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Useful Notes / Sega Dreamcast

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"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."
— EuroGamer

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/dreamcast.png
It’s thinking.
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Sega were down, but not out after the catastrophic flop of the Saturn worldwide. Sega decided to get serious about the threat Sony posed in the sixth generation. They fired Bernie Stolar, and Segata Sanshiro died to save it.

It's the only Sega console which isn't painted black (though there was a black-colored variant with Sega Sports branding on it), breaking a tradition held since the Sega Master System. The Sega name was tarnished by the Saturn debacle; advertising and packaging downplayed the company responsible and emphasized the spotless Dreamcast 'brand'.

The DC controller layout was based on that of the Saturn's 3D Control Pad. Eschewing memory cards, the Dreamcast uses "VMUs" (Virtual Memory Unit) that insert directly into your controller to save game files. (The drawback is that accidentally yanking the controller out of the console port whilst saving will corrupt your file.) It doubles a mini-handheld with a watch battery which you can remove and then play mini-games on. It occasionally bleeds into the core game as seen in Skies of Arcadia's Pinta's Quest: Pinta can be encountered during the story and will offer to bestow items that he finds in Pinta's Quest, but it isn't necessary or relevant to progress. Sonic Adventure has a virtual pet game like Tamagotchi (Chao Garden) which you can load onto it. Rush 2049 has a goofy racing game you can load onto it. It was an interesting idea but wasn't used all that much. It can also link up with other VMUs to trade data without being plugged into the console.

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In a precursor to the Nintendo DS, the VMU's screen (typically used as a clock and calender) can also display game information while plugged-in. The best usage of the thing was for football games, specifically the NFL 2K ones. With prior consoles, any sort of play selection was done on-screen, so if you were playing against a friend, you had to stipulate that they don’t look at the screen while I’m picking the play! and hope that they actually honored that. With the Dreamcast, the play selection was done on the VMU, so no one could peek.

Determined not to repeat the Saturn's mistakes, Sega designed it to be a powerful 3D system which was easy to develop for. In the U.S., it launched with a mainline Sonic game, Sonic Adventure, which managed to (barely) break the Polygon Ceiling. (In Japan, Adventure came out 1 month after the console launched on November 27, 1998.) Microsoft also lent a hand with the system's online capability, which helped pioneer online gaming for consoles with titles like ChuChu Rocket! and especially Phantasy Star Online.

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A lot of the Dreamcast’s library consists of Arcade Perfect Ports, many of which were possible because the Dreamcast sharing much of its hardware with the Sega NAOMI arcade board. However, it did birth a new generation of IPs like Jet Set Radio, Evolution, and Shenmue. The first sequel in the Grandia series began as a Dreamcast exclusive, as did Resident Evil – Code: Veronica. Both were 3D leaps for their respective franchises: Grandia I and the previous REs used a Sprite/Polygon Mix. Popular arcade fighting games like Soulcalibur and Dead or Alive 2 achieved greater acclaim through the Dreamcast, and the second (and last) Rival Schools game was only ever ported to this console. The most-famous port which isn't a fighting game is the arcade hit Crazy Taxi, which was successful enough to warrant two console-only sequels.

Much like its predecessor, it was the console of choice for 2D fighters, playing host to the most-faithful versions of the Marvel vs. Capcom and SNK vs. Capcom games; indeed, the long-lived MvC2 competitive scene kept the Dreamcast in the public consciousness after its death. These days it's easier to play MvC2 on Xbox Live Arcade or the Play Station Network.

The system did have its share of drawbacks and design flaws. Probably the most notable was Sega's decision to make the pack-in modem only 33.6K (in Europe and Asia; 56K in North America); this at a time when 56K was industry standard, with ISDN and Broadband starting 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.

The Dreamcast actually came out of the gate very fast, surprisingly so given the failure of the Saturn. However, in an era when DVDs were about to explode in popularity, you had the PlayStation 2 just over the horizon touting a games console and a built-in DVD player for cheaper than most standalone DVD players at the time. That alone smashed Sega more than Sony's horrid launch titles or any marketing nonsense about "Emotion Engines." Sony tried this tactic again with the PS3/Blu-Ray player, but didn't account for the fact that the leap from DVD to Blu-Ray wasn't as huge as VHS to DVD and didn't drive sales in nearly the same fashion, thus sticking them with a hugely-expensive console for years. Yet the GameCube couldn't play DVDs, either, and it still sold better than the Dreamcast and had a longer lifespan (2001-07). But the GameCube had a smaller price tag, plus Nintendo didn't have the baggage of the failed Saturn project, were guaranteed sales on the backs of their first-party titles alone, and didn't take the initial brunt of the PS2 launch.

There was also the fact that the games are laughably-easy to pirate. The proprietary GD-ROM format was initially the only form of copy protection the Dreamcast had and for a while it worked. However, hackers eventually discovered the console's support for MIL-CDs; a format with a whopping 8 releases exclusive to Japan which adds multimedia functions to music CDs whenever the Dreamcast plays them. For example, MIL-CD music releases can offer enhanced navigational menus, internet capabilities, and full-screen video. MIL-CD's have absolutely no protection in place to prevent copies from running and effectively left a backdoor into the Dreamcast. Hackers were able to exploit this feature to allow the Dreamcast to play games on burnt CD-ROMs by ripping the GD-ROM disc via a serial cable or through tunneling software and the modem/broadband adapter and then formatting the data to adhere to the MIL-CD format; early attempts used an MIL-CD boot disc such as the famous Utopia Boot Disc which had to first be inserted and booted up before playing a burnt CD. (This also had the benefit of bypassing the region coding installed to the console's BIOS-IPL allowing you to run imports) Towards the end of the consoles life pirates eventually created a workaround in the form of a self booting disc image which contained the bootloader built in. The final revision of the Dreamcast hardware removed MIL-CD support completely.

A caveat to this however was the need to strip data from the 1.1GB GDI disc image to allow it to fit onto a standard 700MB CD-ROM. Common sacrifices were compressed audio tracks, textures or FMV's and in certain cases outright removal of these components or to split them across multiple discs. Several early scene releases would also miss entire levels or sequences (A scene release of Sonic Adventure would always crash on the Twinkle Park stage due to missing files needed for the level to load) Later Dreamcast games would start adding their own anti-piracy checks to try and deter pirates but by that time it was too little too late. Not helping was that the Dreamcast's primary software developing kit was leaked onto the internet allowing pirates and hackers to disassemble games with greater ease.

The most significant factor was the large debt Sega had accrued from their earlier string of failed hardware. Not only did this limit Sega's ability to promote the Dreamcast, it also meant they had to sell it at an unrealistic margin in order for to become profitable again. Developers, retailers and consumers likewise viewed the console warily given Sega's shaky situation, and Electronic Arts famously refused to support the system at all: they had previously wanted to be the exclusive supplier of sports titles for the DC, and when Sega said no (as they had just purchased developer Visual Concepts for the express purpose of creating sports games), EA exacted their revenge. On the upside, Visual Concepts' NFL 2K and NBA 2K wound up becoming huge hits even after the Dreamcast's demise, and were seen as worthy competitors to EA's sports titles, with EA giving up on basketball entirely for a few years. However, NFL 2K wound up being Screwed by the Lawyers when EA struck a deal to become the NFL's exclusive video game partner.

Between 1998 and 2003, Sega operated at a net loss. The Dreamcast made them money but the games just weren't selling (usually the opposite is true with home consoles), and they couldn't compete with the PS2 or GameCube. Sega's president at the time, Isao Okawa, held majority shares and fronted $695 million of his own money to keep them from going bankrupt and to pacify investors. He died soon afterward while in negotiations with Microsoft to support Dreamcast games on the Xbox, and the guy who replaced him was adament about staying out of hardware from then on. It didn't cover the damages, and riding out the Dreamcast for another year wouldn't have turned it around, so they folded (having made a little under 11 million of the things) and retreated to making software shortly thereafter. The Dreamcast saw its dream die on March 31, 2001. With that, Sega ended nearly three decades as a leading console manufacturer. The last game Sega would ever publish for the Dreamcast—and by extension, their own consoles—was Puyo Puyo Fever on February 24, 2004. Dreamcast consoles were still sold in Japan until 2006, where third-party games continued to trickle out until '07. The final Dreamcast game released that year was Karous.

A common misconception is that the Dreamcast is compatible with Microsoft Windows CE (Due to the misleading label slapped onto the front of the console ) but this is not the case: Sega and Microsoft partnered to develop a Windows CE based development kit under the codename of Dragon to allow developers to more easily port over games from the PC platform using an abstraction layer with familiar API's such as Direct X rather than needing to code to the bare metal of the console. The game would then ship with the libraries it would require from this environment rather than the entire operating system. Ultimately however, the Windows CE based SDK fell to the wayside in favor of Sega's own Katana software development kit which was more optimized and easier to work with due to not needing to worry about the overhead cost of the Windows libraries and compatibility issues between the two platform's architecture but that did not stop from around 75 games using the Windows CE based kit (Most notably a canclled port of Half-Life plus Resident Evil 2 ,Tomb Raider Chronicles and Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation)

For all its failures, the Dreamcast is still remembered fondly by a subset of gamers and has a cult following. The Dreamcast was also known for being 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 NetBSD, as well as allowing programmers to write their own games using Kallisti OS as a developing environment. So although the GD-ROM format was abandoned in 2007, indie developers still continue to make Dreamcast (and VMU) games. A complete first-person shooter called Paranoia was released in May 2010. Later on, a side-scrolling shooter came out.

It also helped standardize online gaming for consoles; while online play had been experimented with as far back as the Nintendo Entertainment System era and had even earlier pre-internet precursors in the Atari 2600 days, the Dreamcast is what first made online connectivity a genuine and prioritized point of interest within the gaming industry. Microsoft would go on to use the experience they gained from their partnership with Sega on the Dreamcast's Spiritual Successor: the Xbox. (Bill Gates was even in talks to consider cross-console compatibility between the two consoles, but the negotiations fell through over the choice of online services.) Several games Sega had been developing for the DC ended up as early Xbox exclusives (in an attempt to win Japanese gamers, which failed). Even the Xbox controller layout (which was subsequently improved upon with the Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers) is based on that of the Dreamcast's.

In the late nineties, 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 known as POPS (PlayStation One Portable System).


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 SuperH-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, though this idea pretty much died during the Dreamcast's console generation.
  • 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 GD-ROM, a proprietary, high density optical disc format that was incompatible, mostly, with CD drives. The "GD" stood for "Gigabyte Disc", as 1 GB was the format's maximum storage capacity.
    • 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 usable 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 — including support for certain features that the competition wouldn't include until the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One — 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 anti-aliasing 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 Dreamcast Controller, noted for its' wide variety of color schemes, dual expansion ports and an unusual shape. (It's an update to the Saturn's 3D Control Pad.)
    • The VMU (Visual Memory Unit), which is needed to save games, and doubled as a portable game system. It plugs into the controller via the aforementioned expansion ports (typically the one in the front, which had a cutout so you could see the screen; certain games would display additional information on the VMU screen). The memory is flash, meaning it works even when the tiny watch battery is depleted (which explains the loud "BEEP" heard when you start up a console; that's the VMU telling you it has no battery).
    • Broadband modem, ultra rare but then oh so useful. Nowadays, not so much. This replaced the packed-in modem; both would plug into an expansion port along the console's edge (there was no "filler" door to put in place, unlike the Genesis).
    • VGA box. When installed, the produced RGB is not converted to Composite/S-Video/Coaxial and back to RGB for the screen to use. This should have been offered as standard, as it allows more color than all of its competitors while in VGA mode which also shortens response time, produces the natural resolution (480p) in progressive mode (i.e. lines don't appear when moving, clearer image), does not require external power source, and it was cheap to make ($20 finds you one). Contact with the graphics port may be faulty though, which makes colored lines to randomly appear on the screen. If your TV lacked a VGA port, you could still use the video and S-Video ports.
    • A variety of peripheral, and often unusual, controllers, including a fishing rod and maracas, as well as arcade sticks and light guns. A mouse and keyboard were also available, mostly useful for Internet-related games and functions and the occasional edutainment game like Typing of the Dead. Side note: Sega didn't actually release their light gun in the US. Sega didn't want to risk a backlash over a gun peripheral in the wake of the Columbine massacre. Instead the third-party Mad Catz "Dream Blaster" was promoted and approved by Sega sincem unlike the Dreamcast Gun, it could not be mistaken for an actual weapon. Most lightgun games released in the US also prevented players from using imported Dreamcast Guns.

System Software

  • As noted on a sticker on the front of the console, Microsoft collaborated with Sega to produce a version of Windows CE (a special version of Windows designed for low-powered, single-tasking embedded machines like consoles) for the Dreamcast. Contrary to popular belief, this was not built into the console itself, but was instead available as an option for developers to include with their games in order to make porting from the PC easier.
  • The Dreamcast's hardware is known among arcade enthusiasts for being a match with the Sega NAOMI arcade hardware, allowing for the relatively simple creation of arcade ports. If you find an arcade game running on Sega NAOMI, there's a high likelihood it has a Dreamcast port.
  • All DC consoles came bundled with a web browser disc (simply titled the Dreamcast Web Browser) so you could take advantage of the built-in connectivity; when SegaNet was launched the browser discs were updated to be compatible with it. Certain copies also came with the Sega Swirl puzzle game. European consumers had the DreamKey series of browser discs (allowing access to the Dreamarena online service), while in Japan the web discs were known as Dream Passport (unlike in other regions there was no unified online gaming service).

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


Notable Games/Series:

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    A-D 

    E-H 

    I-L 

    M-P 

    Q-T 

    U-Z 


Tropes:

  • Book-Ends: Some of the later ads, including the SegaNet launch commercial, reused the old "SEGA!" scream from the Genesis days.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The swirl icon was colored differently depending on the region, In Japan and North America it was red/orange, whereas in Europe and Australia it was blue. This was due to another company using a similar orange swirl logo at the time; as a consequence, the swirl was removed from the PAL-region system menu and some accessories, including the VMUs. Brazil wound up using both versions due to mixing-and-matching imported games and accessories.
  • Ghost in the Machine: Early ads after the launch depicted tons of characters from the initial launch games all inside the Dreamcast, talking and interacting with each other (such as the ad for Crazy Taxi depicting characters in line at the DMV, including Sonic, for some reason), hence the tagline "It's thinking....".
  • Moe Anthropomorphism: Neptunia introduces Uzume Tennouboshi/Orange Heart, who in her human form is a rough-and-tumble Tomboy who secretly is a childish daydreamer in her CPU form. She also plays up the "dream" aspect of the Dreamcast by being able to make her dreams/wishes into reality. In her past, she was also a goddess filled with hopes and dreams before she ultimately sealed herself away into a console (that looks very much like a Dreamcast) when her people turned against her for how dangerous her powers could be, and split into two beings: her original self going crazy and evil while her inner goodness became a new Uzume.
  • Product Facelift: Outside of internal revisions, the console's short lifespan meant that, aside from the aforementioned logo coloration issues there wasn't much variation in the models; though Japanese consoles had a slightly different Windows CE logo, and the gray triangle on the disc lid was translucent plastic instead of solid. There were some unique versions, including a limited-edition black "SEGA Sports" model which came prepackaged with two games. Another model, the Diver 2000 CX-1, can best be described as a CRT television with a Dreamcast built into it (and it was designed to look like Sonic's head). The North American packaging for both the games and hardware underwent a change: going from a blurry, blue-orange shot of the console to a "horizon" or "eclipse" design. The coloration of the spines of the GD-ROM jewel cases switched from white to black, which makes them tougher to distinguish from PS1 games.
  • Vaporware: Several add-ons, including a Zip Drive (which made it to prototype stage) and a proposed Dreamcast/DVD player combo which may have been nothing more than a shell. Bernie Stoler wanted to roll out three features when he was in charge: Online play, DVD support, and an internal hard drive. He focused his energies on the first one, but there were unused connections in the console for a hard drive, which ended up being the basis for a failed European project involving a mix of the Dreamcast and a Sky Digibox. He was also apparently involved in a pitch with an "early DVR company" (likely TiVo or ReplayTV) to have an on-demand games service delivering DC, Saturn, Genesis and Master System games via their box.
  • What Could Have Been: Stoler initially pushed for a controller with two analog sticks à la the PlayStation's DualShock. Sega was also involved in talks to bring games like Grand Theft Auto III to the platform.
    • The aforementioned Half Life port is this - originally, the game was going to be ported to the system with a new bonus campaign developed by Gearbox Software focusing around the Black Mesa security guards, much like how the PS 2 version of the game had Decay as a bonus campaign. However, the Dreamcast version was ultimately cancelled. Gearbox opted to release the bonus campaign as a PC expansion, and the result was Half-Life: Blue Shift.



Alternative Title(s): Dreamcast

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