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SEGA Dreamcast

9/9/99. The Day the Dream Begins ...

"In the annals of console history, the Dreamcast is often portrayed as a small, square, white plastic JFK. A progressive force in some ways, perhaps misguided in others, but nevertheless a promising life cut tragically short by dark shadowy forces, spawning complex conspiracy theories that endure to this day."

Sega was not out after the massive mismanagement of the Sega Saturn. Sega decided to get serious about the threat Sony posed and get serious about the Sixth Generation. Segata Sanshiro died to save it. Sega fired Bernie Stolar. They made it a powerful system that was a snap for developers to program for. They even had a Sonic game at launch. Heck, even Microsoft helped out on the development of the Dreamcast, and it pioneered online gaming for consoles with games like Chu Chu Rocket and especially Phantasy Star Online.

The Dreamcast would see a number of wonderful games, especially from Sega themselves, who seemed bound and determined to launch a new generation of IPs with games like Jet Set Radio, Skies of Arcadia, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi and more. It was also the console of choice for 2D fighting games, playing host to the most faithful versions of the Marvel vs. Capcom series note  and SNK's various fighters; indeed, the long living MvC2 competitive scene was one of the Dreamcast's major life threads in the U.S. after its fall until the release of the game's Xbox LIVE Arcade/Play Station Network port and its sequel. It's also the system that made Soulcalibur a household name. Surprisingly after the Saturn's failure outside of Japan, the Dreamcast launch was a smash hit in North America, with more sales in the first months of its existence than any console before it.

That lasted for two years. Then the dream died to the mere hype of the PlayStation 2 in March of 2001, thus ending a console legacy nearly as well known as Nintendo's. Microsoft, meanwhile, went on to make their own console. Dreamcast consoles were still sold in Japan until 2006, where third-party games continued to trickle out until 2007.

Without a doubt, this was Sega's Dying Moment of Awesome as a first party, featuring new franchises in addition to two new main series Sonic games, such as Skies of Arcadia, Shenmue, and Jet Set Radio.

The system did have its fair share of drawbacks and design flaws, however. Probably the most egregious was Sega's decision to make the pack-in modem only 33.6K (in Europe and Asia; 56K in North America); this was at a time when 56K was industry standard, with ISDN and Broadband beginning to emerge. Despite the possibility of replacing the pack-in modem, the high cost and rarity of upgrade units (a replacement 56K modem and a 10/100 Ethernet "broadband adapter"), along with the decision to software-lock the console to a small number of partnered ISPs in some territories (the bundled modem setup disc would only allow settings for these ISPs), severely handicapped the console's growth as a potential online platform. There was also the fact that the games were ridiculously easy to pirate. Perhaps one of the most significant factors in the Dreamcast's failure was the large debt that Sega had accrued from its string of failed hardware in The Nineties, such as the Sega CD, 32X, and Saturn. Not only did this limit Sega's ability to promote the Dreamcast, it also meant that the Dreamcast had to sell an unrealistically large amount in order for Sega to become profitable again.

Yet the Dreamcast, if not commercially successful, became a legend, with its developer friendly SDK, fun arcade style games, four control ports for local multiplayer, innovative features (the GD-ROM could be played on a standard CD-drive; the VMU is still unique in its design, being both a memory card and handheld player), and a reliability far superior to other consoles. It is recalled fondly by hardcore gamers and still has a large cult following, and even had new games coming out for years. Today it is still recognized as a console with one of the best game quality/price ratios. As it happens, the Dreamcast is/was a de facto open platform long before its death, modders had hacked it wide open to the point of being able to run versions of Linux and Net BSD, as well as people writing their own games.

Although the GD-ROM format was abandoned in 2007, indie developers continue to make Dreamcast games. A complete first-person shooter called Paranoia was released in May 2010. Later on, a side-scrolling shooter came out.

Specs:

Processors
  • CPU: 32-bit Hitachi SH-4 at 200MHz, with a peak performance of 360 MIPS and 1.4 GFLOPS. It also has a 64-bit double-precision superscalar Super H-4 RISC Central processing unit core with a 32-bit integer unit using 16-bit fixed-length instructions, a 64-bit data bus allowing a variable width of either 8, 16, 32 or 64-bits, and a 128-bit floating-point bus.
    • It had a 128-bit vector unit, which led to a misconception that the CPU itself is 128-bit. This is exactly how Sega marketed it- as a 128-bit console since the belief of "more bits is better" still hung around.
  • GPU: PowerVR2 CLX2 at 100MHz.
  • Sound: Yamaha ARM7 based AICA at 45MHz.

Memory
  • 16MB of main memory running at 100MHz on a 64-bit interface.
    • 8MB of video memory running at 100MHz on a 4 x 16-bit interface.
    • 2MB of sound memory running at 66MHz on a 16-bit interface.
  • 2MB of system ROM and 256KB of flash memory (though this doesn't store game saves)
  • Games are stored on a GD disc, a high density format that was incompatible, mostly, with CD drives.
    • Part of the GD disc was CD compatible. This was used to either play an audio track informing the person the GD disc is only useable on a Dreamcast or offer some bonus content for PCs.
  • Game saves were stored on a device called the VMU, which offered a storage space of 100KB divided into 200, 512 byte blocks.

Graphics
  • The Videologic Power VR 2 100MHz (GPU) is capable of rendering 7 million polygons per second, with hardware (thus at all times, irrespective of software) full screen supersampling anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, VQ hardware texture compression (average 5:1), saving memory on RAM and disk, tile based texture rendering (only shows visible polygons, real time lighting through gouraud shading and bump mapping. Dreamcast games can be expected to run 0.5 to 5 million polygons (depending on the game engine) per second. The most sophisticated chip of the 6th generation, and the easiest to program for, but not the one with the most "brute force." Optimized for 640x480 resolution, capable of up to 1600x1200note . Unlike the PS2, it blends frames together, creating an image with no "shimmering" and less jagged edges at the cost of a blurrier image.
    • Note that the capabilities supported by the hardware are optional, so some games may sacrifice graphical improvements to achieve adequate frame rate. For instance, its antialiasing requires the Dreamcast to render 4 times the pixels for a slightly smoother image, so it was usually the first to go.

Accessories
  • There are many, many, accessories, but the ones that really stand out are:
    • The VMU, which is needed to save games, and doubled as a portable game system. The memory is flash, meaning it works even when the tiny watch battery is depleted.
    • Broadband modem, ultra rare but then oh so useful. Nowadays, not so much.
    • VGA box. This should have been offered as standard, as it allows, when in VGA mode, more color than all its competitors(the produced RGB is not converted to Composite/S-Video/Coaxial and back to RGB for the screen to use) which also shortens response time, produces the natural resolution (480p) in progressive mode (lines don't appear when moving, clearer image), does not require external power source (Contact with the graphics port may be faulty though, which makes colored lines to randomly appear on the screen), and it was cheap to make ($20 finds you one). If the screen didn't have a VGA port, you could still use the video and S-Video ports.

There are many other details; here you can read the complete hardware specs.

Games:


In the late 1990s, a commercial PlayStation emulator called Bleemcast! was released for the Dreamcast. A port of the first PS1 emulator ever, it was able to enhance the graphics of PS1 games by increasing the resolution and smoothing the textures out, which was an impressive feat considering that the PS1 was still being sold. Unfortunately, the huge task of creating the emulator and a lawsuit from Sony meant that only three games were supported Gran Turismo 2, Metal Gear Solid, and Tekken 3. The programming for this emulator ended up becoming the backbone for the PlayStation Portable's backwards compatibility with PS1 games.
It's (Still) Dreaming.

sayonara Reader... until we meet again!
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alternative title(s): Dreamcast
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