Well if you consider yourself not so “geeky” but you still feel like learning some things from the past, you are in the right spot.
This article is dedicated especially for the young gamers who weren’t born in 1999 or they started playing games in mid 00’s. That means, that you kids were blessed with Gamecube, PS2 and the original Xbox as starting point, but you don’t really know much about that “other” console.
Also, this list is for everyone who plays casually or isn’t much of a gamer but wants to achieve some knowlege about the industry’s past.
So, here we go:
1. Sega Dreamcast had online capabilities right out of the box.
What we consider today a standard, it wasn’t as simple back in the early 00’s. Dreamcast had a 56k (for US) or a 33.6k (for EU) plugged right in, ready to have the ISP info uploaded to it by a special disk and ready for some multiplayer action. There also was a broadband adapter, namely a LAN one.
What did it mean for the gamer?
OK it didn’t have, like, cross game chat or a full spectrum of online downloadable games. BUT it did had some descent multiplayer games, a web browser and downloadable contents for some games such as Sonic Adventure 2. It also had the first (and probably only) console-based MMO. Fantasy Star Online is still being played using private servers and hacked versions of the game.
2. Sega Dreamcast could do VGA
Years before the 360, the Dreamcast had VGA capabilities and thus an official VGA cable was released. It allowed players to hook up their Dreamcast to a PC monitor and enjoy their games.
What did it mean for the gamers?
Superior picture in most games. The gamers had the opportunity to witness the true power of Dreamcast right before ther eyes, without interlaced modes, in crispy clean 480p with progressive scan. That means that the most 3D games looked crystal clean.
But, there were downsides too. Not all games supported VGA, so the players needed to unplug the cable, then boot the game and then plug it in. This simple workaround worked almost always. Another downside is that the sprite-based games look too…. pixelated. Scanlines on normal CRT televisions use to hide the “pixel bleeding” makng 2D sprites look crisp. But with those scanlines gone, the sprites have no extra help to pop-out. So, if you are going to play games such as Marvel VS Capcom 2, it’s better to have a CRT television around to play instead of a monitor.
3. Sega Dreamcast was the first console to have a camera peripheral and used motion controllers
Sega had a keen eye on making peripherals for the Dreamcast, thus augmenting the experience on some games. The Dreameye was the first camera to tether to a console, the Rapala Fishing Rod and Samba de Amigo maracas were motion controllers way before the Wii existed even as an Idea.
What did it mean for the gamer?
You could fish with the Fishing rod and have fun with Samba de Amigo with the maracas, but those motion controllers were compatible with other games too. The rod was compatible with Virtua Tennis 2K2 for instance. Sega wanted their peripherals to be functional and justify their purchase by adding “Secret features” to other games like “Mister Driller” that was played with the “maracas” without any documentation about the feature.
The Dreameye is another story. It’s a primitive digital point-and-shoot camera that you could take with you outside, but the pictures can be seen connecting it to the dreamcast. It wasn’t anything special by today’s standard. The internal memory could just fit 31 pictures in .jpeg format and it could be used as a webcam too. The problem is that it never got outside Japan. West missed the first camera ever graced a concole.
4. The Dreamcast had Keyboard and Mouse
You may think “meh. many consoles had those accesories before” and you are absolutely right. I still remember the fun I had with Mario Paint and such. Playstation also had a descent mouse but I remember only a couple of games actually using it. Dreamcast also had a mouse and a keyboard, but their story were different.
Every FPS released in the Dreamcast, used keyboard and mouse controls, like their PC counterparts. That means that, fragging in Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament felt exactly at home. The mouse was also used in several other games like REZ without documentation (as a bonus maybe) and Phantasy Star online also benefited by those keys and pointing device.
A game that stands out is the “Typing of the Dead” a game that was based on killing zombies using accurate typing. It sounds retarded but it’s actually awesome and it can get very-very tense at times.
5. The Dreamcast had two of the most expensive games ever produced.
I’m talking about Shenmue and Shenmue 2. Those games were expensive to make. Both of them took around 70 Million dollars which, by today’s standard is 92 Million. That’s a lot of money. The poor sales of both games and the eventual demise of the Dreamcast prevented SEGA to produce a third title, thus leaving the gamers with an unresolved story.
What’s left to the gamers?
Maybe the most graphically advanced games for the time, that still stand out today beautifully. Played on VGA Shenmue looks almost like a frist-generation Xbox360 game.
Shenmue isn’t for everybody. The programmers didn’t want a cliche game. They wanted to get as close to reality as they could do. So the gamers have to work, manage money and instead of breaking necks of people and then interogate, you have to wander around do some actual detective work. That means a lot of asking people around.
What I have to say about Shenmue is that I’ve never seen a city portrayed in a videogame, that feels as vivid and alive. Each of the NPC’s had its own agenda, they had their own life cycles and they were disticntively different from eachother. Populating the roads with such a mixed crowd and making them going for walks, woriking, shopping, e.t.c. made Shenmue one of the most vivid and humane experience in a digital video game.
6. The Dreamcast was the first console that was supported by an actual OS.
Have you noticed the little logo at the front of the device? “Compatible with Windows CE”. The Dreamcast was Sega’s and Microsoft’s lovechild, way before the Xbox ever existed. The games booted along with a version of Windows CE and many of them used DirectX based graphics.
What did that meant to the gamers?
The programmers already knew how to program with DirectX libraries. So, the console was a breeze to program for. Thus, there were less worries on techie stuff and they spent more time on making good games with good gameplay. Today’s Xbox360 also has this “Charisma”. It’s a breeze for the programmers to program for.
So, that’s why there is a ton of quality games with marvellous graphics and gameplay for the Dreamcast. As for the first-party games, the AM2 was actually the creator of the arcade the Dreamcast was based upon, so all programmers had equal opportunities to drain the last Flop of prcessing power of the dreamcst.
6. The discs were readable from standard CD-ROM drives
And I’m not talking about *gasp* piracy.
What did that meant to the gamers?
Many goodies from wallpapers to game soundtracks included within the same discs the Dreamcast played. Some even had extra videos.
7. The standard Dreamcast memory card was a micro console on its own.
Many games included simple games within their save files. So, when the gamers were away from their beloved Dreamcast, they had a piece of it with them to play.
What did the gamers had to do with it?
The prime example is Sonic Adventure titles with their famous Chao minigame. The player loads a Chao in one of the VMU’s, they raise it in a tamagochi fashion and they could unlock goodies and stuff in the actual game the next time they load their game.
That wasn't the only usage of the VMU. It would display various things about the game that’s currently being played or just a cool logo. For example, in Shenmue 2, there is a progress bar displayed on the VMU when Ryo (the main character) practices a new technique. When he masters the technique, the VMU emits a satisfying beep.
Many of you think “meh, Pocket Station did it way before the Dreamcast”
Yeah, I think I mentioned earlier the word “standard”, right? the VMU was STANDARD for the Dreamcast. That means that 99% of the controllers worldwide had a VMU connected on it displaying stuff. The Pocket Station? Never released outside Japan. Thanks Sony.
8.The Dreamcast had a hit on every game genre.
Some consoles have great RPG’s while platform games are dull. Some others have great fighters. Some are diverse. The Dreamcast had a speciality on beat em ups and Shmups. BUT the console had achieved games critically acclaimed on every possible genre. Including those of virtual pets, dancing simulators and life simulators (I’m talking about LOL: Lack of Love)
How did that traslated to the gamers?
You were never bored on the Dreamcast. There is a game for you in its library that might satisfy your needs perfectly. Sure, it didn’t had the RPG’s of PS2, but, hey, it lived twice as short. Having Skies of Arcadia and Grandia is an achievement for such a short lived console. There always was something to get busy with, no matter the taste.
You liked horror? Code: Veronica and D2 was your call. You liked adventures? Shenmue was a hybrid made in heaven for the patient adventurers. You liked racing? From V-Rally to Rush Rush Rally and the harsh Tokyo Xtreme Racing was your cup of tea. There was something great for everyone.
9. The Dreamcast was the pinnacle in which Microsoft designed the Xbox conole series.
That’s true. From the controller to the method of having an actual OS working in the background, Microsoft took many lessons from the Dreamcast and made the Xbox and then the Xbox360. While the first Xbox wasn’t much of a success, the 360 tends to be a virtual Dreamcast with all the collections and the ability to download and play the most important Dreamcast games off of Xbox Live. No Shenmue though.
And, under any circumstances, DON’T PLAY SPACE CHANNEL 5 ON THE 360. The reason is that the controller d-pad sucks. Maybe not all lessons were learned from Sega…
10. The Dreamcast lives on.
Not only in the hearts of gamers, but also from the vast modding and homebrewing community that’s still vivid to this day. The Dreamcast has the ability to play DivX out of discs, play MP3’s, Emulate Sega and Nintendo’s past consoles, (and Sony’s as weird as it may sound). Even boot desktop versions of Linux and Windows CE complete with launchable applications and the ability to connect to the internet.
Not to mention that there are games published for it to our days. Many homebrew programmers turn out to release games for the Dreamcast and many of them are as good as the official ones.
Moreover, some of the games stand beautifully the trial of time, Such as Jet Set Radio which still looks great. Also, Shemue and Shemue 2 look like they’re made today. REZ and Cosmic Smash pioneer the idea of simple yet impressive graphics and Crazy Taxi teaches that a fun game needs nothing more than pleasing visuals, good gameplay and fast situations In which Dreamcast still delivers like a pro.
I think I’m done. Now that you have read that, why don’t you go out and look for your own Dreamcast? You’ll love every bit of it once you get your hands on it. Trust me. It’s one of the best consoles ever made and you’ll find out your own reasons for it.
“A candle that burns twice as bright, burns twice as short.” Happy birthday Dreamcast. I’m going to play some Soul Calibur now.