Ten years ago today in north America SEGA released what would become their last foray into the console hardware arena. It was the first of the 6th generation of consoles to make it in to people’s homes – Before the Nintendo Gamecube, the PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox. It was, 10 years ago, a beast of a machine, sharing the same innards as SEGA’s NAOMI arcade hardware at a time when arcades were still at the forefront of gaming technology.
This common architecture meant that the Dreamcast would be home to arcade-perfect ports of games such as Marvel vs Capcom 2, Crazy Taxi, Power Stone, Virtua Tennis and Ikaruga. The console, still held in high regard by videogame snobs pioneered online console gaming. It was the first home console to feature a dial-up modem, as well as support for a broadband ethernet adapter – paving the way for PSN and Xbox Live services we now take for granted. In fact, wide enthusiast support for the system means that some of its games, including Quake III, can still be played online today.
The Dreamcast’s controller too has been highly lauded. A comfortable, well designed evolution of Nintendo’s groundbreaking – yet clunky – Nintendo 64 controller. It featured expansion slots within the controller that allowed for a PDA-like memory card with a little monochrome LCD , the VMU, to be installed. The VMU allowed for a certain amount of interactivity – such as viewing player health, inventory and the like – as well as controlling plays in sports game. Furthermore, when removed from the controller the VMU allowed for mini variants of its games to be played on-the-go – like a mini, mini Gameboy. Its included pressure-sensitive analogue triggers made racing games a treat to play, and it’s not a stretch to say that the current 360 controller has the Dreamcast controller as its primary influence.
As if there was any doubt as to the console being ahead of its time, the Dreamcast also allowed for 480p output through VGA which ten years ago allowed for unprecedented crisp and clear visual fidelity.
The Dreamcast had the technology and the games Why then, did it die, just two yearsÂ in to its life?
The reasons are shrouded in corporate bureaucracy, but the theories are numerous. Firstly, there wasn’t a whole bunch of consumer confidence for SEGA hardware after the abysmal failures of Sega’s 32X, MegaCD and Saturn Systems. Sega’s dropping of the Saturn early in to its lifespan in particular caused the general gaming populace to wonder why they should shell out for a console, when Sega could cease support like the drop of a hat.
Sega also wasn’t entirely sure who their market was; they didn’t know if they should target their advertising toward the older gamers who grew up with the Mega Drive, or the younger PokÃ©mon crowd that Nintendo was busy digging their claws in to. The resultant mess meant that by the time that Sega figured out who to market to, that market had moved on.
Another irrefutable factor in the Dreamcast’s demise is that of piracy. Featuring a complete lack of copy protection, it was all too easy for anyone with a PC to make illegitimate copies of games.
The final nail in the Dreamcast’s coffin though was undoubtedly Sony and the PlayStation 2. When the successor to the PlayStation was announced in 1999, Sony would ensure – through their extended marketing muscle and bought exclusivity contracts – that it would be the predominant gaming platform.
It’s a pity – because the Dreamcast is one of the finest gaming platforms of all time; and anybody who played Shenmue would agree. It would be interesting – via the magic of time travel’s butterfly effect – to see what the console space would be like right now if SEGA hadn’t abandoned its hardware business.
Last Updated: September 9, 2009