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Life is but a Dreamcast

For all the talk of this being the "summer of horror movies", I think it's more appropriate to call this the "summer of standing in lines"... lines for Star Wars toys and tickets, lines for The Blair Witch project, and lately, lines for The Sixth Sense. Well chalk up another line last night for the new Sega Dreamcast's North American launch. All across this great continent, people started standing in line when malls everywhere closed shop for the night. We were waiting for the clock to chime midnight, so the gates would rise, and we could all rush in to buy our new favorite 128-bit, Internet-ready (and in time, DVD compatible) game system.

Sega's Dreamcast game system
Sega's Dreamcast game system.
Five cities hosted "events" last night, where huge lights swirled, out-of-work actors dressed up as Sonic, and celebrities shook hands with the writhing crowds. I was at the shindig in Atlanta (although I spent most of my time inside the KB Toys at Cumberland Mall, looking outside the gate at the crowds). As people who might have read my Matrix review know, I'm not a crowd person. Inside though, I got to meet a PR person, a sales rep for Sega (who hasn't slept in three days, and sadly looked it), and a couple of Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders (who my wife had to keep telling me weren't attractive, but I still don't believe her). I also got to play with a Dreamcast system, before anyone in the line even got to look at a box. I'll most likely have a more detailed review coming up (once I can get my stinking paws on a Dreamcast at home), but for now, you'll have to settle for a cursory overview.

I got to fool with two games, Soul Caliber and NFL 2K. Both are simply amazing - and I mean that. They're mind-blowing. Soul Caliber is like watching an Anime that you can control. It's a fighting game, but the camera moves, animation and personality put into this thing, will make you chuck your N64 and PlayStation out the window. NFL 2K is equally mind-numbing. I'm not a very good sports game player, but the fluidity, detail and characterization in this game is pretty powerful. It took 18 months just to program NFL 2K, mostly because of the 1,500 motion-captures it took to duplicate the moves, struts and breathing patterns of real NFL players. That's just incredible, and it's all there in the game. I was waiting for a half-time show, and even asked one of the cheerleaders if they programmed her (but my wife hit me, and I didn't get to hear the answer).

The Dreamcast system itself is quite the little killer. It's based on a 128-bit architecture, that (over time) is made to evolve and grow with advances in technology, and the changing needs of the consumer market (i.e. adding DVD, given the introduction next year of Sony's DVD-ROM based PlayStation 2). What that means, is that if you take your Dreamcast to a Sega-approved electronics shop (as leaps and bounds are made in technology), the system can be augmented and adapted with new capabilities. It's built around a 200 MHz Hitachi SH-4 CPU, and a NEC PowerVR 2DC 3D graphics chip, so right now, it's the single most powerful 3D technology ever developed for a console system. The Sega Dreamcast is 15 times more powerful than a Sony PlayStation, 10 times more powerful than a Nintendo 64, and has four times the graphics processing power of the fastest Pentium II processor. So there.

The Dreamcast is also the first gaming system to come onto market with Internet capabilities, which just makes it that much cooler, 'cause now you can read The Bits after you play your favorite game. It has a built-in 56k modem, that ensures full Internet functionality (chat, e-mail and Internet browsing). You simply tap into the Sega Dreamcast Network, an online gaming portal accessible only through Sega Dreamcast (for which a disc is included in the box, to help set you up online). Sega is planning to introduce online gaming on the system early next year, but nothing is available right now. The Internet access is courtesy of Sega's recent deal with AT&T (which made them the preferred Internet service provider (ISP) for Sega Dreamcast).

Another first for the Sega Dreamcast, is its game availability. Never before has a system launched with so many games already in its library. Right now, there are 18 games (all in popular genres like fighting, car racing, football and zombie hunting), with the number growing to 40 by the end of the year. Sega plans to roll out a number of new games every month (skipping December, for parents to catch the kiddies up for Christmas). By the end of 2000, Sega says they will have a library of more than 100 third-party titles. Right now, the games are priced around and between $39.95 and $49.95. The library of games that should be available before year end are: Aerowings, Airforce Delta, Armada, Bass Fishing, Blue Stinger, Flag to Flag, House of the Dead 2, Hydro Thunder, Marvel vs. Capcom, Monaco Grand Prix, Mortal Kombat Gold, NBA 2K, NBA Showtime, NFL 2K, NFL Blitz 2000, Power Stone, Ready to Rumble, Sonic Adventure, Soul Caliber, TNN Motorsports, Tokyo Extreme Racer, Toy Commander, Trick Style, Toy Commander, Vigilante 8, Virtua Fighter 3, and WWF Attitude.

With all of its capabilities and software, the ones who benefit most from the Dreamcast system are the SERIOUS gamers out there. The Sega Dreamcast is utilizing a hand-held, Visual Memory Unit (VMU). A Dreamcast exclusive, it's a credit card-sized hoob-a-joob, that houses a built-in LCD screen, which plugs right into the control pad (for use with Dreamcast games, as a memory device or for game-enhancing). The VMU is an 8-bit CPU and monochrome LCD display, that allows for a new level of strategy to game-play, where gamers can use the LCD to set up plays in sports games, or plan secret attacks in RPGs all without their opponent's knowledge. Best of all, the VMU is also a portable game device, complete with a directional pad, control buttons, and (as mentioned) its own LCD game screen. Sounds cool, no? To top it all off, the Dreamcast is also capable of running Windows CE, which opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.

That's it for now -- I'm going to be dedicating my time playing with a Dreamcast (hopefully) over the weekend, and I'll be back next week with a more in-depth look at the player, and its abilities and functions. But for now, I wouldn't blame any one of you out there for jumping into the Sega pool on this one -- it's pretty sweet. The starting price is $199 smackers, which includes one control pad, and the unit itself. That's not bad, considering that Sony's PlayStation debuted at $249. So until next week, this is Doogan... and these are my views. Other people have them, but these are MINE!

Todd Doogan

Dreamcast control padDreamcast control pad
Dreamcast control pad (left) and Virtual Memory Unit (right).

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