The Dreamcast is a must have system for techno-lusting hardware fetishists everywhere, providing home to a wide range of fascinating peripherals. It is remarkable given Sega's financial difficulties that the company released so many weird and wonderful devices for a machine that could make or break them . Most of this hardware was available within the first twelve months of the Dreamcast's launch, fighting for the attention of gamers (and their money) from the outset.
What follows is a near-exhaustive run down of the most brilliant, most bizarre, and most desirable peripherals available during the Dreamcast's short lifetime... and some of the bad ones, too.
The Japan-only Twin Stick is a controller designed for a single game, and it is only the quality of mecha fighting game Cyber Troopers Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram that makes this peripheral so enticing. It may be something of a cliché, but to get the most out of Virtual On you really do need this controller. Closely resembling its arcade counterpart, the Twin Stick features two pleasingly loose micro-switched sticks complete with top and trigger buttons. After having their fingers burnt building too many Saturn Virtual On controllers, Sega only made two small production runs of the Dreamcast Twin Stick, making it hard to track one down today.
Once you've splashed out on a couple of Twin Sticks for your home Virtual On setup, the next step is a Link Cable and a second Dreamcast. Sadly very few games support the Link Cable, although Virtual On and Ferrari F355 make brilliant use of it. Other Link Cable games include Sega Tetris, Aero Dancing F and Aero Dancing i. Link Cable support was removed or hidden in western releases, as the cable was never officially made available outside of Japan.
Pop'n Music Controller
Closely resembling its Playstation counterpart, the Pop'n Music Controller is another game-specific controller, and a fairly unremarkable (if pretty) one at that. Unlike the arcade game, which features nice semi-spherical buttons with great clicky tactile feedback, this home version has loose, flappy buttons that give the player a very imprecise response. The Pop'n Music Controller could only be recommended to dedicated fans of this rhythm action series, and chances are those fans have already acquired the arcade-quality controller sold directly by Konami in Japan.
A superb piece of kit this, wasted by a launch that came too late to have any real impact. Sega did not have the foresight to include BBA support with earlier online titles, so gamers were somewhat surprised when' to begin with, Quake III and PSO were the only broadband games on offer. Making things worse the US release failed to include a compatible web browser, as it wasn't finished in time. Things slowly improved with both Unreal Tournament and Outtrigger supporting broadband, but by then it was too late to make the BBA anything more than a curiosity. Ultimately, the BBA only found a home with PSO players wanting to save on phone bills. To confuse things, a 'Lan Adaptor' had previously been released in Japan aimed at web browsing which, maddeningly, doesn't work with any BBA games. While the BBA provides 10/100Mbit ethernet, the Lan Adaptor is 10Mbit only and uses a different ethernet controller, which goes some way towards explaining its incompatibility. The BBA and Lan Adaptor have found some unexpected uses, as tools to upload homebrew software and network interfaces for the Dreamcast Linux port, making these devices all the more intriguing. It is interesting to note that the Dreamcast BBA still supports more games than the GameCube BBA does.
First released with the entertaining Seaman, Sega planned to add voice communications to many of their online titles. Alien Front Online was perhaps the most successful, but more interesting is the European-only release of the online game Planet Ring. Given away as a cover-mounted disk, Planet Ring was also sold in low numbers as a box set with the microphone. The game consists of several mini games, one of which is a co-operative maze game in which the first player has a full view of the maze and guides a second player by describing it to them. Curiously the in-game avatar is the cute little 3D mood indicator from Japanese ghost simulator Roommania #203.
Another device created with online in mind, no games ever supported the Dreameye. This box set includes a small digital camera with Dreamcast hookup cable, and a headset variant of the microphone. The pack-in software is rather cool, featuring video conferencing, email software used to send your pictures and a small paint package for touching-up photos using plug-ins licensed from Adobe Photoshop. The camera can operate by drawing power from the Dreamcast or from a plug-in battery pack, which allows you to take around twenty four 640x480 pictures on the move, then email them to your friends.
Dreamcast Karaoke (Drikara)
Perhaps the most unlikely device released for the Dreamcast, the Drikara unit allows you to download midi-like songs from Sega's Japanese online Karaoke service. The Drikara was designed to support both the BBA and the Dreameye, enabling you to download songs using broadband and beam the visage of your Karaoke singing onto a TV screen. The Karaoke unit has no internal storage, so once songs are downloaded they are lost when the machine is switched off. To use the Drikara you have to subscribe to the Sega Karaoke service (difficult for non-Japanese residents), because it cannot play audio CDs or Karaoke Video CDs. The Drikara does look cool in a clunky kind of way; the case design is based on the cancelled Zip Drive add-on.
The standard Dreamcast controller is an evolution of the analogue Saturn controller, which was designed primarily for NiGHTS. There are two VMU slots, the second of which also supports the Puru Puru rumble pack. Many games made use of the VMU display to give additional information during play, most memorably the heart monitor in Resident Evil: Code Veronica and a small 3D representation of the court in Virtua Tennis. There are a few niggles with the Dreamcast pad: the fin-like grips are uncomfortable and cramp-inducing for some people. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this controller is the cable exit pointing towards the player rather than towards the console - a baffling decision. The small cable grip underneath the VMU slots did little to fix this problem. The Dreamcast controller does boast a precise analogue stick, and pleasingly responsive analogue triggers. Later controllers were built in Indonesia, and have poorer quality plastic casing than their Japanese counter parts. Irritatingly, the coloured transparent versions were only available through Sega in Europe.
Ascii Pad FT
The Ascii Pad is a six button miniaturisation of the Dreamcast Arcade Stick, featuring a loose direction pad designed perfectly for fighting games. The inclusion of a VMU slot and built-in rumble make this an admirably well conceived bit of kit, which resembles the original six button Saturn controller. To commemorate the release of Capcom VS. SNK, two special editions of the Ascii Pad FT were released in Capcom and SNK colour schemes, complete with a set of character cards each. Ascii also went on to release FT pads for other consoles.
Continuing Sega's heritage of quality Arcade Sticks, this is a great piece of hardware. A big clunky case features a flush metal top panel, an excellent micro switched joystick, and six arcade buttons in the classic Street Fighter II layout. European Arcade Sticks have the logo printed in light grey, while Japanese and American Arcade Sticks have a larger, different logo printed in black. Ascii also released a licensed arcade stick for the Dreamcast - the Ascii Stick FT - although the Sega Arcade Stick remains favourite.
A very average, uninspiring steering wheel, the Race Controller is the least impressive of Sega's Dreamcast peripherals. With cheap, flimsy accelerate/decelerate paddles under the wheel, and a ridiculously over-sprung passive feedback system, this device is best avoided. Third party Dreamcast wheels are generally considered to be better.
A fairly standard PC Keyboard fitted with a Dreamcast microcontroller; the seminal Typing of the Dead game lifts this device from the hum-drum. Initially produced to support web browser software, the Dreamcast Keyboard found a new lease of life when Typing of the Dead was released. Visually re-treading light gun game House of the Dead 2, the player types words or phrases to vanquish the never-ending supply of undead filth, complete with adorable 3D Dreamcast/Keyboard in-game body pack. Two different Keyboard models were released in Japan, the first was similar to the Western edition but had no numeric keypad, and the second was based on a smaller laptop keyboard. A different Western version with a larger space bar was also produced as part of the SegaNet package in America.
Another also-ran, the Dreamcast Mouse suffered from poor software support and a release date that was simply too late. It doesn't help that Sega chose one of the cheapest third party mouse designs to rebrand, resulting in a Dreamcast Mouse that is nasty and plasticky, with terrible roller slip. The smaller, transparent mouse released in Japan addresses some of these problems, but the best option is to pick up a PS/2 adaptor for a few pounds, and use your favourite optical PC mouse instead. There are some mouse games that warrant your attention: Quake III and Outtrigger with a keyboard and mouse setup are very playable, but better still is the mouse support in Silent Scope and Rez.
Densha De Go! Controller
Another one-title controller, this one is definitely worth hunting for. The gear shift stick and speed lever are well constructed, and are essential parts of the Densha De Go! train driving experience. Its worth pointing out the circular indent at the top of the controller is for an old fashioned time piece, actually sold separately by Taito to go with the game.
VMU (VMS) and 4x Memory Card
The Dreamcast VMU gained a lot of interest prior to the console's launch, helped by Sega releasing the Godzilla VMU complete with playable mini game months before the machine itself. Not nearly enough games made use of the VMU's portable nature, but those that did are worth investigating - Skies of Arcadia's Pinta's Quest and Sonic Adventure's A-Life being the most notable.
Often overlooked is the ability to connect two VMUs together and exchange files or game data away from the Dreamcast, although this is not as useful as it might have been. It seems strange that Sony felt the need to release the Pocketstation as an answer to the VMU, and ironic that the Pocketstation has enjoyed more success than the VMU with more Playstation games supporting it. Released to coincide with PSO, Sega eventually produced a straight Memory Card, providing four times the amount of storage of the standard VMU (accessed as four separate sets of 200 blocks). PSO benefits especially from this as only one character can be saved to a single 200 block set, so the 4x Memory Card allows up to four characters to be saved. Sega were unfairly criticised for releasing the 4x Memory Card because a handful of early titles were incompatible with it, and third party memory cards with increased storage were already available. In all fairness, Sega should have been commended for following the lead of third party manufacturers, and providing people with what they wanted.
Nothing too remarkable about a Scart Cable, except that this was a European exclusive and RGB Scart is still the best way of connecting your Dreamcast to a TV. A favourite amongst video purists, the Dreamcast has one of the most vibrant RGB signals of any console. Unlike most consoles, the Dreamcast's RGB Scart Cable does not also carry a composite video signal, so that only RGB video is possible when using it. The Dreamcast is aware that an RGB cable is attached, which affects some games. A handful of Japanese titles including Pop'n Music and Vampire Chronicle will not work properly with an RGB cable, and a couple of European games will wrongly switch between 50 and 60Hz. Using a composite video or s-video cable with troublesome games fixes these accidental problems.
Compatible with Sega's Fishing series of games, this fun looking controller is actually a little disappointing to use. When casting, the strength of your throw makes no difference to the game, and without physical feedback it is difficult to judge what effect the rod has when landing a fish. The reel doesn't have any force feedback either, so line tension is only relayed to the player on-screen. Despite these complaints, the controller does add to the experience of virtual fishing, and is worth seeking out if you are a fan. Inexplicably, the Fishing Controller is designed for what would naturally be a left-handed angler. As an alternative, some third party controllers have a detachable reel that can be fitted either side of the rod.
The European version was only available online, although Australia received a pal box set with Sega Bass Fishing. Bizarrely, Soul Calibur also supports the Fishing Controller: by swinging the rod you are able to swing your weapon in-game. As you might expect, it doesn't work very well.
Dance Dance Revolution Controller
The Konami dance mats are decent quality, but fairly ordinary. Only Dance Dance Revolution 2nd Mix and Club Mix were released on the Dreamcast, making the small run of official controllers difficult to find. Cunningly hidden under the Konami logo is a special button, which can be used to access secret menus and options in both DDR games.
Ascii Mission Stick
An unwieldy looking controller, the Ascii Mission Stick replicates the standard Dreamcast controls in a strange layout designed for flight simulators, specifically the Aero Dancing series of games (Aero Wings in the West). The Mission Stick is satisfyingly large and heavy, with unusual analogue buttons on the left hand pod, and a flattened right hand pod that feels as if you are actually holding the plane in the air while playing. The bank of slide switches are used to configure the trigger buttons on the right pod, so that the controller can be setup for different games.
Puru Puru Pack (Jump Pack, Vibration Pack)
Its annoying that vibration wasn't built into the standard Dreamcast controller; as well as cutting costs, presumably this was done to allow a single controller to copy files between VMUs. Still, the Puru Puru Pack has a meaty rumble to it, and does a good job of weight balancing the controller.
An impressive lightgun, the Dreamcast Gun Controller features an innovative direction pad, and even works with computer monitors using the VGA Box. The VMU slot allows the Gun to utilise the Puru Puru Pack, which is used to great effect in House of the Dead 2. Not many light gun games exist, but House of the Dead 2 is genre defining, and Confidential Mission a hugely entertaining Bond-themed riff on Virtua Cop. The Death Crimson games should be avoided though, and Virtua Cop 2 is an uninspiring conversion of the Windows game running on WinCE. All Dreamcast peripherals are region free, but Sega light guns will not work with US light gun games (apart from Virtua Cop 2 in the Smash Pack). This was an intentional move on Sega's part, who were worried about bad press after the Columbine shootings. Instead, Mad Catz released an officially licensed light gun in America, which does work with Sega's US gun games.
Ah, the most extravagant Dreamcast peripheral is also the most enjoyable. The Samba De Amigo Maracas controller is still highly sought after today, with prices continually rising. The controller is able to track each maraca by using the kind of ultra sonic sensors you would find in a car alarm, one on each maraca and two in the base unit. Only two Samba games were released - the original and the Japanese only ver. 2000 upgrade - but both reach gaming perfection. A cautious Sega released only limited quantities of Samba De Amigo, including a European set which sold out almost immediately. There was an arcade sequel of sorts in Shakkato Tambourine, which (you guessed it) replaced the maracas with a tambourine. Sadly a Dreamcast version never happened, but it did appear as Mini Moni: Shakkato Tambourine! Dapyon! on the Playstation 1, featuring a controller heavily based on the Dreamcast Samba maracas.
While Japan and Europe were happy with 33.6Kbit, the US Dreamcast was released with a 56Kbit modem. Not that it made much difference to online games. Asian Dreamcasts sold outside of Japan didn't include a modem at all, and have a strange blanking device fitted instead.
A much loved device, the VGA Box gives you a spankingly crisp 640x480 non-interlaced display at 60Hz on a VGA monitor, comparable to the 480p progressive modes available on later consoles. However, the Dreamcast remains the only console to have a system menu that supports progressive scan, and so is still the most VGA monitor friendly (VGA monitors do not normally support interlaced TV type video signals). The Dreamcast also has a very high proportion of titles that support VGA mode, and Psyvariar 2 played on a VGA monitor rotated 90 degrees is a wonderful thing to behold.
There are still more devices out there to be discovered, including the Lan Adaptor, Neo Geo Pocket Color link cable, Divers 2000 TV plus Dreamcast combined, an unofficial Para Para Paradise game and controller, and the Ascii Stick FT. That is before we even begin to look at the many, many limited edition Dreamcast consoles produced in a myriad of different colours. A hardware fetishist's work is never done...
A feature by Richard Davies