10 PC Games That Should Have Been Ported To Dreamcast...But Never Were

We've touched on this subject briefly in the not-too-distant past, but I thought it was worth revisiting with a proper article. What am I talking about? Why, PC to Dreamcast ports of course. It's no secret that the Dreamcast was held aloft as some form of chimera, a home gaming console that could host arcade-perfect conversions from the NAOMI cabinets, but also a console that could mimic a decent, medium specced gaming rig of the era.
Thanks to the inclusion of Windows CE elements, the Dreamcast was almost viewed as the perfect system to which PC games could be quickly and easily ported, and for a short time during the console's early life it looked like developers were lining up to complement their computer-based releases with a Dreamcast version as standard procedure. The addition of compatibility with Windows CE is quite an interesting subject in its own right, and as discussed in this CNET article from September 1999 Microsoft was hoping that the inclusion of the operating system would actually be a catalyst for more PC software being brought to the Dreamcast.

"Microsoft's new [Windows CE 2.0] development software may help get game developers back on track in bringing Windows CE-based games to Dreamcast. The toolkit is designed to simplify title development and conversions from other system platforms, Microsoft said. The toolkit also provides improved graphics performance and other multimedia effects.

"The suite provides faster data transfer between the development hardware and the Dreamcast console, while technology borrowed from web page development tools aids in the creation of customized games."
- CNET, September 1999

Granted, before the Dreamcast was even released PC hardware was technically a good deal more capable (Intel had already released a 450Mhz Pentium III processor by mid 1999, for example); but the power of Sega's fledgling system outstripped the contemporary consoles by several degrees of magnitude, and Windows CE compatibility hinted that uncompromised PC ports were set to be a reality for the first time.
"Equipped with a high-powered chip, modem, and other PC features, Sega's Dreamcast - like other gaming machines coming to market - can ostensibly duplicate, and even improve upon, many of the core functions of home PCs."
- CNET, September 1999

Initially this certainly appeared to be the case anyway, not least because of the keyboard and mouse peripherals, and a number of high profile PC games were given a decent crack of the whip on the Dreamcast. Titles like Hidden & Dangerous brought a level of strategy to consoles that hadn't really been seen before, and Speed Devils showed how close the new system could get to emulating high-end PC visuals for a fraction of the price. Later came games like Rainbow Six, Star Lancer, The Nomad Soul, Soldier of Fortune, Stupid Invaders and (to a certain extent) Half-Life - all titles that started life as PC games. Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, the floodgates never really fully opened and the deluge of PC ports failed to materialize.
The brevity of the Dreamcast as a fully supported system is the biggest factor in this, as many PC games that were odds on to have made the leap from the office to the living room were undoubtedly cancelled once the news of the Dreamcast's demise filtered through the industry. The history of the Dreamcast is littered with abandoned and half finished projects, many of which we're seeing come to light many years later.

However, with this post I wanted to explore some of the PC games from that halcyon era where consoles and PCs were pretty much level pegged when it came to graphical grunt; and explore some of the games that were rumoured to be on their way to the Dreamcast, but which never made it. To clarify/confuse things further, some of these games were actually in development for the Dreamcast before being cancelled, while others are simply titles I think would have been a good fit for the system. Let's get it on...

Kingpin: Life of Crime
A first person shooter with some light role playing elements, Kingpin was released on PC in 1999. The game is noteable for its high level of violence and gore, and features enemy character models and NPCs that can be easily dismembered with well-placed shotgun rounds. Not really a key selling point in modern games, but back in 1999 that was a pretty big deal. Kingpin is a tale of revenge and sees the player travel across sprawling and downtrodden inner city districts of some unnamed, fictional metropolis, blasting criminals, interacting with various citizens milling around and engaging in some good old fashioned gangland warfare.
There are some pretty original features in Kingpin, such as the ability to fleece corpses for cash and the option to hire extra muscle in the form of AI-controlled goons who will back you up in firefights for as long as they survive. The game is quite similar to Soldier of Fortune in a lot of ways, and could quite easily have been ported to the Dreamcast, but sadly it never came across to consoles.

Max Payne
Bit of a contentious one this. It was fully intended to be coming to the Dreamcast around the same time as the PC release, and the iconic third person shooter was even showcased in magazines and on websites of the day. Since those heady days of the early 2000s, it has been revealed that what we all thought were shots of a Dreamcast version of Max Payne were simply mock ups, intended to show what the game would look like, as opposed to actually being from a Dreamcast build proper. Indeed, a key member of the PC game's development team is quoted as saying they never actually saw any Max Payne code running on a Dreamcast. Still, it's interesting to talk about the mythical Dreamcast version of Take Two and Rockstar's seminal film noir tale of a downtrodden detective on a mission of revenge and retribution.
Combined with the Dreamcast keyboard and mouse, along with the awesome bullet time action and dark, gritty story; Max Payne would have been a sure fire hit on Sega's system. The PC game, while perfectly serviceable in its day, would hardly have taxed the Dreamcast hardware and I firmly believe that a release would have given the system a massive boost in desirability in an era where PC games of this magnitude were rarely ported to consoles. Whatever the story behind the fabled Dreamcast port of Max Payne, it represents a massive missed opportunity to bring one of the most iconic franchises ever created to a whole new audience. Who knows - maybe there is a playable Dreamcast build locked away somewhere and we'll one day get to see it. Until then, this particular case is cold.

Aliens Vs Predator
The Aliens Vs Predator movies have all pretty much missed the mark, but the same cannot be said of the games spawned by the franchise. The first person shooter titles have - for the most part - been universally acclaimed, from the original 1994 Atari Jaguar entry all the way up to the 2010 Xbox 360/PS3 reboot. The one that came sandwiched between those games, was the 1999 PC version which ditched the basic ray casting engine and sprite-based enemies of the earlier Jaguar title and replaced them with highly polished, light-sourced polygonal environments. Again offering the player the option to play as either a Xenomorph, a Predator or a human colonial marine, Aliens Vs Predator was a complete re-imagining of the franchise and offered completely new gameplay to the Atari-published version.
Alien players could clamber up walls and hide in the shadows, while superior thermal imaging options and prey AI were offered to those playing as a Predator. On top of this, players assuming the role of a marine could engage in squad-based firefights, assisted by AI controlled teammates. Naturally, the game was rumoured to be coming to the Dreamast, and French magazine Consoles+ even went as far as previewing the game in its August 1999 issue (see above). Sadly, a Dreamcast port of Aliens Vs Predator never materialized and the three-way war continued without console gamers until 2007 when AvP: Requiem hit the PSP.

System Shock 2
Another game that very nearly ended up in GD drives around the world, the PC-based shooter-cum-role player System Shock 2 entered development and was then promptly binned for reasons not overly clear. Money was probably a contributing factor, along with the Dreamcast's stuttering performance in light of the PlayStation 2's imminent release; but the fact remains that there is actually a playable build of this game in circulation. Actually, to call it 'playable' is a bit of a liberty as the Dreamcast version of System Shock 2 literally consists of a single room and corridor that the player can navigate, and not much else (video here).
I played the PC game extensively back in the day and loved the mix of gameplay styles and inventory management options. Pretty sure a keyboard and mouse would have been essential in order to get the best out of the game but there's no doubt in my mind that the Dreamcast could have handled the game. System Shock (and its illustrious prequel) are considered to be masterpieces and jewels of the PC games library, and I dare say that if the game had come to the Dreamcast as intended then it - along with the also cancelled Half Life - would be held in similar regard on the Dreamcast. There are no other console versions of System Shock 2, so what that says about the versatility of the Dreamcast and the ambitions that developers had for the hardware is clear. The Dreamcast represented a console that PC developers deemed worthy of their attention, and only the financial failings of the hardware was a stumbling block.

Commandos 2: Men of Courage
Commandos 2 was a top down strategy title developed by Pyro Studios and set to be published by Eidos Interactive. The PC game (and its prequel) were critically acclaimed on release and the Dreamcast game was intended to be a straight port. Featuring highly detailed hand drawn locations and sprite based character models, the tactical shooter suffered from several delays before finally disappearing from release schedules in early 2001. Commandos 2 was covered extensively in the Dreamcast magazines of the period, with the Official Dreamcast Magazine, DC-UK and Dreamcast Magazine all running previews on the title.
Again, this title was cancelled with no definite reason given, although as this article at Sega Retro states, the reasons were likely financial as opposed to any technical deficiency of the Dreamcast hardware. Later PlayStation 2 and Xbox ports were released (of which I've only played the Xbox version) and there is nothing to suggest that the cancellation was due to a lack of ability of hardware. As with some other games listed here, it is believed that the Dreamcast port of Commandos 2 was very close to completion when it was pulled and to date there has been no leak online of any playable build. We live in hope that whoever owns it (if it even exists) will one day come to their senses and release it for preservation.

Premier Manager '99/2000
The Dreamcast only received a single football management game (well, two if you count Let's Make a Pro J. League Soccer Club!) in the form of PAL exclusive Giant Killers, and that game isn't really regarded as a benchmark in the genre. Giant Killers is football management 'lite', only features clubs from the English divisions and is best described as basic (check out this previous article for more information). The Premier Manager series on the other hand, is - or certainly was back in the late 1990s - seen as one of the best examples of the genre, both on PC and other consoles. That a game in the series never came to the Dreamcast is a little odd, especially when you consider that a version of Premier Manager even made its way to the Nintendo 64. With its large GD capacity and number crunching grunt, a port of Premier Manager to the Dreamcast seems like a no brainer when you actually think about it.
The system has keyboard and mouse peripherals too, so the only reason I can think of for a no show is purely financial. But then, how many copies of Premier Manager 64 were sold? Whatever the answer to that rhetorical question, the fact remains that Gremlin didn't see the Dreamcast as a viable option for releasing the game, and when Infogrammes took over the license in 2000, the Dreamcast was overlooked again. It's highly unlikely that a release of Premier Manager would have drastically affected the fortunes of the Dreamcast in the European territories, but with the substandard state of the majority of football games, a decent management title might have made the console a more enticing prospect for stat fans.

Black & White
Peter Molyneux's ambitious god simulator was pretty far into development when Lionhead Studios pulled the plug on the project. In fact, Paragon Publishing's Dreamcast Magazine ran a lengthy development diary that was written by members of the development team and featured exclusive screenshots and interviews with the game's designers. By all accounts, the game was almost complete when for reasons unknown the Dreamcast version of Black & White was cancelled and the project was thrown into the abyss. To date, no version of the game has been leaked online and the only proof we have of the Dreamcast game ever existing are the aforementioned development diaries and the various screens and video footage proliferated by Lionhead.
Like many of the games listed here, Black & White would have undoubtedly made use of the keyboard and mouse peripherals, as well as the Dreamcast's internal clock to simulate the passage of time. The PC game was well received and the gameplay where players are required to act as a divine deity and shape the lives of the inhabitants of an archipelago would certainly have been unique on the Dreamcast. Playing like a cross between a strategy and a resource management sim, Black & White would have offered Dreamcast owners something a little different and only bolstered the library. It's telling that no other console versions of Black & White were ever released, even on superior hardware so whether the game's cancellation was down to technical limitations or financial incentives is open to interpretation.

Outcast
One of the more ambitious PC to Dreamcast ports that was very much on the cards back in 1999, Outcast is a 3D action adventure set in a sprawling open world with a strong science fiction narrative. Following the exploits of one Cutter Slade (what an awesome name, by the way) as he attempts to retrieve a probe sent into a parallel dimension, Outcast wowed gamers with its unique visual style and rolling terrain when it appeared. The game was published by Infogrammes on PC and as the French firm was a strong supporter of the Dreamcast, the idea of Outcast also coming to the Dreamcast wasn't that far fetched, although I would have been interested to see how the console handled the hardware intensive graphics engine.
The PC game required something of a beast of a system to run well, and I'm fairly sure that the visuals would have been scaled back a few notches in order to make it run at a decent frame rate on Sega's platform. That said, the Dreamcast did cope quite well with other similarly large open world titles, such as Omikron: The Nomad Soul (albeit with judicious use of fogging) so who knows how a console conversion could have fared. Ultimately, Outcast for Dreamcast never actually entered development before the project was shelved, but this is one title I would have been eager to play, if only to satisfy my curiosity from a technical standpoint.

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
Released mere months before the western launch of the Dreamcast, Westwood's follow up to the critically acclaimed Command & Conquer is a game that could have done wonders for the console's reputation as a serious alternative to owning a PC. Of course, there's the little matter that Westwood was actually acquired by Electronic Arts by this point, but we'll ignore that little fly in the ointment for now. Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun took all the elements of the original game and dialed them up a few notches, with a more futuristic setting, new units and theatres of war to campaign across.
The Dreamcast is really lacking in real time strategy games, with only the so-so Conflict Zone offering an alternative to Command & Conquer's genre-defining gameplay; and in an alternative universe EA would have supported the system and we'd all have been able to enjoy the forces of the GDI and the Brotherhood of NOD blowing each other up on our TV screens over the sound of a whirring GD drive. The sprite based visuals wouldn't have taxed the hardware, and the use of the mouse and keyboard would have been perfect. And don't even get me started on the prospect of online multiplayer battles. Oh, what could have been...

Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 3
The Dreamcast received a number of Formula 1 games, and they're all perfectly decent. F1 World Grand Prix 2 is perhaps the best, but Racing Simulation: Monaco Grand Prix, F1 Racing Championship and the original F1 World Grand Prix are still worth a look (check out our article on Dreamcast F1 games here). The one that got away however, was Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 3 - a Formula 1 game that was widely regarded to represent the pinnacle of the motor sport on PC. Developed by Microprose and published by Hasbro Interactive in 2000, Grand Prix 3 was intended as a simultaneous release on both PC and Dreamcast, and the press release confirming this can still be found online today.
There was considerable hype surrounding the release of the game on the Dreamcast, and UK magazine Dreamcast Monthly even went as far as dedicating the cover of issue 15 (December 2000) to the game. Oddly though, the feature inside the magazine had precisely zero screenshots of the Dreamcast version, instead using PC shots. After the dust settled though, Grand Prix 3 for Dreamcast slowly faded away and was unceremoniously cancelled, and to this day not a single screenshot or beta of the game has surfaced online. This has lead to speculation that work on a Dreamcast port of Grand Prix 3 never actually started, but for a short time back in 1999 it looked for all intents and purposes that the greatest Formula 1 simulation of its time was a dead cert to grace a Sega platform.
So there we are. Ten amazing PC games that could and should have graced the Dreamcast. Sure, there are plenty others that fell by the wayside as Sega faltered and the console sank into oblivion, but these - for me at least - are some of the best that got away. What do you think? Are there other iconic PC games from the late nineties and early thousands you'd have loved to see ported over to the Dreamcast? Let us know in the comments or get involved in the discussion over in our Facebook group right here.

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3 comments:

jon lee said...

kingpin is an amazing game. even now

Florian Wallin said...

Nice article ! Makes me sad thou to read about all that could have been 😠 . I think that Alien Breed Conflict by Team 17 could have bern something special as well, check it out here https://www.unseen64.net/tag/team-17/page/2/

Hasami Age said...

This is sadly painful. U.U