To better understand Geist Force’s importance in Sega of America’s early Dreamcast plans it can’t be looked at solely in insolation. From it’s planned conception through to it’s subsequent cancelation its a product that’s symptomatic of the internal & external pressures that Sega found itself in in the mid to late ’90s. As it’s hard fought market share was slowly being eroded due increased competition and Sega’s overall disjointed company strategy.
While in the mid to late ’90s Sega of Japan wasn’t immune to the general downturn in the company’s fortunes it was somewhat insulated by the Sega Saturn performing much better in the Japanese marketplace compared to the systems slow death in America & Europe. Much has been speculated about what happened to Geist Force and what led it to be the first high profile internally canceled Sega of America project. While information has been since discovered about Geist Force relatively little has actually been resolved about the games development or it’s abrupt quiet cancelation.
What is certain is that Sega of America commissioned Geist Force as it’s first internally developed title designed to be a technical tour de force which using the power of the Dreamcast’s graphical performance would showcase the power of the upcoming system compared to its rivals.
Geist Force’s existence came at a tumultuous time for Sega of America with the upcoming impending announcement of their abandonment of the Saturn system in early ’98 in the American market. This decision was one of many that Sega’s American branch took that negatively effected their market position. Sega of America in ’97 was in the midst of a well documented transitional phase at this time that saw some generally questionable ideas on the company’s direction. Personally, i believe that Geist Force would’ve been commissioned as an internal Sega of America project around this time. With the scheduled Japanese release to be in late ’98 almost a year later with the systems North American release planned to be in the following year.
Sega of America were obviously keen to revive the fortunes of the company and wanted to ensure that they could develop titles that could generate sales that would ensure a successful launch for the Dreamcast system in the North American market. Pure speculation but i wonder if the genre of Geist Force was designed to compete favourably directly against a competitors widely successful franchise of the time. In late ’97 around the time Geist Force was commissioned Nintendo had debuted スターフォックス 64 or Star fox 64 for the Nintendo 64 system to massive sales amounting to hundreds of thousands of copies sold & glowing critical reviews. Sega of America seeing the sales potential probably concluded that a Dreamcast exclusive entry in the on-rail shooter genre similar to Star Fox 64 would probably equate to a much needed early commercial success for it’s upcoming next generation console.
By late ’97 Sega of America found themselves in a precarious position the Sega Saturn hadn’t performed as well as expected. The competition had left Sega of America in a distant third place well behind Sony & Nintendo with an ever shrinking market share. Geist Force was the first Sega of America internally developed title to be developed for the upcoming Dreamcast system. The game was also set to be released for the Japanese market scheduled to be coming in the second wave of software a few months after launch. This was an incredibly ambitious time frame to have the game ready for release for the Japanese launch period. While the North American launch the following year in late ’99 would be much more achievable considering the constraints, the development team found itself under with regards to the development infrastructure.
Thankfully more information is known about Netter Digital Entertainment, Inc they were a multimedia company that specialised in CGI visual effects for the television & film industry. Leading up to their work on Geist Force in which they provided the intro and all the cut scenes they were best known as the visual effect specialists behind the popular Babylon 5 franchise. The company was looking to expand their expertise and Geist Force was the company’s first foray into game development. Sadly Netter Digital Entertainment, Inc became defunct in late 2000 which makes contacting the only confirmed development studio who worked on the Geist Force project currently impossible. Luckily Netter Digital Entertainment, Inc’s official site is still navigable after all this time and you can find Geist Force listed under the games section of their website. © Netter Digital Entertainment, Inc
Interestingly Geist Force is listed as having a Sega/Microsoft credit which unless the game used the Sega Windows CE toolkit at some point during it’s development is a curious credit as nothing on the official Geist Force promotional material relates to this development environment. Due to the company long since becoming defunct it remains another mystery pertaining to Geist Force.
The earliest confirmed information about Geist Force came from the first showing of the game which was by Sega of America during May 28th-30th at the Electronic Entertainment Expo ’98 in Atlanta, Georgia. The game was being developed on non-final hardware which could have been for a number of different reasons. The main two are that there was a shortage of early development hardware especially outside of Japan where Sega of Japan had trouble supplying enough development kits to licensed developers due to the impending Japanese launch. The other reason usually stated is the game started development well before the specification of the Katana SDK development environment had been finalised. The actual reason will probably be never resolved unless someone from the development team comes forward and states one way or the other.
The next public showing of the game was at the Tokyo Game Show held between the 17th-19th September ’98. There seems to be a marked difference between the builds displayed at the American & Japanese trade shows. Media outlet IGN remarked on the differences as the Tokyo game show build was around 80% complete but had many technical problems such as slowdown as well as being sparsely populated by enemies. This contrasts with the E3 version which according to IGN showcased a more complete version of the game with better effects and the technical problems exhibited by the TGS build seemingly resolved. IGN speculated that the TGS version was pre-rendered footage which is a common occurrence in the games industry as a way to promote upcoming titles. Generally pre-rendered footage normally exceeds what the released title looks like as its can showcase the best of the chosen game without any constraints. So if this was the case seems odd that a title almost 80% complete would be worse than a playable build from early in the development cycle. Below you’ll find i’ve linked to the IGN article that details the differences between the two Geist Force builds. © 1996-2018 Ziff Davis, LLC
Pure conjecture on my part but one way to explain the differences in the builds is as the game was being internally developed by Sega of America the Japanese branch of Sega probably only received milestone builds or builds meant to showcase Geist Force at trade events. The game was still in English and the 80% complete statement probably relates to how far along the actual development cycle the development team were back in America. As the Japanese release date was rapidly approaching to promote the game Sega of Japan probably just used an earlier build of Geist Force.
The game was definitely far enough through the development process to have a release date set for both Japan & North America. No confirmed release was set for Europe but that doesn’t mean one wouldn’t have been planned after the games American release. Sega of Japan had a confirmed release date for Geist Force as the 10th of December 1998. The Japanese branch of Sega engaged in a marketing campaign to promote the upcoming game which included the printing of sample covers to promote the game, point of sale posters & in print advertising featuring Geist Force. The game had been designated an official catalogue number which was to be HDR-0008 and was to retail for￥5,800. Almost all the surviving Geist Force related promotional items relate to this Japanese campaign personally, i’ve not encountered any material thats come from Sega of America relating to Geist Force.
The game was subsequently delayed from its scheduled 10th of December ’98 Japanese launch date this wasn’t a massive shock as most of the internally developed Japanese Sega titles like Sega Rally 2 missed there intended release date. The next officially confirmed release date was set for first quarter ’99 and then TBA ’99.
While the Japanese release of Geist Force was experiencing delays it was still on schedule for its domestic release in late ’99 to accompany the launch of the Dreamcast system for the American market. Sega of Japan continued to release revised release dates for the game before the game finally received a TBA ’99 and was subsequently removed from the official release list. Sega of America had a much more realistic release date of September ’99 but the game would never actually see a release. In late May of ’99 IGN conducted an interview with the then president of Sega of America Bernie Stolar in which the announced the game had been canceled. He sighted issues with the overall quality and not meeting the the required standards that Sega had expected. I’ve linked to the archived IGN article below © 1996-2018 Ziff Davis, LLC
The IGN article does confirm a few important details about Sega of America of that time and indeed it mentions the internal shake up that the company was experiencing and that development of Geist Force had switched to another internal development team before it was canceled. Sega of America didn’t have many internal development studios & embarrassingly i’m unaware of any names for their development teams but since their main software development studio would’ve been responsible for the games development switching to a new team so late in the development cycle seems strange. The truth is like most information about the game what actually occurred will probably be never known.
The concept of Geist Force was a proven one. The graphical presentation of the game even in the unfinished build is impressive the gameplay elements are also fairly well implemented in the build that was released. One possible reason about why the game was abandoned comes from a former Sega of America employee called DonnyK who registered on the Assembergames forum and openly talked about their time as a Sega employee. The subject of Geist Force came up and he gave his opinion of the game as. “The producer was a good friend of mine. I played it.. and it sucked. You could “beat it” in like 3 minutes. I still have an old burn of it on a Katana disc somewhere in my house that I’ve been looking for and will sell. Even though it’s labeled as a Geist TGS disc, the burn of it failed so I don’t think there is a game on there but it’s a cool piece of Sega history”. DonnyK on the Assembergames forum. 2011 Assembergames.com
DonnyK decided to sell items in his possession from his time at Sega which included his Geist Force GD-r disc and the disc was acquired by a member on the Assembler games forum. The disc was labeled as a TGS disc and this would have been one of a number of Geist Force GD-R discs used to promote the game at the previously mentioned Fall ’98 Tokyo Game Show. Unfortunately, the GD-R disc was badly damaged in shipping and the data couldn’t be recovered.
A stroke of amazing luck came with another former Sega employee who had joined the forum and came forward with another GD-R disc of Geist Force this build was labeled as Spring ’99 which would be around the time the game was canceled. The Assembler games community held a site fundraiser to cover the cost of the of acquiring the disc. As well as the initial outlay another $1100 was spent to have 200 cd-rom discs professionally pressed as well as the front, back & inlays laser printed. Also the artwork was based on the official Japanese design so the Assembler games release also included a obi card better known as a spine card. These had to be cut by hand due to the lack of available manufacturing facillites to accommodate their production.
Before the discs could be pressed the data on the Geist Force GD-R had to be manipulated to allow it to be able to run on a standard Dreamcast system. The data couldn’t boot in the conventional way and the community was able to turn to some very talented individuals who were able to manage to get the game to run on a standard Dreamcast. The game has six levels but only three are somewhat playable to some degree on the Assembler games version. The general performance of the game is erratic how much of this is due to how the code has been altered to be able to run on a standard Dreamcast isn’t known. Certainly there is a lot of data that doesn’t seem to be in the compiled release and a few people have worked on re-compiling the Assembler versions code to create a more stable build.
The data that the Geist Force GD-R contained was released to everyone for free once the pressed discs had been shipped to members who backed the site fundraising campaign. The data was uploaded to a torrent so that anyone could experience Geist Force for themselves.
There are several known builds of Geist Force existing outside of Sega hopefully one day the data that exists on those builds will be released and could potentially contain a more complete build of the game. But i’m thankful that there is at least a somewhat playable version of the game released some thirteen years after the games initially proposed release date.
The release of Geist Force was a real community effort and thanks must go to the former Sega employees who sold the Geist Force disc’s to the Assembler games community. Unfortunately, i’m unaware of the individuals or group who worked on getting the data running on a retail Dreamcast but without them we wouldn’t have the game at all. My thanks go to all the backers and people who contributed artwork or information leading to the release of Geist Force. As well as the Assembler games community who came together to see the game released.
HDR-0008 Geist Force
I won’t be posting the sample covers for Geist Force due to concerns that they will be used to create reproductions which will be in turn sold for profit.
(NOT FOR SALE) 非売品 discs & other media.
Apart from the sample covers and point of sale posters i’m not aware of any other merchandise relating to Geist Force. Strangely enough the limited amount of material available is all Japanese i’ve never seen any English language items for the game even through it was developed by Sega of America and was to be a key launch title for them.
If you’re looking to experience the game for yourself and are after a physical copy of the game many of the available copies are just the torrent downloaded & burnt onto standard cd media. The Assembler games version is a professionally pressed disc & artwork please don’t get caught by unscrupulous sellers passing CDR’s off as legitimate Assembler games Geist Force copies. The torrent is free and you can easily burn your own copy to disc if you just want to see what the games like without paying high prices on certain auction sites.
As always i’m grateful for you taking the time to read this article about Geist Force. If anyone can help with any more information about the game please contact me either through the site or on Twitter @dreamcastcollector