Editor's Note: I was originally going to post this on the 9th, the day of the Dreamcast's 10th anniversary. But after I thought about it for a while, I'm sure the cblogs will be full of Dreamcast stories, not to mention the front page as well. So here it is, a day early.
September 9th, 1999.
On that day, gamers in the United States were treated to a device that Japan had been playing with for nearly a year prior. We were given Sega's final console offering, and what I believe is the most important video game-related anything
that has ever been released -- The Dreamcast. While Nintendo is usually credited with revolutionizing the gaming industry, Sega's little gray (and sometimes black) box had more innovations built into it than anything Nintendo had ever come up with before. The features that were a part of the Dreamcast are the very same features our current-gen consoles have, and the same features that people actually complain about if they're absent from the games that we play nowadays.
Come with me, my fellow gamers, on a trip down memory lane as we celebrate the Dreamcast's 10th anniversary by taking a look at all the things we've gained from the console's release, and how gaming as we know it today wouldn't have been the same without them.
Now, I know PC gamers are going to come in here and start to make fun of how I consider an Internet connection to be "revolutionary," but it really was when it came to consoles. Sure, we had the Sega Channel back in the day, and the Famicom got a horrendous-looking modem (in Japan only, of course), but the Dreamcast was the first console to mainstream
online activity. All you had to do was plug one end of the included telephone cable into the back of your Dreamcast, plug the other end into your phone line, put in your service provider info and boom, you were online. You could even pick up a broadband adapter if you had a high-speed connection -- In fact, you can still find them around eBay once in a while, but they're pretty expensive.
The included web browser disc let you browse the web in the same way you could on a computer, and a mouse and keyboard were both released later on, perfectly emulating the feel of browsing the way everyone was already used to. This Internet connection led to many of the Dreamcast's positive points all on its own.
Again, there were consoles before that had some way of getting online to do stuff, but the Dreamcast actually encouraged online gameplay right from the start. While many games had nothing but leaderboards, some, like Vampire Chronicles
and Unreal Tournament
actually let you play against other people, just as we do today with almost every Xbox 360 and PS3 release.
There was one online game in particular that paved the way for the MMO, one of the most talked about genres in gaming today -- That game was Phantasy Star Online.
Many versions of this game have been created over the years, including two for the GameCube, but it started on Sega's own console first, and what a game it was. I'm sure there were MMOs before PSO, but this game left it's mark when it was released -- It was one of the most talked about games of its time, and it was played for years. Hell, people are still
playing the Dreamcast versions on unofficial servers. The first version of the game was completely free to play online, so almost everyone who had a Dreamcast bought a copy. Not only that, but the inclusion of the Japanese Sonic Adventure 2
demo just sweetened the deal. In my mind, for better or worse, we have PSO to thank for the development of games like World of Warcraft.
I'm not saying WoW wouldn't have been created anyway, but PSO had to have been a huge inspiration, and the start of a craze that's still going on nowadays.
Think about it -- When a game comes out on our current consoles that doesn't
have online multiplayer, people go out of their minds with rage. It's become so normal at this point that we don't feel right when it's missing. The Dreamcast is to thank for mainstreaming this concept.
This is something else that's become unbelievably common with games and consoles today. Not many people think of downloadable content when they think of the Dreamcast, but there was actually a ton of it if you looked hard enough. Sonic Adventure
had a Christmas theme and a racetrack; Sonic Adventure 2
had Halloween costumes and character themes for the menu screens; both of them had Chao downloads; PSO had online and offline missions with rare weapons available upon completion; Shenmue
had classic Sega games and VMU minigames; the list goes on and on. How many of our games today are expanded through downloadable content? Around 90%? This is the console that started it all. The content was stored on the very same memory card that held your game saves, just as we store all the extra data on internal memory now. The Dreamcast standardized what we would eventually consider to be second nature in the gaming industry.
And speaking of the memory card, that was an innovation in and of itself...
Short for V
nit, the VMU was the Dreamcast's memory card. When you looked at it, you immediately noticed it's main unique feature -- It had a screen, hence the "visual" part of the name. While this handheld was more like a Giga Pet than a Game Boy in terms of power, it was just as significant as any other gaming handheld ever released, because it was the first one to offer excellent connectivity with its mother console. The VMU plugged into the Dreamcast's controller and interacted with whatever game was being played on the Dreamcast itself, if VMU support was a part of the game. It could be used in NFL Blitz 2000
as a personal screen when choosing plays, for example, so your opponent wouldn't know what was coming. It could be loaded up with one minigame at a time for you to take on the go, as well. The most common game was Chao Adventure,
in which you could raise Chao creatures and then transfer them back to either Sonic Adventure
or Sonic Adventure 2,
but many other games in the Dreamcast's library came with VMU extras. Another awesome feature was the fact that you didn't need the console to mess with the data -- It could be copied, moved, and deleted using the buttons on the unit itself. Plus, it made for one hell
of an alarm clock. ;) The original PlayStation had the PocketStation in Japan, which was similar to the VMU, but it wasn't used nearly as much as Sega's offering later on -- It was much more of a novelty, albeit a pretty cool one. Sega was the first company to make console-to-handheld connectivity a regular thing.
As consoles advanced, we started to see this connectivity with handhelds evolve as well. The GameCube connected to the Game Boy Advance, the PS2 and PS3 can both connect to the PSP, and at least one game on the Wii (Pokémon Battle Revolution
) can interact with the DS. Had the Dreamcast not done this first, would other companies have been okay with the idea of making themselves the guinea pigs?
Here we have yet another feature that doesn't usually bring the Dreamcast to peoples' minds, because not many people know exactly how far voice communication went on the console. Sure, everyone knows about Seaman,
but there was much more than that. Alien Front Online,
and obscure tank shooter, provided some pretty fun team deathmatch-style games, and voice chat was completely supported. In fact, the microphone actually came with that game in a bundle. Do I really
need to talk about voice chat in today's consoles and games? It's a must-have when you play online, especially for anything that's team-based.
But the mic was used for something other than that, and you could only do this if you subscribed to the Official Dreamcast Magazine -- Voice over IP was supported using a program that ended up being included on each of the demo discs later on in the magazine's life cycle. Dreamcast owners with mics could call any landline they wanted to using VoIP, which was obviously cheaper when calling long distance. This is something we've been seeing specifically with the PSP lately, thanks to the inclusion of Skype. There has been talk of a Nintendo DS phone as well, which means current gaming companies are still looking into expanding upon the prospect of what the Dreamcast started, but going with the handheld market instead so you don't have to be tethered to your consoles to talk to people. (Wires and cords? Pssh.)
Look at all that up there. Every bit
of it, everything that we take for granted today, was started by Sega and the Dreamcast. That machine had so much tech built into it that console gamers had never experienced before, and it was overwhelming at times -- Which is precisely why I believe the Dreamcast failed. Sure, the fact that Sony came out with the PlayStation 2 a year later definitely impacted the Dreamcast's sales, and the ability to just copy a game and throw it in the console didn't help either. But I think one of the main reasons the console didn't last was because not a whole lot of companies used all of these features to their fullest potentials. There was so much stuff
that Sega packed into their machine that I think it was actually too
far ahead of its time. Look at how long it took for everything the Dreamcast had to finally become normal -- The PS2, GameCube and Xbox, graphical power aside, couldn't do nearly
everything the Dreamcast could. We're only now making use of all those features, two full generations later. There was just too much to take in at the time, and I think that was a huge contributor to the console's unfortunate downfall.
The Dreamcast was, is, and as far as I'm concerned will remain the most important gaming console we have ever gotten as consumers, and the most influential system created by developers. Without the innovations it brought to the table, gaming as we know it today would be a vastly different experience -- Whether that's good or bad we'll never be able to tell. The console is still going strong in Japan, with the occasional game being released every year or two. This shows how dedicated its fans really are, and it brings a smile to my face every time I hear that a new game is being released. I'll never forget opening my Dreamcast for the first time, and experiencing a console like no other, which is easily one of my fondest memories of the gaming part of my life. So here's to you, Sega, and here's to you, Dreamcast.