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.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Family Portrait

I'm a serial Tweeter. There - I admit it. I probably annoy a lot of people with my constant #RetroGaming crap. I posted this yesterday and it got quite a bit a bit of love in the Twitterverse...so I thought I'd share it here as well:


Mother, father, and two baby VMUs. What a lovely 2.4 children family! Oh, and while I'm on the subject, you can follow me @Tomleecee if you so desire. Likewise, feel free to follow the other members of the DCJY team - Barry is @SEGANomad or @SEGAbits, Gagaman is @theGagaman, Caleb is @CalebMoshier...and the other guys I'm not too sure of as they seem to have done a bit of a Lord Lucan, but if you're reading this let me know so I can follow you too! Oh, and you can follow @SEGAJunkyard for general DCJY stuff and random SEGA-based updates.

Elsewhere, I have acquired quite a few 'new to me' DC games in the past week, so look out for my thoughts on them here in the coming days, weeks, months, years, decades and (if the cryogenics Kickstarter I backed comes to fruition) centuries.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mariopolis Street Racer

Seeing as everyone and his wife (or husband - we're a politically correct outfit here at the 'Yard) is going crazy for Mario Kart 8 right about...now, I thought it'd be fitting to combine two of the racing genre's finest offerings. Happily, one of them just happens to be a Dreamcast game...


Please excuse my shoddy Photoshop skills - the image wasn't actually created in Photoshop. No, that up there was done with Preview on the Mac. So I guess I should be asking for my shoddy Preview skills to be forgiven.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

We Have the Technology...

You may recall that very recently I attended a fantastic gaming event by the name of Play Blackpool. I wrote about my experiences here, here and here. The experience I want to refer to today though is the first link. And if you can't be arsed to move your mouse pointer back up to the previous sentence (or your finger - I know some of you hipster Dreamcast owners are reading this on iPads, for fuck's sake), you can just click here instead. Sorry - I meant here.

In that post, I mentioned in passing that I bought a 'new' Dreamcast console because it was white and not yellow. I won't go into that whole hideous saga again, but know this: the new Dreamcast didn't work. I only discovered that when I actually hooked it up to a TV and attempted to play my recently acquired copy of Skies of Arcadia on it. I'd previously 'tested' said system simply by plugging the machine into the mains and turning it on - the orange LED burst to life as one would expect and so I just thought all was fine and dandy. Imagine my complete and utter disgust then, when I finally got around to inserting some AV cables and attempting to play an actual game, and was confronted with a slow-motion, flashing boot screen which was then replaced by a totally white square where either a 'date/time' screen or a system menu should have been. Not impressed, was I. Hmmm... (that was meant to be an impression of Yoda, by the way).

I did a bit of Googling and deduced, after a good hour of trawling through posts from 2009, that my 'new' Dreamcast was pretty much fucked. There was only one thing for it - take the innards out of my yellow system and put them into the white case of the deceased machine. Simple, I thought. But upon opening up both machines and preparing for some surgery, I noticed that there were some discrepancies between the two consoles...


So this is an image of both Dreamcasts side by side. They look fairly similar on first glance, but there are a few differences. Obviously, there are differences in serial numbers and there are a few things printed on various circuit boards, but there was more.

The CD lens units were pretty much the same and popped out as your expect, and the PSU boards were similar too (and both work fine, btw), but the controller boards had different batteries and the newer - broken - machine had a controller board that didn't require a bit of speaker wire around the F1 fuse in order to get the system to recognise joypads!

Speaker wire: mana from Heaven 

Perhaps the biggest difference though was that my original Dreamcast had a totally different fan assembly to the more recent machine - the original machine had a quieter, plastic-encased fan while the newer machine had an aluminium-cased fan with more blades and which was attached to the motherboard shield with an extra bit of metal not present in the old system. Aaprt from that, everything else was identical and I ended up taking the best bits of both consoles and created a sort of bastard machine from the two:




It looks great with the newer white shell, and even though the fan is a little noisier than before, the newer PSU board doesn't reset the console at all when playing a game - something that was quite common with the old system.

What I'm basically saying is that my new Dreamcast is a bit of a Frankencast comprised of bits from two different machines...but it works better than ever and will hopefully allow me to continue playing awesome Dreamcast games for a long time to come.

As for the old parts - they'll be retained as spares and I'll get around to having the old shell modded eventually. If anyone knows of any competent console modders who could do wondrous things with a Dreamcast shell, please let me know in the comments!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Formula

I honestly thought I'd already done a post on this subject, but a quick wander through our extensive archives here at the epicentre of all things vaguely Dreamcast (that's the DCJY, in case you wondered) reveals that I was mistaken. I say 'quick,' but I actually had to take a monorail ride into the very heart of the hollow mountain that houses the Junkyard's archive department, and even then one of the service droids that maintain the stacks had malfunctioned so I had to spend half an hour rebooting it. You just can't get high quality droids of ebay these days. Pfft. Anyway, at this juncture you may be wondering what I'm actually talking about. I'd almost forgotten myself until a bowling ball rolled off a shelf onto my head and the memories all came flooding back: Formula 1. Yep, F1. That 'sport' where fast go-karts smash around tracks at ridiculous speeds and the drivers of said go-karts live lavish, decadent lives and bathe in asses milk and snort caviar. Funnily enough though, that's probably the best way to also describe Mario Kart. Hmm. I went to an F1 race at Silverstone a few years ago and the first thing I noticed was how damn loud the cars actually are - unless you've been to a Grand Prix, you can't really appreciate just how loud the things are in reality. But I digress. F1 games on the Dreamcast - there have been several and they all reproduce the atmosphere and thrills of a big race with varying degrees of success. Which ones are worth playing and which ones should be left in the pits? Read on and all shall be revealed:

F1 World Grand Prix
F1WGP was one of my favourite games on the N64. It had amazing visuals for the time and truly showed the N64 doubters what the system was capable of. I personally had never seen graphics as realistic as those I saw in WGP and even though the game engine doesn't support reflections in the wet, and everything looks a little fuzzy through a standard SCART connection, it knocked the spots off anything on the PlayStation. The car handling was a little iffy, but otherwise it was a fine racing game. The Dreamcast release of F1WGP is a souped-up version of the same game with sharper graphics, better car handling and a fresh lick of paint with regards to presentation. It also had some flipping brilliant music - not something you'd think would be worth mentioning in an F1 game. As with all the games in this list (they are all over a decade old now, after all), the teams aren't reflective of current rosters so there is no Hamilton etc...but that's an obvious downside to the incessant and never-ending march of time. Sigh. On that note, I've noticed that I've got loads of grey hairs popping up...not a good sign. Although I suppose I'd rather be grey than fucking bald.





N64 version for comparison

F1 World Grand Prix 2
As the name suggests, the sequel to F1 World Grand Prix. This Dreamcast version again took the blueprint laid by the N64 sequel and built on it to a fantastic degree. Even better visuals and car handling (although still quite twitchy), and lots of little details such as camera flashes in the grandstands etc. Easily one of the best-looking Dreamcast games and the in-car camera views give an outstanding sense of speed. I have noticed that on some tracks, when you race in the rain the sky texture messes up and you get a hotch-potch of what looks like traffic light textures from the starting grid. I'm not sure if anyone else has seen this rare cock-up though. An odd feature of F1WGP and F1WGP2 is that they both feature extremely accurate car models - all the way down to the advertising on the liveries. So you get PlayStation advertising in a Dreamcast game. You certainly wouldn't see that today - imagine PS4 ads in an Xbox One game (or vice versa)...it just wouldn't happen. As an interesting side note, the N64 version of the game uses the Expansion Pak in a rather odd manner. It doesn't increase the screen resolution or do anything to aesthetically enhance the game...all it does is enable full race replays. Obviously, the Dreamcast version does that as standard, but I thought it'd be worth sharing that little titbit.





N64 version for comparison

Racing Simulation: Monaco Grand Prix 2
Unlike with the World Grand Prix games, Monaco on the Dreamcast is totally different to the versions on the other consoles. The N64 games was OK I guess, but it featured some sloppy visuals and amateurish menus. The Dreamcast version is completely different and has some really nice graphics. It was one of the first games I actually played on the Dreamcast back when it launched and I was stunned by the track textures and how playable the game was. Although the game is called 'Racing Simulation,' there's very little in the way of simulation here - the cars handle beautifully and basically stick to the track when you corner, which is something I really like. Another cool feature is the 'Retro' mode where you get to race old skool racing cars like the type Sir Stirling Moss would've been throwing around in his heyday. It's not much more than a gimmicky novelty, but it's a nice addition nonetheless.






F1 Racing Championship
Racing Championship was a late release on the Dreamcast but you wouldn't be able to tell that by looking at it. It basically looks like a high-res N64 game, and even though it is based on the Monaco engine it actually looks worse. The tracks have a complete lack of atmosphere and where the World Grand Prix games laid it on thick with trackside vehicles, tents, ambulances and roaring crowds...F1 Racing Championship has sterile, empty environments with silent grandstands and no trackside details. It's odd, because Monaco had at least some of that...but it's as if Ubisoft felt obliged to strip it all out. What's also odd is that Video System - the developers of all the Dreamcast and N64 F1WGP games is actually the publisher of F1 Racing Championship. Why they felt the need to publish this tripe when they already had the best F1 games available on their CV is anyone's guess.




Spirit of Speed 1937
This isn't strictly speaking an F1 game but I thought I should include it anyway as it attempts to recreate the top level of motor racing...from 1937. I can't really fault it for originality and aesthetic design. The menu music is very appropriate for the era and the styling of the menus is very art deco. The officially licensed vehicles and tracks are also a nice touch and lend an air of authenticity to the game. Unfortunately things go a bit south once you actually start a race. Again - top marks for trying something different and I must say that the engine effects and in-car view give a real feel for the power and sound of the engines of these archaic beasts...but the handling of the cars is atrocious. The slightest touch of the analogue stick sends your vehicle bouncing off the walls and skidding all over the place. Not fun at all. There are some interesting game modes such as a scenario mode where you have to complete objectives, but overall Spirit of Speed is a bit...shit. Sorry.





There are a few other F1-style games on the Dreamcast, such as Flag to Flag CART Racing but I personally haven't played that particular game due to it being an NTSC-only release. I understand it's quite a competent racer too, so its a shame SEGA didn't feel the need to release it in PAL territories. Ho hum. But the long and short of this post is that if you want a top-quality F1 game for your Dreamcast, you should invest in either of the F1 World Grand Prix games and avoid F1 Racing Championship.

With that, I'm off to colour my grey hairs individually with a black marker pen.