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Having celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, Sega’s final (so far, at least!) console has been much discussed online, with many people sharing their memories of the beautiful machine – myself included. The Dreamcast was way ahead of its time and burned out far too quickly, but still occupies a special place in the hearts of many gamers – partly because it was gone too soon, but also because it really was a special machine with an absolutely fantastic library of games.
Dreamcast: Year One – by Andrew J. Dickinson (with contributions from a number of other writers) – is a wonderful retrospective, covering the history of the console and its first year in a brilliantly informative and extensive opening section, followed by interviews with notable gaming industry figures (including Bernie Stolar, who was Sega of America’s COO until just prior to the Dreamcast’s launch) before finally covering notable games from the Dreamcast’s first year on the market. The book overall is not only well written, but beautifully designed from a visual point of view too – there’s a wonderfully minimalist style to the original art that’s dotted throughout.
Though I was only in a peripheral role in the games industry at the time of Dreamcast’s launch, I was able to witness the excitement and anticipation of the console (having worked for the company who had the very first Dreamcast unit to arrive at UK retail) first hand; there’s still an awful lot of material in this book that’s new to me, however – and it was great to revisit the events I was already aware of, particularly to see how and why they came to fruition (such as the famous ‘Iri-san’ tech demo).
I was really struck by one of Bernie Stolar’s insights in his interview: “Despite what many think, the Dreamcast wasn’t a commercial failure. Sega did very well with the product. I think corporately, it just wanted to be a software company.” Many people, myself included, think of Dreamcast as a flop in commercial terms; it was eye-opening to read this from someone with someone who was very invested in – and largely responsible for – the console’s performance.
Not only that, but it was really interesting to also get some insight into the different pitches that UK magazine publishers did in order to try and secure the rights for the Official Dreamcast Magazine; I always wondered why the licence ended up with a somewhat unexpected publisher and the book provides some excellent details, from a number of sources very close to the situation.
Another aspect that I really enjoyed were the game retrospectives; far from the gushing praise that I was expecting, a number of writers cover a Dreamcast game that they recall having an impact on them – not always positively. It was incredibly refreshing to read a balanced and fair assessment of some of the Dreamcast’s games, as well as to see the various titles that made a lasting impression on the writers, whether or not that was good, bad – or both. It was great to reflect and reminisce about a few lesser known titles too; it was great to read about Armada again, as it was a particular favourite of mine (that I used a boot disc to run at the time!).
Finally, the section with cover art and release dates of every single Dreamcast game released in the first year is a wonderful inclusion; I have spent a lot more time than is reasonable scrolling through this section, looking at the very familiar artwork and being reminded of some titles that had dropped out of my mind in the many years since they were released. The release dates for various territories were a nice touch too.
It’s difficult to find fault with Dreamcast: Year One; my only complaint is that there isn’t so much more of it, but I do understand that it had to get published at some point! It’s a wonderful book, full of informative and entertaining retrospectives, articles and interviews. It’s a fitting, affectionate tribute to Sega’s forward thinking, still much loved – and missed – console.
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