So I’ve been thinking recently about the Dreamcast, thanks to the 20th anniversary celebrations, and wondered: What would have happened if the Dreamcast didn’t die. Could it have kept up with the other next gen machines, and if so, for how long?
I’ve been having some discussions about this from both Sega and Sony fans, and figured it’ll be fun to talk about it here.
Now at first glance, looking at the specs of both machines, the PS2 looks almost better in every way.
Also looking at the polygon counts:
See? 75 Million vs 5 million. It’s an open and shut case! The PS2 absolutely blew the Dreamcast out of the water, right? Well, not quite.
How about for the sake of completion, what the polygon counts of the Gamecube and the Xbox.
Hmm, something seems off here, right? Apparently, the PS2 is almost 7 times as powerful as the Gamecube…
That’s because the PS2 and Xbox numbers are innacurate. In short, they didn’t actually test the systems, just made estimates. I’ll quote the PDF itself to explain in more detail.
We’re unable to accurately compare the specifications for the below consoles because the method the companies used to measure performance are so different. Sony and Microsoft’s numbers are unrealistic and denote the raw (read: not real) performance of their respective systems, while Nintendo’s and Sega’s numbers are based on real performance during gameplay. With that said, the figures you see are just smoke and numbers. We refer you to compare the actual games.
Here’s the full version of the chart above:
GameCube: 6 to 12 million polygons per second (conservative, but realistic estimate)
PlayStation 2: 75 million polygons per second (realistically first-gen games are more like 3-5 million)
Xbox: 150 million polygons per second (does not consider real gameplay environments)
Dreamcast: Roughly 3 million polygons per second
You’ll find similar numbers all across the internet, this PDF was just a nice concise way of displaying them.
Fun fact, the record for the highest polygon count of the generation actually belongs to the a Gamecube game: Star Wars Rogue Squadron II, which is rendered at 20 million polygons a second!
Anyway, I noticed something interesting here, the PS2’s launch titles shown that the PS2 was capable of 5 million a second, only marginally more powerful than the Dreamcast. In fact you had Dreamcast games also pushing 5 million a second by 2000. Le Mans 24 Hours, or Test Drive Le Mans in America, was one of them.
The Dreamcast was also far better at teaxturs than the PS2, with double the VRAM, and in general, could pack in about as 4 times the textures as the PS2, at least with PS2 games until 2003.
So we’ve established that, at least when the PS2 launched, both systems were roughly as good as one another, but that isn’t the main focus of this article, is it? The article is about if the Dreamcast could have survived beyond that.
It’s fair to assume that because the numbers on the PS2 specs are much higher, the Dreamcast would lag behind, and I would certainly agree that eventually that would happen, but I think the first few years would have been a totally different story.
If anyone studying gaming history would have figured out, is that specs aren’t everything. No point in having all of that power if developers can’t access it, right?
If you compared the 3DO to the Jaguar, the Jaguar looks to be the more powerful system, but games looked better on the 3DO. You’ll also see this with the PS1 vs Saturn, and Xbox 360 vs PS3. That’s because the former systems were far easier to develop for, so developers could push more out of them.
As it turns out, we see a similar case here. The PS2 was reported to be frustrating to program for, while the Dreamcast was pish easy. If both systems were given equal attention and games were developed for both, this would have given the Dreamcast the advantage.
Focusing on Xbox 360 vs PS3, we see a similar scenario. PS3 is more powerful, but hard as nails to program for. (I don’t think the PS2 is quite as difficult, but still)
As a result, I’d say up until 2010, multiplatform games were better on Xbox 360, they fan faster and looked clearer. Developers such as Gabe Newel even ranted about how frustrating the PS3 was to work with!
I can imagine the same happening to these 2 systems. I mean it took your average 3rd party PS2 game until like 2004 to finally outdo what the Dreamcast could have done.
So what about the games that were available on both systems? Well, they seem to support my theory. Dead or Alive 2 looks better on the Dreamcast. The only thing the PS2 has going for it is that the cutscenes are 60fps, vs 30 on the Dreamcast.
Rayman 2 is a game that, in my opinion, is far better on Dreamcast. It runs at 60fps, and supports VGA and widescreen, The PS2 version is enhanced graphically, but only runs at 25fps and as far as I know, only supports an interlaced picture. (could be wrong, though). However, the PS2 has some enhancements that some players may prefer, and that’s totally fair. I just don’t think it was anything the Dreamcast could have also done.
With Quake 3, the Dreamcast version has superior texture quality and better effects such as shininess. Whereas the PS2 version allows more players and bots in a game.
There are examples of the PS2 outdoing the Dreamcast, though, such as NBA 2k2.
Unreal Tournament had unstable framerates on both, but the PS2 version was locked at 30fps, whereas Dreamcast could go up to 60fps.
Other games, such as Ready to Rumble Round 2 and NBA Hoopz, look absolutely idential on both.
So we can see that in general, both systems had their ups and downs, but it looked like Dreamcast versions had the upper hand most of the time.
Another thing to take into account is if the least powerful system is the most popular or at least relevant enough, multiplatform games will centre around that and just port to other machines. The Gamecube and Xbox were never pushed to their limits because of this.
So how do I think the Dreamcast would have faired? I hear nobody ask.
Well, I think in the early 2000s, the Dreamcast would have had better versions of games, though inferior to the Gamecube and Xbox. Then by, say 2004, it will hit a wall. Developers have pushed everything they could out of it, in which case, the PS2 would gradually overtake it.
By then, the PSP will have come out, which has similar specs to the Dreamcast in terms of what developers were allowed to use at the time. (It was only in 2010 where developers were allowed to fully utilise the PSPs power) So it would be likely that the Dreamcast would have then be receiving PSP ports at that point.
By then as well, it would have been likely that Sega will have also came up with a successor console anyway, so either way, it wouldn’t matter.
Anyway, I hope you guys had as much fun reading this as I did writing this. I might do more articles like this in the future.
Untill then, A’m oot!