Sunday, July 26, 2009

It’s just a shame about the Dreamcast…


One of the game consoles I still enjoy as much today as the day I got it is the Sega Dreamcast.

Why? That system was years ahead of its time in 1999 and the games still look great on my HDTV thanks to the innovative (though odd) VGA box I bought for the system. You’ve got games to satisfy just about anyone there ranging from arcade hits (Hydro Thunder is particularly great) to a couple of outstanding role playing games (Pirates of Arcadia is so good it makes owning the system worthwhile) to sports titles (anything from the NFL 2K series compares well to the famed Madden lineup) to innovative titles that used fishing rods, etc.

By the way, you can get Skies of Arcadia for the Nintendo GameCube and it’s every bit as good as the original. Heck, it is almost the same as the original save for a few more wrinkles thrown in and a soundtrack that was compressed too much for my liking. If you own a GameCube (or a Wii and a GameCube controller), Skies of Arcadia is a title you absolutely need. I still prefer the Dreamcast version because the soundtrack is noticeably clearer, but the GameCube port is certainly worthwhile.

When the Dreamcast hit the streets in September 1999, it simply blew the Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation out of the water in terms of technological sophistication. By 2001, Sega pulled the plug on the system in the U.S. and got out of the console hardware business completely.

So, what the heck happened? Why did such a great system just up and die? The answer is two-fold at least.

For one thing, Sega had a rotten reputation when the company released the Dreamcast. This was the same company that released the Sega CD add-on for the Genesis and then discontinued support of it in a hurry. This is the same company that released the 32X add-on for the Genesis and cut that one loose shortly after it was released. By the time the Sega Saturn was released, the company had a terrible image problem and that plagued the poor Saturn.

That horrible reputation spilled over to the Dreamcast. Sega worked hard to earn it’s reputation as a company that would dump hardware on the market then not support it well enough. Gamers, apparently, didn’t want to get burned again.

In 2000, the Playstation 2 was released and gamers tended to flock to that console rather than the Dreamcast. Why? The Playstation 1 was a major hit and people expected even greater things with the PS2 (they weren’t disappointed). Furthermore, the Playstation 2 was backward compatible with those great PS1 games and it had a DVD player.

Yes, oddly, that was a big deal back in 2000. The Playstation had a DVD player and the Dreamcast didn’t. That lack of a DVD player, believe it or not, had an impact on sales.

At any rate, the Playstation 2 clearly dominated that generation of consoles to such an extent that Sega simply took its ball and went home.

That is a true shame on a number of levels. The Dreamcast is a great system that had a lot to offer, but Sega had lost the trust of consumers and people were upset that a blasted GD-ROM drive didn’t play DVDs.

The saddest part of the Sega story, perhaps, is that its absence from the market left a bit of a power vacuum. With only Nintendo and Sony left standing in the console business, that left room for Microsoft to slither in and introduce the Xbox.

God. Microsoft. Haven’t they ruined enough already?

At any rate, I still play the heck out of my Dreamcast. For people who love emulation, you’ll find plenty of support for the Dreamcast. People have written emulators that run everything from Atari 2600 to Neo Geo titles on the Dreamcast. Fortunately, the old Sega system has life in it yet.


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