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The discovery of Farnation Dreamcast in video: when SEGA wanted to offer MMOs on its latest console

Farnation, sometimes referred to as Far Nation, was SEGA's vain attempt to create an "MMO (massively multiplayer online)" on the blue/orange/red spiral console, following the failure of Frontier Dreamcast. Testimonials from people who worked on the project or saw it in action are almost non-existent. The game was a well-kept secret, as little information about it has leaked out to date.

The reasons for Farnation's cancellation are unknown. Rumors suggest that some SEGA executives were pointing out the many similarities with Phantasy Star Online in terms of gameplay experience. The two titles would enter into direct competition with each other, not to mention the fact that development came late in the Dreamcast's lifecycle. Once SEGA had become a publisher in its own terms, a demo was presented to Microsoft and Sony, but no agreement was reached to release it on Xbox or PlayStation 2. Neither manufacturer saw Farnation as a promising market for their respective consoles.

In 2001, GameSpot devoted a few lines to the subject of Farnation in their magazine. Their journalist had had the privilege of trying out a demo with a few other hand-picked lucky readers. Surprisingly, no screenshots of the game were taken to promote it in their article.

In fact, Farnation was first mentioned in 2000 in a document published by SEGA Enterprises to unveil the company's global business strategy. The game was on the Dreamcast release schedule until it was completely forgotten.

The SEGA of America archives, a treasure trove

SEGA of America Archive Farnation.jpg

French schedule of upcoming Dreamcast releases (full of Unreleased)

In 2008, a photo that has since become famous among Dreamcast historians aroused the curiosity of fans of the firm with the blue hedgehog. This photograph, taken from the SEGA of America archives, showed a multitude of discs such as Propeller Arena and DeeDee Planet. It was the Farnation Dreamcast prototype (Jan 12, 2001) that intrigued the community. The world became aware, with visual proof, of the existence of a playable version of Nextech's (or Red Company's?) game.

Hopes of exhuming Farnation were slim, given that the game was locked away and kept top secret within SOA at the start of the second millennium. But then...

A real investigation could begin. After 16 years, it hasn't and never will be over. Fans of the White Queen wondered about Farnation, they wanted to know its Artistic Direction, what exactly its prototype contained, whether it was a Heroic Fantasy game or inspired by an era in human history, whether its graphics were colorful or dark? Many of their questions are finally answered in the video below!

In all these years, little information has filtered out about Dreamcast’s most obscure Unreleased game. Attempts to document it remained fruitless until 2023, when one of Farnation's owners intervened, showing it off, in the comments section of a Reddit thread about the game. Since then, the prototype has never been seen again...

A few months before the publication of the Reddit thread gathering the investigations carried out on Farnation (a formidable piece of research), a kind person, Joe Cain (quoted in italics from this article, he has worked for SEGA and AnNow among others), contacted me explaining that he could have access to a build of Farnation Dreamast - a funny coincidence, isn't it? He promised to send me photos of the disc as soon as possible. The wait was long, almost a year, since I wouldn't receive images of Farnation's prototype and title screen until January 2024. Surprised, I couldn't believe it!

Today, two GD-Rs of the game are known. It's possible (I doubt it), even if the date on both discs indicates January 12, 2001, that they are two different versions with who knows what exclusive content from one build to the next. For example, Jeckyll and Hyde Dreamcast or Vectorman PlayStation 2 offered, for each of their prototypes, unique levels not available in the other beta versions. Handwriting on a disc is not 100% reliable information. To be sure, it would be necessary to have access to the data of both prototypes in order to check them.

The prototype of the video

Farnation Sega Dreamcast Prototype.jpg

The prototype on Reddit

Unreleased Dreamcast Prototype Far Nation.jpg

Venturing into the world of Farnation and playing it is not yet a reality, as no one knows what happened to the first GD-R (the one on Reddit), while the second (the one from my acquaintance who was able to play it) cannot be shared freely and publicly on the Internet. So we'll have to make do with the video, to be viewed on this page, presenting in depth the Farnation Technical Demo contained on the second disc. We can now visualize it and see how far into the development it got before its cancellation - a huge leap forward in understanding!

Documenting an Unreleased project with testimonials from people who have worked on it from near and far, and seeing it in action in video or photo, is the most important thing. Playing it is just a side-effect, the icing on the cake!

The Farnation demo and game idea

The inscriptions on the GD-Rs indicate that Japanese company Nextech collaborated with SEGA on the Farnation project. This development studio specialized in porting games from one console to another. In particular, they were hired to work on some of the Dreamcast's biggest games, such as Resident Evil Code Veronica. Among other things, Nextech supported Rutubo Games and/or Genki in emulating the arcade games in Shenmue I and II. However, a Splash Screen at the start of the Technical Demo hints at the name of another firm, Red Company, which may also have contributed to the game's production. Was this a request for subcontracting from Nextech, development assistance or co-development? It's unclear, but the investigation into Farnation is not over...

The Town of Farnation Dreamcast

Joe Cain's first steps in the Demo: «It looks like you need a network connection to play the game properly, but it's not clear if it just needs to detect general connectivity or reach a specific server (which would obviously no longer exist) to get information.»

The game's development has not progressed as suspected previously. Farnation is in embryonic form. Like Frontier Dreamcast, it is, perhaps, a "Test Client", testing the developers' ability to display a world and a player.

Farnation Dreamcast texture viewer

«It was difficult to navigate with the joystick, and I think it's possible to use the Dreamcast's mouse and keyboard for a much more fluid exploration than we did.»

The game's progression was focused on building a "Sim City"-style city, rather than on leveling up characters or classes. As with all MMOs, it was also about weapon crafting, resource trading, player cooperation and epic battles. Journeys across the remote lands of Farnation took the form of public transport such as airships, ships and stagecoaches!

«It's easy to navigate in 3D, and there's a town not far from the Demo's starting point that you can visit. It's hard to know what to do, though, as it's not populated. The town is rather ordinary. A few details, like posted signs, but not much form - a very inorganic look. Corridors and walls, no rounded edges.»

Boot sequence of Farnation

The game incorporated a biome system that gave the illusion of an entire world, probably instantiated zones. Players had to settle down and establish themselves permanently in one of these ecosystems, with other compatriots to form a group or alliance. It's likely that the game left open the possibility of progressing, with the inhabitants of other biomes, through diplomacy and trade rather than just war. The emphasis was on human interaction.

It's written quite large

Far Nation Sega Dreamcast Title.jpg

«There are options to change the "map", we don't know if they're visually different or what. Someone would have to spend hours trying to figure it out, when it only took us 30 minutes ;)»

If the gaming experience with this Technical Demo is ultra-limited, there's no real interactivity with it, its discovery is historically symbolic. It's a real victory to finally have a glimpse of Farnation!

«There appears to be a button that allows you to toggle between a 'fighting stance' and a normal walking position, with the music switching from one to the other, but of course we've never seen any fighting entities in the game.»

Hmmm, it looks like you want to play it (the default character)

This Farnation prototype serves up a meticulous Reverse Engeenering effort. It would be wise to play it for many hours to test the limits of what is technically possible and what could influence the game and its gameplay. Who knows what surprises the game may hold deep within its files. Unused content, its server, its source code, video cutscenes? One thing's for sure: the build features a Debug Menu with options like the Texture Viewer.

«There are different protagonist races you can choose from, this one was the "default" race for the male character (photo). We didn't try many other races, but there is a different female model, not sure if the race changes further. We found a list of textures that included a number of illustrations, including images of character faces.»

Some of the information in this chapter reflects Farnation's primary intention, its concept, the particular features of the project in the making, what would differentiate it from other MMOs, its gameplay mechanics and how FN would stand out. They are not perceptible when playing the game, as development did not go far enough to implement them.

More photos inside the hospital of Farnation Dreamcast

Chat system with lots of pre-entered words reminiscent of the PSO system

Système Chat Farnation Dreamcast.png

To speak quickly, the game offered a wide choice of emoticons

Chat Farnation Nextech Dreamcast.png

The demo lets you choose the gender of your character, male or female.

Farnation Sega Dreamcast prototype.png

The green aura effect undoubtedly corresponds to a request for action to be carried out with the character.

Farnation DC.png

The various drop-down menus (from top to bottom): "I'm doing this", "Item", "Status", "Party", "Cards" and "Quit".

Farnation menu.png

I'd like to thank Joe Cain for putting the Farnation Dreamcast video online: for contacting me, for his availability, his kindness and for taking the time to answer my questions. His video on the game's Technical Demo allows us to preview, at last, what Farnation would become. Don't badger him into releasing his ISO/GDI...

Special thanks to:

  • Vince proofreading the english version

  • Hicks proofreading the french version

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