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From PSO to Far Nation and Anarchy Online, is the Dreamcast a console for MMO ?

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

The online function on Dreamcast was revolutionary. We remember the first DLC that appeared on this console like the European Sonic Speed Challenge sponsored by Rebook that was played on Sonic Adventure. Sega was betting a lot on this feature by putting it in the foreground, besides the famous slogan "Up to 6 billion players" is not foreign to it.

The release of Phantasy Star Online and its Addon (PSO v2) proved that the White Queen could host massively multiplayer games. PSO had seduced a lot of players around the world. Some saw their phone bill explode because of it.

Let's put it in context: to play online, we used to pay a per-minute connection fee, like a standard phone call. The Internet was just starting to arrive in the households of the average person.

The networked game will be democratized with the classic Xbox and the next generation of consoles. It will become a standard!

Sega was planning to release another MMO called Far Nation. This Unrelesead is the most mysterious one on the console. We have never seen a single picture or video showing it. All we know is that a prototype was in the offices of Sega of America.

"I remember there was a prototype in our office, but it was kept very secret and only a handful of people saw it. It was an MMO from a Korean company that Sega of Japan was working with. They wanted to take advantage of the online element of the Dreamcast, but I'm pretty sure it was similar/close to what PSO was going to do, so the project didn't go any further."

Third party publishers believed in online multiplayer on Dreamcast. We discovered that Anarchy Online, from the Funcom studio, had been considered for DC (To be confirmed, need to investigate this). Thanks to the acquisition of a Katana development kit from the Norwegian company by Sizious, files and screenshots of the game were extracted.

"It was basically a WinCE game, not much survived. Unfortunately, there was nothing usable. I think I have some screenshots.

"There is zero trace of DC tests, no disk image generated, no PVR texture, no DC binaries, nothing! I wonder if the dev kit would have been used only for storage, it's probable.

The dates of the files (PC external tools) are from April 2001. My guess is that they used this SET 5 as a... hard drive for the AO beta."

Attention, these pictures (among 87) come from the dev kit but nothing allows to say that they are screenshots of the Dreamcast version. You can download them here.

What would have been the result of this MMO, the first one based on a science-fiction universe, on Dreamcast? Could the console run it ?

Update : By reading my article about this mysterious Dreamcast development kit from Funcom, Sifting, who had already done some reverse work on Agartha and Castlevania, contacted me.

He had, in the past, made a reverse of the PC version of Anarchy Online by recreating a demo using all the resources of the game:

To begin with, AO had a very long development going back to 1996 or so for a release on PC in 2001. Originally, it was to be an isometric game. Here are some pictures:

As the game developed, the developers switched to 3D. If a Dreamcast version existed, it had to be very early.

The big challenge for Funcom would have been to fit all the game's data into the 16 megabytes of memory of the console, which was probably easy at first, but the more development went on, the harder it became. This is certainly the main reason why the DC version was abandoned, if it existed at all.

The PC box recommends 8 megabytes of video memory, which is exactly what the Dreamcast had, with the added benefit of PVR compression!

Another challenge would have been the audio. The Dreamcast has only 2 megabytes of audio memory, which would have required them to stream music and sound in and out of the console, in addition to the graphics resources, using the very slow GD rom and G1 bus...

All in all, the limited memory space and bandwidth would have made it impossible to release the game in the same format as the PC version. Other issues that probably weighed in the decision to cancel the project were the handling of patches, expansions, etc.

It is interesting to note that today, with the advent of GDemu for example, a DC version of AO would be much more feasible.

Funcom made some games for the MegaDrive and for the Saturn. There was already an established relationship with Sega during the production of AO. Funcom never released any Dreamcast games, so what were they doing with a Katana dev kit?

Funcom had two studios, one in Oslo, Norway and one in Dublin, Ireland. The one in Dublin probably produced most of the console games at that time, they made Speed Freaks and some other games for the Playstation. The Oslo studio produced The Longest Journey and Anarchy Online simultaneously.

The Longest Journey was a huge success. It has been re-released once or twice. Perhaps it was the Dreamcast port of this title that was planned. It is interesting to note that it shares similar file formats with Anarchy Online.

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1 Comment

Clarence Bodicker
Clarence Bodicker
Sep 15, 2021

Interesting read - and oh what could have been?

But I think the real problem was the dial-up connection. It was just too slow/unreliable and simply too early for the times. As you say, online console gaming really picked up with the XBOX, some years later - with broadband connection.

Thanks for the reference to Far Nation - I think I'm the person who asked about it over on Assembler Games many years ago. I wonder if anyone has investigated the Korean developers to see if they have any memories? And I guess we'd all like to (at least) know how far along it was for the Dreamcast? Or maybe it wasn't running at all? Some back story would be…

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