, The Dreamcast Junkyard: March 2015

Top 5 Games That I Would Play If I Were Stuck on a Desert Island

I'm sure you've seen it before. The "what X would you take if you were stuck on a desert island?" or "What X would you Y if that was the only thing you could Y?" Or something of the sort. Those silly, annoying questions that ask you to pick a few things, not even considering the fact that picking a favourite X may cause you great emotional distress, turmoil and mental unrest and ARRGRGHRGHH...

Sorry about that.

Still, they are interesting sometimes. Trying to think of article subjects the other day, this one was a potential topic. Instead, I went with the fruitless "hidden music track" quest. That quest showed me one thing - my Dreamcast collection is surprisingly small. This top 5 would represent almost 1/4 of my collection of 23 games! Fortunately, this is a hypothetical scenario, so I can give myself all the Dreamcast games, even the unreleased ones. I could even give myself a Dreamcast 2!

Deciding this list depends solely on one thing: replayability. (Or replay value, if you want to be a hater.) Can I play this game many times without getting bored? Can I learn speed-running techniques to learn and master the game? Can I find some wicked glitches to totally break the game? Also, soundtracks are an important consideration. Despite this, it's still rather difficult to imagine that scenario, given that I have over a dozen systems plus a robust emulator on my Mac.

So, in no particular order, here we go:

The Ultimate Collector's Guide

A few months ago we had a little look at the DC Collector app for iOS and came to the conclusion that it's a pretty decent way to catalogue your ever-growing Dreamcast library and track the games you may have your eye on. The way it allows users to check eBay prices and create a 'wanted' list also adds to the appeal. The thing is, not everyone has an iOS device. Fear not though - there is an alternative. And boy, what an alternative it is...
Every game is listed. Every game.
The Dreamcast Collector's Guide is a document that spans 52 pages and is the culmination of over 3 years of work by it's creator Mike Phelan. Currently at revision 1.5, the Guide is a mightily impressive tome of knowledge and documents every single Dreamcast game ever released. Every single game. In every territory. Let that sink in for a moment, and then be even more gobsmacked that it also includes information on the slight deferences between various European releases of certain titles and also rates games in terms of rarity, price and special edition status. As well as this, the guide features listings for white label and promo editions, serial numbers and even a playability guide for Japanese releases - which basically allows you to gauge how much fun you'll be able to glean from an NTSC-J bargain without being able to speak (or read) Japanese. It doesn't end there though, as Mike has thought to include all of the indie releases and even includes upcoming games such as SLaVE, Hypertension and Elysian Shadows.
The very useful Japanese accessibility section
This document really is jam packed with information regarding the various release types of certain games and has detailed guides to the Sega All-Stars and Dorikore collections. The best thing about Mike's guide is that it is compiled as a PDF and can be downloaded for free and printed out. You'll need to create a free account at the hosting site in order to download it, but if you're serious about collecting for the Dreamcast, this check list is something you definitely need to have a look at.

Click here to download the DC Collector's Guide.

Treamcast DreamPhoto Mouse

It's a bit of an oddity this one. Last week I was just mindlessly browsing eBay to pass the time while I was waiting for something interesting to happen, and I came across an item I'd never seen before: a Treamcast-branded mouse called DreamPhoto. Now, most Dreamcast collectors will know all about the Treamcast and we've featured the system here at the Junkyard a few times in the past (and several members of the team here own them), but for those who are wondering if I've just misspelled the word Dreamcast, here's a very brief info burst: the Treamcast is an all-in-one clone of the Dreamcast that has it's own built-in LCD screen.

The Dreamcast Rucksack

Very recently we inducted the excellent Dreamcast messenger bag into the 'Yard. No, not the new Insert Coin pretender - the original Sega Europe messenger bag that was sent around to various retail outlets in 1999 as part of the promotional activity surrounding the system's launch. There was another item of wearable luggage created to promote the Dreamcast though - the Dreamcast-branded rucksack. That description probably isn't technically correct as the 'rucksack' only has one strap that goes across the wearer's body, but it's not a satchel or messenger bag in the traditional sense, so I guess we'll have to stick to our guns with the description. Enough words though - thanks to the planet-destroying power of the BlackBerry Q5's amazing camera, here are some extraordinarily high resolution pictures:

Defense Commander - Dreamcast Tech Demo

There are quite a few Dreamcast tech demo videos and images knocking around on the internet - from the Irimajiri 'floating head' and Tower of Babel videos to the less well-known Future City sequence (pictured below). It seems there is another one to now add to this list, but this one is quite interesting in that it is actually available to download and is fully playable: Defense Commander from Titanium Studios. I had never heard of it before seeing the video posted below, and it's only down to some pretty impressive detective work from YouTuber and Dreamcast fan pcwzrd13 that we are able to present this demonstration of it. I must point out that the word 'Defense' should really be spelt 'Defence,' but seeing as Titanium are an American studio, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here.
Future City
Defense Commander
As stated in the video below, Defense Commander was created as a demonstration of how easy it was to port PC games to the Dreamcast due to the implementation of Windows CE. The game does look fairly basic and has overtones of the Atari Jaguar title Missile Command 3D (albeit without the massive screaming space eels), but it serves as a nice reminder of how the Dreamcast was technically very easy to simultaneously program for. After watching the video, be sure to head over to Titanium Studios' website as they do have some rather interesting (and probably long forgotten) articles relating to Dreamcast development and experimentation.



A Rough Guide To Dreamcast Express

For a console that was only really supported for three years (more or less), the Dreamcast has left an impressive mark on the landscape of the gaming world. Looking at the system retrospectively, it's true that the Dreamcast was something of a commercial disaster for Sega even considering the record-breaking launches and relatively impressive sales figures. That said, it still amazes me the sheer volume of paraphernalia that was generated around the brand - from alarm clocks and pocket TVs to pens, jackets, mugs, bags and even tissue box holders...the amount of merchandise and superfluous branded tat that was spawned to celebrate the arrival of Sega's final console is bewildering. Some systems died on their asses simply because the public weren't aware of the thing's existence; but Sega were clearly on a mission to make sure that didn't happen to the Dreamcast, and while the platform didn't quite reach the commercial targets they had in mind, nobody can say that the firm was stingy with the marketing budget.

Marketing the Dreamcast brand was not strictly limited to stamping swirls on tea towels and mouse mats though - in Japan at least, Sega took things a little further by allowing gamers to sign up for a 'partner' service which furnished them with exclusive demo and preview discs. These could be played in their Dreamcasts and offered a sneak peek at future releases and featured exclusive bonus content that wasn't available anywhere else. This series of discs was called Dreamcast Express and seven volumes were released between 1999 and 2000, and they each comprise either a single or double GD set packed full of imaginatively-presented content.

BBC News: The Unexpected Archive

The BBC News website is a service I use on a daily basis - indeed it's usually my first port of call if I want to read the news while I drink my coffee in the morning. Interestingly though, it's also a rather unexpected mine of forgotten Dreamcast-related news items, preserved in an internet-based time capsule for future readers to pore over. I've known about this for some time now, having done quite a bit of internet-based digital archaeology and digital preservation work in a previous employment role, but I thought it might be nice to share this valuable - and reputable - information source with you.

The Games That Never Were

We're big fans of the search for unreleased and leaked beta software here at the Junkyard, and in the past we've featured plenty of material focusing on the games that were rumoured yet never saw the light of day. There are a few games that we doubt we'll ever get to see running, let alone get the chance to play - Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is one - but as the recent discovery and release of Toejam & Earl 3 shows, sometimes miracles do happen.

It seems we're not the only ones with a fascination of the subject of unreleased games though, as YouTuber and friend of the DCJY pcwzrd13 has created a series of interesting videos detailing some of the lesser (and more well-known) games that were promised, but for whatever reason never made it to shop shelves. Here are episodes 1-3 for your enjoyment...

Throwing Sticks In Rivers

Why did the Sega Dreamcast fail? It's an interesting and popular question that, in light of Sega's current existence as a sort of undead shadow of its former glory, is never too far removed from the gaming community's consciousness.

Indeed, I think you can argue that the Dreamcast's failure and Sega's demise haunts the industry today. That idea that a company so fundamental to the business and culture of an industry can, with one infamous phone call, suddenly cease to be, end in such a messy and brutal way, hovers now like a grim spectre over all of gaming.

Guest Article: Why I Hate The Dreamcast

The Dreamcast Junkyard is, as the name suggests, all about the Dreamcast. While we do tend to focus on some fairly obscure and largely forgotten aspects of the console's criminally brief lifespan, one thing it'd be fair to say is that we tend to be - on the whole - quite positive about the system. Rose-tinted spectacles may or may not be involved in some respects, but the fact remains that the Dreamcast was a commercial failure and it's legacy as an almost universally acclaimed and unfairly shunned platform is something of a recent trend. With this - and the notion of freedom of expression - in mind, occasional freelance games journalist Martin Hinson offers an alternative perspective on the Dreamcast and it's current status as an almost mythical machine.

Martin, you have the floor...

I was asked by the lovely (ahem) man that runs this place to write an opinion piece on the Dreamcast. Why? Well, I've spent the majority of the last 13 years hating the system...or have I?

My journey started in November 1998. My local import shop, The Joypad, received their first batch of Japanese launch consoles, in which I initially had no interest. Three of the games were pretty poor in my opinion - probably the worst launch of all major systems - but when I saw VF3tb running, I decided I had to have one and subsequently shelled out a hefty £400+ for the pleasure.  
The system got off to a rocky start, however. Not only was the buggy Virtua Fighter 3tb the only decent game on launch, the system shipped with no RGB cables at all. Now, for those of you that don’t know, RGB was the best available connection to the vast majority of TVs during the standard definition era; and gave an arcade-quality image as opposed to the very muddy image from the standard cables. This irked me greatly as I already had an RGB-enabled PS1 system and a modified Nintendo 64 which output the same high quality signal. 

The Stars My Destination

Space. The final frontier. The immortal words of many a commanding officer of the Starship Enterprise. As a species, we have pretty much conquered the surface of our homeworld so why not cast our eyes towards the heavens? Explore the vast gulfs between the celestial bodies that make up our own solar system and the void beyond? Surely this is our destiny...one day. I'm enough of a fan of science fiction and science fact to know that this grandiose vision will never be realised in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my (hypothetical) children's children, but the notion of mankind's migration from this planet to spread our seeds amongst the stars and conquer the vast emptiness of the cosmos is one that has excited us since the dawn of civilisation itself.

Countless works of fiction have focused on humanity's struggle to leave the safety of planet Earth and create far-reaching networks - be those lowly colonies or planet-destroying galactic empires. Star Wars, Star Trek, Aliens, Firefly...Red Dwarf. The list is endless, and doesn't stop with the motion picture - 2001: A Space Odyssey (and sequels), The Stars My Destination, Gateway, The Forever War, Altered Carbon...all outstanding literary works with a common theme - that of our harnessing of wondrous technology and the breaking of the chains that hold us to the planet we call home. But what of games set in the black void? They too are numerous and the Dreamcast plays host to some of the finest space-based shmups known to man, but in this post I don't want to talk about those. I want to focus on the games that take the space-based shooting template and weave it into more of a dramatic story-driven production. Those games that involve a little bit more than dodging bullets and getting to the end of the level; and focus more on story lines, character development and fighting a tangible threat for a worthy cause. I want to talk space operas and happily, the Dreamcast has several that are actually rather good. Join me as we step beyond the veil and enter hyperspace to look at the best space shooters available for Sega's final entry into the games race...

Armada
Year: 1999
Developer: Metro3D
Publisher: Sega
Armada is a game that was only released to an NTSC-U audience, and this really beggars belief. I do remember reading a review in a UK magazine, getting really excited for it...and then being hugely disappointed when it's PAL release was canned. I'm still yet to find out why this happened, as Armada is a fantastic space-based shooter-cum-strategy romp. Played from a slightly isometric viewpoint, you are tasked with taking command of a starship and must pilot it across vast distances, fighting the titular bio-mechanical armada and hailing other ships in order to gain allies and free the galaxy of the alien threat. The story is quite involving and depicts a universe in which mankind has split into six distinct tribes but are forced to work together in order to fend off the aggressive armada who - for reasons unknown - are hellbent on destroying humanity. Controls are a little irksome at first - you control your ship's direction with the analogue stick in a sort of 'circular' motion (whichever way you rotate the stick is the way the ship points) and must use thrusters or the main engine to propel yourself, also using the ship's momentum to guide it safely through fields of marauding enemies.
Throw in plenty of combat, side missions, resource gathering, trading and teaming up with other wandering spacecraft and you have one brilliant adventure on your hands. You also have the ability to venture down to the surface of various planets and also to dock with space stations in order to buy and sell goods; and the coordinates-based map system makes finding hidden treasures and locations quite an engaging experience. As is the norm with this type of game, upgrading your ship and weaponry is as you'd expect, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of Armada is that it's intended to be played, Gauntlet style, with up to four players. I haven't personally experienced this (yet) but I would imagine it makes the game a lot easier with four commanders all flying around together and kicking alien ass. Armada is a game that is well worth tracking down if you're a US-based Dreamcast gamer, but likewise if you live elsewhere it's definitely worth looking for an import copy.

Bang! Gunship Elite
Year: 2000
Developer: Rayland Interactive
Publisher: Red Storm/Ubisoft
Yet another space-themed shooter that never saw release outside of the US, Bang! is a port of a fairly popular PC game that eschews Armada's RPG-lite gameplay in favour of all out combat. Played from a traditional first person cockpit perspective, Bang! throws the player into a universe where talk is cheap and big guns are all the rage. Actually, that's not wholly true as Bang! has a plot that is extremely convoluted and is explained in several fairly lengthy opening cut scenes. Having it's roots on the PC and being a game in the same mould as Wing Commander, this is probably to be expected, and the usual MacGuffin-based reasons for an intergalactic war between several different races is standard stuff. In this particular war, the magical source of all of mankind's energy is a substance known as Khá, and the Alliance is fighting a losing battle against the invading Sektar forces. Cue you, a rookie pilot, being fast-tracked through the academy and then pushed out into space on your own to complete a variety of missions that tread familiar ground for fans of the genre: skirmishes, seek & destroy and convoy protection missions are all par for the course here.
Controls are good and tight, even with the Dreamcast's lop-sided analogue options - accelerate and decelerate are on the triggers, you 'look' with the stick, and activate shields, fire and alternate your weapons with the face buttons and d-pad. Aside from the long-winded story and varied missions, the other ace up Bang!'s sleeve is the fantastic visuals. While the various ships and space stations do look a like tired by today's standards with their lo-res textures, the actual theatres themselves are packed full of lens flares, huge planets and asteroid belts and all manner of other spectacular particle effects. Once the action heats up, there's so much going on at times that you have to remind yourself that the Dreamcast is a system from the late 90s - Bang! really does look very, very nice even by today's standards. A great game in truth, and the only one I've yet found that features a 'fat bloke' in the credits:

Starlancer
Year: 2000
Developer: Digital Anvil/Warthog
Publisher: Crave/Ubisoft
While US gamers had a pretty decent choice of space shooters with both Armada and Bang! Gunship Elite also vying for their money, Dreamcast owners in PAL territories had pretty much one place to get their thrills - Starlancer. That's no bad thing though, because out of the three Starlancer is by far the best of the bunch...by a country mile. Coming from Chris and Erin Roberts - the designers of the previously mentioned Wing Commander games - Starlancer is a full-blown space opera in every sense of the word. Where Armada and Bang! are great, story-driven experiences in their own right, Starlancer takes it one step further by throwing the player into what is essentially a science-fiction blockbuster of a game, complete with pretty much every cliche of the genre you could care to mention. It also differs from the others in this list in that the enemy threat here is actually human - an alliance of space communists out to destroy the network of colonies and space stations created by the peace-loving allied nations of Earth. It's basically the cold war, but in space. You, as ever, take on the role of a rookie fighter called up to join the 45th volunteer squadron and provide fighter cover for the remaining vestiges of the allied battle fleet as the top brass try to come up with an effective strategy to thwart an overpowering enemy. While Starlancer does look quite similar to Bang! aesthetically, the similarities pretty much end there: Starlancer is all about tactics and commanding your wingmen to attack serious targets, deploying counter measures and working together to take down swarms of intelligent enemy fighters and gigantic capital ships. All the while, radio chatter from your comrades bursts from your headset and the orchestral music adds to the tension. Cut scenes are brilliantly utilised to advance the story and the missions can branch depending on your actions, making Starlancer a truly huge adventure.
As well as the main campaign in which you increase in rank the further you get, there is also as 'instant action' skirmish mode that lets you jump straight in to a dogfight and also try out some of the ships you unlock later in the main game. Another way in which Starlancer differs from Bang! is that there is a multiplayer mode, but whether it is still operational today (even with a broadband adaptor) is something I'm not sure on. The real show-stopper with Starlancer though, isn't the brilliant voice acting, outstanding visuals or rousing soundtrack; it's the way in which the game actually makes you feel like you're a small piece in an even bigger sequence of events. You aren't the absolute hero, there are other hotshot pilots out there too, and you all band together to fight a common enemy. Not only that, but you also have dialogue with enemy pilots so you aren't just blasting faceless AI drones and this goes a long way when creating a tangible living, breathing universe (so to speak) in which to set a story.

Conclusion
The three games I've covered in this article are all outstanding titles in their own right. They all offer a unique experience yet are set in similar environments and all share the key elements of a good space-based adventure. In all of them, you play a lone pilot who is part of a threatened alliance. You are the archetypal underdog with the odds stacked against you and the fate of your people resting on your shoulders. The only thing standing between freedom and certain death are well-maintained laser cannons, a quick trigger finger, and - in some cases - the help of an ally or two. That said, all three of them are different enough to warrant owning them all in my opinion. Armada is more about exploration and upgrading; Bang! is more about solitary dogfighting and Starlancer's game is focussed on commanding squadrons and using tactics. That said, if I could only choose one out of the three, then it would surely be Starlancer; it just has it all - great looks, amazing gameplay and a totally engrossing storyline. It is easily one of the best games on the Dreamcast and if you like space-based shooters it should already be in your library.
Special thanks to friend of the Junkyard Pcwzrd13 who sourced both Armada and Bang! Gunship Elite for me from his native America and sent them over to Blighty in a package that also included a bonus game - Creature Shock for the Sega Saturn. Be sure, as ever, to check out his Youtube channel for some great gaming-related content.

Anyway, enough from me - what do you think about the Dreamcast's space shooters? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments or head over to our new DCJY Facebook Group and get involved in the discussion!

Crouching Music, Hidden Tracks

Video game systems with CD players - weird, right? No?

I suppose not. In a world where most consoles can stream Netflix and cell phones are used to play games, non-game functions are increasingly a given in our beloved systems. However, I would bet at least a dollar (or a pound) that versus the hours and days spent actually playing games, my dear readers have spent mere minutes here:

A CD player? How quaint!

There's not much to say about the player itself. Even competing PlayStation had a similar feature, so it was not unique. However, a few years ago, I discovered a secret.


Gauntlet Giveaway Pewter Miniatures

I recently acquired a copy of the NTSC-U version of Gauntlet Legends. We have featured Midway's multi-player fantasy roaming beat 'em up here at the 'Yard in recent times, but I wanted to investigate something that is particular to the US iteration of the game. As a side note, I actually purchased this NTSC copy from an eBay seller for less than the price of a pint of lager simply because my PAL copy's case has mysteriously vanished from my collection. Very odd, but these things are sent to try us. Now I've told you my life story - lets get on with it. If you look at the front of the NTSC-U box (which is also the front of the manual, owing to the design of the US game cases), you will note this little graphic: