Online Gaming On The Dreamcast Is As Easy As Pi

I'm going to start this post with a confession. I never played online with the Dreamcast during the console's natural lifespan. The main reason was that we only had one phone line in the house and I wasn't ever allowed to hog the line for longer than about 30 minutes at a time to do some web browsing. Plus, it was pretty expensive using dial up, even with BT's 'friends and family' initiative and evening and weekend reduced call charges. Fast forward to 2017 though, and I've finally managed to shake off the shame of being a Dreamcast fan who has never battled with other Dreamcasters over the internet.
This is all thanks to the sterling work of Luke Benstead, Pcwzrd and all of the talented folks working behind the scenes to resurrect the Dreamcast's online abilities through the DreamPi project. After being supplied with a DreamPi unit several weeks ago (thanks Pcwzrd!), I thought it was about time that I actually got it up and running and jumped into one of the regular online gaming sessions organised through the Dreamcast-Talk forum. It was incredibly easy to set up using the instructions and various guides available over at Dreamcast Live, and with the use of an old DreamKey 3.0 disc I had lying around I was able to get my Dreamcast hooked up to the internet with little more than a WiFi-enabled DreamPi and a tiny USB modem.
As mentioned earlier, the whole online gaming thing is one aspect of the Dreamcast I never dipped into back when I had my original console in 1999, and I honestly didn't think it would be so easy or entertaining as it was playing Dreamcast games online in the modern climate. We're all so used to the effortless online multiplayer options offered by current consoles and computers that I feared trying to get online to play Dreamcast multiplayer games would be a bit of a pain. How wrong I was...

First up, I jumped into a game of ChuChu Rocket! with Pcwzrd and a couple of CPU controlled players. It was great fun and just as frantic as it ever was. Having not really played ChuChu Rocket! for at least a year (well, the Dreamcast version) I was little out of practice and the online lag - which the game does warn about - took some getting used to (the tiles take a second to appear after placing them on the board), but ultimately it was great fun and represents the very first time in my life that I've played a Dreamcast game online, against another human being. In 2017.
The main reason for hooking up though, was the planned multiplayer session on the newly restored Monaco GP Online. Again, it was pretty effortless to get set up and kudos has to go to programmer Shuouma for bringing this title back. Once the DreamPi is configured to dial, any of the various games that are now back online can use the pre-configured settings to simply connect to the server and it's as effortless as jumping into an online game of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or any other modern title. Upon entering the network game, I was met with a pretty full lobby of other Dreamcast users from the Dreamcast-Talk forum (including our own YouTube maestro, James) and engaged in some pleasant conversation via the chat box before getting out onto the track. Preempting the chance that there'd be some options to chat, I also plugged in a Dreamcast keyboard prior to logging on, and this proved invaluable for getting messages written without the need to navigate the mostly awful onscreen keyboard.
Once the game type was agreed (a mini championship), the session began and in all honesty I was totally blown away by how well it all worked. I was expecting it to be a bit ropey, Monaco GP Online being a game released at the turn of the century and all. But I was totally wrong - the races were great fun and while my performances were shockingly bad (I was lapped at least once in the first race!), it just felt amazing to be playing a fairly obscure PAL-only Dreamcast online racer in 2017. Not only that, but with more players than each race could actually handle. The maximum number of racers per match is 6 in Monaco GP Online, but at one point there were two different lobbies bursting with players, and a record number of Dreamcast owners online at once.
Not only was it great fun, but I'm going to hazard a guess that this session could well have been the biggest online gaming meet-up on the Dreamcast since the early 2000s, and it was a great honour to be a part of it.

In a nutshell, the session was fantastic and the experience that DreamPi, Dreamcast Live and Dreamcast Now offers is almost up there with a professionally created first party service. Dreamcast Now is a website that shows who is online at any given time, and also their most recently played titles. That the Dreamcast is offering this service, utilising hardware and software completely constructed by fans of the console shows how versatile the Dreamcast is, and how devoted the fanbase is to this day.
The number of games being brought back online is growing steadily as time goes by, and to date there are over 200 active, regular players listed on the Dreamcast Now site. If you're even remotely interested in getting involved, you should head over to Dreamcast Live or Luke Benstead's personal site to read up on the DreamPi and how you can join in. Keep an eye on the Dreamcast-Talk forums too, as there are plenty more gaming sessions planned for the future with games like Quake III: Arena, 4x4 Evolution, Alien Front Online and Phantasy Star Online all scheduled. After my recent experiences, I for one will be there.

Below you'll find some footage of the Monaco GP Online session I was a part of, captured and uploaded by Pcwzrd to his personal channel over on YouTube.

Have you experienced online Dreamcast gaming with DreamPi? What did you think of the experience? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation in our Facebook group or on Twitter.

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hoogafanter said...

Dreampi is awesome. I still have yet to schedule anything and play any game other than PSO, but i'm really looking forward to some monaco whenever I get the time...

I too was never able to play online when it was available. Teenage life an all...

Father Krishna said...

I really want a Dream pi! How much and where from?

pcwzrd13 said...

@Simon :-)