Surfing Like It’s 1998, The Dreamcast’s Still Got It!

If you were a keen console gamer at the end of the 1990s, the chances are you lusted after a Sega Dreamcast. Here was a console that promised to be like no other, a compact machine with built-in PowerVR 3D acceleration (heavy stuff back then!), the ability to run Windows CE in some form, and for the first time, built-in Internet connectivity. Games would no longer be plastic cartridges as they had been on previous Sega consoles, instead they would come on a proprietary DVD-like Sega disc format.

It was a shame then that the Dreamcast never really succeeded in capitalizing on its promise. Everyone was talking about the upcoming Sony Playstation 2, and disappointing Dreamcast sales led Sega to withdraw both the console, and themselves from the hardware market entirely.

There remains a hard core of Dreamcast enthusiasts though, and they continue to push the platform forward.The folks at the Dreamcast Junkyard decided to go backwards a little when they resurrected the console’s dial-up modem to see whether a platform from nearly twenty years ago could still cut it in 2017. This isn’t as easy a task as you’d imagine, because, well, who uses dial-up these days? Certainly in the UK where they’re based it’s almost unheard of. They were able to find a pay-as-you go dial-up provider though, and arming themselves with the most recent Dreamkey V3.0 browser disc were able to get online.

As you might expect, the results are hilariously awful for the most part. Modern web sites that rely on CSS fail to render or even indeed to load, but retro sites like those in the Dreamcast community appear as they should. There is a video we’ve put below the break showing the rather tortuous process, though sadly they didn’t think to load the Hackaday Retro Edition. It does however feature the rarely-seen keyboard and mouse accessories.

This is something that commenters will no doubt agree is Not A Hack. But we’re huge retro hardware fans in these parts, so it’s likely that most readers will have a soft spot for the console. If like your scribe you were lucky enough to pull a fresh-from-launch Japanese-market Dreamcast from an airmail pouch so your employer could evaluate it before it landed in the rest of the world, especially so.

We’ve shown you a few Dreamcasts, including this portable console, and a failed Dreamcast repurposed as a guitar amplifier case. Please keep them coming!

Thanks [Tom Charnock].

Header image: Asim18 (Public domain).

52 thoughts on “Surfing Like It’s 1998, The Dreamcast’s Still Got It!

  1. Instead of searching for a pay-as-you go dial-up provider that is still in business, i expected something like an adapter to connect the dial-up to the local ethernet.

    1. I remember playing Phantasy Star Online in ~2000 through my broadband Windows 98 computer… turn on Internet Connection Sharing and share your cable to your dial-up modem, enable Dial-In Server or PPP or similar. On the Dreamcast side you had to have a real phone line plugged into the DC to give a dialtone, then swap it to the one linked to PC as soon as it began dialing numbers. It worked pretty well, acted as 33.6kbps instead of 56k because that’s the upload limit of consumer modems at the time.

      I’ve thought idly about getting an old PC, stuffing it full of WinModems and a NIC, building some line-faking circuitry on the input, and then setting up a portable Dialup ISP-in-a-Box. Would be a nice way to network retrocomputers using vintage telco hardware. Touch-tone recognition would let you dial another machine directly, or call into a hosted BBS or a virtual ISP.

      1. The LAN adapter was 10 megabit and only sold in Japan. It’s not very useful since only a few games and the web browsers support it.

        A bit later came the Broadband Adapter (aka BBA). That one was 100 megabit and compatible with most, if not all the games.

    1. Also interestingly, the Naomi arcade hardware which was based on the Dreamcast had several versions, including the use of GD-ROM. And Naomi wasn’t alone, also using Sega’s GD-ROM for Triforce, and Chihiro which were strange collaborations for the time, Sega/Nintendo and Sega/Microsoft.

    2. Arcade hardware wasn’t as cost-sensitive, so they could use more expensive, but more durable, cartridges. Some disc-based arcade systems (like the Naomi GD-ROM upgrade) resorted to loading the whole disc into RAM on bootup to reduce wear on the drives.

      Also, apropos the video, the Saturn also had a modem and web browser released for it. You could get a whole kit with a mouse and a keyboard, so they were kind of serious about it.

      1. ^ this. (un)fortunately, it depends on which particular batch of flame retardant was used. So not all consoles suffer the same fate. Super Nintendo’s are affected by the very same issue and sometimes it’s just a part of the console that goes yellow while other bits stay normal.

    1. Hiya, I’m the creator of the video and nah, we don’t smoke in the house hold, however, this dreamcast was never originally mine, I bought it on the cheap on eBay.

  2. For online access, there’s no real reason to use an actual dial-up provider, now that DreamPi exists. DreamPi is a python script that runs on a RPi, along with a USB modem and “line voltage inducer” that basically bridges the Dreamcast onto your local network. It works very well.

  3. I had a dreamcast back in the day. I was sharing my landline’s dialup on the network with a few other machines so it wasn’t great that I had to unplug the network (and other users) just so I could play games on this console.
    For a while, I did toy with remote dial in using windows and a 2nd modem, it was a real pain, however for a while even things like playing quake 3 arena worked against the PC gamers. Then pc side got updated, and all the servers went offline. pretty sure I was the only dreamcast gamer at that point lol.

    Then I got a broadband connection, and I did manage to get the ethernet adapter for the dreamcast. It was a direct replacement for the included dialup modem. It just uncliped from the side the of the dreamcast, but by that point the dreamcast was pretty much dead as a console, so didn’t get much use.

    It’s a shame the dreamcast didn’t have some kind of storage so games could be updated.

  4. Thanks for featuring the story! I did browse the Hackaday Retro site with dial-uo and sent some photos, apologies if they didn’t get there. Alphatek – the Dreamcast in the video isn’t mine, all of mine are bone white too. Maybe his are just yellowed with age.

  5. Despite all the shortcomings, I always considered the Dreamcast a very sexy console. I’ve got two of them, a bunch of controllers and about 40 games. So many games, so litlle time…

  6. > If you were a keen console gamer at the end of the 1990s, the chances are you lusted after a Sega Dreamcast.
    > Everyone was talking about the upcoming Sony Playstation 2

    So everyone lusted after the Dreamcast secretly while openly talking about the PS2?

    Clearly we remember the late 90s very differently.

    I remember a friend bought a Dreamcast. Sonic and Crazy Taxi were the two big games and some weird Tomogachi thing that plugged into the controller. Everyone looked it over with curiosity, no one asked to play it. The Dreamcast, much like the Jaguar, was of little interest to anyone. It had some unusual features that were “interesting” but none of it was at all compelling.

    1. Mr Peter , the Dreamcast was (and is) a fantastic console in all ways. The Ps2 was not that much better (if any at all tbh) and it will never make any sense to me why so many gamers choosed it before the Dreamcast.

      Sure , it had a massive ad campaign and what i think was a big win win the console read the popular dvd format. But check out the library to thé dreamcast , skies of arcadia , f355 challange , metropolis street racer, powerstone 2 , soul calibur , jet set radio , Shenmue (that still is imho probably the best game ever made) i can go on and on here, all the odd games like seaman , rez , space channe 5 , samba de amigo etc.

      The Dreamcast was segas biggest failure and ironically at the same time probably the best console they have done.

      Ps: sorry for my bad english, im from sweden

      Ps2 vs Dreamcast compairsion (translated from swedish to english via google):

      1. I’m from Sweden aswell and you are right, the DS is a more enjoyable console than the PS.
        Much so because of it’s powerVR graphipcs being the same as in their arcade machines.

        But Sony at that time had more resources to market the playstation and Sega could not hold up against that.

        Sad but true.

    2. I really liked that you could pick your plays on the mem unit screen during football iirc. It kept your buddy from being able to guess which play you were using way better than both staring at the screen list. I always thought that was a nice feature.

  7. The Saturn was a flop because Sega didn’t get everything ready well in advance. Development kits were late and. Sega did not insist that most games had to use both CPUs and both GPUs so many games only use half the power of the console.
    Saturn was also crippled by Sega getting the #1 intro spot at CES that year. After giving a presentation about all the technical gee-wizardry, the presenter ended with the price of $299.

    Sony cannily chose the #2 spot to present their PlayStation. Their guy led off with the price – $199. Probably had orders to undercut Sega by $100 no matter what. Less complex, less capable but cheaper and easier to write games for, and better developer support before release than Saturn.

    For the Dreamcast, Sega worked hard on not repeating the errors they’d made between the height of their Nintendo crushing Genesis and the dismal sales of the Saturn. No more spreading thin with multiple systems. Developers would have completely functional development systems in advance so they would have games ready at launch time. IIRC they even had a competitive price. However, the online service wasn’t ready for launch, prompting some companies to remove online multiplayer from their games. One of them was Armada. Dreamcast also didn’t have DVD playing capability like the Playstation 2 was announced to have. Sega’s losses didn’t leave them with the budget to buy the (then) expensive DVD drive assemblies so they had to come up with a way to squeeze a gigabyte onto a disc using standard CD technology.

    Every i dotted and t crossed, ready for a successful console release. Then Sega whips out a 12 gauge and blows off both feet by declaring the Dreamcast would be their last console. Nothing works as well to ensure defeat as saying “We quit!” right after the starting pistol is fired.

    Sega also reported numbers of Dreamcasts shipped to stores as “sales” while Sony and Nintendo were counting “sell-through”, units bought by customers.

    Did Irving Bromberg, James Humpert, Martin Bromley and David Rosen live to see the foundering of the company they founded?

    1. It’s not just that the dvd assemblies were expensive, it’s the dvd tech licensing costs that were too high. That’s why even Xbox skipped dvd playback and let the users pay for for the dvd license by tying it to the dvd remote dongle. Wii completely ignored dvd playback all together. But, yeah, dvd was part of the failure. The web service not being ready was another reason. Lacking launch line up yet another.

  8. I really enjoyed the Dreamcast. It was a great machine. Had it had a DVD drive and Sony’s marketing machine it probably would have had an easier time competing against the PS2. Graphics-wise it certainly didn’t suck and the controllers were decent. The analog triggers were a nice touch. There were quite a few good games released for it. It absolutely STOMPED the original PlayStation.

    Was a lot of fun. I had the kb/mouse adapter, VGA adapter and BBA eventually. With VGA the graphics were quite nice. The Web Browser was usable in the late 90’s and online gaming at the time was a pretty killer feature but most non-nerds couldn’t spell Internet at that point. The web had gained a lot of steam but there was still a sizeable portion of the populous without net access.

    One major draw to the PS2 was DVD players were still pretty pricey at that point so a nice game console people could watch DVD’s on was actually a pretty big selling point. If it weren’t for the PS3, I don’t think BluRay would have had as easy of a time catching on either.

  9. I have three of these complete systems and still love it! It was also one of the easiest systems ever to “hack” to play copied discs. Not that I would ever do that, of course….

    1. It required zero modifications to the Dreamcast, and was almost as easy burning regular CDs. As I recall all you needed was a plugin for CD burning software to support the non standard disc image. I always thought this was why Dreamcast lost to ps2, at least I’m sure it didn’t help.

  10. I used crunch linux in an virtual box connected with a modem on and line simulator to play PSO about two years ago…the line simulator is still sitting on the shelf…but actually I have 2 of the BBA, one from the U.S. and the later model from Japan that works with all of the software…pretty cool…would actually be easy these days to run a batch of clones…dirty pcbs…

  11. PowerVR, now there was something that did good affordable graphics for the time period. Problem is NEC left those who bought into it for their PCs kind of in a limbo as it devoted resources for the next iteration.

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