Sunday, October 15, 2006
Neo Geo History
Neo-Geo is the name of a cartridge-based arcade and home video game system released in 1990 by Japanese game company SNK. The system offered comparatively colorful 2D graphics and high-quality sound. A major platform for arcade games at the time, the system was also available as a costly home console. The two versions of the system were known as the AES (Advanced Entertainment System, the Home Version) and the MVS (Multi Video System, the Arcade Version).
Initially, the home system was only available for rent or for use in hotel settings, but SNK quickly began selling the system through stores when customer response indicated that people were willing to spend the money. Compared to the other consoles of the time, the Neo Geo AES was incredibly powerful, thanks to its high-end graphics and sound chipsets. The home system featured two CPUs: a 16-bit Motorola 68000 main processor running at 12 MHz and an 8-bit ZiLOG Z-80A coprocessor running at 4 MHz. The system's main CPU was over 50 percent faster than the 68000 processor found in Sega's Genesis console (12MHz vs ~7.6MHz). The Neo Geo AES also had the benefit of its specialized audio and video chipsets. A custom video chipset allowed the system to display 4,096 colors and 380 individual sprites onscreen simultaneously (compared to 64 simultaneous colors and 80 individual sprites for the Genesis), while the onboard Yamaha 2610 sound chip gave the system 15 channels of sound with seven channels reserved specifically for digital sound effects. Surround-Sound was also used in a number of games.
The console was planned to debut at $599 USD and included two joystick controllers and a game (either Baseball Stars or NAM-1975). However, this plan was quickly scrapped and when the system had its national launch it debuted at $649.99 with two joysticks, a memory card, and a single pack-in game, Magician Lord (the early Neo Geo boxes had a gold sticker announcing the inclusion of Magician Lord over the initially planned choice of two games), this package was known as the "Gold System". The system was also released in a "Silver System" package, which included one joystick controller and did not include a game or memory card. Other games cost $200 and up — each. With these "premium" prices though, most gamers weren't able to afford the system and so the console was only accessible to a niche market.
Scandinavian flyer showing MVS arcade cabinets.The Neo Geo was only to be driven further into cult status by changing mainstream tastes which soon demanded flashy, 3D graphics. Yet, the quality of Neo Geo games kept it alive in arcades, particularly in Japan, where the newest installment of the flagship King of Fighters was certain to cause a stir with each release.
The last game by SNK for the Neo Geo system, Samurai Spirits Zero Special, was released on October 19, 2004. SNK decided to abandon the hardware due to the rampant piracy of games built for the system, which SNK believed was partially responsible for their bankruptcy in 2000. SNK ceased to manufacture home consoles by the end of 1997, but software for both formats and arcade hardware was produced for many years after. Measured from the introduction of the arcade hardware in 1990 to the release of the last home cartridge in 2004, the Neo Geo's 14-year official span of support from its manufacturer makes it the second longest-lived arcade or home system ever produced, only behind the Atari 2600, which was supported from 1977 until 1992.
Despite the end of official support from SNK, many titles are still expected to be launched by third party developers. For example, a new cartridge-based game called Last Hope was released for the home console in 2006 by the independent NG:DEV.TEAM, running at 60 fps and showcasing the continued ability of the Neo Geo even sixteen years after its debut. The game features both hand-drawn and CG graphics with transparency and lighting effects as well as a techno soundtrack.
The GameTap subscription service currently includes a Neo Geo emulator and a small library of Neo Geo games.