A Tribute To Pen Pen - The Dreamcast's Forgotten Launch Title

Pen Pen TriIcelon is a divisive game if ever there was one. The blend of colourful graphics, quirky controls and sickly sweet character designs is something of an acquired taste...but if you're anything like me, it's this weirdness that actually makes it all the more endearing. Pen Pen was actually one of the first games I played on the Dreamcast back in 1999; I have vivid memories of renting it from Blockbuster, and also of my brother loudly enquiring "what's this shit?" as he swaggered into the room with ridiculous bleach-blond Nick Carter hair, while I sat there frantically bashing (heh) the A button to make my penguin-esque mutant swim faster through the acid-trip water of a post-apocalyptic candy-land nightmare. Sorry, slipped into a Galadriel-type daydream/monologue there.
Just an average Saturday night in the Pen Pen house
In case you can't tell, I quite like Pen Pen (although the shockingly offensive design of Unga Pogo, the Jungle boss does sour the experience mildly) and going back to it with 2015-flavoured eyes hasn't really taken the polish off the visuals or the highly surreal content; indeed, I'm happy to admit that I own both PAL and NTSC versions of the game. It seems that popular YouTube conduit Sega Channel agree with me, as they've followed their brilliant Dreamcast Kiosk reveal with another DC-centric video...and here it is for your delectation:

There are some really interesting points in the video (I didn't know that Pen Pen developer General Entertainment was also responsible for the Sonic animated movie, for example), and it's an interesting and humorous look at a game that is largely overlooked whenever anyone mentions the Dreamcast's launch lineup. Sure, there was Ready 2 Rumble, Sega Rally and Sonic Adventure...but did any of those games let you put a top hat on a mutated shark-penguin? The answer my friends, is no.

As ever, be sure to check out Sega Channel's other Sega-related videos on YouTube.

A Dreamcast-themed PS4 Controller

This type of thing would normally be reserved for an Alanis Morrisette song, but hey - we're all about forgiving and forgetting here at the Junkyard. While it's probably true that the Dreamcast would have had a much longer natural lifespan had the PlayStation 2 not loomed into view so soon after Sega launched it, you can't deny that the PS2 was also a great system and brought lots of new features to the table. The PlayStation 4 is currently enjoying quite a bit of success though, and console customisation specialists Extreme Consoles clearly thought it was high time the PlayStation paid some respect to it's fallen adversary. Naturally, they've come up with this:
Dreamcast-themed PS4 Controller
Yep, a Dreamcast-themed PS4 controller. The accurately coloured face buttons, Dreamcast-branded centre button and VMU details are lovely. For maximum authenticity you could argue that they should have removed the right analogue stick; and obviously, there isn't an actual VMU slot because this isn't a Dreamcast-compatible joypad (as if you needed reminding)...but as a piece of hardware for a PS4-owning Dreamcast fan, you could do much worse. Also, reports that it beeps when you turn it on are unconfirmed. Here's a YouTube video showing the pad in all it's glory:

For further info, feel free to visit Extreme Consoles' website and Twitter.

Comparing Speed Devils Online

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

Southend Museums - Where Dreams Are Cast?

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

Circuit Breakers - The Dreamcast's Best Race Tracks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gun Lord Test Footage and First Impressions

Long time no see Dreamcast fans.

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

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

The video that Adam Koralik originally did on this device.

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


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

Did You Know Gaming? Explores The Dreamcast

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

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

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

Why Don't We Play Together?

The American Dreamcast launch has gained something of a mythical status in this zeitgeist period of celebratory retro-overindulgence. The whole 9.9.99 campaign was a major success as far as console launches went up until that point, and the advertising slogan (It's Thinking) was a fairly interesting tagline that implied that the system was so advanced that it could become self aware at any moment, unhook itself from the TV and bludgeon you to death with an iron while you slept soundly in your cosy warm bed. Happily, reports of this type of occurence were swept under the rug by Sega of America's black ops dept and so life just went on as normal for the vast majority of us. The UK release of the Dreamcast was intended for the first half of September 1999, but due to British Telecom's testing of the Dreamcast network running over deadline, the system didn't launch until October. That's not really relevant here though - what I want to look at in this post is the marketing stategy Sega Europe employed in place of the mighty 'It's Thinking' campaign waged by their US colleagues. The story behind the Dreamcast's various UK and EU advertising campaigns is a muddled one, and involves a plethora of different agencies fighting for a slice of Sega's reported £60m marketing war chest.
This man will happily eat your soul. With Cianti.

The World's Coolest Dreamcast Kiosk

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

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

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

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

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