that managed to cement the brand and the attitude towards a 16-bit console that it was and still is living history of the video game.
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