By Matt Carey
On October 14th 1999, Sega released what would be it’s last home console entertainment system across Europe. The Dreamcast was nearly a year old in Japan, but September and October of ’99 would see it finally shipped to the other major territories.
It was a shame for Sega. The life of the Dreamcast started positively, breaking first day and week sales, with demand far outstripping supply. Released a year before Sony and Nintendo would release their own next generation consoles, Sega hoped to get a good jump start in the next console war, especially after the sales disaster that was the Saturn. Little did they know that once Sony’s Playstation 2 would be released, they would be dead in the water, their opening week sales looking more like software sales than hardware. The Dreamcast was dropped a paltry 2 years later, but as the saying goes, the star that shines brightest shines half as long.
For me, the Dreamcast was the greatest console ever released. Sure, there are consoles that have had better support, better games and better hardware, but as a piece of ground-breaking innovation, there is no console that can compete. Most upon reading my last statement will site consoles like the Playstation, the NES, the 360, or the Super Nintendo as being far superior, and maybe they are right, but allow me to make my case.
When the DC launched, it debuted along side possibly the greatest launch line up of titles ever; Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Power Stone and Hydro Thunder. There wasn’t a bad game amongst them, and although people would have steered towards the well known names first, namely SC and Sonic, the other two were more than good and provided hours of fun and entertainment.
And the quality gaming didn’t end there. Over the two years Sega and it’s (few) developers and 3rd parties ushered forth some truly innovative games. Over the years titles such as Virtua Fighter, Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Seaman and Metropolis Street Racer all saw massive success. These games in particular were so ground-breaking, their influence is still being felt today. For example, Virtual Fighter became the standard that other 3-d fighters copied, JSR introduced cell shading, and MSR evolved into the Project Gotham Racing series.
Even the lack of EA Sports titles didn’t phase owners as SEGA introduced the Sega Sports brand to the console.
Unfortunately, Sega could do nothing to stop the juggernaut success that was the Playstation 2. Sony’s first home console had enjoyed huge success by establishing brand names to rival those previously enjoyed by Nintendo, and even Sega. Whilst the 16 bit era was all about Mario, Zelda and Sonic, the 32-bit era, complete with games on CD for the first time (successfully) was all about Lara, Final Fantasy and Solid Snake. By the time people had stopped talking in ‘bits’, Sega couldn’t compete. Whilst Sonic Adventure was taking the company mascot into a true 3d world, it didn’t have the scope or depth that Nintendo managed on its N64 with Mario 64. The Playstation 2 was promising all it’s AAA titles would receive updates. Sega was left with no exclusives that were creating enough waves, and along with the reported $70 million spent on the development of Shenmue, the company was haemorrhaging money fast.
By the end of March, production on new Dreamcast consoles had ceased, and the only games being released were the ones that were already in production. The future looked bleak.
But, against all the odds, the Dreamcast just wouldn’t die. Even though Japan had been, surprisingly, the consoles weakest market during the first 3 years of its life, it was still enjoying some support and a fanatical underground following. First of all, as the NAOMI board that powered the console was very cheap and easy to create games on, a surge of scrolling shoot-em-ups were created, with a trickle finding their way out of the arcades and into living rooms. Over the years, fans with more time on their hands than they knew what to do with started poking around inside. From that point on, a steady stream of homebrew apps and software were developed, allowing the console to be used to play everything from emulators to mp3’s.
I’m loathe to post a link to another website, especially one doing a similar article to this one. However, IGN have posted a very in depth look at the Dreamcast from conception through to today. It is a lot more thorough than this piece, and should you wish to read in detail more about this amazing console, the link is at the bottom.
My article here is brief, and not in depth. I didn’t want it to be. I just wanted those that remember to bask in the memories the DC provided us, and those that never had the pleasure to be curious enough to go and investigate further. You can pick up a console second hand for about £20, with the games ranging from £5 to £200, depending on the rarity. The majority are around a fiver though. There really is no reason not to try and pick one up.
So, raise a glass to the Dreamcast, not forgotten, and apparently not gone yet either. Here’s to another 10 years.