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Guest Article: Tales Of A Dreamcast Virgin

In this latest guest article, Leigh Bonser explains how in his native Australia the Dreamcast passed him by completely. However, after recently discovering the console he is now tutoring himself in the delights of the fantastic library. In some ways, I'm quite envious of Leigh as the Dreamcast is a fresh concept and there are so many amazing experiences waiting for him. Anyway, enough from me. Over to Leigh, the self-styled 'Dreamcast virgin'...
Like most readers of the Dreamcast Junkyard, I’ve been a gamer since I was a kid, fascinated by the technology and the escapism that video gaming presents to the open minds of youth. My first real memory of gaming started when a kid on my street got a Commodore 64 and allowed a select few local kids to come over and play. Now I can’t really remember exactly what we played, but I know it was off cassette and that it was dreadfully slow. But back then, who cared? We knew what was coming was exciting and would absolutely be worth the wait.

Skip forward a few years and my Dad, out of nowhere, came home one day with a second hand Apple IIc computer; also a dog. I think the dog was to smooth over my mother due to the expenditure. Such a wise man. This event is what I consider to be the starting point for the path my life has taken so far, as a gamer, computer enthusiast, career in IT and also, how to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. That’s not to say that I wasn’t already into other forms of video gaming. The NES was certainly around at this time as was the Master System. However, neither were very popular in the town that I grew up in, unless you had a wealthy or American friend, courtesy of the local American installation. Video games just weren’t really accessible amongst the circle of friends and family that I had.

I’ll continue the rest of this origin story at another time, but in the meantime, back to the topic at hand – the Sega Dreamcast. I was in my early twenties when the Dreamcast was released, so real life priorities had taken a firm hold at that stage of my life. I’d sold off my Master System and Mega Drive collections by this stage and had all but stopped reading video gaming mags. It’s safe to say, that the Dreamcast came and went almost un-noticed as far as I was concerned. I was a PC gamer by now and looked down my nose at those who were playing their PlayStations and N64s. I’d never even seen a Sega Saturn in real life, and knew little of it other than the occasional game that I sold here and there when I worked for a local retail store a few years prior. As far as I was aware, Sega had disappeared.

Fast forward once again to early this year. By chance, I met a bloke in a local Cash Converters store while I was on Christmas holidays and we got to chatting for a while about our collections, modding and a few other game related topics. Out of this conversation, he mentioned that he had a Sega Dreamcast for sale cheap (for Australia). Unfortunately, I was a bit slow to take him up on the offer and missed out, but this chance encounter got me thinking about the Dreamcast constantly and all the fantastic things that I had heard about it over the years. A few months later I saw a post on a Facebook group from a Japanese seller for a Japanese Dreamcast, a VMU and a controller. A credit to the photographer because the pictures looked outstanding and I was sold on it instantly. The problem was, I didn’t have the cash on hand. I said to myself, if it’s still available in a week, I’ll grab it. Destiny stepped in and before I knew it, I had three boxes from Japan sitting on my desk one Friday afternoon, just in time for the weekend. Being the planner that I am, I had already ordered a stepdown transformer, extra controller, VMU and spare batteries, a few fighting games and more importantly, a copy of Shenmue (which hadn’t yet arrived). My weekend was set!
First impressions from what I guess you could call ‘fresh retro eyes,’ were mostly positive, but a bit mixed. First of all, the console is one fantastic looking bit of kit. It felt like it was solid and well made, isn’t too bulky, like the other consoles of its generation and just gave off a very classy vibe. I hurriedly hooked it up to my CRT via the included composite AV cables, got the stepdown transformer in place and ready, and then picked up the controller.

This is where confusion started to creep in. Only one thumb stick? Oh well, guess that’s all that’s needed. Then I noticed that the thumb stick actually rotates a little on the stick. Oh great. I thought I’d been sold a busted controller, but checking the other controller that I had, this seems to just be the way that they are made. I could see this potentially becoming an issue for some games. But that D-pad! It looks awkward, being raised so far out of the controller shell and with such sharp edges, but boy does it have smooth movement. I really just don’t like an analogue stick and only use it when the game forces me to do so, so this D-pad design had me intrigued. Fighting games are a fav of mine, especially Street Fighter, so I was expecting good things from it.
Next came the VMU. I’d seen these ‘things’ before in images on the Internet and heard a little about them, but I had no idea what on Earth they were actually for. All that I knew of them was that you needed them to go with your controller and that they were like nothing that I had ever seen before. Looking back now, I feel a bit silly, it’s just a memory card. But no, it’s so much more. Now that I know what it is, I can’t believe that this odd little bit of hardware has not been taken advantage of in generations of consoles since. The possibilities for this discreet little display in modern gaming are endless, but as for the Dreamcast, I’m hoping it continues to be kept in in the minds of developers for use with future indie titles that are yet to be released and I look forward to seeing how it was utilised as I play through the Dreamcast game catalogue.

Once everything was all hooked up and ready to go, I pushed aside the 3 games that came with the console; Sega Rally, SoulCalibur, and Dead or Alive 2, and pressed the power button. I can’t fully convey how excited I felt the first time I heard the start-up tune, but it was a pretty special moment. I’d of course heard this tune before, but I wasn’t really sure exactly how it related to the Dreamcast. I was then greeted by the Dreamcast console’s menu and a dancing VMU icon, tempting me to look around.

Well, that’s where I’ll leave it for now. I’m off to continue to explore the streets of Dobuita and will continue the Tales of a Dreamcast virgin next time.

What do you think? Are you a relative newcomer to the Dreamcast? If so, how did you discover the console and why do you think you missed it back in the late 1990s? Let us know what you think in the comments or join the discussion in our Facebook group. Thanks again to Leigh for sharing his thoughts!

2 comments:

fatherkrishna said...

A good article. I too came late to the party, and shared the feeling of excitement and discovery described in the post. The VMU is just one example of the system's unique qualities. Using the mic on the controller to talk to my Seaman, was the defining moment of my own epiphany, that the Dreamcast was the most innovative and original system ever built.

hoogafanter said...

Have a fun!