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Dreamcast worlds: a design history by Zoya Street


Zoya Street’s crowd-funded book, Dreamcast Worlds: a design history, explores relatively under covered aspects of the industry. He poses the prescient questions about the inner workings motivating each console launch and explores spatial designs within a few of the platform’s standout role-playing games.

Street naturally brings together concepts that only sound loosely connected. We’re shown how role-playing titles manifest themselves within Japan’s business culture, how the Dreamcast needed a marketable response to Final Fantasy, and how tight maze design embraces the fun of playing.

There’s an in-depth analysis on Skies of Arcadia’s parts and what each means in regards to spatial design. Street emphasizes verticality and dimensionality especially. In a roundabout way, this builds up to a passage where Skies of Arcadia’s making callbacks to Jules Verne and how does the role-playing game reflect developing modes of circulation:

…while dungeons do present spatial challenges, skilled gamers will choose not to navigate the space quickly but will instead try to find every corner of the maze, looking for treasure. Mastery is performed through masterful circulation.

Jet Set Radio stands as Sega’s moment of absolute mastery over spatial design, where an urban setting maximizes freedom of expression within public spaces, while the premise for playing involves rocket-powered skates and taking over territory with graffiti.

There are also explorations of Phantasy Star Online’s contrast of real and virtual space and what Shenmue tells us of regional spaces. The vision of the console itself is brought into comparison with the architecture of Paris. There’s academic contexts for what’s put forward and it’s an insightful look into topics often left out, especially what that early transition into three-dimensionality meant for the spaces within our games.

Quoted within, developer Will Luton cuts to the point:

The Dreamcast offered a short glimpse of an alternate path, a history that never was […] it was wholesome and naïve in an age when the industry was beginning to open its eyes to sin and adult pleasures, to real violence and hatefulness. This was embodied by the Grand Theft Auto series and symbiosis between lad and club culture and the Playstation. That’s not to say it was childlike, just ephemeral and otherworldly whilst the industry was masculine and sneery. Had it been our history and prevailed it wouldn’t feel as romantic and tragically neglected.

Street’s written a passionate piece that instills perspective and context. The writing stays controlled and uses only the right words. Dreamcast Worlds comes recommended for the sharp design insight and for a bit of reading on a console launch that will have some long term significance.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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