The Dream of Nightmares: Some Words about the Sega Dreamcast

The idea of having retroactive nostalgia for something I never took part in is bizarre to me. Having these longing feelings for something that to me only existed peripherally just never made any real sense, so when I have those feelings, I get  confused. The Sega Dreamcast turned 13 years old yesterday, and while I never owned one while it was a viable platform, I started having this longing for it. I was never a Sega kid. I lived in a Nintendo household, so I went from the Nintendo 64 to the Gamecube. That’s just how it was. I had friends who had the Dreamcast, and at the time I never truly realized how special of a console it would be. Of course, it never got the chance to really grow due to Sega leaving the hardware business, but in the short couple years it was on the US market, it gave us an amazing amount of truly unique game experiences. It’s likely that because of that sort of innovation that I’m having this longing for this early entry in the sixth generation of consoles.

In the United States, the Sega Dreamcast was released on September 9, 1999. The advertising focused on this 9/9/99 release date, making it out to sound like a revolution was coming. It was released, and while it started off well, everything went south and the writing was on the wall. Sega had lost Electronic Arts and their array of sports games that had propelled the Genesis to popularity. The Dreamcast lacked DVD playback, something that would instantly sell consumers on the Playstation 2. After the Playstation 2 launched, the Dreamcast quickly lost momentum. Adding a DVD drive wasn’t cost effective during development, but if it came to it, Sega could beat Sony in a price war. This, mixed with every other horrible thing that happened, doomed the Dreamcast. Sega had done everything right, doing everything they could to fix the wrongs they had made in the previous generation, but the brand was tarnished. Ultimately, nothing could be done, and unfortunately, the end was inevitable. The Dreamcast had an amazing launch and boasted one of the strongest console launches ever. Sega’s first party studios were at the top of their game. Everything had come together in a great way, and they set out to push these wild, crazy ideas, but it just wasn’t enough.

This is why I’m upset about this. The Dreamcast did all these things that we take for granted now, and was either the first console to do them, or do them well. It had online multiplayer. Not only that, but it had cross platform online multiplayer with PCs for Quake 3 Arena. In 1999. That is absolutely crazy to think about! Not only that, but it had games that were heavily focused on online play. Phantasy Star Online was built entirely around playing online with your friends. Of course you could play offline, but where’s the fun in that? Communicating wasn’t a problem at all either if you had the Dreamcast keyboard. They made a keyboard for this thing! Thirteen years later and consoles still aren’t keen on the idea of using keyboards. The PS3 supports them for certain titles, and in Japan, a keyboard can be used for Dragon Quest X on the Wii, but beyond that, keyboard and mouse controls are almost unheard of for consoles. Considering the types of games that sell a lot of units, this is really surprising to me. I might be slightly more interested in playing shooters on console if I could use a keyboard and mouse. The idea that this existed in 1999 is cool. I don’t think “cool” is a great word to really describe it, but to me, it’s the proper descriptor. The Dreamcast was just cool.

Now, I talk about online functionality on consoles like it was an entirely new concept for the Dreamcast. It wasn’t. The Nintendo Famicom could access an early version of the internet and you could do your banking on it. The Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo had the X-Band online service, which supported online multiplayer for about a dozen games. It wasn’t a new idea at all, but it was the first time it was done in a reasonable, functional way. PCs had been enjoying the fruits of online multiplayer for a few years now, but Sega really set the foundation for what would become a cornerstone of current generation console gaming.

They didn’t stop there, though. Did you know that the Dreamcast had it’s own downloadable game service? In Japan there was a service called Dream Library that allowed the user to download Sega Genesis and PC Engine games to play, similar to the Sega Channel service from a few years earlier. Not only that, but certain games with online features had content that could be downloaded, similar to how DLC is handled now. Sega was never afraid to take chances and push the boundaries of the medium. In games like Jet Set Radio, you could use the internet browser to download graffiti tags to the use in your game. The Dreamcast had an internet browser, something current consoles still haven’t functionally implemented. It is yet another example of Sega being ahead of the curve, something that always benefited everyone but them.

I get upset over the Dreamcast not only because of how great of a system it was, but also because of the unused potential. The gaming landscape could have ended up wildly different. Even then I hated seeing Sega go down like this. Despite the missteps it took to get there, they did everything right, only to be kicked to the side. Sega really was at their creative peak during this time, and after they quit the console business, I don’t think their internal teams hit this consistent level of quality ever again. Sonic the Hedgehog games continue to be released to various levels of acclaim, while the majority of Sega’s lineup of franchises has been left to die. Over the last few years, a lot of Sega’s top talent have left the company. They really are a shadow of their former selves. I hate seeing it, and when Sega of America was hit with heavy layoffs this year due to restructuring, I started getting really worried that Sega might be going down for the count.

Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding their final home console, I do feel as if Sega has been making a few good decisions lately. I was really happy with a lot of their publishing and rerelease choices that I saw at PAX such as Double Fine’s new title The Cave, and digital rereleases of games like Sonic Adventure 2 and Jet Set Radio, all of which demoed really well. I really want to see more of these Dreamcast games better represented on current generation consoles. The HD rerelease of NiGHTS into Dreams looks and plays surprisingly well. I don’t typically go for a lot of rereleases, but I want people to remember that these games exist and that many of them are still great.

While I said that Sega is a shadow of their former selves, occasionally they do something that seems to bring back some of the magic. I got to demo Phantasy Star Online 2, and it felt just right. It played well, and I got that same enjoyment from it that I get from the original. I had a lot of fun playing it, and I really got that Sega vibe that I don’t get from a lot of their games anymore. Even though Yuji Naka and Yu Suzuki are long gone, and Rieko Kodama mostly acts as a producer now, I still believe in Sega, and sometimes I even believe the magic is still there. Because of this, I don’t want to watch them die. They once had their slogan that said they did what “Nintendon’t,” and I don’t want “shutting down” added as a new entry to that list of accomplishments.


2 thoughts on “The Dream of Nightmares: Some Words about the Sega Dreamcast

  1. This is a really bad article, and you can see that was wrote by a nintendo fan. SEGA is not “a former shadow of their former selves”, they still have a lot of fantastic games like Yakuza, Valkyria Chronicles, the House of Dead, Virtua Fighter and Virtua Tennis are still there and they still are very good, Binary Domain was a fantastic game killed by a shitty marketing. And lots of other games, but people don’t give a chance for these games because they are wasting time crying for the past. Also, other games like arcade success Border Break and Platinum games like Vanquish, more Japan-Only games like 7th Dragoon and Hatsune Miku.

    The Dreamcast is good, but is not better or worst than the other SEGA consoles, all this worship usually cames from nintendo or sony fanboys who lost their times without give a chance for SEGA and when they gave, it was too late. The SEGA fans are not surprised by how much good the Dreamcast is because it just follows the Genesis and Saturn.

    SEGA still has a lot of top of notch creators, being Toshihiro Nagoshi the number one and he was trained by Yu Suzuki himself.

    Oh, and just saying, better you worry more about your dear Nintendo, go look to the last report from the companies, SEGA after the restructuring made money, but nintendo lost lots of money and this is the second time in a row that this happen with them. With the crescent market of IOS taking the casual players who sustained nintendo in the last years, in the next 2 or 3 years we are gonna see nintendo being crushed by apple. In other hand, SEGA is preparing for the future and is creating more game for celular, which is the future.

    1. In the grand scheme of things, I do feel like Sega is a shadow of their former selves. I kind of meant for this to mostly be focused around the Dreamcast. The Sega of America layoffs, and overall restructuring do have me a bit worried.That being said, games like Binary Domain and Yakuza deserve more press. They are excellent and greatly under appreciated!

      I was actually pretty sad about 7th Dragon not getting a localization. I thought that game looked really cool, and it was a real bummer that it never got a chance to come stateside.

      Their publishing decisions with the Platinum titles have been excellent choices, but these games just don’t get the marketing push they deserve. The games don’t do huge numbers, but they do keep selling. I just don’t know how good the return on investment for some of them are. I’m still worried that Max Anarchy / Anarchy Reigns might not actually make it out in the US. I imported it since it features full English anyway, but pushing it back so long after the Japan release doesn’t fill me with a lot of hope.

      The Saturn is a fantastic 2D machine, I’ll give it that. I have one and love it, but when the industry started moving towards 3D games, it fell out of favor in the US. It went on to do well for the rest of the generation in Japan, but America abandoned it. The weird, pseudo-multicore processor didn’t help its case for ports, nor did the use of quadrilaterals instead of triangles for polygons. It was all very forward thinking, but because of the architecture, it wasn’t financially feasible. The Dreamcast was a much more functional system, and the amount of great titles that still stand up well help to showcase that.

      As for Nintendo, they’ve still got about 10 billion in the bank. I’m not exactly worried about them. The 3DS is profitable now, and is gaining excellent third party support in Japan. I don’t expect Western third parties to jump on in a great capacity because they never have. I have no interest in this 3DS Castlevania game, but I’m at least glad to see a Western team take a real chance with it. The Wii U is up in the air. It could really go either way, though I’m curious to watch. At the worst, it’ll do Gamecube numbers. Third parties will make excuses to not develop for the console as they always have. I’m not bitter about that. I have a PC and every other home console at my fingertips.

      Nintendo accrued a vast amount of the casual audience with the Wii, this is true. A lot of those people who jumped on board have now jumped ship to their mobile phone games. I don’t see mobile games as a viable future for anyone but that audience. Games to them are disposable. I see the merit in some mobile games, but I personally don’t see it as a viable platform for a dedicated, core fanbase. I have games on my phone, but I seldom play them, namely because it’s a phone. I need it for other, social purposes, and draining the shit out of the battery by running some game on the Unreal engine isn’t exactly appealing to me. The technology is there, and in certain cases, it’s really interesting, but the bubble is bound to burst.

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