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Why the Dreamcast was different

THE GOLDEN AGE

Following the Dreamcast’s brilliant launch, Sega retrenched and restructured its internal development teams, carving them up into 10 separate studios with names like Hitmaker, Smilebit and Overworks. These studios operated more or less autonomously from Sega, and as a result they were given an unprecedented amount of freedom to experiment with radical and bizarre game ideas. In an industry in which developers are routinely encouraged to churn out more of the same because it’s perceived as a safe investment, Sega’s studios instead let their creativity run wild, and the results of their efforts are some of the weirdest, most wonderful and most fondly remembered games of all time.

“The system was able to go off the rails with some seriously blissed-out, wacked-out shit, as well as kickstarting some incredibly solid series – Shenmue, the 2K Sports stuff, Phantasy Star Online, etc.,” said Reyes. “It was also one of the last systems to truly champion creative, in-house studio talent like Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Yu Suzuki. I don’t know how to explain it, but Dreamcast, in my mind, was the last gasp of true creative, innovative freedom with no ties to pie charts and sales graphs.

“It really, truly felt like game creators were exactly that — creators. Yeah, it’s probably my romantic, idealized version of what was actually, really going on — which in reality was most likely a bunch of Japanese businessmen sweating and yelling around a table in some boardroom about how much money they were losing,” Reyes said.

Some of the games that came out of this anything-goes environment were relatively conventional fare with fun twists, like air-pirate RPG Skies of Arcadia and weirdly lifeless shooter Outtrigger. But what’s perhaps best remembered are the edgier games – like the high-speed, Offspring-infused Crazy Taxi and the brilliant, cel-shaded skatepunk epic Jet Grind Radio – and the completely bizarre ones. This latter category included everything from spectacular music games like Space Channel 5 and Samba de Amigo, to the grotesque-but-captivating virtual-pet sim Seaman and the gruesomely educational Typing of the Dead.


Above: Seaman’s big draw was the inclusion of a microphone through which you could hold conversations with that… thing. It also puts all cuddlier virtual pets to shame 

Meanwhile, a few of the games to come out of this period were actually ground-breaking. Shenmue set a new high-water mark for virtual worlds and sandbox storytelling, Phantasy Star Online became the first-ever console MMO (and the first serious addiction for scores of Dreamcast owners) and Rez, divisive as it still is, pushed the limits of in-game graphics while seeming to pull them back with its strikingly minimalist presentation.

Conventional or crazy, disturbing or merely weird, these games all had one thing in common: no matter how strange they got, they were all a complete blast to play. Sega’s internal devs weren’t afraid to experiment, but they also knew their first priority was to create a fun game, and with a few exceptions, they proved to be experts at it. And even when their efforts fell short (like in the middling Zombie Revenge), the results were at least unique.


Above: Meh, at least they tried 

The mood was apparently infectious enough that a few third-party publishers got in on the act. Most notable among them was Capcom, which – in addition to bringing high-profile games like Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Street Fighter III and Marvel vs Capcom to the table - used the Dreamcast as a proving ground for its newer, stranger properties. The results include the classic Power Stone games, as well as lesser-known gems like Tech Romancer and Project Justice, all of which went a long way toward making the Dreamcast a Mecca for hardcore fighting fans.

It wasn’t until the Dreamcast’s final days that the really weird stuff started showing up, though; in the months that followed Sega officially pulling the plug on the game, a torrent of strange, seemingly half-baked games crowded their way into the Dreamcast’s final moments. Leading the charge was 2K Sports developer Visual Concepts, which finally brought its long-delayed adventure Floigan Bros. (ironically titled “Episode 1”) to market alongside the fantastic online party game Ooga Booga and Sega’s own tanks-vs-giant-crabs shooter, Alien Front Online. This period also saw the release of the great – and, sadly, ignored – Bomberman Online, probably the best iteration of the franchise since the 10-player Saturn Bomberman a few years earlier.


Above: Seriously – wicked awesome 

Of course, the party couldn’t last, and once the PlayStation 2 had demonstrated that it meant business – and that its built-in DVD player, which the Dreamcast lacked, could move units like crazy – Sega decided to throw in the towel and exit the hardware business in March, 2001. After a year of brilliant releases, the last-ever game to be released for the Dreamcast in North America – NHL 2K2 – hit stores the following February. And for any other system, that would have been that.

47 comments

  • batmanboy11 - September 9, 2010 9:41 p.m.

    11 years now.
  • Deckard5627 - April 27, 2010 9:40 a.m.

    I loved my dreamcast, and I still play it today!!! For some reason I will always have a soft spot of sega, and the dreamcast, and everything they ever released. I guess it has something to do with a little known blue dude who went on to achieve a thing or two.
  • Moondoggie1157 - March 19, 2010 3:16 a.m.

    I have been looking around and I will most definitely be buying my Dreamcast... I should have done it 9 years ago... I was young and stupid!
  • throughironsights - September 16, 2009 4:48 p.m.

    does anyone remember pen pen triIcelon? that game was so weird but strangely addicting...
  • YamiZero - September 13, 2009 9:22 p.m.

    What about the most important aspect of the Dreamcast! The Death of Segata Sanshiro! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tstf-M2ngrc
  • Frootaloom - September 11, 2009 2:52 p.m.

    Let's hope we don't see the Dreamcast singing flavor flav songs in Guitar hero 10.
  • lilj805 - September 11, 2009 6:39 a.m.

    this was great, i played the hell outta Crazy Taxi though lol
  • Pocotron - September 10, 2009 10:38 p.m.

    So does this mean we'll have a 10 year anniversary for the PS2 soon?
  • Styrophoamicus - September 10, 2009 7 p.m.

    I only ever rented a Dreamcast from our local game store, Gamer's Edge. It came in this wicked metal suitcase you see in the movies and the foam padding inside was custom cut for the system. I only remember playing Sonic Adventure and Soul Calibur with my dad but we had a lot of f un with it. I was a total Nintendo junkie tho, so I refused to buy anything not made by Nintendo, a decision the Wii made me wholeheartedly regret.
  • rxb - September 10, 2009 12:50 p.m.

    Outtrigger what a blast from the past.... The Dreamcast really was a gamers console. BTW remember that JSR concept art a while back? Oi smilebit where is my new game?
  • ScoobyDoo - September 10, 2009 7:28 a.m.

    Ok nobody else has said it so I will. Yea the DC was ahead of its time in the technology sense. But the reason why it was great(and bad) was because it had hardly any PIRACY protection! I remember *i would have a friend* who would come home from school and have 5-6 full games downloaded and ready for burn. Hell as the scene grew they even found a way to include the boot disc into the game's ISO, no longer requiring a swap after booting from the boot disc. So long story short this *friend* of mine had a 64-cd case-logic case with 50+ "back-up" copied games and we would play the best.. all the hits and even some games that you would never buy all because of the downloadable-exploited security factor of just getting it off the net. My *friend* recently found his cd case with all the games. Sonic Adventure, Virtua Tennis, Virtua Cop, NHL2k, RE: Code Veronica, Mortal Kombat 3, Daytona USA, and Hydro Thunder just to name a few.. matter of fact the only game my *friend* actually purchased was SF Rush 2049 because it was NOWHERE to be found online. this was great for the 2 years it was active.. but it slowly died with the console. Sales plundered most likely because before you knew it, everyone had taken advantage of the security exploits. Sega nailed there coffin shut as far as being a console contender with this problem IMO. too bad because the Genesis kicked the SNES's ass, and the DC was way better then the PS1. Poor Sega. The DC was my favorite console ever though. I still have my DC in the garage somewhere. - I hope...
  • brodyhill - September 10, 2009 3:46 a.m.

    http://techphules.blogspot.com/2009/09/latest-dreamcast-game-launch.html Someone is actually launching a NEW dreamcast game this month... amazing?
  • reyalejandro13 - September 10, 2009 3:04 a.m.

    Sad Face: Being young, I grew up watching TV First. And what was on TV in the 90's: Pokemon. So what was the game I got first: Pokemon. So what system did I get? N64. So what did I completely miss out on? Dreamcast, and all of its glory. In all seriousness (maybe it's because I was 6 in 1999), I only played Pokemon for the longest time. So I never knew about the greatness of Mario and Sonic until i got a Gamecube. Now I need to get a DC (or at least an Emulator, but that might be confusing) to play these great games, like NiGHTS, Jet Grind Radio, and SA2. oh well.
  • Ensoul - September 10, 2009 2:47 a.m.

    Of all the systems that I never picked up Dreamcast remains the biggest regret. Never had a Sega system, but I had decided to pick up a Genisis one day if I could find one at the local flea market. I ended up with a used Dreamcast and a copy of Shenmue and Dead or Alive 2 very, very late in it's "life" for under $100. It didn't take long before I was picking up anything and everything related to DC and at clearance prices too. I felt like a bit of a vulture. :-/ It sucked that I was never that much of a contributer to the PSO party (Lvl 10 while my friends were MUCH higher) but it was still fun, as was Unreal and Quak III, all via dail up no less. (NFL 2K1 was too choppy though) Then I discovered the homebrew side of things; whole games and emulators, I was amazed at what was being done. The common opinon amoung most of my friends is divided. Some say the DC was the system no one knew they loved. Others think it's so beloved now is the afor-mentioned "Dead Rock Star Syndrome" and feel it's kinda over-rated now. As a late joiner I lean towards the former. Thanks GR for doing this look back.
  • boxcar44 - September 10, 2009 12:26 a.m.

    i remember buying my dreamcast...i only bought it because the PS2 was sold out everywhere after i bought it like 2-3 weeks later or something they announced dreamcast was be discontinued
  • gmilf71 - September 9, 2009 11:59 p.m.

    NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE DREAMCAST!! WHY ARE THERE SO MANY ARTICLES ABOUT IT??!!??!! Respetfully, Gmilf71.
  • Pyroco101 - September 9, 2009 11:56 p.m.

    man, they schold have put up the video of that dreamcast "turduken." man that thing was a beast
  • Soggybrain - September 9, 2009 11:29 p.m.

    Me and my brother loved our dreamcast we got it cuz we just couldnt wait for the ps2 ta come out but it was one of the best systems. We played house of the dead 2 n power stone all day cant wait till the new game comes out im gana need to add it to my crate of dc games
  • cronoman66 - September 9, 2009 11:07 p.m.

    In reference to the dead rockstar syndrome... Does this mean we'll see a Dreamcast prancing around and rapping in Guitar Hero 6?
  • Johnny6Gun - September 9, 2009 10:52 p.m.

    I still have my maracas and I still wish I could type better than G did, but I'll be damned if I can't say that the DC was something special. From failing to get Chu Chu Rocket working online, to getting my char up to 100 in PSO with friends over that blazing 56k modem, the DC screamed fun at every opportunity. Sure, the controller kinda sucked for the Capcom fighters, but they were such perfect ports that it hardly mattered. As Jet Grind Radio was the last game I ever received as a gift from my parents and Seaman almost busted a cheating friend to his girlfriend while she was in the room, I can only say that the Dreamcast gave me grander memories than any console since. Segata Sanshiro died for this console and I almost like to think that I would do the same.

Showing 1-20 of 47 comments

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