Sega Saturn Netlink

Posted by JerryTerrifying On Sunday, July 4, 2010 2 comments

I've always had a fascination with online play on a home console.  I didn't really have access to the internet until 1999.  My Pops had a PC and an internet connection as early as 1995 but he hoarded it all to himself keeping me in the dark about world wide web. The internet remained mysterious and elusive until I got my grubby mitts on a PC of my own and started paying for  internet access in late 1999.  Because of this the idea of accessing the internet on the Sega Dreamcast without having to buy a PC always appealed to me and seemed like a good alternative.  See I have this glitch in my brain that won't let me play games on a PC so if I were to game online it would be on a console and as far as I knew at the time you could only do that with the Sega Dreamcast.

I never got that Dreamcast, I had to go with the Playstation 2 to play Metal Gear Solid 2.  Eventually I did try a PC game or two and ventured online with Diablo II with a few friends and spent hours smashing demons to pieces with many many left clicks.  I always remembered the Dreamcast though and how bad I wanted to play Phantasy Star Online or any of the other games that let you connect to the internet.

It's no surprise that most gamers think of the Dreamcast as the first console to feature online play.  True it was the first to come with a modem out of the box but it was far from the first console to go online.  The Intellivision had a modem that allowed you to download and play games.  The Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis had modems  that allowed online multiplayer through Xband's subscription service although this wasn't officially supported.  Super Nintendo had the Satellaview which allowed you to download games via satellite but only during certain hours of the day while the satellite was overhead.  The Genesis had the Sega channel which connected through your cable box and let you play up to 50 games a month for a small monthly fee around $15.  Many of the upgrades cable companies had to make for that service helped lay the foundation for todays cable internet just another bullet point illustrating Sega's role as one of the greatest innovators in gaming history.  Then there was the Sega Saturn Netlink.

One night I was reading about video games on wikipedia and I stumbled across a one or two sentence description of the Sega Saturn Netlink.  I had to know more.  I followed the link to the Saturn League and began reading all about the Netlink.  The Netlink is a 28.8kbps modem that plugs into the cartridge slot of your Sega Saturn that would allow you to browse the internet and play multiplayer games, for free.  I had to have one!  I went straight to amazon and picked one up complete in box for $20 shipped.  Not bad.  Several loose modems were being sold for as low as $5.

The Sega Saturn Netlink was developed by Xband the company that made the Modems for the SNES and Genesis only this time it was officially supported by Sega.  The Netlink doesn't actually connect to the internet for multiplayer gaming it direct dials.  This means that one Sega Saturn places a phone call to the second Sega Saturn which then answers and the two begin communicating.  This way you can play games with anyone in the country with zero lag over a 28.8kbps modem.  Not to bad by 1997 standards.  The game play still holds up perfectly today in 2010.  There are two downsides to this.  The first is that you need a regular analog phone line for the best results.  If you're using Vonage, Magic Jack or Digital Phone it may not work or will be laggy and unplayable.  The signals require precise timing which gets distorted while being converted to digital and back.  Many people have abandoned analog phone lines in favor of cell phones or cheaper digital phone service.  The second draw back of this is long distance rates do apply.  So if you're on the East Coast playing someone on the West Coast expect to rack up one hell of a phone bill!  You can pay for unlimited long distance which is what some members of the Saturn League do.  So keep that in mind before connecting.

Now the most important aspect of the Netlink is of course the games!  There are five Saturn games that support the Netlink.  Sega Rally Netlink Edition, Daytona USA CCE Netlink Edition, Virtual On Netlink Edition, Duke Nukem 3D and Saturn Bomberman.  The first three games have non netlink editions so be sure to check which version of the game you own.  It will say on the disc or on the packaging which version you have.  There are no alternate versions of Duke Nukem 3D or Saturn Bomberman so you're safe there.  Dayton USA CCE Netlink Edition also has the honor of being one of the rarest games in the Saturn library and I've seen listed on ebay for more than $500 USD.  The rest of the Netlink games are fairly affordable with Saturn Bomberman usually fetching the next highest price usually around $40 bucks.  I picked up a complete copy for $30 from a friend over at the Saturn League.  It's an amazing game and well worth owning even if you're not interested in the Netlink.  Saturn Bomberman is the only Netlink game that can support up to four players.  Two players on each Saturn.  This particular version of Bomberman also supports up to 10 players in the offline mode if you have two multi taps offering up one hell of a good  time if you love Bomberman and know nine other people that love throwing bombs at robots.

If you do manage to get a hold of the Planet Web Browser it is still possible to browse the internet but you must have a compatible dial up internet service.  There aren't many around but it is possible.  Keep in mind that the web browser was made in 1997 so it can't handle the vast majority of websites on the internet today as web standards have changed drastically in the nearly 15 years since this web browser was programmed.  It's a slow modem and an ancient browser but seeing it in action on your Sega Saturn does have some appeal to weirdos like myself that have always had a fascination with the Internet on a game console.

I've posted an hour long video on my youtube account explaining how the Netlink works and shows off actual online netlink play filmed in 2010.


Critical Failure said...

One day we'll do some Virtual On net link.

lazyhoboguy said...

Sounds really neat. I dont own a Saturn yet, but one day when I do I will try to set this up.

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