Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection ending May 20, 2014

Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection logo

Note: This article will be updated regularly.

The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (WFC) was launched back in November of 2005 as Nintendo’s first official online gaming service, starting with support for Mario Kart DS. Previous Nintendo consoles had some limited online support like the GameCube, though none of its four online capable games were actually developed or published by Nintendo. Nintendo would go on to support hundreds of online capable games for both the DS and the Wii using the WFC. Though it was often ridiculed because of its use of Friend Codes rather than a unified account system, the WFC was completely free and undoubtedly provided untold hours of enjoyment for millions of people, possibly as their first online gaming experience. Upon the release of the 3DS, Nintendo announced that the service would be succeeded and absorbed into the new Nintendo Network service which provides similar online services for both the 3DS and the Wii U.

Unfortunately, earlier this year Nintendo announced that it would be discontinuing the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service on May 20, 2014. This comes on the heels of the shutdown of WiiConnect24 on June 28, 2013 which affected some Wii services as the Nintendo Channel. It has been known that the WFC runs on slightly modified GameSpy servers – a company which has hosted online servers and master lists for hundreds of PC, PlayStation 2, and Dreamcast games since the late 1990s. GameSpy was acquired by Glu Mobile in 2012 and since then many of the online servers from GameSpy have been shutdown for specific games. It has recently come to light that Glu Mobile will be completely discontinuing the GameSpy service on May 31, shutting down all of the remaining servers for hundreds of games. Though it may never be known publicly whether Nintendo or GameSpy initiated their respective shutdowns, it is at least clear that Nintendo would have to completely rework their online infrastructure for hundreds of DS and Wii games if they were to continue to offer official online servers – something which would be financially unfeasible. As such, the DS and Wii will join the ranks of other dead-online consoles such as the Xbox, whose Live service was discontinued in 2010.

However, there is still hope for maintaining online functionality of these games via unofficial means. Private servers have existed for nearly as long as official online game servers and allow players to host online functionality for games completely independently. There have been many past success stories of reviving online game functionality for video game consoles with private servers, such as the Schthack servers for the Phantasy Star Online games. As such, there has been a big push to create private servers to replace both GameSpy servers as a whole (such as OpenSpy) and the GameSpy servers that run Nintendo’s WFC games. Doing so requires reverse-engineering of the servers’ protocols and though a lot has already been accomplished in creating generic GameSpy private servers, many games use unique implementations of the servers. As such, it is important to capture network packets of all WFC games while the official servers are still up in order to assist in building private servers in future. Various resources and other links on how to do so can be found below:


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SNESoIP: The XBAND of the 21st Century

SNESoIP Prototype

xband modemsAficionados of the online capabilities of early video game consoles will no doubt be aware of the XBAND modem, developed by Catapult in the mid 1990s, which allowed for long distance multiplayer on certain SNES and Genesis games (and in some cases, cross-multiplayer between the two systems). The XBAND worked over analog telephone lines, with the modem itself plugging into the cartridge slot of its respective system, acting like a pass-through device for games. In layman’s terms, it worked by connecting to official XBAND servers and downloading a patch for the relevant game; these games were not designed for use with the XBAND so certain aspects of the game, like random number generators, had to be modified. Essentially, the XBAND modem “tricked” the game into thinking the set-up was local multiplayer. Players could then connect directly to others if their phone number was known, or they could use Catapault’s servers to search for other players. Unfortunately, since Catapult has since shut down its servers, the service is now dead, though there have been attempts at a revival. Apparently, aspects of the XBAND service were aquired by Sega and used in the official Japanese modem for the Saturn. The American modem, the NetLink, also used a similar service, but because it allowed for direct-dialing, it can still be used to the present day for long distance multiplayer over analog telephone lines.

SNESoIP prototype controller boxCue German Hacker Michael Fitzmayer who has recently developed a prototype for a similar system, which he calls SNESoIP (for SNES over IP). Instead of a pass-through system for the cartridge, his device uses a pass-through system for the SNES controller so that it can transmit any controller input over broadband and also receive controller inputs from a long distance “Player 2” and relay it on to the SNES system. The device must interact with a server to do this (similar to the original XBAND service) but this means additional features can be implemented, such as a “controller switching” option which allows each player to act as the “Player 1” in their own game. Note, this IS over broadband rather than peer-to-peer analog telephone lines and as such, lag can become a real issue, especially over longer distances. Also, because the current SNESoIP prototype is only sending controller signals, any game that features any sort of randomness (e.g. placement or movement of enemies, items in Mario Kart, etc.) won’t really work. Nevertheless, it’s still an amazing proof of concept/work in progress which is long overdue, in my own opinion. For more information, check out the readme file on its GitHub project page. And finally, the following is a video posted by Michael showing the SNESoIP in action, playing “Zombies Ate My Neighbors”. The game doesn’t seem to use any randomness so it works almost exactly like a local multiplayer set-up, but one can see definite lag issues. I personally look forward to watching this still burgeoning project evolve over time.
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Return of the TV Tuners

One of my original objectives in creating this site was to discover and share dead features of old consoles which can, at least partially, be brought back to life. For example, the Sega Saturn NetLink can still be played long-distance over analog telephone lines and many online games for the Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 can still be played on either their original servers or private servers. Onto the point of this article: many handheld devices of the past, like the Game Gear and the Turbo Express, had a TV Tuner add-on which they would use to display analog broadcasts from the major television networks. Unfortunately, after the United State’s switch from analog to digital television transmission, it would seem that these old TV Tuner add-ons would become useless.  Not so!  Of course its still not possible to pick up a usable signal everywhere you go, but with a few (relatively) cheap purchases, its easy to broadcast your own analog signal to pick up on any TV Tuner around the house.

Blonder Tongue Analog BroadcastMost of the specifics for this guide are from Phil’s Old Radios, “Creating a Home TV Transmitter“. Links to other useful guides on analog broadcasting can be found at the end of this article. The first and most important thing you’ll need is called an “agile modulator”: “modulator” because it “modulates” the audio/video signal it receives in order to transmit it, and “agile” because it can transmit on different channels. There are many different brands, but they should all work similarly, and the recent switch to digital broadcasting means that these analog units can usually be found for relatively cheap, $50 or less, on eBay. Like the guide on Phil’s Old Radios, I’ll be using a Blonder Tongue AM60 unit (pictured above), but the process should be similar for other units. You will also need a TV antennae, so if you don’t still have one laying around, you can pick up a cheap one like this. Most TV antennae sold now are marketed for the new digital “HDTV” broadcasts, but ones resembling the old “rabbit ear” antennae as pictured below should still work to transmit analog signals. You will also need a special adapter: male coaxial (or “F”) to female RCA (or “phono”), as explained below.

analog3 TV antennae

Blonder Tongue backAs can be seen in the picture to the left, hooking up a source to the agile modulator is reasonably simple. Anything that can output with composite connectors, like VHS and DVD players or even video game consoles, can be used as a source. Because the agile modulator has separate “Video In” and “Audio In” jacks, an RF connector as found on many VHS players and early video game consoles cannot be used if you want to transmit sound as well. Theoretically, an S-Video connector could probably be used, but you would have to find an “F connector” to S-Video adapter. The source must be connected as shown below, with the previously mentioned adapter used to connect the yellow video composite cable to the coaxial-type “Video In” port. The “IF In” port must also be connected to the “IF Out” port as shown. (IF stands for intermediate frequency). My model came with the small coaxial cable shown, but any standard coaxial cable should do. Finally, the antennae is connected to the “RF Out” port.
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The Sega Pluto: It’s Not a Planet Either…

The Sega Pluto

Sega released their 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn, on the heels of the popular Genesis (Mega Drive) and its host of add-ons, so its not surprising that a prototype combining the Genesis with its expensive add-on, the 32x, and originally set to release around the same time was codenamed the Sega Neptune. The Neptune was never released and though it may have been a cool concept, it was probably a good business decision in the end – Sega had already wasted enough resources on Genesis add-ons and didn’t need to cannibalize sales of the newly released Saturn. Of course, you can stuff a 32x into a Genesis model 2 yourself to create your own Neptune, but somehow its not quite the same.

The Sega Neptune

Sega Neptune prototype, a Genesis with built in 32x.

Sega NetLink

The NetLink allowed for long-distance multiplayer.

This brings us to the only real hardware add-on for the Saturn in North America, the NetLink, which allowed for direct peer-to-peer linking over telephone lines for long-distance multiplayer. Because it didn’t require connection to a central server (like the now-defunct Xband) the NetLink can still be used for long-distance multiplayer to this day, provided that analog phone lines are used rather than digital phone lines. If you really want, you can even invest in a telephone line simulator to connect two NetLinks together for local multiplayer. That’s right, the DirectLink isn’t the only local System Link for the Saturn! For more information on the NetLink in general, I’d recommend checking out the NetLink League Forums.

Sega PlutoKnowing Sega’s penchant for add-ons and console redesigns in the past, one may speculate that Sega may at one time have considered something similar to the Neptune that integrated a NetLink unit directly into a Saturn console, perhaps even codenamed the Sega Pluto…? (Side Note: It’s no wonder they switched tactics with the Dreamcast name, they ran out of planets, even for 1996 standards!) Well in April, it was confirmed by a post on the Assemblr forums from former Sega employee “Super Magnetic” that this was indeed the case. Though he didn’t start working for Sega until after the project had been discontinued and so didn’t work on the Pluto project himself, he did manage to get his hands on an actual, working prototype unit which he claims to be the second of only two units ever produced. Super Magnetic was kind enough to post-up several pictures of what he dubbed “console” porn which I will share as well. I highly recommend checking out his topic on Assemblr – he shares a bit of what it was like working for Sega and goes into much more detail about the unit itself.

Sega Pluto (bottom) Sega Pluto (back) Sega Pluto (side)
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One Year Anniversary: Website Updates

It’s been over a year since I first decided to start up this little blog, so to celebrate, I’ve decided to remove all the console pages and make the site look the worst it ever has in that entire one year period! In all seriousness, you can probably tell that I have moved from Blogger to my own hosted WordPress, and I hope to soon have many more features than Blogger would have ever allowed me. The reason the pages aren’t up yet is because I’m planning on instead hosting them on a Wiki attached to the site (which will hopefully someday be better integrated into the actual blog) so that there can be easier citing and contribution from others. Obviously, I still have to work out most of the details regarding the move, but I’m really excited about the possibilities. Until that time, however, I thank you for bearing with the mess. It wasn’t the ideal situation I’d have hoped for in celebrating over 365 days being alive as a site, but it’s definitely worth it for what is to come. Thanks!

F-Zero AX reborn on the Gamecube!

F-Zero GX, one of the GameCube’s finest futuristic racers, was born as the first collaboration between Nintendo and Sega after the latter’s ill-fated departure from the console manufacturing business.  It thus made sense that the game’s developer, Sega’s internal studio Amusement Vision, would be tasked with a simultaneous build of F-Zero for the Triforce arcade board, co-developed by Nintendo and Sega (and Capcom, thus “tri”) and based primarily on Gamecube architecture.  Unsurprisingly, this arcade version would be called F-Zero AX. Cross-play elements were implemented between the games with use of a Gamecube memory card so that custom vehicles from GX can be played in AX and several tracks, vehicles, and custom machine parts from the arcade can be unlocked in GX.  Granted, all of these arcade unlockables CAN be unlocked without tracking down an AX arcade machine, but it essentially takes 100% completion of the game, which can certainly be a daunting task for what is regarded as one of the Gamecube’s most challenging games.

Fast forward nearly ten years to November 2012 when Ralf, a prolific Action Replay coder of the GSCentral forums, had been fiddling around some with the source code and unused files included in F-Zero GX and discovered that nearly all of F-Zero AX had been included on the GX regular retail release disc.  Since that time, he’s updated the code to allow for Pilot Points, to load Garage Data from F-Zero GX, and partial MAG card emulation.  The latest version of Ralf’s code will be placed after the jump.

To use the code, you need to have an Action Replay disc for the Gamecube which, unfortunately, doesn’t come cheap.  To make things even more complicated, there were two separate variations of Action Replay developed for the Gamecube:  an earlier release which allows you to input your own custom codes in addition to the codes provided by Action Replay, and a later release which (supposedly) works with the Wii but does NOT allow you to import your own custom codes and so can NOT be used to play F-Zero AX.  These newer Action Replay discs are all marked as v1.20 or higher and are visually different from the earlier Gamecube only version, as shown below.

Old Action Replay New Action Replay

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