I’m a little late to the party on this one, considering it was the Dreamcast’s 20th birthday yesterday. Many people took the time yesterday to share memories of their favourite games on Dreamcast, but – fairly typically for me – I wanted to do something a little different. I have three stories related to the Dreamcast that I’d like to share with you – I hope you enjoy reading them.
A few months before the Japanese launch of the Dreamcast, I moved from working in video games wholesale/distribution (where I was tasked with taking care of near-enough half of all independent video game retailers in the UK) to working in retail. It was a bit of a backwards step in terms of the industry hierarchy, but the pay was better and I was moving to work for a company that had always meant a lot to me, at a Central London location.
Given that everyone who worked at this particular retailer considered themselves a pretty hardcore gamer at the time, we were all very excited about the Dreamcast. I personally hadn’t owned a Sega console since the Master System, but had played others extensively and always enjoyed them. Every new piece of footage we saw, along with every screenshot and report in a magazine we laid our eyes on all made us very interested in getting our hands on Sega’s new wonder.
The day before the Japanese launch – November 26th 1998 – we got our hands on a couple of consoles and each of the launch titles. One of the consoles immediately went into the window, bundled with the software, for the outrageous price of £1500. Given the hype around the store’s customers, this – as bizarre as it sounds – was a price that some people were more than willing to pay for what was almost certainly the first Dreamcast in the UK. I think it sold at that price too, within a few hours of being in the window, if I remember rightly.
In any case, the company’s owner kept one of the consoles and we held our own completely unofficial ‘launch celebration’ in a nearby hotel’s function room. We drank lots of complimentary booze, we laughed and chatted and we all excitedly played Virtua Fighter 3 on a massive projector screen. It felt like the next gen had truly arrived – and that Sega would have a massive hit on their hands. I guess it’s obvious at this point that my powers of precognition are non-existent.
Samba De Amigo
Fast forward a few years to 2001. Production of the Dreamcast had ceased at the end of March, bringing the console’s hopes to a sad and very untimely end. The company I was working for at the time – with me having moved back into wholesale/distribution again – was owned by a very big European organisation with deep pockets; they brokered a deal with Sega Europe to buy all of their remaining inventory. Hardware, software, peripherals – everything. Despite the ridiculous prices we bought the stock for, and even the prices we were offering to UK retail, we couldn’t shift it. Nobody was interested, so to get rid of them they were eventually sold to staff at cost (you don’t even want to know how low that was – let’s just say it makes for very depressing reading, given current market values).
And that’s how I ended up owning – amongst many other things – a pile of Samba de Amigo game/maraca bundles. Myself and my friends – at the time, everyone I lived with worked at the same company – would play Samba de Amigo every single night after work. Drunk, sober, half asleep – it didn’t matter. We were constantly on it. It got ridiculously competitive and – being the middle of summer when this was happening – sometimes there was, shall we say, a lack of shirts involved. Hey, don’t judge us – plastic maraca shaking can be a very hot and sweaty pursuit.
Anyway, one time I remember coming down from my room in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. It was very hot, even at 3am. As I made my way down the stairs, I thought I could hear the TV. Somewhat weirded out, knowing – or at least believing – that everyone was in bed, I poked my head around the living room door and couldn’t believe what I saw.
One of my friends was playing Samba de Amigo.
In his underwear.
We never let him live that down.
Despite production of the consoles being halted, there were still a few more games to come on Sega’s console. We had reps from Sega’s UK office coming in to demo new games to us on a fairly regular basis and these were usually great fun – getting to try out new games and being given promo copies of upcoming titles was always a highlight and a real perk of my job at the time.
None of these demo sessions stick in the mind very much, though we often had the chance to get our hands on some fantastic games.
Except the Confidential Mission demo. That is one I’ll never forget.
Confidential Mission was a Virtua Cop-esque arcade lightgun game first released in 2000. I don’t recall ever seeing it in arcades at the time (though I’d started to have less opportunity to actually visit arcades, which clearly had something to do with that!), but had seen screenshots and read short reviews in magazines and online at the time. The title and some of the game elements evoked Mission: Impossible, but the visual style was more of a Japanese take on Bond, with the well-dressed main characters and outlandish supervillains being very reminiscent of the more campy, OTT 007 movies.
The Dreamcast conversion felt like it came way too late, though another excuse to use the House of the Dead-bundled lightguns I had was always welcome. When it was brought in for us to test and the intro was playing, I made a silly joke about the game self-destructing and everyone laughed because I am so funny (and it definitely wasn’t awkward, polite laughter at all, honest).
Anyway, we were having a laugh trying it out. Great fun.
Then the weirdest thing happened.
The game froze and there was a weird burning smell. Our rep walked over to the console to reset it and just as he got there, a massive puff of white smoke shot out of a vent on the console. He quickly turned the power off and that was the end of our demo.
Turns out the game did self-destruct after all, taking the console with it.
So there you are. Three completely true, Dreamcast related stories from my own experiences with the console in the lower echelons of the video games industry. I had an absolute blast with my Dreamcast console – I loved it and all of the quirky peripherals, brilliant arcade conversions and sometimes very bizarre games too (hello, Seaman – sorry I let you die). I played online – 19 years ago now – for the first time, courtesy of Chu Chu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online. Without my Dreamcast, I wouldn’t have been able to order Domino’s Pizza online, as I did for the very first time way back in 1999. What a machine. What fantastic memories. The Dreamcast will always hold a very special place in my heart.
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