23 years ago, Sega’s biggest flop changed video games forever

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

On the playground, he would pull out a Palm Pilot and amaze the school with his snake playing worth. I clearly remember visiting his house for his birthday, going to his basement and seeing a huge TV with a 3D Sonic the Hedgehog racing faster than a truck on the screen. There was a weird gray plastic console attached to the front, with an even weirder controller in my friend’s hands. I’ll never forget it when unplugging a Tamagotchi-type memory card from the bottom of the controller; broke my little brain.

The Sega Dreamcast, which was released in North America in September 1999, made a better impression on me than most. It performed so far below expectations that it forced Sega out of the console business for good. Although it never managed to catch up with the hype surrounding the PlayStation 2, Sega’s latest console was the first to feature some form of online functionality, which would later become an industry standard.

Dreams vs Reality

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

Sega was a major titan in the console market, a real rival to the dominant Nintendo. The Genesis, released in North America in 1989, was a resounding success. For a brief time in the early 1990s, Sega controlled 65 percent of the North American 16-bit console market. The Genesis sold around 31 million units and introduced the world to the company’s mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, who raced for a decade. But Sega’s 1995 successor console, the Saturn, failed to achieve the same lofty highs as its predecessor, selling just 9.25 million units during its lifetime.

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So in its next console, Sega had to release a blockbuster machine 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 the Internet by dial-up. It used GD-ROM, a precursor to DVDs, which could store more than 1 GB of data. But even before he could take his first steps, he ran into some serious mistakes. Third-party developers struggled to create content with the new technology, and EA adamantly refused to make games for the Dreamcast unless they were given exclusivity on sports titles.

Worse, Sony announced that its PlayStation 2 would launch in March 2000, just a few months after the Dreamcast’s release in September 1999. The PS2, which used DVD technology and was much easier for developers to work with, became at best. Best-selling game console of all time, with over 158 million units sold as of 2022.

cabinet of curiosities

Although the Dreamcast lacked the power of the PS2, it had a library of games unlike anything else. sonic adventure it was the first game to bring the blue hedgehog into the 3D world and it remains an absolutely amazing platformer. Racing through roads and loops at the speed of sound never gets boring, especially when you’re being chased by a whale. To date, Sega has yet to release a non-2D Sonic game that is as fun or innovative as sonic adventure or its sequel.

Seaman sure was an…interesting game. sega

Sega published weird games that took risks during the Dreamcast era. shenmue it helped inspire single-player action games like the Grand Theft Auto and Yakuza series. fighting games like Soul Calibur, power stone, Marvel vs Capcom 2Y dead or alive 2 I still have devoted fans who host tournaments. space channel 5 put you in control of a TV host who needed to dance to defeat monsters. Rez it was an audiovisual mind blast, which came with a vibration lock that some naughty gamers used for, um, “personal gratification.” And then there’s Sailor, where you raise a fish with a human face by speaking to it through a microphone.

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

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

“When you look back and then post that, I don’t want to say it was all incremental, but it was an evolution of the previous experience,” then-Sega of America head Peter Moore said. the ringer in 2019. “I think the Dreamcast was revolutionary.”

Moore’s words still ring true, 23 years later: the legacy of the short-lived Dreamcast is hard to overstate. He brought online gaming to the masses years before teenagers were yelling at each other on aura when Xbox Live launched in 2002. It had a library of classics that are still considered some of the best games ever made. It’s a reminder that sometimes the best platforms don’t get the recognition they deserve, until they’re gone.

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