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Sega Dreamcast : 20th Anniversary

 It has been 20 years since the European launch of SEGA's Dreamcast. It is hard to imagine a world where adults of today never saw a SEGA console launch. The Dreamcast was the final foray into the console market before the company readjusted itself to become one of the biggest third-party, triple-A developers in the world. But how did one of the most iconic console manufacturers bow out of creating hardware, and what has been the lasting impact of their last effort?

The context of the Dreamcast's "failure" has been documented numerous times and to further detail than this article intends to go into. In a nutshell, SEGA's business errors across a number of years, circa 1991-1998, caused a catalogue of problems which diminished any trust, value, and favour that it had so eloquently built up with the Mega Drive/Genesis. On one side there was corporate greed, to continually release add-on peripherals at high prices, and on the other side there were two fractioning headquarters in SEGA of America and SEGA of Japan, both with different ideas on how proceedings should be rolled out. Between 1993 and 1995, SEGA released the following ill-fated devices in Europe: Mega CD, 32X, and the SEGA Saturn.
 
The Mega CD and 32X were add-ons to the Mega Drive which allowed users to play more powerful games, but unfortunately neither device was particularly well supported, and served as a stop gap until the SEGA Saturn released. Unfortunately, that didn't fare much better (other than in Japan), with a hefty price tag and a shock release that took the industry by surprise. During these years SEGA had diminished trust within the market place who couldn't quite trust what SEGA were planning to do next, and what system to develop for. Competition from Sony, Nintendo, and even Atari, rushed SEGA into constantly releasing products with little thought or support. To rectify this, SEGA pulled together the Dreamcast and planned out its launch with much greater organisation in the hope that it would help win back the trust and support that they had lost in the years prior.

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The Dreamcast itself was gaming innovation at its best. It was prepared for the looming millennium, and was incredibly advanced for the time, even besting many games available on PC. Gamers of today know of consoles where terms such as 4K and HDR are thrown around to accentuate the power and visual quality delivered by behemoths such as the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro. The lexicon in '90s specified on one thing; bits, which incidentally mean something completely different in the millennial language of today. Nonetheless this was a time where bits mattered, thus marketing departments everywhere played up on the bits, just like camera manufacturers bragging about the number of mega pixels. Therefore, in comparison the Dreamcast was ahead of the aptly named 1996 released Nintendo 64, and Sony's vastly successful, but ageing, PlayStation, which only had 32 bits. The Dreamcast was touted as the first of the 128-bit generation that boasted an inbuilt modem designed for online play, four controller ports, VGA output and an innovative interactive memory card, known as a Visual Memory Unit (VMU).
 
The controller bore similarities to the SEGA Saturn's 3D pad but SEGA threw in a few modifications to make it more ergonomic, including moving the face buttons to a diamond formation, popularised by the Super Nintendo and PlayStation. Like the Saturn's 3D pad the analogue triggers were kept in but the middle of the controller now had an empty gap which housed two available ports, commonly used for the VMU and vibration packs. The Dreamcast's controller was far from comfortable, it just didn't sit in the hands anywhere near as comfortably as the PlayStation controller but it was its uniqueness that has somewhat cemented its fervent popularity to this day.
 
The Dreamcast itself is probably one of the best-looking consoles of all time - it is slim and sleek in its design. It is pretty light in weight, considering that it houses a disc drive and that it was one of the only consoles of its time that didn't have an external power AC brick adapter. It is well branded, sporting a SEGA logo next to the controller ports, and a Dreamcast logo on the top part of the base. While there are other special edition colours available, the Dreamcast was mainly sold as a white/grey colour scheme which looked more aesthetically pleasing than the murky grey of the PlayStation.

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The Japanese Dreamcast launch went terribly, hampered by production issues that caused low levels of finalised units ready for days. Furthermore, planned launch window games were pushed back significantly, meaning only four titles were on sale, the stand out title being the very popular arcade hit, Virtual Fighter 3tb. The Dreamcast shifted one million units in six months in Japan, and that figure was achieved in just 11 weeks in the US, largely thanks to a big budget marketing campaign focused on the launch date of 9/9/99.
 
Gamers of today often complain about having to wait days or even hours for the latest gaming release - gamers in the '90s often had to wait notoriously long for localised releases. After all, who can forget the three year wait Europeans had to endure for Super Mario Bros 3. The Dreamcast was no different, in fact the Dreamcast's European launch was pushed back several months on the excuse that SEGA had to still negotiate the online infrastructure with European telecoms companies. The advantage of the delay was that Europeans had an army of titles ready for the system on day 1. That is why on 14 October 1999 the European launch of the Dreamcast has amassed a stellar line up of titles spearheaded by Sonic Adventure, Power Stone and Blue Stinger, albeit nearly a year after the Japanese launch.
 
The UK was a stronghold for SEGA, which it had notoriously been seen as one of the biggest gaming markets in the world. A large marketing budget was dedicated towards the launch of the system across the country, which saw a number of events happening across London to promote the new system, SEGA even went as far to sponsor football teams across the continent including Arsenal which had varying kits promoting SEGA and the Dreamcast. European sales saw it hit the one million mark after approximately six months on the market, matching a similar pace set by Japan.

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Despite great initial sales, including the fastest selling console launch of all time, SEGA's woeful financial situation meant it needed to keep up the incredible pace it set or face being wound up - this may have been achievable had Sony not compounded their problems even further. The impending threat of the PlayStation 2 loomed over SEGA bigger than the human population thinking that the Y2K bug would destroy the world. Further problems were added when SEGA's proprietary format, the GD ROM, ended up being one of the easiest consoles to pirate games for, which definitely took a chunk of change outside of SEGAs pocket.


Considered a commercial failure, the Dreamcast was decommissioned within a few years of its launch - those in the west saw a total of 13-16 months from launch to the official date where SEGA threw in the towel, January 1st, 2001. Despite this a large number of games were highly rated, a number of these were from the arcades where many titles used SEGA's Naomi hardware which had similarities to the basic system architecture found on the Dreamcast.  Nonetheless the Dreamcast built up a cult following during the few years it was officially on the market, so much so that many solo independent developers still continued to create games for the system through the homebrew community. In fact, a more recent renaissance for the Dreamcast has seen a number of unlicensed games come to the system in most recent years with others being developed into 2020 and maybe even beyond.

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 The brevity of the SEGA Dreamcast is hard-coded into gaming history. During its short-lived run it managed to sell just over nine million units, which was highly impressive even though the history books will remember the SEGA Saturn and the Wii U for selling more. SEGA's innovative approach to online gaming cannot be overlooked, as they helped popularise the online console scene with hits such as Phantasy Star Online. Market conditions were really not on SEGA's side, which forced its hand to shrink operations, and this could be a contributing factor to why the Dreamcast is so cherished, as it bowed out far before its time. It never really stood toe to toe with the rest competition of the sixth generation, as Nintendo, and newcomer Microsoft hadn't even released its machines before SEGA closed the doors on its own. Despite its shortcomings, the SEGA Dreamcast had a lot to offer, and any true gamer should ensure that they find an opportunity to play one now - yes, even in 2019!

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INSiGHT: MCM Scotland - Cosplay and More

MCM Comic Con Scotland has first been launched on the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in 2013. Since then, every year this big event has attracted fans from all over Scotland. This year was no exception. The SEC provides an ideal venue for this kind of event. Providing not only a large and accessible space, toilets are available at key points. Additionally, when leaving the expo itself, there are spaces to stand inside (in case of rain), or if the weather allows it to meet with friends outside as well. The SEC can be reached by train (with a little bit of walking), but also provides a large multi-storey carpark (which will charge you, naturally). 

MCM Comic Con Scotland offered a variety of events. Panels about videogaming or cosplay, workshops, and opportunities to meet celebrities are only a few among them. 

PlayStation VR Experience 

Video games need to be part of this kind of event. Disappointingly, something like a gaming corner was missing. It would have been amazing to have a corner dedicated to this, in which people could try their hands at some Wii, Switch, and PlayStation titles. Luckily, visitors did not have to miss out entirely, because at least Sony was present and delivered a VR game experience. Visitors could choose one out of six VR games and give it a go. This was free of charge, and an amazing idea for people wanting to try their hands on a VR experience for the first time or simply indecisive of whether or not acquiring a VR set is worth it. Getting the chance to trying out Beat Saber on VR was amazing. While it's a simple deal, the feeling it provides is great. Published by Beat Games, players use two motion controllers to slash cubes in the rhythm to the music. Arrows on the cubes indicate in which direction the cubes need to be sliced. The left controller is a red laser, and the right one a blue laser. Cubes are also coloured either red or blue and the player needs to slice each cube with the same coloured laser. 

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LillySwifty playing Beatsaber

Although this kind of game would totally work without VR, the 3D environment adds to the experience immensely. Cubes come rushing towards the player, making it even more important to slash them on time! The controls are incredibly responsive, which made it a real pleasure to play. The game comes in different difficulty settings as well, so people who wish so can challenge themselves. Only the music choice could be better. 

The PlayStation VR headset is comfortable to wear and wearing glasses with it is no problem at all. That was a pleasant surprise, as it may worry people with glasses. The headset can easily be adjusted for different head sizes, and once fully adjusted the picture is very clear. The only downside is that one can get really quite warm, and sweaty, underneath the headset. Especially when playing games that require quite a bit of motion, this can become uncomfortable. 

The setup of the experience was very interesting. PlayStation had set up different cabins in which players could try their chosen title. People could watch from the outside to get an idea of what was going on. Unfortunately, there was no information available about it prior to the event. The MCM website did not update the information about the VR experience before MCM started, which made it difficult to plan. It was necessary to queue at the PlayStation stall in order to receive a timeslot to try out one of the games. This was not made clear in advance, and many people missed out on the chance to try it. This was very disappointing, as a good portion of luck was necessary to get one of the highly demanded timeslots! 

Cosplay 

MCM Comic Con Scotland made an effort to attract cosplayers. Next to cosplay competition and catwalk, the event offered cosplay themed panels and workshops. In addition, there were changing rooms for cosplayers, bag drops for cosplayer with a lot of luggage and a repair desk for cosplayers in need of fixing a broken part of their costume. Plenty of people were cosplaying. Everything from comics, over TV shows and Anime to videogame characters was represented. Be it Leon from Resident Evil, Natsu and Lucy from Fairy Tail, or Liv from iZombie, a grand variety of characters could be observed taking photographs, shopping or visiting workshops. 

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Akutagawa (groundzero_cos), Chuuya (aust.cos) and Zant (lee_myster_)

Unfortunately, the variety of workshops was limited. While working with Artyfakes (to make cosplay swords or shields) surely was quite interesting, this was about it. Interesting for cosplayers could have been workshops such as working with different materials, wig styling or make-up. Additionally, spaces for workshops were limited. Guests had to sign up for a workshop, however that did not mean that they could attend it. Firstly, they had to be chosen, and would be notified via e-mail if that was the case. Participants were selected on a first come first serve basis, but the website sign-up form gave no information about whether or not a workshop had already been fully booked. Additionally, people that were not chosen did not receive an e-mail at all. This meant that up until the time of the actual workshop people had to check their e-mails to ensure they really had not been chosen, which was quite annoying. This was especially annoying since MCM had a strict policy that if someone that was chosen and could not attend failed to communicate this in time (which was not specified, so who knows what was expected), would be unable to attend any other workshops at future events. All in all, this was a very disappointing choice of system. 

Stalls, Food and Everything Else 

As expected, there was no shortage of stalls selling everything from merchandise, over DVDs to artwork. Unfortunately, the full program was not available before the day. This made planning for the day not easy. A program could have easily been released a couple of days in advance in form of a PDF. Especially since there is such a wide variety of possibilities, different stages with different programs and different workshops, planning a couple of days in advance would have made a visit a lot smoother. 

Once one has walked around stalls, attended panels or workshops, and possibly met up with celebrities, one or another may become hungry. One of the downsides of the SEC is its location in the sense of food outlets. Catering within the SEC is available but limited. There is nothing particularly close by either. This is disappointing but by knowing this in advance it is possible to bring own lunch. 

Other workshops and panels included comic related themes, such as how to make a character and similar things. However, what was missing were more game related workshops. Granted, there was one such workshop, yet that was geared towards improving a university application. What would have been interesting, is a workshop in which guests could try their hands on videogame character design. That could have been a great opportunity for people unsure if they were interested in such a thing. 

With famous voice actors present for photographs and autographs, there was another missed opportunity for workshops. A voice acting workshop would have been absolutely amazing and can be a lot of fun. Of course, one could argue that the prices for autographs and photographs were a little high, but a true fan will still be happy to pay. 

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Connor (CookehMuffinz), Alice (Kirstycameron150) and Peach (amytay555)

Something very enjoyable for families with children is that MCM Comic Con Scotland caters for them. In their Tree House, families can enjoy a break from all the busy hustle of the big hall. They can sit down, relax, and children can get the chance to colour or play with toys provided. Amazingly, free face painting and glitter tattoos were also offered. Not only children could enjoy this free service, but also adults. Two very talented make-up artists drew everything one could ask for. All they needed was a picture of what people wanted and they did an amazing job of magically transforming their faces. Everything was possible, from Spiderman to bloody wounds or cats. With everybody welcome, that was a great experience. 

CONCLUSION 

MCM Comic Con Scotland is a big event, with great stalls and opportunities. While it is understandable that organising such an event can be hard, it was disappointingly disorganised. However, it also provided a lot of fun, and searching for merchandise is always exciting. Some more interactive opportunities could make this event even greater. 

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INSiGHT: NEO Magazine: Issue 190 (Review)

As we hit the middle of 2019, and the sweltering heat that comes with it, NEO Issue 190 offers a host of content to wipe off those brows, and hang out in the shade with. The primary attraction this time being an interview with the director behind the Kakeguri series, Yuichiro Hayashi; his inspirations, choosing the right animation studio for the job, and the differences he sees between Manga and its bigger-screen adaptations. A handy Watcher's guide for the netflix-hosted Neon Genesis Evangelion is an essential read for the curious, detailing key highlights and expectations for the polarizing legendary series. 

Rising from the ashes of E3 2019 comes a handy recap of the most interesting fantasy-influenced games, including Code Vein, Tales of Arise, the remaster of Ni No Kuni 1 and the ambitious Elden Ring; straight from the mind behind Dark Souls and the Author of the Game of Thrones books. The Nintendo focus is with two reviews and a manga featurette. Both the creative behemoth Super Mario Maker 2 and indie crossover Cadence of Hyrule are put to the test, and continuing the Zelda influence is an interview with artist Akira Himekawa on adapting Nintendo's acclaimed series into graphic novel form. 

A quick look into Japanese lifestyle yields interesting details on their food and drink options, namely the envious number of Kit Kat flavour options available to them, and the coincidental sound-alike the name has in their native language, and the types of alcoholic destinations open to local and foreigner alike. 

After a good number of Anime features and reviews, including, but not limited to Attack on Titan, Sarazanmai, and Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, we have a Manga Extract highlight featuring Parallel Worlds; a striking and uniquely-styled alternate Earths tale. One for the ladies this month in the Manga Snapshot article with Monthly Cheese, a periodical collections of arts geared towards teenage love and relationships. For these features and many more, NEO Issue 190 is on sale now from all good retailers and vendors. 

INSiGHT: MCM Scotland - Gaming

MCM Comicon is an event that takes place across the UK, with each iteration featuring its own mix of events. With a multitude of stalls and themes including a Cosplay stage, famous visitors, YouTubers, and independent comic authors, it caters to the whole "geek" spectrum. Cubed3 had the privilege of attending the Glasgow hosted MCM, and is excited to share the experience. 

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LillySwifty and Sandy at MCM Scotland

MCM Scotland is always a blast; each year offering a new experience for fans from all fandoms... well, most fandoms. This year the organisers went all out and brought in some fantastic guests, and provided a great platform for budding and successful content creators. Comicon is hosted all over the UK over the course of the year and usually runs from Friday through Sunday. 

Upon arriving at the SEC and having a bit of a run around about where to get passes, which hadn't been printed due to a machine malfunction, it was time to make a beeline to one of MCM's staple visitors - Mr Tomska of YouTube fame, the creator of the ASDF, movies and many other popular sketches. After a short wait and some lending of a sharpie for signatures, the turn came and we had the chance to ask him a couple of videogame related questions. This mini, improvised interview was fun to conduct and Tomska is always "vewy nice" to chat with. When asked about his current favourite game he had these comments: 

"My current favourite game is definitely Red Dead Redemption 2, and though I have completed it 100% I am holding out for a single-player expansion to sink more time into it." when asked the follow-up question of how long did it take to 100% the game he replied "About 9 months." 

...Which is a quite respectable time frame considering his content outputs including the release of their new board game on the horizon. 

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Tomska (Centre), LillySwifty (Left) and Sandy (Right)

After this, it was time to explore the main hall. With a quick stop at the 'All the Anime' stall to pick up some of the last stock of many series they released such as Full Metal Alchemist and Erased, which are both worth a watch for any anime fan. Many of these stalls from big publishers will sell the articles at a discount at MCM, so it's well worth combing their wares! Even Sony made an appearance with PS VR on display. Using timeslots, visitors were allowed to pick from a list of games including the new Ironman VR, and others such as BeatSaber and Truth and Blood. Deciding to roll with Truth and Blood it was time to explore further into the hall while waiting for that time. 

This year MCM featured a dedicated cosplay stage, which was very much to my colleague's liking, as well as running a few workshops. These workshops were mostly about building cosplay objects, but they did also run one about becoming a videogame environmental artist. This workshop was focussed on what to generate to make a good portfolio as well as the expectations of the industry on artists who design environments. Unfortunately, these workshops had limited spaces with a system that only confirms spaces but doesn't let visitors know, there isn't space on the workshop which led to a little confusion. 

It was incredibly disappointing to find that the gaming scene was almost non-existent in Glasgow this year, with no publishers showing their upcoming titles, and, though advertised on the website, no sideQuest game corner to be found. The main gaming info was provided purely through guests and PlayStation's VR offering. That said, they played host to a spectacular cast of stars this year including Nolan North, Troy Baker and Charles Martinet all of whom were selling signatures and photo opportunities, which were disappointingly expensive with the lowest prices being around £25 and the highest being £55. Unfortunately for this reviewer, it means there was no chance to hear a personalised 'Wahoo' from Mr Mario himself. The main stage also ran an event with Troy and Nolan about video games which unfortunately conflicted with the PSVR time slot but was most likely incredible to experience! 

Upon arriving at the PSVR stand they had just had a person leave from the Blood and Truth setup, meaning there was not much waiting around to take a shot at it. While PSVR is quite old at this point it was great to try it out at this event further cementing personal feelings about buying it, namely that as soon as there is money available it will be thrown at a cashier in return for a PSVR headset. Blood and Truth is a great experience with some next-level responsiveness. It expands on the premise of the London Heist section of PS VR Worlds, and is so interactive it's scary! It has loads of accessibility features which were turned off for the duration of play in this instance, and aside from slight dizziness when moving the first few times, the experience was overwhelmingly positive. 

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Aiming via Blood and Truth's iron sights mechanic.

The final thing that was scheduled to happen was an interview with James MacKenzie of childrens' game show Raven, fame. However, communications fell apart and no confirmation of the interview was received at the convention itself meaning that until his PR contacted us we had no idea the interview was scheduled and so sadly it didn't happen. 

FINAL COMMENTS 

Though there were a few hiccups with the press pass organisation and interviews, it was a great experience with some fantastic opportunities to meet idols, spend at least two months of wages, and generally have a blast. MCM is a staple Con across all of the UK, and attracts droves of visitors each year. An essential event for people of all cultures. 

MCM Comicon could be near you next! Take a look at their schedule by following this link

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