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Showing posts with label Sega of America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sega of America. Show all posts

An Interview With Bernie Stolar

There are few people who are more intrinsically linked with the history of the Dreamcast than Bernie Stolar. Along with personalities such as Peter Moore and Hidekazu 'Mr Dreamcast' Yukawa, Bernie Stolar is extremely well known and was the man who kicked the whole party off. Here, in this candid interview we welcome Bernie to the Junkyard and pick his brains on the history of our favourite console and the current trends in the Dreamcast community.

DCJY: Hi Bernie, firstly let me just say how much of an honour it is to have you grace our site with your virtual presence! As huge fans of the Dreamcast, it’s quite awesome to have the opportunity to speak with you first hand. Never did I think way back in late 1999 when I picked up my first Dreamcast, that in 20 years' time I'd be conversing with the man who helped create the console!

Bernie Stolar: No problem, thanks for asking me. I consider it an honour that a product I helped create still has a loyal fanbase to this day. Thank you for keeping the 'Dream' alive.
Bernie delivering the Dreamcast keynote at GDC 1999
To kick things off, I wondered if you could enlighten those readers who may not be familiar with who you are and what your role was with the Dreamcast?

I was President and Chief Operating Officer at SEGA of America from July 1996 to August 1999. I was hired by SEGA of Japan CEO, Hayao Nakayama. I conceived the idea of Dreamcast and hired Peter Moore, Chris Gilbert, and the entire product development team.

You were at Sega of America from 1996 to 1999, all the way through the Dreamcast’s most important and formative years - can you recall the very first time you heard the name ‘Dreamcast’?

I believe it was called 'Dural' and later 'Katana' at one point. I want to say May of 1998 was when I first heard the term 'Dreamcast.'
On the topic of the early days of Dreamcast, can you recall which came first - Dreamcast or NAOMI? Or were they developed in tandem?


I believe NAOMI was released first. If I remember correctly, Dreamcast came about at a time when we were switching from Model 3 arcade hardware to NAOMI. I remember this because, I was disappointed with the fact that the Dreamcast would not really be able to support ports from both arcade units. I had wanted ports of several licensed units, including Star Wars Trilogy and The Lost World: Jurassic Park series. I felt these would be very popular, especially in the American market. To answer your question though, yes they were developed in tandem, definitely with the thought in mind that many of the games such as Crazy Taxi and House of the Dead 2 would be ported to Dreamcast. As a side note, I believe we also licensed the NAOMI architecture to Capcom, Namco, and Taito.
Early Dreamcast concept designs
Just sticking with the origins of the Dreamcast, were there really two different concepts for the Dreamcast in development? There are plenty of forum posts and articles online that state that there were competing projects - one from SEGA of America called Black Belt which was 3Dfx based, and another from SEGA of Japan called Dural which was NEC PowerVR based. Can you comment on these projects and how it was decided that the Dural concept was the one that won? If so, how different do you think the 3Dfx system would have been?

I believe SEGA of America wanted the 3Dfx version and SEGA of Japan wanted the NEC PowerVR. Both made sense for different reasons. With 3Dfx, there were more resources and documentation available for development in the US and Europe. That and it was understood that development would be easier, especially for PC ports. The NEC PowerVR made NAOMI ports simple and was easy to program, however, it was not as well supported (yet) in the US. I doubt Model 3 games would have worked too well on either. Although there was a PowerVR chip shortage when the Dreamcast launched in Japan, both chips had their pluses and minuses. In the end, I'm not sure it would have made too much of a difference.
Famously, you moved from Sony’s PlayStation division to work with SEGA of America in 1996. You're quoted in a VentureBeat interview as stating that the Saturn needed to be killed off as soon as you arrived. What were your initial thoughts on the fledgling successor to the Saturn? Did you envisage that the Dreamcast would become a huge success based on the hardware specs?

When I went to SEGA, they needed a new hardware system because the systems that they had were not selling – all eight of them. Saturn was not being supported by SEGA the way it should have been. When I showed up, it was my idea to develop a new hardware system that had the ability to play online. Before signing with SEGA, I racked my brain on a way to salvage Saturn, but it was just too far gone and too expensive and difficult to develop for. SEGA was nearly bankrupt, they needed a new console and they needed it quick. The only options were to go big or go home.