20 Years Of Dreamcast: The Past, Present & Future

It's hard to believe that the Dreamcast has been with us now for two whole decades. Twenty years since that November day back in 1998 when Sega finally unleashed its successor to the Saturn on the world. I can't recall a console launch prior to the Dreamcast launch where fever pitch was at such a level, and the initial reports - at least the ones I read in magazines, being a young oik at the time - all pointed to a system that heralded the dawn of a new age in gaming.
The Dreamcast reveal at The Sega New Challenge Conference 1998
An age of arcade perfection in home ports, and one which ushered in the widespread adoption of online console functionality. As the Dreamcast reaches this milestone, we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the coming of age of the system with the a brief look at the past, the present and the future of the Dreamcast scene. Happily, this will not include the coming of three ghosts, and will not include one of those ghosts having two small children under his coat. Also, you're well within your rights to feel like a bonafide old git when it sinks in: yes, the Dreamcast really is twenty.

The Past
I think at this point most people are pretty well versed in the history of the Dreamcast. As alluded to earlier, it was launched on 27th November 1998 in Japan, and the following year in the rest of the world. Initial sales were strong, and the system had an air of technological prowess about it. Graphics were far ahead of the console competition at the time, and in some cases superior to what PC gamers were enjoying too. But it wasn't just about the graphical capabilities; as the hardware too was new, fresh and exciting. The VMU in particular turned the humble memory card into a standalone console in its own right, and the controller, while it still to this day splits opinion was interesting, with its analogue triggers and aperture for a second screen of sorts. And of course, the modem that came packaged with the console as standard (apart from some very early editions) opened the door to a whole new way of playing on consoles - against people over the internet.
Eager gamers spy a delivery of Dreamcasts on the morning of the launch
The modem also offered access to the Dreamcast's Dricas service, which was an online portal designed to allow Dreamcast owners to communicate, earn loyalty points and even see on a primitive map where other gamers were located. All of these services are pretty much the norm in today's climate, but back in 1998 these online options were a huge deal. Of course, we now know how the whole party turned into a bit of a shit show after the initial wave of euphoria, and the Dreamcast wasn't long for this world as a fully-supported hardware platform.

The utterly boring debates still rage to this day about why the console failed, and why Sega decided to ditch the console after a relatively short period in the west at least (the last official game was released for the Dreamcast in 2007 in Japan); but the main reason is that many people were more interested in the PlayStation 2 and waited for Sony's new machine rather than buy a Dreamcast. Yes, there are boring debates about software support from certain publishers, and there are boring debates about the ease with which games could be pirated and the lack of a DVD player...but the main reason is that the PlayStation 2 came along and stole the Dreamcast's thunder. It happened, let's all move on.

A Brief History Of ChuChu Rocket! In Your Pocket

ChuChu Rocket! is a puzzle game that is undoubtedly a product of a struggling Sega. Imaginative, innovative, insane - one of the many one-of-a-kind experiments that was thrown at a wall in the Sega headquarters in the hopes that something would eventually stick and save the Dreamcast once and for all. Maybe this attempt to stand out was what led Sonic Team to create not just one of the most memorable puzzle games on the Sega Dreamcast, but one of the best and most memorable puzzle games ever made.
For the uninitiated, the premise of ChuChu Rocket! is simple. You place directional arrows on a checker board to guide mice (the titular ChuChus) to rocket ships, all whilst making sure they don't get eaten by giant orange cats that look like they are perpetually tripping on acid.
The guiding brainless animals to safety thing had been done eight years prior by DMA Design's Lemmings, but Sonic Team managed to take the concept and push it to the brink of madness whilst also throwing in a bonkers multiplayer mode and online play (that's still available today thanks to DreamPi). It serves as a high quality break for any Dreamcast fan who has sunk hours into deeper experiences like Shenmue or Phantasy Star Online who just wants to play something simple whilst also having an absolutely cracking time.

These days, with smart phones being in everyone's pockets, puzzle games that are easy to pick up and play function as perfect time wasters on a morning commute or even when we just can't be bothered to do anything else. Sadly, as I'm sure many of us can all agree, the vast majority of smartphone puzzlers are trite, micro-transaction ridden nonsense. But what if we could take a stellar puzzler like ChuChu Rocket! and play that in the palm of our hand instead? That would make perfect sense, right? Well it turns out that Sega did see ChuChu's portable potential...



DCHDMI Versus 480p 'HD' Dreamcast Cables

As I'm sure you're aware by now, there are a range of 'HD' options now available for the Dreamcast. What it's important to note though, is that all of these so-called HD cables are not actually delivering a true high definition image. Yes, they use a HDMI connector that plugs into your display, but this image is 480p and is being drawn directly from the analogue VGA output of the Dreamcast. Regardless of what you've probably seen or read on some other websites, the various HD cables from Pound, Hyperkin, Beharbros etc., are not magically transforming Dreamcast games into high definition experiences. That's impossible.
Now, that's not to say that any of the devices from the aforementioned brands aren't worth your time. They totally are, with both the Pound and Beharbros options being perfectly acceptable ways of connecting a Dreamcast to a HD flat panel display with the minimum of fuss. The thing is, while the games still look fine using these cables and boxes, there is an alternative device that really does improve image quality immeasurably without the need for an external upscaler. That device is the internal DCHDMI mod from citrus3000psi and chriz2600; and we reviewed it recently here at The Dreamcast Junkyard.

One of the most important benefits over the 480p cables though, is that the DCHDMI is putting out the correct screen aspect ratio. See, the VGA signal the cables use only uses the inner 640x480 of the 720x480 frame. So the TV displays the the whole 720x480 in a 4:3 format. This basically squashes the entire image. All of the VGA to HDMI cables have this porblem, but the DCHDMI doesn't do this. There are both VGA and 480p options built in to the DCHDMI menu, and the 720p option because some homebrew titles use the extra 80 pixels.
What I've seen from some commenters though, is a desire to actually see some kind of comparison between what the 480p 'HD' cables offer, and what the DCHDMI in 1080p mode (960p windowed) is kicking out. The DCHDMI, it's worth noting again, is an internal board that also packs an FPGA and which is wired directly into the GPU of the Dreamcast. It's taking the digital image directly, and there is no analogue conversion, so naturally it will be doing things the HD Link and Gekko or Akura are not built to do. That's not the point of this article and video though. This is simply a comparison...and seeing is believing. Here you go:


It's probably worth viewing the video in the highest quality available to get the full effect, but the superiority of the internal mod is pretty clear. Naturally, the DCHDMI will be more of a faff (and markedly more expensive) than just plugging a cable in to your console, but it's good to know that the options are available.

You can pre-order the DCHDMI here, should you so desire. The Beharbros Gekko is available here, and the Pound HD Link is available here.

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So What Exactly Are Those Weird Anime Games In Your Dreamcast Collection?

Avid fans of the Dreamcast are most likely already aware that the console enjoyed a much longer life in its home country of Japan (the last officially licensed Dreamcast game, Karous, was released in 2007). For this reason, as well as the fact 90s console developers had a track record of thinking Western gamers were frightened of anything even slightly unconventional, there is an extensive list of Japan-only Dreamcast games just waiting for fans to import. The best part is that so many are playable without knowledge of the Japanese language. All you need is a boot disc or a modded Dreamcast and voilà! you've unlocked another section of the Dreamcast library. Check out our A to Z of Dreamcast Games if you want to know the best Japan-exclusives to get your mitts on.

However, for every playable game, there are just as many that are unplayable for anyone who isn't fluent in Japanese. Anyone who is insane enough to try and collect a full Japanese set will soon realise that there is plenty of "filler" - the kind of stuff you only buy for the sake of checking another game off the list and not because you are actually going to be able to play it. You know, those games with the anime girls on the front. Crap like this:
 
Some might mistakenly call these things "dating simulators", but that's a different kettle of fish entirely. No, these are "visual novels", and they do exactly what they say on the tin, they are novels with visual elements. Boot any of these up and you'll be greeted with nothing more than walls of Japanese text and images of anime characters making various expressions. They are a very niché style of game that have never had a big following outside of Japan, especially back in the early 2000s (hence their Japanese exclusivity). Some may debate whether or not they are actually games at all, but they're still something I'd recommend to keen readers and anime fans alike. 

Their "gameplay" more or less consists of reading text and occasionally answering a multiple choice question on how the main character should react or respond in a certain situation. That might not sound all that interesting to some, but I like to look at visual novels as a more visual version of a choose your own adventure book, and being a fan of anime, the artwork contained within is something I'm familiar with. A lot of the stories are enjoyable, and believe it or not, the plots aren't always romantic; there are visual novels that focus on genres like sci-fi and mystery, for example. I'm such an advocate for these anime-centric pieces of flashy reading material that I even wrote a whole article on my website Alt:Mag defending their case.

TR Fight Stick & Beharbros Working To Bring Custom Dreamcast Console Shell To Market

There is a market for custom Dreamcast console shells, and we all know it. The standard white ones yellow like crazy after a few years, and even with a nice peroxide bath they still go yellow again in time. Yes, there are the black special editions such as the R7 and SEGA Sports models; and there are the official and unofficial aftermarket coloured console shells, but they now fetch silly money on certain auction sites, so for the average Dreamcast gamer they aren't a viable option.
We recently ran an article here at The Dreamcast Junkyard asking whether a new run of official coloured console shells from SEGA would be a viable money spinner, and the general consensus was a deafening yes, but obviously no-one at SEGA gives a flying toss what we - or the Dreamcast fan base - has to say, so it obviously fell on deaf ears. Fret not though, as somebody else has heard the aforementioned call.
SEGA says "no!" - or rather...nothing.
Enter TR Fight Stick, a firm known for creating top quality custom fight sticks. Working in conjunction with Beharbros, the fine people behind the Akura, Toro, Hanzo and Gekko Dreamcast display adapters, TR Fight Stick might well have the answer to all of you custom Dreamcast console shell needs.
TR Fight Stick have previously created - as the company name may suggest - a range of high quality, metal-cased custom fight sticks and arcade cabinets. Their pedigree is pretty much confirmed at this point, and if you need any proof of this please feel free to visit their website and take a look. That they are working with one of the Dreamcast community's most highly regarded hardware creators on this project fills us with optimism.
We spoke to Yunus Emre Soğukkanli from TR Fight Stick to get the low down on this exciting new project. Here's what he said:

"My regular job is as a stunt coordinator and action director, but game consoles - and especially arcades - are my lifestyle. It's a special hobby for me. I've always made arcade stuff for myself as a hobby. But this year I decided to produce things for other people, simply because so many people ask me to sell my projects to them. So I produced the TR Fight Stick, and people loved it.

"I love the Dreamcast and I've always wanted to build a good quality Dreamcast shell. I think it will be a good introduction to my work for other people. I will produce it in both metal and wood. It will be look better and be more effective in terms of colour degradation and heat transfer I think."
- Yunus Emre Soğukkanli - TR Fight Stick

We can't wait to see how this project pans out, and that Beharbros is also involved fills us with a lot of confidence. BBS Products are always of the highest quality and if SEGA won't step up to the plate and give us genuine replacement shells for our consoles at a reasonable price, we hope TR Fight Stick and Beharbros can step in to their shoes.

It's probably worth noting that it does look (at this point, anyway) that this mod is only for Dreamcasts without an optical drive, but hopefully this will change in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled for further developments on this exciting project.
What do you think? Will you be in the market for one of these console shells? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or in our Facebook group.

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