Nobody can accuse Sega of not building good consoles. From the Master System to Genesis to Saturn, they have created systems which although sometimes not selling as well as they deserved, certainly DID deserve to do well. The Dreamcast, sadly, was Sega's final machine, and was again beaten rather unfairly in the marketplace.
The Dreamcast marks the end of the traditional sleek black launch console - this time around, Sega created a rather beautiful (almost Japanese Saturn-like) white and grey machine, replete with four controller ports and a nice flip-top GD-ROM drive. At first Sega were not going to have their logo anywhere on the case - just the orange (or blue, in Europe) Dreamcast swirl on the GD-ROM drive lid - although eventually they relented, gracing the machine's front.
The Dreamcast was a machine full of innovation. The four controller ports allowed for multiplayer fun a la N64, and discs could be changed while the machine was still powered on - it would simply drop back to the power-on menu until another game was inserted - but it was the inclusion of a modem that made the Dreamcast so special upon launch. This console could go online, surf the net - and later on, multiplayer online gaming came home. Woo!
Released in Japan in 1998, and the rest of the world the year after, the system marked the return of a 'proper' Sonic the Hedgehog game - the Saturn, throughout its entire lifetime, did not have a single exclusive Sonic platform game released. Sega were not going to fall into this trap again, and for the Dreamcast the legendary Sonic Team produced Sonic Adventure - a superb (for its time) fully-3D Sonic game.
A word about the GD-ROMs used for the games. Part of the disc is, in fact, readable by a standard CD-ROM drive or audio CD player! This means that some games have hidden extra features - Sonic Adventure and Dead or Alive 2, for example, feature wallpapers on them. ChuChu Rocket!'s music is all playable on a normal CD player. Virtually all games, though, have an audio warning telling you not to play in an audio CD player. Give it a listen, but only that track - you'll find out why when you do.
The almighty Dreamcast! Note the blue swirl on the GD-ROM drive, showing this to be a European unit.
One interesting point about the DC is that there is no reset button. Never have we been so annoyed as the days of the Master System II (where Sega handily removed the reset button...). To reset a Dreamcast, hold A+B+X+Y and press Start.
CPU: A 128-bit Hitachi SuperH4 RISC processor, running at 200Mhz. This was sheer power for its time, far in advance of its competition (the Playstation and N64)
Graphics: An NEC PowerVR Series II clocked at 100Mhz. This is the same PowerVR that was used in that line of 3D cards for PCs.
Sound: A Yamaha AICA, capable of 16bit sound, 64 voices and 3D audio.
Main RAM: 16Mb
Video RAM: 8Mb
Sound RAM: 2Mb, bringing the total RAM inside this baby to 24Mb. Nice.
Game format: Sega's proprietary GD-ROM (Gigabyte-Disc Read-Only Memory) format was used for the Dreamcast. Each CD-sized disc is capable of storing 1.2Gb of data.
The Dreamcast had surprisingly many accessories released or planned for it, many taking advantage of the 2 ports provided by each controller. These were used by the following accessories:
Visual Memory Unit (VMU): Used for saving games, and in fact playing games! This not only was a memory card, but games could be downloaded to it and played, as it contained a small 8-bit processor, screen and buttons. When plugged into a controller, various images showed up on-screen, sometimes vital to gameplay. Quite a nice touch.
4x Memory Card: Lacking the 'visual' aspect of the original, but with four times the save space, this is essential for when your game library gets bigger.
Microphone: Released with the game 'Seaman', this was not released in Europe (so I don't know much about it), but you can probably guess what it does.
Jump Pack: The official rumble pack for the Dreamcast plugs into slot 2 (although other peripherals can go there, too) and provides the usual shakes and rattles in supported games.
The following did not need
to be inserted into a controller, owing to that they were controllers:
Official Controller: Very similar to the oh-so-good-it-hurts Saturn controller released with NiGHTs, this is a nice controller with two expansion ports for inserting the above. I like it. A lot.
Keyboard: For use online, and with certain games (Such as Quake 3 Arena or Unreal Tournament), this provides much easier typing ability, as well as being far better than a joypad in FPS games.
Mouse: The other half of the online/FPS duo, this is used to point and click online, as well as aim and kill in multiplayer games.
Lightgun: Not released in the USA to calm the anti-gun lobby, the official gun for the Dreamcast can be 'loaded' with Jump Pack and VMU. Fun fun fun.
Racing Controller: Your usual steering wheel and pedals, plus a slot for a VMU (with a space for the screen!)
Maracas: Yes, maracas... for Samba De Amigo, you shake these controllers in time to the beat! Hilarity ensues.
And finally, those that plug
into the Dreamcast itself.
Modem: 33.6K in Europe, 56K everywhere else... what's going on? Sega gave Europe a less nippy modem than everyone else, but it still managed a reasonable game - probably because everyone else was on slow modems too.
Broadband adaptor: Again Sega shun Europe, not even releasing this over here! It allowed users to connect to a LAN for high-speed internet access, but demand was low so very few were made.
ZIP drive: Never released, it's not clear what this would have been used for exactly, although it was to plug in underneath the Dreamcast, using the same socket as the modem. So would that plug into the ZIP drive? We certainly don't know.