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A Brief History of Downloadable Console Games

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the waiting-for-technology-to-catch-up dept.

Games 53

Ant sends in a story at CNet about the evolution of downloadable console games, ranging from Intellivision's PlayCable in 1981 to the modern systems we see today. Quoting: "Intellivision was the first home console to let users download games via a coaxial cable line. Subscribers rented a special cartridge that hooked up to local cable and would be able to download single games that could be played until users decided to download new titles. The service's downfall was a result of innovations to Mattel's Intellivision game system, which began using cartridges with ever-increasing amounts of memory. The PlayCable service could no longer keep up, since the special cartridge could hold only a fourth of the total space that newer games required."

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A Homebrewer's best friend (3, Funny)

protologix (1395243) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241327)

Console game downloading services, giving hackers holes to load homebrew through since 1981

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (2, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241625)

Isn't homebrew code speak for pirates these days? I think the idea of homebrew is great, but it seems like it's the pirates that use that as the skirt to hide their true meaning much more often than actual homebrew use.

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (2, Interesting)

StreetStealth (980200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241955)

Isn't homebrew code speak for pirates these days?

For closet pirates, it is. But not for everyone else.

For a console with an active homebrew community, like the Nintendo DS, there's a huge volume of stuff coming out all the time -- a lot of it not very good, but some of it excellent. I have a flash cartridge, and pretty much all I use it for is painting with the Colors! app. That cart is probably in there even more than Advance Wars.

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (3, Insightful)

V50 (248015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242017)

Yup, "homebrew" has become the new "backup copy" as a euphemism for "pirated games". Pretty much anytime someone says something like "but how will I run my homebrew" or "what about my right to run backup copies", they really mean "pirated games".

It sort of annoys me, because the intellectual dishonesty is so blatant. Especially when I see someone complaining that they can't make (and especially run) a backup copy of something like a DS game.

The console Catch-22 (2, Interesting)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242611)

Yup, "homebrew" has become the new "backup copy" as a euphemism for "pirated games".

In order to develop video games, I need to get a job at a video game studio that has a console license. But in order to get a job, I first need to develop video games to build a resume. How do I break the Catch-22 without homebrew?

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

ivucica (1001089) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242757)

You, sir, are one of the rare ones. Most people using emulators or jailbreak hacks for running pirated, not homebrew software they or other people made.

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

eldorel (828471) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242997)

And some of us just hate having to carry around a half a ton of game disks/cartridges any time we want to go to a lan party. I modded my 360, I have a homebrew cart for my ds, I jailbroke my iphone, and I crack every single pc game I purchase for just this one reason.

If I've got 100x the space needed to run the game from internal storage, why am I not allowed to do so?

Cheapskates are going to make copies and download games no matter what the developers do, I just wish they'd quit making my life harder when it doesn't change a damned thing.

And this is just irritating>>>> You must wait a little bit before using this resource; please try again later. It's not like I only wrote 2 lines.....

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

ivucica (1001089) | more than 5 years ago | (#28243089)

I agree, I do similar stuff, as long as I care. Mostly I don't, except when I'm playing from "backup copies".

I just wish they'd quit making my life harder when it doesn't change a damned thing.

You know what people say: "House doors are meant to keep the HONEST ones away."

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

Golddess (1361003) | more than 5 years ago | (#28250155)

Except it's less like a house door, and more like this thing [wikipedia.org] guarding your door, shooting at everyone who has a legitimate reason to enter your home, while doing absolutely nothing for the pirates tunneling in from underneath.

Re:The console Catch-22 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28242929)

As someone who has done some ROM hacking (SNES), I think you must be insane to use actual hardware instead of emulators to develop. Unless you meant that you use actual hardware only for final testing.

Testing on the hardware (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#28249171)

As someone who has done some ROM hacking (SNES), I think you must be insane to use actual hardware instead of emulators to develop.

The only NES emulator with a fully cycle-accurate CPU and PPU is Nintendulator, and that doesn't run well on my cheap, underpowered laptop. So I test most builds in the FCE Ultra that I can apt-get from Ubuntu's repository. At least one or two builds a day go on an NES with a PowerPak (CompactFlash adapter), or more often if I'm testing something that relies on cycle accuracy such as scroll splits. All extended play testing, which sometimes requires a second player, is done on a PowerPak because I only have access to player 2 every other weekend, it's hard to get player 2 into my home office, and some maneuvers that are supposed to be easy on an NES controller are easier on an NES controller than on a keyboard.

And some consoles aren't emulated well at all. The Wii emulator Dolphin, for instance, needs a PC much newer than even my desktop PC. Luckily, homebrew developers can upload builds to it over Wi-Fi.

Re:The console Catch-22 (3, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 5 years ago | (#28243361)

You develop a game on the PC, and put it on NewGrounds or some similar site. Duh. This is the sort of closet piracy BS that the GP is talking about.

Re:The console Catch-22 (2, Funny)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#28244387)

You develop a game on the PC

One typically develops homebrew games on a PC and runs them on a console. I take it you meant develop and run on a PC, but it's a pain to fit four players holding USB gamepads around a 19" PC monitor, and the majority of your audience won't have an HDTV or a PC video card capable of outputting composite or S-Video to a CRT SDTV.

and put it on NewGrounds or some similar site.

Newgrounds is a Flash site. The homebrew tools are usually much cheaper than Adobe Flash CS. Besides, Flash doesn't even support gamepads.

Re:The console Catch-22 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28261059)

5 Seconds of googling says otherwise. [google.com] (Using a joystick or gamepad may require a secondary app or using undocumented features in ActionScript, but it's definitely not impossible to do.)

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

V50 (248015) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246081)

Oh, I don't doubt there are people who use homebrew for legit purposes and stuff, but I would wager somewhere around 85-95% of people who crack their PSP/DS do so for pirated games/emulation (which is just pirated old games).

Actually, it's reasons like that that using "homebrew" as a euphemism for piracy rather bugs. It's hard to take anyone serious when they say they run homebrew on their PSP/DS.

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

Sparton (1358159) | more than 5 years ago | (#28246177)

In order to develop video games, I need to get a job at a video game studio that has a console license. But in order to get a job, I first need to develop video games to build a resume. How do I break the Catch-22 without homebrew?

Off the top of my head, there are two acceptable methods I can think of off the top of my head for designing or coding games, which would be GameMaker or Unreal Tournament 3. There are also many other ways that are more difficult or require a more code-oriented approach (such as Flash with ActionScript or straight-out using something for XNA).

And if you're too stubborn or cheap to take the dive with $10-50 dollars... then no one will hire you anyways. We're an industry driven by passion, so holding yourself back on such a small expense definitely makes you look not very dedicated.

If you're only games in your portfolio involve running on anything that could even be interpreted as illegal, then no sane company will want you, as they may think you could potentially get them into the wrong side of the law with other matters as well.

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#28249183)

Off the top of my head, there are two acceptable methods I can think of off the top of my head for designing or coding games, which would be GameMaker or Unreal Tournament 3.

I take these are thoroughly moddable PC game engines. But do they support split-screen or any other sort of multiplayer without requiring a 4-pack of PCs?

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

Sparton (1358159) | more than 5 years ago | (#28254167)

I take these are thoroughly moddable PC game engines. But do they support split-screen or any other sort of multiplayer without requiring a 4-pack of PCs?

Probably not, but if your goal is to gain experience creating games for a portfolio, then that point should be irrelevant. If you want to make a multiplayer game for your portfolio, there are many other avenues you can use in addition to creating a level in an industry-standard editor (such as *gasp* actual card or board games!).

Re:The console Catch-22 (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#28257051)

You don't need homebrew to break into the game development industry. A PC game will do just fine for that. Don't forget about Microsoft's XNA for Xbox 360 as well. You just need something that demonstrates you understand the fundamentals of programming, have a good working knowledge of C or C++ for instance, and that you can actually finish a game project. In most game development houses - or at least the ones I've worked at over the past decade, it's expected that there will be some degree of on-the-job training with regards to specific projects, platforms, technologies, APIs, etc...

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (2, Interesting)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 5 years ago | (#28245759)

Yup, "homebrew" has become the new "backup copy" as a euphemism for "pirated games". Pretty much anytime someone says something like "but how will I run my homebrew" or "what about my right to run backup copies", they really mean "pirated games".

It sort of annoys me, because the intellectual dishonesty is so blatant. Especially when I see someone complaining that they can't make (and especially run) a backup copy of something like a DS game.

Pardon, why is wanting to play a backup copy of a DS game an automatic admission of piracy? Have you looked around lately? Haven't you noticed how platforms like the Wii have multiple games on the console without needing to change discs? Has the DSi and the PSP Go blown right by you?

Ordinarily I might have been with you on assuming that 'backup copy' was a euphimism for 'not-paid-for-copy'. That was until I bumped into a couple of friends of mine that were tinkering with their hacked PSPs trying to get ISO's to run. Blatant pirates, right? Nope. The ISOs were coming from their own discs. The reason they wanted them to run is that they were able to compress them and put 10+ games on their memory stick. The games loaded faster, used less battery, and made the machine a lot more convenient because it didn't require carrying around a little pouch with a bunch of UMDs in it.

The little bit about having multiple games on the memory card is what sold me. Now my PSP is hacked and has several ISOs on it, none of them acquired without purchase. I already have a DS and plenty of games, but you can bet I'll be getting a DSi once Nintendo's app store starts looking like the Wii's.

Maybe all these people really are talking about acquiring games without paying. I couldn't tell you. But I cannot say I go along with your assumption that one automatically means another. Both Nintendo and Sony have come to realize that people want to store the games on their machines. That's why the Wii, DSi, and PSP Go are designed the way they are. People have seen this future of gaming for years, they beat Nintendo and Sony to the punch. That doesn't make them criminals.

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (3, Interesting)

10101001 10101001 (732688) | more than 5 years ago | (#28243283)

Isn't homebrew code speak for pirates these days? I think the idea of homebrew is great, but it seems like it's the pirates that use that as the skirt to hide their true meaning much more often than actual homebrew use.

The only thing I can say to that is, of course. The same problem exists when it comes to PCs and Windows. The amount of people who are technological inclinated enough to figure out how to pirate, run homebrew, or program homebrew is realtively small, even on a relatively open platform like PCs. For consoles, the problem is even more skewed since 99% of software ends up being on proprietary cartridges made by commercial vendors. New consoles are coming out quite frequently, and homebrewers, having their own taste, tend to gravity to new ones over time, often being on the cutting edge. For legitimate homebrewers, this translates into trying to make a console more open and the ratio of commercial to homebrew more even, so their work has more legitimacy (and more outward support from other developers).

Work to make console-like platforms from scratch tend to fail, though, as economy of scale makes such platforms more expensive and most people don't tend to buy into a platform unless it already has an existing large library of software or they believe there is an organization backing the production of new software for several years. This is one reason Linux-based subnotebooks have caught on, but even then it's unclear if people are willing to buy into non-x86 platforms or if the brief, yet relatively small, such can support more long-term success to create a long-term, legitimately-recognized community for that platform. After all, Linux being portable on many devices sounds great at first, but if each platform has a different CPU, different sound and graphics capabilities, and other very different presumptions, then each Linux installation may very quickly turn into a platform only as big as the current model line.

So, given the massive hurdles involved, it's little wonder that those people so technically inclined tend towards gaming the existing system to their benefit (piracy or whatever) than working towards legitimacy recognition. And without legitimacy, most organizations and people will be unwilling to associate themselves with even the legitimate homebrewers. Why bother with research on who is legitimate and who isn't when you can just paint a broad brush that "DS flashcart users are pirates"? I guess it must hold, then, that those who work against paying Microsoft for Windows must be all pirates. I'm very certain there are more users of a pirated copy of Windows than Linux PC users.

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (2, Insightful)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 5 years ago | (#28244053)

Not at all, homebrew is programmers who want to play with their new hardware toy and want to write code on it.

Pirates often benefit from the homebrew community since they have similar goals -- running unauthorized code on the platform.

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (2, Funny)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 5 years ago | (#28244087)

Isn't homebrew code speak for pirates these days?

And pirate is code speak for DRM freedom fighter.

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28246505)

Arn't comments like yours code speak for ignorance these days? For every platform that has been hacked for homebrew on most of the units there is a ton of homebrew. The 360 doesn't allow homebrew but that still has piracy.

No, (1)

SpiceWare (3438) | more than 5 years ago | (#28251879)

it is not "code speak for pirates". Here's 61 homebrewed games [atariage.com] in cartridge form for play on your Atari VCS/2600. My game Medieval Mayhem [spiceware.org] , an updated take on Warlords, is one of them. My other homebrew, Stay Frosty [spiceware.org] , was part of the 2007 Holiday Cart, Stella's Stocking [atariage.com] .

Re:A Homebrewer's best friend (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28241691)

Why is the CSS for slashdot all jacked up? Please fix it, or I will go back to reading Digg. And you don't want that to happen. I have enough programming talent to fix the CSS rendering by merely THINKING of a solution. No actual programming would even be necessary. Just give me the word, Jim.

What did you expect? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28241337)

It could probably only hold 640k of memory as advised by Bill

Re:What did you expect? (3, Informative)

LurkerXXX (667952) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241519)

You haven't the foggiest troll.

The thing had less than 2K RAM. 640K would have been a dream. I had a system and loved it.

You can have a look at some of the ROMs for it here:http://www.rom-world.com/dl.php?name=Intellivision&letter=G

15K is a 'big' one.

Re:What did you expect? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28242233)

64k should have been enough. Steve Jobs said so.

Re:What did you expect? (1)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 5 years ago | (#28244091)

Reminds me of my old TI99/4A which had 8K of RAM. the 4K RAM upgrade was huge and allowed me to run much larger games.

Nigger? Offended?? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28241411)

Does the word "nigger" offend you? If not, why not?

SEGA Channel (5, Interesting)

grumling (94709) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241479)

I remember the Sega Channel. I got to test it out on our cable system prior to launch. ...I spent way too much time playing Earthworm Jim, but at least I was on the clock!

Great idea, but they screwed up by not making a version for the SEGA Saturn (or whatever the next generation was), which was already in the pipeline and may have even been released that year. That's fairly typical of the time though, since everything was completely proprietary.

Cable did not have the bandwidth to keep up much l (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241983)

Cable did not have the bandwidth to keep up much less have bigger games also by the time this ended cable internet was starting up and they need the bandwidth for that and the growing number of channels and the start of digital cable.

play cable hit the same thing it eat up lot of bandwidth that was needed for new channels at the time.

The lack of bandwidth is likely why they never came out with more ram space for games.

Re:Cable did not have the bandwidth to keep up muc (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28242453)

Bandwidth had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it. The sizes of the games of that era were minuscule, we're talking 4-16k for Intellivision games. When you got to the Sega era, the channel used two 3Mhz channels with a combined 6Mbit/s data rate. The service wasn't even interactive, like PlayCable it simply broadcast all the available offerings in a loop, and yet the selected game was still received in less than a minute. Because of the technical requirements at the head end for the Sega Channel Sega had a huge impact on cable companies cleaning up their network and improving their infrastucture to pave the way for modern cable internet. No, bandwidth was certainly not a concern.

Re:Cable did not have the bandwidth to keep up muc (1)

dunezone (899268) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242493)

Technically bandwidth was an issue. If the cable company cant properly utilize the entire bandwidth of a cable line then that's the bottle neck for the service.

I remember SEGA channel it would take 10minutes to pull a 4mb file.

Re:SEGA Channel (1)

Goffee71 (628501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28248769)

I guess the introduction of CDs and bigger did a death until bandwidth has caught up, a shame as I want to see all those fmv games make a come back via download... http://twurl.nl/ph73eu [twurl.nl]

Crappy article (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28241539)

Sometimes it's good to broaden your research horizons beyond clicking the "Related links" on Wikipedia articles. As usual, this journalist was not qualified to present this as "the history" of downloadable games.

Here is Telesoftware, from 1982: http://www.pembers.freeserve.co.uk/Teletext/Telesoftware.html

During the cassette-based computer period it was possible to record programs transmitted as part of radio programmes also.

Re:Crappy article (1)

Comboman (895500) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241581)

I can imagine tuning into that radio show partway through and thinking the station was having technical difficulties (or had been taken over by aliens).

Re:Crappy article (1)

uglyduckling (103926) | more than 5 years ago | (#28243745)

I remember my stepdad having a magazine that came with one of those flexible 7" records. We recorded the record onto cassette then loaded the cassette onto our micro. It worked as well, amazingly.

Re:Crappy article (2, Insightful)

hollywench (646205) | more than 5 years ago | (#28243063)

Cnet's gotten suckier over the years, that's for sure.

Twee (1)

Allicorn (175921) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241561)

Hoho - I know it's sad but I can't help but go "awww!" when I read anything about the quaint old gear of my childhood when a kilobyte was a big deal. The (relatively) simplistic technological feats of those days which were the bleeding-edge marvels of their time now made to seem awfully twee against even the most commoditised of modern computing.

It's through the wonder of 8-bit assembly languages, or software on audio cassette or "color screen" being something to crow about that I dimly understand why some folks get misty eyed about classic cars.

Microsoft patent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28241565)

Don't worry Microsoft will patent that now

Cable penetration (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241567)

That and the fact that cable penetration (excluding a few select cities) was pretty low in 1981.

Re:Cable penetration (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241997)

exactly what is born if a cable penetrates a city without protection??

Re:Cable penetration (2, Funny)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242047)

comcrap cable

Anyone know the cost ? (1)

bxbaser (252102) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241911)

The article only mentions $15 per month for Sega channel in 94-98.

PlayCable in 81-83 at the same cost would seem pretty steep.

At 43 I am old enough to have been the target demographics I was using an atari 400 at the time.

Re:Anyone know the cost ? (1)

bxbaser (252102) | more than 5 years ago | (#28241925)

Should have been

"but I was using an atari 400 at the time."

Re:Anyone know the cost ? (1)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242285)

I don't know how much Intellivision games were at retail. But twenty years ago NES games cost the same or more—$60-80—as Xbox/Playstation games do nowadays. It's quite possible that PlayCable was $15/month, but that it was still about the same price proportionate to a game as the Sega Channel was.

it's like paying for cinemax without the sex (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242917)

it's like paying for cinemax without the sex

Obligatory Transformers reference (3, Funny)

Gax (196168) | more than 5 years ago | (#28242065)

ba weep gra na weep nini bon

Gameline for Atari 2600 (3, Interesting)

psydeshow (154300) | more than 5 years ago | (#28243135)

I went through two of those ginormous, 9V-battery-powered Gameline cartridges. That was like magic, being able to log in to a proto-BBS using an Atari 2600. It's not like the games were that great, but the whole process of connecting, logging on, and browsing the service was entertaining all on its own. Just trying to figure out how it worked, and why it broke so often, probably set me on the path to being a hacker.

I had no idea that CVC (the operator) became America Online, but it makes perfect sense. Gameline had mainstream distribution, proprietary dialup networking, and a walled garden full of crappy content. Anyone who actually remembers AOL will recognize the similarities immediately.

Zeebo (3, Informative)

meiao (846890) | more than 5 years ago | (#28243219)

No mention to the Zeebo console being tested in Brazil.
Zeebo is a download only console, meant for 3rd world countries (where pirating is high).
Though in my opinion it is a bit expensive (US$250, which is more than the monthly minimum wage in Brazil). If they don't make the games really inexpensive, it will fail miserably. Another missing feature is browsing the internet.
You can learn more about it here: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13506_3-10252999-17.html [cnet.com]

ZX Spectrum Channel 4 downloads (2, Interesting)

Spud70 (944688) | more than 5 years ago | (#28245057)

The ZX Spectrum used to store it's games / programs on audio cassette, a few times channel 4 (UK TV channel) would "play" the code of a demo game and you could plug your cassette recorder into the audio out of your TV and "download" the game.
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