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Games Entertainment

A Brief History of Downloadable Console Games 53

Posted by Soulskill
from the waiting-for-technology-to-catch-up dept.
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 Brief History of Downloadable Console Games

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  • by protologix (1395243) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:56AM (#28241327)
    Console game downloading services, giving hackers holes to load homebrew through since 1981
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)

      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by StreetStealth (980200)

        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.

      • by V50 (248015) * on Sunday June 07, 2009 @12:39PM (#28242017) Journal

        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 (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tepples (727027)

          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?

          • by ivucica (1001089)

            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.

            • by eldorel (828471)
              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 hard
              • by ivucica (1001089)

                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."

                • by Golddess (1361003)
                  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.
          • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @03:24PM (#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: (Score:3, Funny)

              by tepples (727027)

              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.

          • by V50 (248015) *

            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.

          • by Sparton (1358159)

            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

            • by tepples (727027)

              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?

              • by Sparton (1358159)

                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!).

          • by Dutch Gun (899105)

            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-jo

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          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

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MikeBabcock (65886)

        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: (Score:2, Funny)

        by ae1294 (1547521)

        Isn't homebrew code speak for pirates these days?

        And pirate is code speak for DRM freedom fighter.

      • by SpiceWare (3438)
        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].
  • SEGA Channel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grumling (94709) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @11:21AM (#28241479) Homepage

    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 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.

    • by Goffee71 (628501)
      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 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @11:28AM (#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.

    • by Comboman (895500)
      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).
      • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hollywench (646205)
      Cnet's gotten suckier over the years, that's for sure.
  • by Allicorn (175921)

    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

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

  • 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.

  • by Gax (196168) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @12:45PM (#28242065)

    ba weep gra na weep nini bon

  • by psydeshow (154300) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:56PM (#28243135) Homepage

    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 (Score:3, Informative)

    by meiao (846890) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @03:05PM (#28243219) Homepage
    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]
  • 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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