A Brief History

After the smashing success of the Genesis and the terrible failure of the Saturn, Sega released its “Dreamcast” with much anticipation and skepticism.  The Dreamcast was released on September 9, 1999 (9/9/99) during a period of limbo after the successes of the Playstation and Nintendo 64 consoles.    This initial US release was an unprecedented success with the Dreamcast selling over half a million units in just two weeks.  On its opening day, the Dreamcast was backed up by an impressive 18 launch day titles.  These new releases were powered by some powerful new hardware that would revolutionize video game consoles for years to come.  Then, just a few short years after its launch, the Dreamcast went quietly into the night with the release of the Playstation 2. 

Despite the PS2’s crushing of the Dreamcast, Sega’s “little-console-that-could” churned out some amazing titles that entertained hundreds of thousands of people.  Its hardware was revolutionary.  The Sega Dreamcast may be gone but it is not forgotten.

The Dreamcast Console

The Sega Dreamcast console was colored a fairly drab grey and was sized quite a bit smaller than the Playstation 2 and Xbox systems of the same “generation” as the Dreamcast.  Each Dreamcast came packaged with a 56k modem that was attached to the back of the console.  In today’s terms, this may seem somewhat prehistoric, but the Dreamcast was the first system to allow gamers to connect to the internet without the purchase of other peripherals—an idea that was truly revolutionary.  Sega would later release a broadband modem as a peripheral. 

The controllers for the Dreamcast received mixed reviews.  Their looks were certainly nothing to write home about.  They were colored the same drab grey as the console and they looked quite chunky.  Up to that point, the Playstation controllers were considered to be the best of the best, and the Dreamcast seemed to lag behind.  However, it almost seemed as if Microsoft’s Xbox took some hints from the Dreamcast controller for its final design. 

After some use, Sega’s controllers became more appreciated.  They were more comfortable for people with larger hands and had some advanced features within each controller.  The memory cards, or “Visual Memory Units” (VMU) attached into the slots at the center of each controller.  Each VMU acted as a memory card but also had a screen and some rudimentary buttons.  Certain games would utilize the VMU’s screen to in game information and some games even used the VMU unit to play mini-games.  In the end, the VMU was creative, but it turned out to be more of a novelty than anything. 

Up until the Dreamcast, most video game consoles were known by their “bit” rating.  The NES was 8-bits, the Genesis was 16-bits, and the Playstation was 32-bits.   The Dreamcast was technically a 128-bit system, but it was not branded that way.  For the next-gen consoles, the Dreamcast’s processing speed of 3 million polygons per second was the number that matter.  And for 1999, that number was astronomical. 

The console itself was quite simple.  Four controller ports were located on the front face and game discs could be placed in the hatch on top of the system.  Dreamcast games were all scribed on “GD-ROMs,” which essentially stood for a gigabyte CD.  This gigabyte of storage was roughly twice the size of the traditional CDs that systems like the Playstation used.  The backside of the Dreamcast had a power adapter, television outputs, and a telephone jack for the modem.  The system had a few embellishments on it, including a signature orange swirl on top of the CD drive. 

Sega DreamcastCredit: Amazon.com

Dreamcast Accessories

Despite the Dreamcast’s early demise, Sega pushed the limits with this console’s accessories and released many peripherals that would become staples for systems soon to come.  With this system’s internet connectivity, Sega released a number of PC like accessories including a mouse, keyboard, and microphone.  The microphone was first released with the popular game Seaman but was later used to interact with gamers online.  Both the mouse and keyboard could be used to surf the internet but were meant to give the full experience of first person shooter games.  As mentioned above, Sega also released a broadband modem to speed up those slower 56k internet connections.  The broadband modem did not see wide distribution since it was released towards the end of the Dreamcast’s production run. 

The Dreamcast also had a wide range of fun and quirky game specific accessories.  These included a set of maracas for Samba de Amigo, guns to be used for shooter games, a fishing pole for Sega Bass Finish, an arcade stick, and a racing wheel.  Each accessory was quite well made and only served to enhance the gaming experience for some of the many stellar titles on the Dreamcast. 

Sega also released a number of peripherals to enhance the output capabilities of the Dreamcast system.  These included the VGA adapter that allowed gamers to hook their computer monitors up to their Dreamcast instead of their lower resolution televisions.  An S-Video cable was also released when these inputs first became popular features on televisions and DVD players.   

The Dreamcast Game Library

On its release date in the United States, the Dreamcast had an unprecedented 18 launch titled.  These initial releases ranged in quality from monumental to terrible, which was pretty indicative of the years to come for the Dreamcast.

Nearly singlehandedly because of Soul Calibur, the Dreamcast was known as a console for fighting games.  A number of other quality fighting games also emerged, which included Marvel vs. Capcom, Powerstone, and Street Fighter.  For well over a year the Dreamcast was without a decent RPG, but by the end of the Dreamcast’s existence, a number role-playing games stood out as some of the best RPGs to ever be developed.  These included Skies of Arcadia, Grandia II, Phantasy Star Online, and the truly sensational  Shenmue

Even though EA Sports never signed on to develop games for the Dreamcast, Sega’s “2K” sport games were some of the best sport games ever developed.  The football games were by far the best in the series of games. 

The Dreamcast also had a number of great online features and head-to-head game play options that had never before been seen on console gaming.  ChuChu Rocket, a puzzle game, was the first release to feature head-to-head competition over the internet. 

After only a few short years of production, the depth and quality of games developed for this dead console is unmistakable.  The games made their mark on many to come, but they still offer hours of fun for those who want to dust off their Dreamcast. 

Sega Dreamcast Video Games - ShenmueCredit: Amazon.com


The Dreamcast in Summary

It is unfortunate that the Dreamcast was met with a quick demise.  That Playstation 2 was just too much to handle.  But, for those lucky owners of the Dreamcast, it may be time to get it out of that old box in the basement and give it another go.  That old console just might have more life in it that you think.