The Untold Story Of The Bug That Nearly Sank The Dreamcast’s North American Launch

Dreamcast© Nintendo Life

Sega could now be an ally to Nintendo, however on the flip of the millennium, it was nonetheless very a lot a rival, with its last video games console – the Dreamcast – becoming a member of the N64 in a market that was in the end dominated by the Sony PlayStation.

The Dreamcast may need been Sega’s final throw of the cube within the {hardware} sector, however earlier than the corporate pulled the plug and have become a third-party writer, the console loved a fairly profitable launch in North America – though, in accordance with former Sega tech staffer John Byrd, the discharge itself nearly did not go in accordance with plan.

Chatting with the Retro Hour Podcast, Byrd discusses a bug which, he claims, has by no means been spoken about prior to now. Days earlier than the machine’s North American launch in September 1999, he was getting suggestions from journalists that sure video games have been inflicting their Dreamcast consoles to crash randomly, and that the video games in query have been all created by the writer Halfway.

Byrd was swiftly despatched to Halfway’s San Diego workplace to search out out what the difficulty was, and, as a result of he suspected it had one thing to do with the “Audio 64” driver developed particularly for the North American market and included in Halfway’s video games, he took with him the developer of mentioned driver – who, after a couple of days, determined to flee the scene and take a vacation, leaving Byrd to repair the difficulty alone. In his personal phrases, he realised that if the bug went unsolved, the blame would fall solely on his shoulders.

Whereas solely Halfway’s video games have been encountering the crash, if Byrd could not discover out precisely what should be blamed for it, there was the hazard that it might doubtlessly be current in different launch video games – or future ones. Till the trigger was found, there was all the time the looming threat of the Dreamcast being branded as buggy and defective – one thing Sega naturally needed to keep away from with such a high-profile launch.

Ready 2 Rumble Boxing was one of the Midway titles which caused the Dreamcast to crash
Prepared 2 Rumble Boxing was one of many Halfway titles which prompted the Dreamcast to crash (Picture: Halfway)

As Byrd recounts to the Retro Hour workforce, the thousands and thousands being spent on the North American launch of the Dreamcast can be in danger if he did not work with the Halfway workforce to resolve the bug – which, it ought to be famous, was a real heisenbug in that it seemed to be completely random and not possible to correctly debug and repair. It was solely when Byrd eliminated the console’s modem in a match of frustration that he stumble on a significant trace – it prompted the sport to crash.

Byrd knew that the modem was related to the G2 bus – as was the Yamaha AICA sound chip. The sound chip had a MIDI enter pin which, on the Japanese mannequin, was tied to floor. On the North American mannequin, the pin in query was left ‘floating’, and it turned out that this was what should be blamed for the system to crash.

Nonetheless, the crash was brought on by a complete bunch of unpredictable parts – something from the thermal noise within the room to the peak of the solar or the place of the moon, in accordance with Byrd. When certainly one of these random parts prompted the chip to assume the pin was selecting up MIDI info, the Audio 64 driver would fall over the trigger your complete system to crash.

The answer? A revised model of the Audio 64 driver was rapidly created and included in remastered editions of Halfway’s video games, and catastrophe was largely averted. The video games impacted have been recalled and changed by corrected discs (with a “Scorching!” and “New!” brand on the duvet), however round ten to fifteen thousand copies made it out into the wild, and these might doubtlessly develop into collector’s gadgets over time.

Whereas the Dreamcast wasn’t the success Sega had hoped for – it actually did not stop the agency was exiting the {hardware} sector – Byrd’s story proves that it might have been loads, lot worse; if the bug hadn’t been found and stuck, the Dreamcast launch would have been one thing of a catastrophe.

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