Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: Dreamcast 20th anniversary memories

GameCentral readers celebrate 20 years of Sega’s final console and classic games like Phantasy Star Online and Shenmue.

The subject for this weekend’s Inbox is based on the fact that this week is the 20th anniversary of the Dreamcast launch in America, so we wanted to know your thoughts on Sega’s last home console and how you remember it today.

As we expected, there were a lot of very impassioned (and long) stories about not just the games but the console itself, which many loved just as much for its online features and other innovations.


Sega quality

I first bought a Dreamcast I think about a year after launch. It was already starting to go into freefall, and Electronic Boutique/GAME were already doing a £100 with six games deal. I thought it was an absolutely fantastic console. It was every bit the arcade game powerhouse that the Saturn was, and this time could extend that into 3D releases too.

My fave games were Skies Of Arcadia, Fighting Vipers 2, Shenmue I and II, Soulcalibur and all the various Capcom fighting games like Marvel Vs. Capcom, Power Stone, and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike. Most of them stand up well – I’ve played most of the fighting games and the GameCube version of Skies Of Arcadia recently, though I’m waiting for Shenmue III to come out before I replay the other Shenmue games.

I never really cared about the online features, though if we had the Japanese exclusive Dream Library (where you could purchase and download Mega Drive and PC Engine games to play), I would have been very interested.

I was extremely upset when Sega left the hardware business, as it ruined them as a games developer. They used to spit out hit after hit, but they let go of so much talent once they went third party they are now a shadow of their former self and only the Yakuza team (which is headed by Nagoshi, one of the golden age veterans) and still puts out Sega quality games. Anyone wishing Nintendo to go third party should take a long look at what happened to Sega when the Dreamcast died.
Lord Darkstorm


Online fantasy

My first online gaming experience, in fact my first time online ever, was playing Phantasy Star Online via Dreamcast’s dial-up modem.

I once played it for a whole weekend virtually non-stop (except to run to the toilet) with a group of people I met online and only stopped when I fell asleep sometime early Sunday morning.

My phone bill was shocking when it arrived, as it was 2 to 10p a minute to use the dial-up Internet server.

Nearly 20 years later I’m still playing it on the same Dreamcast and there’s a big community online who still run servers to play it.

One of my favourite consoles ever.


Online service

I loved my Dreamcasts and still have one hooked up to my gaming TV. But that love is maybe a bit odd because it was actually not the games I most enjoyed. In fact, whilst there are several, like the DC NTSC-J only version of Panzer Front, you’ll still have to prise out of my cold dead hands, it was actually its online capabilities that I used it for more than anything.

But even then I’m not talking about the games. I did not have a PC back in 2000 and at less than £75 it was easily the cheapest way to access the Internet. It was my first online device and with the surprisingly capable Dreamkey 3.0 browser it opened up the possibilities of the Web for me. Email, forums, and for several years I even used it to do the weekly supermarket shop with significant savings over the cost of using a car for that. When the Dreamcast was cancelled and a short time later the fondly remembered Dreamarena forum too it still continued working well for those other purposes.

Of course, it was dial-up back then so it was a snail’s pace slow (33Kb/s) and as the years went by more and more websites became inaccessible or displayed so poorly they were unusable. But right up until 2008 I could still use it and for some things it worked better than the TV STB browsers I had bought as a replacement. The final thing online I used it for was actually reserving one of the last GameCube’s a well-known high street retailer was selling off cheaply when Nintendo pulled the plug on that console.

In short: the Dreamcast to me was always much more than just a games console.
Malcolm Lawn


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Nothing bad

I have to admit to being a late adopter of the Dreamcast. I had seen it up and running in various shops and was impressed with what I had seen. Being a stay at home dad at the time, having a toddler and a second child very much on the way, it was not an ideal time to be considering buying a new games console.

Also, at the back of my mind was what had happened to the Sega Saturn. I couldn’t afford to get caught out twice. That was until much later in the console’s life when I saw one in Dixons with four games for £110 and I just couldn’t resist an impulse purchase even though the writing was already on the wall for the console.

The games which were bundled with the machine weren’t that great to be honest, however the first game I purchased was Metropolis Street Racer, which I spent hours playing. Having been to San Francisco a couple of times I very much enjoyed the courses based around the city. Although not photorealistic they created the look, feel, and vibe of Fisherman’s Wharf perfectly. The courses could be played in the day or night but the game still had that Sega blue sky look and feel to it. The choice of cars was great, my personal favourite was the Fiat Barchetta, although there were plenty of others to choose from. One of my lasting memories of the game was the music, especially how it seemed to be localised to the city or country you were racing in.

Special mention has to go to Don’t Wait, one of the songs for the San Francisco tracks, which captured the location and the feel of the game perfectly. I found it on YouTube this morning as I wanted to make sure I had the song name correct and it has been in my head all day. I last played this around a year ago, yes it looked dated, however the gameplay and music were just as good as I remembered them.

Other games I really enjoyed playing were The House Of The Dead 2 complete with lightgun, Crazy Taxi, Daytona USA, and Jet Set Radio.

My last Dreamcast related purchase was a book – Yu Suzuki’s Game Works Vol. 1 – A little bit of an indulgence but I managed to convince my wife I really wanted it even though it was written in Japanese because it also had some really good pictures of some of my favourite arcade machines. What I didn’t divulge to her until she gave it to me was the fact it also contained a game disc containing conversions of OutRun, Space Harrier, After Burner II, Hang-On, and Power Drift. With the help of a free loader type disc I was able to enjoy all these arcade conversions in the comfort of my own home well before the excellent versions now available on Nintendo Switch and 3DS.

Being a late adopter meant I was able to pick up a lot of games relatively cheap, the ones above were my favourites and although the offer of going online with the likes of Phantasy Star Online was an exciting prospect it was not one I took up at the time.

The Dreamcast was a good machine which really deserved to do a lot better than it did, I wouldn’t say it is my favourite console but I only have good memories of my time with it.


Alpha and omega

I was there from the start; from the first reveal through to the stake in the coffin. Three and a bit glorious years of the most revolutionary and visionary console that has ever graced us. Seeing the screens of Virtua Fighter 3tb, Godzilla, and Sonic Adventure hitting Japanese stores in the winter of 1998 was an event I wish I could have been there for.

At the same time I was coming up to 15-years-old and I was spending a lot of time (and £ coins) in the arcades with my friend every Saturday playing The House Of The Dead 2, Virtua Striker 2, Crazy Taxi, and Virtua Fighter 2. Hearing Sega hyping up their future plans by stating that the Dreamcast was effectively capable of reproducing their Naomi board sent shivers down my spine.

I first played the Dreamcast in February 1999 (I remember Silent Hill coming out around the same time) in my local import games shop, and there I spent almost every weekend for a good couple of months playing Sonic Adventure (I knew it was pants really but it felt so different to anything else at the time). I was GUTTED to see that we had to have a blue swirl in the UK because some home electronics brand had commandeered the orange swirl. This small aesthetic really took the shine off the Dreamcast for me.

Then, in April’s issue of CVG: Shenmue. Life-changing moment for me because at that point gaming changed. Obviously we didn’t know what it would actually turn out like but me and the local import game shop manager would have a great time speculating that it would contain entire countries and so on… regardless I was chomping at the bit when December 1999 came around and it was released in Japan.

Thankfully we had Soulcalibur to keep us until the big boy arrived. Luckily for me there was no chance of any spoilers with Shenmue, as we would have nowadays, and successfully waited that full year for the game to release in the UK in 2000. That year alone we saw Crazy Taxi, Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, Ecco The Dolphin, The House Of The Dead 2…

I won’t gush too much about Shenmue but suffice to say it’s my favourite of all time and I have been waiting for 18 years for Shenmue III. Another game changer for me was Phantasy Star Online: never before had I played anything online (I’d never even used the Internet or sent an email!) yet that all changed when having the time of your life paying 1p a minute for the pleasure. I recall picking up some rare item from someone who had died in front of me and I was amazed that I had gotten away with it and it even letting me do it! I made a pen pal too, a nice fella from Washington DC who I kept in touch with for some time after.

2001 was a funny old year because it felt like the Dreamcast was just hitting its stride yet something felt a bit ominous… Shenmue II popped up out of nowhere seemingly; Headhunter was a decent open(ish) world, and for the first time I was enjoying PC conversions of games like Soldier Of Fortune I would never had played. Sonic Adventure 2 was actually very decent for the most part and surpassed the original quite easily.

Then the end came. I was confused, I think, more than anything because for me and many, it had been a console which changed and introduced so much. So many things that we take for granted now. I did re-purchase a modded multi-region console a couple of years ago and my friend in Japan kindly gifted me the arcade stick so I was rocking arcade perfect sims via an HDMI > VGA converter of Virtua Fighter and Striker, etc. But I decided to streamline my consoles and ultimately got rid of it.

I had copies of every major and not so major release and can safely say I know the console inside out. I am due to receive the fans’ book cultivated by the same guy who did the Mega Drive one, and that will take pride of place on my bookshelf, with my Ghibli art books. I think realistically to have these consoles all plugged in and ready to go is a big ask in 2019.

It’s a nice novelty but they just don’t adhere to the minimalistic way of living and keeping content; but I know that my relationship with Sega and the Dreamcast will always be something that I hold very dear. I attribute my fascination with Japan to lots of things related to the Dreamcast; which goes hand in hand with video games in general.


Arcade perfect

This brings back memories. My mum bought a Dreamcast for me and my brother on release day and I remember getting Ready 2 Rumble and Sonic Adventure with it. I remember being really impressed with the graphics.

It was perfect for arcade conversions for games like Crazy Taxi and Die Hard Arcade. Plus, I loved playing The House Of The Dead 2 and Virtua Cop with the lightgun.


Catch up on every previous Games Inbox here


It lives in your dreams

Ah, the Dreamcast, easily my favourite console of all time and one of my most treasured possessions now. My current one, the 10th or so I’ve owned, is in mint condition, still has the inner battery working and runs like new. Alas, I’m well aware how quickly it can change so I treat it with great care. I have most of the peripherals released for it too, like the really rather good arcade stick, fishing rod for Sega Bass Fishing, two lightguns for The House Of The Dead 2, maracas for Samba De Amigo, the Starfire gun, a few keyboards, mice, etc., etc.

I remember buying my first Dreamcast with Resident Evil – Code: Veronica, Zombie Revenge, and Wacky Races (strange trio I know – Gamestation didn’t have a big selection of new games and I didn’t even realise at the time they had a row of pre-owned ones) and bought it purely as I’m a big Resi fan and Code: Veronica was touted as being an exclusive and a very good one at that.

I loved it right from the start, the graphics were astounding compared to my old PlayStation 1, the VMU seemed such a clever little addition, and I’m one of few that actually liked the pad, and still do despite them being very fragile.

Some of my best gaming memories are from the Dreamcast, whether it’s spending hour upon hour on Phantasy Star Online, marvelling at how great online gaming was, or speaking to gamers all over the planet on Dreamarena, long, long, long before social media was a thing. Playing co-op on Zombie Revenge or The House Of The dead 2 with my best mate, or nearly fighting with him over results in Power Stone.

Even now my all-time top 20 games is made up of a large proportion of Dreamcast games, Shenmue being my number one (with Final Fantasy VII, I can’t pick one over the other) and joined by Power Stone, Skies Of Arcadia, Jet Set Radio, Grandia 2, and Phantasy Star Online – as well as other favourites that don’t get quite as many mentions now like Headhunter, F355 Challenge, Metropolis Street Racer, Hurdy Gurdy, Soulcalibur, etc., etc.

I know a lot made it to other platforms but, I only played them on the Dreamcast itself.

I was absolutely devastated when I read that Sega had pulled the plug (it might have actually been on Digitiser on Teletext, or whatever it was called in 2001/2) and even now I wish they’d have given it a bit more time or done things differently so it sold more to begin with, rather than sponsoring Arsenal. I don’t remember ever seeing much in the way of advertising and some of my gaming mates weren’t even that aware of it and were all waiting for the PlayStation 2. More recently I’d compare the general apathy for the Dreamcast at the time with the Wii U, a console that to this day I’ve never seen in someone’s home, nor do I know anyone that owned one. That’s how I remember the Dreamcast being, with me being the only person in my social circle that had one.

I was 21 when I bought my Dreamcast, so my adoration of it isn’t even based purely on nostalgia as I’d owned at least four to five consoles and three home computers prior and had great times with all of them. I just remember the games rather than the console itself, whereas I think the Dreamcast had a sprinkling of magic, and a lot of gamers that were on board with it within its lifetime often have a real, slightly irrational love of the console. It seemed so ahead of its time, it’s crazy to me that after the Dreamcast I didn’t play games online again for another eight or so years when I got an Xbox 360 late on and I’ve never held a piece of plastic with circuit boards in such high esteem since. And even then, people were still amazed by online console gaming like it was a new thing.

I could live till I’m 100 and I don’t think I’ll ever be wowed as much with a game as I was when I first started playing Shenmue – I have a really vivid memory of telling my then girlfriend to come and have a look at the cutlery in a kitchen draw as it seemed so real. And she then ended up coming in often afterwards to watch me feed the kitten. Until that point she was a gaming naysayer, within a few months she was playing it herself and developed a real addiction to Chu Chu Rocket and Space Channel 5.

To me at least it was like the Dreamcast had been brought back from the future, and was so superior to anything I’d ever played or seen – the closest anything has gotten to it since was playing Astro Bot on the PlayStation VR and hitting the water level.

To this day, the boot up noise of the Dreamcast makes me smile (partly down to the fact I know mine hasn’t given up the ghost yet) and I miss the sound it’d make while using dial-up to connect to the Internet, I’d hate to think how long I spent watching and listening to that screen before connection – I definitely don’t miss the 5p a minute costs though!

I recall the day a new Dreamkey got released (was version 3.0 I think, I got mine on the cover of an Official Dreamcast mag if my memory is correct) where gamers could finally log in using a proper ISP with included data amounts. Sadly, by that time the Dreamcast was already a dead duck. It’s such a shame it wasn’t that way from the start as more people may have gotten on board if they could play online for £15 or so per month rather than £15 a day (if you had a long session on Phantasy Star Online or something), at one point I got a £560 phone bill, for a month, and it was 99% Dreamcast dial-up. I worked and studied 55 hour weeks at the time so I can’t imagine how big that bill would have been if I had more spare time.

I won’t be surprised at all to see a lot of letters similar to mine, the Dreamcast does seem to have an army of fans that love the console above all else gaming related, which isn’t something I see very often for others. Maybe the SNSES has a comparably fervent fanbase but they don’t seem quite as fanatical as lovers of Sega’s white square.

The Dreamcast might not have been my first gaming love, or my longest but, without doubt it’s the one I look most fondly back on and despite it being a commercial failure, I think it’ll live long in the minds of most people lucky enough to witness it at its short peak. Before the Dreamcast I’d have considered myself very much a casual gamer, after the Dreamcast I really got the gaming bug which has left me now and again over the years. But I’ll likely always own a working Dreamcast with a box of games, long after I’ve giving up on whatever number PlayStation is in the shops.


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