Recently, I was sitting in a café by the train station of a small town, somewhere on my travels, with an Edge magazine keeping me company. I had been going through some emotional upset, and was feeling pretty much as far from home as I’ve ever felt; so I really was glad to have the company. Inside the magazine, there was a preview for an upcoming PS4 exclusive, and therein I came to a passage where the writer was praising the work as having “Sega-blue skies.”
Suddenly I was struck with a strong feeling— let’s call it nostalgia. The phrase “Sega-blue skies” itself was not familiar to me, but I understood it instantly, and was transported back to the time when “Sega” was a magical word for me.
I remembered as a little kid, when I bought — or received (hold on, which was it?) — a Siiga Mega Drive (which is how my family pronounced it, anyway). It was late in 1994, when perhaps the heyday of the Mega Drive was coming to a close — but I had no conception of that. Nor did anyone else around me. It was as if we were on a small, drifting island of time, disconnected from the Web and not yet interested in magazines like Edge. I was a Sega kid by default — my loyalty stemming from chance more than choice. Which seems strange to me now, but if I take a look at how I got there, it makes a kind of sense…
A couple of years before, someone had passed down their old Commodore 64 to me along with a caché of disks. I loved playing Paradroid; somehow that name has stuck with me. But the whole set-up was quite convoluted, with an arcane habitat of cords and power adaptors that had to be packed away between uses; I rarely played it. At the time, games were only a curiosity for me, along with many other hobbies. I wasn’t really the computing type. I’m not sure what type I was; other than eccentric – going to school with my Beatles haircut and boots.
I also remember not knowing what the hell was going on.
But after that, perhaps towards the end of 1993, I did spend a year’s worth of pocket money ($2 per week) on the $99 Sega Master System (with in-built Alex Kidd in Miracle World!). As I said, we were on a little island of time, oblivious to the industry’s history or where it was headed (after all, the Sega Saturn was due to come out in Japan only a year later). Yet here I was, absolutely delighted by a game that had been released some seven years earlier, on very nearly obsolete hardware. But I think, up until I bought the Master System, I had had no console experience.
I’m sure, contemporaneously, my older cousin
(two years older and impossibly grown-up) was playing Duck Tales and Super Mario Bros. 3 on her Nintendo, but I was completely ignorant of that. When I was at her house, I would spend most of my time with her brother, who was closer to my age, and equally mad; and we were obsessed with “imagination.”
The Master System didn’t get a whole heap of play – maybe getting set up every other weekend. I had a small gaggle of games that were mostly too hard; so there wasn’t any chance of my becoming addicted. But when we did play the console, it was kind of special. I remember my sister sitting on the floor near the thing, ready to press the big, round “Pause” button when necessary. And my family and I were all pretty enchanted by the Alex Kidd music.
And so, following on from the positivity of having a Master System, the next year I got the console that really exemplified the emotion that prompted me to write this ramble.
I don’t remember first setting up the Mega Drive or playing it. Dad must have been there, and quite probably Mum as well, who wasn’t typically keen to play video games, but who has always had a good attitude towards them. What I played first, though, is easy to remember: Sonic the Hedgehog. From memory, I had bought the game a couple of months beforehand; though time would often drag so much in my childhood that it may actually have been less than a few weeks. This was also the first time I had got a game before its corresponding console — a habit or tradition, I suppose, that would recur throughout the years.
After we switched on the machine, Dad must have tuned our analogue, wood-panelled television. Stunningly beautiful graphics and sound greeted us when the right channel was found. I experienced a new sensation: being impressed whilst feeling hope and bewilderment at a journey opening up to me. I don’t know if there’s a word for that (perhaps one exists in some language, somewhere).
If I remember back to how I felt in those days — the effect that the Mega Drive’s colour palette had on me — the skies were indeed lovely. As was everything else. Flowers rotating, tropical trees, spiky grass, and distant cascades over crags above a vast ocean lake. All this set against music that was so inspired! As Dad would sometimes comment, it was “quite proggy” , with a bass-led interlude very reminiscent of the progressive rock band Yes
To see it back then, on a lovely CRT screen with its roundness and sparkly shine, was to see the game in its purest form. And to hear it on that bassy (though in-built) sound system was also charming. It was a moment that can never be experienced again. Sure, we could probably recreate the same environment and interconnection of vintage machines, but it wouldn’t be that time for any of us—that time when we knew of nothing beyond the mid-nineties.
Fate is a quirky fellow. It complicates things in my head. Do I regret choosing the path I went down, or am I proud of having made it through? If I had noticed a Nintendo Entertainment System on that store shelf, back in 1993 — going for $99 with included Mario game — then I probably would have become a Nintendo kid. And been a little happier at school when my friends would draw Sonic’s decapitated head being slam-dunked by Mario. But if I wasn’t so much of an outsider in some aspects (like my soft spot for Sega), I probably wouldn’t have become as interesting an individual as I am now. (My mom says I’m cool.) I suppose there’s a string of weird choices I’ve made that have led me to becoming more characterful. Same thing goes for you, I bet! And besides, if I hadn’t chosen to adopt the black consoles when all my friends were playing grey, I wouldn’t have relived those sensations in my mind’s eye when reading the phrase “deep, Sega-blue skies.” And so I would have left that café, in a foreign land, feeling just as sad as when I walked in.