Those old enough to recall the bitter 16-bit console war of the early '90s will be all too aware of how heated the battle got between Sega and Nintendo. The two firms were scrapping for domination in the burgeoning home console arena, and used every possible marketing weapon available to them to gain the upper hand - even those which were little more than pure fantasy.
Ask anyone about Sega's marketing campaign in North America and you'll probably hear the term "Blast Processing" at some point. It was a phrase used quite often by the company during the early days of its marketing efforts, a unique hardware feature which apparently gave Sega's console a massive advantage over the rival SNES - which, as Sega's commercials pointed out, didn't possess it.
Like so many marketing buzzwords, Blast Processing was little more than a gimmick - a catchy term coined by PR bods in order to capture the hearts and minds of players all over the world. The man accepting the blame is Scott Bayless, who served as a Senior Producer at Sega of America between 1990 and 1994.
That's him on an early Sega CD advertisement below:
Despite having his face on a two-page advert, Bayless is one of the unsung heroes of Sega's North American operation, and was a key part of many of the company's big decisions during the 16-bit period. While he's not totally accountable for the Blast Processing gimmick, he admits that he did sow the seeds:
Sadly I have to take responsibility for that ghastly phrase. Marty Franz [Sega technical director] discovered that you could do this nifty trick with the display system by hooking the scan line interrupt and firing off a DMA at just the right time. The result was that you could effectively jam data onto the graphics chip while the scan line was being drawn – which meant you could drive the DAC's with 8 bits per pixel. Assuming you could get the timing just right you could draw 256 color static images. There were all kinds of subtleties to the timing and the trick didn't work reliably on all iterations of the hardware but you could do it and it was cool as heck.
So during the runup to the western launch of Sega-CD the PR guys interviewed me about what made the platform interesting from a technical standpoint and somewhere in there I mentioned the fact that you could just "blast data into the DAC's" Well they loved the word 'blast' and the next thing I knew Blast Processing was born. Oy.
Of course, you could argue that the term simply refers to the fact that the Mega Drive has a faster CPU than the SNES - twice as fast, in fact. Another benefit was that the VDP graphics chip allowed quicker DMA transfer speeds and delivered more VRAM bandwidth than the tech inside Nintendo's console. However, unlike the famous Mode 7 feature on the SNES, it's hard to sum up these advantages in marketing speak - hence the creation of the term Blast Processing.
Bayless has been busy since leaving Sega in 1994 - he's enjoyed stints at EA, Midway, Capcom and Microsoft, and is currently Global Head of Product Development at FireForge. But to us, he'll always be the dude who was in that advert and coined that phrase - a phrase which was used by Sega fans as ammunition in playground arguments for years, yet is largely nonsense.