My Dreamcast Memoirs

My experience with Sega's swan song
July 16, 2009
This is my first retro article. I'm mostly writing it for myself so that I never forget these treasured memories, but I hope others will enjoy it as well.

I'm going to talk about the Sega Dreamcast.

I first heard about the Dreamcast when it was first announced for Japan by reading gaming news sites in 1998. At the time, Sega's official site just had an online forum where one could post and meet other Sega fans. I signed up in 1998 and discussed with everyone how fantastic the Dreamcast would be and that we all couldn't wait for its US release.

I remember seeing at my local EB Games (Now known as Gamestop) empty Dreamcast boxes to promote its upcoming release. The release date? I will never forget it as long as I live. 9.9.99 I had to get my hands on this magnificent piece of hardware.

Why did I want the Dreamcast so badly? The more I read about it, the more I knew I would fall in love with it. I saw a teaser for Sonic Adventure that was posted online at gaming sites and was blown away. I absolutely loved the classic Genesis/Megadrive Sonic games. Just the short amount of footage I saw in this video was mind-blowing. I watched that video so many times in anticipation for the Dreamcast's release.

After searching all over the web, I finally found the old video on an abandoned site from the 90s. I took the liberty of uploading the video to YouTube for all to see. It may not look like much now, but at the time it blew me away.

Sonic Adventure Dreamcast Promo:

The Dreamcast was so powerful at the time, I marveled at its capabilities. I knew its technical specifications by heart, make of that what you will. The Dreamcast featured a 200 MHz processor, more RAM, and used a GD-Rom drive that stored 1 GB of data as opposed to the usual 650/700 MB on a CD. This blew the Playstation and Nintendo 64 out of the water in terms of visuals. Games on the Dreamcast always had the best looking textures and everything was always round instead of jagged. I felt more immersed in the games than ever before! To this day, I still believe the graphics achieved on the Dreamcast looked better (smoother) than those on the Playstation 2.

Launch day came. 9.9.99. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe I went with my Dad after school to EB Games to pick up my reserved system. I can't put into words the amount of emotion that was flowing through my entire body that day. As I've grown older, there have been less and less gaming consoles and games that made me so excited the way Dreamcast and its games did.

So, I came home with my Sega Dreamcast and a copy of Sonic Adventure. I plugged everything in and popped in the Sonic Adventure disc. I started playing through the first level (Emerald Coast) and I believe the game froze. Uh oh! What could possibly be the problem? Everything was brand new! I don't remember exactly how I reacted, but I couldn't let that ruin my day. My parents being the fantastic people that they are, returned my Dreamcast that same day and came back with a new one. My parents had found out from an employee that some of the Dreamcast consoles were defective. Oh well, I got a new Dreamcast and resumed playing my game freeze-free!

So yeah, the Dreamcast had another feature built-in that no other console had ever had before. A 56k modem! Sure other consoles maybe had add-ons, but no other company was as bold and daring as Sega. The Dreamcast was released with a 56k modem in order to promote the idea of online gaming to console gamers, an activity that was mostly reserved for PC Gamers at the time. Looking back, this was such a radical idea and paved the way for what gamers now take for granted with XBox Live and other online services for gaming consoles. The Dreamcast was truly ahead of its time.

Bundled inside every Dreamcast box was also a web browser on a disc. Yes! The Dreamcast had a web browser! At the time I first bought my Dreamcast, my computer was in another room. So at night, I was unable to go online for fear of waking up my parents. The idea that a gaming console could render web sites on my television was just so amazing. I would surf the web at night feeling mighty that I could access websites without a traditional computer. I remember Sega having a Dreamcast-exclusive website where only people using the Dreamcast browser could download content onto their memory cards!

You can see what the start page for the Dreamcast web browser looked like here:

Speaking of memory cards, the Dreamcast had a pretty interesting one. Known as a VMU (Virtual Memory Unit), the Dreamcast memory card had a tiny screen and some buttons for playing mini games. When the VMU was inserted into a controller, it displayed visual information relevant to whatever game a person was playing.

Sonic Adventure had a special mini game that allowed players to transfer their chao pets to the VMU and train/grow them when not inside the Sonic Adventure universe. Sega didn't stop there. The VMU could connect with another VMU! I remember taking my VMU to school one day and connecting it with a classmate's. I do remember being deathly afraid a teacher might see it and take my VMU away, so once I connected my VMU to my classmate's and received the trade data, I immediately hid it back within my book bag. The VMU wasn't just a toy, it was a memory card that held save statuses of hours of work!

Of course, a gaming console is defined by its games. The Dreamcast featured some of the best and most innovative games ever developed by Sega.

The Dreamcast games I will talk about are the ones I actually played or owned.

Sonic Adventure
September 9, 1999

This game defined the Dreamcast. Everyone was hesitant about the Dreamcast due to the failure of the Sega Saturn. This was also the game I looked forward to the most. I couldn't believe my eyes when I started the game. Sonic was now in 3D! I really liked the connection between the world of Sonic and the actual levels themselves. Just run around a city with Sonic or hop on a train to another area and attempt to find the portal to the next level. Most of the levels in Sonic Adventure were really enjoyable. Sega successfully brought Sonic from 2D into 3D, just as Nintendo had done with Mario 64.

While I still rate the game very highly, I want to nitpick a bit. Sonic Team tried doing something different by allowing players to select from a variety of characters. It wasn't just about Sonic. Players could choose from Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Big the Cat, Amy, or E-102. While that was a pretty big change from previous Sonic games, I don't think it resulted in double or triple the fun. I wanted to play as Sonic, not other characters that are slow and have completely different attacks. Big the Cat was probably the most frustrating to play. I didn't want to sit around and try to fish for whatever it was I was trying to catch. Yuji Naka (Creator of Sonic) took offense that players didn't like Big and so in Sonic Adventure 2, Big was not playable. But he WAS seen in cut scenes to tease the players! Okay, so now that I've nitpicked, back to the good stuff.

A really unique feature of Sonic Adventure was its Internet Mode. Yes, it had a choice at the Start menu called "Internet". It used the built-in 56k modem of the Dreamcast to dial up to the Internet using the information provided by the player about his/her Internet Service Provider. When I first tried this, I was so amazed. Imagine, a game on a gaming console, having its own special place on the Internet! After my Dreamcast connected to the Internet, I was shown a welcome message with a picture of Sonic and Knuckles. The page even loaded from the game disc a sound effect to enhance the experience. I remember there being a Dreamcast launch party download available from the website. It changed the Station Square adventure field to include Dreamcast symbols and balloons on the street posts. There were also unlockable theme downloads as well. I'll never forget the Christmas event download. It created a Christmas tree in the middle of Station Square. However, the big surprise was when Sonic got close to the tree. Brand new music started playing, I believe it was music from NiGHTS. (Sega Saturn) How clever of Sonic Team to include secret music tracks on the game disc that could only be unlocked by these events! I think the very last update for the Sonic Adventure website was the year 2000 celebration event. Downloading this special file created a giant spinning gold ring in the center of Station Square.

Sonic Adventure is my favorite 3D Sonic game, and will most likely stay that way, looking at what Sega has been doing to the franchise. Oh well, I won't worry about now. I can only look back and take comfort in my nostalgic memories of Dreamcast and Sonic.

Hydro Thunder
September 9, 1999

I remember being in... I guess it was Wal-Mart with my grandmother when she offered to buy me a game. I looked at the games behind the locked glass cabinet. I think the two choices I looked at were Marvel VS Capcom (Can't remember if it was 1 or 2) and Hydro Thunder. I'm sure a million people from all around the world would love to smack me for not choosing Marvel VS Capcom, but I ultimately went with Hydro Thunder. I remember playing the Arcade version with one of my best friends and how much fun it had been. So my grandmother bought me Hydro Thunder and the rest was history!

Hydro Thunder is a boat racing game unlike any other I had played. It was easy to pick up play for anyone, but true players knew the secret paths to take to get ahead of the computers or friends.
Players started off with 3 boats to choose from as well as 3 tracks. The more players raced and won, another difficult level opened up along with new tracks and boats. I had countless of hours of fun playing this game with my friends. The game is a close port of the Arcade, so nothing extra was added to my knowledge. This is the only negative about the game. It's very Arcade and as a result, feels a bit lacking in terms of more levels and boats. It still was an extremely fun game, though.

Crazy Taxi
January 24 2000

What can I say, Crazy Taxi was one of those games where I wanted to completely ignore the main part of the game and just drive around. Sure, occassionally I would follow the game's rules and bring passengers to their destinations, but they usually complained about something. I think many people played Crazy Taxi the way I did. One of my friends had this game and also a Steering Wheel and driving pedals. I would want nothing more than to just sit there and pretend as if I was driving somewhere on a mission. Well, technically, I guess I was on a mission, deliver the passenger!

This game is a quick Arcade game that is pretty fun. I think the 3D versions of Grand Theft Auto ended up satisfying my urge to drive around places and not necessarily play the main game.

Dead or Alive 2
February 29, 2000

My memory fails me as to where exactly I became introduced to this game. I'm not sure if it was a demo or seeing it mentioned on gaming websites. One thing is for sure: I was attracted to its AMAZING visuals. I was never a big fan of fighting games, but I could not ignore a game that looked like someone stole Pixar's studio computers and created a fighting game. I do remember going to EB Games to buy DOA2 and having an employee harass me to buy a used copy for $5 cheaper than a retail one. For some reason, I didn't want to buy a used copy. I wanted MY copy, an unopened and uncorrupted copy! Maybe I was foolish or maybe I didn't want to give that employee the satisfaction, so I bought a new copy. I eventually learned the fighting system in Dead or Alive 2 and became pretty good at it! My favorite feature was the reverse/counter/catch ability. If a person used a specific punch/kick and you countered correctly, your character would catch the opponent's attack and counter attack. It was extremely satisfying when I was fighting friends.

Dead or Alive 2 was a fun fighting game, and a direct port of the arcade version. Developers Team Ninja would go on to release sequels for later consoles. I ended up buying Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive Ultimate for the XBox. But for some reason, I wasn't as good at those games. The combination of a Dreamcast controller and Dead or Alive 2 is a essential ingredient to my fighting skills, I suppose.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica
February 29, 2000

Have you ever had a game where you enjoyed watching someone else play it? Resident Evil: Code Veronica was that game for me. I remember Capcom mentioning that this version of RE used less than 50% of the Dreamcast's potential. The graphics looked amazing, I was nervous to walk around buildings for fear of something jumping out at me.

For those that are unfamiliar with this game, Resident Evil: Code Veronica started you off as Claire Redfield, a female trapped in a prison cell on an island. Trappped until the big zombie outbreak, that is! A dying guard releases her from the cell and that's when you, the player, are given the freedom to leave the building and go out into the dark and scary world. I always wondered what would have happen if someone in fiction tried to lock themselves in a prison cell to protect against zombies. Could zombies break through a jail cell? I guess I'll never know.

I remember bringing my game over to my best friend's house and we'd play upstairs in his game room all day and night. My friend was really good at it, and I just loved to watch and offer commentary.

August 8, 2000

Where to start with this game...that is, if you can even call it that. Seaman is a more of a virtual pet-type of simulation than a game. But it was very interesting and made for quite a different experience. The game came with a microphone that plugged directly into the controller. Players would talk to the Seaman creature and he would remember things and have conversations based on the types of things the player said.

So I fired up my copy of Seaman, anxious to see what wacky things could happen from talking to a fish with a human head.

If I remember correctly, the game started out with just an empty aquarium. I had to release eggs into the water and just let them sit there. I had to wait and wait for those things to eventually hatch and give birth to the strange Seaman creatures. However, I don't think they could speak yet. They had to evolve a bit more before they started conversing with you.

Eventually, there was only 1 remaining Seaman creature left in the tank. This was due to others killing each other off, I think.

Seaman turned out to be a game where I would play it for maybe 10 to 20 minutes a day. You could only do so much with the Seaman creature per day, or so everyone through until someone discovered that changing the date in the Dreamcast system settings allowed players to fast forward and generate a new day more quickly.

Fun little things I remember:
If you put the Seaman disc into a regular CD player, Seaman would start talking. I think he said something about putting the disc into a Sega Dreamcast before something bad happens.
I also had fun bringing up the words "Dreamcast", "Playstation 2", and "Dolphin" with my creature. Seaman responded negatively when I mentioned Playstation 2. He also was able to say something about "Nintendo Dolphin" which at the time, was Nintendo's codename for the Gamecube before it was full unveiled.

I played this for about a month before I reached what one would call "the end" of the game. My Seaman creature evolved and I released him into the wild. Don't worry, though. My Seaman would explore but would always return if I came calling. To this day, I'm sure I could boot up my Dreamcast, load my game, and go visit him. I wonder what he's been up to since the year 2000... I'm sure we'd have quite a lot to talk about!

Jet Grind Radio
November 1, 2000

This was the world's first cell shaded game. Go Sega! I remember buying this game because I played the demo that came with the monthly demo disc included in the Official Dreamcast Magazine.

This game for the most was pretty fun, but sometimes a bit frustrating. The goal was to go around in each level spraying grafitti on new areas or covering the grafitti of rivals.

The music made this game a blast to play. It had all the right tunes to keep a player upbeat. There were also options in the game to create your own grafitti! Players could make their own grafitti and share it online via the Jet Grind Radio built-in website.

There was later a remake/sequel for the XBox. I bought it, but it didn't feel quite the same as the Dreamcast version. Must be that Dreamcast magic!

November 6, 2000

I remember when I first heard about Shenmue. I saw a trailer for it on a Dreamcast Magazine demo GD-ROM. This trailer introduced everyone into the world of 1986 Japan. The graphics were unliked anything I had ever seen. I remember reading online about all the work and details that had gone into making Shenmue. I'm not going to repeat the entire story/plot of Shenmue here, but it involves Ryo Hazuki (your character), seeking revenge for the murder of his father.

The developers promoted Shenmue as a game that was FREE (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment). There was a weather system, and something around 100 characters that all had their own daily schedules.

Shenmue was a story-driven game but you also had the option of exploring and killing time with mini-games. I remember just walking around the area known as Dobuita admiring the sights. This was the most detailed game I've ever played. Everything was designed to scale.

Small tidbit: Shenmue (and resources for its sequels) reportedly cost $70 million to develop.

Many people are divided by this game. Either you appreciate it for what it is, or you don't like it because you consider it boring. I'm all right with that. It's a game either you love or you hate.

Another great thing about Shenmue was its original music. For every area or building you entered, it had its own original theme. To this day, I have the collections of music from Shenmue I and Shenmue II in my music library. The orchestrated theme of Shenmue is enough to make all Shenmue/Dreamcast fans nostalgic.

As someone that is interested in Asian history, languages, and culture, I could certainly feel it from playing Shenmue.

Quake III
October 21, 2000

My memory is a but fuzzy as to why exactly I purchased this game. But one thing that comes to mind is that Quake III for the Dreamcast was the first game on the console to support the broadband adapter. By this time, I had moved from dial-up Internet to broadband. So when Sega announced the broadband adapter to replace the 56k modem in the Dreamcast, I knew I had to get it so that I could be prepared for future online games! Quake III performed extremely well on the Dreamcast with my broadband adapter. I remember being absolutely shocked that the people I were playing against were all human. The game was so fast paced, I couldn't believe that the fast movements in the game were transmitted so smoothly over the Internet.

Quake III was an OK game. But I really bought it to experiment with my broadband adapter. The reason I bought the broadband adapter was because of an upcoming game known as Phantasy Star Online.

Phantasy Star Online
January 29, 2001

I mentioned that I had bought the Dreamcast broadband adapter to use my high speed Internet connection instead of dial-up for upcoming online games. Phantasy Star Online was the game I had in mind. However, Sega pulled an incredibly cheap move on broadband adapter users. Phantasy Star Online had already been released in Japan and supported the broadband adapter. So when Phantasy Star Online was released in the US, Sega pulled support for the adapter! That meant I was forced to use dial-up to play the game. Many people were not happy about this that had purchased the adapter assuming they'd use it to play this game.

Anyway, eventually when people figured out how to make the Dreamcast run code off burned CDs, this all changed. I managed to download and burn a CD of a Japanese version of the Dreamcast web browser. I had read online that once you have saved data from this web browser on your memory card, the US version of Phantasy Star Online would work properly with the broadband adapter. Haha! I was on top of the world when I got this working!!!

So that's the background info about the technical part of my memories with Phantasy Star Online. (or PSO, as players caled it)

I was introduced to Phantasy Star Online by a trailer from a demo disc by Dreamcast Magazine. It promised a world inside your Dreamcast that you could access once you connected to the Internet. It was an ever-growing world that you could do whatever you want, whenever you want. Ok, so that's what Sega wanted you to believe.

Phantasy Star Online was an amazing game. The graphics were so smooth and space-ish. People these days like World of Warcraft and other games that are middle-age type of worlds. What really brought me into PSO was that it was very space-like and futuristic.

A really cool feature from PSO that I thought was innovative was the phrase creation feature. This allowed people to create sentences that would automatically be translated into the language of the receiver. So if your game was the Japanese version, custom phrases would appear in Japanese.

I invested hundreds of hours into playing this game. I had friends that played the game offline without ever playing it connected to the Internet. Let's just say that is a very depressing experience. The most fun is playing online and connecting with people.

I remember playing PSO for the first time on launch day. I had to create my character and I chose a HUmar which is the hand to hand combat type of character. Once I was in the gaming lobby and went into a gaming session, I teleported into the first level, known as Forest. Everything from the level design to the music blew me away. Of course, after playing this level over a thousand times, I probably don't appreciate it as much as I first did. But that's all right! I have the soundtrack from the game in my music library. And sometimes I think back to my fond memories of playing this game into the early morning when I listen to the music.

Sega eventually released version 2 of this game in the US, but there was one big issue: Pay to play.
The first version of PSO was free for people in the US to play online, which was a big plus in getting people familiar with this new franchise.

Eventually Sega released an updated versions for the Gamecube and eventually the XBox and PC. I don't think these versions were as successful as the original version on the Dreamcast.

Years down the road, Sega came out with a new series called "Phantasy Star Universe". I played the offline game, and it was an average game. I never played the online part, so I probably missed out on the fun. However, nothing excites me like the original PSO.

There are a group of people that run a private server for people that want to continue playing the Dreamcast/Gamecube and PC versions of the game. As I'm writing this, there are several hundred users on the server. If anyone reading this is a fan of PSO, I encourage them to search the Internet for "SCHTHACK" which should lead you to the right place if you want to rediscover PSO on your PC and play with people online.

Sonic Adventure 2
June 18, 2001

Since I loved Sonic Adventure, I couldn't wait for Sonic Adventure 2!

Once people figured out how to get the Dreamcast to run code from burned CD-Rs, one of the things I managed to do was download the Sonic Adventure 2 demo to my computer. Then after many wasted CD-Rs, I managed to get one that finally worked on my Dreamcast! This was another wonderful moment. I'm not sure if the demo was Japanese or not, but the US wouldn't get the official demo until Phantasy Star Online launched which came with it.

So I got to play the Sonic Adventure 2 demo and it was really awesome. The graphics were even better than the first game. The music was instrumental which worked well with the one level I got to play. I played that demo so many times. When I played the demo that came with Phantasy Star Online, I noticed the music had vocals and had changed for the worse. Oh well, a minor complaint.

There was a big hyped release for Sonic Adventure 2. I remember checking out IGN for small video clips of the game.

When I brought the game home, I must have played it for hours with my friend. Then something terrible happened. Sonic Adventure 2 had a bug that sometimes didn't save the game data correctly. So after I shut off my Dreamcast I found out that all my work had been lost. I was devastated. So I grumpily replayed the game to get back to where I originally stopped. Sonic Adventure 2 had better graphics than the first game, but a major complaint by nearly everyone is the player being forced to play with characters other than Sonic. Their gameplay modes were just boring and uninspiring.

Sonic Adventure 2 was a disappointment. I still look fondly back at the first Sonic Adventure. It is very rare that I even remember playing Sonic Adventure 2 with the exception of my memory of playing the demo.

Ever since Sonic Adventure 2, the Sonic games have gotten worse in my opinion. Others might disagree.

Sonic used to be cooler than Mario. His games stood for speed and fun. With the recent Sonic games, I don't see what originally made me fall in love with the Sonic games on the Megadrive/Genesis.

Shenmue II
Japanese Release Date: September 6, 2001
US Release Date on XBox: October 28, 2002

Shenmue II! Everyone (Okay, I) was looking forward to this game. Until Sega made a horrible decision. Sega announced that it would NOT be releasing Shenmue II in the US. But it would still be released in Japan and Europe.

American gamers would not get their hands on Shenmue II until Microsoft ported Shenmue II over to the XBox and released it in 2002.

Shenmue II started where the first game left off. The main character Ryo Hazuki arrived in Hong Kong. And let me just say that Shenmue II is at least four times as huge as the original game. I got lost very easily trying to find my way through the various areas.

Yu Suzuki, the creator of Shenmue, is known for his love of Chinese culture. I was never interested in anything related to China, but Shenmue II certainly changed my mind. I could feel Yu Suzuki's passion for Chinese-related stuff as I played this game.

Shenmue II is probably the greatest tragedy in recent gaming history and I'll explain why. Shenmue II ends on a major cliffhanger. And Sega has yet to release a Shenmue III. The major draw to Shenmue was its movie-like story. People all over the world are waiting for the conclusion to this story that was opened so long ago.

There is a scene in Shenmue II that is so unique that I don't think I've ever had the same experience in any other game. It involves the main character and someone else walking through a forest. You're just walking through a forest and talking. There is no surprise or jumping out bad guys to ruin it. Maybe I'm alone in appreciating that scene, but it will always stick with me.

I wish Sega would allow Yu Suzuki to finish the Shenmue saga or remake it for a new generation. However, Sega has since punished Yu Suzuki after the "failure" of Shenmue. It was not a failure when the original game launched, but Sega wanted it to gross enough money to pay for the expensive development budget.

Well, that's it for my nostalgic train ride. I hope someone out there was able to learn something or remember something from their past by reading this article. May the Dreamcast live on forever in our memories!
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