Comparing Speed Devils Online

Several weeks ago we had a quick look at Racing Simulation: Monaco Grand Prix and it's later online-enabled re-release, Monaco Online. As we know, Sega's online component wasn't really working as intended when the Dreamcast initially launched and it was only later in the system's unfathomably short (natural) lifespan that truly online games started to come to the fore. A lot of games with 'online gaming' splashed all over the box simply allowed players to upload scores to online leaderboards or download other players' ghost data. It was only fairly late on that bonafide online gaming became possible, with titles such as Quake 3 Arena and Phantasy Star Online. Not surprisingly, developers who had released games earlier cottoned on, and re-released their offerings with the added functionality. However, these re-issued games were launched with varying levels of quality. If you look back at the article on Moncao Online, you'll see that it was simply an identical product to the original, but with the added bonus of online play...which is fair enough.

The difference with Ubisoft's re-release of Speed Devils is that you actually get none of the content that the original game had. The menu screens have been swapped for very basic static ones, and the main championship has been totally stripped out - all you are presented with are the options to either race online or offline. Obviously, online isn't an option anymore so what you're left with is the opportunity to either do a time trial or race against 5 other drones in a meaningless jaunt around one of the (admittedly great) circuits. Due to there being no single-player campaign at all, and therefore no way of unlocking bonus vehicles or locations, all of the tracks and cars are immediately available to you from the get go.

Out on the course, the brilliant headlight effects from the first game are gone, and the HUD has been redesigned and can now be toggled on and off (why?). I would imagine the lighting effects were removed due to the engine being tweaked to handle 6 online racers at once and having to also calculate the light cone would have placed extra strain on both the console and the online infrastructure...but stripping it from the offline mode is just plain weird. Also, and rather strangely, the game seems to run with a much grainier screen resolution...if that makes any sense. Anyhow, here's a selection of comparison shots to illustrate the different HUD and missing headlight illumination (Speed Devils on the left, Speed Devils Online on the right):
These visual differences aside, Speed Devils is still quite a fun game, and I can image that the online game was probably quite entertaining while it was still running. Alas, I never played it personally. If you did, let us know in the comments. Out of interest I did select the 'race online' option, but was met only with this rather sad message...
I have a feeling I'll be waiting a while.

Southend Museums - Where Dreams Are Cast?

Thanks to DCJY Facebook follower Andrew Runagall for alerting us to this - it looks as though Southend Museums in the UK have a secret obsession with the Dreamcast from the look of their corporate branding. Probably best not to let Tivola see this - they'll be forced to change the colours. Well, the orange swirls at least!
The NTSC Gallery is now open
The PAL Gallery is delayed by around four weeks

Circuit Breakers - The Dreamcast's Best Race Tracks

Regular visitors to the 'Yard will probably be familiar with my love of the racing genre, and I've covered quite a few of the Dreamcast's finest examples over the past few months. From examining the best radio-controlled examples and F1 sims, to studying the racers with the best headlight effects; The Dreamcast Junkyard will leave no stone unturned when it comes to looking at even the most obscure aspect of the system's racing games. That said, it's recently occurred to me that possibly the most important component of a racing title has yet to be investigated here in any real depth. No, not the vehicle handling. Or the vehicles themselves. Or the accessibility contrast of the menu screens. No, I'm talking about the tracks you race on - one of the most fundamental parts of any racer. A good circuit can save even the most dire racing game, and will remain in the player's memory long after the crowds have left the grandstands and the smell of burning fuel has evaporated from the silent pit lanes.

Anyone who has played Sega Rally on the Sega Saturn will attest that even though that game only has a handful of tracks (Desert, Forest, Mountain and a fourth - Lakeside - if you're good enough), every twist and turn is etched into the brain, and this is because each and every one of those courses is a masterpiece of track design. Likewise with the original Ridge Racer - that title only really had the one track, but the intelligent design ensured that this paltry complement didn't at all degrade the overall experience. It isn't just the layout of a course that's important though - the setting and track side details all combine to create an environment that is as memorable as the street you lived on when you were a kid, or the bedroom in which you played your first games console. The very best tracks from your favourite racing games will stay with you forever, and even after years of not picking up a particular game, once the lights go green the important details come flooding back as if you never left.

With this in mind, the Dreamcast's very best (and worst) racers do contain some absolutely fantastic examples of track design. Some of them are great simply because they feature devilish corners and straightaways where fierce battles for the podium are a mainstay; others are just set in breathtaking locales - either Earthbound, or set in faraway places that man has yet to step foot in this reality. So, without further ado, lets set a course and take a look at some of the most impressive, memorable and enjoyable circuits from a selection of Dreamcast-based racers...

Mermaid Lake: Daytona USA 2001
At first glance, Mermaid Lake looks like another run-of-the-mill figure-of-eight track with a bit of a lake in the middle. And for the most part, you'd be right. The lake itself barely features in the course though, and that's because the section where you might be expecting to see said body of water is actually a Gale Racer type banked corner that reaches a fairly hair-raising angle. Once this has been negotiated however, the course opens up to reveal an extremely impressive downhill straight that not only takes you back under the track you just screamed over, but also gives a spectacular view of the whole course laid out before you. Mermaid Lake may not be the most exciting course in terms of the variety of trackside furniture - it's mainly a few grandstands and factories - but there are a couple of nasty 90 degree corners thrown in further along that will more often than not see your shiny Hornet transformed into a smoking, crumpled jalopy. Usually in 40th place.

Mars: Magforce Racing
Apart from being an absolute stinker of a futuristic racing game, Magforce has the envious position of being the only true 'futuristic' racer on the Dreamcast. The real issue here is that the vehicle design is laughable (the craft are all three-pronged tripods with wheels at each corner), and the sense of speed is far too sedate for a game of this ilk. The one saving grace though, is that most of the tracks are really well thought out and feature some rather nice details. If only this had been the basis for a WipEout game. Sigh. The shining glory in Magforce's catalogue of circuits though, is the only one not set on Earth: Mars. The track undulates fantastically as it winds through the ancient caverns and valleys of the Red Planet, past the spaceport and through a gigantic domed area that wouldn't seem out of place in Total Recall (the good one with Arnold in it - not that crap with Colin Farrell). Reports of a tri-breasted mutant are unconfirmed, however.

Civic: Rush 2049
Rush 2049 is a game you either love or loath. The cartoonish trappings and overtly ridiculous gameplay and vehicle designs are very much an acquired taste, but as a gamer who loved the original instalments of the series on the N64, I consider Rush 2049 to be the pinnacle of a series that hits all the right buttons. The Dreamcast version of 2049 is regarded by many as the finest available, and I am happy to agree with that notion, and of all the brilliant circuits on offer within the game, Civic is - for me - the best of the bunch. The fairly sedate starting section set within a green and pleasant parkland is soon eschewed for a fairly grandiose vision of a Utopian suburb of San Francisco, complete with skyscrapers and elevated walkways. Naturally for the series, these can be driven on and the emphasis is on finding hidden routes. Stick to the beaten track however, and you'll not only be treated to some fantastic drops (where you can utilise the vehicles' build-in gliding wings), but also a display by a formation of fighter jets.

Ship Graveyard: Hydro Thunder
Possibly one of the Dreamcast's greatest arcade racers, Midway's Hydro Thunder also features some pretty spectacular courses. As you can no doubt appreciate, it's hard to refer to them as 'tracks,' as there's not much asphalt involved here...but you get the drift. To be honest, this was a tough one to call as I had originally limited this list to one circuit per game, and Hydro Thunder has a multitude of outstanding examples, but in the end it was Ship Graveyard that won out. Starting off in a fairly quiet part of a dockyard surrounded by the rusting hulks of forgotten vessels, you quickly carve a path through the waves and blast out of the relative calm and though a working scrapyard where towering cranes precariously move bits of hull around above your head. Not long after this, you'll find yourself powering through the decommissioned superstructure of a radioactive navy warship, before being battered by increasingly choppy waves in a section straight out of Moby Dick - complete with lightning flashes and a solitary lighthouse showing the way. The finale of this amazing course has you blasting through a tunnel only to emerge in a tranquil lagoon with the sun breaking through the clouds as if the angels themselves had decided to call the maelstrom off. Truly, truly brilliant.

Le Mans: Le Mans 24 Hours
One of the only real-world tracks to appear on this list, the legendary Le Mans 24 hour course has to get a mention in this list simply because it is a sublime trip through the French countryside if nothing else. It helps that Infogrammes' racer is one of the best looking games on the Dreamcast, not because it does anything particularly special...but because it's subdued tones and realistically modelled mundanity actually makes it feel so much more lifelike than the brightly-toned Ferrari F355 and other titles in this category. The Le Mans course itself is a 13.6km beast that takes in rural farming villages and towering grandstands alike, as well as a draw distance to die for. This helps immeasurably when you finally get to the monumental straights that seem to go on forever and allow you to reach cheek-flapping speeds. The screenshots here only show the track during a foe-less time trial session, but during a full-blown Le Mans event the race goes on through the night and into the next day, and the dynamic lighting really shows off what the Dreamcast is capable of - you can even have a real time 24 hour long race if you like...although that's not something I've attempted yet.

Oovo IV Executioner: Star Wars Episode 1 Racer
Set on an asteroid and beating a path through a maximum security prison, the Galactic Podracing course Executioner is one that takes racers through various terrains and environs. The start of the course is in a fairly standard enclosed area, with bright floodlit concourses and a nice view of the asteroid belt above. This rapidly changes though, as competitors are soon thrown together as the course narrows and you are funnelled into a muddle of zero gravity mining tunnels - complete with errant floating boulders - and cavernous underground halls, where the entrances and exits have a habit of changing shape as you pass through. There are multiple routes through the course too, and more than one area where turning your pod racer on it's side is essential if you want to avoid certain death. As with Rush 2049, Episode 1 Racer also appeared on the N64 (and also PC and later the PS2) so isn't strictly a Dreamcast-exclusive track...but it's so atmospheric and exciting that I couldn't help but include it in this run down.

Bonus Track - Ridge Racer Type 4: Out Of Blue
OK, so this isn't even close to being a Dreamcast game...but by the magic of Bleem! it's here on the list! Out Of Blue is a course that, for me at least, encapsulates everything that sets RRT4 apart from the rest of the series. The over-saturated, pale and sickly light that seems to penetrate every section of the track gives the environment an almost sterile feel, as if something is completely wrong...but yet seems fine on the surface. It reminds me in a lot of ways of the manner in which The Matrix uses that slightly green filter to unsettle you. The course starts in a perfectly fine built up urban area, complete with towering glass structures and a roaring crowd. But before long, you're out in the middle of an eerily quiet dockland, where your only company is a flock of seagulls and motionless cranes. Maybe this is more down to the technical limitations of the PlayStation, but I like to over-analyse stuff like this, so lets just pretend you're racing through a near-future world where all of the people have been replaced by mindless robotic automatons, and the moment you get out of the car and they realise you're not a 'synth,' they'll all start coming for you. Chasing, endlessly chasing you to the end of the Earth - they will not stop until your organic body has been erased from the planet. Out Of Blue: a vision of a future where humans have no reason to exist. Shudder.

Got a bit surreal towards the end there, but as usual this list isn't definitive - there are plenty of games that didn't make the cut yet also feature some impressive examples of great (and memorable) course mechanics. Games like Wacky Races, Ferrari, Buggy Heat and Sega Rally 2 have some brilliant stages; and the collection of Formula 1 games also have some accurate and interesting real-world tracks. But what do you think? Is there a shining example we missed? Let us know in the comments section...

Gun Lord Test Footage and First Impressions

Long time no see Dreamcast fans.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Gun Lord. It was a bit of a hassle to find a seller that wasn't just a random ebay or amazon store.  I was very eager to test it out.

My current Dreamcast setup includes a VGA adapter hooked up to a VGA to HDMI adapter/upscaler.  I use an Atlona Technologies AT-HDVIEW VGA to HDMI Scaler (which is unfortunately discontinued by the manufacturer.)

The video that Adam Koralik originally did on this device.

Take a look at some of the test footage I captured. Apologies of the bad microphone audio (that will be fixed in future videos).

       

I plan on doing some more videos using this setup in the future. Please let me know if anyone has any suggestions.

Did You Know Gaming? Explores The Dreamcast

The worst type of videos on YouTube are those 'featurettes' where talking heads spout crap about stuff they have no real interest or knowledge of. Gaming look-backs are a particular type of video I personally cannot stand - you get these 'trendy' journos talking crap about consoles they'd previously never heard of before the camera started rolling and a script was shoved into their greasy little hands - Worst Consoles of All Time is a favourite subject for these types of 'production.' Ugh.

I'm not going to implicate any particular channels with negative bile here, but the flip side of this dark underbelly (the overback?) is stuff like The Game Theorists and Did You Know Gaming? - great channels that regularly upload well-made and fascinating content; and the latter has just released a new video looking back at our favourite system. A lot of the stuff mentioned is information we've already covered here at the 'Yard over the last decade, but it's a well put together vid and has some interesting revelations about the Dreamcast's name and the connection between Sega's machine and the Microsoft Xbox. Enough from me - here's the vid:


Once you've viewed the video, be sure to head over to DYKG's channel for more interesting productions about your favourite games and systems, and also check out their website. Thanks to Twitter user @MellorsAlex for linking the video to me.

Why Don't We Play Together?

The American Dreamcast launch has gained something of a mythical status in this zeitgeist period of celebratory retro-overindulgence. The whole 9.9.99 campaign was a major success as far as console launches went up until that point, and the advertising slogan (It's Thinking) was a fairly interesting tagline that implied that the system was so advanced that it could become self aware at any moment, unhook itself from the TV and bludgeon you to death with an iron while you slept soundly in your cosy warm bed. Happily, reports of this type of occurence were swept under the rug by Sega of America's black ops dept and so life just went on as normal for the vast majority of us. The UK release of the Dreamcast was intended for the first half of September 1999, but due to British Telecom's testing of the Dreamcast network running over deadline, the system didn't launch until October. That's not really relevant here though - what I want to look at in this post is the marketing stategy Sega Europe employed in place of the mighty 'It's Thinking' campaign waged by their US colleagues. The story behind the Dreamcast's various UK and EU advertising campaigns is a muddled one, and involves a plethora of different agencies fighting for a slice of Sega's reported £60m marketing war chest.
This man will happily eat your soul. With Cianti.
The company responsible for the launch at least, appears to be a firm that is still going strong today - London-based advertising house WCRS - and they are credited with coming up with the whole 'Why Don't We Play Together?' and 'Up To Six Billion Players' slogans. Both of these are, on the face of things, pretty good and project an image of a console designed to be fully hooked up to the world wide web and built from the ground up to be functional online. To be honest though, back in 1999 this really wasn't the case and as such Sega were forced by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority to remove these claims from it's adverts both in print and on TV. So far, so disasterous. That said, the system did have a largely successful launch period, selling 300,000 units in the period up to Christmas 1999 and while the campaign created by WCRS can hardly be considered as successful as their earlier collaboration with Sega ('To Be This Good Takes Ages, To Be This Good Takes Sega'), the TV ads featuring a barber duel and a load of kids chucking stones at a buoy did at least help to shift a few consoles; and even convinced Sega to open a call centre to deal with the influx of expected customer support calls. On a personal note, I really like the 'Up To Six Billion Players' slogan as it just says 'this is massive' to me. Obviously, six billion Dreamcasts could (and should) never actually exist, lest we be overrun by a totally different form of grey goo (yellowing goo?) and beeping VMUs. Nice thought though.
The Sega account passed from WCRS in 2000 and was taken over by Bartle Bogle Hegarty - the team responsible for the slightly racist series of TV and print ads that invited online gamers in the UK, France, Germany and Spain to spank 'Johnny Foreigner' during an online game of Chu Chu Rocket. Once again, the Advertising Standards Authority stepped in and told Sega to pull the ads. In this era of 'cyber bullying,' that was probably quite a wise move and a bit of a blessing in disguise for Sega - who knew that the Dreamcast was also the birthplace of racist trolling?! Take that Xbox Live - yet another feather in the cap for Sega's magnum opus!

Other firms involved in the pan-European marketing included Carat UK and Initiative, and they both had different roles in the rollercoaster that was the short and tempestuous life of the Dreamcast.

This is by no means an exhaustive look at the various advertising blunders by Sega Europe during the Dreamcast's life, you understand. I just wanted to look a little deeper at an aspect of the console's life that is very rarely investigated by any anyone who isn't already invested in the advertising sector. The one thing we can take away from all this though, is that SoA's campaign kicked ass; while SoE's campaigns were - although quite humourous - something of a misfire.

The World's Coolest Dreamcast Kiosk

No - keep your hair on - you read that right, M'lud. A renovated Dreamcast retail kiosk in the hands of private games collector and games store owner Jason Brassard has been featured in a great YouTube video by Sega Channel. The video is posted below, and in it Brassard explains how he managed to convince the previous owner to sell the retail kiosk to him, and describes the subsequent processes required to get the unit looking as amazing as it does now. The hulking cabinet features spring-loaded game storage shelving (complete with every US game ever released crammed in), a playable system complete with CRT monitor and pads, and a curved plexiglass display window. The kiosk aside, the rest of the collection on show here is phenomenal and boasts over 10,000 games, consoles and items of memorabilia. But enough banal waffling from me - just hit play and prepare to weep hot, sticky, salty tears of pure jealousy joy:


The store featured in the video, Trade-N-Games also has a website from which they sell some fairly reasonably priced games and consoles. Be sure to check them out (although it doesn't say if they ship worldwide).

RPGs Across the Board; or, Grandia II - The Beginning

One of my favorite genres of video games is the RPG. I'm not overly attached to the turn-based combat (although I have come to like it over the years): I like the stories, and the bigger RPGs have great composers, like Final Fantasy, or the Mario RPGs. I had at least one RPG on most of my major systems, like the PlayStation, Gamecube, Gameboy etc...but something was amiss.

I had no RPGs for the Dreamcast! And because my current system had no affordable games available at the time, I made it a goal to get at least one good game. Fortunately, my brother had received a gift card to a local retrogaming shop. I had gotten Final Fantasy 7-9 there, so I hoped that they would have at least one good Dreamcast RPG. They had two.


Grandia II won out due to a lower price tag (Skies of Arcadia was almost $50 dollars), and I was hyped. At first, I thought it was a two-disc game, a la some of the PlayStation JRPGs, but it turned out to be a disc of selected game music! We were over at a relative's house, so I eagerly anticipated playing as I previewed music from the game. (One key reason for me playing JRPGS in the first place!)

As of yet, I've only gotten a little bit into the game, but I already like it. The camera is a bit constricted at times, but I like being able to turn it freely. Also, the main character is a bit jaded. But more on that later, as I make more progress in the game.

I'm no expert, but the Dreamcast feels like it would be the best system for RPGs, in its generation. CD based for affordable capacity, good processor, and nice controller. I'm no Nintendo hater, but the Dreamcast controller feels a lot more comfortable and well-designed than the N64's weird design.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to continuing to play Grandia II to see how things turn out for the embittered protagonist and the naive client he's body-guarding. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Image source: Wikipedia

Dreamcast Notepads Finally Ship


We first mentioned the Dreamcast notepads a few months ago and several delays have come and gone since then...but - huzzah! - they've finally shipped! My notepad arrived today, along with my Sega Saturn pad and a free gift to apologise for the delay from the retailing website (in my case, the retailer was Yellow Bulldog). Quite ironic that the free gift was a PS4 card holder, but I'll let that slide. So, how does the pad measure up? Well for starters it's quite a lot smaller than I thought it would be, being roughly the same size and shape as a Dreamcast game case and is notably (heh!) smaller than the gargantuan Saturn pad...but in all honesty it appears to be a high quality item and looks about at authentic as a notepad designed to look like a defunct games console possibly ever could do.

There is some nice detailing - the Dreamcast name is printed in authentic typeface in the bottom corner of each lined page, and the inside covers have similar printed details. Rather impressively, the rear cover of the hard-backed book is styled after the bottom of the console, so you get all those safety warnings etc. Overall, I'm impressed with the quality of the pad and would recommend these books to anyone who has a desire to own every single piece of Dreamcast-related paraphernalia on Earth. So just me then? Oh.

Review: Dreamcast Collector for iOS

The other day I was messing around on my new iPad thingy and came across one of those 'apps' that the cool kids are known to play around with, and I thought it was worthy of a mention innit. Excuse me - I appear to have slipped into 'youth mode' for a moment there. We've previously looked at something similar here at the 'Yard (see Dream Collection), but Dreamcast Collector by PureGaming/Pieterjan Vandegaer is a paid application for iOS which does exactly what it says on the tin - it's a collection tracker for you iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. On firing the app up, you are presented with a long list on the left of the screen that shows thumbnails of the box art for most of the US and PAL releases (there are 276 games listed in the app). You are then encouraged to tap the icons for the games you have and can enter ownership criteria such as whether you have a complete game, or a copy sans manual or case. It's fairly straight forward and the games are all listed in alphabetical order. 

Dreamcast Collector is the must-have reference app for every Sega Dreamcast enthusiast. This app serves as a reference for every Dreamcast game ever released. Keep track of your own game collection and even keep a wanted list.
 - PureGaming.org

The large graphics, clear text and fairly professional design help to make finding your games a breeze and you can even add your own box art images to the library if you so desire. The thing that sets this particular collection app apart from some others I've seen, is that it has several online features that you can play around with. Each game (when selected from the menu) has it's own information table, which displays a rarity rating (out of 12 for some reason) and current average listing prices taken from live eBay auctions. This is quite enlightening, but also a little head scratching - especially when looking at some of the prices the lesser titles are fetching. It is a nice feature though, and not something I was expecting when I downloaded the £1.99 app. Further to this eBay price matching, there is a dedicated button that will take you to a game's listings on said auction site, and also a Youtube button that will take you to a list of videos showing game play footage and reviews etc. The only downside to this is that the eBay button seems hardwired to take the user to eBay.com, and so it's not much use for people who may be in the UK or elsewhere. You can change the currency of the pricing guide, but that doesn't alter the fact that all of the data is actually coming from the US eBay site. A minor gripe yes, but adding an option to change locations would have been nice. Upon further investigation, it appears that you can indeed change the region of the eBay site that the app links to - just go to the settings menu and you'll find the option in there.


A further nice feature DC Collector offers is the Trophy Room (accessed through the 'more' tab at the bottom of the screen), where your collection is displayed on a bookshelf and arranged in order of rarity or value. As stated above, I'm not too sure about the valuations the app gives, but it's still quite a novel idea and interesting to know which games might be the more valuable in your library. Lastly, DC collector allows you to create an online record of your games, and then lets you sync the in-app information to a web-based account hosted by PureGaming.org. This not only acts as a back-up function, but also allows you to create a multi-platform database using the other system-specific apps they offer. 


It's true that sites such as RetroCollect offer this kind of service for free already, but DC Collector is the first app I've seen that lets you not only take your virtual collection with you on your device (not literally, obviously), but also allows you to track prices, mark whether you have titles listed for sale and gives you an estimated value for your games. It's not perfect - for example, there are no NTSC-J games in the library; and likewise homebrew titles are absent too. Not only this, but several PAL-only titles are missing. Furthermore, some of the other online functions didn't appear to be working when I tried them...but really, for the £1.99 asking price DC Collector is a really well-made and nicely designed application. It's well worth the asking price if you're a dedicated Dreamcast collector (and they also offer similar apps for the Saturn, NES and a whole host of other classic consoles), and is quite a bit better than the free Dream Collection, which is also available for iOS and Android.