Have you ever wondered where modern online play comes from? I’m sure there are some of you out there that think that the classic Xbox and the Playstation 2 originated that medium – and in that assumption you would be dead wrong. The first support for online play actually started way back in the days of the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis with a little system called XBAND.
I know that seems crazy seeing how limited the internet was back in the early 90’s, but the XBAND did exist back then to be a link between some of your favorite games. Most of the titles that were supported were sports or fighting games, a natural choice for multiplayer. The problem was that the game developers weren’t that keen about working with XBAND and so Catapult Entertainment – the creators of XBAND – had to reverse engineer each game and basically hack a multiplayer online mode into each one.
The only game that did get the full support of XBAND was a game called Weaponlord. It was a fighting game published by Namco, mostly in the same format as the other big fighters of that time like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. The only difference between Weaponlord and those games was the focus on each characters weapons more than just their fighting personality; later Weaponlord would go on to spawn its spiritual sequel, Soul Calibur. Weaponlord was also the only title to have the XBAND logo on the box art of the game, showing how much they believed in the system.
Besides not having support, the other big problem XBAND suffered was the lack of high speed internet in the early 90’s. Mortal Kombat 3, for example, was so fast paced that the dial up connection would always cause a massive rage inducing lag on one side of the competition. Super Mario Kart and some of the sports games did fair better, but it was still such a niche market that not enough people wanted XBAND support to keep it alive. By April 30, 1997, the entire XBAND network simply ceased to exist and that was that.
Or was it? Because the idea of XBAND was so good that not even ten years later, the more recent consoles began developing online connected games. By now, it’s so common that many of our games can’t even function without being connected to the internet. Thankfully, good ideas never die. It is sad though that the XBAND system was ahead of its time, and the creators never really got the credit they deserved, but that’s why the Retro Corner exists. Now you know the roots of online gaming and know the true heroes to thank; Catapult Entertainment and their underrated XBAND system.