Posted by: Kai_LeRai | September 5, 2009

Racketboy’s Dreamcast Guide corrected

I just stumbled over Racketboy’s Dreamcast guide and found it to be error riddled and full of exaggerations, so I decided to correct it just for the fun of it.

Historical Impact

* The Dreamcast was Sega’s fifth and final video game console and the successor to the Sega Saturn. Sega cut off the Saturn’s lifespan early to try to get a head start in competing with the Playstation 2.
* Dreamcast was ahead of its time in many ways. It was the first console to include a built-in modem, Internet support for online gaming, and stunning VGA video output. It was also a large leap in graphical and storage capabilities over the existing PS1 and N64 consoles.

Correction:
– Online-gaming was already supported with the Sega Saturn and Sega’s NetLink service. In fact, that is what the Dreamcast’s online service was based on.
– Naming VGA-output as a feature that was ahead of its time is plain wrong. The N64 supported VGA just as much. Also, let’s not forget that in 1999 VGA-resolutions had been a standard for PC-gamers for half a decade at least. In fact, high-end gamers were already using resolutions up to 1280×1024, so this feature was neither stunning, nor ahead of its time, but merely necessary. Let’s also not forget that the Saturn had support for full SDTV resolution (704×480). And last but not least let’s not forget that direct competitors to the Dreamcast introduced support for HD-resolutions, showing that Sega’s console was rather outdated on that sector.
– It’s always funny to see comparisons of hardware from different generations, especially if this is supposed to show the superiority of the newer console. That doesn’t work, though. Almost every new console generation introduces higher storage capacities and better graphics over the older generation, so mentioning this, is really moot. In fact, the Dreamcast’s storage capacity was dwarfed by Microsoft’s and Sony’s support for DVDs. The fact that many gamers held out on Sega to buy a PS2 instead shows that comparing technical aspects this way to convince gamers of a supposed superiority of a console doesn’t work and actually back then, they compared the Dreamcast specs with the not yet released PS2 rather than with 5 year old hardware.

* The Dreamcast enjoyed one of the best console launches of all time with brisk sales and a solid initial game library. Unfortunately, between the growing media hype and the support for the hot DVD technology, the Playstation 2 quickly limited the sales potential for the Dreamcast.

Comment: The console launch the Dreamcast experienced could be described as mediocre or decent at best. Your misconception comes straight from the mouth of Sega’s Bernie Stolar, who claimed this to make the console look more attractive. However, he compared the launch numbers with those of the Playstation and N64, but those consoles faced a much smaller market at that time, that was only widened massively due to the Playstation’s stunning success. You have to compare the Dreamcast’s launch numbers with its direct competitors. Sony’s Playstation 2 sold twice as many consoles on its launch day a year later, which shows that Sega did not really make use of the market’s potential. Even the Xbox and Gamecube had higher sales numbers on their first day, which makes the Dreamcast launch look more like a fail than anything else. So much for the media hype…

* The Dreamcast only lasted a few short years on the retail scene outside of Japan, but still maintained a strong cult following due to its innovative games, homebrew capabilities and the trickle of interesting imports coming from Japan.

– Comment: This is a moot point too. Show me a console that doesn’t have a strong cult following. Cults around consoles develop easily and are nothing out of the extraordinary. In fact, a console having none would be worth mentioning, but this is just calling the cattle black.

Strengths

* The Dreamcast was a very powerful machine in its day and still holds up surprisingly well in the modern era. It also had some of Sega’s more creative and innovative games, some of which have not yet been ported to other consoles.

– Comment: Let’s put the statement of a powerful machine in perspective. The Dreamcast featured a 200MHz CPU, which was under-powered compared to the PS2’s 300MHz, or the Xbox’ 733Mhz CPU. In fact, the Xbox GPU (233MHz) was already higher clocked than the Dreamcast’s CPU. Implying that the console featured more creative and innovative games is debatable too, since every console had those, just the quantities varied. Still, those innovative games did nowhere near sell as well as those genre-defining games that the competing consoles released, which ultimately caused Sega’s demise, so I would be careful calling Sega’s game library a strength. In fact, it was its onesidedness that kept gamers away from the console.

* As mentioned above, in addition to many common video connections, the Dreamcast also supports native VGA output that makes it ideal for playing the Dreamcast on computer monitors or HDTVs.
* Due to the discoveries made by piracy groups at the end of the Dreamcast’s retail lifecycle, it is very easy to run both rips of commercial games and homebrew efforts like independent games and emulators of older systems without any modifications to the hardware. Because of this, the Dreamcast has one of the best homebrew and emulation scenes along with the original XBox.
* In addition to the quirky Sega-developed games, the Dreamcast is very popular because of its deep library of 2D Fighting and 2D Shooting games (shmups). Many of the original arcade games were originally developed on the NAOMI arcade platform (which is basically Dreamcast hardware with extra RAM), which made it very easy to have arcade-accurate console ports.

– Comment: Well, calling it “very” popular in conjunction with the rather limited fanbase of 2d fighting games and shmups couldn’t be more of an exaggeration. If at all, Sega proved that these genres are not profitable any more due to a lack of fanbase, so makes this statement look pretty ridiculous. Now, if you had said that the console was popular among fighting and shmup fans, this would be entirely different and much more accurate.

Weaknesses

* The Dreamcast was developed before DVD drives had reached an affordable level, so it does not support DVD playback or playing homebrew off of DVD media.

– Comment: I really doubt that the price of DVD-hardware was really what kept Sega from using the technology. After all, they used their very own standard, which was certainly not less pricy than just licensing DVD-technology. Sega’s choice for the GD-ROM was more likely only driven by two aspects: copy protection by using a non-standard format and expanded income due to licensing fees by 3rd party developers. Too bad Sega had almost none and also overlooked the video craze that started with the introduction of DVDs.

* Since it was released a year before the Playstation 2 and two years before the Gamecube and XBox, it does not quite have the graphical capabilities of the later consoles. While it does not really hinder the machine much, some graphic-obsessed gamers may be disappointed.

– Comment: Yet, earlier you called it a powerful system. Well, how powerful is a system, which graphics capabilities settle at the lowest end among all of the consoles of that generation.

* Those gamers looking for many of the popular games from Electronic Arts will be disappointed as EA did not support the Dreamcast after its disputes with Sega during the Saturn era. However, Sega did an excellent job of filling the software gaps itself.
* The RPG genre did not have a very big showing in the Dreamcast library. Skies of Arcadia and Grandia 2 were very strong games, but the rest of the library was limited to a small handful of gems.

Emulation

* If you would prefer to play your Dreamcast games on your PC instead of the actual console, you may need to wait a bit longer for good compatibility.
* While you may get to have a few games playable if you have a high-end PC, most games are quite glitchy if playable at all.

Comment: I wouldn’t call a 1.5Ghz CPu with any DirectX9c-compatible graphics card a high-end PC. I’m aware that the article was written in 2007, but even then this was still an exaggeration. With the release of NullDC at that time, Dreamcast emulation became available even on low-spec systems.

Affordability

* The Dreamcast is actually one of the most affordable consoles on eBay. It is very easy to find one on eBay or in pawn shops or flea markets for under $20.

Comment: So is the Xbox, Saturn, Snes, Nes, Game Gear, Nomad, Master System, Genesis, Playstation, N64… Can you say moot?

* Many of the most popular games for the Dreamcast are also available for just a few dollars each. Add that to the emulation capabilities and you have a very good classic gaming value.

Comment: The emulation capabilities are rather laughable. Sure you have a lot of emulators for the system, but most of them don’t even work full speed, or support the majority of games. In fact, you only have a handful of emulators, which could be called playable. Just take the Snes-emus as an example. Emulation is not bad, yet not quite there (and it’s doubtable that it will ever get there). Simple games without overlays run almost at full speed, but those are rather limited in numbers and also look pretty bad, even for that system. Comparing that emulation back to the Snes-experience I had on my PC in 1999 I have to say that the Dreamcast is massively inferior and that basically goes for any emulation that is still lacking. Snes, N64, PSX games….they were all much better playable on my old rig, than they ever were on the Dreamcast. If it comes to emulation, an honest suggestion would have been to get an Xbox. It’s not more expensive, yet its raw processing power emulates basically all older systems at playable speeds. Dreamcast is nice for NES, Master System, Genesis, Scumm and old computer emulation, but why limit yourself if you can get all of that and much more on the Xbox.

Final Statement: It might look like I’m down-talking the console, but don’t get me wrong. Being a fan doesn’t mean that you have to praise everything about it, or have to turn every aspect into a positive one. That’s for fanboys. I’d rather keep it real and for a beginners guide this did little to inform people, but rather spread misconceptions among them. I think all older fans will agree that there are already far too many that surround the Dreamcast, so it doesn’t really help to push even more inaccuracies out there. I can see that Rachetboy tried to fill a page to justify this as a guide and therefore tried to include as many aspects as possible. Not being bound to such an artificial restriction, I’d rather condense it down to the following:

Historical Impact:

– Sealed the death warrant for Sega Saturn, while pissing off 3rd party developers for that console due to sudden lack of support and market consistency, which ultimately thinned out support for the Dreamcast. How ironic.

Strengths:
– Vast arcade game library
– Support for pirated games and homebrew right out of the box
– Own freeware compiler with KallistiOS for homebrew apps with the commercial ones being available as warez

Weaknesses:
– Lack of support for basically all other game genres except for a few titles
– Lots of homebrew apps never made it out of beta, or even alpha state and run less than decent, including but not limited to DivX-players and most emulators with only few exceptions
– Many pirated games can’t be played without having serious portions of them either cut out or downsampled, while original games still can cost a pretty penny if you live in countries other than the United States.

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