Keeping the Dream Alive: The Men Behind Dreamcast Homebrew
May 12, 2011 Page 1 of 3
[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."
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