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Retrospective: Sega Extreme Sports

Sega Extreme Sports, released in 2000 and published by Sega in Europe and Japan as part of their “Sega Sports” series, was one of a multitude of titles in an ever-increasingly popular genre on the Dreamcast. The game’s title clearly wasn’t edgy enough for the US-audience however, and was instead published by Infogrames and simply called “Xtreme Sports” - with an X just to sound gnarly!

As part of this retrospective, I was fortunate enough to have Henning Rokling, then-CEO of Innerloop Studios who created Sega Extreme Sports, provide some fantastic insight into the production of the game. Henning kicked off by saying how impressed they were with the Dreamcast hardware in general, the first console they’d worked with: “As we learned more and more from Sega, we were very impressed with the specs of their platform. We received dev kits prior to the console’s release, and worked closely with Sega Europe and Sega of Japan.”

There are six different disciplines included in Sega Extreme Sports: ATV, Snowboarding, Mountain Biking, Bungee Jumping, Sky Surfing and Speed Gliding. What’s interesting in this game over other similar titles is that each course sees players transition from one discipline to the other. This basically means that after driving your ATV down a muddy or snowy track, you have to smash the A button as frantically as you can as your character runs from the ATV to their snowboard or hand glider to start the next section.

I really liked how this worked and it meant you had a good amount of variety in each course that you played, as each course uses a mix of disciplines coupled together with the transition phase each time. Things can get pretty frantic as you see your 5 second advantage slip away as you fumble your transition onto your mountain bike!

It is fair to say that some disciplines are a little more enjoyable to play than others. Driving the ATV is great fun and I honestly think they could’ve made a game just from this mode with some longer tracks. But I think it’s snowboarding that gets my ultimate seal of approval. It looks gorgeous and is great fun to rack up the tricks along the way down the slope as you race to the finish, which in turn give you a replenishment on your turbo meter. None of these different disciplines are perfect by any means and some, like bungee jumping do feel a little tacked on, but it’s nice to have quite a bit of differentiation between them.

Graphically, Sega Extreme Sports is a smart looking title. Both the terrain and character models are all very detailed and it is certainly one of the better looking, more realistic games on the Dreamcast. Despite this, I have to comment on the strange texture-warping that goes on as you make your way through the stages. It’s not something I’ve seen in many other Dreamcast games but it can be pretty distracting when you’re in a cave and it looks like all of the walls are moving!

To add to the realism, the characters themselves are fully kitted-out in branded “urban culture” outdoor clothing, which Henning suggests was a first for a game like this: “I believe Sega Extreme Sports was one of the first games that worked with a fashion label. Together with Diesel Industries we ensured all characters in the game sported an accurate, real collection from their extreme sports line: 55DSL.”

The overall presentation is really slick. Plenty of lovely looking menus and transitions offer a wealth of options. You’ve got your usual championship and single event modes, in addition to time trial and practice and a few bonus extra features. One minor, but very welcome, option is the ability to “merge” high score data from two VMU’s. This might sound trivial, but it is nice to think that if you and your friend both owned the game, you could take your memory file to their house and merge the saves together so both of your high scores and records are combined.

“Online functionality” is proudly displayed on the front cover of Sega Extreme Sports, with the game allowing dial-up users to view high score tables, download and upload ghost data and in some regions even unlock track variations which were locked on the disc by default. I did think that this would make a great online multiplayer game and so I asked Henning if it was something they’d considered: “We were obviously thinking about adding online multiplayer. But the networking for Dreamcast was very undetermined at the time, and we expected only a few players to have it connected. Thus, this was dropped.”

Disappointing, but certainly not unexpected for this time. Whilst there is no online multiplayer, Sega Extreme Sports does boast a 2-player split-screen option for those wanting to compete locally. There is no championship on offer for local multiplayer unfortunately, but you can select a single track and battle until one person takes home the gold medal. Luckily, the AI provides a real challenge for those who can’t find a worthy human rival.

Somebody is clearly a fan of Pulp Fiction...

If you’ve read any other retrospectives on Sega Extreme Sports on some other popular websites, you’ll have probably read that the game was originally planned for the Nintendo 64 as part of a publishing deal with Core Interactive. According to Henning, this is not accurate at all, as the N64 would never have been able to handle the graphics engine.

Henning explains: “Development started on PC originally, but it was intended for console all along. The starting point was the landscape technology that we had originally made for our flight-sim, Joint Strike Fighter. The game was never intended for N64 – it simply did not have the required power for our engine. At the time, we were quite positive towards the Dreamcast.”

I asked Henning what it was like to develop for the Dreamcast back then, and like we hear so often from other former development teams, he hints at what might’ve been had the Dreamcast gained more popularity: “We found the architecture quite challenging in the beginning, but towards the end of the project, we were very excited about the power of Dreamcast. Unfortunately, we did not have the market size or funds to warrant further work on the platform, which left us feeling quite peeved as you really only fully master a new console architecture once you’ve finished a full game on it. It’s such a shame the console did not sell more – I still think it was very underrated and undiscovered by the gaming masses.”

For their first title on Dreamcast, Innerloop Studios should be commended on the creation of a really nice looking game which takes a somewhat innovative approach to a genre that was at the height of its popularity back in the year 2000. As Henning suggested, it’s a shame indeed that they didn’t get any further opportunities to create more accomplished titles on Sega’s final console given what they were able to achieve.

Despite this, Henning looks back fondly on Sega Extreme Sports: "I’m very proud that the game got finished. It was an extremely tough production, and there was a lot of resistance along the way to get it funded and then published. Since there’s different control methods and gameplay it’s also in reality many games into one - so it was a struggle. We managed to bring wide open landscapes to console, and to make a very different game than the flight-simulator and the FPS we'd made before. It was a very talented team!" 

My final thoughts on Sega Extreme Sports are that it would’ve made for a perfect weekend rental back in the day. It has plenty of variety that would’ve kept you occupied and super engaged for a few evenings for sure as you keep improving your scores. It’s equally fair to say that it probably wouldn’t have stood the test of time of significant extended play like some of the classics on the Dreamcast. Nevertheless, I found it immensely enjoyable to pick up and play in 2021 and wouldn’t hesitate to fire it up for a short blast again in the future.

A huge thank you to Henning Rokling for taking the time to provide his wonderful insight as part of this retrospective. Henning has just set up a new company to focus on Web3 gaming called Nodeworlds.

What do you think of Sega Extreme Sports? Did you own it back in the day? Does Xtreme actually sound more gnarly than Extreme?! Let us know in the comments below or on social media.

9 comments:

Lewis Cox said...

Excellent piece, James. How do you manage to keep getting in contact with all these cool people!

gon said...

a switch version with all dlc content would be nice :)

mistamontiel said...

This title nutty hard lol I recall you go thru various sporting genres EACH RACE. Wrecked me

DCGX said...

Yup, this game is hard, but mostly because of how it plays between the controls and some inputs. I've owned a few times, always really wanted to like it, but am always disappointed.

Tom Charnock said...

Superb article James

SegaSen said...

One of my friends bought it when it was released. We played it quite a lot. The morphing terrain was really weird, but the game was pretty cool. I bought it later.

JRod said...

Agree with the other commenters this game is quite difficult. Hard to get into a rhythm

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

Like Surf Rocket Racers/Power Jet Racing 2001 and 90 Minutes Football/J. League Spectacle Soccer, Sega Extreme Sports is another game that has benefited from having a late release in japan and as a result have some bug fixes and other improvements (In this specific case I still haven't dug through the whole game to see if it has big improvements/diferences, like the other two games).