September 9, 2009 is the tenth anniversary of the North American launch of Sega’s last entry (to this day) to the console hardware market. After the better part of two decades of highs and lows as a hardware manufacturer, Sega managed to save their best console for last. Though clearly not the commercial success that they had hoped (it had faltered in the face of the competition from Sony, Nintendo, and later Microsoft), it managed an amazing library of software, cutting edge hardware, and a cult following that remains strong to this day. Ten years is a long time, the Dreamcast today is often considered a retro gaming system, though if you can get your hands on it and its games, you may question the retro tag.
Personally, I loved the system, and if you could see my massive Dreamcast collection that I still have to this day, it would testify to my dedication. The Dreamcast ushered my gaming life into a whole other level. It provided myself with experiences that at the time were unique amongst the gaming culture. So it is with this post that I honour the Sega Dreamcast on its tenth anniversary as a console of firsts, a console that provided unique software and hardware and truly brought gaming into the next millennium. The following points detail why this console for me was a console of firsts:
First Next-Gen console: Every new console generation that comes out is referred to as the ‘Next-Gen’. That term is not only used to distinguish the current console generation from the later, but to also let the public know that this is the bleeding edge technology and one should own it if they are serious about their hardware. I graduated from the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64 to the Sega Dreamcast and was blown away by the divide in graphics, hardware design, control, and features. A lot of the things we take for granted in current-gen gaming, particularly online, was standard on the DC. I won’t get into all the features here as some will make up some of the next points. Needless to say, when you bought the DC on day-one, you had next-gen technology for a gaming system.
First Online Gaming: For me the Sega Dreamcast ushered me in to the online gaming scene. A fun little combat-puzzler game entitled Chu Chu Rocket was my first online game. I remember the night when my brother and I played our first online game against each other. Growing up we played a lot of games against each other so it was good to know that from then on, no matter where we were, we could still game together. The Dreamcast also was responsible for my online handle / Gamertag. I have been know as SUPERGHOST ever since.
First Internet: As a poor 20-something, I struggled finding my way in the world. I didn’t own a PC, so when the opportunity to surf the internet via the Dreamcast came along, I jumped at the chance to use it for my exploits on the world wide web. While it was not the greatest way to surf, it did allow me to have that experience. Today, it is not unusual to have your console browse the internet (unless you are Microsoft), but back then it was a first.
First Arcade at Home: Sure, there had been arcade game conversions on home consoles for years, but the power of the Dreamcast brought the arcade experience home with comparable, or in some cases improved, quality. Games like Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, Dead or Alive 2, and Power Stone allowed gamers to save their quarters and perfect their skills in the comfort of their home living room.
First Motion Control: Well, kind of. With light gun games like House of the Dead 2 and Confidential Mission as well as Sega’s own fishing controller for the Bass and Marine Fishing games, I wasn’t just stationary on the couch anymore. With the Mad Catz light gun I was able to enjoy the quality light gun games from the arcade in my home, and with the fishing controller I was able to cast a reel in the fish with the best of them. If I had the money I would have also shook all night long playing Samba De Amigo (which has a new lease on life thanks to the Wii). The DC had you off your couch before it was cool.
First Emotional Impact: This certainly will be different for everybody, but for me personally two games on the Dreamcast stood out for me as having huge emotional impacts, Kenji Eno’s D2 and Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue. Two games that pushed the envelope and that could be found no where else. I don’t think the world was ready for these two games as their costs and pushes on technology made success hard to grasp. But I am thankful that I had the opportunity to experience them and for the feelings they brought out of me. I get such fond memories just thinking back on them now.
First Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO): Phantasy Star Online was a phenomenon. There was nothing else like it in the console space. Such an incredible marriage of simplicity with complexity, Phantasy Star Online has since gone on to spawn several sequels, but for me they still cannot compete with the original (but I will give Phantasy Star 0 a try). The Diablo-esque ‘Loot-and-Shoot’ was many peoples first exposure to the joys (and pitfalls) of the MMO scene. While you adventured in parties of four, you could still converse with thousands of other gamers spread throughout the game’s lobbies. What is sad that this game arrived just as Sega was giving up on the console. What could have been for the Dreamcast?
First Voice Chat / Conversational Game: Alien Front Online, a simple futuristic tank versus alien tank combat game was my first experience with online voice chat in a game. Like with Phantasy Star Online, I was drawn in to the games community and quickly the success at the game became secondary. I spent many an hour with my brothers and my cousin having a blast with it. Consoles still today struggle with online chat, but the Dreamcast was making it happen on a 56K modem. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Seaman. Seaman would probably be considered a non-game today. You not only raised your little human-faced fish/amphibian creature, but you also talked to him…and he talked back! Seaman wouldn’t hesitate to analyze your life. And like a tamagochi, if you did not take care of him properly, he could end up dead. You certainly wouldn't want to kill a video game character you had a relationship with would you?
Personally I could go on and on about the Dreamcast. I could talk about it’s library of fighters, its founding of 2K Sports, in particular its groundbreaking Football games, its VMU’s (playable memory cards) but for all its triumphs, in the end it just didn’t have the muscle or support to keep up with the industry leaders. It is usually the brightest candles that burn the fastest, and the Dreamcast burned brightly indeed. Please leave a comment of some of your Dreamcast firsts, or perhaps what Sega and the Dreamcast did that holds a special place in your heart. I would like to hear from you and share some Dreamcast memories.