Sunday, October 24, 2021

[YouTube] XBAND Video Game Modem

The XBAND Video Game Modem was created by Catapult Entertainment and distributed by THQ in November 1994 for the Sega Genesis and in June 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Although no 16-bit games were designed for online play, the modem allowed two players to compete with one another online. It fits into the console's cartridge slot with a supported game cartridge being plugged into the top of the modem. Subscriptions for online play cost $7.95/month or $39.75 for six months and had a limited number of credits (one game session per credit) per month. Those prices are stated in the manual but when I acquired the device in 1995 the cost had been reduced to $4.95/month. It also appears as if the modem was originally $69.95 but within about six months the cost was reduced to $19.99. 

From within the XBAND network users could also read news, check stats, and send messages, and to assist in typing messages an optional keyboard accessory was available for purchase as well. I only subscribed for one month, primarily because it didn't work well where I lived. It's not too surprising since at the time I was living in the outskirts of a small town. I expect it faired much better for those that lived in or nearby major cities as the review below from Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) indicates the service ran quite well for them. NHL 95 would have be the only game I played on XBAND since I loved EA's hockey series. Maybe Madden would have worked better since it isn't as fast as hockey and you aren't trying to deke a goalie to score but I never tried that one. Every player had their win-loss record tracked for each game and the best players sometimes appeared in the pages of game magazines.

The above scans are all from 1995 issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly.

It's a unique product for the time period as it is one of the earliest online gaming devices for consoles, perhaps the first in North America. The XBAND was available in Japan and Brazil too, and Sega actually had its own online service called Meganet in those regions but that never materialized in North America. The XBAND service ended in April 1997 as the 16-bit generation was winding down. All of the supported games on Genesis were either sports titles or fighting games which makes sense since this is about competing. I expect having two-player same-screen multiplayer would be required but the SNES did support Super Mario Kart which would have had split-screen multiplayer. I'm not sure if the following supported games lists are completely accurate; Wikipedia also mentions NHL '94 for Genesis and Kirby's Avalanche for SNES.

Supported Genesis Games: Madden NFL 95, Madden NFL 96, NBA Live 95, NBA Live 96, NHL 95, NHL 96, NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat 3, Primal Rage, Super Street Fighter II, and Weaponlord. 

SNES Supported Games: Madden NFL 95, Madden NFL 96, NHL 95, NHL 96, NBA Jam T.E., Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat 3, Super Street Fighter II, Weaponlord, Killer Instinct, Doom, Super Mario Kart, and Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball.

When doing some research I was surprised to find a XBAND Twitter account run by a former Catapult employee but he hasn't posted in a couple years. SNES Central has a variety of pictures of that console's purple modem taken from a variety of other sources here. I took some photos and scanned the box and some paperwork, though I didn't scan the whole manual, only a portion of it. A couple of the inner box sides have facsimile autographs of the development team.

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