Produced by: Catapult Entertainment
Release Date: November 1994
XBAND was an interesting device made by a company called Catapult Entertainment operating out of Cupertino, CA. It basically allowed you to play a handful of popular SNES games and chat over a dial-up connection with other human players. Even though it had a limited reach, many people consider it the forerunner of today's online console services.
I purchased one of these beauties for $19.95 at Blockbuster Video, which was pushing them hard at the time(1995). The service operated from from late 1994 through early 1997, and besides the price of the modem, you paid Catapult $4.95 a month for a limited number of connections to their network, or you could break the bank at $9.95 and go for unlimited connections. The extra five dollars was worth it for any serious gamer.
Generally you played only against other people in your area code, as long-distance fees were required otherwise. Because of this there would often be a considerable wait until someone with your game connected to the network, particularly if you were playing a game few people had like Doom. If you lived in a rural area, sometimes there would be no players available at all. I only knew of one other kid personally who had an XBAND, but there was a core group of local players who you could usually count on to be active most nights. A sense of community would develop among this core, which would quickly ostracize anyone who developed a reputation for "cheesy" play or for "pulling" from games, the latter of which was a frequent problem that was never adequately addressed by Catapult.
Besides gaming, the service also offered limited email functionality-- in fact my first email address was via an X-Band modem, as my family didn't own a computer at the time. Also there were a couple of daily newsletters which were mostly filler, but which didn't necessarily feel that way when you were a kid. Tournaments and rankings existed as well, but I was never good enough to do very well with those.
The complete list of games compatible with the device was:
- Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball
- Kirby's Avalanche
- Killer Instinct
- Madden NFL 95
- Madden NFL 96
- Mortal Kombat II
- Mortal Kombat 3
- NBA Jam TE
- NHL 95
- NHL 96
- Super Mario Kart
- Super Street Fighter II
XBAND died in early 1997, a victim of the internet boom and the passing of the 16-bit era, and Catapult faded from the limelight shortly thereafter. My time with the service had long passed by then. The games I had played primarily were Killer Instinct, which a lot of people had, and Doom, which virtually no one had-- so I mostly just played Killer Instinct. Unfortunately I was not a big fighting or sports game fan, and eventually tired of the service.
I still remember the local network of players though, and the interesting life revelations of a kid in middle school playing and chatting with people often a lot older than he was. XBAND was my first exposure to concepts like online play, chatting, and e-mail, and even though I only used the service for a relatively short time, it will always be remembered as a special part of my childhood.