Visual Concepts is probably most well known for the Dreamcast's excellent 2K sports series but towards the end of the Dreamcast's lifespan, they went off in an entirely new, non-sports-related direction. Floigan Bros. and Ooga Booga were released in late 2001 and slipped under the radar for a lot of gamers who were moving on to other consoles. This doesn't mean they were bad games by any stretch of the imagination, they just had bad timing. In fact, these two games are some of my favorites on the system. They both have an entirely unique style and concept (pardon the pun) that I have yet to see in any other games to this day. To me, they represent the main reason I love the Dreamcast so much: the quirky, fun, and unique library of games. Sega wasn't afraid to try something new which is a rarity in today's market where every other game is a cookie-cutter first-person shooter. Not that there's anything wrong with a good first-person shooter but what happened to the creativity and inspiration to try something new and different? Maybe that will return some day but for now we at least have games like Ooga Booga to fall back on when we get bored of no-scoping 9-year-olds.
So what went on in the minds of the folks that created Ooga Booga? How did they come up with this plumb crazy, boar-filled, tropical themed, genre-defying game? Let's have a chat with the game's producer, John Race, and find out!
Character concept art by Michael Biancalana
Race scale by Michael Biancalana
Q: Was the game intended from the beginning to have a focus on online multiplayer? It seems Sega was really pushing for developers to implement online functionality into games, especially in later titles like this one.
"Yes, as I said that was a big reason for the whole thing."
Q: I find the lack of support for the broadband adapter kind of strange, especially since it was such a late release. Was there a reason that was left out?
"I think it was just the aggressive schedule that we had. It could also have been that the executive layer at VC and Sega realized that it wouldn’t be widely adopted so no point in putting more money and time behind it. I don’t pretend to know the reason but as far as I’m aware, it was never even brought up."
Q: Was there anything that you wanted to add to the game that didn't make it in the final product? Possibly additional game modes or VMU functionality? Being a very late Dreamcast release, I'm sure you were fairly rushed to get the game out before consumers lost interest in the system.
"Yeah, it was a real crunch project. I think one of the things we were really smart about, and a lot of credit for this goes to Greg Thomas and Scott Patterson who ran VC, is keeping the scope tight. We knew we had limited time and we really needed to be focused on the core experience. Greg and Scott are super smart and very involved in every part of a project. They gave us tons of latitude but so good about helping us understand where to focus, where to put the effort. The project was meant to show the potential for Dreamcast online gaming, and in that sense I think it succeeded."
Game brochure by Michael Biancalana, Marten Lundsten and Leandro Penaloza
Q: Going off topic a little here but were there any other games Visual Concepts had planned for the Dreamcast that were cancelled due to Sega exiting the hardware business? I'm always intrigued by cancelled games.
"For completely personal reasons I left VC shortly after Ooga so I don’t have a lot of insight into this. We were starting to kick around ideas for another original title, but at that point I don’t think anyone was thinking of Dreamcast. Certainly not for the lead platform."
Q: One final question. What are the chances of seeing a sequel to Ooga Booga? I know Sega still owns the rights to the IP but maybe a spiritual sequel would be possible if you couldn't obtain the rights from them?
"Oh god. I wish. I’d love to revisit some of that stuff, if only as a consumer. But I’m so far removed from those discussions. And honestly, given how Ooga performed at retail, I don’t think it has enough of even a cult following for it to make sense. But you never know. I’m sure if there was some sort of resurgence in Ooga awareness and suddenly the audience was there, they would absolutely go for it. Sadly though, I have a hard time imagining that happening."
A big thanks to John for taking the time to answer the questions for this interview! Ooga Booga is one of my personal favorite Dreamcast games so it's fascinating to learn more about its origins. Hopefully one day we'll see a sequel or be able to play the original online once again. If any Sega employees are reading this, bring this up with your boss will ya?