If you’ve ever wondered what Sega was like at the height of its game-making powers, you need wonder no more. A staff video from the Sega vaults – shot in 1996, the same year the Sony PlayStation was set to take over the world – has been released by the production company behind it, Green Mill Filmworks. Not only is the video a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at game development and testing, it’s hands down the most ’90s thing I’ve ever seen.
Even aside from the baggy clothes, questionable haircuts and atrocious denim, the desks of interviewed game testers — many of whom said they spent up to 90 hours a week squashing bugs — are littered with ’90s paraphernalia. My personal favorite , apart from the many appearances of the obligate (at least for the 90s) Jurassic Park merchandise, is the spinning holographic disc that appears after 13 minutes. I had one as a kid, and while I still don’t quite understand the appeal, they were all the rage at school, even here in the UK.
Of course, there’s plenty of Sega tech on display too, with testers having access to the Mega Drive (Genesis to our American friends), 32X, Sega CD, Game Gear, Saturn, and even the short-lived Sega Pico, a laptop-like educational children’s system powered by Genesis hardware. Each tester also got development cartridges – which you can see being hand-loaded with memory chips about 18 minutes later – before having to relentlessly sit down and play the game, using a VHS recorder (yes really) to record gameplay and identify when and how bugs appeared.
“It’s like anything else, any company that produces a product needs a team to make sure the product doesn’t fail and all the nuts and bolts fall out,” lead tester Joel Breton says in the video. “For us, our products are extremely complicated and they take hours and hours and hours of testing. It’s been called a thankless job. We’re some of the hardest workers in the business. And I think we should get more recognition for what we do do and how important it is.”
Making all that seem, well, exciting on video is a challenge. After all, it’s just a bunch of people playing a video game and filling out slips of paper. And so the video features almost every flashy, MTV-esque production technique of the ’90s, including Dutch tilts, crash zooms and – in an astonishingly hopeful attempt at excitement – a triple zoom cutout of a man pressing a copier button (4:20), followed by another paper coming out the other side. Brilliant.
Then there’s the soundtrack, featuring all the popular ’90s rock acts of the era, including Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam, as well as the constant (and company-approved) smoke breaks that litter the video.
But perhaps the best part of the video is towards the end, when then Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske is asked what he thinks the future of video games will be.
“Our view is that video games will become much broader in their appeal,” he says. “The games industry initially appealed to men who, probably in the early ’80s, were 10 to 16 years old. Well, now all those guys are grown up and now in their 30s.”
You’re probably thinking “wow, this guy was way ahead of the competition. He thought about how to make games more inclusive for casual players, for an older generation, for women!”
And then he says, “That’s why so much of our trade is grown men now.”
You were so close, Tom. This one close to.
Frame image by Matt Chan