The Dreamcast Premiere Press Kit

I was looking around on eBay a few weeks ago and stumbled across a rather unusual article from the Dreamcast's history. There were no bids and only a couple of days left, so I stuck a cheeky bid of a few pounds on said item. As the timer counted down, I thought I was going to score a massive win and acquire a piece of memorabilia I had personally never heard of before. I was wrong. Within the last few minutes, the bids came in thick and fast and even though I threw caution to the wind and put a whopping £35 on such a frivolous item...the auction ended at almost £60! What is this mystery object?  This:

The Dreamcast Premiere Press Kit. From the blurb in the auction and from the text shown in the photos I have cunningly deduced that the Premiere set comprised of a music CD, a booklet detailing Dreamcast peripherals and upcoming games, and also a copy of Dream On 3. The set appears to have been given away to members of the gaming press to celebrate a year since the Dreamcast's UK launch, and is a really nice-looking little curio. Alas, there were collectors out there with deeper pockets than mine - which isn't hard, to be honest - and it would have been cool to actually own this item and do a proper feature on it...but cest la vie.

Shenmue In HD Remake Shocker! (Sort Of)

OK, so the chances are you've already seen this by now as it's pretty much a day old, but images have surfaced online of a fan-made HD remake of Shenmue. I'm not going to say a great deal because I'm honestly not that bothered about Shenmue. It is a vastly overrated game in my opinion and while I thoroughly appreciate the scope of the story and the graphical splendour of the franchise, I just think its almost mythical status has gotten a little bit out of hand. Every two minutes there's some new 'Save Shenmue' guff doing the rounds on the social media networks...and I really have my doubts as to whether the majority of the people supporting these campaigns have even played the original games...or if they just have extremely thick rose-tinted spectacles on. Anyway, I'm going to stop there before I cause a schism in the DCJY readership - I know there are plenty of people out there who genuinely love the games; but for me they are nothing if not a lesson in tedium. And that's fine...because everyone is entitled to an opinion, right?

Regardless - my humble opinion shouldn't detract from the hard work that has clearly gone into dragging the original Shenmue right up to date in the graphics department, and here are some rather lovely-looking images images courtesy of Korean Shenmue fan Ncoonkid:

For further info, be sure to check out RetroCollect's article here, SEGAbits' piece here, and CVG's feature here.

Welcome To Warp Zone!

I appreciate that a lot of people who either follow me (@Tomleecee) or the Junkyard's main account (@SEGAJunkyard) on Twitter will have already seen this, and likewise for those of you who have done the right thing and 'liked' the DCJY on Facebook; but I thought it was only right that I dedicate a full-blown post to here to my recently customised Dreamcast. The job was done by a very talented modding outfit called Warp Zone, and their usual console of choice is the Nintendo Entertainment System:

I, however decided to try my luck and ask if they could do a custom job on a Dreamcast. I didn't want much - just a nice blue shade on a console shell and a matching pad. Nowt fancy -  I'm an advocate of the old 'less is more' mantra. They accepted my challenge and so I dismantled a rather disgusting-looking yellow Dreamcast, put it in a bin-bag full of empty gin bottles and sent it off to the dudes at Warp Zone.

Less than a week later, they sent me these images:

And some time later...this arrived (well, the shells did - I had to employ my 'engineering' skills to re-assemble the console and the joypad)...

Frankly, it looks awesome. I even took it to Revival 2014 to display (see above), and was offered hard cash for it by a member of the public. Naturally, I turned him down but I can totally see why - I can't praise the finish enough...this system looks like it was always meant to be electric blue. I've toyed with the idea of changing the orange LED for a blue one to match the paintwork, but I think the orange original actually works better due to the contrast.

If you'd like to have your Dreamcast 'seen to' in the most positive way, visit Warp Zone's website and drop them an email. Prices are very reasonable, and you won't regret giving your tired-looking console a fresh new look. You can also find them on Facebook here, and while you're there - give us a 'like' too, you barsteward!

Mighty Morphin' Power Boards

Last weekend was amazing. Really, really amazing. For several reasons. The first - and most important - was that it was Revival Events' self-titled Revival 2014, a massive retro-gaming event held at Dunstall Park racecourse in Wolverhampton. I was there as part of the RetroCollect team, running loads of gaming challenges and just generally chatting to gamers and acting the fool. Another reason it was amazing was that I got to meet, chat with and actually touch the flowing hair of John Romero:
The photographer wasn't happy with the focus
In case you're unfamiliar with what the genius behind Doom looks like, that's him on the right. Not the grinning fool on the left - that's me. To be fair I was grinning like that because Mr Romero had just whispered the secret to his flowing mane into my ear, and as you can see this was greatly received as my hairline is receding faster than the Norfolk coastline. He also signed my boxed copy of Doom for the Atari Jaguar, so there was that too. But let's get back to the reason you're here: I also bought a Dreamcast. Yes, another Dreamcast. but unlike all of the others I now have clogging the entrance to my bathroom, this one is different. It came in a box...with an orange swirl:

Yes, I bought my first NTSC-J system for the bargain price of £50 from a trader called Sore Thumb Retro Games. And to say its in great condition is an understatement. The console has no signs of yellowing at all, and has all of the documentation including the Dream Passport (sealed) and manuals. Naturally, being a Japanese system the plug adapter ends with two prongs and simply will not fit in a UK power socket. And even if it could, the power coming out of the wall would likely travel down the wire, into the console and instantly transform the immaculate white box of fun into a large ball of flame, simultaneously causing untold collateral damage to any curtains, throw cushions and random empty beer tins in the vicinity. And in my gaff, there's always a high probability that empty beer tins could also be hidden inside the throw cushions, so the damage bill - in this hypothetical situation - could easily be triple that caused inside your average residential shit-hole. In order to prevent the aforementioned cataclysm, I employed the services of one of these things in order to play on my newly purchased NTSC-J machine:

That's a converter thingy. You put the foreign plug in one side and the UK three-pronged side into the wall socket, and by some kind of magical process no doubt involving a tiny wizard living inside the device, the horrid nasty UK electricity transforms into Japanese Dreamcast-friendly power! See - magic! So anyway, I played the DC for a bit, mucked around with the menu and changed the language to English and marvelled at Sega Rally 2 running a bit quicker...and then I went to do some other menial task that life dictated I must do. It was probably the washing up or be honest I've totally forgotten. Actually, it could have been folding some towels up. Or was it some ironing? Fuck it - I can't remember.

Anyway, I totally forgot (there's a theme here) that I'd left the Dreamcast plugged in to the step-down transformer. It wasn't until a few days later that I went to turn on the Dreamcast again that I discovered it would not turn on. I was pretty stumped until I deduced that leaving the transformer plugged into the mains must have damaged it in some way - indeed, the smell of burning wizard flesh coming from the vents on the side of the thing added weight to my hypothesis. So there I was, left with a Japanese Dreamcast and a dead step-down transformer. I looked on eBay for another one, but being a bit strapped for cash having spent all my money buying the secret ingredients to concoct John Romero's Magical Hair Serum™, I decided that I would investigate an alternative remedy to getting my NTSC system up and running again. I took to Twitter and asked the question - is it possible to put a UK power board inside a Japanese or US Dreamcast in order to use a standard UK plug with it, thus negating the need for a converter. Amongst others, The Gagaman himself answered my call - the answer was a resounding "yes!"

Knowing I had a load of spare PAL Dreamcast bits knocking about, I decided to give it a go - putting a UK power board into an NTSC Dreamcast. Here's how I got on:

And there it is! An NTSC-J Dreamcast happily humming away with a UK plug adapter attached to it, with nary a step-down converter in sight. It's a really easy operation to carry out providing you have the parts handy, and I've also kept the original board and plug in the box just in case I ever move to Japan and feel the need to take a native console back there with me.

I'm off to apply some of my hair serum now. If I end up looking like a Cacodemon, I'll be writing a strongly-worded email to my old pal John.

All The Lights That Light The Way

Are blinding. There are many things that I would like like to play on my Dreamcast. But that's another story (morning glory). Where was I? Oh yes...Driving games! The Dreamcast has lots of them. Some of them are total shite, and some of them represent the very zenith of their respective sub-genres. Ferrari F355 Challenge and Le Mans 24hrs for example, are two of the most impressive track-based racers of their generation. But I'm not here to talk about the quality (or lack thereof in some cases) of the Dreamcast's racing stable. What I'm here to talk (write?) about is a minor part of some of the Dreamcast's racers that I find quite intriguing: headlights! More specifically: which Dreamcast racing game has the most impressive digital rendition of light particles being thrown out of the front of a vehicle as it careens around a course in the pitch black? Before I set off on this journey, I want to be clear here - what I'm looking at is the overall headlight effect, whether it is beneficial in-game and well, how nice it looks. There are quite a few DC games that feature night races but do not really have any dynamic lighting so I've left those off this list. Most notable is probably the aforementioned Le Mans as even though it features a 24 hr race, complete with changing light conditions, the cars themselves do not have any dynamic lighting effects that actually illuminates (or appears to illuminate) the environment. Furthermore, the games listed below do not all necessarily feature real-time headlight effects, but they at least try to give the impression that your car has a working set of bulbs installed. So without further ado, let's have a gander...

V-Rally 2
What kind of rally game would be complete without some good old-fashioned night stages? Driving ran, mud splashing everywhere...smashed headlights and no clue where you're going. All part of the appeal of rally for me. V-Rally 2 indulges this by featuring night stages and real-time headlight effects aplenty. The thing about V-Rally 2's stages though, is that they are never really ever dark enough for the headlights to actually be useful. There are random splashes of light everywhere, which is understandable if you're driving through a village or something...but more often than not you're just out in the countryside and there'll be blobs of light just there. That aside though, the real-time lighting is OK, even if it does look a little odd in action. It's hard to explain, but the cone of light from the front of the cars appears 'artificial,' as if the different polygons making up the floor are just switch for a lighter version whenever the 'light' is meant to be shining on them. Quite noticeable what I mean when you're whipping along at a fair pace, but the effect at least looks like real-time lighting so I'm happy with it.

Rush 2049
There is only one night time track in Rush 2049 - you can't change the time of day so the headlight effect is only visible on the one track. It isn't real-time either, but is instead a fairly clever trick where light-coloured sprites are drawn over the environment whenever you get close to a wall or your car approaches the ground at an angle after a jump. Sometimes the game gets it wrong and the effect looks a bit odd (for example a whole 'round' light beam occasionally continues off the edge of a building like in the bottom screen down there), but it is a unique way of representing real-time lighting on the cheap. Building a whole lighting technique into a game with only one night track probably wouldn't have been cost effective, but top marks to the devs for trying - and this effect is absent from the N64 port of Rush 2049 too.

Tokyo Highway Battle 1 & 2
Tokyo Highway Battle/Shutokou Battle/Tokyo Extreme Racer (why has it got so many names?!) is a bit of an odd case. It is a racing game that is entirely based on night-time street races through the neon-lit metropolis of Tokyo...but features some pretty half-arsed lighting effects. Sure, the highways are impressively lit and every single light in the game has either a lens flare or a trail just waiting to spill from it...but it has no real-time headlight effects. Well, it does...sort of. Let me explain. In THB/SB/TER you initiate illegal street races with rival boy (and girl) racers by flashing your high beams at them...only the environment is totally unaffected by your lights. You get a nice little 'halo' effect around the front of your car and the little 'light' sprite on the floor grows a bit, but it doesn't actually illuminate the walls or anything. However - and this it the weird bit - the lights illuminate other road users' vehicles! So at least there's that.

4x4 Evo
4x4 Evo features muddy racing where you can literally drive anywhere you like around the map, and also has some pretty extensive race customization options...including the time of day the race takes part in. Weirdly, you also have the choice of 'night' and 'pitch black,' but to be honest there's not really a great deal of fun to be had in either mode. This isn't just because 4x4 Evo is about as much fun as a family funeral (before the traditional pub wake, I mean), it's because the headlights fitted to the trucks are about as bright as a the candles on a birthday cake. The shots here were taken in 'night' mode and the terrain is light enough that the headlight effects don't really come into play, but in 'pitch black' you literally can't see anything - it's pretty much a black screen with the slightest hint of illumination. The effect used in 4x4 Evo also seem to be of the same ilk as those in V-Rally 2 - the floor tiles seems to just 'swap' for a lighter version of themselves, or at least thats what it looks like.

Metropolis Street Racer
MSR is one of the best racers on the Dreamcast. The visuals are great and the representations of real-life locations was unprecedented at the time of release. That the game utilises the Dreamcast's internal clock to change the time of day in the three cities that the races take place in also means that it features some kick-ass real time lighting effects right? Well...not exactly. The night-time variants of Tokyo, London and San Francisco are all suitably well lit (as any modern city would be), but the cars themselves do not have true headlights. Much like Tokyo Highway Battle, MSR's engine simply places a patch of fake light down on the ground in front of your vehicle that disappears into walls if you get too close. To be fair to MSR, the game is so highly detailed in pretty much every other area of aesthetic design that to also have full-blown real time lighting would have been asking a little much. On the plus side, the actual headlight effects themselves are very impressive - the lens flares are wonderfully down-played and the glare alters depending on the angle and how far away the vehicle is from the camera.

Speed Devils
This was the first full game I ever owned for the Dreamcast - I actually bought it the week before I got my console so read the manual cover to cover and ogled the screenshots on the back cover an untold number of times before I got to play it. Halcyon days in 1999. Anyhow, one of the things that will always stick in my mind about Speed Devils is that the headlight effects are bloody fantastic. The cone of light that the cars project on night stages is - while not the most realistic - definitely one of the most interesting and useful. The lights actually light the way, and the environment outside of that precious area of illumination is pretty much hidden by the darkness. The lights can also be broken if you crash, and the races become much more difficult to compete in if you do end up going down to one bulb...and if you lose them both then you're pretty screwed. Most of the courses do have street lighting and other light sources dotted about so you're not totally lost without your lamps, but there are areas of total rural darkness in places and traversing these places is much more difficult without your hallowed bulbs intact.

As I stated up there in the intro, there are other games that do feature night stages, but the effort to simulate real-time lights (or indeed have them) was lacking for whatever reason. Sega Rally 2, Buggy Heat and 4 Wheel Thunder all spring to mind, but these games listed are your best bet if you're a weirdo like me and find fascination in the most mundane of subjects.

And with that, I'm off to stare at a candle for a few hours. Night.