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|Launch date||November 1994|
|Platform|| SNES |
XBAND (stylized as XBⱯND) was the first competitive online console gaming network, and was available for Super NES and Genesis systems. It was produced by Catapult Entertainment, a Cupertino, California-based software company. It is the only modem released in America to have been officially licensed by Nintendo.It debuted in various areas of the United States in late 1994 and 1995. Online console gaming networks were eventually stabilized in the sixth and later generations of video games, such as Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Nintendo Switch Online.
Online console gaming involves connecting a console to a network over the Internet for services. Through this connection, it provides users the ability to play games with other users online, in addition to other online services.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), also known as the Super NES or Super Nintendo, is a 16-bit home video game console developed by Nintendo that was released in 1990 in Japan and South Korea, 1991 in North America, 1992 in Europe and Australasia (Oceania), and 1993 in South America. In Japan, the system is called the Super Famicom (SFC). In South Korea, it is known as the Super Comboy and was distributed by Hyundai Electronics. The system was released in Brazil on August 30, 1993, by Playtronic. Although each version is essentially the same, several forms of regional lockout prevent the different versions from being compatible with one another.
The Sega Genesis, known as the Mega Drive in regions outside of North America, is a 16-bit home video game console developed and sold by Sega. The Genesis was Sega's third console and the successor to the Master System. Sega released it as the Mega Drive in Japan in 1988, followed by North America as the Genesis in 1989. In 1990, it was distributed as the Mega Drive by Virgin Mastertronic in Europe, Ozisoft in Australasia, and Tec Toy in Brazil. In South Korea, it was distributed by Samsung as the Super Gam*Boy and later the Super Aladdin Boy.
The Genesis version of the XBAND was released in November 1994,with the Super NES version following in June 1995. The Genesis version also works with the Genesis Nomad.
The Genesis Nomad is a handheld game console by Sega released in North America in October 1995. The Nomad is a portable variation of Sega's home console, the Sega Genesis. Based on the Mega Jet, a portable version of the home console designed for use on airline flights in Japan, Nomad served to succeed the Game Gear and was the last handheld console released by Sega. In addition to functioning as a portable device, it was designed to be used with a television set via a video port. Released late in the Genesis era, the Nomad had a short lifespan.
In 1995, Catapult Entertainment signed a deal with General Instrument, producers of the Sega Channel, which stipulated that the XBand modem would henceforth be built into new Sega Channel adapters, and that the top 5 to 10 games offered by Sega Channel each month would be wired for play over XBand.
Sega Channel was an online game service developed by Sega for the Genesis video game console, serving as a content delivery system. Launching in December 1994, Sega Channel was provided to the public by TCI and Time Warner Cable through cable television services by way of coaxial cable. It was a pay to play service, through which customers could access Genesis games online, play game demos, and get cheat codes. Lasting until July 31, 1998, Sega Channel operated three years after the release of Sega's next generation console, the Sega Saturn. Though criticized for its poorly timed launch and high subscription fee, Sega Channel has been praised for its innovations in downloadable content and impact on online services for video games.
Initially, Catapult Entertainment had a limited staff and virtually no advertising.[ citation needed ] By January 1996, XBAND network playability had reached practically every metropolitan area and several rural areas in the U.S.[ citation needed ] The actual XBAND modems were carried by a handful of software and video rental chains across the United States.[ citation needed ] Internationally, the XBAND saw some limited expansion in the Japanese market, and Catapult was working on PC- and Sega Saturn-based versions of the platform, though they merged with Mpath Interactive, and the focus shifted to the online PC gaming service, Mplayer.com.[ citation needed ]
The Sega Saturn is a 32-bit fifth-generation home video game console developed by Sega and released on November 22, 1994 in Japan, May 11, 1995 in North America, and July 8, 1995 in Europe. The successor to the successful Sega Genesis, the Saturn has a dual-CPU architecture and eight processors. Its games are in CD-ROM format, and its game library contains several arcade ports as well as original games.
The concept of playing online was fairly new at the time. Arcades were still quite popular, and online gaming was not yet a household idea.
The XBAND modem was widely available at Blockbuster Video branches during its time. It retailed for $19.99, with additional charges based on usage.Two pricing plans were available. One had a monthly fee of $4.95/40円 and allowed the user to connect to the service up to 50 times a month with each additional connection costing 15 cents. The other had a monthly fee of $9.95 and granted the subscriber an unlimited number of connections per month. Activities that consumed a player's monthly allowance of connections included dialing into the XBAND service for matchmaking, downloading mail (called "XMAIL"), and downloading the daily edition of the two XBAND newsletters, one containing generic news and the other containing platform-specific information such as leaderboards and contest announcements. Players were also assessed a fee of $3.95/hour for connecting to opponents outside their local calling area; player-to-player connections inside their local calling area were free.
The modem features built-in storage for up to four users ("codenames"). It stores user friend lists, which can contain the codenames of up to ten of the user's friends; the users' XMAIL boxes, storing up to ten incoming and ten outgoing messages for each user; the users' rankings, win/loss records, and accumulated scores; a short profile section; and the user's avatar (chosen from 40 preset avatars). Text entry is done either through an on-screen keyboard or an optional XBAND keyboard add-on released later in the network's lifespan.
The client-side system worked by manipulating the game's memory in a way similar to Game Genie and third-party computer game modifications such as Multi Theft Auto.
A problem of most online services of the time was that the connection would be lost whenever a phone on the same line was picked up. The XBand operating system was designed to ensure that connections are not lost due to phone activity; in the case of call waiting, the system would alert the user to the call and allow the game to be resumed.
XBAND had an official website where a member could check any other player's statistics, along with other information and updates that were not available to view on consoles.
At its height, XBAND had 15,000 subscribed members.
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A 1995 article in Next Generation stated that the XBAND modem's "ultra-low latency is the key to its successful handling of realtime videogaming".The modem's data transfer rate was 2,400 bits per second, which, while low compared to PC modems of the time, was sufficient to handle the simple one-on-one games which XBAND was used with.
When connecting to play, unless a player specified a particular user from their friend list, players would be matched with a random player elsewhere in the country (or the player's local area code depending on their preference settings) who was also connecting to play the same game. They used CompuServe server The server would attempt to match players of like skill levels, using the Elo rating system.When the network matched two players up, the newly-connected player's XBAND modem would disconnect from the server and dial the other player, whose own XBAND modem would answer when the phone rang. At that point the players would see the XBAND logo slide together, followed by the matchup screen, which displayed each player's codenames, avatars, locations, and a pre-typed "taunt".
In December 1995 XBAND launched its first national tournament. This is the first modem to modem tournament ever to be held over a console. The grand prize winner received a special Genghis Khan icon for their XBAND profile and a $200 cash prize from Catapult. Peter Kappes aka "SphiNX" of Orlando, FL became the first person in history to win a modem to modem national tournament over a console.
During the last few months of service, several users discovered a way to use a Game Genie to hack the icons of XBAND players. This enabled players to use icons that were otherwise restricted, such as unreleased icons or icons reserved for matches between XBAND team members. Icon hacking resulted in complaints from other users. Rumors about XBAND icon hackers often claimed they were part of elite hacking organizations or members of Catapult Entertainment. Eventually, the method used by the hackers was leaked and inevitably spread throughout the community. [ citation needed ]
By March 16, 1997, people could only play within their local area code. On April 30, 1997, the entire network was removed.
XBAND had announced in their previous monthly newsletter that they were shutting down, with the newsletter writers citing the service's lack of popularity as the cause.[ citation needed ] According to Next Generation , XBAND "never turned a significant profit". During XBAND's existence, only a handful of advertisements were ever made, and only one game, Weaponlord, had the XBAND logo on its box. XBAND stated in their newsletter that players were their best form of advertising, and offered the "XBAND 6 pack", where members could order six modems at a discounted rate and receive a month of free gaming in exchange for signing up a certain number of people to the service.
Heavy contributors to XBAND's demise were the lack of support from game developers and limited internal resources. With the exception of Weaponlord, Catapult had to individually reverse engineer each game's code, then develop a hack to intercept two-player activity so the game could be shared over a low-latency (fast response time), 2400-baud modem connection.
Catapult's second generation attempts were blocked by the hardware manufacturers. The XBAND was launched in Japan on April 1, 1996 for the Sega Saturn.Unlike the SNES and Genesis versions of XBAND, it did not require an XBAND-specific modem, instead utilizing Sega's own Sega NetLink device (which included a 14,400 baud modem in Japan and a 28,800 baud modem in North America). Despite this, neither the Saturn XBAND nor an expansion into the PC market panned out, as developers frequently opted to include their own network linking rather than deal with Catapult's subscription-based service.
A major issue for the XBAND service was free long-distance phone calls. It was discovered that a user could record the tones sent from an XBAND modem and then receive the long-distance service number, the authentication code, and phone number of the player you were connecting to. This information allowed anyone to access long-distance phone calls that were charged to Catapult.
Paging company SkyTel faced similar problems from both XBAND users and their own customers. XBAND users performed brute-force attacks against SkyTel's mobile paging system in order to discover voicemail boxes using the same number as the login and password, using these to extend their communication with each other. Most messages consisted simply of shout-outs with music playing in the background.
A common complaint was that if a player was losing a match, they could simply pull their phone cord out or reset their system. This tactic, known as "cord-pulling" among XBAND users, prevented the XBAND service from crediting either player with the win or loss.In response to complaints, the company developed a program which would detect such forced disconnections and assign a loss to the perpetrator and a win to the victim. However, this led to a flood of calls from users claiming that their reset button had been pushed by accident and demanding that the loss be erased from their record; facing unsustainable customer service costs, Catapult changed the program so that while victims of cord-pulling were awarded a win, perpetrators were no longer penalized in any way.
Despite poor marketing success, the XBAND team did manage some publicity gains when they joined forces with a number of gaming magazines, starting on the web with Game Zero magazine and later in Tips & Tricks Magazine. Daily stats were accessible via 'XBAND News' on the modem, although they were not visible to the general public. Publishing stats added a "cool" factor to brag about in the early forefronts of online gaming. The top-ranked gamers of the previous month were published starting in January 1996 in Game Zero and, starting in early 1996, in Tips & Tricks magazine as well.
The following games have been analyzed, and online compatibility provided, by XBAND.
(Japan XBAND branded releases only)
On May 4th, 2019, YouTuber Wrestling With Gaming released a documentary on the XBAND network, its origins and eventual demise.Having collected exclusive interviews from former Catapult employees as well as users of the service, the documentary also contains footage and advertisements of the network, and some material previously unknown to the public. Ongoing efforts to revive the service are also demonstrated.
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