Monday, July 28, 2014

Doomcast


I'm a huge fan of the Doom games. I have played or own every single console release of the game, and know the ins and outs of each version with quite frightening detail - from the music-less Atari Jaguar version and the texture-less floors and ceilings of the SNES port, to the windowed 3DO and 32X versions and the sublime multi-coloured PS1 iteration. I've also played the PC originals to death and more recently the Brutal Doom mod on my mac...yet my personal favourite has got to be Doom 64. You can read about my love for that game here if you so wish, but let's get down to business - you've come to the Dreamcast Junkyard for DC-related prose, not N64 circle-jerking.

Sadly, the Dreamcast never got an official retail port of id Software's genre-defining shooter, which is understandable when you consider the timing of the console's release and lifespan. It was probably too late to put the original games out as an official release, and too early for Doom 3; plus the idea of semi-retro compendiums was quite new at the time and so a re-issue would probably have been derided as unnecessary, and a bit of an insult to those people who had shelled out for a 128-bit system. While retro collections are all the rage these days, back in the early 2000s they simply were not the de rigueur. That said, Doom 3 was years away from release and the game we all know today would have been far too much for the Dreamcast to handle with it's complex vertex shading and texturing techniques - even the original Xbox had to make do with a heavily compromised port of the PC game.

That's not to say the Dreamcast never got in on the Doom action though. Oh no - it got ports of every version you can care to think of thanks to the 'open' nature of the hardware and it's readiness to accept software constructed by talented modders. Of course, when I say the system got ports of the games, what I actually mean is that two programmers with bonafide mad skillz (crt0 and DCGrendel) created DoomDC - a port of the engine which runs the original Doom WAD files. There are also later Doom engine ports for the Dreamcast, such as nxDoom, and that is the one I've had the pleasure of sampling.

I played all of the following using a collection known, funnily enough, as DC Doom Collection - a self booting burnt CD that features a rather basic menu screen and WADs for all of the original games (Doom, Ultimate Doom, Doom II, The Plutonia Experiment and TNT: Evilution, and an added extra - Requiem. I posted a video of Requiem here at the DCJY a few months ago, as I thought it was an interesting fan-made mod where the enemy and weapon sprites are replaced with those from Doom 64, but the level design and visual style retains the dank gloom of the original series (I've posted it again below in case you missed it). Here are some images of the various titles in the series running on Dreamcast:








All of the games on the disc play really well and feature nice controls and - as you'd expect - a silky frame-rate. Movement is mapped to the analogue stick (although not true analogue control), while fire, sprint and action are mapped to the face buttons. Strafing is handled by the triggers and weapon changing and map views are handled by the D-pad.

Of course, due to the fairly elastic nature of the Doom engine, several other popular games from the genre have also made it across to our favourite white joy-block (that's the Dreamcast, folks!) - Hexen and Heretic are two of the most well known. They are both decent games in their own right, but for me they pale in comparison to Doom's bio-mechanical, demonic and frantic shotgun-blasting awesomeness. Granted, the hand-to-hand combat and mystical swords and sorcery gameplay could be considered more tactical due to the need to get in close to the enemies that litter the levels...but for me, unloading a double-barrelled shotgun through the business end into an imp's face is infinitely more satisfying than slashing an ogre with a magic sword. Swings and roundabouts people...whatever the frag that means.


It's probably not surprising that there are various iterations of the Doom engine freely available for the Dreamcast - the game has been ported to pretty much every electrical device with a video output and an microchip inside, and it continues to be a massively popular title with many gamers. The simple 'collect keys and kill stuff' gameplay is fairly timeless and universal in design - indeed the recent Doom 4 reveal at Quakecon 2014 is testament to the series' enduring popularity; and likewise the constant updating of the fantastic Brutal Doom shows just how far the original games can be modded and manipulated.


This is only a little taste of what people are doing with the Doom engine on the Dreamcast. I'm sure there are other projects out there that have either brought or are bringing a multitude of classic FPSs to our beloved undead console, and of course there's the awesome-looking Hypertension: Harmony of Darkness still to come. Naturally, if you know of any other kick-ass Doom-powered Dreamcast shenanigans, let us know in the comments and for further info on all of this stuff, consider checking out the following links:

http://doom.wikia.com/wiki/DoomDC
http://doom.wikia.com/wiki/NxDoom
http://dcemulation.org/?title=Doom_for_Dreamcast
http://www.dcemu.co.uk/vbulletin/threads/106657-Law56kers-Nxdoom-Collection-over-220-mods!
http://www.thedreamcastjunkyard.co.uk/2008/04/law56kers-nxdoom-collection-homebrew.html

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Turning Japanese (And Possibly American)

My very first experience with a Dreamcast came in early 1999 when a friend who was earning suspiciously large amounts of money for doing a menial warehouse job decided he wanted a new games console. Tired of playing Buck Bumble and Rush 2 on N64 in his cramped bedroom, we took a trip to an import store in nearby Manchester's Chinatown district where my friend handed over several hundred pounds for a Japanese Dreamcast and a few games. The games were Virtua Fighter 3tb, Dynamite Deka 2 and Shutokou Battle - a game we had no idea was a racing title because there were no screens on the back of the case and no English text at all (time must have muddied my memory - all three apparently have screens). Since then, I have played (and obviously own) all three of those games in their PAL guises: Virtua Fighter 3tb, Dynamite Cop and Tokyo Highway Challenge...but you no doubt already guessed the English title of the first game mentioned there.

It was really cool getting to play on my friend's DC back before the PAL release, and even cooler because everything was covered in Japanese text and we really had no idea what we were doing in most of the menu screens. It was literally a case of 'push A until the game starts.' One other cool thing was the Project Berkeley video that came on one of the GDs, but I forget which one it was - possibly Virtua Fighter 3...but I digress. As a side note, it turned out that my friend had been fiddling the till at the warehouse/timber yard he worked at and that's how he'd been able to afford the Dreamcast in the first place. He was eventually rumbled and the police were involved...but that's a different story.

So, what's the point of this post you may be wondering? Well, since then I haven't really touched any NTSC Dreamcast stuff at all. Around 99% of my whole gaming collection is PAL, and I've never really thought to get involved in import gaming because it just seemed like such a sprawling and impenetrable sub-division of gaming: games you can't understand, problems with different plug adapters, will it work on my TV...all things that popped into my head when considering import gaming. A recent conversation with (amongst other people) The Gagaman got me thinking about import gaming again though, and there are some really cool looking games that we never got here in the UK. Things like Seaman and Roomania #203, and to a lesser extent Alien Front and...er...Tokyo Bus Guide. The thing is, I always felt like import gaming was a closed door to somebody like me who isn't particularly rich and doesn't earn a lot (and doesn't steal cash from work). It only became apparent that this simply isn't the case when I mentioned on Twitter that I'd quite like - but can't afford - an NTSC Dreamcast and was met with a cacophony of "use a boot disk you moron!"

And then the penny dropped. I say penny - I probably mean anvil. Right on my stupid head. All this time I'd been denying myself Japanese and US games (well, apart from the few self-booting burnt games I have) through pure ignorance. So off I went in search of a) some NTSC games and b) a boot disk.


The games I got off eBay for less than a pound each: Capcom Vs SNK Millenium Fight 2000, Pen Pen TriIcelon and Shutokou Battle 2. The prices were key when it came to acquiring these titles, but I also have them all PAL-flavoured and so I figured it'd be easy to navigate the menus should they turn up and be swathed in Kanji. There'll also all decent games (before you start - Pen Pen is fun!), so I knew I wouldn't be getting any nasty surprises.

Next - I needed boot disks, and these are the three different types I have amassed:

Utopia
I managed to burn this myself ages ago and forgot I even had it until I found a load of old Dreamcast boxes in my mum's attic a few months back. It's burnt onto a rather cheap CD-R and the foil is coming off so it is quite temperamental - sometimes it loads up...other times it won't. You can tell how ancient it is by the version number that pops up on the 'insert game' splash screen: version 1.1. I think it's now on some infinitely higher revision, but I don't know how well that version works as no matter what I try, I cannot get either my mac or my girlfriend's Windows laptop to burn a copy that will boot in my console. This version works great though (when it decides to load) - it's very basic and features a bizarre floating reindeer that turns chrome when you replace the Utopia disk with an NTSC game. Which is nice.



DC-IE Import Enabler
This disk was posted to me by a cool guy on Twitter (@ArchaicKoala) who responded to my appeal for help with burning a more up to date Utopia disk. Rather than send instructions, the guy just burnt several copies of DC-IE and posted them to me. And for that, I am truly grateful. DC-IE isn't a booter that I was previously aware of, and was totally expecting a more up to date version of Utopia to be on the CDs. The interface is very 'no frills,' consisting of two static splash screens and instructions to replace the disc with a DC game and press start. Works flawlessly.



Ultimate Cheats Collection
I bought this off eBay, again for a few pounds, as I had heard about a fabled cheats disc that had been given away with a magazine that inadvertently allowed for imported games to be played on a PAL Dreamcast. After a bit of research, it appears that this may have actually happened twice - once with a DC-UK cover disc and once with a disc given away with Paragon publishing's Dreamcast Magazine. This disc is the latter. It's actually meant to be a promo version of the Xploder DC cheats software, where you can select game-ruining cheats (why would you want 'all abilities' from the start in Soul Reaver, for example?!) but you can also completely skip the cheats and just put an NTSC game in and have it bypass the region lock-out. Works just as well as the others, with the added bonus of being able to start a match in Sega Worldwide Soccer with a 15 goal advantage.






So those are the three discs I have been using to play some awesome Japanese Capcom Vs SNK on my trusty old PAL Dreamcast. I'm sure there are lots of other variants on these discs and if you have any others, let us know in the comments. One thing I've noticed about Japanese games from the meagre three I currently own is just how much nicer the manuals and box art is, and I'm pretty excited to finally get the chance to play some of the more interesting Jap and US games that never made it to these shores. Be sure to report back to read my impressions as I get more. Lastly, here are a few screens from Shutokou Battle 2 for no real reason other than I took them:




Thursday, July 24, 2014

Crazy Taxi 2: A New-Retro Review

One of my few games for the Sega Dreamcast is the arcade port racing game, Crazy Taxi. It was special for being one of those few games that at least two people in my household played. Recently, I looked into the sequel games produced. There are apparently portable versions, but I haven’t played a good hand-held racing game, besides Mario Kart. However, the second game in the series, Crazy Taxi 2, was also released on the Dreamcast.


“Hey, self!” I thought. “This is a great opportunity to review a game for the blog, and expand your pitiful Dreamcast collection!”

With those words in mind, I purchased the game. And, as a bonus, I have not read or watched any reviews on it (well, one video mentioned it in passing, but it was an offhand reference anyway.) Since I haven’t played the first game in a while, maybe I won’t apply as much “Nostalgia-Comparison” logic to it. Maybe.

Review
Starting off, I am reminded of the original. I can’t help it! I’ve got the [licensed?] music playing at me, the customers yelling for or at me, and an ever decreasing time limit to play under. This game, essentially, has three game modes: Around Apple, Small Apple, and Crazy Pyramid. The latter is a series of mini-games, like jump over things or pop balloons. Silly stuff.

Anyway, the main meat of the game occurs in the “Around Apple” and “Small Apple” modes. You can choose either to go by “normal rules” (presumably the rules used on the original arcade game. I haven’t played that version, so I’m just guessing here) or choose between intervals of 3, 5, or 10 minutes. Then it’s just a matter of choosing from one of the four drivers and burning some rubber!

What do I think of it?

Overall, it feels the same as the original. A fun, solid racing game. If I were comparing it to the original, I might say that it’s too much like the original. But I’m not. However, I found myself getting bored. Maybe it’s that the style of game doesn’t connect with me. Maybe it’s because I could never get more than a Class D license in most runs. Either way, it’s still a solid sequel, and if you’re a fan of the series or driving games in general, you should consider picking it up.

As it turns out, most reviews I saw of it were generally positive. Yay!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Zombies, Zombies Everywhere

The End of Days is here. The dead are walking the streets and the zombie apocalypse is upon us...are you prepared?

Well you should be, because I am - I've had plenty of tuition; George A Romero, Simon Pegg, Woody Harrelson, and more recently Brad Pitt have all given me plenty of survival tips. It also feels like I've been killing zombies for years anyway thanks to current games that have zombie-themed modes, like Read Dead Redemption and Call of Duty Black Ops; and series like House of the Dead, Dead Rising, and Resident Evil. Which brings me nicely onto my favourite zombie game: Capcom's Resident Evil 2, or Biohazard 2 as it was known in Japan.


After the events of the first game, Chris and Jill barely make it out of the mansion alive, the T-Virus has been contained and the world is blissfully unaware that there was ever a crisis. Everybody will go about their normal routine and live in perfect happiness and harmony...yeah right. Thanks to those nasty people at the Umbrella Corporation, the virus is still around, mutating and growing stronger and is spreading rapidly across Raccoon City and beyond, and we are all still in deep trouble.

All is not lost though as this sequel introduces us to two new protagonists, Leon S Kennedy, a rookie cop and Claire Redfield, sister of Chris, whom she is looking for. After meeting in the opening sequence, they are separated and must now try to survive any way they can. Their paths cross at various times in the game and they will meet key people in the Resident Evil timeline along the way, like Ada Wong and Sherry Birkin, people who we see in later games.


There is a huge amount to do in the game, with zombies everywhere and mutated people and creatures to deal with, weapons to discover, puzzles to decipher and secrets to be found. This game will certainly challenge you as you play through the campaign, which is split into two separate stories on two separate discs, with decisions in one story affecting the other.

The defining moment in the first Resident Evil game is when you come across that first zombie, who is happily gnawing away at what is presumably his last victim, but what makes it particularly creepy is the little cut scene where the zombie slowly turns his head and then goes after you - fresh meat. There is an equally disturbing scene in Resident Evil 2 when you first encounter the Licker in the police station corridor which is preceded by it scuttling past a window. It gives you a sense of fear, you know something is coming and there is nothing you can do about it, your heart is racing, your palms are getting sweaty and you are struggling to hold onto the controller. This is survival horror at its finest and the best thing about this game is not knowing what is around the next corner.

So again I ask the question, are you prepared? No? Then go and play Resident Evil 2 on the Sega Dreamcast, the best training for a zombie apocalypse that I can think of.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dreamcast & SEGA 64: A Visual Analysis

We featured the lesser-spotted SEGA 64 here at the Junkyard way back in 2006 (original post here), but that was little more than the publication of a few pictures. As stated in that original article, the SEGA 64 was first leaked in issue 8 of Saturn Power - a UK magazine that was the evolution of the awesome SEGA Power. Rather than just re-blog those pictures though, I thought it might be quite fun to actually compare the SEGA 64 to the final Dreamcast system design and have a look at how accurate these hoax console designs were. Back in 1997, access to the internet - for me at least - was very limited, so in that era there was no real way of knowing whether lo-res images leaked from 'sources in Japan' and printed in magazines were legitimate or not. With hindsight, we can deduce that the pictures of the SEGA 64 were very probably part of an elaborate wind up...but we won't let that spoil the fun! So first up, let us compare the way the systems themselves look:



The most obvious similarity between the two systems is the large round disk tray in the centre. Both feature a logo, but the final Dreamcast only features a tiny SEGA motif on the front above the controller ports. One would assume from the picture of the SEGA 64 that the round bit is a top-loading disk tray and that the two diagonal slices to the rear of the case are where the hinges would be. In this area, it is quite close to how the Dreamcast actually turned out. Similarly, the SEGA 64 features two buttons - one either side of the media door, however unlike on the Dreamcast they are labelled Power and Reset, while the Open button sits below. On the Dreamcast, we only have Open and Power, and they are on the opposite sides, while a hard reset button does not exist (you have to hold all four joypad face buttons and press Start to perform a soft reset). You could argue that the final Dreamcast shell and the SEGA 64 do look similar in some ways though - there's no denying at least a passing resemblance, especially with the large circular door and the placing of the buttons. The sides of the two machines do not really compare favourably apart from the large vents - both the SEGA 64 and the Dreamcast have these, but the Dreamcast's vents are on the front right, while the SEGA 64's are on the rear left. The fronts do not share many similarities though, as the Dreamcast features four controller ports and look nothing like the meagre two on the SEGA 64:


Speaking of controllers, here are the SEGA 64's compared with the Dreamcast pads we know and (for the most part) love:



There's a definite similarity here, as they both share some of the characteristics of the Saturn 3D pad. Both have a single analogue stick and d-pad located on the left, and do not have a right-hand analogue. The design of the analogue 'nub' on the SEGA 64 pad looks a lot more like that of the Saturn 3D controller than the DC one too. Interestingly, the SEGA 64 pad only has A, B and C buttons...although it does appear to have a Start button located in the centre. Due to the black and white nature of the images, we can only speculate at the colours used on the face buttons but the different hues of grey indicate that they were all different. Tellingly, there is also no hint of a VMU slot on the SEGA 64's pad, so probably the biggest hint that it is just a bastardised re-imagining of the Saturn 3D controller.

I guess we'll never really know if the SEGA 64 images were really leaked from SEGA Japan or whether they were the work of an overactive imagination. One thing is certain though - there are a lot of similarities in the design of both the console and the pad to the final design of the Dreamcast. Educated guesses and pot luck...or genuine blueprints for the Dreamcast...? The truth is out there. Somewhere. Probably at the bottom of this whiskey bottle. *Sob*

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fighters and Arcade Sticks



One of the strongest pillars of the Dreamcast's software library is arguably its fighters. From the pure SNK goodness of Garou: Mark of the Wolves and The Last Blade series, through to the 3D extravaganzas of Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive 2 and SoulCalibur, there is no doubt about it that Sega’s last home console was, and still is, home to some of the best fighting games ever made.


The thing is though, the official Dreamcast controller just doesn't cut it if you want any degree of fine control with these titles. That’s not to just pick on the Dreamcast of course, most consoles’ default gamepads are equally woeful - maybe apart from the Neo Geo AES, whose whole reason for existence was to emulate the arcade - however it does mean that if you want to really get the most out of the system’s library then you need to invest in a decent arcade stick.


Pulling off specials and supers becomes so much easier with an arcade stick.

As was typical for Sega’s last role of the dice, the Official Arcade Stick for the system - for a brief introduction check out GagaMan’s rundown of the hardware over at www.dcgaga.com - was robust, affordable and fitted with the exact type of microswitched joystick that really unlocks the precision and fluidity required to master any proper fighting game. It wasn’t perfect of course, with its square stick restrictor gate, non-microswitched buttons and garish green colour scheme taking a little of the sheen off the final product, but all things said it was a tidy piece of kit.


Today the Official Arcade Stick is still a tidy piece of kit, however its price has increased dramatically, with new units selling for north of £100 on eBay (it was sold for £34.99 new when released). There are nice alternatives to the official stick, such as the good Ascii Stick FT, however asides from that unit, which is now notoriously rare, things swiftly get bargain basement.


SoulCalibur's weapon-based combat is still as refreshing today as it was when first released.

So, what to do? The answer is to pick up the Official Arcade Stick second hand as cheap as you can and then mod it with some of the best arcade hardware currently available. This not only allows you to iron out those old failings, but also allows you a nice degree of customisation, allowing you stamp your own mark on the peripheral. I did this myself last year and, as you can see, things turned out pretty darn good.


Garish green stick and buttons begone! 

The case now features a microswitched Sanwa joystick with octagonal restrictor gate and Seimitsu bubble top handle, as well as six Sanwa microswitched arcade buttons. Overall the build took just over a day to complete, with only a little internal case modification and cabling necessary. Of course, I simply did a component replacement, however if you wished to get more creative, the case and its internal layout is very solid and spacious, allowing for all sorts of additional tweaks.


I won’t go into detail of the job here, as there are quite a few excellent step-by-step guides on the Internet already - this one is particularly useful - however I will suggest you give it a go if you can as the finished product is definitely worth it. 


The Last Blade series has some of the best looking background and character art of any fighter ever.

Indeed, my experience with the project just seemed to reaffirm the legacy of the Dreamcast as being a very versatile and open platform on which to play games. From the still thriving indie scene, through the ease of system modification (region free bios, VGA, SD card slot, etc) and onto the broad range of accessories released, it is testament to Sega that even today, over 15 years since the Dreamcast’s release, extra quality and enjoyment can be squeezed out of its hardware with little effort.

Sega as a hardware producer may be gone, but it sure did go down fighting.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sonic Adventure: A Personal Retrospective

The year is ... somewhere between 1998 and 2001. The place is a tiny apartment building. My family had recently acquired a new video game system, (one of the rare times we've gotten a system during its actual run) the Sega Dreamcast.

So naturally, I play the heck out of the demo disc that came with it. Rayman 2 demo? Yes. Tomb Raider? Definitely. Fur Fighters? (If it's the one I remember with the random object throwing and what not) Yes, please! However, one demo stood out in particular for me. That of Sonic Adventure. That demo received many, many playthroughs.

Fortunately, we purchased several Dreamcast games a bit later, and Sonic Adventure was one of them. I couldn't get enough of it. I played it over and over again. Well, not technically... (See, we hadn't gotten memory cards yet, for whatever reason. So I had to restart every time. Naturally, I didn't make much progress, notwithstanding the unskippable cut-scene). Even when I had a memory card, my journey with the game wouldn't end until several years later.

So what is the appeal? Well, I can't speak for the majority of Sonic fans, but I know about me. On a side note, I initially had no idea that there were other Sonic games before this one. I just knew Adventure. (And later Sonic Shuffle, but that nightmare game is neither here nor there.) So I guess this is a disclaimer that all/most of my Sonic experience is interpreted through that game, even if subconsciously.

To the game itself, then! It is a 3D platformer, the first true 3D game that Sega had produced up to that point. The attempt at 3D was a risk, I suppose: however, the bigger risk seems to be the varied styles of play that the characters have. In previous games, play-style was more unified, as the number of playable characters tended to be low. That's not the case in Sonic Adventure. Every one of the six characters accomplishes their goals in different ways. To review the game, I believe each should be discussed in turn:

Sonic
Description: Titular character, and main protagonist. I believe his play-style exemplifies the game as a whole. The basic goal of his levels is to travel from point A to point B (often with a few major changes of scenery and music in-between). Simple, but fun. Being the main character, his story is much longer than the rest of the characters' stories, totaling in at 10 action stages, 2 mini-games and several boss fights. Additionally, the final "character" unlocked after completing the other characters is another outing for Sonic, featuring the final boss fight of the game.

Analysis: His mode is appealing because it continues the speed and platforming action of previous entries in the series. After all, the game is called Sonic Adventure, so it's only natural that the best gameplay comes from his levels. Personally speaking, one of my favorite aspects of the game was a certain boss fight of Sonic's: the Egg Viper. Initially, I simply could not figure it out. I kept dying. After figuring out that I should use homing attack on it, it became very easy and my favorite boss fight. The music was also a drawing point for it, too.

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Tails
Description: Sonic's loyal side-kick. His play style is a variant of Sonic's: get from point A to point B before Sonic (or in his last level, Robotnik.) With one exception, all of Tails' levels are shorter versions of ones traveled in with Sonic. Similarly, only Tails' last boss fight is uniquely his own (Egg Walker, parallel to Sonic's Egg Viper.) It seems like Sonic is condescending to let you win, as one time during my latest run-through (in Casinopolis' sewers) I caught Sonic standing around, waiting for me to catch up.

Analysis: After Sonic, Knuckles, and E-102, probably the last play-style that I actively appreciate. The racing character doesn't go too fast, and speed rings are provided to give you an appreciable advantage. Because the stages were previously seen with Sonic, there is little need for more exploration of the level beyond what is necessary to win. Tails' final boss fight has the same music as Egg Viper, is a little tricky, but doesn't give the same satisfaction that Egg Viper does. His story feels short. (And a theme arises: stories that feel short, even for the stories with annoying play-styles.)

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Knuckles
Description: A friend and rival of the spiny blue dude. In Knuckles' stages, one must locate three pieces of the Master Emerald that are scattered about the play-field. He, Sonic and Tails have a number of boss fights and stages in common: their past history in older games draws them together, even in this iteration. For the most part, his stages are easy to complete in a few short minutes.

Analysis: Even though the Sonic games series was founded on the principle of speed and intense platforming action, I find Knuckles' stages pretty fun. The player is allowed to explore a portion of the gestalt stage in Knuckles' version of that stage, much like a player can explore the adventure field as other characters. Knuckles has one unique boss fight: he battles the newly formed Chaos 2 on the hotel's observation room.

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Amy
Description: Star-crossed fan-girl of the spiny blue dude. As with Tails' play style, Amy must reach point B before Zero catches her. However, there is no friendly rivalry: he is out for blood. Well, bird, but he doesn't care for Amy either. Because she doesn't have Sonic's speed or Knuckles' power, she must evade Zero as best she can. Her play style is annoying, as she can't spin-dash and must constantly avoid attacks by Zero. Fortunately, her story is very short, stage-wise, only having three. Only in the very end does she defeat the annoying Zero and reunite her bird with its family.

Analysis: Annoying. It wouldn't be so bad, if not for two things. First, she is slow physically. Second, if you go back to play the other missions for the levels, Zero somehow returns! Even though you may have already killed him in the final boss fight. (I only did Hot Shelter, so maybe he wasn't in the others? Eh.) It is nice to see him explode, especially after he punches the innocent Flicky (the cute birds from Sonic 3D: The family of birds is of this species.) for no reason. Not my favorite story of the game, but not my least favorite either.

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E-102 (Beta)
Description: Robotnik robot turned vigilante. He must reach point B, where the goal varies. In later missions, he is after the other E-100 series robots to free the animals trapped within them. He's not fast like Sonic, but he does have something better: a laser guided blaster! Everyone made a big deal about Shadow having guns in his game, but E-102 beat him to the punch with his five stages. (Albeit, only one gun. Still, it's the principle of the matter!)

Analysis: Roll around and blow stuff up. Super fun! Revenge yourself against the evil Dr. Robotnik. Even better! I'm sure they would have gotten dull after a while, but I would have appreciated one or two more of his levels. Also, he was just cool looking. The E-100 is one of the few instances where Robotnik actually had a good design aesthetic. Too bad they all got destroyed...

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Big
Description: Umm... Big cat who lives in the forest with his frog pal. Like Knuckles, he hunts for something. Unfortunately, his something swims. His levels thus bring the oddest play-style for a Sonic game: fishing. Fortunately, there are only four stages and a weird boss-like thing.

Analysis: Uggh! He is one of the reasons I never completed the game when I originally got it. Only during the later run-through was I able to finally get through his short, but annoying, story. I may have enjoyed a stage once or twice, but otherwise disliked them. The action was much slower than the rest of the game, and too dissimilar in style.

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In the end, 4 (5 maybe) out of 6 of the characters are enjoyable to play as. That's a pretty good ratio, especially considering later Sonic games. However, I see another aspect that I had not noticed before: fun, inconsequential story details. For instance, in the Station Square adventure field, one can follow a story of romance: at the Burger Shop, an NPC female has a major crush on the NPC guy in the burger shop. Over the course of the game, she moves from outside the shop, to inside - too nervous to order - to finally become a co-worker with him, her adoration for him finally known. It has absolutely no effect on any story or gameplay. It's great!

Another one, however, affects the story. The train workers decide that they need to go on strike. This helps point the player to focus on stages and events within whatever adventure field s/he is stuck in at the time. (When I tried to reason out the chronology of events, this is a minor event in most of the characters' stories. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles' stages can be easily reconciled. Others alter the events slightly. Big's involvement with Chaos 6 complicates things a bit.) Anyway. I think there's one or two others (like the explorers in the Mystic Ruins) but these are the ones I noticed the most and really liked.

Still, Sonic Adventure does have its foibles. One are the unskippable cut scenes. During the first play-through, they're OK. But when I'm playing through for the fourth or fifth time, I already know all that stuff. Plus, some of the voice actors (coughamyandbigcough) can get annoying after a while. The camera occasionally misbehaves. However, the controls handle well. It is also cool to learn the story of Knuckles' ancestors and why Chaos is trying to wreck everything. Thus, Sonic Adventure is my favorite Sonic game, and the game to which I return again and again.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Four Horsemen

You know, it's very nearly ten years since we started on our journey of enlightenment here at the universe's largest repository of Dreamcast-related junk. Who could have known that we'd still be serving the world's Dreamcast fans as the number one destination for useless information and slightly meandering and pointless prose almost a decade after I first published the first post here? Not me for one. Naturally, it's mainly down to you lot reading this stuff that we're still pumping it out...but behind the scenes I also have some very talented individuals to thank for creating high quality content that's (for the most part) based on Sega's last - and some may say greatest - entry into the console pantheon.

However, the time has come for the DCJY to induct some new talent into the ranks. Naturally The Gagaman and Barry The Nomad - as well as myself - will still be adding to the cavernous vaults of information here, but I thought it was about time some fresh faces were brought in to add to the diverse mixture of personalities, writing styles and opinions. Without further ado then, allow me to introduce the four - yes FOUR, and in no particular order - new members of the DCJY team:

Ben Rayner
Location: London, England

My Top 3 Dreamcast Games:
Jet Set Radio 
Shenmue (I&II count as one right?)
Sword of The Beserk: Guts Rage (loved the anime and the game to death!)
(close 4th and 5th were Nomad Soul and Resident Evil: Code Veronica)

I've been playing games for as long as my tiny brain can remember and with so many opinions and such verbal diarrhoea, it was inevitable that I'd start writing about them! As a freelancer I've worked with a handful of great game websites as well as now running my own hub of all things current in the gaming world (www.thenebula.co.uk); but I've always loved the Dreamcast and am glad to join a group of a like minded nutters! In other news, I occasionally play the drums and enjoy a glass of whiskey served with a side of emulators!

Lost Ruin
Location: The Midlands, England

My Top 3 Dreamcast games:
Resident Evil 2
Sega Rally 2
Jet Set Radio

My name is Gaz (aka Lost Ruin) and I love videogames and I am a gamer! I could just leave it at this, but I might as well elaborate a bit and give you smidge more information about me. I'm 39 years old and my love of gaming started back in 1983 when I received a ZX Spectrum from a jolly fat bloke in a red suit one Christmas morning. Today I own a lot of different consoles - both new and old, and when I’m not working and looking after my family, you can bet that you'll find me online playing on the Xbox One or Xbox 360.

Some of the consoles I own are rubbish, but others have truly made an everlasting mark on me and the rest of the gaming world. One such console is the Sega Dreamcast and it is because of this machine, that I am talking to you now.

We'll certainly get to know each other better as I write more and more and I hope to give you my insights into the DreamcastI'll review some really good games and perhaps some rubbish ones too.

B# Major General
Location: South Carolina, USA

My Top 3 Dreamcast games:
Sonic Adventure
Toy Commander
Star Wars Episode I: Racer

Although I owned both an NES and Sega Pico, the Dreamcast was my real “first console.” Because of that, I became a gamer in general, a retro gamer and aficionado of video game music. Recently graduated from university, my interests include literature, music and psychology.

Robert Jones
Location: Bath, England

Hi guys. My name is Robert and I'm a freelance writer and journalist. In my spare time I like collecting and playing retro video games, with the Dreamcast, Super Famicom and Neo Geo AES my 'go to' systems of choice. I'm also fascinated with Japanese culture in general, something for which I am currently learning Japanese to become more immersed in. 

My Top 3 Dreamcast games:

Shenmue - Ok, so I realise this is totally unoriginal, but that does not negate the fact that Shenmue is my favourite title on the Dreamcast. In fact, it is one of my most loved games of all time. As I sit here now, I remember the first time I played it. I remember how I watched Iwao Hazuki fight his last battle against Lian Di, how I witnessed a family broken in two and how I saw a young man named Ryo decided to sacrifice everything for that most old-fashioned of concepts, honour. A truly beautiful game.

Lack of Love (L.O.L) - I like this title on two different levels. Firstly, conceptually Lack of Love just speaks volumes to me. Sometimes I feel there is a serious lack of love, compassion and basic human decency on this planet and if people - myself totally included - would only step back from the trappings of modern life a little, we could all build a better world to live in. Lack of Love captures this feeling perfectly, showing that even on the tiniest of levels, keeping an open mind and demonstrating empathy can be incredibly rewarding. Secondly, in terms of game design it is just spot on, with subtle mechanisms allowing players to navigate its world and systems with zero language barrier. 

The Last Blade 2 - I'm going to guess some purists won't like this due to it being a port, but if you can look past that then The Last Blade 2 is an absolutely stunning 2D fighter. Crafted by the kings of the genre SNK, The Last Blade 2 is simply staggering in execution, delivering some of the most iconic artwork, animations and gameplay of any fighter ever made. The incredibly deep combat system is just top draw too, capable of surprising you even after you feel you have played the game to death. The setting of the game, during Japan's 19th century Bakumatsu, is also just epic.

So there you are, intrepid and weary net-surfer! These four new Horsemen of the Dreampocastlypse (yes, I went there) bolster our already formidable knowledge-base of all things Dreamcast no-end. We have a game music expert, a couple of NTSC aficionados, and a man not only old enough to remember his first experience of the ZX Spectrum, but old enough to remember the creation of the universe itself (sorry Lost Ruin!). The thing that connects us all though, is a real appreciation and a genuine love of the Dreamcast, and I have no doubt that with our new recruits the Dreamcast Junkyard will continue to thrive.

Welcome!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Sega Bass Phishing (Update)

Just doing a bit of housekeeping, as we don't like to leave cold cases open here at the 'Yard. That's The Dreamcast Junkyard - which should not be confused with that other 'Yard where famous detectives hang out and drink tea/eat scones (as is the norm in England - as taxpayers we simply will not tolerate any of that uncouth coffee and donuts malarkey).

So without further ado: we covered this story back in 2008 (see original post here), but it appears we never really revisited it and confirmed the fears that Sega's 2008 re-vamp of their Dreamcast site was indeed a phishing scam orchestrated by persons unknown. The Gagaman did add an edit to that report:

Word is spending about on forums that this *might* be a hoax by a spammer trying to make money off the google ads from the G-mail account signing up to this gets you. Until Sega confirms that they are indeed not involved with this, I'm skeptical. At the moment the site is "temporarily suspended" due to so many requests, so who knows, but if someone is using the Dreamcast name as a scam...

As I was browsing the 'net last night I came across an article from The Guardian's gaming blog that cleared up the matter once and for all - the 2008 redesign of Dreamcast.com was indeed a scam which was designed to encourage Dreamcast fans across the globe to enter their details into a database...for use by who knows and for what nefarious purposes. Here's a further quote from Joystiq:

By all appearances, the supposed official site of Sega's cherished console has received a legitimate update, exciting loyalists that have been anticipating the system's 10-year anniversary later this year. By clicking on the question, visitors are prompted to accept a user agreement for an @user.dreamcast.com email account (apparently tied to Gmail). Applicants must supply a console serial number, email address, and password before being granted a [serial number]@dreamcast.com Gmail address.
The thing is ... Sega no longer owns dreamcast.com.
So there we are. Case closed...sort of. Dreamcast.com (as Gagaman originally stated) was not owned by Sega and was a scam aimed squarley at fans of the long-since discontinued console. The point? We don't know - it's like setting up a site now called Betamax.com and asking people to register their machines, just so you can harvest the details of people who might have one in their attic. 
Did you believe the website was a genuine Sega initiative and enter your particulars? If so, what - if anything - happened? Please let us know in the comments section.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Social Networking

Thought it was about time the Dreamcast Junkyard got it's own Facebook page, seeing as that's what all the cool kids are doing these days. I'm not really sure what the benefits of having a Facebook page are (I don't really use the site, being a bit of a Twitter fiend), but lots of other console-centric sites and blogs have them...and generally I'll just be putting links there to stuff that you'd normally just find here anyway...but yeah. We're on Facebook now. Like us if you want. Or don't. It is a totally voluntary option - we're not in the business of forcing people to do things they don't like. Much. Here's the link!


Also, apologies for the lack of updates over the last few weeks. I have so much stuff I want to write about but my Dreamcast is currently under a pile of random controllers and other non-descript electronic components as I'm in the middle of yet another protracted house move. As well as that, The case of the broken Dreamcast I bought at Play Blackpool is now in the hands of a professional console modder and I am awaiting its return to me with a swanky new colour scheme. Pictures will be posted here as soon as possible! And leading on from that, the aforementioned Dreamcast will be accompanying me to London Anime Con on the 5th & 6th of July where it will be used to play host to one of RetroCollect's gaming challenges: A Trigger Heart Exelica score attack!


All will be revealed closer to the event (yes, I know it's only a week away!), but if you're in London that weekend and have tickets to the event, please be sure to come and say hello! I'll be at the RetroCollect motherbase invigilating and helping to coordinate the various retro-gaming challenges that we are running across the two days, and it'd be great to actually meet some people who visit the Junkyard on occasion. The Gagaman has already told me he might be frequenting the event and if he doesn't appear I'll be hunting him down, Jack Wade style. But that's a different story for a different post...! :D

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Wild Metal: The Vanishing Game?

This was originally going to be a review of Wild Metal, DMA/Rockstar's tank-based strategic shooter. I have played Wild Metal quite a bit, as I owned it for a while back when I had my first Dreamcast in 2000. I recall it being a pleasant little shooter that allowed you to trundle around sparsely populated alien landscapes in one of several oddly-designed armoured vehicles, popping off shots at marauding robotic enemies. It wasn't a system seller, but it was pleasant enough to while away a few quiet hours if there was nothing more important to do and the way you could change the angle of trajectory of your shots depending on how long you held the fire button down was quite interesting. So why am I not reviewing Wild Metal as originally intended then? It's because I can't play either of the two copies I own.

I bought my first copy (or rather, second - if you count the original one in 2000 as the first) of Wild Metal quite a while ago and and when I tried it in my system I had a real nightmare trying to get it to work. It loaded only occasionally - say 2 out of the 10 times I turned the system on and off - and on the rare occasions it did load up and allow me to play, the game world was full of black squares all over the terrain where the game hadn't loaded the textures properly. I didn't really give it a second thought and just assumed the disk was scratched or something, and just put the game to one side - I'd get another copy off eBay for a few pence when I could be bothered. Time passed and I totally forgot about my unplayable copy of Wild Metal...until a few weeks ago when I saw a boxed and mint condition copy on eBay selling for about a pound. I snapped it up, it arrived...and then it sat on the shelf until earlier today when I decided to finally put it in my Dreamcast, play it and review it here. Upon placing it in my Dreamcast, the rockstar logo sprang up, followed by the main menu screen. All was going well. I chose my tank, noted that the music was quite catchy and then got ready to play. And then the game began...and once again I was confronted with a game-world covered in black tiles where the textures had not loaded in properly. I could drive around and shoot enemies...but those untextured patches were everywhere and it looked a complete mess - I wasn't going to be taking screenshots of something that looked like that. I opened the GD drive and took out the disk, gave it a wipe (it was already spotless, by the way) and tried to start the game again. But this time, the game just would not load up at all - the console sounded like it was having real trouble reading the GD-Rom and after several self-initiated system restarts, I turned it off.






I went and dug out my older copy of Wild Metal and tried it...and it loaded up first time around with the same result - black squares and even some new glitching effects on the tank itself, and upon restarting the game (again after wiping to disk - this copy has a few light scratches), it too refused to load. And by that, I mean that both copies will display the Rockstar startup FMV and then it just goes to a black screen while the system shakes itself to bits trying to read the game.

Both copies are perfectly serviceable...

I find this whole affair really puzzling. Wild metal is a game that next to no-one has played and that next to no-one even wants to play - Rockstar even started giving the game away for free on the PC, but that's besides the point. The thing is, there is nothing anywhere on the internet about this issue and even if you take away the black textures glitch, I can't understand why the game loads up once, and then refuses to do so afterwards. It really is an odd one, this. Two copies of exactly the same game have exactly the same issues. It could be down to bit rot or data decay on the actual disks themselves...but just on Wild Metal? Hmmm. Also, I can't see how it would be an issue with the console itself as the Dreamcast I have plays every other game perfectly and in any case is a different machine to the one I had when I tried the first (second) copy a few years ago. I wonder if Rockstar printed a bad batch of GDs and I've randomly ended up with two from the same shipment...but that still doesn't explain why there is no mention whatsoever, anywhere on the whole of the internet of this kind of thing happening with any other copies of Wild Metal.

It's a chin scratcher for sure, but if you have experienced the same thing with your copy of Wild Metal, please let me know in the comments section. We may have discovered the first 'Lost' Dreamcast game here folks, where copies are randomly becoming unplayable due to some kind of physical degradation of the data on the GDs (and just watch the price of 'playable' copies skyrocket on eBay!). Then again, I might just have two duff disks.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Grinch

I'm not a fan of Dr Seuss. I know his stuff probably isn't aimed at 30-something blokes living in 2014, but I find everything about the twee, rhyming prose and creepy art-style of the books quite revolting. Not revolting to the degree that I'd have to projectile vomit all over a tramp's face if I had to sit and read one (I use the term 'read' in the loosest possible sense, by the way), but I simply don't care for them. It appears that I'm in a minority though, as the books featuring his bizarre creations (Kudos) continue to sell by the lorry-load, and there have been several movies based on them in recent times. There was that nightmare-inducing Mike Myers abomination The Cat in the Hat, the very recent Danny DeVito film The Lorax (which by all accounts had very little in common with the original story), and further back there was The Grinch Who Stole Christmas starring Ace Ventura...but he doesn't appear to do much Pet Detective work in that particular installment of the popular series. Of course, I jest...but yeah, it wasn't a particularly good movie in my opinion, even though it was a massive box office success and won an Oscar for the makeup. But anyway, enough history of the good Doctor's movie back catalogue. I'm here to tell you about the game of the movie of the book - How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Oddly, and even though it was released roughly at the same time and features story elements from the movie, the game is simply monikered The Grinch...there is no mention of the theft of the world's most commercial national holiday anywhere in the title. As well as this omission, there is similarly no sign of Jim Carrey's vocal talents.




As you would expect from a movie tie-in (of sorts), The Grinch take elements of the plot and loosely ties them together in a 3D platform adventure. You control Grinchy and his faithful dog Max (you can switch between the two on the fly in order to collect items from areas inaccessible to the Grinch) and have to wander around various movie and non-movie based locations crushing Christmas presents with your arse, avoiding enemies, breathing toxic breath on stuff and collecting rotten eggs to throw about. As far as platformers on the Dreamcast go, it plays well enough and has some crisp visuals...but nothing can hide the fact that it is a PlayStation game that has been given a bit of a polish for the extra capabilities of Sega's machine. It's not as bad as Ducati World's pixellated mishmash, but you can instantly tell that The Grinch started life as a 32-bit game and has been slightly enhanced. Graphics aside though, the aesthetics are decent - the production values are quite high and the voice acting and narration is very good, despite me not liking the whole Seuss rhyming story thang.




I also have to mention the fully coloured manual and the artwork within said book - it's of a high quality and a nice addition to the package. Speaking of packaging, one look at the front of the box will reveal that the game was published by Konami...which I find a little strange. Konami is a powerhouse of a games developer and publisher, and yet the only games it found worthy to release on the Dreamcast other than The Grinch (certainly in PAL territories, anyway) were Deadly Skies, Silent Scope, Nightmare Creatures 2 and ESPN International Track & Field. I know there was an original Castlevania game planned and then cancelled...but where was International Superstar Soccer? Or Symphony of the Night? Hmmm. No, Konami did not develop The Grinch, but the question remains - who was the person that decided Konami should expend resources putting this mediocrity out when the people demanded more? If the Dreamcast had played host to an upgraded port of ISS Pro, the story could have been so different. Ho hum.

While I'm going off on tangents, it has become apparent to me the The Grinch is seen as quite a rare title for the Dreamcast and commands higher than normal prices for what many would consider a cheap PS1 port. I remember seeing a copy at a car boot sale some time ago and the bloke selling it wanted £20 for it, and added the immortal line "it sells for more than that on eBay." It'll come as no surprise that I parted with no money on that cold and frosty morning, but he was right to a degree - The Grinch on Dreamcast does indeed command some silly prices on various sites...but after playing it, I can't see why. And while we're on the subject, I paid £8.99 plus P&P. Meh.