In the Forums...
Posted: June 21, 1999
Written by: Sangfroid
Interview with Stephen O' Leary of Sega Ozisoft
Tweak3D: Hi Steve. I was seriously disappointed by the Saturn's performance in the American and European markets. I was also dismayed to hear that sales in Japan have been less than stellar for the Dreamcast. What are Sega of America and Europe doing to make the DC a huge success this time around?
Stephen: To be honest, the sales of Dreamcast in Japan have been great. The console has been on sale since the end of November last year, and at the beginning of April the Dreamcast passed the 1 million sales mark in Japan. These figures were only slightly behind the predications Sega had for the market at this time, and considering that the Japan is in the midst of a recession and that the Dreamcast units were in short supply at the time of launch, the Dreamcast is performing very well at the moment. Furthermore, software sales of Dreamcast titles have been quite strong, with the Dreamcast's 3 main titles; VF3, Sonic and Sega Rally 2, performing very well in Japan.
One mistake that's currently being made be some consumers is that they compare the sales of the newly launched Dreamcast to the already established PlayStation console. Of course a console that's been on sale for over 4 years will perform better, as it has a larger line up of games that cover more genres, and is cheaper considering it is older technology. Comparing the launch figures of the Dreamcast's competition to its own would be give a better indication of its sales performance, and in this case, Dreamcast is well ahead of its competition at the same point in its market life cycle. An indication of how the Dreamcast will do in territories outside Japan is given by the early orders that retailers have placed for the Dreamcast in the US. A staggering 2.4 million units have been ordered, and the number is set to increase before its launch in the US on September 9.
Tweak3D: Tell me about the Dreamcast hardware. How does it compare to a high end PC in regard to processing power and polygon pushing ability? Is the machine capable of faithfully reproducing PC titles such as Quake 3? Would it be possible for 'split-screen' versions of Quake at acceptable frame rates?
Stephen: To give a rough idea of how the PC and Dreamcast compare, you could look at the FLOPS (floating point performance - this is a good way to measure how much geometry a chip can calculate) performance of both of the units. The current top-notch PCs, like a P2-450, can calculate roughly 450 FLOPS per second, while the Dreamcast can calculate roughly 1400 FLOPS. Basically, this means that the Dreamcast can generate roughly 3 times as much geometry than a P2-450 equipped PC could, and considering that these PCs still cost over $2500 Au, the Dreamcast represents excellent value for money at its Australian and New Zealand price of $499.
To go even further, you'd have to consider a number of factors in determining the performance of the Dreamcast in relation to a PC. For starters, the Dreamcast uses the Power VR second generation chipset, that will soon be shipped in the Neon 250 from Videologic. Although the two chips aren't identical, the have nearly identical features, such as 32 bit colour performance, full scene anti aliasing, hardware bump mapping, Modifier Volumes, translucency sorting, texture compression and alpha blending. In fact, the Power VR series 2 chip supports more effects than any other current next-gen PC graphics chipset, and its deferred rending method of drawing graphics make it incredibly powerful at filling polygons on screen. In the latest benchmarks on the net, the Neon 250 card is performing as good, and often better, than the Voodoo 3 and TNT 2 cards, which alone cost as much as the Dreamcast system itself.
A game like Quake 3 would run brilliantly on the Dreamcast system, as it Power VR chipset supports Open GL in hardware and the Sh-4 CPU has enough power to throw the visuals around at frame rates faster than any PC available today. Expect a great deal of enhanced PC games to come to the Dreamcast, all boasting faster frame rates with much more detail.
Tweak3D: Sega are going to release a 'VGA-Box' for the Dreamcast, so those of you with large monitors can play the DC at ultra high resolutions. Is this supported in all games? What resolution does it reach? Is it noticeably superior to playing on a 68-centimeter [28 inch] television?
Stephen: No firm decision has been made on releasing the VGA Box in Australia and New Zealand as yet. The console draws its graphics in its standard resolution of 640 by 480 pixels and this is the resolution that is displayed on PC monitors. A VGA image is noticeable superior on a PC monitor as the image is not interlaced and the pixels are usually separated much better than they are on a normal TV. Not trying to boast here, but I have a 68 cm PC monitor I use to play Dreamcast games on at home. It's fantastic!
Tweak3D: I understand that the Dreamcast uses Windows CE as an operating system. What benefits were gained by this decision?
Stephen: The main benefit of using the Win CE operating system is its ease of programming. Almost every software developer on the planet is very familiar with Win CE, and because of this the developers will be able to port their games to the Dreamcast system, as well as being able to easily write new software for the Dreamcast that takes advantage of its powerful hardware. Most notably is that the Win CE operating system allows users to get close to the hardware and use the tools that have already been provided in Win CE. Of course, the first batch of games are never a true testament to the power of a console, so expect many awesome games to come form the Dreamcast in the future. Even considering this, the Dreamcast's first-generation software clearly sets new benchmarks in visuals that all other game formats now have to live up to.
Win CE will also allow the console to grow in the future. Since the operating system is kept on the dics itself, programmers can update it whenever revisions are made available. New effects and libraries can be implemented to get the most out of the Dreamcast hardware, and peripherals and accessories can be easily added to the Dreamcast, with the drivers for these devices being built into the games that they support.
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Tweak3D: PC Conversion should be a piece of cake due to Windows CE support and a flexible graphics chipset: Given the DC's impressive graphical power, I'm keen to know whether we'll be seeing games like Half Life, Unreal Tournament, or Quake 3 on the DC; Is there any possibility of a mouse peripheral being released for the hardened FPS fans?
Stephen: I guess it's up to developers to come aboard and write games for the Dreamcast now, as the hardware and programming tools are ready and waiting. As mentioned, games like Half Life and Quake would run incredibly well on the Dreamcast, and the Neon 250 PC card proves that the Power VR chip has the visuals quality and power to make these games look absolutely fantastic. A mouse peripheral is not on the release schedule for Dreamcast at the moment, so I can't make any comment on its appearance in the near future. What I can say is that the Dreamcast's Universal Serial Bus could support such a peripheral, as well as other devices like the Iomega Zip drive, which is due for release in late '99.
Tweak3D: As PC conversions are easily achieved, it seems likely that the market will be flooded with mediocre ports of PC titles. How do Sega plan to combat this?
Stephen: Ozisoft have nothing to do with the actual recruiting of games for the Dreamcast, but I can say that there have been a huge number of developers who have approached Sega for licenses to develop on Dreamcast because of its ease of programming and power. Obviously there will always be an issue of quality when so many developers apply for a licence, and Sega are being very strict with regards to what games will be published on the system. Sega's policy appears to be one of high quality games for Dreamcast, and you can be assured that this will be the case when the console ships in September and throughout the console's life.
Tweak3D: I have played the Japanese versions of Virtua Fighter 3, Get Bass, Sonic Adventure and Sega Rally 2. I was enormously impressed by the graphics. However, I couldn't help notice that they weren't quite arcade perfect. Is there a reason for this? Will these problems be rectified for the US launch of the DC?
Stephen: The first generation of games that come out for a console are usually a little below the standards that the programmers would have liked them to be, and this is almost always due to the time constraints that are involved when developing and releasing new hardware. Simple economics demanded that the Dreamcast be released in late November of last year in Japan, and to delay the console's release so a few minor additions could be made to the launch games would have been the wrong path to take for Sega.
In the case of Virtua Fighter 3; it's sad that some people will always concentrate on a game's faults - no matter how small and insignificant they are - rather than the game's merits. VF3:TB is one hell of a fighting game that truly is the next step in videogame technology and gameplay. Its replication on the Dreamcast is nothing short of astounding. People who stop and argue that 'there are bricks missing in the background stages', or ' there are polygons missing on some of the fighter's limbs' have obviously missed the fact that the game is currently the best fighting game for any console system, and an amazing graphical achievement. To nit-pick and judge a game on its merits as a conversion rather than a game in itself is silly and pointless - play the game and enjoy it, for it really is the best in its genre, and by a long shot too.
Sega Rally 2 was a tad rushed as well, and the frame-rate in the game has suffered as a result - but, that said, Sega Rally 2 is also far and away the best racing game on any console. It has extra tracks, more cars and more options that the arcade game, and even with its faults is easily an incredible racing game. To be honest, all the people that have seen the Dreamcast in our offices have been totally amazed at the leap in graphics and gameplay from the PlayStation and Saturn. People who had previously not played videogames were stunned at how realistic and lifelike the Dreamcast's games were. To answer the last part of your question, Sega will be making modifications to some of the launch games, and these include extra options and graphical adjustments that will make the games an even better purchase for Dreamcast owners!
Tweak3D: How is Sega implementing the online capabilities of the Dreamcast? Can we expect lag free gameplay? Could the DC potentially network with a PC? For example, could a DC Sega Rally 2-player spar it out with a bloke using the PC version of Sega Rally 2? What about Internet browsing? Any ideas of on line pricing?
Stephen: In Australia, Ozisoft will be establishing a full Dreamcast network with their appointed ISP and dedicated servers will be set up to handle the on-line gaming side of things. Cross compatibility with PC games of the same name is something that I can't comment on. The Dreamcast can browse the Internet in the same way as a PC equipped with a modem can, only it's much easier to access the Internet and send and receive mail with the Dreamcast. It's very much a plug and play Internet gaming system.
The Dreamcast will come with a period of free internet access in Australia and New Zealand and will also come with a browser disc that will enable users to connect to the Internet with much less effort than a standard PC does.
Tweak3D: A few miscellaneous questions…. What is your favourite game? Why? What title are you most looking forward to? And, most importantly, can we overclock our Dreamcasts?!
Stephen: Well, that's a no-brainer: VF3:tb! As far as fighting games are concerned, VF3 is easily the best one ever made. Hardly a day goes by without a long session of VF3. Even after playing the game solid since its release in November last year in Japan, I'm still a beginner when compared to some players I've met in Japan. The game is incredibly accessible for beginners, yet contains a level of depth that no other fighting game can match.
Sonic is also a favourite for me on the Dreamcast. When Mario 64 was released in 1996, it really made me stand back a look in utter awe at the level design and effort that went into the game. Sonic did the same thing, only the experience was better! Its levels are utterly amazing and will often have you staring at them in disbelief that someone somewhere managed to create this awesome game.
What am I most looking forward to? Well, possibly Soul Calibur and Shen Mue. I'm yet to see a game that can match VF3 technically, but I really think that Soul Calibur will give it some serious competition. Also, Dead or Alive 2 and Crazy Taxi look simply amazing on Dreamcast!
Ok, I was waiting for the overclocking question… To be honest, who knows. It's not something that I would ever recommend though.
Tweak3D: Thanks for your time Steve. I look forward to thrashing you at Virtua Fighter 3 in the near future. Get training!
Stephen: Heh - You wish!
*Note that comments made in this interview are meant to represent the Dreamcast marketing for Australia and New Zealand only, but apply to the United States as well.