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Keeping the Dream Alive: The Men Behind Dreamcast Homebrew
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Keeping the Dream Alive: The Men Behind Dreamcast Homebrew

May 12, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[Sega's final console may have been discontinued in 2001 and had its very last official release in 2007 -- many years after software from big publishers dried up -- but dedicated developers are still supporting the system with unofficial releases. Gamasutra finds out how and why.]

To many people, the thought of "homebrew" game development -- as opposed to "indie" -- is equated with the practice of making new games exclusively for dead platforms. While that's not an entirely accurate thought, it's not so wrong, either. Plenty of new games have been made by dedicated people for long-gone systems such as the NES or ZX Spectrum, and most easily playable through emulators on the PC.

What's curious is that some of these homebrew creators, especially ones in the most active communities, are devoted to systems that just didn't die, but were all but hated by the general public -- Atari's ill-fated Lynx and Jaguar, for instance, have seen a relative flood of software created by diehard fans more than a decade after those systems became obsolete.

Sitting alongside the well-loved systems, and the mostly forgotten, is the Sega Dreamcast. There's something utterly unique about the Dreamcast and what it created; Atari may have birthed a respectable cadre of obsessed enthusiasts, but Sega's short-lived successor to the Saturn commands what can only be called a cult following.

Its best games were innovative, wacky, and indelible, and the system continued to receive official game releases some years after Sega stopped manufacturing the console in 2001, a time many of those followers considered to be far too soon.

Just a few years after that, the Dreamcast formed its own definition of "homebrew," one that may not have a micro-nation of hobbyist programmers for it, but rather a few small teams that want to recapture the Dreamcast's uniqueness in their own ways, even if that means putting it all in a jewel case.

Redspotgames is a German game publisher that began packaging and promoting unlicensed Dreamcast games in 2007 with Last Hope, a shoot 'em-up that was a port of a homebrew NeoGeo CD game, and which released in the same year as the last official Dreamcast releases in Japan -- years after U.S. games dried up.

Later Redspot releases were the puzzle game Wind & Water Puzzle Battles and Rush Rush Rally Racing, a top-down racer. Max Scharl, Redspotgames' CEO, told Gamasutra that the company attempted to release its Dreamcast games officially, but to no avail.

"The first time we asked for a license for a new game was in 2003, but Sega of Europe had no interest in new titles, and we could not release [games] officially," Scharl said. "We tried a couple of times to do the same in Japan, but Sega of Japan does not give licenses out to non-Japanese developers or publishers -- even though we have tried several times and even gave them a visit."


Rush Rush Rally Racing

Redspot has recently expanded its publishing efforts into the digital market, releasing titles for the Xbox Live Indie Games platform, like the space shooter Solar Struggle, as well as WiiWare.

"When the first Dreamcast indie games [were] released, there was no such thing as digital distribution among the current systems," Scharl said. "Also, those were productions that primarily came directly from the Dreamcast [homebrew] scene, and most were actually started on this very console as well -- some even without [a solid] concept before contacting us."

Regardless, having only started a few years ago, one might think it's a bit backwards for Redspot to go from posthumous Dreamcast games to just now joining the digital bandwagon, but Scharl sees it differently. "After comparing both platforms... somehow the Dreamcast indie games [seem like] an unknown parallel universe of indie game distribution on current platforms, yet even more independent."


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Comments


Jeff Murray
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I love this! These guys should be applauded! As a developer, I understand the amount of work and dedication it takes to pull a game together. These guys are inspiring!



And I STILL love my Dreamcast! :)

Chico Rodriguez
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Same here. I bought it the day it came out for a ridiculous amount of money, and I haven't regretted it for a second.

Roddy Toomim
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I remember talking to Max quite a bit back in the early days of DC homebrew! Glad to see he's still fighting the good fight. The Dreamcast deserves to have a second life (not the MMO!).

Caulder Bradford
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Hah! spooky timing on this for me. Just last night I was cleaning about my closet and found a couple old DC games, peripherals, and some demo discs from Official Dreamcast Magazine.

such a great console, and such a great shame that it died too young.

DanielThomas MacInnes
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The homebrew scene is the great undiscovered story of the videogame underground. It reminds me so much of the Home Computer era of the early '80s, where teenagers would buy a computer, learn some programming skills, and then sell their games at local stores in boxes or Ziploc bags. Those kids poured the foundation for today's game industry, and there's a spirit of discovery that we really haven't seen since.



Homebrew is alive and well across all platforms. Of course, this is a very small scene, where selling a couple hundred copies is a blockbuster hit, but it shows the growth of retro gaming as a community. I'm hoping that as retro platforms like Live Arcade and Virtual Console evolve, the door will be opened for the homebrew developers to publish their games.



And, of course, from the retro gaming scene we also have the Chiptune scene, which is truly spectacular. I've spent the last week listening to these amazing POKEY and SID songs on Youtube and 8bc. I realize just how much I miss the "chiptune" sound, and how essential that music is to the video game experience.



Bring back the Dreamcast? Sure, count me in. An even better idea: Bring back the Genesis! Just beef up the hardware a little, things like more RAM, more colors, Mode 7 effects, more sound channels), and give us the ultimate retro gaming system. And make it the Model 1 Genesis, with its silver "High Definition Graphics" and "16-Bit" on the front. Who wouldn't love to see that?



We should make t-shirts that say "Bring Back Sega Genesis!" and distribute them at E3. Take a camera along and see what people think. I'll bet that you'll find a lot of support for the idea. People love oldskool video games, and they're being completely ignored by the current market.

Daniel Martinez
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I really expected to read something about Bleem's bleemcast. Still, great article, regardless. I'm glad to see oldschool things come back to life.

Roel Mastbergen
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Although the article is basically correct, I'd like to note that Rush Rush Rally Racing is one exception which does not make use of the KallistiOS libraries. It is instead built on a custom OS.



See:

http://www.senileteam.com/forum_thread(116119).html

Curtiss Grymala
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@Roel - It's great to see you still involved, Roel. I've had great respect for you and your team since you guys first started Beats of Rage all those years ago. That game was revolutionary for the DC community.



@Ray - I'm glad to see RedSpot and the NG:DEV.TEAM get a little bit of good press, but it would have been nice to see a mention of The GOAT Store (Dan Loosen and Gary Heil), who were instrumental in releasing the first independent, commercial games for the Dreamcast. I think Dan Potter and Cryptic Allusion (the creators of KallistiOS and the very first commercial indie DC game - Feet of Fury) probably deserved a mention, too.



- Curtiss from DC Evolution


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