You probably thought that Sega’s official discontinuation of the Dreamcast in 2001 meant we wouldn’t have any new Sega-produced Ecco the Dolphin games for that system. If so, then you were thinking wrong. That’s because a newly unearthed prototype of the Dreamcast has been canceled Ecco II: Guardians of the Universe has appeared on the internet more than 15 years after it was created.
The built prototype, uploaded by Hidden Palace’s game conservators, is dated February 19, 2001, less than a month after Sega announced it would stop supporting the Dreamcast and exit the hardware business for good. It comes on the internet through a large number Ecco Dreamcast assets acquired by Hidden Palace, and the site promises “more exciting (and highly anticipated) [Ecco] things in the coming weeks.”
In addition to the ripped GD-ROM version, which is fully playable on PC Dreamcast emulators, Hidden Palace has also released a self-booting CDI image that can be burned to disc and played on real Dreamcast hardware (and hopefully on a true CRT television, for that authentic 2001 console gaming experience). We can thank Dreamcast’s extremely broken copy protection technology for that minor wrinkle and for the widespread piracy that helped doom and/or popularize the system in its day.
The prototype build date of early 2001 makes this likely one of the last development versions of the game, and likely one of the last Sega-produced Dreamcast discs ever made. Before this playable prototype was dumped, the only concrete details we had of the game came from a 2007 video of a very similar prototype being played on a Dreamcast Katana development kit.
Unlike other canceled Dreamcast projects (such as Toejam and Earl 3), Sega has not switched Guardians of the Universe development to living consoles such as the PS2 and Xbox. That means this prototype is our only hint of how the series might have developed after 2000 Ecco: Defender of the futurewhich is still the last Ecco title ever released (note to Sega: It’s time to reboot this franchise; also: Space channel 5 and Chu Chu missile).
While the Guardians of the Universe prototype is fully playable and acts very similar to its predecessor, it lacks basic features like sound effects, music, or much in the way of the story and explicit goals (except for a few hoops above the water to jump through and placeholders for NPC dolphins to join to talk ). You’ll also encounter plenty of glitches and unpolished art, which isn’t too surprising considering Hidden Palace says “development on the game had only just begun before it was canceled.” The prototype is also stuck in debug mode, leaving the screen cluttered with messages about things like frame rate and runtime errors.
Despite all those issues, it’s still pretty exciting to swim around new, “official” undersea worlds in a franchise (and on hardware) that we thought was long ago abandoned. Now if anyone can find a playable version of the Dreamcast demo for Streets of Anger 4our Sega nostalgia zone will be well saturated.