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File:250px-Dreamcast-set-orange.png

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. Segata Sanshiro died to save it. Sega fired Bernie Stolar. They even had a Sonic the Hedgehog 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 [1] and SNK's various fighters; indeed, the long living MvC2 competitive scene was one of the Dreamcast's major life threads in the US after its fall until the release of the game's Xbox Live Arcade / Playstation Network port and its sequel. It's also, arguably, the system that made Soul Calibur a household name. Surprisingly after the Saturn's failure outside of Japan, the Dreamcast launch was a smash hit in the US, 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 Play Station 2 on March 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.

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.

Yet the Dreamcast, if not commercially successful, became a legend, with its user and programmer friendly software, 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. Most recently, a complete first-person shooter called Paranoia was released in May 2010. Even more recently, a side-scrolling shooter came out.


Specs:

  • Hitachi SH-4 200MHz (CPU) capable of a peak 360 MIPS (million instructions per second), 128 bits bus (which led to a misconception that the CPU itself is 128-bit, which was exactly how Sega marketed the Dreamcast as the common belief at that time was "higher bit count equals more realistic graphics"). Compatible with Windows CE (if not optimal), capable of executing 16-bit, 32-bit, 64-bit instructions as well. Including video RAM, this is a bit more than half the memory of the Play Station 2 and one-third of the memory in the Xbox.
    • Main memory 16 MB, content interchangeable with video memory but not as fast, speed limits MFLOPS (million floating point operations per second) to 900.
  • Videologic Power VR 2 100MHz (GPU), effectively the "core" of the Dreamcast, having the most transistors (larger) and being physically in the center, 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 highest "brute force". Optimized for 640*480 resolution, capable of 1600*1200 screen resolution. Unlike the Play Station 2, it blends frames together, creating an image with no "shimmering" and less jagged edges at the cost of a blurrier image.
    • 8 MB video memory, is written and read in the same clock interval (like all VRAM)
    • 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.
  • Yamaha 45 MHz ASIC (application specific integrated circuit), the only custom built chip of the 6th generation, with 2 MB dedicated memory.
  • GD-player, capable of reading CD's but not DVD's, the disks are a bit more sensitive to scratching.
  • Notes:
    • There are many, many, accessories, but the ones that really stand out are:
      • 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 (which is always)
      • 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 Play Station emulator called Bleemcast! was released for the Dreamcast. A port of the first PS 1 emulator ever, it was able to enhance the graphics of PS 1 games by increasing the resolution and smoothing the textures out, which was an impressive feat considering that the PS 1 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 Play Station Portable's backwards compatibility with PS 1 games.


Tropes used by the system in general:

  • Big Word Shout: Initially averted: early North American Dreamcast commercials ended with a robotic-sounding woman with a deep voice whispering "it's thinking". But later on, the "SEGA!" scream from previous ad campaigns came back.
  • Too Good to Last: Common fan opinion.
  • Win Back the Crowd: What Sega was trying to do with this system. They'd been considered Fallen Creators by 1999, after all. Unfortunately, they fell even more.

It's (Still) Dreaming.

Notes

  1. (Mango Sentinel and Mag-Fuckin-Neto wouldn't have been possible if Marvel vs. Capcom 2 modding wasn't possible on the Dreamcast)
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