Last summer, Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J Harris hit store shelves as one of the only books to delve into the history of one of the most iconic periods in gaming. It follows Sega as the company went from a relatively unknown underdog with talent full of new, revolutionary ideas, to one of the giants in the industry. But more than that, it’s a story of pride, ambition, and a power struggle between two cultures. Now, over a year later, that book is becoming a documentary.
This is a long time coming for Harris. The whole idea for the concept of Console Wars goes back to December 2010. For his birthday, Harris was given a Sega Genesis—a console he played plenty of in his younger days. As he hooked everything up and popped in that cartridge, it dawned on him; he had no idea who was responsible for all the great memories that were spawned from his time with the black plastic machine. So he headed to Barnes and Noble to do some research only to discover that the games industry isn’t that well documented. “I was genuinely shocked that no such book existed,” says Harris, adding that there really wasn’t much written about the gaming industry in general. “Before I wrote Console Wars, I sincerely wanted to read it.”
That curiosity sparked something in Harris. He began working on the foundation for the book. In fact, his first two years of his three-year process in piecing the book together was entirely research. That includes interviews, in which he spoke with nearly 200 people. While he was talking to Sega executives, he was given an opportunity to work on video interviews for the Sega Heritage Collection, a series of videos about the development of Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure 2, and Jet Set Radio. That was where Harris had his first interaction with Sega of Japan. But despite getting paid to complete ten videos, Sega of Japan had a change of heart and put a halt to the project after just five.
Even with the premature cancelation of his video series, Harris had laid the groundwork for Console Wars. He utilized Linkedin to contact industry executives to slowly begin putting something together. Only about 15 percent of those he reached out to responded, but one of his most important interviews came from the former CEO of Sega of America, Tom Kalinske. Before joining Sega, Kalinske was known for reviving Barbie and pushing Masters of the Universe to prominence in the world of toys. He sought to do the same at Sega with their brand new Genesis console and Game Gear handheld. But for Harris, Kalinske, was the key piece in putting the whole story together. “[Through speaking to Kalinske] I saw this wasn’t a story of punching in a time card and things just somehow happening,” says Harris. “It was a very exciting time for the people involved.”
From there, he spent the next year writing and conducting interviews. Harris says that by the time the process was over, he had over a thousand conversations between everyone he spoke to. From his talks with Sega of America and his own interactions with Sega of Japan, it was clear there was a story to tell; a story of a prideful company with an internal power struggle that eventually lead to its demise. In short, Sega found success in America after floundering for years, but still struggled in Japan. Almost every decision from both sides was met with resistance, ultimately leading to the surprise release of the Genesis’ successor, the Sega Saturn. This caused issues with retailers, publishers and developers alike, none of which were prepared for a new console. The rest, which wasn’t documented in Harris’ story, really is history. He wrote the story with the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezerich in mind. It didn’t paint the best picture of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but overall, it was good for Facebook.
Sega of Japan played the role of Zuckerberg for this story, and it didn’t go over well. It garnered enough attention that executives in Nintendo and Sega of Japan heard about it and they had very different responses. The men and women at Nintendo actually loved the book, with some of them praising it. Sega of Japan, however, was silent. Harris heard second-hand that they had instructed employees to remain silent. This response was upsetting for the Sega fan turned author.
Regardless of the backlash, it has sold well enough to warrant a documentary. The Console Wars documentary isn’t a shot-for-shot remake, though. While it still focuses heavily on Kalinske and a few other names that played prominent roles at Sega during the Genesis years, this version of the story will focus more on interviews with the people who were there. It even features Harris accompanying Kalinske, former executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Sega of America, Shinobu Toyoda, and former Sega of America’s second in command, Steve Race to E3 as in an attempt to illustrate to them how the industry has changed since the old days. For him, it was a cool opportunity, but he hopes it can help the gaming world learn a bit of history. “I hope that the industry people start to appreciate how much not just these three, but people like them did for the industry,” says Harris. “There seems to be an under-representation of videogame history... [but] I think that’s starting to change.”
While Harris is excited for the next phase in Console Wars, he understands there is still plenty of work left to do. According to Harris, it’s about 85 percent complete. They’ve just finished up their shooting and have a 90 minute cut, but it needs a bit of editing. He hopes to have the documentary ready for Sundance in January. From there, Harris plans for the war will spill out of the cartridges and onto the big screen with a feature film by Sony, with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg writing the script. But despite the success of the franchise Harris has created, he just wants to tell the story of those who worked in Sega. “I benefitted tremendously from [Console Wars], but I feel indebted to the people in it,” says Harris.
While Console Wars wouldn’t be possible without the support of the people who were in the trenches during that time, Harris’ story did bring those soldiers back to the spotlight. The story of Sega vs Nintendo is a legend in the industry that people shouldn’t forget, and the success of Console Wars proves there are plenty more like Harris who genuinely want to know more about that period in time. Even though we all know the outcome, the stories of the men and women who worked behind the scenes to make our childhoods awesome deserves to be told, and the Console Wars documentary is the next step to achieving that.