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The X-Band Modem Pioneered Online Gaming
Long before Xbox Live There was the X-Band Modem
Long before there was Xbox Live and long before there was Sega Net, gamers were still able to get online and play against each other over the Internet. Although this was a relatively brand new technology, online game play has actually been around since the early nineties. The first original online gameplay service was called X-Band, and it was rented to games through Block Buster Video stores during the early nineties.
Playing online against each other has long been a dream of gamers, especially during the early days of the console wars. I remember when the only way to play your friends was by inviting them over to your house, and vice versa. But unbeknownst to many gamers the X-Band service was readily available for both Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis owners.
What is The X-Band Modem?
The X-Band service was released by Catapult Entertainment Inc. in November 1994 as a cartridge for both 16-bit consoles at the time. This unique cartridge modem allowed each console to connect to the Internet via a land line phone connection, and then gamers would pay a fee for credits which allowed them to get onto the network ($4.95 for 50 credits). The unit itself was $19.95 and it was sold through Block Buster retailers, making it an ingenious combination since gamers could rent their favorite online titles and purchase the X-Band device right in the store.
How was Playing Online?
One has to remember that X-Band was around far before broadband was ever thought of, so naturally playing on a land line connection is a little different. X-Band had a complete interactive menu which displayed stats and current player rankings, and the players were ranked by their skill level. The more games that you won the higher your skill level would be, making for an interesting combination of game players to join and have fun.
Gamers who were able to enjoy the X-Band back in the nineties have reported that there was no serious lag or issues connecting, which is actually quite impressive especially judging by the limited technology back then. The X-Band network never grew to more than 15,000 subscribers, which is a far cry from the millions of Xbox Live subscribers who play online every day.
What Games were supported?
One of the leading causes of the X-Band network failing was the limited selection of games that could actually be played online. You would think that Super Mario Brothers or Sonic the Hedgehog could be played online, but this actually was not the case. In fact actual player to player combat was pretty limited, instead you were more or less playing online for bragging rights.
The most memorable fighting game to play online was Mortal Kombat 2 & 3; both games could be played online allowing you to fight opponents from all over the world. This was not only a revolution at its time, but it was just plain fun. How many times could you beat your friends at home before you got bored, with the X-Band you had a new opponent every day. Another revolutionary online title that was hugely popular was the original Mario Kart. Yes that is right, the original Mario Kart title could be played online using the X-Band modem and this is what a good number of players actually purchased the modem for.
What the X-Band did for the Future of Gaming:
The X-Band modem introduced the world to what would become Xbox Live, and it did it with a relatively simplistic device. Most gamers nowadays do not realize the huge impact that the X-Band modem had on the video game industry, and how the world of online gaming was actually shaped far before many of us realize that it was. Online gaming was a new concept, and the Internet was young so this was completely different than anything that we knew.
The 16-Bit revolution did a lot for the gaming industry, and on top of introducing wonderful new graphics and game franchises to the world, the 16-bit consoles were also the first consoles to connect players to the Internet to challenge each other. The X-Band modem was a revolution, and it really paved the way for the future of online gaming. So the next time that you sit down to challenge one of your international friends to a game of Call of Duty, just remember that the X-Band modem actually paved the way for the online games that we know and love today and are played by thousands of people.