Well Oiled Machine

The Dreamcast is knocking on a bit these days - as you're probably no doubt aware, the entire planet celebrated the 15th year since the system's US launch barely a week ago. With age, comes knowledge and wisdom...but also wear and tear, and Old Father Time does not discriminate between the mechanical or the biological. To this end, you've probably noticed that occasionally your Dreamcast may not load certain games or that the system sometimes resets in the middle of a game. You may also be more acutely aware that the console's GD-Rom drive makes way more noise than any of the more modern systems. There are remedies to both the disk reading errors and the cacophony of grinding drives and GD access though, and these videos from Youtubers Mark Fixes Stuff and Carl Eggett will show you how to go about banishing those ear-shredding noises and game resets from your Dreamcast once and for all:

Dreamcast Delta

Elie Ahovi is an industrial designer whose work appears to embrace simplicity and sleek lines. His remarkable body of work ranges from bicycles and mobile phones to medical massagers and washing machines; all of which can be viewed here. However, one particular part of his portfolio caught my eye - concept designs for a gaming system named Dreamcast Delta. Before you get too excited, these concepts are just that - mock-ups created for a design project that was completed several years ago, but the amount of effort that has clearly been poured into this project mean that it stands head and shoulders above most other Dreamcast 2 fabrications.

Clearly the work of a Sega fan, the Dreamcast Delta eschews the square form factor of most other systems and opts for a triangular (or delta) shape. Elsewhere, some of the more interesting features of this particular would-be design for the Dreamcast's successor include being able to use a smartphone or a tablet as a controller and a wireless charging plate on the top of the system (that rules out resting empty beer cans on it, then). In practice, using a smartphone as a controller would be pretty horrible...but top marks for creativity. Below are some selected images from the gallery - but be sure to go here and check out the rest of Mr Ahovi's stuff too, as its all quite impressive.

The Mobile Assault Tour

A cool Youtuber by the name of PCwzrd13 recently got in touch with me after I lamented on Twitter that the fish/human simulator Seaman/Caution Seaman never received a PAL release. Sensing my soul-crushing sadness at the lack of a blue-boxed version of everyone's favourite fish 'em up, he very kindly offered to send me his spare copy all the way from the good ol' US of A...an offer I gladly accepted. To be honest, I totally forgot about our conversation but a week or so later the game arrived on my door mat, and included in the envelope was a promotional sticker for a Dreamcast event that I'd never heard of before: the Mobile Assault Tour...
Naturally, I was a little confused as to what this sticker was referring to, but before I could launch my own mobile assault on Google, PCwzrd13 contacted me again to explain what the sticker was alluding to Apparently, the Mobile Assault Tour was a US advertising and promotional campaign held by Sega to raise awareness of the Dreamcast in major cities around the country. Nothing unusual about that right? Well, how about if I told you that Sega employed the use of armoured trucks with Dreamcasts stuck to their sides? Here's the man himself, PCwzrd13 explaining this intriguing campaign in his own words:

"People complaining about the lack of noise in Sega's Dreamcast promotional campaign can stop their whining. The Sega Dreamcast Mobile Assault Tour has been announced, and if it's everything Sega claims it will be (and why shouldn't it be?), the word "Dreamcast" is going to be echoing endlessly through the red, white, and blue skies of our beautiful nation as early as August 23rd.

Here's the deal on what Sega has cooking. Starting August 23rd, and continuing on for 22 weeks, the Mobile Assault Tour will strike more than 39 cities, including New York Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco (what about Redwood City, Sega - have you forgotten your roots!?). The tour will begin its assault on each local market with the arrival of the six-ton, 46 foot "assault" truck (pictured at the top of this article)"
I certainly can't remember Sega Europe doing anything this high profile in the UK - the most impressive thing I ever heard about was them sponsoring one of Chris Eubanks' big rig trucks and painting a big blue swirl on it. Oh, and there was that Mitsubishi Lancer that had Dreamcasts in the boot or something...which obviously helped shift a gut-load of consoles. Or not. Thanks again to PCwzrd13, and feel free to check out his nicely-named channel, Dreamcastic or read more about the Mobile Assault Tour at IGN.

The Dreamcast Junkyard blasts into orbit with the SEGAbits Swingin' Report Show podcast!

The Dreamcast Junkyard writers Tomleecee and The Gagaman joined me (Barry the Nomad) and my co-host George on the SEGAbits Swingin' Report Show podcast to discuss the SEGA Dreamcast from a European fan's perspective. Topics include UK marketing, the delayed launch, games exclusive to the region, the official and unofficial magazines, the collecting scene, and Tom and Aaron’s thoughts on the US release. We also have a discussion on SEGA’s decision to change the red swirl to blue, and which region had the best box art. Believe it or not, this is the first time Tom, Aaron, and myself have all talked to each other outside of comment sections and emails.

Make sure to follow Tomleecee and The Gagaman on Twitter, and make sure to visit RetroCollect and Lucky Hit!

New indie release announced: SLaVE!

Feels like a tradition now for a Dreamcast indie game to be revealed on this anniversary date, doesn't it? At least I hope it hangs around as a tradition anyway. GoatStore Publishing have just revealed via Dreamcast Scene that SLaVE, a doom-like FPS with Robotron 2084 stylings will be released on Dreamcast in April 2015, and is available to pre-order in limited edition and limited limited edition versions. No that's not a typo, they are actually called that. You can get an additional 5% off the price with the voucher code TJOOS as well!

"This is what happens if Robotron 2084 and DOOM got together and had an illegitimate lovechild. SLaVE is the timewarp of 1984's aesthetic and 1994's tech to make a game that is uniquely 2014. It is relentless neon arcade blasting action from a first-person tech utilizing features in the extended DOOM engine 3DGE that gamers could only imagine in 1984, or 1994 for that matter." - Goatstore

The trailer above is from quite a while back, back when it was just known to be a PC game. It's creator Jay Townsend is an animator and game designer I have been following for years and I had been watching the progress of this game over time, so I'm delighted to discover that this is making it's way to the Dreamcast next year!

SEGA Dreamroom 2014 - 9 hours of live streaming Dreamcast games

The SEGA Dreamroom is here! Enjoy live streaming Dreamcast games from 9am ET to 6pm ET - head on over to our twitch channel to chat as we play.

9/10 Update: Dreamroom 2014 was a big success! Thank you to all those who tuned in. Enjoy the archived broadcast embedded above, and we'll see you in the Dreamroom next year!

Happy Birthday!

Where do the years go? Today (the 9th of September) marks 15 years since the launch of the Dreamcast in the USA. 15 glorious years of grinding GD-Rom drives, whirring fans and beeping VMUs. So, please join us in wishing our favourite system a very happy 15th birthday!
I know they're NTSC-J boxes in the background. Before you say anything ^_^

Please accept my apologies for the quality of this image - I knocked it up in about 5 minutes flat before I rushed out to work!

Incidentally, who knew the US Dreamcast shared a birthday with Leo Tolstoy, Hugh Grant and Gok Wan? Or the deathday (kind of like a birthday, but a bit more deathy) of William the Conqueror? If you take one thing away from owning a Dreamcast and reading this site, you will now always know that William the Conqueror died on the 9th September. On a more personal level, the 9th September is also the birthday of my girlfriend's mother and also my sister. The Dreamcast Junkyard: entertaining and educating the masses since 9/9/1087AD.

The Dreamroom Dreamcast Marathon returns on 9/9 at 9am ET!

From 2009 to 2011 here at the 'yard, I hosted the Dreamroom - a SEGA Dreamcast marathon celebrating the console's memorable American launch date. Since 2011, however, the Dreamroom remained locked. I knew I wanted to host another, but I was busy with work and my increasing duties at SEGAbits. Not to mention, I didn't think aiming a webcam at the TV cut it as a live stream anymore.

This year, however, I'm excited to announce that the Dreamroom is reopening on 9/9 at 9am ET at the SEGAbits SEGA Channel Retro Twitch channel for a special 8 to 9 hour marathon of Dreamcast games streaming directly from the console! Yes, I've finally caught up with streaming technology.

Hope to see DCJY regulars there as we celebrate 15 years of the SEGA Dreamcast!

Watch the full Too Many Games 2014 – “Surviving the Dreamcast Apocalypse” panel

Back in June, Patrick aka Kori-Maru (Website of the Dead), David the Lurker (Sonic Retro), A.J. Rosa (My Life with SEGA), and I - Barry the Nomad - held a panel discussing the life and death of SEGA’s swan song, the Dreamcast. The same panel also included a presentation from Sonic Retro, covering the history of Sonic the Hedgehog 2‘s Hidden Palace Zone – with rarely seen footage of Sonic 2‘s release and early efforts to remake the lost zone. We also met with several fellow SEGA fans, and gave away a pile of rare SEGA swag to an audience that packed the house to standing room only.

The full panel has been online since July, and I fully intended to post it here at the 'Yard, but doing so slipped my mind until today. To rectify that mistake, you can see the full panel above and stay tuned to SEGAbits all month long as we celebrate Dreamcast Month! Who knows, you just might see some DCJY legends on an upcoming Swingin' Report Show podcast...

Breaking The Bank

The rising cost of hardware and software is something that affects us all as gamers – the latest console offerings from both Microsoft and Sony are out of the financial reach of a lot of people (me included), and while Nintendo’s latest system is cheaper than both the Xbox One and PS4, the Wii U will still leave a hole the size of £200 in your pocket if you decide you need Mario Kart 8 in your life (and from what I've played of it, that means everyone). But as I stated in a recent article/rant on emulation, the high price of gaming certainly isn't limited to the contemporary formats – retro-gaming and collecting is rapidly becoming a big business and the prices that some games, systems and memorabilia command can be pretty eye-watering. As an avid Dreamcast collector, I’m only too aware that Sega’s final system is no different to many others in that there are certain hardware variants that are way out of the budget range of most average gamers – look at the prices a Treamcast or a Divers 2000 fetch on eBay, if indeed they ever surface. However, I’m going to talk about a slightly different aspect of this subject in this post: software. More specifically, which Dreamcast games are the ones that will leave your bank account looking anorexic if you do decide to take the plunge? Please note that I’m only really looking at PAL releases here and I don’t actually own legitimate retail copies of any of the games on this list as I refuse to pay the ridiculous sums required, but I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some of the more expensive Dreamcast games out there…

Evolution 2: Far Off Promise
As the name suggests, Evolution 2 is the sequel to the rather formulaic RPG Evolution: World of Sacred Device. Released in 2002, Evolution 2 was one of the last games to be released for the Dreamcast before Sega pulled the plug and as such it sold fairly poorly. Presumably because everyone was too busy rushing out to buy Wild Wild Racing on PS2. Urgh. I haven’t played Evolution 2 personally, but from reviews and videos online I have deduced that it is quite similar to the prequel in design – it’s a fairly decent-looking dungeon crawler that incorporates turn-based combat. According to the game’s Wikipedia entry, Far Off Promise was only available in the UK through GAME stores, so this undoubtedly limited sales even further, as back then there were a couple of alternative chains that also sold Dreamcast titles - Gamestation and Electronics Boutique have both since been assimilated by GAME in a fashion similar to that of the Borg. A combination of low sales, limited availability and the demise of the Dreamcast have inevitably lead to Evolution 2 becoming a highly sought after title.

Sonic Shuffle
Imagine Mario Party but with Sonic and his furry/spiny chums instead of the famous non-plumbing plumber and you'll have a good idea what Sonic Shuffle is all about. It looks fairly nice, with it's cell-shaded character models and bright, vibrant background visuals. The problem I've heard many times whenever Sonic Shuffle comes up in conversation is that it's actually a little bit dull. Sonic Shuffle is by no means the rarest or most valuable game in this list, but it still fetches some silly money.

Project Justice: Rival Schools 2
Here's a story for you. I got my first Dreamcast a few weeks after it launched in the UK in October 1999. I kept that system for the entire time that Sega was still supporting it, and only got rid when I eventually traded it in along with about 60-ish games for a PS2 and no games (yes, I'm an idiot). One of those 60-odd games was Project Justice, and it was amongst my favourite fighters back then. The copy I have now only exists as part of a CD-R 'fighting collection,' and the reason for this is the amount of money the game costs to buy as a legit version. While the quality of some of the other games mentioned here is questionable, that of Rival Schools 2 is not - it is a superlative fighting game from Capcom and features some great characters, artwork and - above all - game play. The presentation is brash and loud and the characters are big and chunky and are able to perform some really outlandish moves on each other - Rival Schools really is a fantastic game.

A game that needs no introduction, Rez is one of the Dreamcast's most original titles. Playing like a stylized version of Panzer Dragoon, this on-rails shooter allows the player to switch the view from front, back, left and right while letting them target multiple enemies and basting them all at the same time. It is quite a lot of fun and the visuals are very interesting but again, it is a game that will see you digging deep into your pockets if you want an official copy. Rez is a bit of an exception to the rule of this list in that it isn't especially rare per se - it is just sought after, much like Conker's Bad Fur Day on N64. There was a PS2 port that you can pick up for pittance these days, but if you want the original Dreamcast game you will be lucky to pay less than £40 for it.

I remember going into a branch of Gamestation back in the day and seeing MoHo on the self. I thought it looked a bit guff so I didn't buy it (incidentally, I got Project Justice: Rival Schools 2 that day), but if I'd known just how valuable and sought-after it would later become, I would have bought a couple of copies and put them in a vault. Well, probably just a box under the bed...but you get the idea. Moho was released on both the PS1 and the Dreamcast, but for some reason the latter version garnered 'rare' status, possibly down to the fact that it didn't sell many copies. The premise in MoHo is what turned me off buying it all those years ago in that branch of Gamestation in Bolton town centre - you play as a robot with a ball where the legs should be, and you basically pootle around various skatepark-esque levels collecting tokens before the timer runs out. It looks fairly nice on the DC, but that's about as much as I can say about MoHo, having never played it personally.

Taxi 2
Possibly the rarest PAL game on the Dreamcast, Taxi 2 is a France-only title that coincided with the release of the French action movie Taxi 2. As far as I know, Taxi is a pretty big brand in France and the movie series is fairly popular over on the continent – there are four films in total and it even received a Hollywood makeover a few years back starring…um…Queen Latifah. The game’s rarity is presumably down to low sales in a fairly restricted market: I don’t know exactly how many Dreamcasts were sold in France, but I can imagine that the number was fairly small. The game is apparently pretty bad – you simply drive a Taxi from point A to point B before the timer runs out. The routes are enclosed, meaning there is no Crazy Taxi style free-roaming, and the graphics look fairly ropey in all honesty, like a hi-res PS1 game. I suppose the appeal of Taxi 2 is that it was only ever released to the French gaming public and that it’s a PAL-only title. If you do own a copy, then hold on to it as you have a pretty rare and desirable game on your hands…probably don’t play it though, as the illusion that rarity equates to quality will be smashed to smithereens.

The rarity and desirability of the games listed here more than likely has a direct link to the numbers that were sold when they were available to buy on the shop shelves. Any inventory that was left unsold was likely destroyed, meaning the quantity of physical copies is limited to the number actually bought by Dreamcast owners at the time. Sales figures I've seen for even the highest-selling Dreamcast games are still woefully poor compared to PS1 and even N64 in the same time frame, so the price and scarcity of any of the titles in this list is likely to continue to increase as time goes by.

I've only focused on the PAL region in this article because it's my own area of expertise, but if you can shed light on the rarer and more valuable games in either NTSC-J or NTSC-U libraries, be sure to let us know in the comments.

The Land Before DLC: Toy Commander

Toy Commander is one of the Dreamcast's best games in my opinion. Not only is it an original take on the traditional 3D shooter in that you fly toy aircraft and drive ground units around a fully realised 3D house (toys which are actually being played with by a kid - the titular Toy Commander), but it really is an enjoyable experience. Missions are well balanced and varied in design, and on top of all that it has a great sense of humour. Oh, and it looks bloody fantastic even by today's standards. Yes, No Cliche really did pull a rabbit out of the hat when they put Toy Commander out as a launch title. It looked like something that was truly next-gen and played a mean game as well. Sadly, Toy Commander never recieved a true sequel and it remains a game that was born and died on the Dreamcast; the semi-sequel Toy Racer was little more than a mini game and was only playable online anyway, so those of us who either couldn't afford the dial-up tariff or simply weren't allowed to hog the only phone line in the house to play online games (like me!) missed out on the full experience. 
Interestingly though, and the reason for this post, is that Toy Commander received some interesting pseudo DLC (that's Downloadable Content, EA fans) in the years following its release. I say 'pseudo,' because it wasn't really DLC at all, and didn't even require the original game to play...but it's another way in which the Dreamcast was well ahead of it's time. The 'DLC' I'm referring to is in fact the special 'add-on' demo levels that were released exclusively on the Dream On demo disks that came with the Official Dreamcast Magazine in the UK and US. One of these was a special single-level Christmas-themed demo (titled Christmas Surprise) in which you played as a rocket-pack enabled Santa whom, with the help of a fighter plane and a heavily armed Jeep, was tasked with tracking down errant presents and returning them to their rightful place under the Christmas tree.
The second such exclusive demo, called Summer Special, was released on Dream On volume 11 in the UK and featured a brand new stage in which players were given the task of clearing a beach of rubbish, sharks and cockroaches so Barbie and Ken (or...er...Matt and Jenny for obvious reasons) could go skinny dipping without the worry of either having their heads chewed off or cutting their plastic feet on shards of glass...presumably left in the jacuzzi by the 8-year-old Toy Commander's alcoholic dad. It's a fun level and allows full exploration of another section of the house the main game is set within, and you can either take to the sky in a bi-plane and just blow the hell out of everything with biro-lid missiles, or you can play a slightly more tactical game by using the truck to transport the rubbish to the trash compactor in the kitchen. Which is located behind a mini bar, adding further fuel to the theory that the Toy Commander's dad likes a bit of a drink. Either that, or the Commander himself has been at the brandy...which would explain all these outlandish war games with his matchbox toys. The other variant on the Toy Commander formula included on Dream On 11 in a race around the house with toy cars, but this is pretty forgettable due to the twitchy controls...and is clearly the original blueprint for the later (and yet aforementioned) Toy Racer.
While these single level demos are quite short lived in practice, they do a great job of showing off the mechanics and visual splendour of the full game. But more than that, they are a fantastic glimpse of what was to come in the future. Extra content for titles we already own is a relatively normal part of gaming nowadays - all of the major franchises have multiple extra mission packs and levels released as DLC on an almost weekly basis; and while these demo missions are hardly comparable, it shows that Dreamcast developers were looking at the bigger picture. The Dreamcast was by no means the first system to offer this kind of content (even the SNES offered true DLC, with the likes of F-Zero 2), but I can't help but imagine how far this could have gone, and if the Dreamcast had managed to weather the onslaught of the PS2 and the cold shoulder of EA...and the broadband adapter had been a mainstream add-on given a proper release; we might have seen new maps and skins for Quake 3 Arena, new tracks for Daytona and even extra characters for Soul Calibur. As it is, these Toy Commander missions serve merely as a taster of what could - and should - have been.

HP Lovecast

As well as playing, collecting, discussing and writing about games in all of their guises (both retro and current), I also enjoy a good book. Granted, my most recent book purchases have been books about games: The History of Nintendo 1889-1980 by Florent Gorges and Masters of Doom by David Kushner, but I also enjoy reading the works of another author: HP Lovecraft. Lovecraft's most famous creation is arguably the whole Cthulu mythos, and the fear and dread that is encapsulated by that entire sub-genre hinges on the unnerving threat of inter-dimensional beings that possess ageless knowledge beyond human comprehension; and a running theme that being privy to this level of all-knowing consciousness would lead the frail human mind to total breakdown and madness. Personally, I much prefer Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Colour Out of Space to The Call of Cthulu, but that's just my personal preference.

There aren't many mainstream film adaptations of Lovecraft's work (although a Guillermo del Toro adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness is never too far from the rumour mill door), and even fewer console games based on his books. There was The Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth for the original Xbox...but there are few other console titles I can think of that specifically reference Lovecraftian horror and the particular brand of ancient, eldritch terror associated with his novels. There is one game on the Dreamcast however, that whilst not being truly based on a Lovecraft tale, takes lots of cues and plot points from his canon. There are interdimensional monsters, ancient other-worldly horrors, tales of madness and an overwhelming sense of dread that permeates every location - a dread that cannot be pinned on one particular source. That game is Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare.
Developed by DarkWorks and published by Infogrammes in 2001, Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare (or Alone In The Dark 4, as some prefer to call it) is a 3rd person survival horror adventure in a similar vein to the first three Resident Evil games - you control a polygonal character who can move freely around in pre-rendered locations viewed through a static camera. In the case of AITD4, these locations are set on the mysterious Shadow Island, a small craggy enclave jutting from the sea off the coast of Massachusetts. The plot of the adventure is key to my love of The New Nightmare as it has the hallmarks of a great detective story with paranormal and Lovecraftian undertones: set in 2001, you play as either Edward Carnby or Aline Cedrac and travel to Shadow Island to investigate the death of Carnby's friend and partner Charles Fiske. At the time of his untimely and unexplained death, Fiske was investigating the existence of three ancient stone tablets said to be located on the island, and Carnby and Aline make it their mission to find out the significance of the tablets, and find Fiske's killer.

Of course, things get a little bit more complicated when the plane they are travelling in is sabotaged by creatures unknown and the protagonists are forced to bail out. Naturally, they are separated and this is where the game begins - you can choose to play as either Carnby or Aline, and they each start from a different location on Shadow Island, each with a different set of initial equipment items and with a different style of game. Their paths cross on multiple occasions throughout the game, and they do stay in contact throughout via two-way radio. Rather than simply represent 'easy' or 'hard' styles of play, as in the original Resident Evil, both characters games differ significantly in terms of gameplay - Carnby's game is more of a shooter, while Aline's adventure focuses more on puzzle solving. That's not to say there is no gunplay at all in Aline's game, but if you want all-out shooting, then Carnby's the best character to go for initially.

"The enigmas of the adventure are so incorporated with the story that if you reveal the story, you reveal the game."
- Antoine Villette, DarkWorks CEO speaking to EDGE Magazine, Feb 2000
The torch is your best friend
While I have mentioned Resident Evil and drawn comparisons several times, to compare the two is a little inaccurate. The survival horror genre in the style illustrated here was pretty much invented by Alone In the Dark, and all Resident Evil did was run with the original premise (and arguably Capcom's series improved it, too), but the two franchises cannot truly be correlated - in my opinion - because one game is more about blasting zombies to bits with ever more powerful weaponry and trying to stay alive, while the other is much more interested in the mystery of the plot; you aren't really told anything about what is going on, where the creatures that are stalking the island are coming from...what they are, even. It is only through reading manuscripts and diaries that you start to piece together the years of research and almost obsessive devotion to an ancient mystery that has lead to the summoning of Alone In The Dark's antagonists. While the same is true of Resident Evil to a point, there is less emphasis placed on the back story and more on the notion of finding more bullets because zombies are coming to eat your face.

It is true that Alone In The Dark features a mansion, but for me the comparisons to Resident Evil should really end there. There are other mechanics at play in DarkWorks' game that give it an individuality that should be recognised - the use of light and darkness is a massive part of the combat system and you are encouraged to use your torch to beat back the creatures stalking you from the shadows. Likewise, most of the weaponry employs ammunition that will create flashes of light (magnesium bullets, anyone?) as a means of lethality. This also bleeds into the control method which enables you to freely move and also shine your torch around simultaneously. It can be a little cumbersome on a Dreamcast joypad that simply didn't have dual analogue sticks, but it's a nice idea nonetheless. As you can appreciate with the style of game, you do encounter the usual stock puzzles such as locks that need to be opened with combinations that you'll find in old notebooks, and ornaments that need to be pushed around to open hidden doors, but there are also some nice scare tactics used - for instance when creatures flash in and out of existence in time with cracks of lightning and thunder, and the sound design is masterful - lots of howling wind and echoing footsteps on floorboards.

"There have always been movies in the horror genre and there will always be horror games. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions you can feel. There is love and fear - and what else is there?"
- Guillaume Gouraud, DarkWorks Art Director speaking to EDGE Magazine, Feb 2000 
Some of the locations are stunningly rendered
You can probably tell that I really hold Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare in fairly high regard, and yes - I do. There are better survival horror games on the Dreamcast sure, but there is no other game that captures the essence of Lovecraftian horror in the same way. Games like Shadowman, Code Veronica and Soul Reaver are all fine games, but none of them capture true eldritch terror in the same way as DarkWorks' effort does...and for all the flaws the game has, the storyline and the atmosphere are areas in which The New Nightmare does everything right.

Kojiroh’s Female!?

One of my favourite characters from any fighting game ever made is Kojiroh Sanada, the Shinsengumi captain who was tasked with taking down the crazed Shikyoh in The Last Blade. I mean, that guy just radiated cool in everything he did in that game and, as well as being a great all-round choice for the novice player, had enough depth in move-set to be useful at the high end too. Looking back, I think my allegiance to him paid off too, as when my friends and I used to play I normally ended up with a half-decent win ratio.
Kojiroh's nemesis Shikyoh, the crazed ex-member of the Shinsengumi.
I mean, seriously, why wouldn't you choose the lethal, expert swordsman who was trained in the most prestigious sword school of Japan? A guy who, legend has it, was based on Saitō Hajime, the real life Samurai warrior who rose to prominence during the numerous wars of Japan’s Bakumatsu period. A warrior who, in that most beautiful of SNK fighters, can finish you at anytime with a single sword strike. Exactly! You’d have to be pretty mental not to. As such, Kojiroh has always been my man in the series, with the nearly-as-awesome Setsuna my second.
Kojiroh is a great all-round fighter, balancing good offence and defence.
Therefore, upon seeing the same character in the awesome sequel The Last Blade 2 on Dreamcast a few years later, it was a no-brainer that I would simply graduate along with him. It didn’t take long either for me to fall back into the groove, wielding that razor-sharp katana with deadly precision. And there things remained for years.

Until about a week ago.
Every time I see The Last Blade 2 in action its animation seems even better.
That’s because a week ago I was abruptly informed by an associate that despite my man being named Kojiroh Sanada, looking like Kojiroh Sanada and sounding like Kojiroh Sanada in The Last Blade 2, that character ain't Kojiroh Sanada. No, apparently its his sister Kaori Sanada, dressed as Kojiroh who - by the time of the second game - has now died. When I first heard this I thought the guy was just plain wrong, however after consulting the almighty Internet, he was proved correct and years of my thinking was obliterated in one fell swoop.

What’s the point of this post? Nothing really, asides from the fact that, after some serious consideration, I now think Kojiroh Sanada is even cooler as a woman than a man.

Sorry Setsuna, you’ll always be second best.
I don't know who is scarier, Setsuna or his owl.

N.b. Seriously, have you seen Setsuna? Even if you did manage beat him somehow in real life then that devil owl of his would be sure to take your eyes out in no time.  

Dream Art

Can games be art? I’d like to say that it’s an age old question, but to say that would make me a complete liar as games are not an ‘age old’ medium. I guess computers, which is essentially what games consoles are at their core, could be described as ‘age old,’ but as usual I’m side tracking myself in a quagmire of completely irrelevant horse crap before I’ve even started to get to the point.

Can games be art? Well, I suppose they can. How is an amazing and emotionally-charged still image rendered on canvas with oil paints any different to a similarly powerful image created on a screen with polygons and pixels? Without getting too bogged down in my own half-cooked philosophizing, there are many, many examples of games and art in a traditional sense crossing over – just take a look at pixel art or bead art in the physical sense, and games like Okami in the gaming sense. But what about gaming hardware? What about the physical machines that we as gamers, all employ as tools to enjoy our favourite pastime? Can consoles themselves be considered as pieces of industrial design art? I’d like to say that yes they can. There are some really good-looking games machines, controllers and removable media out there and they have all undergone a complex system of internal design before being finalised and released to the public. Some games machines do look better than others and their physical forms have cemented themselves in the minds of many gamers, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

Everyone knows what a Sony PlayStation looks like for example (if you don't, then apologies - there's one just up there). Likewise with a Sega Mega Drive. The designs of those systems have embedded themselves in popular culture. On the flip side, the Atari Jaguar with a CD unit on top is often referred to as looking like a toilet, regardless of the fact that the Jaguar base system (minus the CD drive) is one of the better-looking games consoles from the past. Why am I rambling about all this though? Well, I’ve created a nice piece of art myself. Dreamcast art, in fact. Dream art. Hmm. Not sure if that works…but look here, me laddo:

These are images of my tiny Dreamcast in an egg that I got off eBay a few years ago. I did a post about it here. It’s been sat in a box in a cupboard for a while and only the other day did I think to myself – why don’t I do something with it?! So I did. I went down to Wilkinson and bought a deep picture frame – this one, in fact:

And then I pillaged a bit of promotional guff from one of my NTSC-J DC games; in this case it was a square flyer out of the Virtua Fighter 3tb box. I then combined the items together as if I was a regular Jill Valentine and came up with this rather lovely piece of post-modern, neo-classical, baroque, brutalist awesomeness:

Same size as the Mona Lisa. True story.
I was toying with the idea of putting a little light in the top of the frame and having it lit up, but for now it looks just great on the mantelpiece. And there it shall stay until I can afford to have a full-size bronze statue of myself constructed and erected instead.

Confidential Mission

The name's Gibson, Howard Gibson and he's on a mission, a Confidential Mission. This hasn't quite got the right ring to it, but take one look at the cover art of the Sega Dreamcast game Confidential Mission and it just screams James Bond 007 at you; the slick black suit and bow tie, the silenced pistol, the pretty girl, the one-eyed antagonist and his chief henchman. Maybe this game would have been more popular if it had been tied to Ian Fleming's famous spy.

Originally an arcade release in 2000, this port came to the Dreamcast a year after that, but never really gained the acclaim or success of its predecessors, Virtua Cop and House of the Dead. The story follows Howard Gibson and his partner Jean Clifford, agents for CMF who are thrown into action to save the world, as predictably the bad guys have done something devious and nasty. This time they have stolen a satellite and plan to use it to destroy CMF and try to take over the world. This reminds me of a certain mouse called The Brain and his trusty sidekick, Pinky.

Cartoon mice aside though, this game is much the same as other light-gun shooters: kill or be killed - simple really. You and your cohort will be tasked with saving CMF and defeating the bad guys, and along the way you'll play through various scenarios, like the museum and train, during which you will encounter dangerous foes and end of level bosses. Make sure you make use of pickups and special weapons to aid you in your fight.

The only downside is really my fault and that's because I had to play this game on a poxy little 14" screen. I can't help but think that my experience would have been magnified tenfold if I'd have played on a screen with a bigger surface area. Confidential Mission is definitely worth a play and to enhance your experience make sure you use the Dreamcast Gun. Get a friend round as well as a shared gaming experience is always a better one, but if you have no friends or they are out of town and you have the urge to play, knock on your neighbour's door and invite them round for some fun and games.