Thursday, October 23, 2014

This victory has strengthened the soul of... Gabrielle!

My new video card has opened the door to a world of cutting-edge gaming... yet I find myself returning to the fourteen year old Dreamcast library. The emulator NullDC runs the bulk of the system's library with ease, while bumping up the resolution of polygonal games to a crowd-pleasing 1440x900. That's, uh... (counts on hands) a buttload of pixels. Maybe even a buttload and a half!

I've learned a few things from my reunion with the Dreamcast. The first is that its graphics have gotten a little creaky in the decade and a half since the system's launch in 1999. The games we loved the most still look fantastic, but they're not always an accurate reflection of the Dreamcast experience. Many of the system's titles- even very good ones- are tarnished by boxy limbs, repetitive backgrounds, and coarse textures. The previously savaged reviewed Virtua Fighter 3tb is a good example of this, but so are more warmly received games like Power Stone and Rippin' Riders. Aside from a small pool of standouts, Dreamcast titles could never match the visual luster of later Playstation 2 games. 

We'll never know for sure how far the DC could have been pushed if it had been supported past 2001, but I tend to think that it would have hit a brick wall in 2003, around the time the Prince of Persia remake had been released for its competitors. I recall a friend offering this unflattering description of the frame rate in the Dreamcast version of Shenmue 2: "Just step into a crowd and watch the slideshow." No wonder it was an Xbox exclusive in the United States...

The other thing is that the Dreamcast was the 20th century's best system for fighters... not even the Neo-Geo and Saturn could touch it. Heck, it can even run Neo-Geo CD games with the aid of an emulator, and without the absurd load times that took a sledgehammer to any enjoyment players could have gotten from an actual Neo-Geo CD. The Dreamcast could play 2D games like Street Fighter III: Third Strike that were beyond the Saturn's reach, along with 3D games that wouldn't have been possible on the dated Playstation hardware. Take Soul Calibur, for instance. The arcade game ran on modified Playstation hardware, but the Dreamcast version was significantly improved, with the rough polygonal edges smoothed out and a bounty of console-exclusive features.

Oh yeah, that brings me to the other other thing I noticed while playing Dreamcast games. After looking at the Soul Calibur cast, I've noticed that Greek warrior Sophitia is a dead ringer for another Mediterranean hero, Xena's sidekick Gabrielle. Just look at the two of them side by side! No way that's a coincidence. It's amazing how much developers cribbed from the likenesses of celebrities in the days before gaming hit it big.


(Poor Xena: Warrior Princess. It was a fun show before Hope and all that Quantum Leaping.)

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