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2015

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Your New Years Revolutions

Tomorrow we wave goodbye to old man 2015, and welcome in a brand new year full of hopes, dreams and possibilities.


And, for us here at element14, lots of great new electronics projects!


So to usher in the New Year, we want to hear all about the projects you want to accomplish in 2016, and we'll come back around this time next year to see how they've come along.


Sticking to New Year intentions isn't always that easy, but I'm confident that you guys will manage to bring some, if not all, of your plans to glorious fruition. So think of this as something of a stream-of-consciousness diary, which we can all look back on next year to learn from, review and put to good use in finding out what works, what doesn't, and what it all means.


And have some fun with this! Spin a yarn about new product, boards and technologies that you anticipate will appear in 2016 (upgrades, new iterations, new platforms and such) and incorporate those into your plans. Who knows how prophetic your New Year Revolutions might prove to be!


Tell us all about your plans for ambitious new projects in 2016!

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element14 Blog Posts

There's simply so much content on the element14 Community that is almost sounds nebulous saying "top blog posts". Every project and conversation and competition could be included here, so what exactly is it that we're looking for in our Year in Review round up?


Well, I'd like to chalk it up as an entertaining read. Something informative, fun, engaging and inspiring, which you're likely to have read while on a coffee break, or waiting for some code to compile (I know how you guys love to compile things).


Things like...


Meet the machine of a beer-lovers dreams: an automated craft beer maker

Catwell actually made an automatic bar tender once, but earlier this year he introduced us to the latest contraption on the craft beer scene, the PicoBrew. A great post, that summarises my Christmas (and likely yours) very succinctly.

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Super Computer History

For our new Vintage Tech group, jw0752 put together a fascinating look back at the Cray supercomputer movement, and tells us of his personal history with the company founder.

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Life after electronics: exploring e-waste recycling

This story actually comes to us from our sister site, ImAnEngineer.com, and explores the eco side of electronics, which is something I often feel is easy to overlook when it's time to start yet another new project!

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2015 Trips, Projects and Other Activities Summary

As simple as shabaz's post is here, where he looks back over his favourite moments from 2015, this is quintessentially the kind of thing that turns a website into a community. And it fits with our Year in Review theme so seamlessly, it demands a mention!

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Sega Mega Drive/Genesis 25-Years-Old

Feels a bit narcissistic including one of my own posts in the top 10 list, but I'll take any opportunity to wave the beloved Sega Mega Drive's (Genesis) flag that I can get

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5 gaming projects using the popular ZX Spectrum home computer

And while we're on the subject of retro gaming, here's another of my all time favourite pieces of tech (that came my way via Christmas, back in the 80s, as it happens), the good ol' Speccy.

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A Brief History of Effects Pedals, Part 1

As part of the MusicTech Design Challenge, bluescreen, who's quite the musician, took us on a whirlwind tour of an essential, though easily overlooked aspect of music technology, the effects pedal.

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Self-driving Robot Aims to Reduce Package Delivery Costs

Auto-driving cars, lorries, trains and everything in between is a fast approaching, world changing technology, and GardenState took an interesting look at how this might affect the delivery industries.

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The Maker Movement is Just Fine as is, Thank You


After The Huffington Post rather obscurely harpooned the maker movement, element14 felt a response was need to let it know that, in fact, it's doing just fine, thanks you VERY much!

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The Travels of a Water Bottle #1

When Level 9 member mcb1 came to the UK to work for a few weeks from his homeland of New Zealand, he made sure his element14 water bottle enjoyed the trip as much as he did! The perfect finish to a near-perfect year. Happy New year, minions!

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Post a link to your favourite blog posts of 2015, and we'll aim to provide more of what you love in 2016, too!


Year-in-Review-2015-header.pngWas there a defining moment when electronics became a fascination, grew into a hobby, and eventually turned into a career?

 

Pinpointing that exact moment of realisation might be tricky, but I'm willing to bet a lot of us found our way toward the dim glow of an old LED through Christmas periphery. Whether it was an electronics kit, a video game console, a home computer or a techno toy that you broke/took apart/fixed.

 

The Not So Great Gargon

At a guess, I'd say this was a gift that founds its way under my tree somewhere around 1980. My folks had already figured out that I like the more technical stuff. "Active" toys, rather than passive ones, if you see what I mean?

 

And they found this Action Man/GI Joe spin-off, that had pretty much nothing at all to do with that particular range. But the toy manufacturers of the day were in a heated rush to deliver techno-toys, and were clearly struggling for ideas. Hence, the great Gargon.

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This was akin to a six-legged triceratops, that ate batteries a lot more avariciously than it ate people, as suggested by the loose back story included in the instruction booklet. But feed it with half a dozen D-sized batteries, and it set off walking with cheap motors and gears screaming a raw tune. The slightest bump or lump in the carpet and it was rendered immobile.

 

I may not be selling Gargon to you as yet, but at the time it was pretty damn cool. It had one extra feature, you see. Point the included infra-red remote control and press the button, and it magically stopped! And that was about it. Still, though. In the fledgling days of electronic toys, this was enough to ignite a spark of interest in a kid who also happened to own a screwdriver that fitted Gargon's underside.

 

Inside the Beast

Again, I'm guessing at the dates, but a one or two years on Gargon had been retired to the back of the cupboard, as is often the fate of such novelty toys.

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Wondering whether to send it off to the jumble sale or simply to bin it, Gargon instead found himself dissected upon my desk. Being just a little older than when he'd arrived, I was finally able to articulate something that had bothered me about Gargon's operation.

 

Using the IR remote to stop him seemed backward. Admittedly, it did remind my Star Wars-addled mind of the restraining bolt applied to R2-D2 by the Jawas, but it effectively put a stop to play. TheGargon's chasing Action Man down, you press a button, and the problem is solved. Big deal. No wonder he wound up in the cupboard.

 

Plus, I've always leaned more toward empathy with super villains, rather than heroes, so it seemed like a simple tweak to his operation could give Gargon new life, and set him free; if he advanced when you pressed the remote, instead of stopping, you effectively had a city-destroying monster at your command. And who doesn't want one of those?

 

How to Make Your Enemies Into Your Friends

Now, I wish I could remember what stroke of electronics luck I enjoyed at that embryonic age, or if I even still had Gargon to once again put him under the forensics light. Alas, I have neither.

 

The circuit board, I do recall, was chip-less. This was still in the days when discreet components were the cheaper option, and in retrospect it's easy to see how simple the toy's operation was; from an electronics standpoint, that is. The IR receiver, positioned on Gargon's chest (the black square in the image above), was separate to the main PCB, as was the battery housing. Initially I recall succeeding in circumventing the IR component; Gargon ran all the time, regardless of how vigorously Action Man pressed the remote control.


After a day or two's continued, random tinkering in the Gargon 's guts, and I was amazed to find it was working in reverse. I can't say if this was blind luck, partial luck, or whether I'd figured out some unusual solution, but at the time that really didn't matter. I do recall a loud click as he stopped and started, implying, now, that a relay cut his movement on and off; an easy matter to reverse.

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Switch Gargon on, and he now did nothing until you point the remote at him. He'd then set off moving, and instead of being an easily disabled creature looking to devour Action Man, it became his growling, gnashing ally!

 

Although I didn't realise it at the time, this was a catalytic event for me. The first of my many subsequent technologies of Christmas Past. Electronic toys and devices were no longer safe, and though few yielded such fortunate outcomes as The Now-Great Gargon (many failing to ever work again), this is undoubtedly where my lifelong interest in electronics was born. Possibly it could be traced back a little further to when I first played a video game on the Philips Videopac G7000 (the Magnavox Odyssey 2, across the pond), but I thankfully restrained myself from ever dismantling that beauty. Indeed, I still own it!

 

Can you trace your interest back to that defining moment when the spark of electronics enthusiasm ignited within you? Or was there one device, computer, toy or moment that made your Christmas into a technical treasure trove? Tell us all about your Technologies of Christmas Past in the comments below.

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We've gathered up a list of great Star Wars projects and posts from right here on element14 to get you ready for the new movie, but I'm going to subject you to a bit more shameless self-promotion as I dazzle, impress and astound you with my own Star Wars project from around 20 years hence.

 

Luke's Lightsaber

Admittedly, this isn't an electronics project. At least, not yet. But I'll show off my prop replica of Luke's lightsaber without the slightest provocation, and I do, one day, intend to add in some electronics to at least make the lightsaber sounds. You guys are invited to offer a few words of advice on what'd be the best approach in the comments below.

 

Anyway, this beauty was put together before the days of eBay, which was no small task. I started by writing off (snail mail style) to Elstree Studios, who were incredibly helpful. It took a few months and quite a bit of back and forth, before one of the prop team phoned me up to talk to me about the live lightsaber props.


In the end, I decided to go with recreating Luke's lightsaber, as the flash handle (we'll come to that in a moment) was slightly more available than Darth Vader's, and Obi Wan's lightsaber used the handle of a World War I hand grenade! So if you're ever wondering, that's the reason you'll find almost no prop replicas of Ben Kenobi's sword!


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Flash Handles

Both Luke's and Vader's lightsabers began life as camera flash handles. You know the kind; when you think of 1940s press photographers with the big cameras that have a metal handled down one side with a dish mounted at the top where the flash bulb is housed. That handle is a battery holder for the flash, and makes for a great futuristic sword grip! To the right you can see one mounted on an old camera (the same handle as was used for Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, in fact.

 

Luke's was made from a 3-Cell Graflex flash handled, manufactured in the 40s in Rochester, New York. I made enquiries at a few camera repair shops here in the UK, and thanks to the strong number of vintage photography collectors in the region, it didn't take too long for one of the shops to source a Graflex 3-Cell (although I get the feeling they weren't too enamoured when I said I was going to butcher it to make a "toy"!).


This is the handle I managed to get hold of, for around £50, which was a lot at the time, but nothing compared to what these things go for now that word is out about making your own Jedi weapon.

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Calculator Display

Of all the aspects to a lightsaber prop build, I think this one with resonate with you guys at element14 the most.


Remember when handheld calculators first appeared, and rather than LCD displays, they had beautifully bright, red LED segments? And really nice, clicky buttons too, but that's not particularly relevant!


Because the LEDs devoured the batteries pretty quickly, the smallest possible segment displays were used. But to make them more visible, bubble lenses were positioned in from of each segment to magnify them, and it was one of these lenses that the Elstree prop makers put in the Graflex's clamp (that attached it to the side of the camera) to cover it up, and to add a bit more futurism to the Jedi's weapon.


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Fortunately, I had such a calculator, long since broken from juvenile tinkering within its innards. It needed trimming a little to fit the clamp, but it worked beautifully. Incidentally, if you see Luke's lightsaber with a piece of a PCB in place of the bubble lens, that's actually a replica of the second model from Empire Strikes Back.


Windscreen Wipers

To make up the lightsaber's grip, the guy from Elstree tells me a story about some old windscreen wipers the team found in their workshop, which had been removed from (he thinks) and old Jeep. Nice and easy, I initially thought, until he remembers that these weren't actually the rubber blades as you might expect.


These were some kind of stiff rubber fins positioned along the back of the blade, either to redirect the water or for some other, aerodynamic purpose that I've never been able to uncover.


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A scrap yard was put on alert to notify me of any Jeeps that came into the lot, and I was surprised how many did. It only took a few weeks before I was told to pay them a visit to check out an old model that had been wrapped around a wall and dragged into the scrappers for junking. I've never entirely confirmed that the fins I found on the Jeep's wipers are the ones that Elstree used, but they look damn close (after a little careful trimming, that is).


Finishing Touches

Plumber's metal tape went around the middle of the handle, I was told, to cover up the Graflex logo that's etched into the middle, which was pretty much the easiest part of the build.


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The handle also had a D-ring riveted to the bottom, which was used to hang the lighsaber from Luke's belt. However, since I never really intended to wear this (way to valuable!) I've never quite been able to bring myself to drill holes in the bottom of the Graflex handle, so mine's missing this small aspect of the prop replica.


One day I'll show you guys the rest of my epic and slightly insane Star Wars collection (consisting of 30-year-old yoghurt pots, soap, toothbrushes, balloons, flip-flops and so much more), but for now I'll leave you with the pride of my sci-fi hoard, and open this up to discussions on your own collections, props, and thoughts on how we might add some sound effects (and maybe a bit of light?) to my Luke Skywalker lightsaber. Take it away, my young padawans!


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I was exactly the right age when Star Wars first arrived, both for the movies and for the torrent of desirable merchandise that followed in its wake. Because of this, I've been a lifelong fan, and although I've not seen it yet (NO SPOILERS!), I'm very optimistic about The Force Awakens. It seems like a return to form in all ways... except one.

 

The first Star Wars film was actually an independent production, and that indie vibe shines through it in every respect. It was put together by passionate makers and enthusiasts, rather than studied professionals with a bottomless budget, and you know how we respect that kind of commitment here at element14.

 

Unsurprisingly there are a lot of great Star Wars projects here on the Community, not least because of A New Hope's indie/maker legacy, and today seemed like the perfect opportunity to rediscover those intergalactic treasures. So let's take a look at some of the great projects and content you guys have made right here on the Community, a long, long time ago.

 

Oh, and don't forget to check out how to make your own Luke Skywalker lightsaber and to let us know about your own Star Wars themed projects and electronic aspirations in the comments below!


RIoTboard: Building a TFT LCD Display and Digitizer - Part 1: Introduction

shabaz wanted to show us how the awesome RIoTboard can be used to brilliantly recycle the LCD display from an old laptop, and he demonstrated this superbly using, of course, Star Wars!

 


Star Wars Build

thebenheckshow and theheckwithkaren have an exciting Star Wars build in the works, that you'll be able to wrap your eyeballs around very soon (tomorrow, perhaps?).


 


Disassembling BB8 (Part 1)

As cruel as it might seem, it's unbelievably fascinating what elecia uncovered when she dismantled this year's hottest toy, the remote controlled BB8 droid.

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R2-D2's Holographic projector in real life

One of the submissions for our immensely popular Sci Fi Your Pi Design Challenge involved creating a holographic project, first made popular by Princess Leia's message to Obi Wan via R2-D2. How did the project go, kenny_r?

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Shedule & Homework Robot - Darth Vader

To get his project underway before his robot arrived in the post, yuritikhonov put a paper craft Darth Vader to use. Great idea, and plenty of plans available for making your own Star Wars robots! Anyone up for the challenge?

 


8 Interesting DIY Raspberry Pi Case Ideas

Got a Raspberry Pi or other SBC kicking around on your desk, naked and vulnerable? Why not build it into a Tie Fighter?

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Top 9 Star Wars tech in real life

Just the other day, our very own Catwell put together a fascinating list of Star Wars technologies that aren't too far, far away.

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Star Wars fan builds working R2-D2 that responds to spoken commands with a Raspberry Pi

And while you're at it, check out Catwell's other look at an astonishing Raspberry Pi and R2-D2 project that includes voice commands.

 


Got your own ideas for a cool Star Wars project? Tell us all about them in the comments below. Maybe element14 and the Community can help you bring them to life!

 

*Update: The website upgrade has now been completed.  We hope you enjoy using the new features and if you need help or have questions feel free to post in Feedback and Support or @mention element14support

 

Greetings element14 Community members,

 

The element14 Community website has recently undergone some changes as part of a regular site upgrade every couple of years. 

Questions about why we upgrade? See here.

This website upgrade is a combination of improvement suggestions we've received from you, fixes to reported issues, and brand new features to help you make better use of your membership here on the Community. To ensure a smooth transition, last month we asked a handful of members to try out the new site ahead of launch and let us know what they thought of it. Here’s what a few of them they had to say:

 

  • The improvements are really nice and make the site more useful. Good changes!”

  • “The updated profile page is excellent!”

  • “The drop down list for things like Topics work so much better on my tablet and much more responsive too!”

 

A very special thanks to all of those who participated in our beta program! 

 

As of Sunday, January 24th, the website update has been completed.  Please report any issues with an @mention to element14support or post in Feedback & Support where our team will be ready and waiting to help you Monday-to-Friday. We hope you find these updates and new features easy and enjoyable to use on the Community to Connect, Learn, Create and Inspire!   Found an issue?  Check out the known issues log to see if your issue has already been reported.)

Sincerely,

 

Your friends at element14 Community.

 

 

New Features and Updates

 

    • Your Profile: The layout to the profile area has changed quite a lot. You'll also notice a new feature, similar to LinkedIn’s skill endorsements, have been added so you can share your specific skills and expertise with others via your profile. See below for a comparison of the current profile page versus the new layout.

 

      • Old Profile:

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      • New Profile:

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    • Question & Answers: Members can now mark any open question that any other member has asked with “I have the same question

Also, other members can now mark responses/answers to a question as “helpful”. The more a question is marked as "I have this same question", the higher it will be returned in the search results for relevant content.

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            You'll also be able to search and filter now on questions that have helpful replies.

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    • Your View: The Activity Stream and Inbox (which were previously part of the same area on the website) have now been separated. Your Inbox can still be accessed by clicking on the orange box at the top right of the site.

Activity can now be accessed by clicking on “Activity” at the top right of the site, which means you can access it in one fewer clicks than before. 

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In addition to the separation of the two features, you'll also see a new feature called “Your View” in the Inbox, which allows you to create a custom page to show the information that's most important to you. You can also make Your View, Activity or Inbox your default view when you visit the element14 Community.

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    • Streams: In addition to the current feature of creating custom streams that follow places and people you care about, now you can also create streams with tags. Simply edit your current stream(s) to take advantage of this new feature on existing streams.

 

    • Design Look & Feel: Changes have been made to shorten the home page scroll, the navigational menus have been simplified, many of the page layouts have been cleaned up and refreshed, and you'll also notice an overall refresh of the design.

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Content icon images have a new updated look:

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    • Search & Filter: The main search box results will now return additional filters including Frequently Viewed and Recently Searched. 

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    • Qualified Content: Three new options (labelled as Official, Marked as Outdated and Has Helpful Comments) to search have been added. These three new filters have been added to improve your search results. 

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When you see content marked "Official" on element14 Community you can be assured it is an official piece of content published by element14 Community. Likewise, old versions of content also can also be marked as "Outdated" so you know you're not looking at the most current version when you see this note on a piece of content.

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            Performance & Security Improvements: Some changes you might not notice in the design or as a new feature, but are                            improvements we think you'll welcome nonetheless.  Changes have been made to reduce the amount of code to improve the                      speed of page load times.  Additionally, we've implemented a switch to use HTTPS across the site that will strengthen                                  security/privacy of all members.

                   

Mobile: element14 Community will now offer a responsive design which will make the website easier to consume and navigate on your tablet, mobile phone or any other different sized display. Rather than employing a separate "mobile" site, the upgraded element14.com will automatically adjust itself to any size or orientation of screen.

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element14 Community Awards
The polls are closing soon!


Your vote is your voice!

 

Morning all!

 

Just a quick reminder that the polls close tomorrow in the 2015 element14 Community Awards, so time's running out if you haven't yet performed your democratic duties!


And remember that you need to vote in all seven categories if you want to get the 2015 I Voted badge, which will also close down tomorrow when the polls do. If you miss it now, you'll miss the badge for good, and therefore the chance to win our products of the year.

 

Head on over to the polls now if you still need to cast a vote or two.

 

 

The likely winners are starting to emerge, with devices like the Raspberry Pi 2 and projects like the Star Trek-inspired Meditech pulling ahead. But there's still time for anything to happen, so make sure your voice is heard in the 2015 Community Awards before it's too late.

There's nothing like a beloved piece of childhood technology hitting a milestone anniversary to make you feel old. The 16-bit gaming warhorse, the Sega Mega Drive (the Genesis, to our transatlantic cousins) is celebrating its 25th birthday.

 

25! We could go drinking with the Mega Drive now, and it wouldn't even get asked for ID. But you know we're big lovers of retro gaming here at element14 -- after all, we just turned our first ever Raspberry Pi Zero into a Mega Drive! -- so it seemed only fair to shed a quiet tear in memory of this magnificent machine.

 

Mega Drive, Mega Gaming

When games consoles went 16-bit, you found yourself in one of two camps: the Nintendo SNES (which celebrated its 25th anniversary just a couple of weeks ago on the 21st), or the Sega Mega Drive. I was firmly entrenched in the latter, which was actually the underdog of the day, and therefore something of a risk to pocket money-strapped gamers.

 

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The previous Sega console, the Master System, hadn't performed all that well. Certainly not in the essential US market, anyway, although Europe received it more favourably. It was the NES that dominated the 8-bit console scene, after it admirably resurrected the video game scene after Atari managed to destroy it a couple of years hence.

 

But the Nintendo systems both benefited by, and suffered from, a public visage of being aimed at younger players (a stigma that still plagues it to this day). The up-coming hardcore gamers were therefore reticent to buy a "toy". They wanted something with a bit of chest hair on it. Something that revelled in the glory of fighting games, and wasn't afraid to position itself firmly alongside the likes of Mortal Kombat and R-Type.

 

And so, the Mega Drive gained ground that Master System never quite managed, and went toe-to-toe with the SNES in a battle that was never actually brought to a definite conclusion.

 

Mega Facts

The Mega Drive was great for so many different reasons, but here are a few fun facts to help remind us about Sega's crowning glory and why we loved (love) it so damn much.

  • sega ad.jpgThe Korean name for the Mega Drive/Genesis was the rather confusing "Super Gam*Boy", after a disjointed teaming up with Samsung to sell it locally.
  • Some of the first ever motion-sensitive console controllers weren't for the Nintendo Wii, but for the Mega Drive some 15 years earlier.
  • The Mega Drive had online gaming via the (short lived)Sega Meganet system in Japan and Brazil.
  • The Mega Drive has remained on sale, and popular, in Brazil from the day it was launched until the present day.
  • Before it was a massive corporation, the small team at EA figured out how to circumvent Sega's approval system and sell unlicensed Mega Drive games.
  • The Mega Drive was Sega's third home console, after the Master System and the little known SG-1000 before it.
  • Sega of America ran an ad campaign that used the slogan "Genesis Does What Nintendon't", as a shot across Nintendo's bow.
  • The Sega TeraDrive was a weird combination of a Mega Drive console and a home computer in one box.

 

My Mega Games

And let's round out the Mega Drive's 25th birthday with a quick run down of its top five games. And I want to hear your list of top Mega Drive games, and Mega Drive memories in the comments section below.


Happy birthday Mega Drive! To be that good did indeed take ages (now I'm off to play Streets of Rage 2. Stuff working). So, in descending order of awesomeness:

  • Mortal Kombat

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  • Ecco the Dolphin

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  • Earthworm Jim

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  • Sonic the Hedgehog

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  • Street of Rage 2

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