11

Most video game consoles allow you to connect multiple controllers to them, for multiplayer gaming. Handheld game consoles, on the other hand, were designed to be used by one person at a time, but many supported the use of a link cable to connect two handhelds together to play. Popular examples include the Tetris and Pokémon games on the Nintendo Game Boy.

At the turn of the century, many "home" (non-portable) game consoles started to support multiplayer gaming over the internet, using a modem or network adapter connected to the console.

On the Nintendo GameCube, games such as Mario Kart: Double Dash supported the use of the network adapter in a local manner, i.e. without requiring an external internet connection. While four people could normally play on one console, connecting two consoles together would allow eight people to play together in the same room. (This would require two televisions, two network adapters, and a network cable to connect them.) One could even have sixteen players on four consoles connected together over a LAN!

Was the GameCube the first non-portable games console to support connecting consoles together in this manner (either directly or in a local area network), or is there an earlier example?

For the purposes of this question, I'm going to exclude home computers, or in other words, devices with a built-in keyboard: many of these had networking support. I'm also excluding games that required connecting to the internet or an external server: just local play examples, please.

  • For the nitpicking part, there where consoles with keyboads, most notably the Odyssey 2. Also, where does this place the Commodore 64 game system? Or the Max10 :)) SCNR – Raffzahn Feb 10 at 14:15
  • "At the turn of the century" You what? the Commodore 64 had multi-play with cable connections back in the 80's, I know you're excluding home PC's but I seriously doubt games platforms were far behind (if not ahead of) that, & that's rather a long way from the "turn of the century". – Pelinore Feb 11 at 3:16
  • The GameCube may not have been a handheld console, but I would hardly call it "non-portable." It was small and lightweight, and even had a built-in handle! – Mason Wheeler Feb 11 at 17:24
15

The original PlayStation supported a link cable much like the Gameboy's out of the box via its serial port; e.g. you can see that European launch title, Wipeout, supported it by inspecting the row of features starting near the bottom left of the back of the box:

Back of Wipeout Box

It is a passive cable, and became available in 1995.

If you'll allow intelligent peripherals then the Atari Jaguar, supported local networking in theory via its JagLink add-on, with the first game to utilise it, in a buggy fashion, being Doom from November 1994.

EDIT: contrary to my statement above, there's no active logic in a JagLink cable — just a single level-converter IC at each end. See Raffzahn's answer for more information on that. But that would give the Jaguar a claim date of November 1993, more than a year before the Playstation's Japanese launch.

  • Drats, yes. the Jaguar may be the right answer - stupid me, considering I even had one - including the link. – Raffzahn Feb 10 at 15:53
  • I see no reason to disallow the JakLink add-on, given that the GameCube required a Broadband Adapter to connect to a LAN. – Kaz Feb 10 at 18:16
  • @Wilson I can't claim to understand what the problem was either; possibly a deliberate bandwidth limit by the host? Anyway, I've moved it to StackOverflow's image host, so I'm sure it'll work now. – Tommy Feb 11 at 14:35
9

The question is a bit unclear on what is considered local.


Edit: Tommy's good answer included the Jaguar and JagLink which may be the right 'first' here. Something I forgot even though I had one back then - including JagLink and DOOM.

Except and unlike implied, the JagLink box doesn't change communication in any way like a LAN adaptor. Any right wired cable works, as the so called 'DSP-Port' is just a high speed (asynchronous) serial port operating at TTL level. This is fine for short distance connections - like a few feet - but will produce high error rates at longer distance.

In real life situations, families owning more than one console will not have them - and two TV sets - siting side by side, but rather in one in a bed room and on in the living room - or both in bed rooms. This will easy result in a distance of 15 m or more. Way too far for TTL signals at high speed. Of course expensive cable could help as well, except that's not exact consumer price level.

As a result Atari engineering came up with the little JagLink adapters. On the inside they feature a MAX232 type level shifter quadrupling voltage from 0V/5V to -10/+10V. This allowed the usage os simple unshielded twisted pair (telephone wire) for longer distance.

enter image description here

(Picture taken from Matthias Domins http://www.mdgames.de/ site)

So with the Jaguar introduced in 1993/94 and Doom delivered in 1994 with JagLink cables the same time, it could as well qualify as first here. So far there were only two other (original) games using thee link: Doom and Air Cars released in 1997. The third, often cited title, Battle Sphere was announced in 1994, but went into development hell until finally (re-)released in 2000.


Depending on how this is iterated, one answer could be the Sega Dreamcast. While games where primarily meant to be connected via online services like Seganet, it could, unlike its predecessor the Sega Saturn, also use a LAN adaptor to play some games locally. Being introduced in 1998, it predates the Game Cube by three years (*1).

Now, if playing via an online service is a valid answer (*2), then already Sega's MegaDrive (Genesis) enabled this in 1990 with the Mega Modem add-on from Sega, as well as with XBAND's system which even allowed gaming across console borders by supporting MegaDrive and NES consoles in 1994.

According to Faddens comment, the gameplay on XBAND did, after establishing a pairing via the online service, move into a direct communication, eliminating the online part. This would make it somewhat eligible regarding the local part.


Out of scope, but maybe interesting here: Delivery of games via online services is almost as old as cartridge based consoles:

  • In 1980 CVC introduced their Master Module for the Atari VCS 2600, able to connect to the GameLine online service and download games.

  • A year later, in 1981, Mattel introduced PlayCable, where a modem plugged into the cartridge slot would connect to TV cable and download games that where continuously streamed.

The different approaches are quite interesting. Where GameLine reassembles online services, PlayCable is a strict unidirectional broadcasting technology. All games offered where streamed continuously on separate (mono audio) channels, plus one channel streaming a menu program to allow dynamic selection, basically a dictionary service.


*1 - The Dreamcast also featured a link cable to connect a Neo Geo Pocket Color, so beating the Game Cube here as well.

*2 - The question is somewhat unclear here in bringing this as example, but asking as well about 'local'. Thus two local systems connected via an online service may or may not be valid.

  • 2
    The XBAND devices had to contact the service to be matched to each other. The actual gameplay was peer-to-peer over the phone line, not through the service, so once past the setup phase it technically qualifies for this question... assuming a couple miles of POTS wiring is considered "local". The service-side matching precludes the use of a phone line simulator (unless you've got quick hands). – fadden Feb 10 at 17:04
  • 1
    To increase the connectivity - Dreamcast also had a mirrored expansion socket in the controllers for memory cards - these are the memory cards with their own screens, D-pad and buttons, so you could play games on them. The connector allowed the memory cards themselves to be connected head to head so you could play games on them vs others. example – Baldrickk Feb 11 at 12:00
7

An early example is the 1994 game Zero Tolerance for the SEGA Mega Drive / Genesis, which allowed for local multiplayer with two systems and two TV sets connecting both machines with a link cable.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_Tolerance_(video_game)

  • 1
    I was wondering where the cable would plug into the Mega Drive; the linked article explains it was plugged into the second controller port of each console. It seems to be a rather clever method. – Kaz Feb 10 at 18:19
  • 1
    Mega Drive controller ports can act as simple gamepad ports, following a protocol similar to SEGA's previous Master System but with support for more buttons, or as a generic serial or 4 bit parallel port. Probably Zero Tolerance is using one of these two later modes to connect both systems together, but I have never been able to check in code how they did it. – César González Segura Feb 10 at 18:37
  • 1
    I guess you actually could do the same on the Master System by bit banging; two of the pins on the joystick port are bidirectional and current output levels can be set. Here's the clever part: the VDP is designed for daisy-chaining and can be programmatically told that it should synchronise to external sync, which on an unexpanded machine will cause the chip to sit and wait forever, unless or until you disable sync to external sync. So you could force two communicating machines into frame phase, and nudge them back there as required. Giving a way to make room for bit banging in an actual game. – Tommy Feb 11 at 4:08
  • ... though, to be explicit, these are just my extemporaneous thoughts. This is not a suggestion that the Master System had a link cable or any two-machine games, or that it's any sort of answer for the main question. Just a fun aside. – Tommy Feb 11 at 4:10
2

Does MIDI maze, a death match (shooting pac-man like characters in a first-person view maze) released for the Atari ST in 1987 and using the ST's Midi connection for the required networking count? I remember parties of something like 8 players indulging in this thing.

  • 3
    Great one - except the St was a (home) computer - which is excluded as per the last paragraph – Raffzahn Feb 10 at 21:27
  • @Raffzahn - but that paragraph excludes home computers because they supported networking. Midi Maze ran off the built in Midi interface, which could be considered different than a network, since I'm not aware of any devices that could link the Midi interface to some type of network, and the ST only had a serial interface to link to a modem, no ethernet. – rcgldr Feb 11 at 16:45
  • 1
    @rcgldr For one, midi is a network (and build in), but here maybe more important, the paragraph does not exclude only computers with networks, but all of them. And it's done with a good reason, as it targets game consoles. – Raffzahn Feb 11 at 16:57
  • I don't think I'd really call MIDI a network. It's a unidirectional blind transport medium, which as conventionally used makes no attempt whatsoever to let senders know who if anyone actually received any particular message. – supercat Feb 11 at 23:12
  • @supercat Broadcast networks are one-way. – snips-n-snails Feb 13 at 21:23
0

The famicom had a system where you could use a modem and dial up. According to the link there was some development on online multiplayer games. This Youtube video talks about being able to use it to compare high scores and potentially downloading games using the disk system

  • That's interesting, but using a modem and dial-up wouldn't be "local multiplayer". – Kaz Feb 15 at 15:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.