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Showing posts with label Guest Article. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guest Article. Show all posts

The Dreamcast commercial indie scene enters a 'Golden Age'

We love to feature guest articles here at the Junkyard, and are always keen to hear from readers who would like to submit something for publication. Here, Laurence Goodchild (aka Lozzdude) takes a look at the burgeoning commercial indie scene that has furnished the Sega Dreamcast with some of the finest examples of independently developed games on any system. Lozz, over to you...

When Sega pulled the plug on the Dreamcast in 2001, few would have predicted that our beloved little white box would still be pushing out new titles 20 years later. Flicking through the pages of the multitude of gaming magazines that were vying for market share at the time, readers were presented with a journalistic consensus that the Dreamcast was well and truly dead (note: for younger members of the audience, magazines were bounded sheets of paper with writing and artwork printed on them).

Of course, by industry standards, this assessment was bang on the money. The gaming reporters may well have known that a trickle of official releases would continue to see the light of day for a few more years, or had an inkling that a sizeable portion of the Dreamcast’s enthusiastic fanbase would continue to support homebrew projects, some of which could conceivably be released in physical form on a small scale. In the terms of reference that mattered to the industry and the wider public though (revenue, profit, audience size), the writing had already been on the wall for some time.

Where it all began...

Although by these standards the Dreamcast's new releases are still undoubtedly small fry, the commercial Dreamcast indie scene has been through an astounding boom in recent years; one which is becoming hard to ignore. The tongue-in-cheek opinion shared amongst Dreamcast fanatics for many years that "the Dreamcast is a current gen console" is getting less and less absurd by the day. What began with the release of Cryptic Allusion’s Feet of Fury in 2003 (more info here) has snowballed to a point where 14 indie games were released in 2021. Furthermore, there are as many as 30 Dreamcast games forecast for release on a commercial basis in 2022 and beyond - a figure that is edging close to the 50 or so officially licenced releases seen in Europe in 2001, and which far outstrips the 9 released in 2002.

Of course, the rocketing quantity of releases doesn’t single-handedly uphold the claim that we’re in a “golden age” for the Dreamcast indie scene, but there are many other signs that accompany this trend. For one, the variety of games available is wider than ever, putting to rest the persistent trope that all the Dreamcast indie scene has to offer is shooters (which to be fair, had some validity in the mid to late noughties). Everything from platformers, fighters, puzzlers, RPGs, racers, and visual novels are finding a home on a professionally printed Dreamcast-compatible MIL-CD these days. Furthermore, there has been a diversification of contributors who are throwing their hats into the ring. Longstanding Dreamcast developers with a mountain of credibility stored up, such as Senile Team, are thankfully still here, but they have also been joined by a new wave of developers and publishers that are rapidly earning their stripes, including the likes of PixelHeart/JoshProd, LowTek Games, RetroSumus, The Bit Station, and WAVE Game Studios to name but a few.

What really adds weight to the hypothesis that the Dreamcast indie scene is entering a golden age though is the quality of many of the games - something which is undeniably more subjective and harder to pin down, but which will be recognised by many. Throughout the lifespan of the commercial Dreamcast indie scene there have always been standout titles, such as Wind & Water Puzzle Battles (2008) or Sturmwind (2013), which drew worthy praise at the time. Dreamcast enthusiasts would often wait in anticipation for years at a time for these gems; games that had clearly benefitted from the great care and attention to detail of their developers. Yet in 2020 and 2021 we were spoiled rotten with the release of three extraordinarily good titles in Intrepid Izzy, Xenocider and Xeno Crisis. These have all been extensively reviewed elsewhere too, so I won’t pour out my adoration here. Suffice it to say that they each set a high standard which others should be aiming for.

Three of the recent 'big' indie releases on Dreamcast

So, what exactly is driving this boom? Through the highly scientific method of poking around the internet, chatting with fellow devout Dreamcast fans, and mulling it over whilst munching on Hula Hoops, here's "what I reckon."

First and foremost, there is a longstanding healthy demand for commercial indie releases. Folks are willing to part with their cold hard cash for these games, and fundamentally that is what makes it viable for them to be released, especially in a physical format. Many indie games that see the light of day in a commercial form on the DC are undoubtedly labours of love and have had countless hours of voluntary or underpaid labour poured into them. Yet, however much these development costs can be kept in check, and no matter how much cheaper printing a CD is compared to producing another medium (such as a cartridge), it still requires funding, and so a reasonable level of demand is essential. 

Sales vary heavily from game to game, but it isn’t unusual to hear of indie Dreamcast releases selling over a thousand units, while those that sell well have the capability of reaching far beyond this over the course of their shelf life. For example, we know that Intrepid Izzy rapidly sold out its initial 700 copy print run within weeks of its release date, while the numbers shown on the PixelHeart website imply that a game such as Arcade Racing Legends has sold 2,500 copies of its PAL variation alone to-date. To put this into perspective, Radilgy, one of few final officially licensed Dreamcast games, was purported to have a print run of just 4,000 copies. When you add highly priced collectors’ editions into the mix - something that a section of the Dreamcast scene’s sizeable ‘adult-with-disposable-income’ demographic keenly buy into - then breaking even is a realistic, though not guaranteed, goal.

Arcade Racing Legends

On the other side of the coin, there are many factors that help facilitate the supply of games. Front and centre is the fact that Sega have thus far been very liberal (touch wood!) in their stance on the Dreamcast indie scene. Perhaps there is just no valid business rationale for them to dedicate resources to making things difficult (as opposed to genuine goodwill), but a laissez-faire attitude from multinational corporations under circumstances such as these is not always a given. Pair this with the Dreamcast’s capability to play games pressed to regular CDs without modification, and the relative ease of developing games for the console when compared to other platforms (often cited by developers in their DCJY interviews), and we have the foundations of the whole commercial indie scene.


Revisiting the Aesthetics of TrickStyle and Dreamcast 20XX Futurism

You can tell a lot about a society’s hopes and fears by how its fictitious works depict the future. In this regard, the Dreamcast is a fascinating time capsule of our most prevalent insecurities at the turn of the millennium. As we’ve come to view the Dreamcast through a retro lens, we can also try to understand the historical context behind its own brand of retro futurism.

Revisiting a smattering of early Dreamcast games on the console’s 19th anniversary, I’m reminded of some of the common themes and aesthetics imbuing many futuristic Dreamcast and PC titles of the late '90s and early aughts. Notably, these games depicted vaguely dystopian futures that were all at once gritty, vibrant, desolate, and shrouded in a thick fog, both literally – to mask pop-in due to hardware constraints – and figuratively in their perturbed sense of uncertainty.
For me, this aesthetic characterized a fair share of the Dreamcast’s library, propagating a trend of worn, sterile, and heavily-industrialized future settings. I feel compelled to interpret this style – let’s call it “Dreamcast 20XX” for now – as a reflection of our most prevalent cultural anxieties at that time, both real and embellished. In other words, it is easy to imagine late ‘90s game developers – particularly western ones – depicting a future where the Y2K bug could’ve actually fucked up some shit. These themes manifest themselves in numerous games across a variety of genres.
They feature prominently in action titles like MDK2, Slave Zero, and Red Dog; but also in first person shooters Quake and Unreal Tournament; the open-world adventure game Omikron: The Nomad Soul; even racing games like the spectacularly boring Magforce Racing. Although these depictions vary in their degrees of cynicism, they broadly portray the toll that years of industrial and economic disrepair could take on the world in the wake of vague, societal catastrophe.
Towards the surprisingly bleak end of this spectrum is one of my favorite Dreamcast racing games, Criterion’s TrickStyle. Its chief conceit surrounds an international community struggling to rebuild itself following worldwide, war-torn devastation. In TrickStyle’s post-war future, society pulls itself up by its hoverboard binding straps and instills racing as a shared cultural tentpole, both as a means to stave off boredom and to strengthen global stability by way of awesome fucking hoverboards. It’s Marty McFly’s new world order.

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.

Guest Article: Shooting For The (Phantasy) Stars

It's been a while since we featured the work of a guest writer here at the Junkyard, so I thought it was about time we invited another Dreamcast fan-at-large to give us their own unique perspective on a subject close to their heart. Enter Damon Fillman. Damon is a former SegaAddicts and XBLAfans contributor, so he knows a thing or two about both Sega and the good ol' Xbox. His love for the Dreamcast is unequivocal and he makes no attempts to appease fans of those 'other' consoles (his words, not mine!). When not making the internet angry at him, he lives in sunny Philadelphia where he makes fun of men walking small canines. Now, he has the floor here at the 'Yard and explains just why the seminal Phantasy Star Online is a game he holds in such high regard...
Image credit: Emergent Landscapes
If you’re reading this article, the Dreamcast likely occupies your mind because of a defining moment in your gaming career that separates the little white crate from the rest of the console pack. For me, that moment was awaiting confirmation of my school’s closing due to wintry conditions so I could veg out and spend countless hours playing Phantasy Star Online on a dialup connection.  I’ve yet to replicate the sheer joy of slaughtering Rappys and other unpronounceable enemies while my neighborhood became a sheet of ice and snow. In hindsight, Phantasy Star Online (or PSO as internet hipsters like to label it) is more than a nostalgic event—it’s the best “loot-driven” game I’ve ever played.

When presented a choice between an anime-inspired video game and one about demons with a more Western flair I almost always choose the latter, except when it comes to Phantasy Star Online. Most of the time, I’d much rather slay demons against the backdrop of what looks like a cheesy metal album cover (I’m, of course, talking about the Diablo series) than to duke it out with flamboyant rabbit/chicken hybrids against the backdrop of something that looks like a marriage between Studio Ghibli and Hideo Kojima.
For Dreamcast aficionados somehow unfamiliar with one of the most popular games on the system, Phantasy Star Online is a sequel (of sorts) to an RPG series from the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis. While earlier entries in the series contained traditional turn-based RPG mechanics, PSO adopted more PC-centric systems like real-time combat and the ability to matchup with players around the globe to battle foes on the fictional planet Ragol. Cooperative online play was practically unheard of on consoles at the time but PSO managed to also be one of the first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) on home consoles. And it worked. Really well.

Guest Article: Shutokou Battle Celebration

Martin Hinson is a man who knows his racers. Specifically Japanese racers you may never have heard of. And when he's not getting stuck into the likes of Racing Lagoon, Touge Max G, Side By Side Special or Battle Gear, he's tinkering with Japanese sports cars in real life. In this latest guest article, Martin takes a look at one of the Dreamcast's best racing series: Shutokou Battle. Western gamers will be more familiar with the title Tokyo Highway Challenge, and a lot of racing game fans may have initially looked at the fairly limited number of circuits and not really given the series a fair crack of the whip. Happily,  Martin is here to tell us all why we should give the series a second chance...
It came to my attention at the recent UK gaming event Play Expo Manchester, how few people still know about the Shutokou Battle series. Although I was aware the series is rather cult, I still found this somewhat surprising, given the age of the series and number of titles it spans.
  
Starting life on the Super Famicom in 1994, the series passed through the 32-bit era, flirting with both the Saturn and PlayStation before rising to prominence, albeit it on a small scale, on the Dreamcast in 1999. Starting as a somewhat standard Mode 7 racer, it had evolved into a fairly unique ‘CaRPG’ by the time it hit Dreamcast. It was also one of the earliest games to utilise tuning with a huge range of performance upgrades in some of the 32-bit games. 
The series focused on drift racing until it hit Dreamcast. It suited the arcade nature of the visuals and wide tracks on display - think Ridge Racer on the PlayStation. However due to the grunt of the Dreamcast, developer Genki put a huge focus on realism, not only visually but also from a gameplay point of view. This is perhaps most obvious in the handling, as it is much harder than before and car control almost feels sloppy. It’s easy to be put off the moment you play and most people probably were, but frankly, that’s a huge mistake. Stick with it and you are left with one of the most rewarding driving games around.

Guest Article: Was The Dreamcast Released Too Early?

Daniel Major is a gamer who has been twiddling his thumbs since 1989. Not happy with the direction of the industry in the mid 90s, he decided to quit trying to pretend the Amiga hadn't died and moved to a woodland to sacrifice Atari STs by fire ritual. Also plays Super Famicom & Megadrive. Here in this guest article, Daniel takes some time out from hitting broken JAMMA boards with a stick in his local park and asks the question: was the Dreamcast simply released too early?
Let’s pretend that the Dreamcast didn’t actually exist. Imagine the sixth generation without the Dreamcast. Let’s all forget that the sixth generation started with Sega’s dream machine and begin to ponder how different the rest of the sixth generation could have panned out. If you can imagine this then can you imagine Sony or Microsoft actually bothering with some of the included specs of their consoles? Online play for example. If Sega hadn’t bothered introducing this to the Dreamcast, would Sony have been inclined to do this? Let’s face it, did we all play online when the PS2 hit? No not all of us. Maybe that changed slightly when Xbox hit, but even then it was a well-known fact that this wouldn’t be the sixth generation's most potent or show stopping feature.

Guest Article: Sega Should Resurrect The Dreamcast Brand

You many be familiar with the name Luke Benstead. He's the guy responsible for creating the DreamPi - the Raspberry Pi based device that is enabling Dreamcast owners to get back online around the world. We've covered Luke's work extensively here at the Junkyard, he appeared as a guest on an episode of DreamPod and he wrote a previous guest article for us. In this new guest article though, Luke takes a look at what it would take to resurrect the Dreamcast brand...

Recently, it was the 17th anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast in the US and the occasion caused Twitter and Faceback to fill with birthday greetings for the console that refuses to die. If you're reading this you are probably well aware of the stubborn and ever-growing 'Dreamcast Scene,' but if this is news to you then I'll give you a quick overview. 
Dreamcast trended on Twitter briefly on 9/9/2016
After Sega stopped supporting their last home console, homebrew developers made tools to create games for it, and every year more and more games created by indie developers are released. On top of that, the Dreamcast continues to gain more and more online multiplayer games as aspiring geniuses reverse engineer the old game servers. Just in the past year alone, Chu Chu Rocket, Toy Racer (dial up), PAL Quake III Arena and The Next Tetris, have returned from the dead. On the horizon is Alien Front Online, and there are sure to be more to come. There are weekly game nights scheduled for both the US and UK, and well over 100 people now regularly play online. Which is quite some achievement considering you have to actually do some soldering to get the dial-up Dreamcast to connect in a fibre-optic world. 

In summary, the Dreamcast isn't dead, it's alive and well. Sure it doesn't compete with current gen consoles but no other console in history has had as much community support. Which brings me onto the main topic of the article; Sega should bring the Dreamcast back.