October 1, 1999

Steve O'Leary Talks Launch and Technical Ability


Once again I have managed to grab a hold of OziSoft's Dreamcast Communications Manager, Stephen O'Leary to have a chat about the Dreamcast launch in Australia. With the launch now only 2 months away more details have emerged about the system and Steve was kind enough to provide some brilliant responses to the questions. On with the intervew then.

The SYSTEM

How will the Dreamcast be able to compete with the massive power of both the PSX2 and Dolphin? How can the Dreamcast compete with such systems?
Firstly let me point out that the Dreamcast and the Dolphin and PSX2 are aimed at totally different markets. Dreamcast will be available at September this year, and PSX2 and Dolphin look like they won't be available until 2001. Secondly, the Dreamcast will retail for $499 in Australia and New Zealand and when its competing systems are released the Dreamcast will be at a much more competitive and mainstream pricepoint.
In terms of hardware, Dreamcast features a "trump"card in the form of the Power VR chipset. It supports graphical features that no other 3D accelerator chip does today - even ones which have not been confirmed for the PSX2 and Dolphin. These include full scene anti aliasing, modifier volumes, translucency sorting and texture compression. Adding to this is the fact that the Power VR chip only displays or draws visible pixels.
In 3D worlds, consoles and computes draw polygons behind polygons (the wall behind a door in Turok, for example), but the Power VR only draws what is visible. In the case below, the Power VR chip would not draw the graphics behind the wall.

The end result is that the Power VR chip has to do less work to draw the above scene (A), even though traditional rendering chips would have to draw all of the visuals behind the wall in B.
As consoles start to draw more and more graphics, the Power VR chip actually becomes more and more powerful when compared to traditional renderers, as more and more scenery overlaps. In fact, Sega have developed demos for the Dreamcast that match the performance of the PSX2 in terms of filling the screen with 3D graphics - so powerful is the Power VR chipset. There will be cases in many games for the Dreamcast in the future, when the Power VR chipset could outperform the PSX2 and Dolphin while supporting more impressive visual effects.
There are also many more reasons why the Dreamcast will perform comparably to its rivals, like the technical shortfalls of the PSX2, for example. Many developers have cited that it has a small amount of main RAM, and a very small amount of video RAM (half that of the Dreamcasts). These shortfalls could see the console perform way below its expectations, where the Dreamcast as a console is a very well rounded and strong performing console.

Do you see the absence of a DVD drive as a disadvantage to the Dreamcast?
No. Sega did consider DVD as an option for the Dreamcast, but there were a few reasons why they chose the GD ROM (Gigabyte Read Only Memory). These most probably are:
1. Cost. DVD players are quite expensive and the Dreamcast's price would have been raised significantly if the console were to have a DVD ROM drive.
2. Speed. A single speed DVD ROM is actually slower than the Dreamcast's GD ROM, and would take longer to load games into RAM.
3. Space. No game at the moment really uses up more than 500MB of data. FMV is the only real reason why some games approach the limit of CD's size, and the Dreamcast's 1 000MB CD is large enough to store any game for the console.
4. Piracy. DVD Burners are already available on the consumer market and come 2001 their price will be very affordable. Sony may find themselves in a similar situation to what they do now with regards to piracy with the PSX2. The GD ROM in the Dreamcast is exclusive to Sega, and so far no-one has managed to replicate the console's discs.
As no games really require a DVD sized disc, the inclusion of a DVD ROM was really impractical for the Dreamcast, and would have raised the cost of the console, especially at the expense of those who would never use the console to play DVD movies.

Will the controller be modified at all from the Japanese model?
No, the controller will be essentially the same as the Japanese version.

SOE have asked developers to include a 60Hz mode in the PAL game can you explain what effect this will have on a game?
Most games are actually developed in Japan (duh!) and in Japan the standard colour system that is used on televisions is called NTSC. NTSC is displayed at 60 Hz ( fields or frames per second), and is displayed over 525 horizontal lines on the TV. PAL, the colour system used in Australia, is displayed at 50Hz and at 625 lines. Now, when you take a game that is programmed for the NTSC system and display it on a PAL system you end up having the game run 17.4% slower (10 divided by 60, as the game will be running 10 fields slower). There are also black borders top and bottom of the screen (as you are displaying a 525 line image on a 625 line screen). Some PAL TVs actually have the ability to display a 60Hz signal, and Sega have recognised this and urged developers to put a 60Hz switch in the software that will allow the games to run exactly like they were programmed to do on the NTSC systems. This is an excellent incentive from Sega for gamers in the PAL territories!

How will the 60Hz mode affect online play with someone using a 50Hz mode? Won't the games get out of sync?
Theoretically, there should be some sort of sync problem between games running at 50 and 60 Hz, but in actual fact there should be no problem at all. Just like PCs, consoles will be able to link together over the net even when they are not running at the same Hz rate. PC gamers often challenge other gamers who have faster consoles (and therefore different Hz speeds) to games without any lag problems at all.

Are there any plans for a mouse on the Dreamcast?
Not at this stage. The controller's analogue pad is used to move the pointer around the screen and it's actually very functional for the browser. A mouse peripheral could be released at any time though, as drivers for it would just need to be included in the disc software.

The BUILD UP

When will the advertisements begin in Australia?
Very soon. Filming has almost finished for the ads and they will be shown nationally soon!

Where will we see these advertisements?
They will be shown on TV, film, as well as print media.

Will the Australian advertisements be based on Japanese commercials or will they be brand new?
They will all be totally brand new. We have our own company working on them to localise the ideas and make the ads relevant, entertaining and appealing to people in Australia and New Zealand.

Do you intend to market / advertise the Dreamcast more aggressively than the Saturn?
Very much so. The Dreamcast is the world's most powerful games console and has more top quality games coming to it than any console ever has in the past. We will go full out to promote the console, its great games and Internet ability across Australia and New Zealand.

How do the marketing budgets compare between the Saturn and Dreamcast?
OziSoft are spending many times the amount of money that was spent on the Dreamcast launch in Australia and New Zealand. Although I can't quote figures, rest assured that it will be a kick-ass launch!

When will the playable demo machines begin to appear in stores?
Demo units are already available at Electronics Boutique stores across Australia, but Visual Display Units will be available just before launch so you can get your hands on an arcade-style Dreamcast unit.

What game(s) will appear with the demo units?
Virtua Fighter 3, Sonic and Sega Rally 2. Other games will be made available in the units after the console's launch.

Will there be any special events or Dreamcast displays at Sega World in Sydney?
We are working with Sega World on some projects in the near future. Stay tuned.

Will we be able to pre-order the system through major retailers such as K-Mart and BIG W?
That really depends on the retailer. We like to have pre-orders, but in the end it's a retailer initiative. Most of the gamer-based retailers, like Electronics Boutique and Games Wizards, are starting their own pre-sale schemes that are already proving very effective. The console looks so darn good that it walks off the shelf.

Will there be any special deals or bonuses if the system is pre-ordered?
Again, that's up to the retailers. We are supporting them actively, as the retailers in Australia and New Zealand are incredibly keen to support the Dreamcast.

Will there be a rental scheme in Australia similar to that at Hollywood Video in the States?
Rental details have yet to be finalised, but the console will not be available for rent before the launch of the system.

Thank you very much for you time....
David Warner ~ Dreamcast Australia


Well I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I did in conducting it. If you have any comments or questions E-mail me at : phantom@winshop.com.au