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