…taking a look back at a truly underrated piece of next-gen hardware!
As we find ourselves closing out year-one of this generation’s console war, I think it’s important to remember some of our fallen comrades from year’s past. After all, no battle can truly be fought without casualties, and the 30+ years our game industry has endured has seen several titans come and go. There was a period when our choices didn’t boil down to just two pieces of hardware on the market. As a result of this huge demand (that some might call an oversaturation), gaming empires rose and fell…one of the most notable being the mighty Sega.
So how did this once great contender go from being a hero to a zero? Some would attribute it to a dream. A very expensive dream. For better or worse, history will remember the Sega Dreamcast as the nail which sealed Sega’s coffin as a console manufacturer forever.
Exactly 15 years ago this week, the epic white box hit store shelves in early September. I can still remember the fan fair and hype surrounding its release. I was in my latter high school years, more concerned with my beat-up Mustang and girls than I was with video games. But I can still see the magazine covers in my mind. The arrival of the system was heralded by a sea of press that engulfed the headlines that Fall season. However, despite strong pre-order and launch day sales, the steep downward spiral it took shortly thereafter would signify the beginning of the end. To the dismay of many, the Dreamcast turned out to be a definite dud rather than the stud some had predicted. It literally took just two years to completely cripple the company, forcing them to adopt a “software only” approach from then on. Many point to the one-two KO punch of the failed Saturn that preceded it (with Sega hoping to “reboot” its business with the Dreamcast) and the arrival of the PS2 and Xbox consoles following. Sandwiched between a perfect storm of ass-kickery (combined with a lack-luster games library), the Dreamcast became more of a nightmare for those working at Sega during the turn of the century.
As it happens, well-known industry insider Peter Moore was acting president of Sega’s American division back then (and had a front-row seat to witness the collapse). He recently tweeted out a memorial of sorts, remembering the experience as “bittersweet.” He went on to say how fortunate he was to “… have worked at that time with some of the most amazingly dedicated individuals, all of whom were galvanized around a single goal: prove the naysayers wrong, launch the console with a bang, get to a meaningful installed base within the first twelve months, and keep the momentum going in the face of the upcoming stiff competition.”
Personally, I did own a Dreamcast. Having said that, my game collection sadly consisted of one single, solitary title. Granted, some of this had to do with my preoccupation with teenage life, I do remember feeling somewhat disconnected from the rest of the gaming world when playing my Cast (that’s right, I just coined my own hipster phrase). To date, one of my favorite systems is the Saturn. This is a result of Sega providing the best arcade-to-home ports of any other system (which I was quite obsessed with at the time). This is an area where the Dreamcast really shined, as a near perfect version of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was the main reason I purchased it in the first place (that’s the one game I mentioned earlier).
But I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and the Dreamcast shouldn’t be seen as a complete failure. Aside from fairly killer graphics by late ‘90s standards, its legacy is laying the foundation of what would become the modern online era of Xbox Live and PSN. The Dreamcast’s 56k modem, I feel, was a seminal step in a direction that only PC users had experienced up ‘till that point (and opened new doors for the rest of us). Couple that with fun, innovative titles like Phantasy Star Online (arguably its biggest success), Crazy Taxi and others, and you have a true watershed moment in our digital history.
So let’s take a moment to tip our hats (or a pint if you’re so inclined) to the Dreamcast…the gatekeeper of the next-generation.