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General => Tech, Science, IT discussion & News => Topic started by: xlibman on July 16, 2016, 06:09:26 am

Title: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on July 16, 2016, 06:09:26 am
So not many people might know this, but from 1989 to 2006 there used to be a service and device in Quebec, Canada, called Videoway. It served as TV channel decoder, interactive TV, news, astrology, stock exchange, classifields and had a lot of video games playable on it. It was pretty much the ancestor of Internet in Quebec province. It was discontinued in 2000 and the service remained online until 2006. However, since it was shut down, all games that used to be playable on it disappeared permanently. :(

Bizbille - Mordicus - Temporel Inc. - Gaston Labrosse - Taupe - Styx - Fléchette - Bowling - Boycott - Plunk - Colorimage - Mr. Chin - Questionnaire - Parchesi - Mot mystère - Super Pendu - Le fou du roi - Hamburger - Polux - Pirouette - Fou-brique - Globe-Trotter - Tikkaro - Échecs - Dames - Black Jack - Poker - Hockey - Crocomaths - Bizzmut - Bon bain - Onyx - Fortuna - Patapom - Formes magiques - Poussin coquin - Tac-o-tac - QBert - Nucléaire - Zipper - Évasion - Dé-plus (Yatzee) - Logix

From Wikipedia: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidéoway

I don't know if the games were remotely streamed or rendered by the device, but they were 8-bits in style, reminiscent of ColecoVision and MSX games. Most games were French translations of popular arcade console games from the 80's:

(https://scontent.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/12004093_975105595886825_2297113134742331532_n.png?oh=02a74e7b0e143b2464621b6c7eb0216b&oe=582CD450)

(https://scontent.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/11224818_975105462553505_7956689155646867265_n.png?oh=10f5dd76b2dab097fcc683c71e85291a&oe=57E91759)

(https://scontent.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/261755_177537198977006_3635380_n.jpg?oh=1798777b54d4c89a945e450a1acc5dd9&oe=582A7C92)

WARNING: SEIZURE!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTSebgSdFBU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80CKvFqFyBU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiOTxCRAUgA

Anyway I decided to share because this is an old piece of technology history that has been forgotten or unknown by many, but if you are into retro gaming then maybe you would be interested. Something I wonder too is if it can be hacked but I bet it must be hard to find such device nowadays.

The downside for gaming on this is that you had to use the TV remote that came with it, so some games were akward to play. It also costed $8 a month or so IIRC. But I had fond memories of this before I got my first game console.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: Juju on July 16, 2016, 06:32:04 am
I absolutely loved the Videoway. When we moved to Illico, sure we had way more channels than we had before (towards the end of the Videoway's life it was pretty much billed as the cheaper version of Illico iirc), sure it had an interactive menu just like the Videoway, and it no longer looks like a NES (fancy graphics!), but, I dunno, it wasn't the same. There was less games, and they ended up being a paid service. Anyway, yeah, the games were probably downloaded each time we wanted to play, I do remember they added/removed/closed for maintainance some once in a while, the main menu overlay changed once in a while, too.

Yeah. That was my childhood.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: gameblabla on July 16, 2016, 06:49:27 am
This must have been an interesting device to have in the mid-90s...
This thing looks a bit like a VCR :
(https://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/800x600q90/673/LfitZ9.jpg)

Like i said in another thread, plgDavid disassembled it and found a 6809 processor.
So it really is an 8-bit computer/console...
My guess is that the games would simply be load up entirely in the RAM.
A Colecovision game can be up to 32kb so i'm guessing the videoway has around 64k of RAM or something.

Do you guys still have it though ?
Apparently, they are pretty rare now because it was only available for rentals.

I doubt you can do much with it now other than stealing the 6809 processor to put it in a CoCo...

Still, that's some kickass retro games there !
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on July 16, 2016, 02:02:12 pm
Where did you find that info Gameblabla? It's really hard to find anything about it on the Internet because it was almost completely forgotten.

And yeah it was not only rental, but also required a Vidéotron cable TV subscription. The fee people that managed to keep the device probably threw it away when it stopped working.

What I wonder though is where the games were loaded from. Was it from the cable TV signal? It seems to me it was kinda like the Satellaview.


I absolutely loved the Videoway. When we moved to Illico, sure we had way more channels than we had before (towards the end of the Videoway's life it was pretty much billed as the cheaper version of Illico iirc), sure it had an interactive menu just like the Videoway, and it no longer looks like a NES (fancy graphics!), but, I dunno, it wasn't the same. There was less games, and they ended up being a paid service. Anyway, yeah, the games were probably downloaded each time we wanted to play, I do remember they added/removed/closed for maintainance some once in a while, the main menu overlay changed once in a while, too.

Yeah. That was my childhood.
Videoway was a paid service too, just not as expensive and you still needed a separate analogic cable subscription.

EDIT: Also they were ahead of AppleTV by years :P

 http://twitter.com/videoway/status/641677065276784640?s=09
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: gameblabla on July 17, 2016, 01:14:06 am
Where did you find that info Gameblabla? It's really hard to find anything about it on the Internet because it was almost completely forgotten.
I found all the info here :
http://forums.bannister.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=99891&page=1 (http://forums.bannister.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=99891&page=1)

Follow the thread for an interesting journey inside the Vidéoway.
He even tries to run the dumped ROM in MAME !

According to the decap, the Vidéoway has :

It might be possible to play some games by replacing the ROM chip but other than that,
it's a dead old brick.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: Juju on July 17, 2016, 05:43:23 am
Ah nice, that's a pretty interesting read.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on July 18, 2016, 06:25:42 am
Weird that Google never found that thread before during my searches. Thanks a lot Gameblabla. I knew about when the device came out and was convinced that the games were not stored inside the computer, but the fact it's really a 8-bits computer that actually had Playstation Now capabilities and the fact it was online (albeit via a cable signal rather than Internet) makes it even more amazing to me.

As for why those devices are rare, I don't think it's just because people had to give it back to Vidéotron when they unsubbed, but also the fact that once the service went offline in 2006, those devices pretty much became paperweights.

As for why the device hardware was made so hard to open up as shown in the pictures posted later in that thread, I'm 100% sure that it was to prevent Bell Canada from copying Vidéotron's ideas and release a competing TV service + terminal.


Anyway I wish Vidéotron decided to convert the analog data to digital and release some sort of Videoway emulator on which some services would be disabled, but games would still work.


EDIT: I'M reading that in order to retrieve the games and possibly emulate them or convert them to a different playable format, just a good VHS recording of the beginning would be enough.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: Juju on July 18, 2016, 06:31:41 am
EDIT: I'M reading that in order to retrieve the games and possibly emulate them or convert them to a different playable format, just a good VHS recording of the beginning would be enough.
It is said later that it's not. That comment is valable for Teletypes, but Videoway probably used a different technology.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on July 18, 2016, 04:35:10 pm
Oh ok. I guess I misread then. Too bad, because it would have been nice, like when dumping TI-81 ROMs or stuff like that. In any case, Videoway as a gaming system was 15 years ahead of its time in terms of online capabilities. I doubt it could have supported online multiplayer, but I mean the way it retrieved games.

Also it was kinda weird to see actual TV image with 8-bits overlays. I wonder if they used a transparent color for the 8-bits overlay then slapped it on top of each TV image? Nonetheless it looked cool.

(https://scontent.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/11960148_967748739955844_5275467412772001871_n.jpg?oh=46e92b789a9bb8c34e853a5228ac5ef8&oe=582D629C)

AppleTV can do this, but Vidéoway did it two decades before. :P
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: gameblabla on July 18, 2016, 05:46:31 pm
Also it was kinda weird to see actual TV image with 8-bits overlays. I wonder if they used a transparent color for the 8-bits overlay then slapped it on top of each TV image? Nonetheless it looked cool.
It must have worked kind of like the Sega Genesis with two background overlays, with color 0 used as a transparent color for the foreground overlay.
An MSX2 could do the same if you look at the Astron Belt port, with FMV stuff with sprites on top of it.
So this was very possible back then.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on July 18, 2016, 08:37:20 pm
Ah ok. And yeah I'm glad this was implemented back then. I wonder if it was used on the Sega CD and Turbografx CD during cinematics, though?

EDIT: I just checked Astron Belt LaserDisc for MSX and wow I am astonished O.O. The screen disappearing everytime you kill an enemy must be kinda annoying when playing, though.

I bet such game would have been possible on the Videoway, because after all, Videoway had an interactive TV channel called TVI.


EDIT: Update, I found this, but sadly all download links are gone. https://web.archive.org/web/20050120154624/http://www.ourfamilysbox.com/~meunierc/tvnw/ But it shows screenshots of the Loto-Québec chess game.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: gameblabla on July 19, 2016, 08:06:40 am
EDIT: Update, I found this, but sadly all download links are gone. https://web.archive.org/web/20050120154624/http://www.ourfamilysbox.com/~meunierc/tvnw/ But it shows screenshots of the Loto-Québec chess game.
Well damn, an actual dump of a Videoway game, the only one known actually !
Nice find !
Sadly, it seems that the link to Echec was dead since 2004 or so.
The page mentions this though :
Quote
Copyright (c) 1999, Christian Meunier (meunierc@acm.org).
Mise à jour le 12 juillet 1999.

Which means that TVWM should be found on his older website, as ourfamilysbox.com only appeared around 2002 or so.
You can try to bug him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/meunierc_mtl) DJ or on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.ca/in/meunierc) too as an alternative.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on July 19, 2016, 09:36:12 pm
I'm curious if he still has a copy. I really should ask him at some point. I wish we knew better back then, though, but again perhaps with Vidéoway all we could have done is recording every single game footage on VHS, as well as footage of the other Videoway services available at the time...


EDIT: This shows how the interactive TV channel looked like during a quiz at 11:52
https://youtu.be/Eq_oS9GvBLM?t=11m52s

But it was really like those old game consoles that were just a VHS tape where you had to press buttons at specific moments, except in quiz form instead of reflexes.

EDIT: Here are screenshots of some more games in there:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQNs2gPfMdQ
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: SkinnyV on February 22, 2017, 09:42:01 pm
Unfortunately, I doubt that the guy behind this old website is willing to help. I tried contacting him along several other videoway developer from that era and this Christian Meunier guy was my best bet. Sadly he has not responded. Another user from bannister forum managed to get in touch with him and apparently did not get far. His 'emulator' was not really an emulator per say and the build of the games had to be heavily modified to run on his software and as far as I know did not offer any rom dumps. I managed ot exchange a few message with another developer that was not really handling game related stuff (mostly back end server stuff) and she seemed to freak out the minute I asked if she had anything binary of game or application still in her possession. I have a feeling that old videotron developper are scared to share or talk about anything most likely because of a confidentiality claim. Most of them are still working in that field and might be worried of attracting negative attention. Maybe once they start retiring they might be more willing to reminisce and start helping out because I'm certain some of them like this Christian kept thing they worked on, I know that personally I always like to keep stuff related to what I have worked on in the past.  But for now, I lost all hope of finding a dump of a game or application, which is all we need to actually start making an emulator. It's too bad because I am dying to be able to replay some of those games again.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on February 22, 2017, 09:54:38 pm
Hi SkinnyV and welcome here. Sorry to hear. From the reply at http://forums.bannister.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=99891#Post99891 I kinda saw it coming, though, especially when I read that his emulator was not really an emu.

I think the best way to get the Vidéoway games back online would be that a petition be sent to Québécor Média (which owns Vidéotron) or Vidéotron itself to convince them to put the games on their Illico TV service (which replaced Vidéoway). Even an emulator of their own with some Vidéoway services disabled would do the job. That's unless they deleted everything, though, because from what I remember, Quebec TV networks were not well-known to keep backups of old material.


Thankfully, certain games were already available in some form on 8-bit consoles, such as Q-Bert, in English, but it's a shame that the rest is gone.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: SkinnyV on February 22, 2017, 10:10:48 pm
I highly doubt videotron or quebecor will be interested in the least. It's true tought that some of those game are fortunately still playable in their original version on computer but sometime the feeling ain't the same. I actually tracked down and spoke with the developer of Styx and he was very pleased to hear people were still thinking of his game, he even share the source to the game on his website and other people ported it to Windows and such for newer system.  But he told me that he was unfortunately not responsible or involved in the development of the videoway port, he just sold them the right and visited the Videotron office once to be shown how the port was playing. He said he might have some VHS recording of the gameplay from that meeting but he doesn't know where it is and there is already footage on youtube so not super exciting.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: Juju on February 22, 2017, 10:35:03 pm
As far as I know, there's a guy who reverse-engineered a Vidéoway box and the chips inside, but it's probably as far as we could go without the software.
Title: Re: Videoway device
Post by: xlibman on February 23, 2017, 04:09:35 am
Yeah, regarding Québécor, I think they would only care about bringing the games back online if they got like tens of thousands of names on a petition. Anyway the sucky part is that normally with old games we can simply remake them from scratch for newer devices, but if there is no more trace of the original then it's impossible to remake the game. Plus most game remakes aren't even 100% true to the originals anyway (http://martintheriault.net/games/temporel.html comes to mind). Another problem is that since the games were in French, finding the original can be hard due to the tendency of renaming things instead of just translating them (Home Alone movie series comes to mind)

By the way, here is a list of the games that were available: http://videoway.wifeo.com/table-des-matieres-jeux-videoway.php (ignore the game links, because the versions available to play there are not even close to the original and are just for reference)