Starting Over for Destiny 2 Is the Best Thing That Could Happen to the Series

   Earlier this week, Jason Schreier with Kotaku reported on some rumors regarding Destiny 2. It’s worth reading the entire post—it’s not too long—but some of the highlights are that, one, the franchise will finally be coming to PC; and, two, Bungie’s approaching Destiny 2 as a completely new game rather than an enormous expansion pack as some fans were hoping, which means leaving old player characters, gear, and collectibles behind. While the former of these should come as welcome news to virtually everyone, the latter is naturally far more divisive among the Destiny community, with some fans over at the Destiny subreddit already pledging not to pick up the game if the rumors prove true. Others have already started a petition asking that Bungie reconsider their stance on the matter.

“Starting fresh in Destiny 2 . . . allows for a sequel that’s both novel and familiar, and I think that’s what most Destiny fans—whether we realize it consciously or not—are really clamoring for.”

   While it’s probably a safe bet to assume that Schreier’s lead is reliable, there’s next to no official word on Destiny 2. We know only that the game is currently slated for sometime next fall, which means that a lot can change between now and then, and even the most likely rumors should be taken with a grain of salt. Historically, Bungie has stated that their plans for the franchise span ten years, and it’s often been inferred by the community that character carryover would be a part of this plan. I can’t say I was particularly surprised, however, when I read Kotaku’s article, and while I empathize with my fellow guardians who aren’t keen on leaving their progress behind when Destiny 2 finally does hit shelves, I can’t help but imagine that it’s the best possible thing that could happen to the series. Starting fresh in Destiny 2 gives Bungie the opportunity to deliver a better experience, one in which they don’t have to worry about working around existing technical limitations or  balance concerns. It allows for a sequel that’s both novel and familiar, and I think that’s what most Destiny fans, whether we realize it consciously or not, are really clamoring for.

   I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t a middle ground somewhere. Suggestions have been made that Bungie allow players to carry over their avatars—at least cosmetically—while leaving their stats, abilities, and items behind in an approach that would mimic BioWare’s with Mass Effect 2 in which players were able to import their characters’ appearances (along with certain diverging choices made throughout the first game) without carrying over any stats. But it’s worth noting that Mass Effect 2 popularly ditched the somewhat clunkier roleplaying system of the first game in favor of a more straightforward shooter, a move that was motivated at least in part to enable a more cohesive and well-balanced experience in the second game. That’s exactly what I’m hoping for with the next Destiny.

“There simply isn’t a weapon exotic enough, a Sparrow fast enough, or emote silly enough to dull the blow many hardcore players are bound to feel.”

   Schreier has a good track record with these types of leaks, which has sometimes made him the target of scapegoating by some overeager and anxious fans all-too-willing to shoot the messenger when the news is bad. He popped into at least one popular post over at Reddit where one commenter noted that Schreier’s name lent credibility to the rumors. Almost immediately afterward, another asked the journalist to plead to his source that any decisions regarding character carryover be reconsidered. Jason responded that his source assured him Bungie knew just how sensitive the decision would be for fans and that they were doing their best to approach it delicately.

   It remains to be seen just how delicately the issue can be handled (here’s to hoping it goes over better than that debacle with paid emotes leading up to The Taken King last year), and I doubt there’s anything Bungie could do to appease everyone. There simply isn’t a weapon exotic enough, a Sparrow fast enough, or emote silly enough to dull the blow some hardcore players are bound to feel. But the apprehension fans are expressing about starting fresh in Destiny 2 is misplaced.

   One of the primary driving forces behind player action in a game like Destiny is the sense of progress you feel when you find that next, better weapon or piece of armor, particularly so in this case because Destiny’s character progression (i.e., light levels) is tied directly to your equipment. Sometimes that gear is a means to an end—finally being able to take on the raid or improving your odds in Iron Banner, for example—but often it’s an end unto itself. After three years of collecting gear, grinding up light levels, and ticking away at countless quests and bounties, it’s natural to start thinking of these characters as investments of a sort, and within that context, starting fresh for the sequel effectively promises zero return on those investments.

“Destiny . . . isn’t a traditional game. Before it was ever announced, rumors were floating around that Bungie was working on a Halo-like MMO, and in some ways that description still holds up. “

   It’s a problem that isn’t necessarily unique to Destiny, but it is atypical for the bulk of popular game franchises. There likely isn’t a player out there expecting to see his or her progress from the past games carry over to Gears of War 4, for instance, and Call of Duty players are all too familiar with the annual recycling of their unlocked weapons and feats as each new game in the series is released.  The new iterations of these series feel familiar to their respective fans, they feature similar mechanics and the same skills required for player success will typically carry over, but they’re not seamless, contiguous expansions of their predecessors.

   It’s far more typical that when one of these games doesn’t differentiate itself heavily enough from the rest of the series,  the reaction from fans and critics alike is negative. Franchises like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and virtually every sports game series imaginable frequently take flack for IP milking, and it’s normally not enough to just slap on some half-baked new gimmick in a game (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and your tower defense minigame). Without showing some evolution in the underlying formula for these series’ successes, they start to feel stale. Those that are story-driven may get by simply as continuations of narratives that fans are already engrossed in, but eventually developers need to find some new means of differentiation. Battlefield One’s breaking from the modern shooter mold this year and going back to before basics by setting the game during World War I. Assassin’s Creed is taking a year off from its annual release cycle in an attempt by Ubisoft to ensure the next game is up to snuff after several recent near hits and misses. And it seams like every new sports game has some unique take on franchise or career modes to appeal to players who are interested in more than a mere roster update.

   Destiny, however, isn’t a traditional game. Before it was ever announced, rumors were floating around that Bungie was working on a Halo-like MMO, and in some ways that description still holds up. It’s foundational tech feels like a natural evolution of the mechanics and gunplay that made the Halo series so memorable fifteen years ago, but it borrows the social and character customization elements of action RPGs and MMOs to make for an experience that falls into a far less crowded niche.

“When Blizzard rolled out their sequel to Diablo in 2000, fans of the series voiced similar concerns as those of the Destiny community today. We didn’t want to leave our warriors, sorcerers, and rogues behind.”

   It’s drawn a fair share of comparisons to the Diablo series, and, as the Kotaku article linked above mentions, the game’s devs have been rather transparent about the inspiration they’ve drawn from Blizzard’s flagship aRPG. While they play very differently from one another, Destiny and Diablo take similar approaches to limited online multiplayer, pseudo-randomized loot, and character development. In both games, players essentially re-run existing missions on a regular basis, driven not by a new experience, per se, but by the potential for new or better gear and skill or talent progression.

   When Blizzard rolled out their sequel to Diablo in 2000, their fans voiced similar concerns as those of the Destiny community today. We didn’t want to leave our warriors, sorcerers, and rogues behind. We didn’t want to lose our top-tier weapons and armor. In effect, we didn’t want to feel like all the time we had spent playing the first game had been worthless, and, somehow, Diablo 2’s reboot felt like just that.

“Destiny is at its best when it allows and encourages players to enjoy actually playing, when the loot drop at the end of a challenge compliment it rather than define it.”

   At the heart of our apprehension both then and now, I think, is player motivation. The challenge and reward cycles of these games are at least potentially cyclical and addictive. At times—and vanilla Destiny suffered from this more frequently than it does currently—running the same strike or raid or story mission for the umpteenth time can feel a bit like dropping a coin in a slot machine. There’s no real joy to be derived from the play of the game when this happens; all that matters is the payoff in the end. It’s streamlined and efficient gambling, and when that’s the case, these games suffer.

   When Diablo 2 finally did launch, the vast majority of us forgot almost immediately about why we had been so worried to start over. We were too busy figuring out our kits, finding all new gear, and exploring unfamiliar maps to care anymore. For a time at least, we were able to enjoy playing the game again without fretting about the micro-gaming that many of us had devolved to in the first game. Like Diablo, Destiny is at its best when it allows and encourages players to enjoy actually playing, when the loot drops at the end of a challenge compliment it rather than define it. I don’t mean to argue that players shouldn’t continue to quest for specific items or goals, but I do believe that Destiny’s fans love the game not because of the light levels they’re able to achieve but because of the experiences it offers them along the way.

   By ditching our characters and progress for the sequel, we enable Destiny 2 to offer us entirely new experiences, and I believe that’s what every player really wants from the continuation of the series. We eat up new content in the game as quickly as Bungie can get it to us, and then we suck on the bones until every morsel is gone. The last two major expansions each provided healthy portions of new game, but inevitably the complaints will resurface that there just isn’t enough content in the it because how could there be? What’s there is just too good, and we don’t really want the ride to stop.

“In order for Bungie to really make something better, they need to feel free to rebuild Destiny from the ground up.”

   At the same time, Bungie has been restrained by the groundwork they laid with Destiny 1. The Taken King showed just how dramatically Bungie could re-write the rules of the game for the better, but the systems originally put in place by the vanilla release haven’t been gutted so much as tweaked and enhanced. Light levels, for example, work entirely differently than they did in vanilla Destiny, and the change has empowered players to customize their guardians with the gear and abilities that best appeal to them rather than shoehorning everyone into the same few weapons and armor that feature enough of an arbitrary stat to max their level. Even still, the stats and mechanics at the foundation of the game are fundamentally the same.

   In order for Bungie to really make something better, they need to feel free to rebuild Destiny from the ground up. They need to change the foundation. It’s an uncomfortable thought, maybe, because Destiny is already an excellent game, but its sequel has the potential to be something so much greater.

   The earliest footage I can remember seeing of Destiny made some ambitious claims that never really came to fruition. Bungie had plans for open worlds and space exploration that dwarf what we see in the current game. I remember feeling disappointed when I finally got my hands on it because of just how restricted the game world felt when compared to my expectations. The Tower, which had looked so alive and spectacular at first glance, proved shallow and cheap once you scratched the looping animated paint away from its surface. The people and robots sitting around fires, sweeping leaves, and talking with one another weren’t NPCs. They were furniture, just part of the environment. I wanted to interact with them, and I wanted desperately to explore the city below me.

   Like the rest of the game, I came to love The Tower for what it was, and I’ve since spent more than my fair share of time sitting down at the very edge of the place staring up at the Traveler illuminated by a pinkish sunset, listening to the chatter over the intercom and the sounds of ships coming and going. I expect Destiny 2 will bring us more of these kinds of experiences, but I’m hoping for something much deeper. By shedding the baggage—the good and the bad—of the first game, Bungie has a chance to offer us just that. 

The One Thing Missing from Rise of Iron

   If you haven’t already read our thoughts on Bungie’s latest expansion to their hit shooter, Destiny, make sure you check out Cole’s impressions here. In summary, Rise of Iron is really good. It adds more of everything that Destiny players love about the game without dramatically changing it in the same way that The Taken King did last year. I’m taking my time with the new content, but I’m loving every minute of it. Still, I’ve had this nagging feeling as I’ve been exploring the Plaguelands that something’s missing from Destiny, and the other day, as I let the title screen idle on my Xbox while I was doing some chores around the house, I pinpointed exactly what it was. It’s missing Marty O’Donnell.

“Rise of Iron’s theme is tragic and sweet and epic, evoking the heroic spirit of the fallen Iron Lords around whom the expansion’s story revolves”

   Destiny ranks up in my top three titles over the past three years in terms of pure time investment, but I burned out hard in the vanilla game. I picked up The Taken King last September after reading how heavily it had changed Destiny for the better, but I didn’t actually step back into the boots of my 20-something hunter until just a couple of weeks ago. As a result, I’m experiencing two expansions at once, and I’m blown away by just how much better Destiny is now compared to its state at launch. My hunter’s a sword-wielding, arrow-flinging badass, and there’s a wealth of compelling quests left ahead of me to complete. 

   It feels like a return to form for Bungie, who’s proved themselves again as masters of their craft. And yet, I’m reminded from time to time that this isn’t exactly the same studio whom I fell in love with fifteen years ago when Halo: Combat Evolved launched. My frequent visits to the tower, including the loading screens of my ship flying through space, evoke bittersweet nostalgia for me because those are often the places where Marty O’Donnell’s music most obviously returns to the spotlight.

   Don’t get me wrong, the scores composed by Michael Salvatori and crew for the game since O’Donnell’s surprising and abrupt termination are still good, even great. Rise of Iron’s theme is tragic and sweet and epic, evoking the heroic spirit of the fallen Iron Lords around whom the expansion’s story revolves. Likewise, I’ve had The Taken King’s soundtrack on non-stop repeat in my office the past five days, and I’ve grown particularly fond of the tracks “Regicide,” “Remembrance,” and “The Awoken.” Destiny’s always featured some of the best music in the biz, and that hasn’t changed as the game’s grown and matured.

   There are times, even, when the new scores feature rhythmic beats and motifs that conjure up visions of Halo for me, and I’ve found myself wondering how much of it may have been originally scored by O’Donnell (to which I assume Bungie still owns the rights) and how much of it is simply the result of his influence on the studio’s legacy. But for the most part, it’s changed. Destiny’s a different game now than it was, better in virtually every way, but it’s different. And Bungie’s different, too.

   O’Donnell had been one of the last remaining pre-Microsoft members of Bungie prior to his termination. The studio’s full of new faces now, with many of the veteran devs having gone one to form new studios, including Microsoft’s 343 Studios who are responsible for all things Halo. The same heart still beats at Bungie’s core, as evidenced by Destiny’s unsurpassed gunplay and absurdly grandiose lore, but they’re changing and growing and evolving as a studio, not always for the better and certainly not always for the worse. 

   Returning to Destiny these past few weeks has been both a familiar and new experience for me. At times I feel like I’m reconnecting with an old friend. At others, I’m forming a relationship with a brand new one. That’s never more clear to me than when I hear O’Donnell’s music juxtaposed with the newer scores. It leaves me longing for or mourning over a studio that will never exist in the same way it did fifteen years ago, but it also leaves me excited and elated for Bungie’s future.

   

First Impressions: Destiny: Rise of Iron Expansion

     Upon learning of Bungie’s final push of Destiny vanilla before focusing on the impending sequel, to be completely honest with you, I really didn’t give it much thought. Not that I have anything against Destiny, on the contrary actually. After more than 600+ hours logged across the original all the way through to last fall’s Taken King expansion I was ready to take a break. Many key components of the original had grown tired; the beloved Gjallahorn was no longer a rare commodity, and it seemed as though each “new” update was another reason to fight the same enemy type since the Dark Below in an all too familiar environment. Basically, I was ready for a change. It wasn’t until after the chatter of the gameplay reveal for Rise of Iron that I began to pay attention, and upon learning that Bungie was taking a different approach to enemies, armor and weapon look, and most importantly storyline, that I found myself ready to visit the Tower one last time. 

     To preface, if you weren’t a fan of the original Destiny “formula”, there is nothing in Rise of Iron that is going to change your mind. However, if you found yourself in a similar boat of exhaustion like myself, you have a lot to look forward too. New strike missions, raid, armor and weapons, and of course a new story line give you plenty to keep you busy for weeks to come. 

      Now to clarify, I have spent about 10 hours into the expansion thus far, and will later give a full review and write-up some time next week after I get to experience the raid, as well as the rest of the end game content. Thus far, I have finished the storyline, multiple strikes, messed around with some of the new crucible match types, and even accomplished the quest line for the shiny new Gjallahorn (now in black). I can safely say that this is far and away my favorite expansion to date, and if it is any indicator of the direction that Destiny 2 will take then we all have a lot to be excited about. One fact that is abundantly clear from this update, is that Bungie is listening to the community and delivering in spades. From little easter eggs like hidden areas in the new Iron Temple, to the return (arguably) of the Gjallahorn, I have found myself smiling with every new discovery- which is often. 

    While we are still a few days out from the new Raid becoming available, modifications to Strikes with a new treasure system will keep you busy and help prepare you to meet the required light level. If you are a PvP kind of player, crucible play has been given map and match type updates offering the all new Supremacy mode. If you are a solo player, all new cut scenes, deep lore about Iron Lords, and exotic quest lines give you plenty to keep you busy. Basically, my time so far with Rise of Iron has been great, but I will need many more hours of play time to see how it pans out over time. If you are on the fence or waiting for a final verdict, be sure to check back in the days to come for the final review. 

      Now back to Plaguelands to find more loot… 

Will You Buy the PlayStation 4 Pro?

     It has been exactly one week (at the time of me writing this) since the announcement of the PlayStation 4 Pro and new slimmer model of the standard PS4, and now that I have had ample time to analyze the conference, I still have a hard time understanding why? While I can wrap my head around the fact that Sony is attempting to future proof their product, which is now sitting at a staggering 40+ million sold into the market, I simply can’t grasp the focus on their messaging around the Pro. 

      Now, I understand that the past week has been a rather tough one for Sony. After The Last Guardian delay, bad PR from their halt on mods for both Fallout 4 and Skyrim Special Editions, and a rather underwhelming conference to show off the forthcoming consoles, picking on a couple poor decisions on Sonys part has been a popular topic over the last few days. To make myself abundantly clear: this is not my intent, nor the purpose of this article. 

…if graphical fidelity is as big of a concern as 1st parties are trying to make it nowadays, then why don’t we just all jump to PC…

     In the past days I have discussed this topic at length with other columnists as well as a featured topic on The Heads Up Display podcast, and to this point, no one can seem to give me a solid reason as to the reasoning behind the PlayStation 4 Pro. Or at least Sony’s messaging behind the product. I have played every console exclusive as well as the majority of 3rd party titles on my launch day PS4, and at no point thus far have I ever said to myself, “man this game does not look good”. Now for those of you screaming at your monitor, “then don’t buy it and stop complaining”, I simply pose this question: if graphical fidelity is as big of a concern as 1st parties are trying to make it nowadays, then why don’t we just all jump to PC where Ultra settings reign supreme?

    During the conference I found myself dying for information on how the PlayStation 4 Pro could improve the games themselves, not just how awesome they look on my 4K TV. Instead of Mark Cerny spending an ample amount of time showing me differentiating pictures via a twitch stream that isn’t even hosted at 4K quality anyway, let him talk about how the power of the Pro can fundamentally change the way games play. Show us how they are now able to fill the emptiness in the vast universe of No Man’s Sky with the increased GPU, how they can improve framerates and overall quality for the forthcoming PSVR, or how the upcoming Day’s Gone gameplay becomes all the more hectic when they are able to fill the screen with that many more ‘Freakers’. These are the facts and specs that will sell the Pro to the hesitant consumer such as myself. Now after all this, the 4K specs and HDR capability is just icing on the cake

     Now I present you with this question, Sony: if your aim with the Pro (which Cerny has confirmed in other interviews) is to go after the gamer that is more concerned with graphical fidelity, and more often than not later finds themselves on PC, won’t these players be more likely to wait for the Scorpio- which is already promising to be more powerful in virtually every way? You cannot win on graphical power alone, and this is why you must focus on how the Pro makes your (already) incredible games, that much better. 

     Enough from me, because those of us at The HUD wants to hear your opinion on the matter. Has Sony sold you on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and if yes then why? Or have they slipped up on this one and you are still unsure? Let us know in the comments below!

          

Remembering the Sega Dreamcast

   Seventeen years ago today, Sega launched its final and most powerful home console in the United States: the 128-bit Dreamcast. The forward-thinking machine had been on shelves in Japan for nearly a year at this point but had not yet enjoyed much success, and although it would go on to sell over 9 million units in its short lifespan, it was discontinued only 18 months after its stateside launch. Still, as the vanguard of the sixth generation of gaming consoles, the Dreamcast anticipated the future of online multiplayer and laid the foundation for an era of gaming that would give way to the world-conquering PS2 and the original Xbox.

   To this day, the Dreamcast remains my all-time favorite gaming console for reasons that aren’t necessarily easy to quantify. The system’s library was impressive, particularly given its short lifespan and less-than-stellar third party developer support, and titles like Sonic Adventure (both of them), Powerstone, Shenmue, and Skies of Arcadia are certainly major parts of why I remember it so fondly.

“The Dreamcast had something that . . . you don’t typically find in hardware: character. It had a soul.”

   And I can’t deny that nostalgia plays another role. It hit store shelves at a pivotal moment in my life when I was nearly 14 years old, and it was the first console that I had followed at every stage of its development from its original announcement to its launch. In some ways, the Dreamcast ushered me into a new era of my own life, one in which I was no longer a child for whom gaming was a reactive pastime, playing whatever looked good to me on the shelves at the local Hastings (the only place I could rent Sega Saturn games at the time). I was becoming a young adult for whom gaming and its surrounding industry was a passion.

   But my fondness for Sega’s hardware swan song is sourced in something more intangible and ambiguous than nostalgia. With it, you could tell that Sega was all in, they weren’t afraid to be innovative or unique. It was weird and quirky, but it was also cutting-edge. The Dreamcast had something that, for me at least, you don’t typically find in hardware: character. It had a soul.

“Online multiplayer was growing increasingly popular and accessible to PC gamers, but it little more than a daydream to those who exclusively played on consoles”

   To commemorate it, let’s take a brief look back at the hardware and games that made the Dreamcast special, from the days leading up to its launch to its untimely demise, as well as the legacy it left to benefit of gamers everywhere.    

   To appreciate the Dreamcast fully, it’s important to realize the state of the industry at the time. While Sega was still regarded as one of the major players in the console business, the console wars were no longer divided between Nintendo and themselves. Sony had won a decisive victory in the fifth console generation over both the incumbent hardware manufacturers, and Sega—whose 32-bit console more closely resembled the PSX than the Nintendo 64—had lagged behind them virtually every step of the way. The Saturn was more costly to the manufacturer, its dual-CPU architecture more difficult to develop for, and its sticker price was a full $100 greater than those of the Playstation. The Saturn had suffered, too, from a weaker marketing strategy, and despite launching in the US nearly four months prior to the PSX, it failed to capitalize on its own head start.

 U.S. Launch Model with Controller
U.S. Launch Model with Controller

   After the Saturn’s commercial failure, Sega seemed to have learned a number of important lessons about the industry’s new landscape. For the Dreamcast’s core hardware, they opted for components that were already available on the PC market in order to not only drive down costs of manufacturing but also to foster a friendlier environment for developers. To that same end, the Dreamcast’s operating system was based on a customized version of Windows CE developed by Microsoft with the intent of making porting PC games to the console simpler, and stamped on the front of the console were the words “Compatible with Windows CE” alongside the Windows logo, making it the first home console in the U.S. to feature a Microsoft brand name. The Xbox, which was already in development at the time behind the scenes and all but unknown to the gaming community, would later share much of the Dreamcast’s DNA, but we’ll discuss that later on as part of the Dreamcast’s legacy.

   Four-player splitscreen multiplayer titles such as Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had proven wildly popular on the N64, and Sega took the cue to include four controller ports on the front of the Dreamcast. The controllers themselves resembled the Saturn’s analogue “3D controller” that had been included with copies of Nights: Into Dreams complete with spring-loaded triggers, a joystick in the top-left and a digital directional pad, and an ABXY button diamond layout on the right. Taking another card from Nintendo’s deck, vibration packs were made available for the controller, and a second port was included to enable the simultaneous use of one or two memory cards and/or a single vibration pack per player. The controller itself matched the aesthetic of the console, but was not particularly well-received at launch as comfortable to use.

 Controller with VMU
Controller with VMU

   The Dreamcast’s memory cards, called Visual Memory Units (or VMUs), were particularly unique to the console. In a way, the VMU summarizes everything that made the Dreamcast such a special platform. It was innovative, weird, and iconic. Each VMU featured a colorless LCD screen along with a directional pad and four rubber buttons (two game buttons in addition to a “mode” and sleep buttons). Minigames could be downloaded to the VMU from within Dreamcast titles and played on the go when the memory card was removed from the controller. While plugged into the controller during regular play, however, the VMU served as a personal LCD screen for the player that could display information to the player such as hit points, a minimap, or (most frequently) an animation of dubious practical value. More traditional memory cards were released for the console that could be used to simply store save game data, typically with improved storage capacity over the VMU, but I always felt there was something unsettling about seeing a Dreamcast controller in play without its LCD screen .

   The VMU was an unorthodox approach to memory cards, but the inclusion of a 56k dial-up modem (33.3 kbps for the original Japanese line) was perhaps the more surprising hardware choice Sega made for the Dreamcast. Online multiplayer was growing increasingly popular and accessible to PC gamers, but it little more than a daydream to those who exclusively played on consoles, and private internet access was not yet so ubiquitous in the U.S. as it is today. The modem itself was modular in order to allow for future upgrades as dial-up connections gave way to broadband services. To coax unfamiliar gamers online, Sega rolled out SegaNet, its own internet service, along with an official QWERTY keyboard peripheral that plugged into one of the four controller slots.

   Full support for the VMU and online integration was hardly universal across Dreamcast games, with first-party titles naturally being the more likely to take advantage of the consoles unique features, but they were integral to the Dreamcast’s charm. The console itself was designed with a pleasant and playful aesthetic that would later seem out of place when set beside other sixth-generation consoles (the Gamecube being the notable exception). It wasn’t bulky. It didn’t look particularly intimidating or powerful. And it certainly didn’t resemble a DVD player. The Dreamcast looked like fun. 

“During the five or so days that I had my rented Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure, I refused to power down the system and lose my save game.”

   It’s difficult to remember a time when it was the norm for consoles to release dramatically earlier in Japan than in the United States, but in the late 90s, it was still a fact of life. Leading up to its Japanese launch on November 27, 1998, Sega felt confident that the Dreamcast would perform well locally. Recognizing that Saturn sales had suffered due at least in part to the absence of a proper Sonic the Hedgehog title for the platform, Sonic Adventure, the series’ first official entry into 3D platforming, was promoted heavily and promised as a launch title for its successor. Domestic pre-orders for the Dreamcast were promising, and it seemed all but assured of success.

   Unfortunately, the Japanese launch did not go as smoothly as planned. Hardware shortages plagued the early line of consoles, and Sega was forced to halt pre-orders. Sonic Adventure narrowly missed the launch date, leaving launch-day buyers with a paltry four titles to choose from, only one of which was well-received: Virtual Fighter 3, a console port of the wildly successful arcade fighter. In spite of the fact that the entire launch stock had sold out by the end of the day, the Dreamcast failed to gain the install base that Sega predicted they would need to remain relevant when Sony’s next-gen console launched.

   Despite its disappointing launch in Japan, Sega of America had just under a year to build up hype for the console’s planned September launch. Peter Moore—who would go on to oversee the Xbox and Xbox 360 with Microsoft—took up the reigns as Sega of America’s president. Moore was determined to recapture the energy and magic of Genesis-era Sega, and spearheaded efforts towards making the Dreamcast’s launch a success. Sega of America worked closely with Midway Games to bolster the number of titles that would be available at launch, four of which were to be published by them.

“What was impressive about the Dreamcast’s catalog of games wasn’t so much the sheer number of titles that were released in such a short time, it was just how many of them were utterly unforgettable.”

   They also formed a partnership with Hollywood Video in order to offer an unorthodox special. Prior to the system’s official launch date, each Hollywood Video received a number of consoles to rent out along with a handful of games that had already been localized for U.S. gamers, including Sonic Adventure. The only problem, I can tell you from personal experience, was that Hollywood Video did not have any VMUs available for rent. During the five or so days that I had my rented Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure, I refused to power down the system and lose my save game.

   Thanks to the efforts of Moore and Sega of America, the U.S. launch for the Dreamcast, which occurred 9/9/99, 17 years ago today, was far more successful than it had been in Japan. The console itself was well-received by fans and critics alike. The launch lineup of games was significantly stronger, too, with more than a dozen titles to choose from right off the bat. 

   While third party support for the Dreamcast would dwindle not long after launch, its game library blossomed quickly over its one and one-half years life span. But what was impressive about the Dreamcast’s catalog of games wasn’t so much the sheer number of titles that were released in such a short time, it was just how many of them were utterly unforgettable. I’ve highlighted a selection of my personal favorites below, but this by no means a comprehensive list. 

   The U.S. launch lineup was particularly strong even when compared against the more successful consoles that have launched since and included multiple titles that would remain iconic to the system throughout its life. Not all of the 13 launch games were masterpieces, mind you. Blue Streak, the survival-horror game and would-be Resident Evil competitor released to mixed reviews, and Midway’s Dreamcast port of Mortal Kombat 4, Mortal Kombat Gold, both lacked polish and showed more glaringly the faults already inherent to the popular arcade fighter (I adored the game anyway, but I was a diehard fan of the series at the time). When compared to the modern gaming landscape, it’s particularly fascinating to note that five (including the brawler Power Stone) of the launch titles were fighting games, one of which became an instant classic and one of the “killer apps” for the Dreamcast.

Sonic Adventure

   Sega’s spiky blue mascot had appeared on the Sega Saturn in spinoff titles and Sonic Jam, a collection of the Genesis titles, but an official Sonic the Hedgehog title in the core series hadn’t been released since Sonic and Knuckles in 1994. Sonic Adventure was therefore hotly anticipated, particularly so as it marked Sonic’s entry into true 3D gaming. Mario 64 had shown the world just how excellently a classic platformer could be transitioned from 16-bit sidescroller to the third dimension, and Sega fans were eager to see how their own beloved series would fare.

   Sonic Adventure was a game whose value was, much like the Dreamcast itself, far greater than the sum of its parts. Featuring a six playable characters, full voiceover, a virtual pet game that carried over to the VMU, and a fishing simulator (I’m dead serious), Sonic Adventure was a hit, and it would go on to be the console’s top seller. And since it was intended to showcase the best of the Dreamcast’s system features, Sonic Adventure also included an online portal where players could upload their best level clear times to compete with one another, read announcements from Sonic Team, and download Choa (the aforementioned virtual pets) cloned from other players and uploaded to the community.

●   Bottom line: The first true Sonic game since the Genesis proved that the series could flourish in the third dimension. Its sequel would go on to perfect the gameplay formula before the series dove nose first into mediocrity.

●   VMU Minigame: Chao Adventure

●   My favorite memory: Playing through the game on a rented console without a memory card and refusing to hit the power button until I had seen Super Sonic

 

Power Stone 

   There’d never really been a fighting game quite like Power Stone, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything that resembled it since, although I’ve always lumped it in with games like Super Smash Bros. more than traditional fighters. Players chose from one of 10 fighters and duked it out with up to three other opponents in an open arena that allowed for free-roam, three-dimensional movement. Items and weapons would appear throughout the stage sporadically, and these could be picked up and used to gain the upper hand on enemies. The eponymous power stones could be collected, too, throughout the course of the match, and collecting all three—whether by picking them up as they appeared or stealing them from your opponent through brute force—transformed your fighter into a super-powered version of him or herself who could unleash ultimate attacks that were often difficult to defend against or dodge and could be game-winning. 

●      Bottom line: Power Stone was addictive fun with a colorful anime aesthetic and an arcade feel that combined near-unrestricted 3D movement with random and often hilarious weapons; its sequel released the following year would expand on the formula for even more fun.

●   VMU Minigame: NA

●   My favorite memory: My best friend commenting on “Gypsy Dancer” Rouge’s fighting abilities. I knew what he really meant.

 

Soulcalibur 

   If there was one game you were expected to own with your Dreamcast, it was Soulcalibur. The weapon-based fighting game had already been a hit in arcades, and it was ported exclusively to Sega’s console just in time for the U.S. launch. Soulcalibur wasn’t just a great fighter or even a great launch title, it marked a turning point in the history of home console gaming. The game looked and played better on the Dreamcast than it had in arcades, really driving home the power and potential of the Dreamcast and the future of console gaming. The Soulcalibur series has seen success (sometimes to varying degrees) on every major console since with an expanded cast of characters that has included the likes of Spawn, The Legend of Zelda’s Link, Darth Vader, and Yoda, but none of the games since have blown my mind quite the same way that the original Dreamcast port did. 

●      Bottom line: The Dreamcast’s first killer app, Soulcalibur ushered in a new era of gaming where consoles no longer had to play second fiddle to arcade cabinets.

●   VMU Minigame: NA, but it featured delightful character animations for each fighter during the main game

●   My favorite memory: Landing my first throw as Kilik against my friend and watching that bo staff rebound off his shattered spine

“Despite the successful U.S. launch and the overwhelming number of masterpieces released for the Dreamcast over the following 18 months, Sega saw the writing on the wall when Sony’s monolithic Playstation 2 launched”

   I’ve highlighted just three of the Dreamcast’s launch games, but I hope I’ve demonstrated the strength of the lineup. It’s rare with any major console launch to find even one game that could stand stand up as one of the console’s greats years afterwards, but the Dreamcast is still fondly remembered for these titles and those that followed in their wake not long afterward. Capcom’s Resident Evil: Code Veronica would launch to critical acclaim the final February, and although third party support would begin to dwindle soon after, with the more powerful PS2 due the following Fall, Sega kept the Dreamcast’s library strong with first party titles such as Skies of Arcadia, the bizarre Seaman, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi, and the very well received 2k line of sports titles, which would later be sold to 2K games upon the closure of Sega Sports.

   Despite the successful U.S. launch and the overwhelming number of masterpieces released for the Dreamcast over the following 18 months, Sega saw the writing on the wall when Sony’s monolithic Playstation 2 launched the following fall. It’s likely the move saved Sega since they remain a prominent and influential third party publisher and development house to this day, but there’s no denying that the company is dramatically different today than it was in the 20th century.

   But the Dreamcast left its mark on the gaming world permanently, and its influence seems obvious even today on Microsoft’s own console line. The Xbox controller still bears a striking resemblance to the Dreamcast controller—the original even featured two memory card slots, although they proved mostly redundant—although it’s no longer as unwieldy as it’s spiritual predecessor. Microsoft console also provided a home to some of Sega’s more unique first-party releases intended for the Dreamcast. Shenmue 2, which never saw a Dreamcast release in North America, launched exclusively for the Xbox in 2002, and Panzer Dragoon, a series that had always felt like the Saturn’s flagship, diverted to the Xbox with Panzer Dragoon Orta in 2003.

“The Dreamcast may have failed to take the world by storm, but it certainly left its mark.”

   The Dreamcast proved that online gaming could work in the console space, too, but it wasn’t a concept that instantly resonated with Sony, who invested very little into online multiplayer until after Xbox Live launched in 2012. While Sega had offered a unified online multiplayer service, SegaNet, Sony left online support to game developers. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 launched in 2001 and was the first game with online multiplayer support to appear on a non-Sega console, although connecting to the game’s servers required the use of a third-party modem connected via USB. Xbox Live more closely mimicked and expanded on the SegaNet model, and by the end of the console generation it had become the exemplary model for online multiplayer on home consoles (and influencing, I’d argue, PC online play, too).

   The Dreamcast may have failed to take the world by storm, but it certainly left its mark. In the wake of its demise, Sega demonstrated that they could continue to hold relevance in the industry solely as a software developer and producer, and, no longer restricted for the sake of their IP’s integrity, their most popular franchises found life with other platforms.

   Here’s to the Sega Dreamcast, that forward-thinking, little machine. It may not have been made for this world, but it made the world a little bit better in its short time.

 

Tina’s First: Resident Evil 4

Before we begin this discussion about the newly remastered ‘Resident Evil 4′, I’d like to state a disclaimer.  As the title suggests, I have never once in my life played any Resident Evil games and in all honesty, have never had the true desire to.  Despite being a huge fan of horror as a film genre, I turn into the world’s biggest baby when it comes to horror as a video game genre.   It’s physically crippling for me to even so much as pick up any game that could potentially be classified as anything horror related.  Is it because I care too much about these little computer generated characters to even fathom putting them through the things that are occurring in the game?  Or is it because as a child, my older brother thought it would be funny to expose me to ‘Silent Hill’ at the age of 7?

Despite these ingrained fears, I ran a recent poll on Twitter to have my followers give me their feedback on what they wanted me to check out.  I have no idea what compelled me to type in the fateful words “Resident Evil 4” and include it in the poll, but after a landslide victory, it was crystal clear that this was the game you wanted me to share my thoughts on.  I am a woman of my word, and despite having a small panic attack Tuesday evening after the poll closed, I managed to purchase the game and play it in order to share my thoughts with you guys.  For everyone who participated in the poll I just want to say one thing:  Thank you.  Thank you for being the pressure I needed to break out of my comfort zone and give this game an honest chance.  With this being said, though, please keep in mind that I will be reviewing this game from a noob standpoint and not from the side of a long time Resident Evil fan.

For being a game that has been around for more than a decade now, the developers of the remastered edition did a really good job cleaning this up and making it look great. With that being said, however, if this is a game that you’ve never played before I strongly urge you to not try and compare the graphics to something like Fallout 4.  This is a remaster, not a remake, so the visuals will not always compare to a game that has come out within the last year or two.  If you do want to have a base of comparison graphics wise, I’d say that a close comparable would be the ‘Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune’ remake included in the ‘Uncharted:  Nathan Drake Collection’ that was released just last year.  A fantastic example of how great a job they did remastering this game occurs within the first 5 minutes of taking control over Leon.  As soon as you enter the initial house, you’ll notice that off to the left there is a window with some light pouring through it.  You can actually see the dust dancing in the sunlight, which I thought was a nice touch before you meet your initial Ganado.    The hidden little details such as this don’t stop throughout the game, and at any moment you begin to question the visual quality, I strongly suggest you stop and look around at your background and remember just how old this game is. 

Despite its awesomely remastered visuals, the controllers felt very outdated.  The inability to move around and shoot at the same time was horribly debilitating.  It actually made for an even more difficult gameplay simply because I had to learn that I couldn’t just move away from the mobs moving towards me.  I get that this game was released for nostalgia purposes with the longtime existing fan base, but for newcomers to the series who have heard tales of this cornerstone of the Resident Evil franchise, it is just not fun.  It feels very archaic and clunky.  Even outside of battle, it was extremely difficult to try and move diagonally using the joystick, and at times It almost felt like the game was designed to be played on the D-pad of my controller.  For a remastered version of a game, I would have hoped to have a bit of an upgrade on the control functionality because it was definitely a joy hindrance during my play through.

Now I have a secret I’d like to reveal to everyone:  I do not live my life in ‘Hard’ mode. I’m a very story driven player and in fact, when it comes to most RPG’s I prefer to do an initial playthrough of the game on easy mode just to experience the story.  If the game has a decently written story, I’ll go ahead and replay it on the normal mode.  It takes a really beloved game to warrant me attempting it on hard mode and those are few and far between.  Maybe it’s because this is the remastered version of Resident Evil 4, but this game did not allow for me to change my initial gameplay mode.  Now I know what you all may be thinking, “Tina, this is Resident Evil 4 remastered!  Playing any gameplay mode besides normal or hardcore is just blasphemous!”.  Truly this game was built for the existing fanboys and girls out there who have been long time lovers of this game.  But for someone who is new to not just the game and series but also the genre for that matter, this is a huge drawback.   If you are the type of player who is not the biggest fan of the horror genre, yet still wants to give this iconic game a shot, you may want to steer clear because it is definitely not easy. 

As a side note, on the PS4 currently, if you have a PS Plus account the Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD edition is free to play.  I downloaded this version initially by accident, and in doing so, I did notice that the Ultimate HD edition does allow for you to change your difficulty between easy and normal mode.  Newcomers to the genre may want to start off with that version just to see if it’s something that they’d even be interested in purchasing.  Since it was an accidental download, and I promised you guys I’d be playing the Remastered version, I did not play through the easy mode offered on the Ultimate HD edition so I do not have insight into the difference in gameplay between the two modes.

Did this game create a new fan out of me?  Honestly, I appreciated it for what it was but it is probably not something that I will play again.  This game was very clearly geared toward a specific audience, and I think if I was a part of that audience it would have been extremely enjoyable for me.  As a remake, the developers did a solid job of blending modern visuals with old school mechanics that I’m sure longtime fans of the game would be familiar with and appreciate.  Since I’m very much an outsider to the entire Resident Evil franchise, it had a very unwelcoming feel to it from the get go.  If you’re an existing fan of this game, this will be a great nostalgia game to add to your collection.  But if you are like me, this may not be the game for you.  All in all, I’d rank this game as a solid 6.

Let us know what you think!  What were some of the issues you experienced in the game?  What are your favorite Resident Evil 4 moments?  Do you have any advice for other newcomers to the franchise?  Let us know in the comments below!