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23 Years Ago Sega's Biggest Flop Changed Video Games Forever

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When I was in high school, I had a friend who always had the latest top technology.

On the playground, he would break out a Palm Pilot and stun the school with his snake games bravery. I clearly remember visiting his house for his birthday, going into his basement, and seeing on-screen a huge television with a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog driving past a truck. There was a strange gray plastic console attached to the front, with an even stranger controller in my friend’s hands. I’ll never forget he pulled a Tamagotchi-esque memory card from the bottom of the controller – it broke my little brain.

The Sega Dreamcast, which launched in North America in September 1999, impressed me better than most. It performed so far below expectations that it forced Sega out of the console business for good. While it could never catch up to the hype surrounding the PlayStation 2, Sega’s last console was the first with some form of online functionality, which would later become an industry standard.

Dreams vs Reality

The show floor of Tokyo Game Show 2001, featuring GameCube, Dreamcast, Xbox and PS2.YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

Sega was a great titan in the console market, a true rival to the dominant Nintendo. Released in North America in 1989, the Genesis was a resounding success. In the early 1990s, Sega briefly controlled 65 percent of the North American market for 16-bit consoles. The Genesis sold approximately 31 million units and introduced the world to the company’s decade-long mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. But the successor to the 1995 Sega console, the Saturn, didn’t reach the same lofty heights as its predecessor, selling only 9.25 million units over its lifetime.

So on their next console, Sega had to release a blockbuster to save its reputation. Codenamed Katana, Sega focused its resources on creating a technologically advanced console that could compete with the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64.

The Dreamcast was the first 128-bit home console equipped with a 56k modem that could connect to dial-up internet. It used GD-ROMs, a precursor to DVDs, which could store more than 1 GB of data. But before it could even take its first steps, it encountered some serious blunders. Third-party developers struggled to create content with the new technology, and EA flatly refused to make games for Dreamcast unless the sports title was given exclusivity.

Even worse, Sony announced that PlayStation 2 would be released in March 2000, just months after the Dreamcast launched in September 1999. The PS2, which used DVD technology and was much easier for developers to work with, became the best – all-time game console sold, with over 158 million units sold as of 2022.

Cabinet of Curiosities

While the Dreamcast didn’t have the power of the PS2, it did have a library of games like anything else out there. Sonic Adventure was the first game that brought the blue hedgehog into the world of the third dimension and is still an absolutely amazing platformer. Running along roads and loops at the speed of sound is never boring, especially when a whale is chasing you. To date, Sega has not released a Sonic game outside of 2D that is nearly as fun or groundbreaking as Sonic Adventure or the sequel.

Seaman was an interesting game for sure. Sega

Sega published weird games that took risks during the Dreamcast era. Shenmue inspired single-player action games such as the Grand Theft Auto and Yakuza series. Fighting games like Soul Calibur, Power Stone, Marvel vs. Capcom 2and Dead or alive 2 still devoted fans who hold tournaments. Room channel 5 puts you in control of a television host who had to dance to defeat monsters. rez was an audiovisual brain blast that came with a vibrating block that some naughty players used for, er, “personal gratification.” And then there is Sailor, where you raise a fish with a human face by talking to it through a microphone.

But these strange gems weren’t enough to save the Dreamcast. In March 2001, less than two years after launch, Sega announced plans to discontinue the console.

The Dreamcast memory card, shown by Sega employee Hiromi Anzai at Tokyo Game Show in 1999.YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

“If you look back at past experiences and then definitely post that, I’m not saying everything was incremental, but it was an evolution of the previous experience,” then-Sega head of America Peter Moore told me. the bell in 2019. “I think the Dreamcast was revolutionary.”

Moore’s words still ring true, 23 years later – the legacy of the ephemeral Dreamcast is hard to overstate. It brought online play to the masses years before teenagers yelled at each other Halo when Xbox Live launched in 2002. It had a library of classics that are still considered some of the best games ever made. It reminds us that sometimes the best platforms don’t get the recognition they deserve – until they’re already gone.


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