N64 Expansion Pak from Nintendo back in 1998, where 99% of the games that used it were still playable on the base unit without the extra 4MB RAM upgrade, but if you had that magical lozenge thrumming under the flap on the front of your console, you could witness the eye-watering magnificence of medium-res Nintendo graphics. Unless you were playing ISS 2000, in which case you got a flicker book version of everyone's favourite footy game.
What I'm getting at here is that Sony obviously thinks the current PS4 isn't powerful enough for what's around the corner in terms of gaming experiences. Looking at the impending PlayStation VR it's possible that they're on to something...but this isn't about the PS4. It's about the Dreamcast, and whether Sega's system could have had a longer period in the public eye if it had been upgradeable.
The sky is the limit with Dreamcast. We've created a box that is almost infinitely expandable. As new technologies come around, we'll be able to do anything we want to it. One of Sega's big pushes at the moment is the trend of the static box. There will no longer be a box coming out of Sega that we put on a shelf and forget about. The standard 'one box for five years' model is gone."
Sega Source - Total Control magazine, April 1999
Now, I'm not for one second saying the Dreamcast actually needed to be upgraded. Even up against the PS2 it was a capable system and many games that are on both formats do look identical - if not slightly better on the Dreamcast in some cases. The notion I'm putting forward here is that if the Dreamcast had had some kind of upgrade module that had increased the RAM or the graphics or something - anything - that could have been marketed as an improvement to the base system...would it have lived longer? Would more members of the general games buying public have been swayed by an augmented system that could compete in terms of raw power or features? People who were dead set on buying a PlayStation 2 may well have looked at the Dreamcast in a different light if Sega were able to say: "look what we've got - a system that's already got a massive (original) library...and now it's more powerful than the PS2 as well!"
"Sega plan to release a number of different versions of the Dreamcast - the machine on sale in Japan now, and in September in Europe and the US, is version 1.1. Version 1.2 will be significantly different, and if we ever get as far as a version 4.1, it is likely to be a vastly superior machine."
- Total Control magazine, April 1999
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking about the 32X and the Mega CD. How those systems came out and were instantly deluged either with a load of crap games; or in the case of the 32X, a total shortage of games full stop. I'd like to put this point to you though: everyone makes mistakes. And most people learn from them and come back stronger. With the Dreamcast this was certainly the case initially. After the debacle of the Saturn, the Dreamcast came out of the gate all guns blazing and Sega barely put a foot wrong during that early period of the system's life. It was only really when Sony started gearing up the PlayStation 2 war machine that Sega flinched, and if they'd had some little add-on, maybe something as small as the modem that could have slotted on the bottom of the Dreamcast and interacted through the serial port...maybe it would have been enough for people to think there was a real fight on the cards.
"Improvements being talked about at the moment are an increase in RAM, ISDN and DVD. Apparently, Sega already have a DVD Dreamcast prototype up and running in their Tokyo offices."
- Total Control magazine, April 1999
Coupled with the ability to play movies, it was enough to plant seeds of doubt in many a gamer's mind. Just think though - if Sega had released upgrades for the Dreamcast like a DVD drive or a pseudo 32X type thing that promised a boost in processing power or whatever other marketing guff hipsters are paid to come up with...maybe it could have been different. Of course, we never really saw the true potential of the base hardware realised and I know about extras like the broadband adapter, the karaoke unit et al but I don't really class those as upgrades in this sense. No, I'm talking about additions that would have increased the technical ability of the console and allowed it to perform to a higher specification. With more polygons and stuff, innit.
this post I wrote recently, I published a page scan from the April 1999 issue of Total Control magazine (the excerpts are dotted around this post and the scan is above) in which Sega were reportedly working on upgrade bits and bobs for the Dreamcast. Ultimately, we now know these hardware enhancements never came, and I know other things like PlayStation backwards compatibility and a whole host of other factors need to be considered when discussing the Dreamcast's pitifully short natural lifespan. But I like to fantasise that in an alternative reality we could all be playing Dreamcast 4s now instead of waiting to trade our PlayStation 4s in for Neos. Or would they be Dreamcast Ones? Hmm...
What's your opinion on this subject? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook/Twitter.