Remembering Dreamcast: Two Years That Changed Gaming
By Zach Patterson Wednesday, 9 Sep 2009

On the day of the Dreamcast’s 10 anniversary, Skip, Zach, Chris, and Andrew delve into the ideas that emerged on the Dreamcast that later came to change gaming, and are now a part of modern gaming today. The Dreamcast, while essentially lasting only a short two years, was a console rich with ideas, some great, some not, but combined with Sega’s willingness to take risks, the consumer ended up with some bold new peripherals and features that would later resurface as hallmarks of today’s gaming experience. Read on for a list of Dreamcast’s innovations, and where they ended up today.

What Was It? Online gaming Why Was It Different? Console games had dabbled with online connectivity in the past, but the Dreamcast put the console game market on the straight path to the internet with the bold step to include a modem with every console. While SegaNet was not up and running by the launch of the console, a year later, with NFL2K1, SegaNet brought (relatively) smooth online gaming in mass form to the console market. [Note: this writer does have a slight bias, having been part of the beta process of NFL2K1’s online system] How Did It Change Gaming? The Xbox 360 and Microsoft thrive upon their online integration with every game. If a console game today does not have some sort of online capability, gamers wonder what is wrong with it. Online communities around games such as Halo 3, Gears of War, Call of Duty and more are a staple of the gaming world. One cannot imagine a console game market without the internet these days. – Skip

What Was It? Downloadable content Why Was It Different? Downloadable content was a brand new foray into the possibilities of online gaming. Games could provide extra content to the current game to help extend playing time through new weapons, new levels, and new songs. Continuing their streak of supporting the community perhaps to the detriment of their business, the Dreamcast games that took advantage of these capabilities did so at no cost to the gamer. How Did It Change Gaming? Downloadable games and content are their own microcosm of the console online business model. One can download entire games through Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, or the Virtual Console on the Wii. XBLA and PSN also sell movies, television shows, and all sorts of other content. Games themselves sell map packs, new weapons, different costumes, and other notorious items such as “horse armor”. – Skip

What Was It? Samba de Amigo Maracas Why Was It Different? Technically, music game peripherals had already made their way stateside by way of Dance Dance Revolution. What made the Samba maracas different was that Samba de Amigo did not have an arcade presence to build its audience upon. It was expensive (DDR pads were around $30; one pair of maracas cost $80) and was designed for one game and one game only (DDR had multiple arcade iterations off of which to spread the “pain” of the peripheral cost). How Did It Change Gaming? Half a decade after Samba de Amigo brought music gaming peripherals to America, a little game called Guitar Hero was released for the Playstation 2 with an expensive plastic instrument peripheral. Five years after that, music rhythm games are a massive force in the games industry, with Guitar Hero alone generating over a billion dollars in revenue. – Skip

What Was It? Fishing Rod Why Was It Different? This goofy device resembled the hilt of a fishing rod, along with a reel and most of the DC buttons. However, the look wasn’t just for show. There was limited motion sensitivity here, allowing you to flick the controller to cast a line, and then pull left and right to bring in a catch. It wasn’t perfect, but for the Sega Bass and Marine Fishing games, I remember it working surprisingly well, and this was the first time I recall thinking that a motion based controller was a pretty intriguing idea that made a very different, arcade-like experience. How Did It Change Gaming? I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that the fishing controller basically turned into the Wii, because I don’t think it’s true. However, this accessory was in every game store in America as a first party device, with several solid arcade fishing games to back it up. Their execution was limited in scope, but may have been many people’s first home console experience with motion controls that actually worked. Nintendo, after some tilt-sensitive portable games

that got their feet wet with the idea, unleashed the Wii, and that story essentially speaks for itself. Soon both Xbox 360 and PS3 will have their motion controls out there. Sega had a solid idea, and while they were not the direct influence of the oncoming motion controlled gaming phenomenon, they certainly played a part in getting the idea into homes back in the early part of casino online the decade. – Zach

What Was It? VMU Why Was It Different? The VMU was essentially a very limited portable storage device with a few minigames on its small LCD screen, but it allowed a range of interesting possibilities for developers. Sonic Adventure used it as a Chao Adventure mini-game, NFL 2K series used it to view plays anonymously from your friends for more competitive gaming, Skies of Arcadia used it as a mini-RPG game, and so on. While the batteries just loved dying in it, it was an interesting idea that no one had tried before, and held so many more possibilities than it was given. How Did It Change Gaming? In the coming years, iterations of this idea would begin popping up everywhere. Sony made the Pocketstation, a clear competitor of the DC’s VMU. The Pocketstation never quite got to America, and was sparingly supported, its most prominent use coming with Final Fantasy IX and the Chocobo World mini-game. Additionally, Nintendo put out the idea of the Transfer Pack for N64, which worked essentially for Pokemon games to move the Pokemon back and forth. It never became a popular item. However, the idea wasn’t completely dead there. Later the idea of connection between the console and a portable device became more elaborate, most prominently with GBA->GC connectivity. I’m surprised as many games support this as it did, considering the amount of hardware and cords needed to make it work, but nonetheless, there were many games that used the Game Boy Advance as a controller or second screen for the Gamecube. Titles were made just with the connection in mind, like Zelda: Four Swords, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and Pac-Man Vs. Each one of these games used the extra screen in interesting ways to really push a new way of gaming. It was like the Dreamcast idea taken to a new level. Some games allowed you to download entire games to the GBA, like Metroid Prime, where you could unlock the original Metroid, or Animal Crossing, where there were tons of bonus NES games that could be played through the GBA. The idea of two screens for gaming has also carried on to the Nintendo DS, and while it was originally an idea many were skeptical of, this has proved to be one of the most innovative and fun systems of all time. – Zach

What Was It? Microphone Why Was It Different? The microphone, starting with Seaman, was initially used as a new way to interact with the game itself, similar to Hey You, Pikachu! on the Nintendo 64. However, it later was integrated into the brand new online aspect of the Dreamcast in Alien Front Online, where you could have real time voice chat with your opponent online. How Did It Change Gaming? Microphone games have not really done much to change games. Few examples have come out in recent history (N.U.D.E. for the Xbox, Odama for the GameCube, Lifeline for the PS2) but microphone integration has become a standard in the online arena. Microsoft ships out a headset with every Xbox 360. Sony allows Bluetooth headsets to be compatible with the PS3. I once played Fallout 3 for three hours while on my headset with a friend of mine who was watching episodes of The Office on Netflix, all the while we were talking online. That opportunity started with the Sega Dreamcast. – Skip

What Was It? The VGA Cable Why Was It Different? It was a video converter cable used to hook your Dreamcast up to a computer monitor to give the games enhanced visuals full of crisper graphics that a regular video cable setup couldn’t provide. This made the Dreamcast’s at the time top of the line graphics even more beautiful to behold. Not every game worked with it, but notable companies such as Capcom backed the technology with almost all of their Dreamcast releases. How Did It Change Gaming? While the VGA cable was considered to be old technology by 1999, it was the first instance of one being compatible with a gaming system along with one of the first times a video game could be enhanced visually (the Nintendo 64’s expansion pak would be the other example). This ultimately helped pave the way for gaming to help complement the HD TV boom, with the XBox 360 along with the PS3 becoming the current torch carriers for top of the line HD graphics. Thoughts – I love my VGA cable because it worked so well (regardless of mine being from a third party). I remember fondly playing through Skies of Arcadia on it and also practicing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in my room with it nonstop. It was a great novelty to have for sure, and it got me through a lot of college nights when my roommate was hogging the TV. I’d recommend it to anyone that can find it. – Chris

What Was It? Homebrew Why Was It Different? Until the Dreamcast, consoles were limited to what publishers released. The closest thing to homebrew was using a Game Genie / Game Shark / Action Replay or unlicensed game development. But the Dreamcast was special. Instead of a very limited underlying OS, it ran on top of a version of Windows CE that was developed by Microsoft. This opened the doors for hackers to develop software for the Dreamcast that was not standard to console gaming. How Did It Change Gaming? First, it’s noteworthy that Microsoft developed the Dreamcast’s OS in that it was probably what helped Microsoft move into the game console arena. But more importantly, the Dreamcast became more than just a gaming console. One of the first things I remember is a port of Quake II, as well as the website DCEmu, which is now a site relating to homebrew on all consoles. Many different applications, homebrew games, and emulators were available over the Dreamcast’s lifetime, making the system a full on multimedia machine. Even with no hard drive or DVD drive, it was nice being able to play emulated consoles and watch movies. Now nearly every modern console is homebrew friendly. The DS has the R4 card, the PSP has custom firmware, the Wii has the Homebrew Channel, the PS3 can install Linux, and the orignal Xbox is still useful for being able to turn into a complete media PC. Console manufacturers may push against it, but homebrew capability is a big draw for many gamers. Microsoft and Sony have been making obvious efforts to include many features into their newest consoles, while Nintendo has been, some would say stubbornly, keeping their consoles as pure gaming machines out of the box. – Andrew

What was it? Piracy Why was it different? Piracy was not new when the Dreamcast came out, and Sega tried to prevent it from happening with a specially designed optical media, the 1GB GD-ROM. Cart-based piracy existed, but it was so difficult that it was not prevalent or much of a threat. During the years of the PSX, it became apparent that optical media allowed much more piracy. However, at the time CD-Rs were still expensive, and the time and computing power to rip and burn a PSX game was not a luxury. As the Dreamcast matured, CD-R prices dropped drastically, computing power soared, and DSL and cable Internet started becoming the norm. I barely bought any Dreamcast games, and opted to utilize my DSL connection and CD burner for downloading games. It was not as simple as burning an ISO image, but it was still easy. Eventually I discovered a Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 ISO that had a custom soundtrack. After much research, I discovered guides on how to create custom soundtracks for several games. This became another awesome thing I could do with my Dreamcast that no other system could do. Also, thanks to the ease of piracy, I was able to play import games like Rez and Ikaruga without buying a Japanese Dreamcast, experiencing games that at the time had no tangible plans for a US release. How did it change gaming? Mainly it opened the eyes of publishers to the rampant use of piracy. No console since has been so easy to pirate game for, although it is certainly still possible. Like the homebrew scene, it showed console manufacturers that there is a fine line between what a console is designed to do and what hackers will make it do. The custom soundtrack aspect may have played a part in perpetuating custom soundtracks in later systems, or even helped push the idea of user generated content. It might be a stretch to cite it as influence, but it no doubt started on the Dreamcast. – Andrew

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