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Over the past two decades, we’ve seen plenty of bizarre hacks, strange devices, and oddball services that enable online multiplayer gaming. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, there were plenty of attempts to get online multiplayer services up and running on consoles, but nothing gained substantial traction in the United States until the Xbox 360 hit shelves in 2005.
Today it’s practically a mandatory feature for any AAA game, so let’s take a moment to admire how far we’ve come.
XBAND for SNES and Genesis
Did you know that Super Nintendo games could be played online in the mid-1990s? While it’s easy to assume online multiplayer started with Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, the fact is that classic games like Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat were actually playable over a dial-up modem for roughly ten dollars a month.
In 1994, Catapult Entertainment released this console add-on for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and took a huge step forward in online multiplayer gaming. With the XBAND sitting between the console and the game cartridge, gamers could connect to other players over a dial-up modem.
Unfortunately, most games didn’t natively support this peripheral. To make games like Super Street Fighter II playable online, the XBAND had to alter the game’s memory addressing — similar to the way a Game Genie and GameShark worked. Due to the lack of official support — and the technical limitations of the 2400bps modem — the platform never took off. After only a few years on the market, the service was shut down for good in 1997.
As we’ve mentioned previously, Sega’s Japan-only MegaNet service offered a number of downloadable games for the Mega Drive all the way back in 1990. The 1200bps modem was laggy, the games on this service remained extraordinarily simple, and the multiplayer options were kept sparse on purpose. Only two games on the service were even capable of online multiplayer, and Sega soon abandoned the platform completely in favor of the cable-based Sega Channel in 1993.
Next page: SegaNet and Randnet…
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