You don’t get the show #26: Christmas in July


With all the sales on games, toys and electronics this summer we decide to celebrate Christmas in July by looking over the top Christmas toys from the 80’s to today. From Transformers to the BeyBlades, we reminisce about our favorite toys, watch some weird toy commercials and try to remember why some of these toys were popular.

Retro Love: Buy a Dreamcast

Sega Dreamcast Logo

It’s been quite some time since I’ve got my brand new, but also (and that’s quite an oxymoron) second hand, SEGA Dreamcast, and let me tell you, I am as happy a punter as one can be. I’m a 100% converted and a newborn SEGA fanboy (well, not a boy in the full sense, but you get the idea… at least I’m not in my thirties just yet). I’m also rather thankful to the Dreamcast Junkyard for fuelling my DC obsession.

All things considered I’m thankful to dear Mr. Elderly too, for providing this blog’s comments space with a healthy dose of Irish surrealism, but that’s definitely none of your business. All you should focus on is buying a Dreamcast (unless of course you already got one, in which case you should consider buying a second). Why? Well, because…

1) It’s a matter of price.

The Dreamcast is dead cheap. You should be able to buy a brand new one for less than 80$ (that’s 60 euros) over at Lik-Sang (try clicking on the banner at the end of the article to see for yourself), or follow my example and buy a second hand one, either at e-bay or at your local second-hand-store-bazaar-whatever for quite a bit less than 50$. And this is paying for a 100% current-gen console.
Sega Dreamcast Console
the Dreamcast (via)

2) It’s the bleeding hardware

It doesn’t only look smart, it is smart. SEGA’s Dreamcast is miles ahead from both the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation, even though it’s not as powerful as the PS2 or the GameCube. It sports a RISC 128bit CPU capable of 360 MIPS (N64 ~120 MIPS, PS1 ~30 MIPS), a special edition PowerVR2 graphics processor, that can cope with 10 times PS1’s polygons, 16MB of RAM, a 1 Giga “GD-ROM” (aka fancy, fast and easily pirated CD-ROM) drive, brilliant 64 channel audio and a modem. Yes. The first console modem ever. Oh, and European players will apparently enjoy full 60Hz PAL support.

Sega Dreamcast Motherboard

the insides of the beast (via)

3) It’s the brilliant (and admittedly very cheap) games

With more than 300 games, the Dreamcast has something for everyone, except perhaps for us poor football minded maniacs. Most used (and abused) games should be picked up at ridiculous prices of 5-10$ (less in euros, even less in pounds), while published titles include such brilliant gems as Soul Calibur, Rez, Sonic Adventure 2, Rayman 2, Phantasy Star Online, Quake 3 (you might even be able to track down Half-Life), Metropolis Street Racer, Shenmue, Ikaruga, Crazy Taxi 2, Jet Grind Radio and the quite legendary Samba de Amigo.

Soul Calibur - Sega Dreamcast Screenshot

Soul Calibur

 

I could actually go on and mention at least a dozen more distinctive and defining games, but I’d rather mention something else. Dreamcast games are still being produced! Have a look at the 2006 released Under Defeat or the forthcoming Last Hope shooter.

Under Defeat - Sega Dreamcast Screenshot

Under Defeat

4) It’s the innovation and the quirkyness

And I’m talking innovation, beside the Internet connection or the PAL ting. The Dreamcast controller featured a brilliant analog stick, the now-standard shaped triggers and interestingly the Virtual Memory Unit, or VMU. This VMU thingy was far more than a memory stick. It plugged into the controller and used its little LCD screen to display relevant game information or graphics and even was a wee version of Gameboy, as it also functioned as a completely separate portable handheld gaming device (from hell). VMU games can be found right here, but searching and googling around will lead you to quite a few more cyber-stashes.

Sega Dreamcast VMU

the VMU (exposed)

 

As for quirkyness, one could mention the DC Keyboard, the Fishing Rod, the quite new-at-the-time Vibration Pack and above all Dreamcast’s Wii capabilities.

5) It’s the scene

By saying the scene I’m talking of the vibrant DC emulation, demo, homebrew and even amateur journalism community. On the Dreamcast you see, one can play anything from old arcade, to MegaDrive, Amiga, Atari, Gameboy, Playstation or NES games. There’s even a ScummVM port that makes those old Lucasarts adventures of yore DC compatible. Then again one can listen to MP3s, watch DivX videos, see the Dreamcast get pushed to its limits and play zillions of Tetris versions. All of these courtesy of the scene.

To start tasting sweet freeware offerings (you will need DiscJuggler to burn things on CD) try the following links: DCEvolution.net, Dreamcast Homebrew, IGN Dreamcast, Dreamcast @ pout.net.

6) There is no 6

Go on. Buy one! It’s cheap and powerful, but also quite the retro machine. Oh, and the Wii isn’t out yet.

Exploring Expo Expectations

The E3 Expo is a lot like a roller-coaster. There’s the anticipation of that first hill (the build-up to the show with hints of what’s coming), the sudden drop into the exciting parts (the actual announcements and reveals) and the slowing down as the ride comes into the station (wading through discarded goodie bags and leaflets to the exit).

But the worrying thing is that the industry as a whole seems to be on rails, heading in one direction and with very little opportunity for change or an unexpected twist in the layout. You know what you are going to get, because you can look ahead and see what’s coming. There’s another first-person shooter, another open-world driving game with online challenges, and another action game with button-bashing combos and QTE’s. Is that what we really want?

There were three major trends at the show – motion control, 3D and artistic style.

Nintendo had arguably the best showing, thanks in no small part to the new 3DS with its display that does not require special glasses and long list of familiar franchises for launch day. There are many fans that argue that Nintendo is not doing anything innovative by relying on Zelda, Starfox and Mario, but dig deeper and there are some interesting ideas in there. Skyward Sword on Wii relies on MotionPlus, Pilotwings is making a welcome return after a long absence and the same with Starfox. Of course, the Wii already has motion gaming, but the much-vaunted Vitality Sensor seemed to make little or no impression. But Kirby’s Epic Yarn did on me – a clever combination of how the game looks (everything is made of fabric) and taking that a step further to change how the game plays (with areas hidden by zips that can be opened, or gaps that can be crossed by pulling a thread to “gather” the background up).

Microsoft concentrated on Kinect and its take on motion gaming, the previous name of Natal falling by the wayside. As commentators continue to dissect whether the interface works with a seated player, the actual line-up seems a little underwhelming. A virtual pet game, sports, dancing… nothing grabs the attention as much as the Milo demo from last year. Gears of War 3 and Halo Reach will be big sellers, but do they really add much that is new?

Sony tried to set up a smokescreen around its Move controllers, quoting prices from a low level to make it sound cheaper than Kinect… which it will be if you already own a Playstation Eye camera. If you don’t then that will be an extra expense, along with the Sony nunchuck equivalent. Killzone 3 had one major gimmick to offer, one of the first console games to be playable in 3D – but as Nintendo pointed out, it does require the player to wear special glasses and possess a 3D ready TV. How many people will be in the same boat as early HD adopters, unaware that they cannot get 3D pictures without an appropriate 3D source? This is something the PS3 can do thanks to a firmware update, but it’s down to how it is used. One disappointment for Sony was the lack of further detail on The Last Guardian, from the team behind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

But for me, there were some interesting games that intrigued me with their art. As well as the aforementioned Kirby, thegamecompany’s Journey and the XBLA game Limbo (with its silhouettes) looked very different. Gruesome scrolling beat ‘em up Shank has a good pedigree, but the one I really took to was Rock of Ages. A strange combination of art history, Katamari Damacy and real time strategy, this is one I will be following in the coming months.

Christmas sales will be all about Call of Duty, Medal of Honour, Rock Band 3 and familiar names, plus people in the UK scrambling to beat the VAT hike. Like last year there will be titles slipping into the first quarter of 2011 – for example, id Software’s Rage – to avoid the heavy hitters, and they could be overshadowed even then. And of course the countdown to another E3 will begin.