Category Archives: Nintendo

Nintendo is a multinational video game developer, producer, and hardware manufacturer headquartered in Kyoto, Japan.

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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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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When Nintendo and Knitting Collide

Over the years, there have been many crazy ideas for video game accessories – especially in the earlier years when game companies were trying to make video games appeal to a wider mass market. Given Nintendo’s push for the “casual market” with the Wii the past few years, its unsurprising that they would have been at the forefront of these kinds of radical ideas in the past. In fact, the little Japanese video game company that decided to “leave luck to heaven” single-handedly revived the ailing North American console market by marketing its quirky Japanese Famicom as the “Nintendo Family Entertainment System”, NOT as a video game console. It touted such unique features as the Power Glove, a controller you played by moving your hand, and R.O.B., your very own robotic Player 2 buddy!

Nintendo Knitting Machine

Back in August, Gamemaster Howard shared an early NES flyer that showcases what is perhaps one of the strangest gaming peripherals ever conceived: The Nintendo Knitting Machine! (Yes, Wii Bowling wasn’t the first Nintendo product to pique the interest of all those Grandmothers out there). Admittedly, this isn’t a new reveal – it was apparently demonstrated at WCES 1987 (Winter Consumer Electronics Show; from 1978 to 1994 CES apparently held both a winter and a summer trade show). Even so, since it was never released it seemed to have been relatively lost to history until now – just one of the many nuggets of early video game history brought back into the light recently by Howard.  Not being content with just sharing the picture, Howard dug up some old articles commenting about it:

Reporter’s Notebook : Atari, Nintendo Strut New Stuff at Electronics Show

Atari’s booth may have been the most bustling in the Convention Center’s West Hall, but Japanese video game maker Nintendo was drawing a crowd at an offbeat knitting demonstration.
Knitting by computer? Yes, knitters can throw away those needles. By draping yarn across a loom-like affair that interacts with the company’s home entertainment system, the user can knit sweaters, mittens, socks–you name it–complete with patterns. And no more counting rows. The computer does it all.
“We’re showing this for business feedback,” said Gail D. Tilden, advertising manager. “We’re using entertainment technology to appeal to a broader base.”

John Dvorak, Jan. 11, 1987, San Francisco Examiner

An interesting application at the CES show was a design tool for computer-aided knitting, of all things. You can for example design a fancy sweater with the computer. A special program turns the data into knitting instructions for a special Nintendo knitting machine that is expected to sell for less than $100. One fellow at the Nintendo Booth says the machine can crank out a custom sweater in about four hours. While that may be an exaggerated, this device is a runaway hit in Japan, and Nintendo hopes it will take off here.

Note: Howard confirmed that this peripheral was NOT released in Japan or any other territory. (See link)

Links:

Gamemaster Howard

Gamemaster HowardUnless you were a subscriber to Nintendo Power in the early 1990s (you can count me out) you’ve probably never heard of the comic strip “Howard & Nester.” It featured Howard Phillips, “President” of the “Nintendo Fun Club” (not to be confused with Howard Lincoln, former chairman of NoA) and Nester, the then teenage mascot of Nintendo Power, created by Howard himself.

Recently, Howard has been sharing early Nintendo memorabilia and the like via his Facebook page, Gamemaster Howard, including such things as early R.O.B. ads, brochures about the Nintendo AVS system, embarrassing photo shoots, and even some strips of Howard & Nester (including both the first strip and the last, unpublished strip).  Best of all though, he provides background and commentary on nearly everything he posts in a way that only someone who was on the inside of Nintendo could, so if you want to learn a bit more about Nintendo’s early days, I’d suggest going over to his Facebook page to check it out!  Especially if you’re interested in a bit of a Nintendo Power nostalgia trip, now that it’s confirmed to be ceasing production at the end of this year.

El Quadinaros: Dual Analog N64 Controller

El Quadinaros

I was recently doing a bit of research on Nintendo 64 games that could use two controllers as a sort of ad-hoc “dual analog” controller system but one thing or another came up and I didn’t end up finding out enough information to warrant posting anything. Then just last week I came across this project by N64 modder extraordinaire, Sparky, and thought I had to share:

I think AMAZING is the right word. You can find Sparky’s build log of El Quadinaros on Bacteria’s Forum, here: StarWars Ep1 Racer N64 Controller – COMPLETED.

The Arcade Virtual Boy

The interface of the Virtual Boy Arcade machine by Tighe Lory.

Arcade Virtual BoyI ran across this project a few weeks ago and even though it doesn’t have much to do with system linking I thought I’d share it, just because it’s so awesome! Note: As far as I can tell, the Virtual Boy did have a link cable in development but it never saw the light of day.

You can read more about it on Tighe Lory’s Blog, but to boil it all down into one short, clichéd analogy: basically Tighe took life’s lemons (namely, a Virtual Boy with no stand, controller, or power supply) and made sweet, sweet lemonade! Not only does the cabinet look amazing, it also uses a custom, adjustable headset unit to replace one of the major drawbacks of the original, the headset stand. It was just recently put up for sale and sold for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2500, and even though I’d never be able to put down the money for something like that, I’m still a little disappointed that I can’t have a go on it myself. Check out the blog I linked to above for more pictures and info – it’s definitely worth a read through. Tighe also posted a detailed build log on the KLOV forums. Finally, he also uploaded a YouTube video of the cabinet in all its glory which is also embedded below:

Truly lateral thinking of withered technology if I’ve ever seen it. Gunpei Yokoi would be proud!