The Dreamcast - Sega's Last and Most Underrated Console
Back in the late 1990s I was working for Electronics Boutique and we were gearing up fo a new console release from Sega called the Dreamcast. Now, having never owned a Sega console in my life I was initially not really interested in purchasing this system. That all changed, however, when I took a trip to another one of our stores where one of the employees had purchased the system from Japan and had it on display. The game that he had chosen to have playing was Soul Calibur and that was all I needed.
A little bit about me..
The Dreamcast was released by Sega in Japan on November 27, 1998 and in North America on September 9, 1999 (9/9/99). Sega was the first company to release a system for the sixth generation of consoles coming out before the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube. This system launch was primarily an attempt to win back fans and gamers after the doomed Sega Saturn debacle. Initial sales of the Dreamcast were strong selling 225,132 units in the first 24 hours and exceeding 372,000 by the first four days.
As far as hardware goes, the Dreamcast ran on a Windows CE operating platform with a 32 bit Hitachi CPU clocked at 200 MHz. The system ran with 16 MB of RAM with an additional 8 MB for the graphics processor and used a GD-ROM drive that used GD discs that had 1.2 GB of storage. Now remember that this was 15 years ago so where these specs are not impressive by todays standards, back then they were pretty beefy. I, for one, was amazed at the graphical power of the system. However the amount of noise that came from it while running was pretty staggering. Not only did it have a loud fan but the GD-ROM drive itself was pretty noisy. This did not detract from the enjoyment I has with the system though.
And now for something completely different
Underrated. That is a word that I can say, without a shadow of doubt, appropriately describes the Dreamcast. The system, its games and accessories were responsible for so many firsts for consoles that we take most it those things for granted today.
Dreamcast pioneered many new game IPs like Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, and Shenmue. Shenmue especially was, at the time, the most expensive game developed with a production cost of $47 million back in 1999 (which would be roughly $63 million today). Shenmue has also been citied by many as one of the best and most influential games of all time. Dreamcast was the first console to render full frames of animation in its VGA mode at 640x480 resolution as opposed to rendering the frames interlaced. It was the first console to ever come with a modem for internet browsing and online gameplay out of the box. A 56K modem was the standard but you could later purchase a broadband modem separately. Before there was ever such a thing as Smartglass or second screen support, the Dreamcast memory cards came with a tiny screen on the that you could either use while playing the console (choosing your plays in NFL 2K so your opponent wouldn't see your choice) or with mini games that were playable away from the console but that interacted with the parent game for the system.
An example of this was downloading little creatures called Chaos from Sonic Adventure to the memory card (called VMUs) and playing with them in a little Tamagotchi type mini game to level them up. You could then bring them back into Sonic Adventure and play mini games with them there.
As for game firsts, other than Shenmue's, Alien Front Online was the first console game to ever incorporate in game voice chat. The first football game to go live for consoles was Sega's NFL2K1 and the first console MMORPG was Phantasy Star Online. The system even featured one of the first voice interactive games called Seaman where you talked to and raised an aquatic creature voiced by Leonard Nimoy.
As far as the game line up went for this console, some of my absolute favorites were Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Soul Calibur, Quake 3: Arena, and the arcade perfect ports of Crazy Taxi and Hydro Thunder. The system had a mix of just about everything at the time. From shooters to survival horror and fighters to RPGs.
But wait, it's not all sunshine and rainbows
Like any other console or game release, there were issues. I remember, while working at Electronics Boutique during these days, that there were four of the launch titles that had certain batches of them left blank from their pressing plants. Not all the copies of these titles, only ones from certain plants. Sega handled this issue extremely well with offering everyone replacement copies sent to their homes or letting us switch them for customers at the store level.
The controller also had a few issues in my opinion. Having the cable come out from the bottom of the controller was not the best idea. The shape of the controller as well, specifically down to where the palms of your hands lay, was angled the wrong way and did not make the controllers the most comfortable.
And lastly was the Dreamcasts' downfall, the PlayStation 2. More specifically the PS2s' ability to play DVD movies. At the time DVDs were the up and coming new thing similar to how Blu Ray have been in the last few years. However, DVD players and movies were still fairly expensive. In comes the PS2 following on the heels of its successful predecessor while also being a DVD player as well as a game console for the low price of $299.99. Well that was the nail that sealed the Dreamcasts' coffin. After selling 10.6 million units, Sega called it quits and discontinued the Dreamcast in early March 2001. Because of this and previous losses in the console market, Sega quit the hardware business all together and became a third party software developer.
Gone but not forgotten
The Dreamcast continued to get small support from independent developers well after the system had died out. Sega of Japan continued to produce games for the system well into 2006 and some in 2007 also. IGN also ranked the Dreamcast #8 on their Top 25 Video Game Consoles of All Time list. Not too shabby for a console that was only supported for 3 years.
I, for one, am very glad that my first and only Sega system I ever owned was the Dreamcast. It was not around for very long but did so many new and innovative things that it deserves much more credit than I think it got at the time. I still have my Dreamcast system to this day even though I have not busted the bad boy out in a while to play it. So if you are an old school Dreamcast enthusiast and want to post your thoughts or comments or have anything that you would like to add in remembrance of the Dreamcast days please feel free.