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.

The Present
To clarify, what I'd like to describe as the 'present,' is the period leading from the time the Dreamcast was no longer being manufactured (late March 2001) right up until now; which is November 2018. Rather than fade away and simply become a forgotten footnote in the annals of gaming history, the Dreamcast still enjoys a large portion of the gaming limelight even now. And the reason for this is that the community that supports the console - people like you reading this article - continue to celebrate and discuss and buy games still being produced for the Dreamcast all these years after it was prematurely killed off.

The community surrounding the Dreamcast is one of the largest and most passionate there is. Yes, the Dreamcast represented one of the most advanced and impressive consoles ever developed when it was a contemporary machine, and the library released for it is every bit as impressive now as it was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But it's the ever-evolving and ever-passionate community that keeps the system alive.
The DCHDMI internal board
There are people out there doing things with the Dreamcast, both in terms of hardware modification and in terms of creating new software, that are frankly staggering. People like citrus3000psi and chriz2600 creating the DCHDMI, Jan Baumgartner with the CF modded consoles. Chris Diaoglou and the wireless DreamConn controllers and light guns and keyboards and the DreamPSU board to replace aged power boards. There are a bewildering array of hardware modifications, from solid sate drives, SD readers and fan mods; to case mods and display adapters for using a dreamcast on a range of modern televisions and monitors (make sure you check out Beharbros, Pound and RetroRGB for further information on these).

In terms of online functionality, it'd be hard to ignore the amazing work done by Luke Benstead, Shuouma, Dreamcast Now et al with the whole DreamPi online solution. By using the power of open source technology in the form of the Raspberry Pi, Dreamcast owners can once again play online with other people from around the world.
DreamPi has resurrected online gaming on Dreamcast
Then there are the myriad developers and publishers still creating exciting new games with the likes of JoshProd, Senile Team, Duranik, Hucast, Elysian Shadows, KTX, Alice Dreams, NGDev Team and Retro Sumus to name but a few. And of course, there are fan sites, blogs and YouTubers that continue to put out new content to entertain and inform those who are interested in the Dreamcast scene. We (as in The Dreamcast Junkyard) are by no means the only 'outlet' offering Dreamcast content - far from it. And we would urge you to check out sites like SEGABits, SEGA Nerds, SEGA Driven, Dreamcast News, Dreamcast Live, Dreamcast Scene, Dreamcast Talk, Dreamcast GAGA, RadioSEGA and also any number of YouTube videos and channels - specifically Adam Koralik, Pcwzrd and DreamcastGuy to name but three YouTube personalities who continue to champion the system in video form.

To the uninitiated, the Dreamcast looks like a 'dead' system found at car boot sales and yard sales in amongst the broken ornaments and old Beano annuals, but if you take a trip down the rabbit hole and visit the Reddit threads, the forums, and Facebook groups, then you'll find a buzzing hive of activity. People constantly creating new things and new ideas; and people celebrating the original hardware, games and peripherals. The community is what has really helped to keep the Dreamcast in the spotlight, regardless of how small that spotlight might be in comparison to the one shining on the more mainstream, current gen systems.

The Future
What does the future hold? Who knows - we don't have a crystal ball. However, what is certain is that the Dreamcast isn't going anywhere soon. There are numerous new games still in development and numerous new peripherals yet to be enjoyed. New books are on the way, documenting the rise and rise of the Dreamcast. As the hardware fails with age, new technology is being reverse engineered to keep those Power VR chips pumping out polygons. So, as the Dreamcast reaches its 20th birthday, take a moment to reflect on all the fun the console has given us over the last two decades, and look forward to the fun it will (hopefully) continue to provide over at least another couple.
The Complete Dreamcast Guidebook by Yuichi Otsuka.
Read an interview with the author at Dreamcast GAGA here
On a personal level, I suppose my life would be very different if I hadn't ever 'opted in' when the Dreamcast came around. I won't lie - I do have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the console at this point. When something is so present in your online life on a constant basis then you can't help but become a little tired of it. That said, running this blog since 2005 has afforded me the opportunity to meet some really awesome people and has allowed me to see first hand a lot of the incredible stuff the community creates and continues to create.

I doubt I'll ever completely rid the Dreamcast from my life - nor would I want to - but the realisation that it has indeed been two decades since the console was first released does make you sit back and take stock. All of the things that have happened since then in my life (and I'm sure many of you who are reading this will have similar thoughts), it's really eye opening to know that the Dreamcast has been a constant throughout it all. Will I still be doing this when the next birthday milestone comes around? Probably not - I'm already looking at winding down and stepping away from this blog as I feel the need to move on and do something else with my spare time. However, I'm waffling now so I'll stop. But yeah...20 years. Damn.
Parties always end up going too far...
What are your memories of the Dreamcast over the last twenty years? Does this make you feel old? Did you have a mullet and a shell suit when the Dreamcast launched? Do you still have a mullet and a shell suit now? What possessed me to go out and buy a birthday card and some cakes for a Dreamcast so I could take the photos in this article? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or on Facebook.

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Lewis Cox said...

A great tribute, Tom.

DCJY and all those mentioned in this article have championed this wonderful system to a whole other level.

It's an amazing feeling to know that there will always be a home for passionate Dreamcast fans a in a community made up of many other like-minded individuals.

The Dreamcast is forever (at least until lasers die or disc rot gets us).

DrLeatherface said...

You say Hucast are still making dreamcast games when it's obvious they have taken the money and ran after milking dux for all its worth. They pretty much ditched the platform after being called out on their shady deceitful bullshit.
They just port their games to modern platforms now.

Hardak said...

The Dreamcast is pretty much dead

DrLeatherface said...

Not really. This year has had more new releases than any other year since it was discontinued. It's far from dead

DCGX said...

Hardak is pretty much dead.

FlorreW said...

Dead ? Rolfmao pimp. It will always have something to give me in terms of joy, either its when i gpt friends over for some powerstone 2/Track and field or playing alone Grandia2/Soa/Headhunter/Shenmue/Tokyo Highway challange series etc.. so many classics.

I agree with Tom, ofc when time goes by the dreamcast gets a bit less more intresting, but it will always have thoose special games that are more then worth to play in between <3 And the community around it is great ! Im looking at you "Xenocider" and "Izzy" amongst others :D

hoogafanter said...

Dreamcast is just so fucking amazing. I have a brand new Switch and here I am still reading a blog about my truly favorite console. I will play this thing for life...

Unknown said...

Far from dead. Late consoles are far deadier. In a year I will enjoy Okinawa Rush,Intrepid Izzy, Xeno Crisis, the new fighting game from Joshprod and hopefully a few more. What may be dead is this interest for this console.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post mate, it is interesting how a console created such a strong, resistant community? I guess there is something innit being the final Sega console, and being loyal to that memory.

Hope to see you pop-up with posts like this now and again on the DCJY!

Retro Faith said...

Great blog post Tom. I feel ya on the 'when does it end' situation. I was also an early adopter, if there is such a thing, and still have grand memories of figuring out how to link to the internet! As much as we can be biased, the DC was truly revolutionary at the time. It set a new standard but ultimately Sega had to hand over the baton.

I agree with you about all the pointless circling debate. We just have to accept that more people wanted PSX and that is that. I will never think on the DC as a failure, it has way too many great games and a large library of standard ones to pick from.

As the years go by will we still see the same dedication to the DC as we have now? Possibly, I certainly would like to think so.