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Requiem for a Dreamcast

posted on August 14th, 2007 by christian

I used to think I was pretty clever when I told folks that “Nintendo made me a gamer. Ocarina of Time made me hardcore”. I kept thinking this for quite some time, but eventually realized that pre-OOT, I wasn’t really a “gamer”, just a kid whose game experience consisted of little more than a string of Nintendo consoles, a few hours on the Genesis, and a dusty old 486 PC. This was a time when fresh games came to my house twice a year if I was lucky.

After Zelda I truly became a “gamer”, though now I think it had less to with that game in particular and more to do with the fact that around that time I was introduced to a modern day computer, Next Generation Magazine, and a Sony Playstation. I learned of an industry that was much bigger than what Nintendo on its own could show me, and I began to appreciate the things that made a game good. At least, I thought I did.

Eventually my gaming knowledge would soar, my gaming experience would massively expand, and my drive for the hobby would become unquenchable. This was when I realized I had become “hardcore”, and it wasn’t Zelda that caused the change. It was the Sega Dreamcast.

If you haven’t played Jet Grind Radio and don’t have a DC you can try the sequel Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox. Just know that it compares to the original like the Xbox compares to the DC – wholly inferior.

Simply put, the Dreamcast made me give a damn. It didn’t just entertain me; it taught me more about games than any console before it. I simply would not be the same gamer without experiencing this console. Here is why:

It showed me what experiences games could truly deliver when developers challenged the status quo

Before Jet Grind Radio I never imagined I would ever play a game about Japanese rollerblade gangs fighting the police force and each other via the use of graffiti in a techno-funk vision of Tokyo. I also never thought I’d ever see a graphical style quite like cel-shading. Jet Grind Radio proved me wrong on both accounts. To this day it is still one of the freshest, graphically stunning games you can find.

Shenmue tried to simulate the toils of everyday life, if everyday life involved kung fu and driving forklifts. I don’t think it worked quite as nicely as some people remember, but it was still a lesson worth seeing. Crazy Taxi is still a fascinating mix of racing, arcade sensibility, and blatant product placement. And somehow Skies of Arcadia took the most rudimentary and boring pieces of jRPG story and gameplay and gave them a soul.

If you can think of a genre, chances are the Dreamcast has a game that will change the way you perceive it. It may also show you genres you didn’t think existed. The Dreamcast is a microcosm of the modern day debate about innovation in gaming. On one hand, the console was a financial failure. On the other hand, some of its most innovative games still have few or no equals. If you ever get the feeling that you are growing tired of gaming, I cannot think of a better cure than the Dreamcast.

Is any one else getting a little misty eyed?

It made me realize just how wide the gaming spectrum really is

Unless you simply cannot live without EA games, you will find something to like on the Dreamcast. Even without EA, it features an incredible lineup of sports and racing games. It is home to two classic PC shooters, as well as a few other FPS’es. It has action, adventure, and roleplaying. Better than all of this is the incredible selection of arcade games. With its Naomi like architecture, the Dreamcast was able to house incredible ports of Sega arcade games, and now it was possible to port 2d fighters without worry of load times or performance issues.

For some strange reason, the DC caused companies like Capcom and SNK to go buckwild with releases, giving us the first (and in some cases only) stateside home releases of Street Fighter 3, Mark of the Wolves, and Tech Romancer. It is true that the Playstation 2 beats out the Dreamcast in sheer variety, but when you have so many customers to sell to I would expect nothing less. Considering its short life, the Dreamcast library still seems like an impossibility. Throw in a couple of choice imports and it becomes almost impossible to collect every good game on the console.

It did things that the modern industry is still struggling to perfect

The Dreamcast shipped with a 56k modem out of the box. You would think that if such a failure of a console could do this, everyone after it could do the same. Yet Sony and Nintendo failed to learn from Sega. Dreamcast users had solid online play before Xbox Live, and before Sony even thought of the hands-off fiasco that is PS2 multiplayer. Before HD graphics were the thing to beat, the DC had a VGA cable for extra crisp graphics. While publishers still try to figure out how to make a good console MMO, the Dreamcast had Phantasy Star Online. Developers continue to give excuses for why they often struggle to allow console and PC users to square off online. The Dreamcast had this feature years ago with Quake 3.

It wasn’t the Phantasy Star V we hoped for, but it was pretty damned good none the less.

Downloadable content? I remember getting some for Skies of Arcadia. It was nice, and it was free. And for some reason the DC is still one of the only consoles where you can change games without a power down or a reset. It wasn’t all unified. It wasn’t all well supported. But the Dreamcast was the future before most gamers even knew what the future would be. When competitors like Sony and Microsoft try to lock each other out of multiplayer, and when DLC is offered both late and for a steep price, the Dreamcast fan finds it tough to consider such bullshit acceptable. I still remember watching an EA executive on Headline News, telling the anchor that they would be the “first to offer gamers the chance to play their favorite sports games online via the Internet”. Never before had I had the urge to reach through the TV and strangle someone.

It taught me to love the game

I love the Dreamcast as a console. At one point it made me excessively angry and spiteful at Sony and even a little bit at Microsoft. It put me more into the territory of fanboy than anything else.

But these days I have more Playstation 2 games than DC games. I am excited for the 360 more than any other current console. I must thank the Dreamcast for this as well. As I have grown, the console has continued to be with me. I love the system just as much as I ever did, perhaps even more, but it has taught me to love the game above the platform. I suppose I finally realized that the console is dead, and that there really is nothing I can do about it. All I can do is continue to appreciate its games, and to support games like them on whatever console they may appear. The DC taught me about passion, and then it showed me how to control that passion.

It taught me what can go wrong

A Dreamcast fan has to be realistic as well. On that note, for such a great console Sega still did what they could to screw it over. After initial U.S. success and solid marketing, Dreamcast advertising became beyond poor. Whatever game was coming out, chances are people did not know about it. This lack of aggressiveness squared up against Sony’s hype machine for the Playstation 2, a machine that was perfected over the years and could get game journalists to froth over things that were completely impossible (Toy Story graphics, 5,000 different button combinations on the Dual Shock 2, etc.). When your supposedly shitty console is kicking the crap out of the PS2’s initial library in both visual and game quality, you might want to point that out to some folks. Or just be real quiet and let people “wait it out” for the hopes of a PS2.

From the future?

For all the good online play could do, SegaNet came late and, and support was never as strong as it could have been. And whatever happened to all the cool things we should have done with the VMU? In many ways the Dreamcast was highly experimental, and this experimentation meant that some things just wouldn’t pan out.

Which brings up the next point; this was not the console for Sega to be putzing around with. The aftermath of the Genesis add-ons and the Saturn left Western fans alienated and wary of the company. The initial success of the Dreamcast in the States made it look as if people were warming back up, but when Sega couldn’t follow through, it meant gamers wouldn’t follow along.

Sega delivered with the games, and they delivered on the technology. But they could not deliver on all the promise, and they failed to make people want it. The Dreamcast taught us all that good games do not mean success, no matter how contradictory that might sound. There is so much more that goes into a successful console these days, not the least of which are the games of politics, hype, and dirty tricks. Perhaps the Dreamcast is the last of an era of gaming. Or perhaps I’m a nostalgic fan that’s overreacting.

Still, that’s a whole lot of ups, downs, and lessons learned. Not bad for a failed console.

5 Comments

  1. Matt said on August 15, 2007:

    This was an awesome feature, Christian, really good job. You basically put into words everything I’ve felt about concerning the Dreamcast. When I bought it, and started getting some games for it, I realized that there was more to this industry than just Nintendo, and the only way to truly be hardcore, you must be willing to look at everything. That was the biggest legacy the Dreamcast left with me. And as you pointed out, the Dreamcast was basically the first console to bring about this aura of innovation. It wasn’t the Wii or the DS that defined innovation, it was the Dreamcast. It didn’t have some innovative interface, but the kinds of games on the Dreamcast were never shown before. Games like Jet Set Radio, Seaman, Shenmue, Samba Di Amigo, and Rez were truly amazing. The one thing that I saw as a problem was the lack of variety in each genre. The Dreamcast had all genres, but not enough games within them. It had what, 2 RPGs, Grandia 2 and Skies of Arcadia? It really only had Sonic Adventure and Rayman 2 in the adventure category. Racing wasn’t covered too well either. That was really the only problem it had. It made choosing games easy, but longevity a problem. But still, the Dreamcast is an amazing console. I would list it as my second-favorite of all time, behind the N64.

  2. jay said on August 16, 2007:

    I agree with the DC’s lack of depth in most genres. It’s likely due to the systems short lifespan and somewhat half hearted third party support.

  3. christian said on August 16, 2007:

    Matt, the lack of depth in each genre was something I wanted to tackle, but was afraid of going off on some tangents. I agree with all of them aside from racing of which there was – Ferrari F355 Challenge, Metropolis Street Racer, San Franciso Rush 2049, Sega GT, Tokyo Extreme Racer, 4×4 Evo, P.O.D., Wacky Races – and that’s only what I can think of off the top of my head! The DC had some good racing (not all of those games are good however), its just harder to tell when there’s no Need for Speeds or Gran Turismo

  4. pat said on August 16, 2007:

    there is a complete checklist of dc games floating around the interweb, and as i read it, i noticed the prevalence of arcade style games. lots of racers and shooters, a good number of fighting games and tons of sports games. many of us here are not very interested in sports games, but that doesn’t mean we should over look how strong the dc was in that area.

  5. Matt said on August 16, 2007:

    Christian, I’ll give you the racers thing. I forgot a few of them, like Metropolis Street Racer and Toyko Xtreme Racer (which I have, incidentally). And what’s interesting is how badly people really need EA Sports games. The DC had some stellar sports games in the 2K series, but notice how people that liked sports dodged it, all because Madden wasn’t on it. That may be the most loyal fanbase of all time, the EA Sports fans. That was one of the biggest reasons why the Dreamcast failed. I remember my friend having to defend NFL2K1, which means there’s a problem.

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