Showing posts with label PAL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PAL. Show all posts

You Had One Job! - European Dreamcast Game Box Screw-ups

Since the beginning of time - well, gaming - video games have come in boxes with artwork. The artwork was put there to sell the experience to you, to convince you why the game inside that box was the game you needed to leave the shop with that day more so than any of the others on the shelf around it. By the time our beloved little white SEGA box came onto the market, it was the sixth generation of gaming. Even games released for the microcomputers of the 80s had box art, so, by the late '90s, it was very much an established norm.

On the Dreamcast, there was a clear template for each region of how the box artwork should look. In Europe, you had the nice blue base template and logos; a front cover, a spine, and the back cover. So simple and elegant, everything looking uniform on a shelf... what could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot it turns out...


Tokyo Highway Challenge

Right from day one, Dreamcast game publishers found sticking to simple templates difficult. Tokyo Highway Challenge (known as Tokyo Xtreme Racer in the USA) is actually one of the Dreamcast’s more under-appreciated titles. Leaning heavily into an Initial D vibe, the game places you onto Tokyo’s C-1 “highway” and tasks you with challenging and beating all the other illegal street racers in a quest to become the ultimate import racer. Quite how you do that in what are domestic cars in Japan I never did figure out, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss! So, how exactly did Crave fail on the console's European launch day with their game packaging?

Clearly using the white arc of the US theme.

Mistake: Using the US Dreamcast template on the front cover. Although it does at least look like they tried, seeing as they went to the effort of removing the little orange triangle that represents the console's power LED...


NFL Blitz 2000

Also on day one, it wasn’t just Crave that were struggling with the idea of box art. Step forward, Midway! In their defence (“DEFENSE!!!”), they did have more boxes to get right at launch with Hydro Thunder, Ready 2 Rumble and Mortal Kombat Gold all releasing alongside NFL Blitz 2000.

NFL Blitz 2000 is an arcade sportsball game. I hear it's good fun, but I won’t lie, I’ve never understood a sport called football where most of the game has the players holding the ball and running. Anyway, having graced us with multiple launch titles, I can confirm that Midway got the front and back of the game perfect. So far, so good. So what on earth could possibly go wrong from here?

Just the Dreamcast logo and the code on the spine.

Putting the game on a shelf only emphasises the issue even more... 

Mistake: Forgot to put the game's name on the spine.

Dreamcast Gaming on the High Street Stock CEXchange

This article is not endorsed by or sponsored by CeX.

With it being harder and harder to find retro games in the wild, especially PAL Dreamcast titles with an intact case, retro gaming is becoming an increasingly online-only affair.

Here in the UK, all but one of the brick-and-mortar gaming chains (GAME) have died out. There are some excellent independent game shops still soldiering on, though they are sparse and dwindling in number too. Fortunately though, we do have one last bastion of the high street in CeX (formerly Computer Exchange, and yes, it’s pronounced “sex”) where it is still possible to walk into a store and find surprisingly well-priced Dreamcast games on the shelves.
Better still, if you are looking for particular games, their website tells you exactly what they have in stock and where, allowing you to plan your very own road trip to secure your next classic. Or, if you don’t fancy the effort of leaving your house, you can order direct to your door, oblivious to the condition your purchased game is in, and running the risk of a brittle old PAL case being obliterated in the rough and tumble of the postal service.

Recently, the risks of what has become known amongst retro circles as “the CeX lottery” have been reduced marginally, as the retailer now distinguishes between games with and without their manuals (though you may still be left guessing whether or not the manual has ketchup stains). The other useful thing CeX provide is regularly refreshed pricing which tracks the current market, and, here at the Junkyard, we have meticulously studied these to bring you some small insights into the current PAL Dreamcast market.

CeX is actually how I unintentionally ended up re-entering the rabbit hole of all things SEGA Dreamcast back in 2016, when I stumbled upon a very nice condition Virtua Tennis for a mere £3.50 - which was possibly one of the most expensive “bargains” I’ve ever had.
How it all started (again)!
Believe it or not, despite what many say, the Dreamcast does still have a good selection of affordable games. Sadly, the console is also beginning to see an increasing number of titles with three-digit prices. We’re all aware of the MoHos and the Cannon Spikes, but 2024 seems to have ushered in more unexpected additions to the high-stakes ranks, and seeing as I have little else to do on this rainy British bank holiday Monday, I figured what better time to delve in to this than now?

Dreamcast Covers that Go Hard (and Some More that Can Go Straight in the Bin)

Like the greatest album covers in the world, some games make a great impression even when sitting on a shelf. Whilst previews in the media, video trailers and word of mouth are vitally important, it would be wise not to underestimate the immediate impact a game’s cover can have on those with more impressionable minds. Generic artwork or uninspiring stylistic choices may be fine if the game has loads of pre-release hype or a big name license, but stick some glorious artwork from a talented artist on the cover and you're near enough guaranteed some extra interest.

The Dreamcast's small but beautiful library of games is jam-packed with turn-of-the-millennium style and innovation, and this is present in some of the artwork which adorned gaming shelves worldwide. Some are of course, iconic - Ulala's presence on the Space Channel 5 artwork, the striking simplicity of the PAL/Japanese covers of Crazy Taxi, Shenmue's epicness - but there are some that deserve more attention. These are works of art - they deserve to be blown up to a larger size, framed and hung in the finest of art galleries. So it's time to put my best gallery curator hat on and showcase why I think these fifteen choice cuts of Dreamcast cover art glory are examples worthy of so much praise, followed by five duds that deserve the complete opposite...

All covers used in this article come from Sega Retro, unless stated otherwise. Let's get into them...


The Dreamcast covers that go hard...

Spawn: In The Demon's Hand

I could have picked any of the cover variations of this release, as they are all absolutely epic in nature, but I've chosen the standard Japanese cover. Looking more like some great, unknown fantasy war metal album cover, this puts Todd McFarlane's comic masterpiece centre stage with a swirling mass of metal, cloak and spikes. Spawn is the ultimate badass antihero, an imposing demonic hellspawn, and a character that is designed to be visually interesting in whatever angle, pose or situation he is depicted in. As a game, In the Demon's Hand falls a little short, but the cover art surely must have led to a few extra sales.

The artwork for the standard Japanese version, as well as that used on other examples of the game, seem to have been taken from Spawn issue 95. The limited first print edition of the game released in Japan came with a cardboard slipcase with artwork similar to the US and PAL releases - all of which are based on the cover of 95.

The Japanese limited first print edition slipcase artwork (Credit: PlayAsia)

The US cover has the same artwork as both the Japanese slipcase and the PAL release. It's a bit cleaner than the standard Japanese cover, and not as impactful.

The cover art for Spawn issue 95, the artwork of which was the basis for the game covers above.

Mars Matrix (Japanese cover)

Takumi's underrated shooter delivers a depth to the genre that's unrivaled on the console, and has the best cover of any shooter on the system (particularly the Japanese version's cover). I will take no criticism of that viewpoint! This cover is a dynamic, colourful burst of energy which breaks away from the usual clichés seen on the covers of other shoot 'em ups, whilst never going so far out there that you'd be confused as to what genre of game it actually is. Taken as a whole, it's a piece of art; from the fonts used for the title (to continue with the metal references of this article, this text wouldn't look out of place as the logo for some sort of cosmic math metal band), to the colour gradation, to the sleek sci-fi lines and shapes in the background. The US cover (below) isn't awful either, but it lacks the eye-punching appeal that the Japanese release displays.

The US version does many things the Japanese version did, but the change of colours diminishes the appeal somewhat. Still, a decent attempt.

Shenmue Undub: Definitive Edition available now for Dreamcast

Source: Shenmue Forever/Phantom River Stone

One of the most memorable aspects of the original Shenmue - for me at least - was the voice acting. When I say 'original,' naturally I mean the PAL version, y'know living in the UK and all. That disconnect between 1980s Japan and Ryo speaking with a slightly disjointed American accent; and the ensemble cast of weird, over-acted, oddball voices that assaulted the ears whenever you dared interrupt some NPC while they wandered aimlessly through Dobuita before vanishing into thin air outside Tom's hot dog van. That's peak nostalgia right there, kids.

It's apparent that not everyone shares my fondness for this audio aesthetic though, as a number of fan projects over the years have attempted to 'undub' the Western version of Shenmue, replacing Corey Marshall's dulcet tones with the original audio from the NTSC-J release of Shenmue. The latest attempt at this, according to the fine folks over at Shenmue mega-site Phantom River Stone is the definitive edition of these undub efforts, and have now presented to the world the fittingly monikered Shenmue Undub: Definitive Edition.

Source: Phantom River Stone

Before I continue, you really should check out Phantom River Stone in general if you're a Shenmue fan, as along with resources like Shenmue Dojo and Adam Koralik's YouTube channel, it really is a marvellous repository of Shenmue trivia and random musings. But back to Shenmue Undub: Definitive Edition. Created in collaboration with Shenmue Master, Shenmue Undub: Definitive Edition is reckoned to be the ultimate restoration of the Dreamcast title, with original Japanese voice overs, English subtitles and even minor bug fixes and restored original textures. Here's a rundown from Phantom River Stone:

  • Based on the Kogami Undub: this version builds upon the most complete fan-made Undub version, which was created by Kogami and runs on the Dreamcast.
  • Full English subtitles: the official translated lines are used where available. A small number of the Japanese spoken lines (around 3%) which did not have English equivalent translations available have been translated by hand. A few small corrections were also made to fix specific lines that had incorrect grammar or meaning.
  • Full Japanese audio with no down-sampling.
  • PAL-compatible save files: saves can be carried over to the PAL version of Shenmue II.
  • CDDA audio tracks included: recorded audio tracks play as expected during the game (e.g. the music that plays when Ryo rides home from the harbor with Nozomi on the back of his motorcycle).
  • Coca Cola branding: the branding for the vending machines and soda cans in the game shows the Coca Cola branding, as seen in the Japanese version of Shenmue..
  • Fixes for small glitches identified in the previous Undub version (e.g. conversations when Ryo knocked on house doors did not play out properly).
  • Fits on standard CD-R discs: the images have been stream-lined to allow them to be played on a Dreamcast console using standard CD-R discs, with no missing or cut content.
It's worth it for the authentic Coca-Cola cans alone, in my opinion. Of course, this isn't the first time enthusiastic fans have augmented a Dreamcast title - cast your mind back several years and you'll no doubt recall Dead or Alive 2 Final or the Frame Gride English language edition.
Source: Phantom River Stone
For Shenmue fans who want the authentic experience though, Shenmue Undub: Definitive Edition looks to be the real deal. You can grab the download for Dreamcast over at Phantom River Stone, and while you're there stick around and read some of author Switch's other intriguing posts.

Will you be checking out Shenmue Undub: Definitive Edition? Let us know in the comments!

The Great Dreamcast BMX Off: Mirra Vs Hoffman

Recently I collated all the games I’ve never played for even a second, Dreamcast and non-Dreamcast alike, into a massive crate of shame. A shameful pile of things I had impulsively purchased and had then shown zero willingness to play. My goal and desire for this project was to spur myself on to begin playing at least two of them a week. For a minimum of 27 minutes and giving a sort of commentary on those first 27 minutes. A quick-fire thoughts and feelings if you will. The idea being to not only alleviate my sinful hoarding ways, but to also begin forcing my favourite pastime back into my weekly calendar.
Having collated all the Dreamcast games into one separate pile, I was confused as to why I owned Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX twice - one copy fully boxed, and one disc only. I then wondered where my copy of Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX was. Anyone who has ever seen my games room will know I possess the organisational skills of your average Womble, and so I quickly decided I must have misplaced it and resolved to look up the cover to assist finding it in my junk shop of a games room.

The reason it appears I couldn’t find it seems to be that unlike the US we never received the game, so I don’t actually own a genuine copy of it. Research (or one Google search to be exact) didn’t bring me a concrete reason for its lack of a blue edged version, although it did lead to a sort of breakthrough in that it is Mat Hoffman, not Matt. The fact that the dude can’t even spell his own name is sadly not a mystery I can solve for you, but what I can bring you is Mat Hoffman vs Dave Mirra. The battle of the Dreamcast BMX-ers! Gnarly! - just what 2018 was crying out for I hear you say…
Getting the chance to shred up some BMX arenas, without putting my actual aging body at harm, seemed ideal. And would give me a chance to test Dave Mirra’s box marketing claim that it is ‘The number 1 Dreamcast BMX game.’ So without further hesitation: riders ready, watch the gate. Go!

The Awesome Dreamcast Kiosks & Display Cases We Never Saw

Kiosks were - and still are - a major part of any console's armoury when trying to woo potential buyers. Go into any game store these days and you'll undoubtedly see a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One set up and running demos. The same was true back in the days of the Dreamcast, and I have fond memories of playing Virtua Striker 2 in HMV one afternoon back in 2000.

Dreamcast Kiosks come in a number of guises, and they vary wildly from region to region. The ones I'm most familar with though, are the UK PAL-styled ones that adorned branches of Electronics Boutique and GAME, drawing me in with their glowing CRT screens and untold promise of 128-bit gaming, the likes of which I'd never seen before. Obviously they worked a treat on me (hence this place existing), but now we have something pretty special to share with you.
Here are some exclusive, never-before-seen computer generated images of the kiosks and in-store display cases that Sega Europe was intending to deploy across the continent with the aim of enticing the average gamer to part with cold, hard cash for a Dreamcast.

Some of them look pretty familiar, but others are new even to me...

Toy Racer Multiplayer Back Online Through Dial-Up

Remember Toy Racer? Of course you do - we only mentioned it a few days ago in this post about the work of two highly talented individuals working to get our trusty old Dreamcasts back online. There's a chance you've just clicked on this because someone's retweeted it or shared it on Facebook though, so I'll explain. Toy Racer was a PAL-only spin-off from Toy Commander that featured toy cars being raced around various tracks that were constructed from bits of Scalextric and broken stickle bricks. It was intended as a budget multiplayer racer to demonstrate the Dreamcast's online capabilities and for the most part it fulfilled its role amicably...until Sega's European servers were smashed to bits and thrown into a landfill. And then pissed on by several tramps.
The good news is that Toy Racer is now back online. And while we've told you this before, this time you don't need any other additional bits and bobs to experience it. All you need is a Dreamcast and a phone line. And Toy Racer, obvs. Plug it in with the standard modem cable and point your DNS at 46.101.91.123. Viola! Toy Racer is back online via dial up...right now!

Dreamarena Authentication Cracked, Quake III Arena & Toy Racer To Be Playable Online Via Dial-Up

 
If you're a European Dreamcast owner and had a system back in the day, you'll no doubt be familiar with Dreamarena. For those who don't know, Dreamarena was the online portal that PAL Dreamcasts would connect to when you wanted to go online; and many games used the service to authenticate your details when you wanted to play multiplayer games via the 33k modem attached like a disgusting carbuncle to the European system. I have fond memories of Dreamarena as it was the first thing I saw whenever I wanted to go online and browse the internet looking for cheats and...erm...the latest news from the international stock markets. Yeah, stock markets. Um.
Was it the Bismarck? Couldn't help myself, sorry.
One thing I don't have fond memories of is that horrendous 'disconnected' sound that used to play as soon as the connection dropped out. That, and the ominous noise of my mother booming up the stairs to see if I was online without permission again. Anyway, that's all irrelevant - this post is about the awesome news that many people (including me) never thought they'd hear: Dreamarena authentication has been cracked and will allow you to once again hook your Dreamcast up to your phone line and, using nothing more than the bundled dial-up modem, play both Quake III Arena and Toy Racer with other people. This isn't an April Fools.

A Quick Look At Exhibition Of Speed

The Dreamcast does have some great racing games and we've been over them many times here at the Junkyard. Metropolis Street Racer, Le Mans 24hrs, Ferrari F355 Challenge, Rush 2049...I could go on. However, as with all consoles there are some absolute stinkers and Exhibition of Speed is a race leader in those stakes. But before I get into the nitty gritty of why this is such a torrid affair, let's have a little look at EOS's history. Developed by Player 1 and published by Titus in 2001, EOS is a PAL exclusive arcade racer and the spiritual successor to Roadsters. What's interesting here is that EOS builds on the derided Dreamcast port of Roasters rather than the (quite decent) Nintendo 64 version, and as such feels every bit as cheap and half-arsed.
Doesn't look too bad in stills.
The game employs the standard features you'd expect in game of this type. You are presented with a Trophy mode which serves as the main championship, a quick race and time attack options and also a four player split-screen option. The Trophy mode takes cues from other titles in this genre in that you choose a driver, then a vehicle and then race in three different leagues. You start in the bottom division and work your way up by winning races and upgrading your vehicle; and each division's circuits have a new gimmick to differentiate them from the previous. This sounds quite cool, until you realise that you can literally play every track and use every car in the game just by selecting quick race. There's no point playing through the championship...because everything is already available from the start!

Does it Matter if You're Black or White?

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that this post will relate to the design shift from white to black in the old US of A-NTSC land. Well, you'd be wrong, I'm not going to talk about that. It's already common knowledge and well understood, though I will just quickly mention that it's supremely handy that both designs use a standard 10.2mm CD jewel case with a clear plastic tray. These are dime-a-dozen and can easily be replaced if you want to return your collection to showroom condition.
Nope, not going to talk about these.

The PlayTape Conspiracy

We're big fans of fanciful and completely false conspiracy theories here at the 'Yard...especially ones we fabricated ourselves. Who can forget the time Sony implanted PlayStation logos in a Dreamcast game? Or when Southend Museums stole the Dreamcast's logo and used it to their own nefarious ends? Of course, this is all just a bit of fun, but there's a chance we've unearthed another (completely tenuous) Dreamcast conspiracy. Have a look at this video from YouTube channel Techmoan:


If you can't be bothered to watch it, allow me to explain. PlayTape is a fabulously obsolete music format that was apparently quite popular for a brief period in the late 1960s. That is, until the magnificence of the 8-Track swept it aside with the swagger of a pre-digital iPod in platform shoes and a flowery shirt. I know that doesn't actually make a lot of sense, but I'm sure you get the (extremely weak) analogy. Anyway, as I was watching the video above I noticed that the PlayTape logo shares a particular aesthetic with the Dreamcast logo: swirls.

DreamPod Episode 10


iTunes
Stitcher
Buzzsprout
YouTube

As well as being available on iTunes, Stitcher, Buzzsprout and YouTube, DreamPod is also listed on the UK Podcast Directory. Nominations are now open for the 2015 UK Podcast Awards, and while our podcast suffers from the usual issues an amateur production encounters, we have one thing a lot of the others don't: absolute passion for the subject. None of the team get paid for any of this content, yet we do our best to bring new, fresh content to the Dreamcast community as often as we can. We do this all in our spare time.

To this end, we'd be honoured if you'd show your support for the only Dreamcast-centric podcast around by giving us a nomination. The very notion that a Dreamcast podcast could be at a prestigious awards ceremony like this is mind-blowing in 2015 - 14 years after the system was cut loose. Please consider nominating us by visiting our listing page here and clicking on the big red button!

Mighty Morphin' Power Boards

Last weekend was amazing. Really, really amazing. For several reasons. The first - and most important - was that it was Revival Events' self-titled Revival 2014, a massive retro-gaming event held at Dunstall Park racecourse in Wolverhampton. I was there as part of the RetroCollect team, running loads of gaming challenges and just generally chatting to gamers and acting the fool. Another reason it was amazing was that I got to meet, chat with and actually touch the flowing hair of John Romero:
The photographer wasn't happy with the focus
In case you're unfamiliar with what the genius behind Doom looks like, that's him on the right. Not the grinning fool on the left - that's me. To be fair I was grinning like that because Mr Romero had just whispered the secret to his flowing mane into my ear, and as you can see this was greatly received as my hairline is receding faster than the Norfolk coastline. He also signed my boxed copy of Doom for the Atari Jaguar, so there was that too. But let's get back to the reason you're here: I also bought a Dreamcast. Yes, another Dreamcast. but unlike all of the others I now have clogging the entrance to my bathroom, this one is different. It came in a box...with an orange swirl:


Yes, I bought my first NTSC-J system for the bargain price of £50 from a trader called Sore Thumb Retro Games. And to say its in great condition is an understatement. The console has no signs of yellowing at all, and has all of the documentation including the Dream Passport (sealed) and manuals. Naturally, being a Japanese system the plug adapter ends with two prongs and simply will not fit in a UK power socket. And even if it could, the power coming out of the wall would likely travel down the wire, into the console and instantly transform the immaculate white box of fun into a large ball of flame, simultaneously causing untold collateral damage to any curtains, throw cushions and random empty beer tins in the vicinity. And in my gaff, there's always a high probability that empty beer tins could also be hidden inside the throw cushions, so the damage bill - in this hypothetical situation - could easily be triple that caused inside your average residential shit-hole. In order to prevent the aforementioned cataclysm, I employed the services of one of these things in order to play on my newly purchased NTSC-J machine:


That's a converter thingy. You put the foreign plug in one side and the UK three-pronged side into the wall socket, and by some kind of magical process no doubt involving a tiny wizard living inside the device, the horrid nasty UK electricity transforms into Japanese Dreamcast-friendly power! See - magic! So anyway, I played the DC for a bit, mucked around with the menu and changed the language to English and marvelled at Sega Rally 2 running a bit quicker...and then I went to do some other menial task that life dictated I must do. It was probably the washing up or something...to be honest I've totally forgotten. Actually, it could have been folding some towels up. Or was it some ironing? Fuck it - I can't remember.

Anyway, I totally forgot (there's a theme here) that I'd left the Dreamcast plugged in to the step-down transformer. It wasn't until a few days later that I went to turn on the Dreamcast again that I discovered it would not turn on. I was pretty stumped until I deduced that leaving the transformer plugged into the mains must have damaged it in some way - indeed, the smell of burning wizard flesh coming from the vents on the side of the thing added weight to my hypothesis. So there I was, left with a Japanese Dreamcast and a dead step-down transformer. I looked on eBay for another one, but being a bit strapped for cash having spent all my money buying the secret ingredients to concoct John Romero's Magical Hair Serum™, I decided that I would investigate an alternative remedy to getting my NTSC system up and running again. I took to Twitter and asked the question - is it possible to put a UK power board inside a Japanese or US Dreamcast in order to use a standard UK plug with it, thus negating the need for a converter. Amongst others, The Gagaman himself answered my call - the answer was a resounding "yes!"

Knowing I had a load of spare PAL Dreamcast bits knocking about, I decided to give it a go - putting a UK power board into an NTSC Dreamcast. Here's how I got on:


And there it is! An NTSC-J Dreamcast happily humming away with a UK plug adapter attached to it, with nary a step-down converter in sight. It's a really easy operation to carry out providing you have the parts handy, and I've also kept the original board and plug in the box just in case I ever move to Japan and feel the need to take a native console back there with me.

I'm off to apply some of my hair serum now. If I end up looking like a Cacodemon, I'll be writing a strongly-worded email to my old pal John.