Many gamers beside videogames have other passions. One of mine is Formula 1. I watch it since I was a kid, I never miss an event and I’ve studied carefully the history of the sport. To all of you that follow also Formula 1, today I want to talk about the Gilles Villeneuve of the console, the Sega Dreamcast, released 20 years ago in Japan on November 27th, 1998 (sorry I’m a bit late for the celebrations…).
Why Gilles Villeneuve? Well, Gilles was a driver people loved and still love now, maybe even more than then. It hasn’t been particularly successful, he won a fistful of races and never won the Championship although he raced with Ferrari in a period when they were quite a great team and he died too early. Like the Dreamcast: the last son of one of the most loved companies, Sega, it lasted only a couple of years, since it was discontinued in 2001, but has a devoted fan base that gets bigger every year and every Dreamcast lover talks about “his” console in a way that shows a huge love, something that doesn’t match the poor sales figures and the little impact it had in the video games world.
The story in a nutshell
Sega had been a huge name in the console market and engaged a fierce war against Nintendo between the late 80s and early 90s; it reached the peak of its success withe the Mega Drive/Genesis that at one point seemed it could have overthrown Nintendo and become the reference point in the market. However after the success of the console, Sega made some misstep in conjunction with the rise of Sony’s PlayStation that revolutionized the console market.
The Sega Saturn, their 32-bit machine, despite an initial success, was quickly downsized by the success of the PlayStation and the poor sales convinced Sega to discontinue it in 1998.
To avoid losing their unwanted seat and “Number 2”, Sega, using some off-the-shelf components, decided to create a new console with the support of important japanese firms as Yamaha, NEC and Hitachi and on November 27th in Japan the Dreamcast was officially unveiled. Due to a shortage of components, the launch in the US was postponed and scheduled on November 9th, 1999 with a retail price of 199,99$.
The CPU of the Dreamcast is an Hitachi SuperH clocked @203 MHz, while the GPU is a little gem capable to render 7 millions of polygons per second with 16,7 millions of colors, Z-buffering and anti-aliasing. In total the console has 26 MB of RAM shared by the three processors. Of course it has a CD unit, a proprietary one, named GD-ROM developed with Yamaha and a 56k Modem, something quite cutting-edge for the time.
The controller of the Dreamcast is rather bulky and at first sight is not so alluring. However when you have it in your hands is surprisingly comfortable, tehe grip is very good and you fell like you can really keep it very tight. Along with the D-pad, the start button and the analog stick it features the mandatory 4 action buttons and two shoulder triggers. In the middle of the controllers there are two big slots, one typically for the VMU which is a neat invention by Sega, since it works as a memory card and as an additional mini-HUD, displaying infos about the games (like stats, for example) and one for additional accessories, like for example the Jump Pack (similar to the Rumble Pack of the N64)
The Dreamcast had some impressive visuals, for sure no inferior to those of the PlayStation 2, sharp and bright, even when they’re supposed to be dark. Take a look for example to Alone in the Dark…
…and Crazy Taxi…
Let’s start with some data; according to VG Chartz this is the top-10 list of best-selling Dreamcast games with the number of copies sold:
- Sonic Adventure (2.42 millions)
- Crazy Taxi (1.81 millions)
- NFL 2K (1.20 millions)
- Shenmue (1.18 millions)
- Resident Evil – Code Veronica (1.14 millions)
- NFL 2K1 (1.09 millions)
- Seaman (520k)
- Sega Rally Championship 2 (410k)
- Virtua Fighter 3tb (370k)
- J-League Pro Soccer Club (360k)
As you can see the sales figures are very small, even because the console had a very short lifespan of only 3 years in Japan and 2 in the rest of the world. Aside from the “easy” first place of the first 3D adventure of Sonic, Code Veronica is one of the best selling games and it was meant to be a Dreamcast exclusive, until it was later ported with some differences on the PS2. Speaking of horror games another favourite is Blue Stinger.
Shenmue is in 4th place but that wasn’t enough to cover the huge expenses for its long development; even considering the innovation it brought to the video games world the astonighing 70 millions of dollars spent to develop it were barely covered by the sales.
Of course the Dreamcast is house for some weird games as well, like Seaman, a pet simulator with the narration of no less tha Leonard Nimoy which went to sell pretty well, compared to the figures of other Dreamcast games.
As it frequently happens 3D-capable consoles are great even with 2D games. And from the large arcade archive of Sega, the Dreamcast received a great space shooter, Ikaruga which displays visuals worth of a modern console. and speaking of arcade-based games there’s one not to be missesd: Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes.
Sadly, the Dreamcast was the swan song for Sega. After the discontinuation in 2001, the company closed its hardware division and became a software-only developer. After several years of big losses, from 2003 the company became profitable again when it was acquired by Sammy. By then, the times had changed and Sega started to develop games for the then-rival Nintendo and to coooperate with them on the lucky series Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.
The war was finally over.