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Review: Postal

For gamers of a certain age, Postal is a powerfully evocative title. Those who played it will not have easily forgotten their experience, and indeed, even those who haven’t played the game (myself included until recently) will likely recognise the name due to its notoriety. At its core this is because the entire raison d'être of Postal is to entertain its players through on-screen representations of unflinching gratuitous violence. Not violence in the context of a justifying purpose, or under circumstances that bear no semblance with reality, but remorseless mass shootings by a lone gunman.

Therefore, understandably, Postal will not be to everyone’s tastes. However, even those who find the game hard to stomach may have some appreciation for its developers who, whether intentionally or not, pushed back against those who sought (and still seek) to stifle the artistic freedom of game creators. Developed by Running With Scissors and originally released for PC and Mac in 1997, Postal arrived in the midst of ill-founded outrage directed towards video games by self-appointed moral arbiters and sensationalist sections of the media. Rather than focusing their ire on any of the other obvious causes of society's ills (say massive global inequalities, persistent unemployment, or chronically underfunded public services), the narrative being pushed by some was that video games were an exceptionally dangerous source of moral corruption. Within this context, Postal struck a defiant tone. 

A mere 25 years on, Postal has now finally made its way to the Dreamcast, thanks to the meticulous work of Dan Redfield, who took on the challenge of porting the game after Running With Scissors released the source code to the public in December 2016. When the original developers jokingly asked for a Dreamcast version to be produced, I seriously doubt that they expected this outcome: a near flawless port running at a solid 60 frames per second, packed with features, and published professionally in a physical medium. The latter aspect is down to Norwich-based WAVE Game Studios, an outfit who have quickly cemented their reputation within the Dreamcast scene since publishing their first title for the console, Senile Team’s Intrepid Izzy, in August 2021.

Ok, enough with the pretentious preamble, what about the game itself? For those unfamiliar with it, Postal is an isometric shooter, with a smattering of top-down sections, in which the player takes on the role of an unnamed protagonist (simply referred to as ‘Postal dude’). As alluded to above, the premise of the game is quite simple: you roam from level-to-level taking down as many enemy combatants as possible. And although it isn't a prerequisite for progress, the player is presented with ample opportunities to slaughter seemingly innocent civilians too. There really isn’t a great deal of plot: each stage is preceded by a cryptic and often foreboding message, presumably stemming from the pen of the main character, which along with the visuals suggests that Postal dude is gripped by some kind of madness. This lack of plot depth doesn’t necessarily detract from the game though—the no-nonsense approach is focused on dropping you straight into the action and keeping you on your toes at all times. This lends itself nicely to short bursts of gameplay, and the dry sense of humour that occasionally rears its head ensures that the mood isn't as depressing as the subject matter might suggest at first glance.

To facilitate your mission, Postal dude is equipped with a range of weapons with varying characteristics (range, damage, shot frequency), from the low-powered sub-machine gun, through to the more outlandish and spectacular napalm launcher. As with any shooter the aim is to hit your targets while avoiding taking damage. On the face of it, the gameplay of Postal can appear to be quite invariable and a little shallow. On the easier modes it can certainly be played in a mindless manner, with your character capable of tearing through stages while soaking up incoming fire to little effect. However, at its heart, the gameplay is rooted in strategic thinking – something which becomes mandatory if you wish to progress in the harder difficulty settings. Making careful use of terrain, being mindful of your inventory, and deciding when to fight and when to run, all need to be brought into play if you want to actually do well.


Using DALL·E mini to create AI Dreamcast images from hell

Good old artificial intelligence. If it's not deciding to wipe out humanity for our own good or powering our Teslas, it's listening to our conversations and plotting ways serve us with adverts for things we never knew we needed. There is another important use for AI though - creating cursed Dreamcast related images. 

DALL·E mini is a prototype 'artifical intelligence model that generates images from any prompt you give,' and so naturally isn't limited to solely spitting out Giger-esque renditions of Dreamcast consoles and games - the very nature of the tool created by Boris Dayma et al is that you can punch whatever you like into the devil's own suggestion box and DALL·E mini will attempt to render approximations of what your twisted mind has concocted.

All joking aside, it really is a very clever little program, and is well worth playing around with if you have some time to kill. With this in mind, here for your delectation/utter disgust are some of the more 'imaginative' images DALL·E mini thrust into existence with a little prompting from yours truly. Viewer discretion is advised.

'Sega Dreamcast'

'Jet Set Radio'


'Shenmue'

Review: Yeah Yeah Beebiss II

In this age of sprawling role playing games and mechanic-heavy shooters, it's sometimes easy to be a little overwhelmed not only by the sheer choice of games that we have at our fingertips; but just how confusing they can be to play. 

Now, I'm aware I type this as somebody who has recently entered the fourth decade of his life, but hear me out. Sometimes I want to just kick back, crack open a cold one and play a game that requires very little in the way of cognitive gymnastics. Sometimes I'm not in the mood to try to re-learn complex control schemes, or how to decipher an ever-filling map screen that needs its own Rosetta Stone to decipher. I just want something simple. And engaging. And addictive. That also sounds good and leaves me with a smile on my face. It's not a lot to ask for, is it?
Luckily, Yeah Yeah Beebiss II has arrived on the Dreamcast and it checks all of the aforementioned hypothetical boxes. If you think the name of this charming little indie offering sounds familiar, it's because it is a pseudo sequel to a NES game that never actually existed - Yeah Yeah Beebiss I. That game is a mystery in and of itself, and if you do a cursory search on YouTube you'll find a whole host of excellently produced videos explaining the whole rabbit hole - was Yeah Yeah Beebiss a copyright trap? A poor mistranslation? Did it ever really exist as a playable title? The answers to all those questions (and more) are but a Google or YouTube search away, dear friend. 



Created by indie developer and YouTuber John Riggs (with a little help from Mega Cat Studios and Bit Ink Studios), and published by WAVE Game Studios, Yeah Yeah Beebiss II is a Dreamcast port of a NES title that tasks the player with ridding the numerous single-screen stages of 'evils' before the timer runs out. You get to play as either of the game's protagonists - named Haoran and Li Jing on the game's title screen, but as Kyonshi Hui and Jiangshi Bo elsewhere in the packaging - who appear to be based on the Jiangshi (hopping vampires) of Chinese folklore. Quite why these two are out of their coffins, hopping about and zapping said evils is not really divulged, but we all need a hobby. 

Joking aside, these character designs are a nice/incredibly esoteric little nod to Rai Rai Kyonshis: Baby Kyonshi no Amida Daibouken, the game which is theorised to actually be the enigmatic Yeah Yeah Beebis I (many thanks to my learned colleague Lewis for that nugget of info).
Gameplay is refreshingly uncomplicated here. Essentially you are presented with a single play screen, the construction of which gets more architecturally complex as you progress through the 10 stages. Playing as either Haoran/Kyonshi or Li Jing/Bo (or both, if you play with a friend) you are then tasked with hopping around the place avoiding hazards (such as fire (I think it's fire...it doesn't animate)) and zapping the floating nasties that appear. 

Each level has a set number of enemies that must be dispatched before the timer runs out, and they can appear pretty much anywhere in the level so things do get a bit frantic as time limits become more stringent and levels start to incorporate more platforms and ladders and such. What can be annoying with this model is that due to the random nature of enemy appearance, sometimes they will appear right where you are stood and deal unavoidable damage...but swings and roundabouts. Some enemies will simply float about minding their own business, waiting to be bitch-slapped out of existence; while others are a bit more malevolent and will deal out ranged attacks of their own. Most of them only take a few hits though, so they never really offer much in the way of resistance.
Offing these baddies (again, I have to emphasise that they are brilliantly referred to by the game as 'evils') will sometimes result in bonus items being dropped; an extra life here or a bit of extra time there. There's also an item in the form of a clock that stops time and makes all the enemies freeze in place, but also stops new enemies from appearing while in effect so if you are short on time it's not a good idea to collect it - you can have that tip for free.

Being a game for the NES at heart (indeed, this Dreamcast iteration is powered by NesterDC), Yeah Yeah Beebiss II does not in any way test the Dreamcast's hardware, but conversely that's totally not the point. Like many other retro-themed titles released on Dreamcast (see Flea!, Hermes, Ghoul Grind et al) it is a game that plays to a certain audience and to a certain era in gaming, and it does it remarkably well. 

The music which plays throughout is a mix of classical overtures recreated with aplomb by chiptune composer ChipsNCellos and it never gets annoying - if anything it is actually quite impressive to hear these renditions of stuff like In the Hall of the Mountain King being played by a Dreamcast doing an impression of a Nintendo Entertainment System. The nods to the NES roots of Yeah Yeah Beebiss II are also depicted by the NES cartridge motif that displays on the VMU screen while you play.
There's not a great deal of depth to Yeah Yeah Beebiss II, but that really is part of the appeal - for me at least. It looks like a game directly out of the late 1980s or Early 1990s, with the limited colour palette and basic enemy designs, but at the end of the day it is aiming for that aesthetic and Yeah Yeah Beebiss II nails it. Authentic 8-bit visuals, a catchy soundtrack and simple and addictive gameplay. That's Yeah Yeah Beebiss II in a nutshell.

As a bit of trivia, when Yeah Yeah Beebiss II was first announced by John Riggs on his website, the clamour for a new Dreamcast indie title was so great that it sold out in little more than a few hours. WAVE Game Studios then stepped in to help publish and distribute the game and it can - at the time of writing - now be purchased for the princely sum of just £10.
To wrap this back around, then - if you yearn for a simplistic and rather endearing retro experience on your Dreamcast, you could do much, much worse than picking up a copy of Yeah Yeah Beebiss II. The only real negative (if you can even call it that) is that as this game comes on a nice printed disc in a lovely jewel case with some excellent artwork provided by Yoshi Vu, if your Dreamcast happens to have had its GD-ROM drive extracted in favour of some other method of operation, then you're out of luck. Well, unless you grab a NES emulator for your Dreamcast and run the NES rom file which is supplied on the disc...ways and means people, ways and means. Adapt and overcome and all that jazz.

Anyway, you can grab a copy of Yeah Yeah Beebiss II from WAVE Game Studios here, and check out John Riggs on YouTube here.

Let's take a look at [lock-on] Volume 003

[lock-on] Volume 003 is finally here, and as we previously discussed, it is pretty heavy on the Dreamcast content. In fact, it's so Dreamcast-heavy, it could quite easily be mistaken for a lost issue of Total Control. Well, maybe not...but hopefully you get my point.

[lock-on] is a collection of essays and musings on video gaming topics that are as varied as they come, all presented in a superbly weighty format on high quality paper. That Volume 003 is also a Dreamcast special has earned it a mention here - a blog dedicated to the Dreamcast. That, and the Editor in Chief is one Andrew Dickinson - a name some of you may recognise from his hosting duties on our podcast DreamPod.

This latest edition of Lost in Cult's flagship periodical is stuffed with features on all aspects of the Dreamcast; from the launch window fanfare and the system's connection to NAOMI, to memories of individual games, hardware and peripherals. 

These features are written by some pretty knowledgeable and recognisable folks from across the gaming diaspora (including a few of the staff from this very blog). Not only this, but the artwork throughout is quite simply stunning - the temptation to rip some of the pages from [lock-on] Volume 003 and frame them is real.

It's not all Dreamcast though, as articles on titles such as Sable and Doshin the Giant are also included - indeed the former is the featured game on the cover, and there's a huge spread dedicated to the world building and architecture found in Shedworks' cel shaded indie hit. The soft cover version you see in these images and in the video should be arriving on doormats around the world right about now (funk soul brother), with the hardcover version (complete with Shenmue-themed cover art) coming in the near future.

Check the video below for a bit of a flick through the pages of [lock-on] Volume 003:

If you'd like to know more about [lock-on], or indeed any of the upcoming projects from the fine peeps behind this tome, visit the Lost in Cult website here or follow on Twitter.

Next-gen Dreamcast VMU 'VM2' coming soon from DreamMods

We've seen various mods for the humble Dreamcast VMU over the years, with modders the world over going to great lengths to add extra functionality, or repurpose the thing altogether. From the implementation of illuminated screens, to full-on Raspberry Pi-powered gaming systems crammed inside the unit's diminutive shell; it seems people from across the Dreamcast community have found myriad inventive ways to milk even more out of the little memory card that could. 

It looks like the VMU is about to embark on its greatest transformative journey yet though, as the VM2 nears completion. Coming from Chris Diaoglou, the same genius who brought us the DreamConn Bluetooth controller back in 2016 (and, incidentally the rechargeable backlit VMU linked above), VM2 is a complete technological overhaul for the VMU, and adds such awesome new features as:

  • New monochrome LCD with backlight: Which can also be turned off to save battery
  • Higher screen resolution: Switchable between original (48x32), or scaled (96x64)
  • MicroSD slot: Gives the VM2 almost unlimited capacity
  • 4x VMU memory capacity: If a microSD is not present, a combination of the Sega 4x Memory and a standard VMU will be accessible. The user will be able to cycle through 4 128Kb pages, while keeping the LCD functionality that the official 4x Memory lacked
  • Embedded high-capacity LiPo battery: This will replace the batteries and provide longer operation time (sadly this will eliminate the beeeeeeep 🙃)
  • External charging: VM2 will charge either from its micro-USB connector, or from the controller while playing
  • PC connectivity: VM2 will be able to connect to a PC via micro-USB
  • Memory management: Connecting to a PC and using a custom GUI, the user will be able to backup/restore/manage both the main (4x) and the additional (mini-game) storage

VM2 will benefit from a new injection molded shell

We reached out to Chris for comment on this highly intriguing project and asked just what the hell was going on in his Dreamcast-powered laboratory:

"The VM2 aims at being a total reproduction of the original - the connector, outer shell, electronics, everything will be manufactured from scratch. For this reason, and depending on the community interest, I plan to start a campaign so I can raise the funds to put it into production.

"This means no cheap 3D printing or anything - everything will be made with quality injection molds, etc. and this is the main reason that a campaign is needed.

"Also, instead of the initial plan of 4x VMUs (main) plus 50+ minigame (additional) memory, I implemented the integration of a microSD card slot. This will allow for literally infinite space and virtual VMUs / minigames.

"The user will be able to create/copy/restore VMU files, either at the root of the SD, or organized in folders (i.e. per game). In addition, in case that a user doesn't want to use a microSD card, the VM2 will also support a default 1x(or 3x)VMU internal memory; and the selection of the current VMU file/memory to use, will be selected from the VM2 user menu."

- Chris Diaoglou, DreamMods

The VM2 has been in development for some time now, and you can find details on the various stages of its creation over at the DreamMods website (where you can also register your interest). 

There's no concrete information on when the VM2 will be available for purchase as yet, but as Chris says, a crowdfunding campaign may well be on the horizon in the near future. The projected price will be around the $100 mark - which may sound steep - but when adjusted for inflation the original VMU would have cost you $75 in 2022 money. Do the math. On that note an Atari Jaguar would have cost you less than £40 in 1999. Swings and roundabouts, innit.

Protoype showing the new hi-res, backlit screen

Judging from the exceptional quality of Chris's previous Dreamcast-related creations in the DreamConn and the DreamPort PSU (which adds full Bluetooth support to the Dreamcast without the need for an adapter), the the VM2 is a very exciting prospect indeed. That, and the small matter that VM2 looks set to offer a riposte to many of the main gripes aimed at the original VMU - namely the piss-poor battery life and the limited space on the card. The added bonus of a backlit, higher resolution screen make the VM2 an even more enticing project and one we'll be keeping a very close eye on.

Watch this space...and while you're doing that go to DreamMods and register your interest!

Oh, and thanks to Derek Pascarella for alerting my colleague Lewis to this. Who then alerted me and made me get my arse in gear and reach out to Chris.

Dreamcast Magazines: Appreciation and Preservation

In his recent DCJY interview the former President of Sega of America, Peter Moore, put forward a passionate and convincing case as to why the Dreamcast was ahead of its time. One of the primary reasons for this characterisation of the Dreamcast by Moore was its out-of-the-box internet functionality; a pioneering feature intended to “take gamers where gaming was going.” From a technical standpoint this was executed well by Sega, but being ahead of the curve doesn't necessarily always pay dividends, and cruelly “Sega flung themselves onto the barricades…and was trod on by subsequent consoles.” 

At the turn of the millennium the capabilities of (and consumer familiarity with) the internet were still relatively limited, and the average gamer was perhaps not as enthused about online play as they would become a decade on, by which point other consoles were ready to build on the foundations laid by Sega. Indeed, one of the indicators of how premature internet functionality was in 1998-2002 is that the primary source of gaming information, even for owners of Dreamcasts with built-in modems, was still the printed word. Even many of those who may reasonably have been expected to be further advanced on this front, such as gaming industry heads and retailers, were often still getting their news fix via specialist print periodicals like MCV or GameWeek.

This context probably goes some way to explaining why, despite being a short-lived commercial flop, the Dreamcast had a surprisingly large number of print magazines dedicated to it. 36 to be exact(ish), in seven different languages, spanning a whopping 576 issues crammed with at least 50,000 pages of professionally produced content (good maths, eh?). Of course, most of the Dreamcast's key markets had their very own officially sanctioned magazine that nominally had the advantage of a close connection to Sega, and were usually paired with a GD-ROM demo disc series that undoubtedly increased their appeal.

But in many territories these faced stiff competition from not just one but several unofficial variants, vying to win the attention of readers with their independent editorial lines and offering a panoply of ‘free’ tat (VHS tapes, cheat books, posters, postcards, water pistols) in a bid for market share. The gaming and publishing industries have changed to such an extent in the intervening 20 years that even the most successful current generation consoles are extremely lucky if they have a single (print) magazine dedicated to them in operation.

Dreamcast magazines from three different continents

To be sure, there were quite a few failed starts. Dreamcast Magazine of Italy published just one single issue, thereby having no opportunity to atone for their front cover error of illustrating their Virtua Fighter 3tb coverage with a Street Fighter character. Total Dreamcast was mysteriously canned right before release, presumably much to the ire of those who had sweated over its 100+ pages of copy and layout. DCM, the only unofficial magazine in the States - which is bizarre given the sheer magnitude of the US market - bailed out after a paltry four issues. 

Even many of those publications that made it past their formative stages abruptly called it quits soon after Sega's official announcement of the Dreamcast's demise in early 2001, without as much as a sentimental goodbye to readers in their last issues, suggesting that the editorial teams probably had little notice of the cessation themselves.

The covers of the final issues of the three Dreamcast magazines that were last to cease publication. From left to right: Dreamcast Magazine (Paragon, UK) April 2002; Dreamcast Le Magazine Officiel (Mon Journal Adomedias, France) March/April 2002; Dreamzone (FJM, France) December 2001/January 2002

Yet, plenty of the pack valorously struggled on against the onslaught of PS2 hype, doing a commendable job of filling their pages with news of the dwindling trickle of officially-licensed releases, hopeful glances at arcade games that could be ported (those DC releases of Beach Strikers and Virtua Fighter 4 are still coming, right?), or even shamelessly re-running old reviews. Here in ol' blighty Paragon Publishing’s Dreamcast Magazine is remembered fondly for unflinchingly maintaining its publication schedule until April 2002 when they gracefully bowed out with a tear jerking final issue packed with retrospectives on what had been.