I have to admit that before writing this article about Shangri-La i had no knowledge of the company outside of their Dreamcast title. I suspect that most readers of this article will realistically be equally as unfamiliar with the company as either a development studio or publishing label as i was. Personally, i believe that there are a few compelling reasons as to why this is the case which mainly relates to the company’s establishment & subsequent demise.
A major source of confusion is Shangri-La were initially established as another completely different entity known as Copya System., Ltd which i have to confess again i knew absolutely nothing about. It seems that this earlier incarnation was a prolific development studio with the majority of their titles seemingly being published by Asmik Ace Entertainment, Inc. Despite attempting to research this early relationship i’ve drawn a total blank so i can’t really elaborate more about this aspect of Copya System’s history. I’m convinced that the company would likely have had a dedicated fanbase for some of their titles and with enough time & patience it would be possible to document the company’s history in more detail.
Arguably, the key piece of information which i’ve unfortunately been unable to document is the transition from the previous Copya System to their new incarnation of Shangri-La. I had hoped to uncover a archived early version of the company’s early website which might’ve detailed this change which sadly while Shangri-La’s official site has been almost completely preserved it doesn’t contain any information relating to this change or indeed Copya System at all. It is also entirely possible however given the time period that i’m discussing that potentially Copya System didn’t maintain any sort of online presence. The company’s last few titles were published for Nintendo’s ageing Super Famicom & Sony’s original PlayStation in the mid-nineties and didn’t feature any sort of web address on their packaging so i’m currently uncertain if indeed they operated an official site or not.
While not directly relating to Shangri-La’s Dreamcast title i do think is worth noting their previous incarnation of Copya System as it might provide some important information. Despite almost no acknowledgement of their previous studio Shangri-La still listed the date of their formation as not being as you might expect sometime in the mid-nineties but the same date as their previous studio. Both companies share a distinct lack of information about themselves online outside their published works which presents something of a challenge when attempting to document their shared history.
As i’ve previously elaborated Shangri-La’s archived site doesn’t feature a great deal of information relating to the company itself and only has a very rudimentary corporate history. They list the date of their establishment as their previous studio which was August ’86’ and their archived site lists the company’s business concern at the time of their Dreamcast release as being the development & production of computer software. I’ve been unable to actually confirm with any certainty the exact date of Shangri-La’s origin but general online consensus attributes the year of ’96’ as the year of their formation. The only other pertinent information i could find was they operated a Chinese subsidiary named Shanghai Corporation which trying to research has proven to be even more challenging than their parent company.
While concrete information surrounding their formation is largely unknown this situation is mirrored as similarly nothing seemingly exists about their subsequent demise. The prevailing theory online is that they became defunct in early ’01’ with April being mentioned online as the actual month in which they ceased operation. However, i have to dispute this as the company themselves issued a press release on the ’17th of July ’01’ detailing the sudden end of support for their main computer franchise in which they stated the subscription billing which it required would cease at the end of June ’01’. The actual servers which the software relied on would be terminated on the 24th of July ’01’ they also thanked patrons at this time and apologised for the situation and stated they had tried to find a solution but it simply wasn’t possible. I personally, believe that this sudden announcement likely represented the end of the company probably at the end of July or early August ’01’.
Just as the establishment of Shangri-la is disputed the actual cause of their demise is similarly unknown with the main online theory being they were declared bankrupt which while entirely possible i personally, have some issues with this probable cause. The reason why i’m not totally convinced by this is i have been unable to find any details which document a date of any bankruptcy judgement or any contemporary reports or articles which corroborates this theory. Almost every other studio which suffered this fate have plenty of sources which detail the bankruptcy proceedings and in Shangri-La’s case nothing currently has been unearthed to support this.
Honestly, i can’t claim to know the actual cause of the company’s demise i suspect that indeed bankruptcy was a likely prospect at sometime in ’01’. It’s clear however that it simply can’t have been in April ’01’ as claimed by many online as i’ve previously shown the company was still active in July of that year. Hopefully at some point in the future i’ll be able to resolve this quandary with official confirmation one way or another and i’ll update this article accordingly.
It seems that the company found a niche market with equestrian software which they successfully managed to exploit to their advantage with releases for various console systems and the domestic Japanese computer market. I have to confess that personally, i have no knowledge or indeed any sort of interest in horse racing especially when it involves the procedures of actually betting on horses. This immediately puts me at something of a disadvantage as i don’t really have any experience that i can compare or contrast with regards to how accurate, useful or indeed realistic the digital representation found on their software titles actually are.
It’s clear that despite numerous releases for home consoles the main focus for the company was the domestic computer market. Their flagship title undoubtably was the High Stakes Owners Club software which from my admittedly limited understanding allowed the user to become a virtual stable owner and train, breed and race their horses online with the added incentive of being able to bet on the results. Shangri-La also sanctioned official events in which winners could win physical trophies that would be presented by company officials at events. Initially the High Stakes Owners Club software was distributed as a physical boxed retail product which came on a CD-ROM disc which for later instalments this was subsequently changed to a digital download.
To use the company’s High Stakes Owners Club software required an active subscription which was operated by what i believe to be Shangri-La themselves. Although i have to state i’m not completely certain if this is the case all the information points to it being a service the company provided. The subscription cost was ¥1,250 per month and it seemingly was well supported with continual updates with the final one i could find being after the company had supposedly ceased operation in April of ’01’. I’ve mentioned this as a similar subscription model was used for their Dreamcast title.
The company’s console releases are personally, much more intriguing to me given the original PlayStation’s lack of internet connectivity and how Shangri-La managed to circumvent this problem on that system. It was probably quite expensive to press discs due to the license fee payable to Sony and the cost associated to actually issue updated discs but the company released seasonal update iterations in Spring/Summer & Autumn/Winter editions. This meant users could have access to recent statistics to allow for more accurate predictions obviously, this would require purchasing a new disc but would mean that patrons could rely on additional updated content. Although perhaps small this probably represented a continual revenue stream for Shangri-La on hardware not traditionally known for such utility software releases. I’m quite sure if horse racing enthusiasts found merit in the company’s software, they would likely endeavour to support subsequent releases.
While the reason for this article is the company’s self-published Dreamcast title, they also developed another title for the system but they didn’t actually publish it themselves so i’ll briefly discuss it at the end of this article for completeness sake. The company’s only published title for the Dreamcast was 夢馬券’99’ or Yume Baken ’99’ Internet was released on the 21st of October ’99’ and it retailed at the budget price point of ¥2,800. Shangri-La’s software has its genre description listed on SEGA’s archived Dreamcast catalogue in the slightly matter of fact dedicated communication simulation software. Given the lack of general information surrounding Yume Baken ’99’ Internet this resource provides plenty of basic technical specifications about this software utility and i’ve linked to an archived version of it below. ©1999 Shangri･La © SEGA
Perhaps to more casual users of SEGA’s Dreamcast especially those in western regions it might not be immediately obvious why software utilities like Yume Baken ’99’ Internet were released on the system. With the online connectivity being a key tenet of SEGA’s strategy for the Dreamcast it’s clear the online potential offered by the system would be an enticing prospect as it was also marketed as a network terminal in Japan. As for Shangri-La’s release of their horse racing simulation & prediction software on a new system it would allow them to expand their market and with internet ready hardware would allow them to mitigate the need to constantly produce updated discs as the end user could just download the data needed.
Perhaps an important financial aspect would’ve been the implementation of a subscription fee to cover the cost of servers and the licensing cost of accessing the Japan Racing association’s (JRA) data. This would also generate a monthly revenue stream for the company which potentially could substantially impact Shangri-La if they managed to attract enough subscribers. This is an important consideration for publishers currently as subscription fees / additional content can expand the core experience and generate massive profits much more than the original retail packaged title. Shangri-La’s software is now over two decades old which just shows how forward thinking some studios were when maximising the potential of their utility software for SEGA’s last home system.
Shangri-La employed their own unique payment service which handled the subscription fees for Yume Baken ’99’ Internet. Dream Horse Ticket Pass offered two different subscription lengths the first was a thirty-day pass which cost ¥1,500 the second was a longer ninety-day pass which retailed for ¥4,050. It used three payment options which being completely honest i only have experiences of one method myself. The three payment options were QQQ, Accosis & Web Money which was a common payment option for Dreamcast titles online fees. To entice new users to try the online service provided by the software every copy came with a free fourteen-day trial. This was a separate sheet with a twenty-digit code which allowed access if you happen to purchase a used copy and want it complete make sure this sheet is included.
This ultimately explains why Yume Baken ’99’ Internet retailed at a budget price point as with the utility needing a monthly subscription to access data from the JRA meant a more expensive initial price might alienate potential purchasers. I suspect that the reduced price point had another motive as while being ¥2,000 yen cheaper than standard Dreamcast titles it might be more appealing to horse racing enthusiasts who had purchased a Dreamcast for more traditional gaming pursuits.
Personally, i’ve not encountered much in the way of promotional material for Yume Baken ’99’ Internet so i can only assume it was designed to rival the more commonly used traditional print media. The software would fulfil the exact same function as traditional in-print media but without the hassle of acquiring and storing multiple racing papers. Of course, it still needed a continuous outlay to cover its subscription costs but being essentially an online portal, it could provide some unique improvements over what a physical racing paper could offer. Realistically, a large part of its appeal and i have to admit i’m speculating would’ve been the convenance afforded as you could browse almost any information relating to horse racing instantly anytime from the comfort of your own home.
Shangri-La’s utility is quite staggering in just how comprehensive in its breadth the information which it could provide actually was. You could browse any JRA race results stretching back over a decade when the software was first released. Every aspect of the sport was covered in minute detail with examples relating to the jockeys including their names, age, win/loss ratio & their complete career history. It won’t be surprising to find the horses themselves also feature a similar level of insight while also having their pedigree, trainers & stables all searchable. Even the type of weather on a particular race day can be researched and to be perfectly honest i’m probably doing Yume Baken ’99’ Internet something of a disservice as the amount of information which is navigable is simply overwhelming especially to someone not familiar with the nuances of the sport.
Unfortunately, there are two major issues i have with Yume Baken ’99’ Internet the first is no fault on the part of Shangri-La’s software but relates to my ignorance about horse racing in general. This understandably puts myself and others of a similar position at a disadvantage when attempting to discuss the utilities merits especially when using the predictive simulation mode. The company attempted to alleviate this as it did feature a beginner’s mode which explained to novices how to use the statistics & explained the various terminology used unfortunately, this was only available when connected online which is now impossible. Obviously, if you happen to be a Japanese racing enthusiast this wouldn’t be a factor and realistically only people in this niche group would’ve likely purchased a copy of Yume Baken ’99’ Internet in the first place.
The second reason is much more serious more so now than for previous users and that relates to how Yume Baken ’99’ Internet was designed and the functionally it provided. The easiest way to think of this is that the disc was essentially a portal to an online service which through its subscribers could access and download data directly from the JRA’s servers. Given that the software needed an active subscription to take full advantage of the data accessible means that this poses a major hurdle as Shangri-La have been defunct for twenty years and any possibility of acquiring a subscription ended with the company.
The disc isn’t completely devoid of content as it includes some historical statistical data stored on the disc itself. It also features the ability to digitally recreate a limited number of races without either a subscription or internet connection. However, this realistically, pales in comparison to the full functionality that was offered by an online enabled Yume Baken ’99’ Internet and its now impossible to update with the disc now being more akin to a very limited historical archive.
I have to admit that despite my limited interaction with the software i was quite impressed with its overall presentation. It employs a neon aesthetic for its main menus which i found quite unusual as i thought it might be slightly bland given the subject matter and the amount of text it featured. The various sub menus of which there are many are all easily navigable and the information found is easily readable with clear text which in some similar software sadly isn’t always the case. Undoubtedly, the most impressive aspect of Yume Baken ’99’ Internet that i encountered was its predictive simulation race mode which features a comprehensive suite of camera options. Almost every angle conceivable is available all of which are adjustable in realtime and its quite easy to simulate a race just as i’d assume you’d see on a television broadcast.
The only real negative to the games visuals was quite surprising in that it doesn’t support the Dreamcast high-resolution VGA display option which for a mainly text based software whose developer released similar genre software for the Japanese computer market just struck me as something of a missed opportunity. While slightly disappointing i suspect this might’ve been due to the high initial cost & lack of necessary additional hardware by potential patrons but i’m probably overthinking the situation. Certainly, the lack of VGA support is quite baffling but it doesn’t detract as much as you might expect.
While the visual element is fairly solid overall the soundtrack in Yume Baken ’99’ Internet is definitely an eclectic mix and being honest while upbeat it’s not in the same league as you’d find in a traditional game title. As background music while browsing through menus its unintrusive which if you are studying lots of text probably would be quite welcome. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about this musical genre but it seems it would fall under what currently would be described as the hold musical style being more commonly found in tele communication settings hence the name. It might sound like I’m damming it with faint praise but for a niche piece of utility software its audio is at least serviceable. The simulated race mode fares much better as it replicates quite realistically the sound of a real horse race complete with commentary which is quite immersive in its overall effect. As long as you can appreciate that this isn’t a ‘game’ as such I personally, can’t be too negative about the audio found in Shangri-La’s title.
Unfortunately, this leaves Yume Baken ’99’ Internet as an awkward proposition as effectively the whole reason for its existence is rendered obsolete without access to the online servers. Most of the content which is included on the disc is now historical data which possibly might be of very limited interest to a Japanese racing aficionado but I suspect the appeal is likely marginal at best. Arguably, this is compounded as the JRA ‘s current official site allows you to browse race results by each year going as far back as two decades with similar information about trainers, jockeys & horses all being just as easily searchable. It seems that the current JRA website offers everything that Yume Baken ’99’ Internet did and more with only the user editable predictive simulation mode not being replicated.
I suspect that the title realistically had limited appeal as the number of horse racing enthusiasts who firstly owned a Dreamcast then decided to purchase a copy of Shangri-La’s utility software and then take out a subscription was ultimately minuscule. The other issue is this was the second such horse racing and statistical analysis & prediction utility software to be released as Shouei Systems My TrackMan which was in association with five prestigious racing newspapers had already been released. Realistically this could only have negatively affected the sales potential of Yume Baken ’99’ Internet as the demand for two titles with access to the same JRA data must’ve been negligible at best. The only officially announced sales figures seem to support my theory with My TrackMan apparently selling around three thousand copies more than Yume Baken ’99 Internet managed to achieve in around the same time period.
I have tried to find contemporary firsthand accounts of previous users of the software to provide a more complete view but unsurprisingly it proved to be something of an impossible task. The problem with attempting to retrospectively review a title such as Yume Baken ’99 Internet is that it’s hard to currently imagine when the internet didn’t encompass all facets of daily life as it does presently. Over twenty years ago, when Shangri-La published their software the internet was a very different entity to the one that currently exists with dedicated software for each individual service. This makes attempting to review a physical disc which allowed access to a dedicated online service which ceased two decades previously confusing to attempt to describe or actually use. Personally, i think that it was probably a decent utility when it was released but without access to its servers there’s little point to purchase a copy currently.
As i’ve previously mentioned at the start of the article Shangri-La actually developed two titles for the Dreamcast their self-published title Yume Baken ’99 Internet which is covered in this post. The second of their developed titles was パンツァーフロント or Panzer Front which was published by ASCII Corporation Possibly due to Shangri-La becoming defunct but i’ll discuss this in-depth on the respective ASCII Corporation article which i’ll link to here once it’s been published to provide a complete record of the company’s Dreamcast output.
T-40101M Yume Baken ’99 Internet
(NOT FOR SALE) 非売品 discs & other media
I can honestly state that I’ve never encountered any individual 非売品 disc for Yume Baken ’99 Internet and nor would I realistically expect one to exist just by the very nature of the software. I can’t remember any content relating to it on any of the Dreamcast Magazine GD-Rom’s or the partner exclusive Dreamcast Express volumes. However, there is surprisingly some content relating to Shangri-La’s self-published title on SEGA’s Dream Preview Vol. 8 disc.
The content on this disc as you can imagine by its nature isn’t interactive but rather the software’s official video advertisement. This is quite intriguing as it shows how Shangri-La promoted Yume Baken ’99 Internet and provided some information about the functionality that simply can’t be accessed currently.
I think the main reason why not much promotional material was produced in support of Yume Baken ’99 Internet was simply due to being effectively a physical key to an online portal which didn’t make it a particularly easy title to promote outside basic print media & point of sale material. The only realistic candidate for supplementary material would possibly be a guidebook that outlined the various functions or historic races available but I’ve found no evidence to support one was ever published but I can’t confirm it conclusively.
As always thank you for taking the time to read this article about Shangri-La and their self-published title Yume Baken ’99 Internet. Unfortunately, i haven’t been able to provide that much information about it in the way I would’ve liked mainly due to the subject matter and the online service it once provided. Part of why I wanted to do this particular article about Shangri-La is the distinct lack of information about them and their self-published Dreamcast title which has almost nothing relating to it currently online. Sadly, even when it was released it never generated much in the way of a presence either online or in-print articles so there’s not much archived information to research.
The best-case scenario is that ideally, with this article it might bring some information from former subscribers which could elaborate about the functionality it provided and their thoughts on how it compared to print media. If anyone in general could provide any information about Shangri-La especially relating to their formation & demise, I’d be very grateful and would credit them accordingly. If anyone can help you can contact me directly through the site or on Twitter @dreamcastcollector or Instagram @dreamcastcollector