In a time before the xX420NoScopeXx’s of Xbox Live let you know how terrible you were at Lone Wolves on Halo 2, there was the glorious online environment of the … Super Nintendo. Yes you heard that right, the Super Nintendo (and Sega Genesis) had full network play capability. A novel device of the time, the XBAND, made network play against opponents from across the US a real possibility.
While the true rise of online gaming on the console took shape with Xbox Live (RIP MSN GameZone), the humble SNES could allow multiplayer network gaming over the telephone in late 1994. The XBAND adapter was available at Blockbuster, and came with instructions, the adapter, and a keyboard for chat functionality. The box set would set you back $19.99, and subscriber fees ran $4.95/month for 50 “credits” or $9.95 for unlimited credits. Credits allowed you a single “play” of a game.
XBAND searched for players within the user’s local area. If you wanted to show your prowess on the national stage, it would cost an additional $3.95/hour to connect long distance. It wasn’t cheap to game online back in the mid-90s.
The adapter was only compatible with a small selection of games (Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Kart, Madden, NHL, Doom + a few others). The lag for fighting games was atrocious, due to the timings required by the game play, but for simpler games like Mario Kart, online play was generally unhindered. The system was surprisingly complex in its matchmaking and network functions.
XBAND allowed for limited email functionality (keyboard required), and distributed XBAND newsletters via this system. Super Mario World, a traditional single player game, experimented with allowing a chat room function (with no gameplay). Each user had a XBAND profile that listed your wins/losses for each game you owned, along with a descriptive rank and stamps showcasing various accomplishments. Users would be matched to local area players with similar win/loss ratios. Sometimes you may run into a “puller” who would disconnect their telephone connection when they were going to lose, preserving their W/L record. These pullers would not receive any invites from “clans” that arose, who would setup tournaments over XBAND, and only recruited the best.
Given these parameters of XBAND use, the system created bands of local players that would likely match against one another often, creating small online communities. You would learn which kids at school or in the area had XBAND, and slowly reveal each username to its real life counterpart. It even allowed for minimal preset taunts to jab other players while connecting.
XBAND’s demise coincided with the end of the 16-bit era and the advances in network and Internet technology. In Spring 1997, XBAND’s network was taken down. That hasn’t stopped some people from continuing to try and use the system. While the network was taken down, it is still possible to use direct connection to another XBAND user via Netlink, as no server is required to bridge the connection.
It’s really interesting to see that online (console) gaming began so early in the Internet’s rise. XBAND had an installment base of 700,000 users at one point, and made big advertising pushes in major gaming magazines. However, the only game that advertised XBAND on its box was WeaponLord, and it was not one the popular XBAND games.
Did you ever use XBAND? Is this the first time you have heard about it? Were you good enough to join one of the elite clans? Comment below!