So, you're sitting on your couch in Phoenix playing Super Street Fighter II, and you're ready to show your opponent what you're made of. You go for that combo and bring him to his knees, laughing wildly to yourself. Sound unusual? Probably not... but wait! Your opponent is sitting on his couch in Florida. And you're playing with the speed setting absolutely cranked... through a regular phone line - not ISDN, not satellite, not a special cable connection. Sound impossible? It's not. It's real. It's XBAND.
On-line gaming is nothing new. Multi-player network games have been around almost as long as networks, and more than a few "video game modems" have been released. Up until now, however, on-line gaming - and particularly dial-up gaming - has been slow and clunky, or expensive. With the rare exception of select PC games, on-line gaming has tended to, well, pretty much suck.
So what's this XBAND? Yes, it's another video game modem. But it's really fast. The raw baud rate isn't very high, but with Catapult's special approach to data transfer, the response time is very impressive - 2/60th of a second. This makes real-time on-line console gaming truly possible.
XBAND is cheap, too. The modem, Super Nintendo or Genesis, retails for $29.99. Usage is $4.95 per month for 50 connects ($0.15 each for additional connect) or $9.95 per month for unlimited play. If you choose to dial outside your local calling area long distance, of course, is extra. MCI, however, will soon be offering discount long distance for XBANDers - $3.95/hour regardless of location or time of day.
The Simple Explanation: Plug in the modem. Plug in the game. Plug in the phone line. Play.
The Technical Explanation: The first time you dial with your XBAND, it automatically dials a 1-800 number where it determines your local dial-up and stores it to memory. From there on, your XBAND dials your local XBAND server to "register" you on the system. If a suitable opponent is available, the server instructs the modem to hang up and dial the opponent directly. If not, the server instructs the modem to hang-up and wait for incoming calls.
The XBAND server does much more than just play matchmaker between opponents, however. Not only does it keep track of your win-loss record to pair you with a well-matched opponent, it also allows you to read XBAND news or even send and receive Internet E-Mail. The server also backs up your configuration and mail just in case the memory on your unit gets lost.
Because of the way XBAND works - essentially echoing your joystick moves on your opponents console - virtually any game can become an XBAND game, even if the game developers didn't program it with XBAND support. There are some technical limitations, however. Because of this, a server patch must be written by XBAND to make a game playable on XBAND.
Games currently supported are:
Plenty of new patches are under development. Expect to see Primal Rage, Weapon Lord, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat 3 and others in upcoming months.
While the thought of a faceless MK2 opponent performing a fatality as Shang Tsung by morphing into Sub Zero, cranking off at least a half-dozen ice balls, then morphing into Liu Kang and demolishing your frozen body is enough to make any gamer sweat (trust me, an XBANDer from Glendale, Arizona pulled it off) there's more. Taunts, a chat mode, and electronic mail allow direct communications between XBANDers.
Anyone who's an arcade-goer is familiar with that group of five or so guys from the local community college who travel from arcade to arcade stomping everyone. On XBAND, groups of skilled gamers called "clubs" peruse the network looking for a challenge. Prove yourself worthy, and you may be invited to join the elite. Many clubs star "golden dragons" and other high-ranking XBANDers - players, lets just say, who's stat sheets show a significant number of wins.
The XBAND video game modem is already available for the SNES and Genesis in five U.S. test market cities. The national release of both units is scheduled for the week of October 2nd - although they have been drifting into some stores in many cities already. XBAND modems for select next generation platforms will be available sometime next year.