June 17, 2021

Gp Delivers

The excellent automotive artisans

Toyota’s Dreamcast Virtual Showroom Discs Made Car Buying Fun

Illustration for article titled Toyota's Dreamcast Virtual Showroom Discs Made Car Buying Fun

Photo: Toyota

The Sega Dreamcast was home to many notable racing games despite its short time with us, from Yu Suzuki’s Ferrari F355 Challenge to Test Drive Le Mans, Crazy Taxi and a very goofy version of Daytona USA. They weren’t all winners, but they were genuinely interesting titles. Wouldn’t you know, even Toyota published some “games” on Sega’s final console, too.

I use the term “game” loosely here, mind you, because you don’t really play these particular pieces of software, nor do you get the opportunity to drive the Toyotas featured on these Toyota-branded discs. This was the Japanese automaker’s Doricatch series of virtual showroom experiences, shown at its dealerships in Japan and never sold to the public. There were nine of them in all, published in 1999 and 2000, for the Celica, FunCargo, Gaia, Hilux Surf, Land Cruiser 100/Cygnus, Celsior, Estima, Land Cruiser Prado and RAV4 L.

Essentially, the idea was that Toyota would have Dreamcasts running this software at its dealers, allowing customers to examine and customize highly detailed, computer-generated models of the company’s latest vehicles. Options could be added, so potential buyers could visualize their ideal Toyota. All the while, the camera panned around the cars as they traveled down endless roads, making these digital pamphlets feel sort of like tech demos in a way.

Dreamcast obsessive that I am, I was surprised to learn about the Doricatch series this week. I had no idea these discs existed until a friend alerted me to a Yahoo Auctions Japan listing for several of them. Even finding footage of Doricatch software is tough. YouTube has a couple of clips, most of which are of terrible quality as they were uploaded in 2008 and shot off-screen. The best example I’ve come across is a recording of a disc image running off an SD card via the Dreamshell custom firmware, and even that was published nine years ago.

Still, it gives us a pretty good idea of how these Doricatch experiences functioned. In the particular example embedded above, users could option a Land Cruiser 100 or a Cygnus, which was the Japanese-market name for the Lexus LX470.

The model quality is extremely clean and detailed for the time, which isn’t a surprise considering these weren’t games and therefore the Dreamcast was able to dedicate pretty much all of its power to pumping out these polygonal renders. There even looks to be a fairly detailed interior visible through translucent glass, with a driver inside — things you didn’t often see in racing games from the era.

In fact, the only actual racing game I can think of on Dreamcast that approaches this level of detail is Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2, which contains gorgeous — though technically unlicensed — car models and moody midnight lighting.

The options are nice to see as well, and I wish the user here explored more of them in this short clip. We can see that the LX-like tailgate of the Cygnus is swapped for one with a spare tire mounted outside the car — an unusual look on this SUV, one I am not accustomed to seeing and for that reason find very cool. After optioning your Land Cruiser the way you like, you’re free to send it on a desolate, infinite desert trail as breezy generic guitar rock loops in the background.

Supposedly, CRI — CSK Research Institute — was responsible for developing the Doricatch series for Toyota. CSK was Sega’s corporate parent, and CRI was primarily known for developing middleware tools, like Sofdec and ADX, that were quite popular during this generation of gaming when efficient audio and video codecs were especially important. It’s interesting, then, that Sega itself, rather than a third-party studio, more or less made this directly for Toyota.

And it wouldn’t be the only time Toyota fraternized with a game developer to help it sell cars. Gran Turismo fans may be aware of Toyota’s Netz demo, a disc published in 2001 before Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec’s release, for the automaker’s Netz dealer channel. (In case you were curious, Netz apparently stood for “Network of Energetic Teams for Zenith” — whatever that means.)

Unlike the Doricatch series, the GT Netz disc actually let you drive some cars — in this case, the Altezza RS200, MR-S S-Edition and Vitz RS 1.5. The only tracks featured here are a very curious Gran Turismo 2-derived version of Super Speedway and Trial Mountain. Based on the lighting, music, interface and vehicle dynamics, the Netz disc appears to be a weird hybrid of GT2 and GT3’s assets and code, similar to Gran Turismo 2000.

I’m charmed to think back to a time when someone might’ve walked into a Japanese Toyota dealership, picked up a Dreamcast pad and started modifying their next car at a kiosk. This seems trite and pointless today, but back then games being used for multimedia advertising seemed hip and legitimizing for the medium, not vapid and opportunistic. Sadly, that particular Doricatch auction ended, but I wouldn’t mind sourcing at least the Celica disc — even if it’s the last-gen Celica that gets too much hate.