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Seven new Propeller Arena Dreamcast prototypes on the horizon

Lack of funds, sudden or imminent studio closures, publisher rejections, company mergers, quality deemed insufficient, poor management of time and resources, internal quarrels... These are just some of the reasons for the cancellation of video games that didn't necessarily deserve their fate.

But when a game is finished, polished and ready for release, and then a sudden tragic event prevents its launch just a few days/weeks before its release, we gamers can't help but be frustrated by the situation. This is what happened with Propeller Arena on Dreamcast, which was first postponed and then abandoned following the attacks of September 11, 2001, ironically the date of the Master (final version) of the game. Who doesn't know this title from the prestigious AM2 development studio and the story behind it?

Tower City

One of Propeller Arena's battle arenas, Tower City, took place in an imaginary city with abundant buildings. At the controls of our fighter plane, we could slalom between the buildings to avoid the fire of opposing pilots. Risk-taking was at a maximum, with any misjudgment on the part of the pilots meaning a crash into the facades of one of the buildings covering the game zone. It was becoming clear to SEGA that Propeller Arena Dreamcast was going to be associated with the World Trade Center bombings, and that the Japanese company's brand image would be tarnished by the controversy. Its cancellation was a foregone conclusion.

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Japanese promotional cover

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The sad thing is that the game had no malicious intent whatsoever; the content was cartoonish and arcadey. September 11 was such a terrible tragedy that anything remotely resembling a plane crashing into an urban structure could be considered inappropriate. Losing sales of Propeller Arena against the risk of huge controversy for being perceived as insensitive by releasing the title so close to the 9/11 tragedy, didn't even arise. The head of sales had immediately made the decision not to release it after seeing images of the game showing what a bomb-equipped plane crashing into a skyscraper looked like, even though it was an arcade game with standard orb-shaped explosions, with no debris or destruction. In the end, it was a small title with little impact on SEGA's overall annual business plan.

American cover

Throughout the development of a videogame, many elements are regularly removed, modified or adjusted. These can be entire game modes, complete levels, menus, private jokes, cinematics, gameplay components, scenery details and so on. There are many reasons for this, such as lack of time to meet launch deadlines, optimization problems, programming problems, script inconsistencies, censorship and so on. Moreover, the April 2001 prototype of Propeller Arena is a perfect example of the cuts (new multiplayer mode) that the game will undergo between this build and the final product. Given this, the question arises: if the metropolis setting was really the problem preventing the title's future release, why not simply remove it and proceed with the launch of Propeller Arena, albeit with an understandable delay?

Propeller_Arena_Us_official_cover

A commercial copy of Propeller Arena?

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Propeller Arena on Dreamcast had already been produced, and the copies produced were ready for distribution to American retailers. The developers were no longer in a position to rectify their game and offer a new version of the software without the incriminating Tower City map. The same fate befell another SEGA title, the famous Tetris on the Mega Drive, where the intellectual property of the license was at issue. It had also been manufactured and its stock destroyed. To this day, no one knows what happened to the manufactured copies of Propeller Arena. Surprisingly, no commercial copies of PA have yet been found, except perhaps the one unearthed when SEGA moved its Tokyo headquarters from one building to another. Some copies of Tetris on Mega Drive were saved.

Rarely do cancelled video games make it all the way through development before being buried in the Unreleased cemetery. The decision to cancel a game is often taken earlier in the creation process. Does Half-Life Dreamcast ring a bell?

Propeller Arena had everything going for it: meticulously crafted graphics, simple, accessible handling, meticulously selected music and the promise of online multiplayer battles. This arcade-oriented game would not have gone unnoticed if it had had the chance to join the video libraries of Dreamcast fans. With PA, SEGA would have bid farewell to its latest home console with a remarkable last stand as a manufacturer.

The map that caused its cancellation

Unreleased_Propeller_Arena_Tower_City.jpg

Compilation of several Propeller Arena Dreamcast prototypes

The software produced by Yu Suzuki was designed for online multiplayer. This was an essential feature of the game. Alien Front Online was the other game of the year to come out with this feature. That was really the whole point of the Dreamcast version, which elevated arcade dogfighting to a competitive online game. At the time, it was highly innovative, but it was obviously the curse of the Dreamcast, too far ahead on many fronts...

Japanese development studio AM2 had worked very hard not only to create a really fun game, but also liaising closely with SEGA of America on the title's packaging design, messaging and promotion.

Of course, we shouldn't feel sad about a video game when so many lives have been lost and so many families have been affected by an act of terrorism.

We're going to go through some turbulence

Propeller Arena, originally known as Propeller Head Online or Propeller Arena Battle 2045, is a Dreamcast-exclusive aerial combat game that puts the player in command of old World War II birds competing in tournaments in the distant future. They were, however, modified and improved, and equipped with far more advanced weaponry than in the 40s. The competition promised to be tight. Who hasn't dreamed of being part of an airplane squadron?

A lovely character

Propeller Arena prototype Dreamcast team select.jpg

As evidenced by the build dated April 3, 2001, an early version of the game, Propeller Arena was extensively modified during its development to arrive at what we know of it to date. Entire sections of PA were removed, as were additional multiplayer modes. The discovery of the "Record" menu and a different window displaying the game's results once completed suggests that AM2's creators initially wanted to give this new franchise additional replayability by taking a primarily scoring-based approach.

For their new game, SEGA cast dubbing actor Greg Irwin. It's his voice that can be heard in Propeller Arena's menus.  The charm was immediate, and an added bonus for the title.

The game's soundtrack, composed entirely of punk rock, was prepared by SEGA's two "branches": a Japanese team (Sachio Ogawa and Tomoya Koga) composed and produced 13 songs in-house, while an American team struck a deal with the Fat Wreck Chords label to license nine songs from the bands Consumed, Zero Down, No Use for a Name, Mad Caddies and Rise Against. In a way, it was an echo of what SEGA had done with Crazy Taxi, but with a limited budget. They had worked with "baby bands", young people who wanted publicity and weren't asking for huge licensing fees. Some of SEGA's original songs were remixed into instrumental versions and reused in the 2006 sports game Virtua Tennis 3. There is a version of Propeller Arena with a preliminary, alternative OST. Did AM2 employees form an amateur music group together?

Propeller Arena alternative OST

Propeller Arena was first presented to the public at E3 2001. Until then, few people were aware of the development of this aerial combat game, the latest from the SEGA-AM2 studio. Yu Suzuki's latest production for the Dreamcast had impressed the journalists who came to Los Angeles with its high-performance real-time 3D engine (the same as Outrigger?) and detailed scenery. For a Japanese title, it had a very “Western-friendly” design.

The SEGA star studio

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SEGA is stronger than you

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E3 prototypes have a big historical aspect

Propeller Arena Dreamcast E3 version.jpg

Many of the games of our childhood were presented during E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo). They were often limited to a demo version designed especially for the event, in order to show something to industry professionals and, at the same time, not reveal too much about them. It was important to keep the surprise to a maximum.

The version of Propeller Arena allocated for demonstration at E3 was no exception, with only the multiplayer mode available: Team Battle (Player 1 vs Player 2) and "Battle Royal" (all against all). Note that "Team Battle (P1 vs P2)" on the E3 prototype (download below) is something that will be removed between May 12 and June 15, 2001. For the first presentation of the game, the father of Shenmue wanted to emphasize multi-player battles!

When disconnecting from the server

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Thank God for the parachute! ha ha ha

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This was an arcade game, not a simulation as was popular on PC at the time. Yu Suzuki clearly didn't want to repeat the overly realistic level of handling found in the excellent but demanding F355 Challenge. Here, the aim was to have fun, to make the aircrafts handle easily for every type of gamer and thus make the game addictive. Some might call the controls too basic!

Pappy Boyington, from the black sheep squadron, could have enlisted the best online pilots. An Online mode (Network) was planned. In fact, this was the very essence of Propeller Arena, offering owners of the game and a Dreamcast the chance to compete with up to 6 other players over the Internet. Once connected, the Network Battle would have been the equivalent of the Offline Quick Battle mode. Another option offered a scoring contest, via a version of the Propeller Challenge for Online play. AM2's software was compatible with the Dreamcast Microphone, allowing participants in the same game to communicate via Voice Chat.

Today, the June 15, 2001 prototype (download below) gives a brief glimpse of some elements of the Online mode, such as the user charter (Notice), the ISP selection window, and the home page (Select Lobby etc.) once connected Online to Propeller Arena. Over the years, some Dreamcast games have been brought back online, but Propeller Arena still hasn't, since the Dreamcast community (the Dreamcast Live site) has been unable to restore its online functionality. Apart from the server software itself, the only thing that could help is the game's source code.

Aircraft models include such famous models as the P-38 Lightning, the P-51 Mustang, the Supermarine Spitfire and the Messerschmitt Bf-109.  A total of eight pilots, each with its own birds, are available. By repeatedly completing the game, it would be possible to unlock up to five new future Aces. SEGA's distinctive style is evident, with each aviator caricatured in a genre of their own. Each character has a special move, which can be triggered by a combination of keys during combat to gain an advantage over your opponent or to get out of a difficult situation. In this way, you can pick off an opponent or position yourself right behind them.

Who will win?

Dreamcast Propeller Arena beta.jpg

The eight courses, not including the two secret ones, offer varying degrees of difficulty, depending on the nature of their environment. In urban environments, for example, you slalom between buildings. Other hunting grounds involve battling over an erupting volcano, or flying over polar bears on an ice floe.

We're delighted that prototypes of Propeller Arena have been found, without which we'd probably never have been able to discover this Dreamcast must-have. Are you ready to take to the skies in search of a thrill?

Propeller Arena prototypes with a dedicated page

These two Propeller Arena prototypes are very special. For this reason, a page has been dedicated to them, explaining in detail their particularities (a build analysis).

April Prototype

Propeller Arena (Apr 3, 2001 Dreamcast Prototype).jpg
Propeller Arena (Jun 15, 2001 Dreamcast Prototype).jpg
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June Prototype

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Other Propeller Arena prototypes for direct download

  • The May 2001 prototype is a demo, probably used during the game's demonstration at E3. an E3 watermark appears in the top right-hand corner of the title menu. Only a few multiplayer modes can be played. In Team Battle mode (1P vs 2P), the system of orders to be given to team-mates is still present, but this time displayed in a different way to the April 2001 build. An icon with arrow patterns, to the right of the speedometer, now represents the squadron attack technique to be chosen, rather than a phrase written under the Player 1 pilot's logo, as was the case last month. The Battle Royal player interface is not yet the one finally chosen by AM2 developers.

E3 (Quick Battle)

Propeller_Arena_Quick_Battle_E3.jpg

Sept 2001 (Quick Battle)

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E3 (Team Battle)

E3_Propeller_Arena_version_dreamcast.jpg

Apr 2001 (Team Battle)

April_Propeller_Arena_prototype.jpg

Important:

As a gamer, the 9/11 prototype is ideal because it fits the game as it should have been released commercially. Although not finished (missing textures), the April 2001 build is an alternative version of Propeller Arena offering new music, new game modes, a new player interface and much more. The other betas are purely for preservation and historical purposes.

  • The composition of the game's files, which have been extracted, changes as of the August 27, 2001 prototype. There are folders called DP3_JP, DP3_US and TOOL, each containing a specific 1ST_READ.BIN file. The DP3_JP and DP3_US folders correspond to the game's Japanese and American websites, while the TOOL folder is a strange BBA tool called Broadband Setup Screen. A GDI can be created for each folder content.

Aug 07 Prototype

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Sep 11 Prototype

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Tool for the BBA

  • The web page, in the Network option, appeared for the first time (in the prototypes available to us) in the August 7, 2001 build. In this beta, it was not yet definitive, as differences compared to the September 11, 2001 prototype are obvious. Still in the Network option, the Broadband Setup Screen tool is naturally accessible, but this will no longer be the case.

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Propeller Arena E3 (May 12, 2001 Dreamcast Prototype).jpg
Propeller Arena (Aug 07, 2001 Dreamcast Prototype).jpg
Propeller Arena (Aug 20, 2001 Dreamcast Prototype).jpg
Propeller Arena (Aug 27, 2001 Dreamcast Prototype).jpg
prototype of Propeller Arena Dreamcast.jpg

Special thanks to:

  • Hick for the French correction of the text of the article.

  • Vince for the English correction of the text of the article.

  • Sizious for his expertise on the build.

  • LemonHaze, founding member of Team Wulinshu, for hacking the April 2001 prototype.

Feel free to look at " other canceled games " that I found. For the most curious of you, I have created a " list of all unreleased from theDdreamcast ".

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