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Thread: Unlicensed/Unique Cartridges

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    Default Unlicensed/Unique Cartridges

    I'm aware of the unlicensed NES games and most of the varieties of unlicensed games out there for it, especially the gold Camerica cartridges (which I'm particularly fond of being a huge Codemasters fan), but my question lies more with Genesis cartridges.

    In my somewhat small Genesis collection (55 games) I have a number of games that don't have standard Sega carts. All of these come from two companies, Codemasters and Electronic Arts. I remember some of these from my childhood and always wondered about the weird shapes of them, like Fantastic Dizzy from Codemasters or NHL '94 from EA. My first assumption as I got older was that they were unlicensed games similar to the ones so common on the NES. However, all of these games featured the Official Sega Seal of Quality, so they must have had licensing from Sega.

    I know that CodeMasters loves to fuck with other people's systems and come out with all kinds of awesome stuff like the Aladdin Deck Enhancer, the Game Genie, and the J-Carts for the Micro Machines games on Genesis, so I can understand them having different shaped carts even if I don't understand why. But EA? Maybe it's just because of what EA is today, a publishing giant who never really breaks the norm, but I just find it surprising that they would do anything unique. This is until I remember that EA had awesome and really interesting and creative games during the 90's.

    So I guess the point I'm getting at is, what's up with these seemingly licensed yet cockeyed cartridges? Why do EA games have such tall carts, and what's with that yellow tab on all of them? And why are CodeMaster's carts so small and rounded, imagine all the extra space that must be in a regular Genesis cart if they can fit everything in that little space.

    This also leads me to wonder why every licensed game (the preceding excluded) had identical (labeling excluded) cartridges. Did these come from Sega directly? Was this included in the cost of obtaining the license if they did? Or was each company responsible for manufacturing their own damn games. The same question can be posed for any cartridge based system that used identical cartridges (NES, SNES, Genesis, SMS, N64, 32X, etc.) With 2600 for example, you could tell what company made a particular game by what kind of cartridge it came in or what kind of label it had. So how did they go about having every company use the same cartridges, and why/how did these two licensed companies not use them?

    As much as this may sound like hypothetical rambling, I'd greatly appreciate any answers people could give, or any theories you'd like to throw out there. It's been stumping me for at least a decade and a half now.

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    EA and Codemasters weren't the only ones. Accolade also had non conforming cartridges at first. At least with EA and Accolade, from what I recall they initially started out as unlicensed publishers as they were able to reverse engineer the Mega Drive/Genesis so their games would play on them. Supposedly they're the reason why the machines have the boot up screen that says "Produced by or under license of Sega" when the machine is first turned on.

    I can only imagine that the off kilter designs of the cartridges is because they were unlicensed, Accolade and EA had to manufacture the cartridge casings on their own. I guess once the legal dust settled and EA agreed to become a licensed 3rd party, they opted to keep their production for their cartridges in place so people who instantly recognize an EA cart from a non EA cart.

    I'm not sure on Codemasters end. I don't recall them being an unlicensed party at any point but it's possible that they were.
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    The Codemasters games were indeed unlicensed, at least on the NES.

    As far as the uniformity of the game cartridges, they were all bought from the same supplier, which was a clause of the contract you had to enter into when dealing with Sega and Nintendo. The unlicensed games used their own cartridge designs that often varied from the official design in order to skirt trademark/patent laws.

    From what I've gathered over the years, the yellow tab on the EA carts housed the chip that allowed them to bypass the Genesis lock-out system. What Sega did, when they released the Model 2 Genesis, was put the automatic "Property of Sega" screen up in a lame attempt to cock block EA. Theoretically, when you played an EA game on the Model 2 Genesis, it would display the Sega trademark screen, therefore violating copyright. Sega took EA to court and EA lost. EA then filed an appeal, and the new (smart) judge realized what Sega had done and punished them, ruling that third party guys like EA had the right to make games for Sega, licensed or no, and that Sega had engineered that bit of code in a desperate attempt to keep the "little guy" from ever getting ahead. Sega then realized that in order to try and make some kind of money out of EA, they would have to enter into a pretty sweet partnership with them, which ultimately happened.

    This opened the doors for other third parties, and whereas Nintendo sued the shit out of Codemasters after they came out with the Game Genie (Nintendo lost BTW), Sega embraced them and even made the Game Genie an officially licensed product.

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    I've also got a Razorsoft cartridge which (I assume) wasn't licensed, the game Stormlord.

    I read an interview with Trip Hawkins saying that the reason for the little yellow tab on EA's carts was that it drew the eye to their logo on the tab and helped make their cartridges stand out.

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    ^^ Yeah, Stormlord had a bunch of issues between the licensing & the naked faries. Besides that, it wasn't a great game, so it was doomed to failure, lol

    I own a game that I believe is unlicensed, though it uses a standard US Genesis cart. On the box it's called Earth Defense, but the cart & manual call the game The Earth Defend. The title screen agrees w/ the manual & cartridge label. It's a REALLY crappy shmup (second only to Divine Sealing as the worst shmup on the system), but it was complete, it looked like an unlicensed game I'd never see again, and it was only $5 so I took the plunge. I might have to take a few pics later & post them so I can show you all how poor the whole thing is.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MetalFRO View Post
    ^^ Yeah, Stormlord had a bunch of issues between the licensing & the naked faries. Besides that, it wasn't a great game, so it was doomed to failure, lol

    I own a game that I believe is unlicensed, though it uses a standard US Genesis cart. On the box it's called Earth Defense, but the cart & manual call the game The Earth Defend. The title screen agrees w/ the manual & cartridge label. It's a REALLY crappy shmup (second only to Divine Sealing as the worst shmup on the system), but it was complete, it looked like an unlicensed game I'd never see again, and it was only $5 so I took the plunge. I might have to take a few pics later & post them so I can show you all how poor the whole thing is.
    Earth Defense is unlicensed, but it isn't in a regular Genesis cart. I forgot to mention Accolade and of course Realtec who made "The Earth Defend", but yeah both unlicensed. The thing I was confused about was why EA and Codemasters, who were both licensed, had different carts.

    The EA part has been answered, anyone know about Codemasters? Did they start out as an unlicensed publisher? And either way, if the carts from the distributor are part of the licensing agreement then how did either company get away with using their own?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve W View Post
    I've also got a Razorsoft cartridge which (I assume) wasn't licensed, the game Stormlord.
    Stormlord was licensed, I had a copy of the cart and it said it was licensed.

    I have no idea about the codemasters games, I know Micro Machines had a different shaped cart but I don't know why.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MetalFRO View Post
    I own a game that I believe is unlicensed, though it uses a standard US Genesis cart. On the box it's called Earth Defense, but the cart & manual call the game The Earth Defend. The title screen agrees w/ the manual & cartridge label.
    It was developed by AV Artisan in Taiwan, and published by Realtec.
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    Ballistic released the Genesis port of Double Dragon and that was an unlicensed cart. I used to have it and it was kinda a mix between an old Parker cart and an EA cart.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyBlaze View Post
    Ballistic released the Genesis port of Double Dragon and that was an unlicensed cart. I used to have it and it was kinda a mix between an old Parker cart and an EA cart.
    Double Dragon was one of the unlicensed games published by Accolade.

    So, does anyone have any idea about Codemasters? Did they start off with unlicensed games before moving to licensing? And with both them and EA, when did the switch occur? Which games were unlicensed by these companies?

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    Oh. I just had the loose cart and I remember just the Ballistic logo. I know for Codemasters there was a couple of carts with a couple of controller ports built in, but I think those were licensed.

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    I have two Mario Andretti Racing carts from EA. One is the large size and one is the normal Genesis size. They must have decided to switch to Sega's style of cart at some point and continue to sell more copies of their older games on the normal Sega carts instead of their large ones. I also have an NTSC (North American) copy of Mortal Kombat, but it says Mega Drive instead of Genesis. We know imports don't work on US Genesis systems so could it be a misprint or relabel?
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    Lest we forget oddly-shaped genesis carts from Wisdom Tree, like Joshua: The Battle of Jericho.
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    I have an NES Acclaim cart that has their name right on the plastic. What's the deal with those?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Astrocade View Post
    The Codemasters games were indeed unlicensed, at least on the NES.

    As far as the uniformity of the game cartridges, they were all bought from the same supplier, which was a clause of the contract you had to enter into when dealing with Sega and Nintendo. The unlicensed games used their own cartridge designs that often varied from the official design in order to skirt trademark/patent laws.

    From what I've gathered over the years, the yellow tab on the EA carts housed the chip that allowed them to bypass the Genesis lock-out system. What Sega did, when they released the Model 2 Genesis, was put the automatic "Property of Sega" screen up in a lame attempt to cock block EA. Theoretically, when you played an EA game on the Model 2 Genesis, it would display the Sega trademark screen, therefore violating copyright. Sega took EA to court and EA lost. EA then filed an appeal, and the new (smart) judge realized what Sega had done and punished them, ruling that third party guys like EA had the right to make games for Sega, licensed or no, and that Sega had engineered that bit of code in a desperate attempt to keep the "little guy" from ever getting ahead. Sega then realized that in order to try and make some kind of money out of EA, they would have to enter into a pretty sweet partnership with them, which ultimately happened.

    This opened the doors for other third parties, and whereas Nintendo sued the shit out of Codemasters after they came out with the Game Genie (Nintendo lost BTW), Sega embraced them and even made the Game Genie an officially licensed product.
    Whatever you gather over the years is wrong, because Sega NEVER took EA to court. Sega took ACCOLADE to court and lost. It went down like this:

    EA reverse-engineered the Genesis and started to develop 2 games for the Genesis, Populous and Budokan. They then approached Sega with a licensing agreement, and after showing Sega that they had reverse-engineered the Genesis and were going to make games for the Genesis one way or the other, which scared Sega into licensing the EA games, but the first 3 made were unlicensed, Populous and Budokan (and Zany Golf). These games (unless they are the ons that were reprinted later by EA) will NOT work on a Genesis with TmSS When EA started making games for the Genesis, TmSS wasn't even around yet.

    Accolade then comes around a few years later and does the same thing, but rather than give Accolade a license (and repeat what happened with EA), Sega decides to invent the TmSS and when Accolade bypasses that, Sega takes them to court and loses after a judge proves that Accolade did not use the TmSS code (rather they simply bypassed it through reverse-engineering) and therefore was not in violation of copyright.

    EA NEVER was taken to court by Sega, and the yellow tab was simply a way to recognize EA games, and a difference from the regular carts (because as stated earlier, they would have had to go through Sega to get those regularly-shaped Genesis carts, and they didn't in the beginning) as it has the EA logo on it. It does NOT house the bypass for TmSS, because again, TmSS was NOT around yet.

    Everything you have found out about "over the years" is completely wrong. Sorry to say this, but you are very confused. 3rd parties were always around for the Genesis and NES, and EA was a strong developer for the Genesis over the years. The lawsuits did NOT open up 3rd parties to Nintendo and Sega systems, 3rd parties were always around for these systems.
    Last edited by Baloo; 07-31-2009 at 12:11 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rickstilwell1 View Post
    I have two Mario Andretti Racing carts from EA. One is the large size and one is the normal Genesis size. They must have decided to switch to Sega's style of cart at some point and continue to sell more copies of their older games on the normal Sega carts instead of their large ones. I also have an NTSC (North American) copy of Mortal Kombat, but it says Mega Drive instead of Genesis. We know imports don't work on US Genesis systems so could it be a misprint or relabel?
    Some early Genesis games actually weren't region-locked, and the European name for the Genesis was the Megadrive, and since the carts are shaped the same as the US ones, you can play some of the EU Megadrive games on your NTSC Genesis.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gameguy View Post
    Stormlord was licensed, I had a copy of the cart and it said it was licensed.

    I have no idea about the codemasters games, I know Micro Machines had a different shaped cart but I don't know why.
    Micro Machines had a differently-shaped cart because it has two controller ports on the top of it I believe, giving 4-player support for the game.
    Last edited by Baloo; 07-31-2009 at 12:13 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Baloo View Post
    Micro Machines had a differently-shaped cart because it has two controller ports on the top of it I believe, giving 4-player support for the game.
    Micro Machines 2 has the controller ports, Micro Machine 1 doesn't but its cart is still differently shaped (the PAL version at least). dunno why.

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    Man, I really wish someone knew more about the CodeMasters carts. As far as I can tell, all of the CodeMasters games on the Genesis were licensed. However, all of their carts were a different shape from the regular Genesis carts.

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