INSOMNIA

By Recap / Originally published on Postback on March 31, 2006 and translated for Insomnia from the Spanish by Emmanuel "El Chaos" Fernández Noguera


It is curious, but with no other previous videogame system/platform, with the exception of the Neo-Geo, was as much commotion made regarding its official farewell from the market as with the Dreamcast. The end of a video-console's commercial life isn't marked, of course, by the cessation of its production, but by the release of its last official game. In the majority of occasions, this event happened in a spontaneous way, without premeditation, as something natural, more or less expected for anyone who attended to the release lists published in the sector's Japanese magazines weekly, but never turned into an affair that revalued the catalog's last title against any other beforehand. Who, for example, is capable of mentioning the PlayStation's last game? The Dreamcast case is a truly exceptional one.
   And it is so, fundamentally, due to a factor with its own name: the Internet. The Dreamcast was the first console born in the middle of the internet era and designed for online gaming and browsing, with a built-in modem for the globe's three main markets. This fact, coupled with the integration of an operating system as well-known as Windows CE and an easily changeable BIOS for executing any kind of compact discs, original or not, allowed for the quick formation of a scene in charge of feeding with unofficial software a system that, commercially, couldn't manage to fully take off, specifically, in its home country. Thanks to the internet, that scene, supported by a particularly noisy fandom (especially from the moment its creative company announced that the Dreamcast would be the last video-console they would release to the market), could, in addition to gather and organize itself, publish their products without limitations, in the same way that the official games were illegally distributed for private consumption at a world-wide level.

theDCcase

   A collection of circumstances that made of the Dreamcast something more than a simple games system and allowed for the fandom phenomenon to be fiercely noticed. More than ever. But all that, outside Japan, even if it was the only market where Dreamcast was still alive. In Japan things followed their normal course. Granted there would be numerous Sega friends disillusioned by the retirement of their favorite company from domestic hardware territory (more or less), but in that country, the fan, is a game's fan, a character's, a creator's before a fan of a console in itself. It's curious how in the Occident the absurd theory that a videogame system is more important than the very videogames it runs has taken root. Although the truth is that the Japanese Dreamcast user didn't stop getting official titles with a reasonable frequency until well into 2004. The enormous majority were romantic-type adventure games from the PC world. Dreamcast would turn, like its predecessor the Saturn and the PC Engine systems in their days, into a console for a more adult and experienced public than the conventional.
   But at the same time the romantic-conversational games' flux started to calm down, a timid assortment of shooting games converted from the NAOMI platform emerged. Motivated by Ikaruga's success just a year before, some small developers had released their own offer in the classic shooting sphere. NAOMI was a standard that guaranteed a relative success, and allowed using entirely polygonal graphic environments, saving development time and effort and making up for lack of artistic talent with theatrical solutions. Moreover, Sega would help with the corresponding DC versions' publication, even if it didn't have much to do with their arcade homonyms. The formula worked: Grev's Border Down, Skonek's and Success's Psyvariar 2 and Alfa System's Shikigami no Shiro II sold well, even outside the Nippon archipelago via direct importing (again, thanks to the internet). Soon, another two new companies would get aboard the car. The almost extinct future releases' listing for Dreamcast that Sega kept in its website and that only announced a small residual couple of games, typical projects that never manage to materialize, saw how in a few months a pair of titles already known by arcade visitors were born: Milestone's Chaos Field and Triangle Service's Trizeal. They were two of the worst works the genre has known, but they served to reaffirm the life of a domestic system that all of us presumed for buried already.
   Trizeal's release supposed the absolute disappearance of the upcoming titles listing for DC, not only on Sega's official site, but in the specialized press. The small handful of projects remained like that, and with that Sega gave the goodbye to its last console's commercial life (let's remember that an official communiqué to that respect never exists, but it is an event that, eventually, arrives). But NAOMI, in its GD-ROM version, had firmly imposed itself in the Japanese video arcades. NAOMI, which, regardless of anyone's feelings, was in actuality a step backwards from Sega technologically speaking, had achieved the objective with which it was launched: to turn into a low cost and easy development standard that could be used for dedicated as well as non-dedicated machines. What Sega didn't expect was that other companies would be the ones that prolonged its natural life, and with it, that of the Dreamcast, making the platform a sort of 128-bit Neo-Geo, where almost each title appearing in arcade version had its corresponding domestic adaptation in a few months, thanks to the technical similarities between the professional and the domestic hardware. Grev and Milestone kept announcing their new arcades in the NAOMI GD-ROM format and Sega had to rectify late last year: Trizeal wouldn't be Dreamcast's last game because both wanted versions of their latest games for the spiral's machine. The catalog was reopened.
   This time it looks like yes, however. Under Defeat, Grev's latest shooting game, put for sale just a week ago, will be the title that seals Dreamcast's official catalog. Thus has announced Sega's very online store at least, although it could well be a new false alarm: NAOMI is still an active system (even Sega itself just published Guilty Gear XX Slash, the appearance of a new shoot-shoot this time from the hands of Warashi is expected and it's a sure thing that there are more ongoing projects). Even more: Under Defeat has managed to sell 10,000 units, according to some very trustworthy Nippon source, just in its first week. It's a shocking figure, especially taking into account that its passage through the arcades is being rather discreet. It's not difficult to make out that half of that amount may easily correspond to other countries' sales. Because Under Defeat was, even before seeing the light, a product of innate quality for its doubly hardcore nature. As was Radirgy just some weeks before, Trizeal some months before or Border Down some years before. The fandom screams. The genre is fucked.