20 for 20: Dreamcast

This week the Dreamcast turned 20 in Japan, it wasn’t released here in the UK for almost another year and I wouldn’t get one for myself until a further year later, by which time SEGA had all but abandoned the console, but the little white system with the blue swirl (European region) left a massive mark on me as a gamer. Actually I’d say the Dreamcast is what made me into the gamer I am today, the PlayStation was where I cut my teeth but the Dreamcast is where I decided this was the hobby for me.

I was there early on, a friend, Aaron, brought a copy of EDGE into school one day. We both frequently brought gaming mags in, his were mostly PC and mine were the Official PlayStation Magazine and we both loved C&VG. “SEGA is Dead, Long Live Dreamcast” the cover of EDGE #60 declared in white text on a bold orange background. We spent our lunch break that day reading through the article and absorbing the pictures rather than joining in with the game of football that was taking place on the concrete netball court, we’d occassionally have to dive out the way to avoid being hit by the ball (or a rogue shoe as it was the trend to tuck your laces into your shoes and thus a shot would usually be followed by someones shoe flying goalwards). As the weeks and months from that article passed, we’d absorb everything G&VG would publish about the console, particularly anything from Ed Lomas and Aaron covered his GCSE art folder in screenshots and artwork from Sonic Adventure.

Once the console did arrive he was the only one to get one right away, both Steven and I had PlayStations and Richard an N64, I remember Steven, his brother Chris and I all going over to Aarons to have a go on it and I’d frequently be over there try to advance on my save file of Sonic Adventure, one weekend we stayed up through the night and played through Mission Battle mode on Soul Calibur a number of times. We’d usually congregate at Stevens after school and Aaron would normally bring his Dreamcast, he’d gone all out and got multiple pads so we could play multiplayer (it also helped his brother also had a Dreamcast but rarely used it so Aaron would often borrow his controller to make sure we could play four player games). Early favourites were Toy Commander and Red Dog, whilst Fur Fighters and Re-Volt were also added to the mix, plus a bit of drunken Samba de Amigo.

I remember going with him to Gamestation to buy Crazy Taxi when it was finally released and being absolutely blown away, not only did I love how the game played it also came at a time when I was really getting into music. Then came Phantasy Star Online, I had a character on a VMU at Aarons, but then Steven bought a Dreamcast so they could both play online together, feeling left out I managed to scrape enough together to get a second hand Dreamcast (which were plentiful as people were desperate to get their hands on the PS2) alongside a copy of Phantasy Star Online.

Nothing else has grabbed me like this game did, I forged new friendships, fell for people I’d never met (nor meet) and become well and truly addicted, I would sit and grind in the offline mode on my shitty 50hz colour TV that I had in my bedroom until my Mum and Step Dad had gone to bed then take the Dreamcast downstairs, hook it up to the “big TV” and the phone line and go online, usually only signing off shortly before my Mum would get up for work and packing it all away, pretend to be asleep and let her “wake” me up to go to college, which I’d begun to bunk off from without her knowledge, each month the phone bill would come through the door and each month I’d get a scolding from her for the size of it, sometimes I’d get banned from going on but I never really gave it up until I moved onto MSN Chat Rooms almost 2 years later. During this time I was playing with a group that included a player  I really liked playing with, it was well known within the group that this particular player was female, I cant put my finger on why, but maybe it was because this girl gave me attention as I’d never really been able to develop more than a friendship with girls at school and other than my younger sister (who only played platformers, which didnt count) I’d only gotten to know one other “girl gamer” (who also happened to play PSO but was also a few years older than me). There was nothing there to suggest she liked me back but one day she asked if she could phone me, I gave her the house number and we both logged off, I plugged the phone back in and it rung shortly afterwards, we chatted for a while, I dont even remember what about, but I became a little obsessed afterwards and essentially ruined our friendship, and became ostracised from the group of people I’d been playing with due to my behaviour. It was a major moment in me growing up and eventually played a part in me leaving PSO (that and we got Broadband when NTL rolled that out so I couldnt take the Dreamcast online any more).

Its funny thinking of SEGAs last console now, in a way it feels right that it was the console that I played most of during my adolescence and the console still means alot to me even now. for a short, intense period of my life the Dreamcast was the main social hub of my development, my core group of friends would gather to compete against each other or share new experiences, and due to the small catalogue of titles it was easy for everyone to be playing the same things or recommend stuff to each other. That it was abandoned before it had barely gotten started by both the market and its creators meant titles were easy to get hold of for an age group that was starting their first jobs and had little else to spend money on other than booze. It was also our window into a much bigger world, our first experiences of going online were via the Dreamcast and it also led first Aaron and then later myself down the path of writing about games.