Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Sega Dreamcast. Twenty years have passed since that now famous date 9/9/99 arrived on our doorstep, making the Dreamcast the most significant launch since Sony PlayStation dropped the simple word, “$299.00” on consumers at the inaugural E3 in 1995. Video game pundits will forever mock the Sega Dreamcast for how quickly it went the way of the dinosaur after the launch of the Sony PlayStation 2. However, what many failed to realize is that the system that launched on 9/9/99 helped make strides in video games and opened the door for future technologies in console hardware.
The developers at Sega were forced to be creative with their titles, as they didn’t have much in the way of licensed franchises that they could lean heavily on, as did Sony. Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, and even Seaman paved the way by innovating gameplay elements and devices that even the most successful and lauded games and studios still employ today.
On the hardware side the Sega Dreamcast was the first to utilize a VGA adapter to output to a high definition television or a computer monitor. The console even had Internet capabilities, something that was briefly explored with Sega’s X-Band, and competitive gaming against the otherwise located with the Sega Channel. However, the Sega Dreamcast had the capabilities to go online and play against someone, in theory at least. This failed because Internet connections at the time were spotty at best, too slow for the average consumer to take advantage of this new technology.
Personally, the launch of the Sega Dreamcast marked a solemn milestone for me. Having been burned by the Sega Saturn, I wasn’t too keen on jumping back into the Sega market. Not only that, but I was getting a little older, and part of me felt that video games were for kids, and that I needed to step away from childish things. Some of my friends weren’t playing video games anymore, a lot of them retired with the Sony PlayStation. I was ready to hang it up after the Sega Saturn, but the advertisements and the marketing for Sega’s new console had me hooked. When the Dreamcast failed to pick up much steam after its launch, I put it away and didn’t get back into gaming until much later in the Xbox 360’s lifecycle. It was also the second video game console I bought with my own money, with the Sony PlayStation being the first, having purchased it with my earnings from working at Burger King.
I was working at Whataburger when the Sega Dreamcast launched. I took the night off from flipping hamburgers and getting yelled at by customers to stand in line with my friend Steve. Steve wasn’t buying a console; he was a curious third party. He had never stood in line for anything before, while I had stood in line for a couple of midnight movie releases (Independence Day, The Phantom Menace). Standing outside with a horde of people made me glad I had pre-ordered the system. For $199.00 it didn’t take long to get it all paid off. Also, by the time it launched I had enough cash on hand to buy a couple of games. I got Sonic Adventure for myself, and Soul Calibur so I could play with Steve. That night I stayed up late playing those two fun games, as well as the demo disc the system came with.
Throughout the course of my time with the Sega Dreamcast I purchased many games. Some were better than others, and some, like Shenmue, were legendary. There was a Star Wars game, which was fun, but lacked a certain something, just like the actual Star Wars franchise at the time. There were a couple of WWF games, a couple of 2K sports games, some incredibly horrible adventure games, as well as Rainbow Six, a Spider-Man game, Crazy Taxi, and Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Sadly, I didn’t get to play the games as much as I wanted to. Around fall of 2000 I changed jobs, this time flipping hamburgers at the A&W Restaurant in the mall. I didn’t have much time for video games. I was more into watching wrestling and going to the movies with friends and talking with young ladies. Games just weren’t in my purview anymore. The Sony PlayStation 2 had launched, and I didn't care, not even when Steve showed it off to me at his place.
It was that very launch of the Sony PlayStation 2 that ultimately spelled the demise of the Sega Dreamcast. Some say it’s because the PlayStation 2 included a DVD player and the Sega Dreamcast did not. However, I never thought that to be the case. In my belief, Sega Dreamcast never took advantage of the launch lead they had between 9/9/99 and the PlayStation 2 release date of fall 2000. The games that Dreamcast sold may have been too niche for a mainstream audience. The system’s lack of third-party support, mostly because of the failure of the Sega Saturn, which lead to EA outright refusing to make games for Sega anymore. Sega came off like the giant who was resting on its laurels while Sony laid in wait with their system killing PlayStation 2.
Some former Sega execs were asked why their system failed, and they blamed it on costs associated with creating and developing the system’s hardware. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but if you ask the average gamer who was around at the time they’ll tell you it’s because Sony PlayStation 2 simply came and kicked Sega’s rear (again) with its huge library of many fun games, its DVD player, and because Sega was becoming the thing the company fought so hard to rebel against when it came to their legendary battles with Nintendo a couple of generations before. Now it seemed that the show was on the other proverbial foot.
After Sega announced that they were discontinuing production of Sega Dreamcast I took my system and put it back in its box and tucked it away in the closet. I sold a lot of my games to Funcoland (keeping only a handful), and then, over time, I forgot about video games. I began working my new job (my first real job), and just didn’t have time for much of anything fun anymore since I was working long hours at night. My younger brother bought systems after I put mine away for good. I watched and played his games and it didn’t make me want to buy my own. I played other people’s games and had fun with them. The system selling game, the game that made me go out and purchase an Xbox 360 of my own, was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. That game restarted my love affair with my video games. I was hooked again.
After my desire to play video games was sparked once again, I took out my old Sega Dreamcast from mothballs, went out and bought some used games, and started to rebuild my library. I pull it out every now and then so I can relive those old days. Every time I plug it back in I’m reminded of how amazing and how innovative this console truly was. The Sega Dreamcast holds a special place in my heart, because it was the last console I bought in the 90's, and it was the console that got me to fall in love with role playing and open world games. Also, it introduced me to the world of The Offspring.
Well, Dreamcast, you’re twenty years old today dear friend. You’re a constant reminder in my life now that I was once a young, naive 18-year-old with his whole life ahead of him. That nostalgia part of my brain kicks in whenever I play one of these old games. You’re a truly wonderful piece of technology that the world didn’t get a chance to appreciate back then.