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1989: NEC Just Says "No" to Cartridges
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on November 30, 2002   |   Episode 6 (Show Archive)  

The Scoop: In developing what would become the Turbo Grafx-16, NEC would make a number of interesting decisions. For one thing, NEC was planning on not using cartridges, which was the standard throughout the industry. Instead, they planned on using a smaller, and much more limited format, known as a HuCard. It was a credit card-sized game that fit perfectly into a CD jewel-style case, and were extremely cheap to manufacturer.

If these small cards don't interest you, then how about the optional CD format? For just a few hundred dollars more, gamers were allowed to play games developed for play on a CD-Rom reader. Games like Fighting Street (aka Street Fighter), Y's Book I & II, and Sherlock Holmes, among others.

Never before had a system strayed too much from the pack. In retail sales, NEC was hammered by the competition. But what it started, perhaps more than anything, will determine its place in history.

The Other Side: Nintendo knew that they could make a little extra cash on the side, just as long as they were the ones making the cartridges. Sega also understood this formula. This is a good deal for a company who is venturing into untested waters. Though Nintendo would be later criticized for staying with this format too long, they were able to make a few extra bucks here and there when the goings were tough.

The Impact: PC users may point to Myst as the start of CD Rom gaming, but console users look no further than the NEC TurboGrafx 16. It introduced the console market to CD games, and started a trend that is being recognized to this very day. Of course, it also brought the introduction of load time. But hey, I bet you don't even notice it anymore, do you?

While the small HuCards are no longer chic, the CD proved to be a real keeper. It's just a shame NEC did it six years before the market was ready for it. If anything,
NEC influenced Sega, and to a lesser extent Nintendo, to attempt to create a similar CD system, thus starting a digital domino effect.

Where Are They Now?: FIt took more than a decade, but here we are, 2002, cartridge free (excluding the GameBoy Advance, which hardly counts). NEC would be proud, I think. These days the only thing we play games on are DVDs, and in some cases, mini-DVDs. Instead of just being able to play games on your console, you can listen to music and watch movies.

Of course, you already knew this. But this was, give or take, NEC's ultimate goal. However, due to poor sales in the U.S. and Europe, NEC was never able to fully realize their dreams like, say, Sega was. Of course, Sega's dreams were vastly different. But that's a whole different story, one for another day.



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