Sega Dreamcast 101: A Beginner’s Guide
Note from racketboy: Thanks to Ack for helping me me revise and expand this guide (it really needed it).
Can you believe the Dreamcast has already been around for a decade? (and that it was only on the retail scene for three of those years?) To help celebrate the landmark, we’ve revised and expanded the Dreamcast beginner’s guide to help those interested in Sega’s little white box get started on their journey.
The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet. Those of you that are especially knowledgeable about the featured console, I encourage you to add any information that you think would be beneficial into the comments section. If you are new to the featured console, and still have questions, you can also use the comments section and I will do my best to help you out.
- After the Saturn’s poor sales in the USA, Sega’s American branch began pressuring it’s headquarters in Japan for a new console in 1997. Two competing teams are formed, one headed by Tatsuo Yamamoto, the other by Hideki Sato.
- Though Sega first favored Yamamoto’s design, eventually Sato’s choice of using a PowerVR2 graphics processor from VideoLogic won out. This resulted in a lawsuit from 3dfx, who had developed the graphics processor that Yamamoto’s team had been pushing. The lawsuit was settled in 1998.
- Sega broke console sales records in North America on launch (9/9/99), and initially did very well worldwide, though sales eventually slowed to a trickle, and Sega announced in 2001 that they were stopping production. In 2002, the US would see its last release, NHL 2K2. New games continued to be developed in Japan until 2007, while Sega managed to sell off the last of its units in Japan in 2006. There have been additional independent games released for sale as late as 2009.
- Watch G4’s Icons episode on the History of the Dreamcast
- More Dreamcast History at Wikipedia
- 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, make Internet support for online gaming commonplace, and natively provide stunning VGA video output. It was also a large leap in graphical and storage capabilities over the existing PS1 and N64 consoles.
- 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.
- Fun & Quirky Game Library – While some of the games such as Crazy Taxi, Rez, and Space Channel 5 have been ported to other consoles, there are still a number of unique, and most importantly, extremely fun games on the Dreamcast that you can’t find on any other console (Jet Grind Radio, Cosmic Smash, and Typing of the Dead, just to name a few)
- Strong 2D Library for Hardcore Audience: 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). If you are a fan of either genre, the Dreamcast is essential a most-own console.
- Great Arcade Ports: 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.
- Very Affordable – While there are handful of other cheap consoles with strong libraries like the Gamecube and PS1, the Dreamcast is a great all-around console that is inexpensive to get started with the hardware, games, and accessories.
- Great Import Library – Don’t judge the Dreamcast purely on it’s US or even PAL libraries — there are so many great games that only saw Japanese releases that truly round out a quality selection of games.
- Powerful Hardware Considering It’s Place In Time: The Dreamcast was a very powerful machine in its day (before the release of the PS2, XBox and Gamecube) 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. A few games even utilized some of the Dreamcast’s slight graphical advantages over the PS2. It would have been interesting to see what could have been done if it had lasted as long as the PS2.
- High-Quality VGA Video Connection: 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. The Dreamcast only pushes 480p resolution, but the VGA connection greatly increases the clarity that HDTV owners will desire.
- Homebrew & Piracy: I feel kinda weird listing easy piracy as an strength, but it’s a fact that many gamers factor this aspect in. 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.
- No DVD Support: 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.
- Not as Powerful as Later Consoles: This is quite obvious, but 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 from the generation.
- No RF Wireless Controllers Availible – Wireless controllers hadn’t really taken off during the Dreamcast’s life, but the Gamecube, PS2, and Xbox each had quality wireless controllers in the form of Nintendo’s Wavebird and Logitech’s third-party controllers. The Dreamcast wasn’t so lucky.
- Only a Few Strong RPGs: 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.
- Short Retail Lifespan Outside of Japan: The Dreamcast’s retail lifespan out side of Japan was only a few short years, so the game library isn’t especially large. It also got more ports of PS1 games that it did of the multiplatform games of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era, which would have made better use of the Dreamcast hardware.
- No Support from EA: 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.
- Relatively Noisy: Maybe I’m nit-picking here, but it’s not unusal for new Dreamcast owners to think something is wrong with the disc drive when its ready. While the noise level isn’t as bad as an Xbox 360, but considering the Dreamcast followed the smoothly -silent Sega Saturn, the Dreamcast’s noise level is a bit disappointing.
Dreamcast Game Library
- The Best Dreamcast Games Under $10 – If you need to start a quality Dreamcast library without spending much cash, this is the place to start.
- The Best Dreamcast Games for Today – A lot has changed over the last 10 years, so we try to round up the best Dreamcast games that hold up a decade after their release.
- Games That Defined the Dreamcast – If you want to see the games that gave the Dreamcast its unique personality, check out this little guide.
- The Best Multiplayer Dreamcast Games – When you have four controller ports at your disposal, its natural to want to find games the play with your buddies. Luckily, the Dreamcast has a variety of titles to keep you and your friends busy.
- The Best Undiscovered Dreamcast Games – If you’ve already checked out all the big-name Dreamcast games, make sure to explore these Hidden Gems that are broken down by genre.
- The Best-Looking Games on the Dreamcast – This little guide will give you a good idea of what games will show off the Dreamcast’s graphic capabilities and quirky sense of style.
- Sega Dreamcast Exclusives – We try to keep a list up to date of the games that still are console exclusive to the Dreamcast (arcade, PC, and portable versions not included)
- Dreamcast Games That Appear on other Consoles – If you want to try out some Dreamcast games on some other consoles you own, this list might also be useful to you.
- The Rarest and Most Valuable Dreamcast Games – There are a handful of rarities and a lot of semi-rare cult favorites that have held their value quite well over the last 10 years. See what to keep an eye out for or check if some of your existing games are worth a pretty penny.
- The Best Import Dreamcast Games – As mentioned before, the Japanese library adds a lot to the Dreamcast’s library. There are also a number of good PAL games that never made it to the States.
- The Dreamcast 2D Fighters Library – Personally, I’m a sucker for a good 2D fighter and I am in a wonderland on Dreamcast. Teamed up with the Sega Saturn, I’m set with most of the best 2D fighters out there.
- The Dremacast 2D Shooters Library – The Dreamcast started out just a little slow in the shooter genre, but it finished out strong even after it had already died off outside of Japan. The Dreamcast is right up there with the Saturn and Playstation as one of must-own consoles for shooters.
- The Dreamcast Survival Horror Library – It might not have quite the lineup of the Playstation consoles, but the Dreamcast has a respectable collection to keep fans of the genre busy.
- The Best Unlicenced/Homebrew/Leaked Dreamcast Games – We haven’t developed a polished guide yet, but we are starting the discussion in the forum.
|Sega Sports Dreamcast
The United States and Canada would see a black Sega Sports Dreamcast released, including matching controllers and came bundled with a couple of Sega’s great sports games. If nothing else, the Sega Sports Dreamcast is nice for those that want a Black Dreamcast without having to paint one (or without paying a ton for a Japanese R7 or “Super Black” Dreamcast).
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There were actually quite a few limited edition Dreamcast models, including an official Hello Kitty model, a Sonic anniversary Dreamcast, a Toyota model, and a pink Sakura Taisen model. To check out a more extensive listing and gallery of limited edition Dreamcasts, check out this guide at SonicRetro
|Fuji Television DIVERS Series 2000 CX-1
This all-in-one TV/Dreamcast device remains as a bit of a novelty. Taking a bit of inspiration from both the iMac phenomena of the day and retro-futuristic stylings of Space Channel 5, the setup has a bit of a curvy and colorful gumdrop look to it. It features LEDs on the side that cycle based on the audio, four controller ports under the screen, a cute little antennas on the top and some TV buttons lining the top of the screen (see this Flickr photo for more detail and annotations).
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An unofficial portable device known as the Treamcast can also be found for sale online, using official components. It is unknown how many of these units actually exist. There are actually two revisions of the Treamcast — the newers SE model has a better screen and comes in black.
Check our the full review of the Treamcast unit.
The Visual Memory Unit, or VMU for short, is perhaps the best known accessory for the Dreamcast, because it functions as the console’s memory card. Certain DC games could also bring up mini games on the VMU, giving it a similar design to Sony’s PocketStation on the PS1. These are a necessity for any Dreamcast. VMUs plugged into the ports on the top of the Dreamcast controller, in the same place the console’s rumble packs plug in. They come in a variety of colors and there even some limited edition VMUs for collectors as well.
Find Dreamcast VMUs on Amazon.com
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Another important accessory to note is the VGA box, allowing the console to put out signals in VGA mode. The difference in clarity from your standard AV outputs (even S-Video) with be incredibly surprising. A few minutes with this, and you will not want to ever play a DC game any other way again. There are essentially two types of adapters — one that is just a simply VGA adapter, and another that supports VGA, but also switches to Composite or S-Video
Buy Dreamcast VGA Box in Racketboy Store
Buy Dreamcast VGA Box with Extra Video Outputs in Racketboy Store
Find Dreamcast VGA Box on eBay
These are essentially rumble add-ons in a form factor similar to VMUs that are designed to slip into the second VMU slot on your controller. In my opinions, the rumble feature never felt quite as useful on the Dreamcast as it does on many other systems, so I usually do without.
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It is important to note that while Japan, Europe, and Asia saw an official Sega light gun, other regions were forced to deal with 3rd party equipment. The “official” light gun in the United States is the Star Blaster by Mad Catz, which is similar in design. However, since peripherals on the Dreamcast work regardless of region, getting an official Sega gun isn’t too much of a hassle.
There were numerous other light guns, such as the SRC Bio Gun(similar in design to the Sega Saturn light gun), Hais DC Lightgun and Hais DC Mini Gun(meaning small, not spinning cylinder of death), StarFire LightBlaster, and DCX Blaster. There’s even a wireless light gun, the SRC DC Wireless.
Also, make sure you look into region compatibility if you’re thinking of importing a gun.
List of Dreamcast Light Guns on Wikipedia
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|Keyboard and Mouse
The Dreamcast also featured a keyboard and mouse combo, for use with certain games such as the console’s first person shooters can use these controls. They are also absolutely required for the Typing of the Dead games. Plus, they work with the console’s web browser. To check out all the uses for the Dreamcast Keyboard & Mouse, check out the feature we did a could of years ago.
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|Agetec Arcade Stick
If you are serious about 2D fighters or shooters, it is easy to get fed up with the standard Dreamcast controller. While it may not be as good as a high-end Hori stick or a custom job, the Agetec stick is reasonable affordable, make frequent appearances on eBay, and has solid construction. Even though it isn’t made by Sega, it is often referred to as the “official” Dreamcast arcade stick.
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If you aren’t much for arcade sticks, but would still like a more traditional gamepad to assist you in 2D fighters or other select games, you might want to consider the ASCII pad. Just keep in mind, like the arcade stick, it is missing an analog stick and some of the buttons that certain games may require.
Find Dreamcast ASCII Pad on eBay
The Dreamcast came standard with a 56K modem, which at the time its release was a reasonable good Internet connection. However, as just about everyone knows now, a DSL or cable connection will dramtically improve one’s online gaming experience. Sega offered an optional Broadband Adapter (essentially an Ethernet connection) for those wanting the higher networks speeds. To this day, the Broadband Adapters have held their value quite well and sometimes sell for more than their original retail price of $100.
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If you plan enjoying Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram, you’ll really want a set of Twin Sticks for the best arcade-like experience. You could, however, use an adapter (see below) to use a Saturn set of Twin Sticks.
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While adapters are quite common for various platforms, the once-common adapters (mainly the Total Control series) for the Dreamcast was especially useful. There were adapters that let Dreamcast owners use Sega Saturn controller, Playstation controllers and/or PC keyboards and mice (PS/2 connection). Not only was this handy for using existing hardware instead of buying Dreamcast specific controllers, but using certain Saturn controllers was especially useful. The Saturn gamepads are especially more practical for certain types of games (2D fighters, for instance) and the adapters were often used for Virtual On fans that wanted to use their Saturn Twin Stick controlls instead of having to invest in a separate Dreamcast set.
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Like Dance Dance Revolution, Samba De Amigo is a fun rhythm game even without the specialty controllers, but to really get the full arcade-like experience, you’ll want to pick up a set of Maracas controllers or maybe the full Samba de Amigo Box Set. Third-party maracas can be a bit hit or miss, so even through they are a little pricey, you might want to go for a set of offical Sega controllers.
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The Dreamcast offered two Sega Bass Fishing games and Sega Marine Fishing. To complement these niche titles, Sega developed an interesting Fishing Controller that actually had motion detection (a bit of a predecessor to the Nintendo Wiimote). It’s even a not-so-hidden secret that you can also use the fishing controller to play games like Soul Calibur if you were so inclined.
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The Dreamcast microphone was another item in the long list of the console’s innovations. The microphone was first used/included with the game Seaman. It let you communication and interact vocally with the game’s character/creature. The late Dreamcast game, Alien Front Online also included a microphone that could be used for voice chat while playing online multiplayer. A similar feature was to be included in the cancelled game, Propeller Arena. The microphone’s main body was much like a VMU or Jump Pack and plugged right into the controller.
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Not your typical “accessory” as it’s a disc as opposed to a piece of hardware, but these Bleemcast retail emulation discs let you play Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3, or Gran Turismo 2 on your Dreamcast with enhanced graphics. As we discussed in our Bleemcast write-up, hacked versions of the Bleemcast emulator also allow Dreamcast owners to play other Playstation games as well.
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The Dreameye was a webcam released in Japan that could capture still (3 megapixel – quite good for the time) and motion images. The device came with a microphone headset, a stand, batteries, software, a cable to connect the Dreameye to the Dreamcast and a Dreameye microphone plug card. This was yet another solid Sega innovation that paved the way for similar products for the Playstation and Xbox platforms.
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The Dreamcast has a lot of respectible racing games in both the arcade and simulation subgenres, but it can be a challenge to find a Dreamcast steering wheel that will suit you better than a standard controller. Check out our discussion on the Racketboy Forum about choosing the best Dreamcast raching wheels.
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Of course, the Sega Dreamcast had a number of other controllers including specialty controllers for games like Densha De Go! and other rather innovative items like a karaoke microphone and a midi cable to hook various musical tools like a drum machine to the console
Emulation Other Systems on the Dreamcast
- Because of the large homebrew community for the Dreamcast, there are a multitude of emulators for the Dreamcast. Through programs like NesterDC, Super Famicast, or MameDC, the Dreamcast is capable of emulating everything from the Vectrex to the WonderSwan.
- One of the most popular emulators on the Dreamcast is NesterDC. It provides and slick way of playing your NES ROMs easily.
- One of the most impressive emulators from a technical standpoint is Neo4All, a Neo-Geo emulator that pulls off emulating large Neo-Geo ROMs — a feat that many developers once thought would be quite difficult.
- Of course, as mentioned above, there was the Bleemcast set of commercial emulators that let you run Playstation releases of Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3, and Gran Turismo 2. As we discussed a while back, a Dreamcast enthusisasts hacked around with Bleemcast to let people play a number of other Playstation games.
- For more information on Dreamcast emulation, the folks at DCEmulation.org are probably the best place to look.
Emulating the Dreamcast on Other Machines
- While there are multiple programs to emulate the Dreamcast on the PC, none are perfect, and certain ones are no longer being worked on. Programs like Chankast or Swirly seem to have gone by the wayside, though certain projects thought dead, like DCemul, have recently been brought back. NullDC is probably the best bet right now.
- Linux and Mac users, don’t fret, there is at least one emulator for you. Lxdream was released in 2008 and is still being regularly updated, so there is some community for it.
- However, since the Dreamcast is so affordable and the emulation still has room for improvement, we still recommend you just pick up the real machine. If nothing else, it will ensure 100% compatibility and save your time and effort.
- For more information on Dreamcast emulation, the folks at DCEmulation.org are probably the best place to look.
- How to Play Imports on the Dreamcast – there’s a couple of ways you can handle the import situation
- The Best Import Games for the Dreamcast – don’t be afraid to explore the best other regions have to offer!
- 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. (Looking locally will shave off a lot of the cost by saving on shipping)
- In the US at least, 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.
- Accessories for the Dreamcast are also generally inexpensive, and specialty controllers can go for less than $30.