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Dreamcast: Gaming's New Darling

Joseph Szadkowski reports on Sega's new Dreamcast system, the latest technology to hit the gaming world and put Sega back on top.

Without a new video gaming system on the market since 1996, Sega decided it was time to unleash its Dreamcast as the $7 billion industry gears up for the holiday madness. By early estimates, the company made a correct decision. Initial presells reached 300,000 with 18 games available at the September 9 launch date leading to Dreamcast collecting US $97 million in the first 24 hours of its availability. In comparison Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace made a paltry $28 million. However, mention that Sega has a new system out and prepare for a couple of expletives. After abandoning support of their 32-bit Saturn system almost a year ago, the company was branded as a has-been, unable to compete with Sony and Nintendo for gamers' dollars. Well, not any longer. The great news is that Sega has returned and the Dreamcast delivers a mind boggling experience.

No, not a top secret military weapon. It's Sega's Dreamcast.

The System

No one can dispute the superiority of the machine against today's systems. This temporarily -- Sony's PlayStation II and Nintendo's Dolphin should be ready by the fall of 2000 -- state of the art console blows away the current competition with a 128-bit processor which makes it at least 10 to 15 times more powerful than its rivals. For the game designers, this means an entirely new playing field on which to let their imaginations run wild. "The Dreamcast is the first in a new line of next generation systems and offers graphics capabilities that no system, including arcade machines, has ever seen before," said Emmanuel Valdez, co-creator, co-designer, and lead artist of Midway Games' Ready 2 Rumble. "It's pretty easy to work with and we really pushed the hardware but it still stood the test." Valdez and his team now have substantially more room and polygons to work with which means less blockiness and much smoother looking images. And just saying "more polygons" is an understatement. A Ready to Rumble character boasts 3,500 polygons to the minuscule 800 used for a PlayStation game. "Actual teeth, swiveling eyeballs, a full range of expressions, lip synching to audio tracks and even sweat particles really give our game a hyper-realistic look," Valdez says. The $199.00 Dreamcast has a 56k modem on board with which to link to the Sega Gaming Network (an Internet connection is necessary) and comes complete with one, finger-knotting controller. In addition, a slick memory card can be purchased (VMU: Visual Memory Unit; $24.95) which allows players to do everything from swapping files to secretly choosing plays to enjoying self-contained games. New Titles Here's a quick look at some of the impressive titles for the Dreamcast: Sonic Adventure by Sega (for Sega Dreamcast, $49.95) Sega's charming blue hedgehog is back and has plenty to boast about. His newest adventure offers a sensory shaking, 3-D explosion of sight and sound. Sonic's arch-enemy Dr. Robotnick has harnessed the power of the seven Chaos Emeralds and our hero with friends, including the cute Amy Rose, must battle through 50 massive levels to stop him. Just to make things a bit more interesting, anyone who has a VMU gets the ability to breed and train a Pokémon-like character, a chao, which they can eventually download back into the Sonic adventure. Smaller children might feel a bit overwhelmed by the quick game play but the entire family should be exhaustively mesmerized by the beautiful graphics and expansive environments.

NFL 2K by Sega Sports.

NFL 2K by Sega Sports ($49.95) I have melded with my television and am one with the National Football League. Sega has put forth a mega-monster sports title that will give gaming fanatics an eye-watering experience. The key to this NFL simulation is the amazing visuals. For example, the players look frighteningly realistic. Using 20 humans put through 1,500 motion-captured moves and running at 60 frames per second, NFL 2K boasts the most accurate action of any sports game. Emotions, lifelike facial renderings even breath strips on player's noses exist -- all while bodies crumble based on the direction and force of tackles. Forty teams (31 NFL, three all pro and six alumni) plus 1,400 plays to choose from greet gamers with the obligatory player creation mode, Maximum Control Passing, a fantasy draft, slow motion replays and an impressive play creator thrown in for good measure.

Ready 2 Rumble by Midway.

Ready 2 Rumble by Midway ($49.95) The moment players hear the booming pipes of announcer Michael Buffer and his trademark phrase, they will be blown away by the intensity and animated imagery of this boxing extravaganza. Sort of based on the old Nintendo game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out (although no recognizable names are associated with this game), players work their way to the top by pummeling each another. One mode, Arcade, allows the choice of boxers and the battle begins. The Championship mode requires the player to pick a contender and prepare him to become a champion. The game features 16 distinct characters, over the top styles, a wide-range of punches and customizable boxers. The developers also cut down the amount of finger-blistering combination moves so, children of every age, can enjoy the violent simplicity of destroying another being. Joseph Szadkowski writes on various aspects of popular culture and is a columnist for The Washington Times.