Gaming

My Top Five Dreamcast Games

I may have mentioned this before but if you were to ask me what my favourite console is I’d probably immediately state that is was SEGA’s Dreamcast. Dwelling on the question further would probably bring up other systems that would be in contention, notably the first two PlayStations, but if asked and expecting an immediate answer the Dreamcast is what would find its way to the tip of my tongue first. Graphically it looked ace at the time and alot of the games still hold up really well now, with the focus being on sharp, bright graphics.

So what are my favourite five games? Starting from number five and finishing with my favourite (and those who know me wont be surprised at what it is), here they are.

5. Jet Set Radioscreenshot14
Fun, Fresh and Funky. Three words that perfectly describe both Jet Set Radio’s audio and visual design. Those sharp yellow’s, oranges and greens in my mind are absolutely iconic and whilst I still listen to its soundtrack today. If Sonic the Hedgehog perfectly sums up the attitude of SEGA during the Mega Drive era, then Jet Set Radio does the same for the Dreamcast era in that it oozes cool, is really experimental, has more than a hint of the arcade in it (even if its not a proper arcade title).

4. Soul Calibur
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I have two fond memories of Soul Calibur, the first is staying over at a friends one night and the pair of us working through Edge Master mode, unlocking everything we could and playing about with the intro sequence (replacing Sophitia with Astaroth brought a few laughs). The other is introducing my better half to it when we were first dating nearly seventeen years ago and us spending many an evening battling it out against each other over and over again and her getting gradually better.

3. Rez
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So good it gets re-released every time we get a new console. Now admittedly the versions I’ve played the most are the PlayStation 2 and XBox 360 ones, but its still quintessentially a Dreamcast title in my mind. I wasn’t lucky enough to get a copy when it was released at the end of the consoles life (hence why I ended up with it on PlayStation  2), but a friend did and I’d borrow it at every opportunity (likewise Samba De Amigo). Playing it now I have to put headphones on and just love listening to the music slowly build as you progress and love the Running Man section most of all.

2. Crazy Taxi
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I bought my Dreamcast for two things, Crazy Taxi was one of those reasons, the other we’ll come to in a moment. Whats not to love about it? Its proper SEGA blue skies gaming where everything feels positive, add in its famous soundtrack and a ridiculous handling model that rewards the player for dangerous but skillful driving which all resulted in Crazy Taxi grabbing me for hours and hours and I actually became very good at it, back in the day I could get into the region of $20,000.00 every time I booted the game up and played Arcade Mode, scores that none of my mates could touch.

1. Phantasy Star Online/Phantasy Star Online ver.2
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I’ve previously dedicated a #ThrowbackThursday to Phantasy Star Online, its a game I keep returning to, when I get the Dreamcast down from the loft its normally PSO (or Crazy Taxi) that I boot up first. I have it on other systems too, GameCube, XBox and PC, but its the Dreamcast where it feels most at home. Those with some technical ability are now able to utilise a Raspberry Pi to take the Dreamcast version online again via private servers, I’m not brave enough to try that yet (but may do so in the future) but have recently returned to Ragol via a PC private server for the Blue Burst release of the game.

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: Phantasy Star Online

I often use these #ThrowBackThursday posts to reminisce about some of my favourite games that I’ve played since I first picked up a controller, occasionally I’ll cover something old that I’ve been playing recently (usually if its something I’ve picked up cheap on PSP or its one of the Retro Game Club games, which I’ve not actually joined in with this month). So far though the only one that I’ve written about that had any long-term impact on me is Metal Gear Solid, but even that game didn’t have as much an impact on my life, for better or worse, than Sonic Team’s Phantasy Star Online.

Like many games of its era, I came to learn of Phantasy Star Online through a friend, most of the time it was Aaron and this time was no different. He was properly hyped about the Dreamcast prior to its release and would obsess over every image and article he could get his hands on. I remember him showing me screenshots of PSO in some magazine whilst on the bus one day, I don’t recall where we were going but I thought it looked pretty cool. There were two legged bear wolf things (I later learned these were called Booma’s), lightsabers, massive rifles and scantily dressed girls casting magic, what more could an adolescent boy want?

Now, obviously Aaron was first to get a copy, I think he must have used money he got for Christmas to get it. I didn’t have the cash initially, so I bought a VMU (the Dreamcasts answer to the Memory Card) and made a character at his, not knowing that it would be tied to that console/copy of the game and thus I wouldn’t be able to use it elsewhere, and it would take a couple of months doing my five hour a week supermarket job to be able to actually buy a Dreamcast and a copy of the game, at which point Aaron was miles ahead and already has made friends with a group online so wasn’t massively interested in running round with a level 1 character.

So once I had the console and game for myself I decided to start a different type of character. Gone was the purple haired, Disco Stu inspired HUmar (Hunter Male Human) I called Dibley, and in his place (until I had enough VMU’s to have too many characters) was a RAcast (Ranger Male Robot) titled Mumunk 2001, I designed it in such a way that the sliders were at their maximum.

I chipped away in the offline mode, a little afraid to go online, not because of other people, that bit excited me, but it took a while to wear my Mum down to allow me to take the Dreamcast online as at the time we’d have to pay for every minute I spent online. Plus I only had a 50hz TV in my bedroom and the game would ask you upon boot up what refresh rate required and if you went online you’d only be able to play on servers with players of the same. Anyway, she succumbed, I’d be allowed an hour every other night where I could go online using the “big telly” (the one in the living room, a big wide screen Panasonic with surround sound) once my Step Dad had gone to bed.

She was right to be apprehensive though, as I soon started to push my boundaries and ran up huge phone bills, often forcing us to be cut off and her scrambling round to pay the bill before my Step Dad notice and flipped his lid. You see, I’d made my own friends on the game by this point, most of them older or on the other side of the pond (as I was normally playing later at night than my local friends would have been), and wanted to spend as much time as them as possible. When I wasn’t on the Dreamcast with them, keyboard on lap and Feeder, Muse, System of a Down or Linkin Park playing over headphone, I’d be on forums with them discussing more about the game, among other things.

Eventually our tariff changed, I can’t remember if we changed suppliers or if the supplier changed how they handled the internet. I cant remember if we were on BT to begin with and then changed to NTL or if NTL changed things up, but eventually the internet would be free for an hour and then you’d be charged for any time you were still online after that, but there was a way around the restriction. If you disconnected before the hour was up you could immediately reconnected and go online for another hour and so on for as long as you could keep going. Soon enough I’d be using chat shortcuts to signal when I’d have to do this and as many of us were on the same provider we’d often all disconnect and reconnect then meet in our regular lobby for a chat, see who wanted to run what quest (rooms were limited to four players, whilst lobbies could hold many more) and then break off, sometimes communicating with the others individually via the games in-game mailing system.

Eventually the community became fragmented, SEGA released Version 2 of the game which had additional modes, equipment, and additional difficulty level with new bosses and a raised level cap (although it took as long to get to level 101 as it did to get from level 1 to 100), and again I was left behind. I could still communicate with my group of friends but some moved on to other things and some moved onto Version 2 whilst I was still on the original game and they, rightfully, wanted to explore the new content. I made other friends and it was here that I truly became addicted. I’d be up all night, the moment my Step Dad went to bed I’d turn the Dreamcast on and then I’d be on all night, most of the time not even actually playing the game, just chatting in the lobbies, before sneaking upstairs when I knew my Mum’s alarm was about to go off. I started missing college due to lack of sleep and before long was on anti-depressants.

Other problems arose, I started to really enjoy spending time with one particular person on there, and yes it was a girl. She asked if she could phone me one day, so I gave her my number and she called and we spoke for an hour or so, and she made me promise that I’d not tell the rest of our group, thing was I knew she’d done this with almost everyone, and most of them spoke about it via the private messaging system. I happened to mention it to the wrong guy, who seemed to take on a role as her protector, and after that I was ostracised from the group as she got them to close ranks (and none of them admitted to her they’d also told each other about her phone calls). That was bad enough, and I struggled with it for ages, trying to get her to talk to me, either one to one (I wanted her attention and I wanted to apologise for breaking her trust) or with others around it didn’t really matter, but I begun to give up, and chat with a different group, mostly people from an American forum I was also a member of. Occasionally I’d see people who I knew were part of her clique appear in the same lobby, run past my character and then warp to another lobby. This went on for a while, then she would appear, hang round in the lobby, try and chat to the people I was talking to then disappear. I’d tried to say hi the first few times but received no reply and gave up, it was all a bit weird.

As time went on, and even when I eventually got Version 2, I grew tired of doing this routine and moved onto chat rooms and MSN Messenger on the PC instead, which is where I met my partner who I’m still with nearly 17 years later. We have three children together and now I look back on those moments and laugh both at myself and the behaviour of those around me within the game. I played other versions as they were released, the Gamecube one in splitscreen with my partner and the XBox version via XBox Live with a few people I was on a different forum with. I’d played the PC demo SEGA released around the time of Version 2 coming out, although that was mostly to get screenshots and the like to cut up for fan wallpapers I’d then stick on Deviantart or fansites, and ultimately I had a blast at Blue Burst when that came out but was reluctant to buy into SEGA’s subscription model at the time but have since dipped in and out of private servers such as SCHTHACK or Ephinea over the years, often having to restart when the mood takes me to give it a go again as my character would have been wiped due to inactivity.

I even once went through the convoluted process to play PSO2 on PC when that came out in Japan, but there was no translation file then and my PC wasn’t upto snuff for it anyway so I soon stopped playing, but now SEGA and Microsoft have announced PSO2 is to be released on PC and XBox One outside of Japan for the first time and I was genuinely excited, unfortunately there’s nothing on the cards regarding a European release at this time. But when there is I’ll definitely be there!

Gaming

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.