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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

It’s thinking.
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Sega was down, but not out after the catastrophic flop of the Sega 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 wasn'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 tarred 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. It is essentially a mini-handheld with a lithium 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 is encountered during the story and offers to bestow items that he finds in Pinta's Quest, but it isn't necessary or relevant to progress. In a faint echo of the Nintendo DS, the VMU's screen can also display game information while plugged-in. The big drawback is that accidentally yanking the controller out of the console port whilst saving will corrupt your file.

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Determined not to make the same mistake as the Saturn, 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.

A lot of the Dreamcast library consists of Arcade Perfect Ports, which makes sense, as the Dreamcast's architecture was the basis for Sega's NAOMI arcade hardware. 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. Probably the most famous of all Dreamcast ports is the arcade hit Crazy Taxi, which was successful enough to warrant two console-only sequels.

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Much like its predecessor, it was also 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 (IT'S MAHVEL, BAYBEE!) kept the Dreamcast in the public consciousness after its death. These days it's easier to play MvC2 on Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network.

The Dreamcast saw its dream die on March 31, 2001, in part due to mere hype surrounding the PlayStation 2. 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 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.

There was also the fact that the games became ridiculously-easy to pirate. The proprietary GD-ROM format was literally 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 which added multimedia functions to music CDs whenever the Dreamcast played them. For example, MIL-CD music releases could feature enhanced navigational menus, internet capabilities, and full-screen video. Hackers were able to exploit this feature to allow the Dreamcast to play games on CD-ROMs; early attempts used an MIL-CD boot disc which had to be inserted and loaded before playing a CD, but pirates eventually found a workaround.

The most significant factor was the large debt Sega had accrued from its previous string of failed hardware. Not only did this limit Sega's ability to promote the Dreamcast, it also meant that the it had to sell at an unrealistic margin in order for Sega 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.

But 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. So although the GD-ROM format was abandoned in 2007, indie developers still 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.

It also helped standardize online gaming for consoles. 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.


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 basically 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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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 even 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.



Alternative Title(s): Dreamcast

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