Just recently on the forums, an interesting but common question was brought up…
“If the Dreamcast’s GD-ROM format is about twice the size of a CD-ROM, how is it possible to play all these games using CD-R backups? Do most DC games not use the majority of the disc space? This has never made sense to me.”
I responded to his question on the forums, but I wanted to follow up with a more complete answer and share it with the rest of you that might be curious.
There are a number of ways that most every Dreamcast game has been ripped and burned on a CD-R.
First of all, there are quite a few games that do not use all of the space on the GD-ROM. The first example that comes to my mind is the cult-classic shooter, Ikaruga. Even though it has quite impressive graphics and music, the game data only weighs in at a tiny 18MBs (as opposed to the 700MBs a CD-R can hold).
However, since the CD-ROM format first made its way to video game consoles, game developers have taken advantage of the extra storage by cramming lots of video cutscenes and making extra-large games such as epic RPGs.
With these larger games, rippers have to not only dump the data, but downsize some of the large files. The main size culprits are video and sound files.
For the sound files it is usually just a matter of reducing the quality. If the game is just a little too big, the ripped may just decrease the bit rate. This will result in an effect that is similar to a lower quality MP3 file as opposed to the original music CD.
As forum members CurulleanCat and Mozgus pointed out, ripped versions of both Maken-X and Sonic Adventure 2 not only had the quality reduced, but the sound was also degraded from stereo sound to mono. If you have a decent sound system, this will probably make a significant difference to you.
Some games also have either music or sound effect completely taken out. Mr. Driller and Bangai-O are prime examples as they have sound effects, but the background music is completely removed. What is interesting about these cases is that I don’t think it was completely necessary to rip the music completely out in order to fit it on a CD, but the ripper figured it would save space and bandwidth when distributing the ISO over the Net.
Video files hog even more space than sound files, so those are often modified in ripped Dreamcast games. Almost all games that have video intro and cutscenes (even in the credits) will have the quality greatly reduced. While the original retail copy of the game might have video that looks similar to a DVD, the ripped copy might have video that looks like it was streaming over YouTube or Google Video. Sometimes you might not be able to tell a huge difference on a smaller/older TV, but if you have a larger/high-definition display and/or are using a VGA adapter, you will notice a tremendous difference in quality.
There are also some games that have the video files ripped out completely if the ripper does not think they are necessary to play the game. Obviously, this is a definite disappointment.
In addition to these audio and video quality concerns with Dreamcast backups, there are also some other issues that may actually bother you when playing ripped copies.
First of all, there are a number of ripped titles that can wear out your Dreamcast’s disc drive quite rapidly. Just off the top of my head I know that Vampire Chronicles, Headhunter, and Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves all frequently cause the Dreamcast to read the disc frequently and loudly all throughout the game. It basically sounds like your Dreamcast is having a seizure. I ONLY recommend playing ripped copies of these games if you want to give the game a quick try before buying a real version. I would fear for the life of your Dreamcast otherwise.
On a similar note, I also noticed that the ripped version of Skies of Arcadia has some loading issue. Like many other ripped games, the load times may be a bit longer on CD-R backups. However, with Skies of Arcadia it actually distracts from the game. When you enter a battle the camera swoops around the battlefield and your characters before the combat actually begins. On the original copy this is a very smooth introduction, but on the ripped version the animation is very choppy and the music skips, leading to a very unpleasant experience.
In summary, if you care about your Dreamcast gaming experience, I would heavily suggest purchasing a official retail copy of any Dreamcast game that you actually plan on playing on a regular basis. While it especially beneficial for large games like Shenmue and Skies of Arcadia, it can also make a big difference on smaller games as well for the following reasons.
- Complete Audio/Video
- High Quality Audio/Video
- Smooth/Quick Loading
- Longer Console Lifespan
Feel free to share your experiences with Dreamcast backups in the comments section below or join in on the conversation in the forums.
For more related information check out…
Can You Copy Dreamcast Games on Your PC?