Andrew Dickinson (Dreamcast: Year One) – Interview

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The Kickstarter for Dreamcast: Year One is well underway, an unofficial yet lovely looking book that will fit nicely in our retro gaming library. We simply had to track down its author Andrew Dickinson for a lovely Dreamcast/Sega chat. Lots of info here and if the project sounds to your liking head to the Kickstarter page!

 

How did the idea to start the book come about?

​I backed a Kickstarter project last year called ‘PlayStation Vita: Year One’ by Sandeep Rai. He produced this fantastic book telling the unofficial story of the launch and first year of the Vita, and as I read through it I could see so many similarities with the Dreamcast. I’m a huge fan of Sega’s final console, and have always felt it needed a book detailing its history, so I got in touch with Sandeep and discussed my idea for using his format to tell the story of the DC. He loved the idea, and so I got to work with Sandeep as my editor. That was about 7 months ago now!

 

What will set this apart from other retro gaming books?

The original thing about the ‘Year One’ format is that it focusses on a very particular time frame. Although it’ll be a small book, it will be looking at just one part of the story rather than the entirety of it. This means that we can also include interviews with key people from that period, and look in some depth at games released then. On top of that, there’ll be a focus on the UK/EU side of the Dreamcast, which is something we’ve not really seen yet in printed media. I’ll be sharing some specific nostalgia alongside the broader view of the conception and launch.

 

Can you give our readers a hint at what to expect?

​The story will start with the launch of the predecessor to the Dreamcast, the Sega Saturn. I felt this was important to really ground the creation of the DC in historical context. It was a product of a very particular set of circumstances, and that was both a blessing and a curse.

We also have interviews with some fantastic people. My first interview was with Caspar Field, former editor of DC-UK magazine. He is a fellow Brightonian, and so we met in an ice cream parlour in late September to chat. I brought a bunch of magazines with me so he could look through them, as he’s been a very busy bee since he left the magazine, so hasn’t really looked much at them since then. We were there for over an hour (I had to transcribe the whole thing, it took SO LONG) and he had some great insights into DC-UK, games journalism, the Dreamcast and Sega too. On top of that I have interviewed Tom Charnock, who founded The Dreamcast Junkyard back in 2005, plus I announced recently that I will be interviewing the former Sega of America president Bernie Stolar. While he won’t have that British perspective the others have, his point of view will be incredibly interesting when looking specifically at the conception of the console as he was so deeply involved! I do have a fourth interviewee, but for now I’m keeping them under wraps!

​There will be a number of retrospectives looking at titles released during the time frame I’m looking at too. Key titles like Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi will get more space so I can delve into their history and development. I’ll mostly be looking at games that released in PAL territories between launch and 31st March 2000, however I’m going to take a look at two games never released here as well – Armada and Godzilla Generations.

 

 

What projects have you previously worked on?

​When I originally got my Dreamcast at the age of 16, I was writing for the school newspaper and involved in a lot of creative pursuits, so I quickly fell into writing for a Dreamcast fan site called dreamcastsource.co.uk. I met the founder of that site, Faz Asif, on a chat room for fans of the console, and we got chatting. We were the same age and both were deeply in love with the Dreamcast, so he asked me to come write on the site and that I did, until things started winding down in 2002. I’ll freely admit that my writing back then wasn’t polished… I used way too many exclamation marks and would often use ‘lol’ to denote something funny (back when ‘lol’ was a fairly new acronym, at least to me, and I overused it).

Over the years my writing improved as a consequence of going to university and having to write essays, and stuff like that. In 2012 I wrote again about the Dreamcast in an article for a friend’s now defunct blog. That piece was titled ‘More Than A Dream’, which is what I titled my highest pledge tier in the campaign, where backers can write their own short retrospective to be included in the book!

I am going to be writing a retrospective for Sandeep’s recently funded follow-up, ‘PlayStation Vita: Years Two & Three’, about the Power Stone Collection, a port of both Dreamcast titles for the PSP. I’m very much looking forward to that.

 

What makes the Dreamcast special, in your opinion?

​It’s a machine that delivers pure joy. That sounds like hyperbole, but in my humble opinion I cannot think of another console that has delivered as many consistently enjoyable experiences as the Dreamcast has. Sega were on top form with their first party content, both in the form of arcade ports and original IP. They were in a place where they could take some creative risks, the kind we don’t often see these days. It’s hard for me to imagine Sony funding games like Space Channel 5 and Jet Set Radio, for instance. Those third parties who created new content for the Dreamcast were (mostly) releasing gems too, such as Power Stone. It was also the first console that took seriously the advent of the internet, and introduced a whole group of people to what online gaming could be. There is something quite special about the big online games for the DC. There’s a playfulness and that spark of creativity still.

​So yes, there’s a lot that makes the Dreamcast special, and that’s without touching on how technically great it was, how interesting and fun the VMU was… This is why I’m writing the book! The Dreamcast spoke to me in a way that no console has done before or since. It was around during a defining period in my life, and it still has a huge fanbase twenty years on. Games and tech are still being made for it. It’s still thinking.

 

What’s your favourite game on the console?

​This is a difficult question, because there are so many games I love. Shenmue I & II hold a very special place in my heart. I had never experienced a story in quite that way before, so those games are absolutely up there for me. Resident Evil CODE: Veronica is a favourite too – it was the reason I wanted a Dreamcast in the first place, as I’m a big RE fan. Off the top of my head I also love Skies of Arcadia, Power Stone, Space Channel 5… I was tempted to reel off a huge list (and I really could!), but that’s not what you asked for. So I’ll stick with Shenmue. 😉

 

Great choice! Why are you launching a Kickstarter to fund the project? And what do you think are the benefits of crowd funding?

​Crowdfunding is a really divisive topic, I think. To some it is the devil, a way for people to con others out of money by producing something substandard or flat our running off with the the funds. I’ve been using the Kickstarter platform as a backer for many years, and have backed over 150 projects, so I have personally seen that side of things. It’s not nice. I think Dreamcast fans have had a few more disappointments over recent years than most, with projects getting cancelled, delayed or not materialising. However, there is also the side of crowdfunding which allows creators to get their work out there when they might not otherwise be able to. Making something has a cost to it, whether that be a game or a book. Sometimes that cost is just too great to be borne by the creator alone up front – not everyone can get a publisher on board. However, that doesn’t mean that their product is going to be any less good that ones funded by companies.

​So to me, crowdfunding is a way of getting great work out there that it may otherwise be impossible to get funding for. It allows the creator to gauge the interest of fans directly, to see if they buy into the idea. It also means that they can be a part of your creation, not just a consumer. That is really important to me, as I am a part of the Dreamcast community, and the larger retro gaming one too. I’m not creating this book in a vacuum, and nor would I want to.

So to me, crowdfunding is how I get ‘Dreamcast: Year One’ out there. It allows me to figure out if I have enough interest, get the money I need to pay my amazing designer and illustrator and get it printed (which is money I just don’t have up front), whilst engaging with people in this community. To me, working through Kickstarter is really exciting and dynamic!

 

Loving the parallel. You’ve backed a lot of projects yourself as you mentioned there, what’s your favourite? Taking end product and perks into account.

​That’s a great question. Board gaming has had kind of a renaissance thanks to Kickstarter, for the reasons I gave above. Actually, it was part of how I got into board gaming in a big way. I was able to get involved in this community based around a game, as it was being developed and manufactured. There have been a number of really awesome board games that I have backed over the years which couldn’t have been made unless fans backed. The Stonebound Saga by Sky Kingdom Games is one of those, and I was so impressed with the creator and his vision. The final product was more than I expected. I recommend it left, right and centre! Also, Kickstarter allowed Australian company ‘Rule & Make’ to gain a big name for themselves, which ended up with them creating a board game version of ‘Hand of Fate’. I received my copy not too long ago, and it is incredibly fun! There has actually been a big thing about making videogames into board games recently. Resident Evil 2: The Board Game was another I backed which was also wonderful. I got so many expansions and extras with that pledge, the stack of boxes was half as tall as I am!

 

Why do you think the console’s sales were dwarfed by that of the PS2 and GameCube?

​There are so many reasons, not least of which being that Sony were incredibly smart. They trounced Sega in the previous generation too, with their very first console. I mention in the first chapter of ‘Dreamcast: Year One’ about the very first E3 conference, where Sega announced the launch of the Saturn in the US (which was that very same day!) at a price of $399.99 with Virtua Fighter 2 bundled in. Sony took to the stage later that day for their keynote and uttered just one word about the American launch of the PlayStation – $299. That says it all really, doesn’t it?

​Off the back of their success with the PSX, Sony were very clever in their hype and marketing for PS2. They started so early that it put some people off buying a Dreamcast as they thought that the PS2 would completely overshadow it in every way. They included a DVD player just as the DVD format was really taking off, making it one of the cheapest ways to watch DVDs (my mums very first dedicated DVD player cost more than a PS2 did).

​On top of this, especially in the West I think, Sega were kind of still battling some of the mistakes made in the Saturn era, both in regards to consumers and retailers. There was some goodwill lost, or so it seemed, and although the Dreamcast sold well initially there was just so much pressure from all sides that I don’t think it could ever have been sustainable.

 

 

Do you think Sega should go back to making consoles and would you buy a Dreamcast mini if they made one?

​There was a time I would have said yes, whole heartedly, to Sega making a new console. However, there was a reason that Sega stopped manufacturing hardware, and I don’t think the intervening years have created a market that would allow for Sega to jump back in, not on their own at any rate. We’ve seen Sega’s old rival Nintendo adapting to the changing landscape of the videogame market, mostly with great success, but even they have struggled against Sony, Microsoft and the rise of mobile gaming and games as a service – and they’ve been around the whole time! For Sega to come back into the game now just wouldn’t be feasible, I don’t think.

​I absolutely would buy a Dreamcast Mini, but just because I’m such a big fan and I think it’d be cute. However, I would much rather Sega start porting Dreamcast games to consoles like the Switch. We’ve seen them port a number of games over the years, but there are still so many games that haven’t been ported or titles that didn’t get the port they deserved. Switch seems like the ideal way to deliver Dreamcast games to me. Play Phantasy Star Online on the train or with three friends in the same room. Bust out four Joy-Cons to play Power Stone 2 at a party. I don’t think I even need to say how great games like Samba de Amigo and Sega Bass Fishing could be on the Switch (I’m thinking of a new Nintendo Labo set…). So yes, Dreamcast Mini could be fun, but I think Sega would be better off seriously porting games to modern consoles instead.

 

Do you play Phantasy Star Online and if so, what makes it appeal?

​I played PSO back in the day, though not as much as I’d have liked. My mum didn’t like me tying up the phone line for too long! I was so impressed with that game though. To experience a game of that quality, on a console, with other people… that was phenomenal. There’s been a huge thing in recent years within the Dreamcast community, to get games like PSO back online again using private servers and tech like the DreamPi, which I think is absolutely fantastic. I’m hoping that one day I can afford to build myself a DreamPi so that I can play PSO again. I’ve no doubt I’d enjoy it as much, if not more, than when I last played it about 17 years ago!

 

You previously stated Shenmue to be your favourite game (great choice btw), are you excited by Shenmue 3?

​You won’t be surprised to know I backed the Kickstarter! I was blown away when they announced it, it was like a dream come true (pun totally intended). So yes, I am looking forward to it immensely. We just had the Magic 2019 trailer released, which was great, but showed off less than I thought it would. Hopefully we’ll get shown more gameplay before August rolls around!

 

What’s the strongest genre of game, in your opinion, on the DC?

​The thing about Dreamcast is that it either has a glut of a certain type of game, or an incredibly anaemic selection. So while genres like beat em ups and shmups have various great examples to shout about, RPGs (in the West at least) were so few and far between that it’s perhaps harder to figure out whether that genre is strong or not (I’d say it is, based solely on games like Skies and Grandia 2). However, this being the Dreamcast, I believe that every genre represented has at least one stand out title that is still held up as a shining example of that genre, even today. For fighting games it’s SoulCalibur. For shmups it’s… well, pretty much every single one that was ever released on the system, but most would probably recognise Ikaruga! (fantastic game – Ed)

​Caspar Field said something that I think is very apt here, which is that the Dreamcast was probably the last heavily arcade based console. As such, if I can class ‘arcade’ as a genre then I think that would be the strongest example of a genre of game on the DC!

 

Hard to disagree with that! One more before you shoot off to do more ace work on the Kickstarter, if you could go for a drink with any video game character who’s appeared on a DC game, who would you choose and why?

​If you’d have asked me back when I was 16 or 17, I’d have asked to go for a drink with Chris Redfield from RECV. I had a geeky teenage crush on him! I also loved Jill Valentine as a character (before the Dreamcast came out my favourite game ever was Resident Evil 3. My username used to be AndyTheNemesis, even), so perhaps her too. Nowadays I’d probably say Ren from Shenmue II or Ulala from Space Channel 5 – now that would be a party!

 

You heard it here first folks, hopefully AndyTheNemesis isn’t as scary as Nemesis from RE3! Andrew we wish you all the best for the project and readers, please check out the Kickstarter.

 

Dylan

 

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