Multiplayer game networks were just starting to pick up momentum in the 1990s. The World Wide Web had yet to emerge as a platform for interactive gameplay, so the only option was to subscribe to a proprietary game network service.
Catapult Entertainment seemed poised to be a leader in that category. Its management was like a supergroup of executives from Sony, General Magic, and game publisher T-HQ. It had several big-name financial backers including Blockbuster Entertainment.
Owners of the Sega Genesis or Nintendo SNES game consoles could subscribe to Catapult for $5 to $10 a month. They received an XBand modem, shown in the photo, that provided network access through the console. The modem was produced by General Instruments.
The Catapult service had some features common on today’s web-based multiplayer games: game play advice, player rankings, the ability to message other players, and a list of players waiting to play. Every player had to own a copy of the game before they could play.
A limited number of games that supported the service, glitchy game play, and relatively few subscribers (believed to be no more than 15,000) were among the factors that doomed the service several years after its launch on June 7, 1994.
Volker Dolch was an engineer who designed microprocessors. He founded an instrumentation company in the 1970s, and then Dolch Computer Systems in 1987. Given his background in digital instrumentation equipment, it’s not surprising that the portable PC systems his company produced were prized by other engineers and technical professionals.
Dolch PCs were high-performance, ruggedized systems designed for industrial settings. The company was an early adopter of new technologies, as evidenced by the Dolch PAC (Portable Add-in Computer) line’s use of the then new active-matrix thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD color display in 1990.
The quality of color displays for portables at the time was not great. The technology was still young and trade-offs for cost, power consumption, and availability meant that most portable color displays were not good enough for some applications. The TFT technology started to change that. It had a much greater pixel density than other LCD technologies, offered better performance in terms of switching pixels on or off, and was brighter.
TFT displays were more expensive, but the people who bought Dolch systems were willing to pay for it. The TFT option added nearly $4,000 to the price of a Dolch PAC.
Introduced: June 3, 1990 Original Retail Price: $3,995 Base Configuration: 80286, 80386SX, 80386, or 80486 CPU; 1MB or 2MB RAM (16MB max); 20MB to 200MB hard drive; 5.25-inch floppy drive; 6 or 7 expansion slots Graphics: CGA (VGA with TFT or gas plasma display)