Opinion: Hucast and the Business of Dreamcast

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When speaking of the SEGA Dreamcast “nostalgia” is a word that is often mentioned, and it wouldn’t be an incorrect description of many gamers’ feelings towards the system. Countless articles and blog posts have been written about the prominence of the Dreamcast and how it died too soon. From that love of the little white box, an incredible scene of independent developers and publishers has continued the dream over the past decade with a steady stream of new games and multiplatform releases.

Of course some of the Dreamcast’s current rebirth has to do with nostalgia. Some of it is that the Dreamcast is a good platform choice for relatively unknown developers to showcase their work and stretch their game making muscle. Some of it is for the simple love of the Dreamcast. However from that love a still fervent Dreamcast community (developers and fans alike) should move past nostalgia to recognize that Dreamcast development is now a business again within the video game industry.

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Early Dreamcast publishers like Goat Store, redspotgames and NG:Dev.Team saw the desire for new Dreamcast games and have set a high bar for game development and releasing. Their games, and each new commercial Dreamcast release that follows, are on professionally pressed discs with similarly professionally printed covers and manuals. Game soundtracks are professionally composed and released alongside their games. Most games support official Dreamcast accessories beyond the standard controller like the mouse, keyboard and arcade stick, or the VMU’s screen during gameplay, as well as aftermarket accessories like the Dreamcast SD card adapter and VGA devices.

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The word “professionally” is not used here lightly. Thanks to the aforementioned publishers, the Dreamcast community has come to expect professional work from professional releases, and that’s a good thing. But as quality is raised across the board in terms on the games themselves, so must the quality in how a company or developer conducts their business.

Game development and distribution can be complicated and issues arise. It happens to big companies on big consoles, it happens to small companies on small platforms, and it’s happened to nearly every independent Dreamcast release. And while no one likes to hear about development problems or game delays, especially when the publisher already has collected Kickstarter or pre-order funds, the Dreamcast community like the gaming community as a whole understands it’s a part of the process and tries to remain patient. But when an issue does arise it’s the responsibility of the developer or publisher to communicate that issue to customers and fans.

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That’s when nostalgia for the Dreamcast only goes so far and the need to recognize that Dreamcast game development is once again a full-fledged business becomes apparent. And there’s no bigger player in the business of Dreamcast than developer and publisher Hucast Games.

Hucast is owned and operated by René Hellwig who, along with his brother Timm Hellwig at NG:Dev Team, developed ‘Last Hope,’ one of the first critically and commercially successful independent Dreamcast games. While the next few NG:Dev Team games would also release on Dreamcast, René Hellwig left the team after ‘Last Hope’ to focus solely on the Dreamcast and founded Hucast.

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Hucast’s first release was the Dreamcast exclusive shooter ‘Dux’ in 2009. Homage of sorts to ‘R-Type,’ the game flew under the radar at launch and was mostly well received despite having a  that negated the saving of high scores.

It wasn’t until Hucast’s very successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign for ‘Redux: Dark Matters’ that the developer really started to gain recognition not just in the Dreamcast community, but in the gaming community worldwide.

Redux: Dark Matters was billed as a new shump for Dreamcast. Among the tiers was a Kickstarter exclusive steelcase edition that included an updated version of the original ‘Dux,’ appropriately named ‘Dux 1.5,’ with release scheduled for December 2012. At the time of its announcement, Hucast made clear that the only way to obtain ‘Dux 1.5’ was through the Kickstarter exclusive steelcase edition or limited edition of ‘Redux: Dark Matter.’

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December 2012 came and went, and while Hucast did provide the occasional Kickstarter update, the reasons for delay were resigned to vague heavy kickbacks explanations during development. Then the Kickstarter exclusive steelcase edition became available for purchase at Hucast’s online store. That was followed by a full retail release of ‘Dux 1.5’ in April 2013. The much hyped Kickstarter exclusive, which helped drive pledges, was now available for anyone to purchase almost a year before Kickstarter backers of ‘Redux’ received their games. This angered many Kickstarter backers, but the biggest controversy surrounding ‘Redux’ was yet to come.

A few months before ‘Redux: Dark Matters’ was to release on one of its announced release dates of December 3, 2013, Hellwig finally clarified that ‘Redux: Dark Matters’ was in fact a remake of ‘Dux.’ That effectively made ‘Redux’ the second remake of ‘Dux’ after ‘Dux 1.5.’ While ‘Redux’s’ Kickstarter page did not explicitly state the game was a remake, it did specifically state it was a new shump thus pushing perception that it was a sequel rather than a remake.

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From The Gagaman’s “First Impressions: ‘Redux: Dark Matters’ for the SEGA Dreamcast” article: “Above is just a small example of the resolution difference between Dux 1.5 and Redux, which is on the right. I can only get photos of still shots from the game and my capture equipment doesn’t really do the Dreamcast justice.”

Once Kickstarter backers began to receive their copies of ‘Redux’ they noticed there was one more thing Hellwig never clarified throughout the development process and Kickstarter campaign: the game graphically did not look the same as all the media shown up to the point of release. The game was fuzzy and jaggy, and not ‘HD’ quality. Through their Facebook page, Hucast explained that they had made a mistake “confusing the Dreamcast and HD builds” of the game. They also retroactively added a disclaimer to ‘Redux’ trailers stating the footage was captured on PC, but those videos have since been removed from YouTube. To make matters worse, if the first boss was encountered in the wrong way ‘Redux’ would freeze and a hard reset of the Dreamcast would be needed.

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Much like the original ‘Dux,’ Hucast offered an updated version of ‘Redux’ dubbed ‘Redux 1.1.’ For a short period replacement discs were offered to owners of the original ‘Redux,’ but Hucast required additional payment to cover shipping. ‘Redux 1.1’ would also go on to be offered in multiple editions for purchase at full price, just like every variation of ‘Dux’ before it.

While Kickstarter backers of ‘Redux: Dark Matters’ continued to wait for their game due to delay after delay, Hucast began to take pre-orders of their next, in-house developed Dreamcast game ‘The Ghost Blade.’ The limited to 300 copies Supporters Edition went up for preorder on Hucast’s online game store in January 2013 with an early-bird price of 79€. It featured an ‘exclusive’ start screen, ‘exclusive’ packaging, an ‘exclusive’ artbook, preorderer’s name in the credits, the official soundtrack, a beta demo disc ahead of release, and a SuperPlay DVD. Despite ‘Redux’ still unreleased at that time, ‘The Ghost Blade’ was scheduled to ship by the end of 2013.

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The Supporter Edition of ‘The Ghost Blade’ quickly sold out, and Hucast up its initial run from 300 to 500 copies. The game also dropped ‘The’ from its title, and the Supporter Edition became the Collector’s Edition as other copies became available for purchase passed its initial offering.

2013 came and went without the release of ‘Redux: Dark Matters’ or ‘Ghost Blade,’ and despite ‘Redux’s’ eventual release in January 2014, the entirety of 2014 was a quiet year for ‘Ghost Blade.’ But Hucast was keeping busy.

In January 2015 Hucast announced they would publish and release a port of Orion’s mobile platformer ‘Alice’s Mom’s Rescue,’ with both regular and limited editions, on Dreamcast the following month. April 2015 saw the much awaited news that ‘Ghost Blade’ would release in September 2015 with two-player co-op in Stage Mode and Caravan Mode.

Despite a release date, ‘Ghost Blade’ was still not complete, but a few weeks later in May 2015 Hucast announced development was already underway on ‘Redux 2’ for release on Dreamcast in 2016. Then in July 2015 Hucast announced it would publish and release ports of ‘Elansar & Philia’ for Dreamcast, before closing pre-orders for ‘Redux 2’ to “focus” on ‘Ghost Blade.’

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About once a month Hucast would post on their official WordPress site and Facebook page reminders that ‘Ghost Blade’ was coming out in September. Hellwig in particular was active promoting the game’s release through media and interviews, but never specifically mentioned ‘Ghost Blade’s’ actual development. In addition, the ‘Ghost Blade’ beta demo disc included with the purchase of the supporter/collector’s edition never materialized.

‘Ghost Blade’s’ release came as promised the week of September 21, 2015 much to the delight of Dreamcast fans worldwide. Gamers were eager to get their hands on the visually impressive Dreamcast exclusive. Order shipping confirmation had never been a consistent feature of Hucast’s online store, so customers were forced to email or Facebook message Hucast regarding confirmation of their orders.

It was at this time Hellwig revealed via Facebook that only the regular edition and limited edition of ‘Ghost Blade’ were shipping. The supporter/collector’s edition was delayed until (at least) November 2015, because the person who was to record the SuperPlay DVD could not record it yet. This effectively meant that the first people to pre-order ‘Ghost Blade’ would be the last to receive their pre-orders.

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But as with the ‘Redux: Dark Matters,’ the release of ‘Ghost Blade’ gets worse. Those customers that had received their copies in a timely manner after release were at a loss when searching the game for one of its most touted features: Caravan Mode.

Queries, again through Hucast’s Facebook page, prompted Hellwig to admit that Caravan Mode was not included in the final game and that it had been “abandoned” at some point during development. However no announcement of Caravan Mode being dropped was ever made prior to the September 24th Facebook post admission. This left consumers with literally half the game they had paid for.

Hucast was quick to remove mention of Caravan Mode from ‘Ghost Blade’s official description on its online store, but the game’s description has gone unchanged on Hucast’s retail partner Play-Asia as well as it being listed in past Hucast’s announcements.

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Customers and fans of Hucast have unfortunately become accustomed to poor customer service, apathetic responses by René Hellwig, shady moves in making otherwise exclusive content available to all, and even Hucast preying on Dreamcast’s fans’ nostalgia with re-releases and multiple editions to garner business.

But just because a game isn’t officially licensed by SEGA for their system, does not mean publishers and developers should not be held to industry and business standards. After all, independent Dreamcast games are professionally made and marketed, and these are proper companies releasing a commercial product.

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Because when a consumer purchases a product from a company, both parties are entered into a business contract. The consumer agrees to the price asked for by the company by making payment, and the company provides said product as described.

Hucast is a proper company commercially releasing professionally made games, and taking and managing orders for a product they agreed to provide as described. So the confirmation by Hucast of the lack of Caravan Mode in ‘Ghost Blade’ AFTER the game was already in consumers’ hands isn’t just another case of poor communication or questionable business practices.

It’s fraud. Plain and simple.

Hucast Down

Since the revelations that the supporter/collector’s edition of ‘Ghost Blade’ won’t release until November and the exclusion of Caravan Mode in the final product, Hucast’s online store has gone down for “maintenance.” In its place is a message that simply reads, “hucast.com will be back online at 3rd January 2016.”

As of this writing, the last Hucast or ‘Ghost Blade’ related post on Hucast’s Facebook page is from September 29. Hellwig’s last post on Facebook was September 30th, responding to a query about Hucast’s online store being down by reiterating it will “re-open on 3rd January 2016.” Outside of contacting Hellwig directly, there is no way to check the status of current orders including the yet-to-be-released ‘Ghost Blade’ Supporter/Collector’s Edition, and no way to check or cancel pre-orders of the previously announced ‘Redux 2.’

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Today’s Dreamcast developers and publishers are small operations, and no one is saying they should have a full time public relations and/or marketing department. But we live in a time where 140 characters or less is considered an official statement. Facebook posts are used for press releases. It’s not unreasonable for consumers to expect a little communication or minor update every once in a while, especially when a game goes passed its original release date and the publisher has their money.

Hucast, like all companies, has a responsibility to maintain a line of communication and do right by their customers, and they should be held to this responsibility.

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And while other Dreamcast developers are also guilty of not handling their business properly, not all indie developers are like Hucast. There are developers that have respect for their customers; for their fans, and understand that the only way they can make great games for the Dreamcast is when the Dreamcast community supports them.

But it’s not a question of nostalgia or being a labor of love, because Dreamcast game development is still a business, and as such, should be appropriately treated as one.

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25 responses to “Opinion: Hucast and the Business of Dreamcast

  1. Bravo, sir, bravo. Excellent article I wholeheartedly agree with 🙂

  2. cube_b3 says:

    Nice article but you have some facts wrong.

    Last Hope is not critically acclaimed. The game is fairly bad and it is on record at the DC Emu forums that GOAT Dan passed on publishing due to visibility complaints. This led Max GSP’s German promoter to release the game under RSG.

    Since Rene is a graphic artist, he started working on Dux until Tim completed Fast-Striker. One of my first contributions at SegaBits was an interview with Rene Hellwig promoting Fast Striker. He never left NGDT.

    I also feel you skipped over games that Hucast published professionally and exceptionally. Alice’s Mom’s Rescue and Elisnar/Philia were released ahead of schedule.

    • I should point out that DCGX stated ” first critically and commercially successful”. Much different than “critically acclaimed” (your words, not his). For an independent release, I recall Last Hope receiving good reviews and selling well. It was the first indie Dreamcast game to accomplish both of these things so what DCGX said is accurate.

      Alice’s Mom’s Rescue and Elansar & Philia, to my knowledge, were completed and were only looking for a publisher. This article covers games René developed and published under Hucast. Not external titles only seeking a publisher. Let’s not forget that Alice’s Mom’s Rescue was overpriced, much to the chagrin of the developer, and that with Hucast down until January both of these games do not have a retail outlet until 2016.

    • cube_b3 says:

      For customer convenience Rene wanted to stop international shipping altogether so that people could purchase from his affiliates. The consumers strongly protested against that decision so he complied. In any case Hucast has a strong distribution system which consists of almost a dozen stores across the planet.

      As for Last Hope the game is unplayable. Hardcore Shm’up fans may have tolerated it but the visibility issues affected the game which is why they released pink bullets. The sales figures are fairly low for a game that came out in 2006. The game may have been a successful Neo-Geo game where the demand exceeds supply. The same does not extend to Dreamcast.

      Last Hope CE + RE = 2500 Units pressed. Not sold. Pressed. (A few units were handed out to DCS contributors/Game Convention contributors and other affiliates for free).

      Up until 2009 ever successive indie Dreamcast game sold less and less as the systems popularity declined with every year. Since Feet of Fury came out in 2003 when the system was still really popular it has sold the most units. The exact sales figures are locked behind NDA’s but GoatDan has stated on numerous occasions, “It is laughable to think any game released in 2010 can sell more than a game released in 2003”.

      Lastly, one great thing about Hucast is that they are a proud part of the scene, they always promote other games. Rene helped spread the word on Elysian Shadows and more recently he helped out with Alice Dreams Tournament. Even though Alice Team decided to publish the game independently.

  3. cube_b3 says:

    Further more, I would like to attest that I have received respectable customer service from Hucast. I have castigated, denounced and rejected unethical marketing practices.

    However, Rene has always communicated with me and when my order was Lost he sent me a boat load of games free to make up for it:
    http://www.dreamcast-scene.com/news/from-germany-with-love/

    All the extra games were given away in multiple contests over the course of the year.

    • Although you are a guy who runs a Dreamcast fan site, DCGX is not. So it’s not as though you and he are in the same boat from a consumer perspective.

    • cube_b3 says:

      That’s pretty much what everyone in the comments said. I would point out that Hucast is great with Adam as well but he runs a popular vlog.

      Also do you remember how cool RSG was, their games came packaged with so many extras. Off course everything went up in flames with Sturmwind but prior to that things were great.

    • I’m usually a fan of your articles, so I’m happy to say hi to you here.

      You must be the only one who got such excellent service and compensation. I got blocked from his Facebook page after I complained and he only replies to my emails when there is money involved. I still don’t know where my order is.

    • cube_b3 says:

      Hi,

      Sorry to hear that. I would recommend Play-Asia.

      I think Hucast should reinstate their decision to not ship beyond Germany or Europe max.

  4. CD ageS says:

    Personally speaking, customer service from HuCast has been simply atrocious in more than one occasion. I paid shipping cost to receive my free copy of Dux 1.5 disc after showing proof that I was a purchaser of the original Dux. I never got my free copy nor any explaination from HuCast after trying to contact them. I was also a Kickstarter backer for ReDux for the Steelcase variant. At some point HuCast asked their customers for more money towards shipping the game with the promise of tracked shipping. I paid the additional cost for piece of mind, however I never got a confirmation # from HuCast after asking them for it multiple times. My copy eventually arrived. I never got my free copy of Dux 1.5 disc.
    To me, Rene is a crook who is simply looking to prey and milk a dedicated fanbase with questionable products and terrible communication with its customers. Ever since then, I have refused to purchase anything from HuCast ever again. I’m a big Dreamcast fan, but not enough to deal with such an entity with a total lack responsibility.

    A great read. A great article.

  5. Ross OReilly says:

    Hucast are the scourge of the indie game community. I will never buy another game from them.

    I bought one of the dux games from them. When playing it, I realized that half of the sound FXs weren’t popping so I sent an email to them about it as I wasn’t sure if it was a fault of my copy or all of the games.

    Renee himself asked me to make a video, so I did. This vide clearly showed that half of the sound effects didn’t pop. He then replied saying that he didn’t know what I was talking about, all the sound effects were fine.

    Unbelievable, I have video evidence and still he’s going to deny to me that there isn’t a serious problem with te sound effects.

    My copy of Ghost Blade that I bought in June also still has not arrived, even though it’s available n eBay and Play Asia.

    • Winifred says:

      Maybe it’s your TV, or independent sound output?
      Perhaps they were skeptical because they tried multiple copies of the game and found no issue when referencing your complaint. If it’s neither of these, then it must be your actual copy, in which case they should accept a return and exchange, and they can verify it themselves on their systems that it is your copy that has the problem.

    • I saw the vid and the replies. It was just a normal copy. The game has very low, irregular sound effects, that’s all. He thought it was a bug, Rene replied it was all normal.

    • Ross says:

      It was not my TV. I tried it through VGA on my regular TV and composite through my CRT. I own well over a thousand games on various platforms and have never had such a problem.

      The video clearly showed that at least %40 of sound effects were not popping and Rene refused to admit it even though he had seen and heard the video himself.

      He’s an arsehole and his company is one of the worst I’ve ever dealt with. I will never buy one of their products again.

  6. Leo The Woodlouse says:

    Excellent article, well written and detailed.

    Dreamcast = the one console that should have definitely been a success and not be held back by consumer ignorance. should never have left it’s commercial viability as early as it did.

  7. Ross says:

    The fair though, it’s not just Hucast. The entire Dreamcast indie scene is full of dodgey companies.

    Goat store/ Slave
    They showed a recent “near complete” build of the game running on actual hardware. The game looked great so I prepurchased it believing that the game would be released in September. just before being due to be released they make an announcement that there’s a bug in the game engine and the engine has to be completely rewritten from scratch. I’ve never heard of anything like that before, but it sounds dodgey as hell to me.

    Watermelon/ Piersolar
    I prepurchased the game at the beginning of the year, months went by with no news of the game. A couple months ago they showed a completed version of the game ready for printing, but to this day they have still not been sent out.
    Recently a picture leaked of a guy who was able to buy one at a convention. Why are they selling them at conventions if they haven’t yet fulfilled their commitments to send out the game to people who paid for it up to three years ago?!?!

    It seems I never learn my lesson though, because recently I backed Saber Rider through Kickstarter. Then after it had been funded and the money taken from my account they announce that Watermelon is handling publishing and production of the game. If I’d known that, I would have never backed the thing.

    There’s just too many shady tactics in the Dreamcast indie scene. I won’t be pre purchasing any games anymore. %90 of the games are below average crap that no one would pay any attention to if they were released on Steam or XBL anyway.

    We’re just a bunch of fools who buy anything with the word Dreamcast on it because of our misguided nostalgia for the system.

    • Ross says:

      *to be fair though.

    • T_U says:

      There were some pretty awesome titles, though… Stürmwind and Gun Lord would deserve to be released on every other platform, for instance.

      There should have been only one Dux, though. I like it, but the whole story is a catastrophy 🙁

  8. Gus says:

    So, if an indie dev wanted to release a Dreamcast game nowadays, what publishing options would be left?

    I ask because I am starting to develop a small indie game and I would like to make a Dreamcast version, but I am not sure who I could publish it with.

  9. T_U says:

    Sadly, I have to agree with what is said on this blogpost.

    However, I must say I always was lucky when exchanging emails with Hucast. For instance, I received Ghost Blade within 2 days after the actual release. I emailed to say I received the wrong version (was 50% my fault because I upgraded from RE to LE afterwards). I got a reply quickly and I received the LE a few days later. (so I got the RE for free !).

  10. Although I’ve just found out about the delay on the collector’s edition of Ghost Blade, I feel Rene will at the very least follow through with the orders outstanding, I can’t say I’ve ever had any problems with Hucast as a company, yes their postage rates are pretty outrageous for standard, non-tracked small packages with little-to-no way of chasing the order up, but I’ve never had a product that hasn’t turned up from them.
    Hucast are a business, and Rene a business man, he’s out to make money from a passion on his and I respect his decision to publish on the Dreamcast, it’s not as if he’s releasing crap, the games released are of a very good standard, bugs aside. I speak probably more from a collector’s standpoint rather than a gamer as such. I don’t play these games in massive depth and will pick at them from time to time so just playing a new game on hardware from 1999 is good enough for me even if the wait between new titles can be 2 years or so at a time.
    I think if we were really looking at ‘interesting’ practises in the Dreamcast community, my opinion is that KTX software should be put under a microscope for their closed-door approach to the development of Leona’s Tricky Adventures, I bought and paid for that after the Kickstarter died down with the intention that it’d hopefully see a 2013 release, and to this day with 2015 almost done, a select few know some information and have done some beta tests, yet no product has been seen, given that I also run a Dreamcast website, I’ll be covering the aforementioned game early next year.

    In regards to Watermelon, anybody who bought the Megadrive / Genesis version will understand the delays that occur within that company, once the DC version does make it out, I should imagine the attention to detail will be second to none, knowing that the team at WM have a keen eye for packaging details.
    I personally think the way RedSpotGames were chased from the stage with pitchforks was risible at best, the company published some of the finest Dreamcast products around, and to this day, i’d maintain that Sturmwind is the very finest independent release we’ve seen on the machine so far, so to see how Max and the company were treated, I don’t really blame him for being driven underground.

    All-in-all, this is the bitter price us Dreamcast owners have to pay for funding these games so early, with the wait as I mentioned, up to 2 years from conception to release, we have very little in the way of ‘rights’ when things end up going wrong, if I had one desire for a more smooth distribution of Dreamcast releases, it would be that the title isn’t revealed until it’s a realistic time frame away, for example not out of the realms of a PayPal dispute. Thank god the guys at Alice Team and Retroguru release their games with a small turnaround time.

    • cube_b3 says:

      Beautifully written my friend.

      Yes, it is a business but it is also a labor of love.

      Consumers can not expect the same level of customer support as a multinational corporation at the same time it is the duty of these small-medium enterprises to not exploit their customers.

  11. Hitrax says:

    It’s always good to see the Dreamcast still getting the love and support that it does to this day. However does it really always have to be restricted to shmup genre games?
    Still, it’s amazing it has lasted so long, even outliving the Playstations 1 and 2, and probably 3 as well.

  12. http://www./ says:

    I haven’t checked in here for a while since I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I will add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend

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