Expanding the Dreamcast Collection: Part 4 - Atomiswave

“Welcome back to the stage of history.” It's been a long time coming, and for that I can only apologise, but this mammoth article has finally been completed so let's take a look at the fourth system in the Dreamcast family of hardware: the Sammy Atomiswave. Out of all the hardware in the family, the Atomiswave is perhaps the most similar to the Dreamcast on a technical level and was supported by three names in gaming synonymous with the console's library: SNK, Sammy and Sega. With this in mind, if you consider yourself a fan of the Dreamcast, or the Neo Geo for that matter, you’d be doing yourself a great disservice by overlooking it.

As always, if you haven’t yet done so then be sure to check out the previous parts in the series.

Part 1: Naomi
Part 2: Hikaru
Sega Driving Simulator Special
Part 3: Naomi 2
Dolphin Blue Special 

*Scott (aka DocEggfan) has already written an article on the similarities between the Atomiswave and Dreamcast hardware, so be sure to check that out here:

Forensic Examination of the Dreamcast Corpse File 1 of 2
Forensic Examination of the Dreamcast Corpse File 2 of 2

A brief history of the Atomiswave
While Sammy had dabbled in game development and publishing, and even had a stab at creating an arcade board in a joint venture with Seta and Visco (the SSV), their main focus had always been in the Japanese pachinko and slot machine market…that is, until the Dreamcast hardware appeared.
Despite having lived in Japan for almost seven years, pachinko remains a mystery to me. What on Earth is the appeal?

Sammy’s first experience with Dreamcast hardware was as co-developer working on the timeless classic Jissen Pachi-Slot Hisshou@VP@CHI Kongdom (who doesn’t have fond childhood memories of that one, eh?), but they later published the cheese-fest that is Death Crimson OX (in the US at least) and more importantly, the fan favourite Guilty Gear X series. Guilty Gear X began with fairly low economic expectations, but its combination of incredible animation, deep fighting mechanics and larger than life cast of characters ensured it became a huge hit in Japanese arcades, spawning four more sequels to the Naomi. After getting a taste of the profits to be made in the Japanese arcade space, and with the stagnation of the Pachinko industry looming overhead, Sammy execs began setting their sights on diversifying their business model by obtaining a bigger piece of the arcade pie.
Guilty Gear X: Punching little girls in the face since the year 2000
At this time, the Japanese conglomerate CSK owned the controlling share in both Sega and Sammy, so it was in their best interest to come up with a deal that could potentially turn Sega’s surplus of hardware, intended for use in the manufacture of Dreamcast and/or Naomi units, from Sega’s burden into mutual gain for the two companies. The history of the system is murky at best, but it’s thought that in early 2002, Sammy’s then-president Hajime Satomi, met with Sega’s AM4 R&D division to discuss such a deal. The result of which was the development of the code-named 'System-X' getting underway. Thankfully the bigwigs came to their senses realising that System-X sounded a bit pants and also had a little too much in common with Microsoft's creatively named 'Xbox' (sarcasm intended) and as such it was finally renamed to the rather catchy: Atomiswave.

The Atomiswave was first unveiled in September 2002 at the Japan Amusement Show. Sammy had yet to receive any support for the system from third party developers but did show off their dubiously named in-house soccer game, 'Premier Eleven' (no relation to Winning Eleven) due to be released alongside the system in December 2002. Shortly after the unveiling, a slew of developers including SNK, Dimps, Psyko, Treasure, Compile, IGS, Visco and Tecmo pledged to support the system. Things were looking up for the new format and it seemed set to become a big player in the industry.
The Atomiswave being shown off at the Japan Amusement Show (JAMMA)
For unknown reasons Premier Eleven never did see the light of day, but the Atomiswave was eventually released in 2003, as were six games - Demolish Fist, Dolphin Blue, Guilty Gear Isuka, Guilty Gear 1.5, Maximum Speed and Sports Shooting USA, all of which were published by Sammy themselves.

In December of the same year, Sammy began the second stage in their plan for arcade dominance by buying CSK’s remaining 22.4% share in Sega, becoming their leading shareholder in the process. After acquiring the shares, Sammy publicly announced that their intentions were to eventually buy out Sega and in 2004 they did just that by acquiring the controlling share in the company. This lead to the infamous merger between the two amusement arcade giants, destroying the hopes and dreams of Sega fans the world over. Did the Atomiswave play a part in securing the deal? Well, it’s difficult to say, but it seems likely.

Back in 2002/2003 there were reports that Sega was in discussions regarding a buyout or merger with not only Sammy, but also Nintendo, Namco and Microsoft; all three of which had developed arcade systems in cooperation with Sega (Sammy - Atomiswave, Namco/Nintendo - Triforce, Microsoft - Chihiro). Who knows what was going on behind the scenes, but even pre-Atomiswave, Sammy had voiced interests in a possible merger deal but Sega had refused them. Sammy’s goal of dominating the Japanese arcade space and Sega’s financial hardships of the time were the key ingredients, but the Atomiswave almost certainly helped to butter up the relationship between the companies improving their ability to negotiate with one another leading to the final merger that secured the fate of the two companies.

The Atomiswave brand seemed to be going from strength to strength in 2004 when SNK struck a deal with Sammy that would see them finally put an end to supporting their ancient thirteen year old Neo Geo MVS platform in favour of moving future releases to the Atomiswave. As part of the deal, SNK promised to support the platform with five games from some of their most well known franchises with the possibility of more to come down the line.
At the 2004 JAMMA event, IGN commented that the combination of booths made for a rather strange stage event where a Sega booth girl introduced SNK staff who would be speaking about Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, a game that runs on Sammy hardware.
But by 2005, things hadn’t quite turned out the way Sammy had hoped. While ARC System Works and Dimps had supported the system with some excellent games; SNK had lived up to their promise of releasing five games; and Kinghts of Valour from IGS had been released successfully on the format, content from other developers such as Treasure and Tecmo never came to fruition. What’s more, the games that had been released by SNK were of questionable quality, graphically looking not much of an improvement over the later Neo Geo MVS releases and adding very little in terms of new gameplay mechanics. As such they received a lukewarm reception in arcades.
"Catch the Wave of the Future!!!!"

So what went wrong? Well, despite the slogan for the system being 'Catch the wave of the future,' by the time of release the Atomsiwave was already dated, being based on tech that was hardly cutting edge by arcade standards when it had been first released in 1998 (as the Naomi and Dreamcast) . By 2004 it was practically a dinosaur. What’s more, the Atomiswave had been living in the shadow of the infinitely more successful Naomi system; it made little sense to develop for this new system when the Naomi had slightly higher specs, the option of releasing games on the cheap GD-ROM format and such a high adoption rate among arcades, one of the highest of all time in fact. To make matters worse Taito had just unveiled their powerful Type-X (what is it with that letter X?) based on PC architecture for release in arcades later that year, and reports were coming in that Sega’s new Lindbergh system would also be making an appearance in the not so distant future causing any remaining developers to abandon the format.
Taito Type X: The system Capcom, ARC System Works, and SNK moved to after ditching the Atomiswave.
But the final nail in the coffin had not been nailed shut quite yet. One positive result of the recent Sega-Sammy merger was that Sega themselves would begin supporting the system by not only publishing but also developing a limited number of titles in-house. New titles in series that had previously been published by Sammy such as Rumble Fish 2 and Extreme Hunting 2 would bear the Sega name, as would all future SNK releases. Sammy would continue their support inconsistently for the next few years and ARC System Works released perhaps the best fighter on the system, Fist of the North Star (aka Hokoto no Ken). Finally, Sega developed and published Sega Clay Challenge and the system’s swansong Sega Bass Fishing Challenge, which also happens to be the most recent release in the series.

So what is the Atomiswave's legacy? To call it a failure is unfair; it sold fairly well and had some incredible games in its library. It's often thought of as the true successor to the MVS by the Neo Geo community, as such it enjoys a strong following among the Neo Geo elite, so it's rather ironic that it's not yet appreciated as much as it deserves by Sega fanboys such as ourselves, despite sharing a very similar architecture to the Naomi and Dreamcast. More importantly, it arguably acted as a major catalyst in the Sega-Sammy merger and as such, for better or worse, deserves a place in Sega's history.

Specs
CPU : Hitachi SH-4 64-bit RISC CPU (200 MHz 360 MIPS / 1.4 GFLOPS)
Graphic Engine : PowerVR 2 (PVR2DC)
RAM : 16MB
VRAM : 16MB
Sound RAM: 8MB
Sound Engine: ARM7 Yamaha AICA 45 MHZ (with internal 32-bit RISC CPU, 64 channel ADPCM)
Media : ROM Board (128MB)
The Atomiswave specs as printed on an official flyer for the system
What’s in a name (and logo)?
First of all, let me just specify for the record that this section is all speculation on my part, nobody from Sega or Sammy has ever officially commented on the meaning of the name and logo to my knowledge. With that out of the way, here’s a few random things I’ve noticed that are probably completely meaningless but interesting observations none the less and very well may be rooted in reality…or not.
A conspiracy theory worthy of our very own DreamPod member Jesse Ventura
As you can see, the Atomiswave logo kind of looks like the illegitimate love child of the Dreamcast and Sammy logos viewed from the side. Can you see it? Once you do, it’s one of those things you can never un-see. It’s the profile of an upside-down Dreamcast logo with that instantly recognisable Sammy green used to fill the outer side of the ribbon.
Hajime Satomi trying to explain the origins of the Atomiswave logo.
What’s more, the first half of the name 'Atomis-wave' is basically 'Naomi' with the 'N' removed and a 'T' inserted between the 'A' and 'O.' Is this coincidence? Well, probably is my honest answer, because a more likely theory of mine involves the then president of Sammy, Hajime Satomi. If you’ve kept up this far with my incomprehensible drunken ramblings, then you’ll remember Mr. Satomi was the man who brought the idea to create the Atomiswave to Sega’s AM4 R&D. Take his surname 'Satomi,' now remove the 'S' and place it at the end of his name, what do you get…? Atomis. I’ve yet to come up with a conspiracy theory regarding the 'wave' part of the name, but don't panic! I’ll be sure to don my tin foil hat and get right on it in the near future.

Some examples of exclusives

Demolish Fist
One game that really stands out from the clutter of 2D fighters on the system, Demolish Fist is a 3D brawler in the same vein as Dynamite Cop. The game ditches the freer, more modern 3D beat 'em up style as seen in Zombie Revenge or Die Hard Arcade and instead sticks to panning from left to right in a style very reminiscent of 16-bit scrolling beat-em-ups such as Streets of Rage. While it's by no means fantastic, it does the job and is definitely worth a download or pick up due to its low price.
Looks very much like a Dreamcast game, eh? 
Dolphin Blue 
Easily my favourite game on the system, one that deserves to be in any Top 100 games list, but you won't ever find it in one because not enough people have had the pleasure of playing it. Don't be THAT guy! Give it a shot via emulation. Check out our recent in-depth look at Dolphin Blue here.
One of the most beautiful 2D games ever made
Sega Clay Challenge
Does what it says on the tin; a clay shooting game made by Sega. I’ve not played this one myself so I can’t talk in detail, but it’s interesting to see a Sega series that most have likely never heard of. Take a look at this Youtube video for footage of the game in action. It certainly looks like a classic Sega arcade game, albeit with a slightly more serious tone.


Sega Bass Fishing Challenge
A bit of an odd one this, let me take a deep breath...they made a Sega Bass Fishing arcade game but seem to have forgotten to include a rod, instead vying for a trackball...wut?! "What were they thinking?" (Angry Video Game Nerd voice). Wasn't half the fun of the original games in using the fishing rod controller?
*Face palm*
Some examples of ports

The Rumble Fish - PS2
Upon seeing the game in motion for the first time, any gamer will instantly recognize that what sets this apart from other 2D fighters is its animation. Characters’ limbs are each animated independently giving the game a unique style that doesn’t quite move like anything we’d ever seen before...or since for that matter. The game also features a rather clever super combo system; players each have two separate combo meters, one is increased upon blocking, the other through attacking. Fill either meter to gain access to two different super moves, but fill both to access an even more powerful ultra move. This one is still pretty cheap to get on eBay, so my advice is to order a copy before the masses catch on and the game soars in value.

Fist of the North Star - PS2
If there's a killer app in the Atomiswave's library of ports then this is it. This is the game Fist of the North Star fans had been waiting their entire post-pubescent lives for; an excellent 2D beat 'em up featuring the most popular characters from the franchise, all rendered beautifully with detailed sprites and smooth animation that gives 3rd Strike a run for its money (well, not quite but you get the picture). While it never rose to the ranks of top tier competitive fighters, it's no doubt a quality game with a lot going for it.

Metal Slug 6 - PS2, PSP, Wii, PC
I've said it before, I'll say it again, I've never cared too much for the direction the Metal Slug series was taken in after the first three games, and if I'm completely honest, I prefer the purer experience of the original without all the zombies, aliens and silly transformations. Having said that MS6 goes some way to returning Slug to its origins and is very reminiscent of Metal Slug X. When compared to the Neo Geo MVS titles, the power of the Atomiswave is clear to see in the detailed backgrounds and huge enemy sprites (yes, huge by even Metal Slug standards). This one polarises opinions in the Neo Geo community but in my opinion is perhaps the third or fourth best Metal Slug game, which is certainly no bad thing.

How to play Atomiswave
Bar the Dreamcast, Atomiswave is by far the easiest of hardware in the family to get running at home. Let’s delve into the options available to you hardcore Sega and SNK fans.

1: Consolised Atomiswave
This is by far the easiest option for those of you yet to delve into the world of arcade gaming. Like the consolised MVS consoles, these have been modded by enthusiasts to work like any regular console; simply plug the power cable in, connect it to your television, plug in an arcade stick and you’re ready to go. Due to the nature of modded hardware, there is no set standard, so when going this route be sure to find one that does everything you need. The system has a VGA connection as default but most modders add at least one of the following: component, RGB, S-Video and/or a dedicated stereo out. For control inputs, the most common solution is to add two connectors for Neo Geo AES/CD controllers/sticks, so remember to factor that into your budget as well. All in all, it’s a nice easy option for the arcade noob prepared to pay a premium. But these things are not cheap. Don't say I didn't warn you!
As Scott aka DocEggfan said, "This is cheating." Go buy a supergun, cabinet or wire the thing up yourself
2: JAMMA arcade cabinet
Playing Atomiswave on a regular JAMMA cabinet is a far simpler task compared to the Naomi as the system uses the standard JAMMA pinout, allowing you to simply plug the JAMMA harness (included in any JAMMA arcade cabinet) to the system without any fuss such as I/O converters and the like. For those with cabinets that support VGA and JAMMA, such as the Sega Blast City or Net City, you have the option of connecting your arcade monitor in VGA, utilizing the Atomiswave’s 31khz mode.
My lovely Astro City
3: Supergun
For those of you without the space for a full sized cabinet, buying a supergun is the route I recommend. Superguns are built to play and test arcade boards on regular consumer televisions. Any JAMMA super gun will work just fine with the Atomiswave and will probably cost less than the consolised system mentioned above. Why limit yourself to one piece of arcade hardware when for roughly the same price you can use one of these bad boys to play practically any JAMMA system or motherboard ever made?
This is a Supergun. Sorry, can't think of anything original to write. Deal with it!
4: Naomi hacks
Two well known modders/bootleggers/hackers (whatever you want to call them) in the arcade scene, ArcadeModBios and Darksoft, have been working on porting the Atomiswave library to the Naomi. The project is ongoing so not all games are supported, but thus far over twenty titles have been converted including the unreleased 'Sushi Bar,' making this the only way to play that game on (practically) original hardware. Custom built Naomi multicarts have been made but by far the most convenient way to play these games is to use a flashcard reader or the Net Booting solution.

5: Emulate
As always, the cheapest and most practical way for most of you out there to play the system exclusives is to simply use emulation. I haven’t tried emulating the system myself, but have heard Demul, Makaron and Null DC all do a good job of running either original Atomiswave roms or the converted Naomi roms mentioned above.

6: Ports
There is of course one last way to play Atomiswave games: console ports. The PS2 is the system of choice when it comes to ports from Atomiswave, so if you own one and have the ability to play J-NTSC games then you have the entire library of ports available to you, but there were also a couple released on other systems such as the Xbox. Take a look at the full list of games and ports below.
My vast collection of Atomiswave ports
Atomiswave full games list
Red = Never ported to a home console
Blue = Ported but not to the Dreamcast

2003
Demolish Fist
Dolphin Blue
Guilty Gear Isuka (PS2, PC, XBOX)
Guilty Gear X ver.1.5
Maximum Speed
Sports Shooting USA

2004
Faster than Speed
Ranger Mission
The Rumble Fish (PS2)

2005
Animal Basket 
Extreme Hunting
Fist of the North Star/ Hokoto no Ken (PS2)
Neo Geo Battle Coliseum (PS2, PS3, XBOX 360)
Net Select Keiba Victory Furlong 
Net Select Salary Man Kentarou
Samurai Showdown VI (PS2, PS3)
The King of Fighters Neowave (PS2, XBOX)
The King of Fighter XI (PS2, PS3)
The Rumble Fish 2

2006
Dirty Pigskin Football
Extreme Hunting 2 Tournament Edition
Metal Slug 6 (PS2, PSP, PC. Wii)

2008
Sega Clay Challenge

2009
Sega Bass Fishing Challenge

Unreleased 
Sushi Bar (playable rom and hacked Naomi version playable)
Force Five
Premier Eleven
Sammy vs Capcom 
Kenju
Chase 1929

6 comments:

Tom Charnock said...

I had minimal knowledge about the Atomiswave before this article and the earlier ones from Scott. Great work, really enjoyed reading this.

dandare said...

awesome write up

doceggfan said...

Nice one Ross, but isn't it Arc System Works with a 'c'?

http://segaretro.org/Arc_System_Works

The 1 Ross said...

Yes it is. Edited. Cheers mate.

DCGX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DCGX said...

Excellent article! I'd actually really like to have an upright cabinet of this, but the only one I've found is pricey with shipping from Asia.