The GameCube's Lost Internet Browser Discovered
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This particular subject has been on my mind for well over a year. I was just kind of sitting on this mystery until I dug a little deeper, and I ended up finding something bigger than I thought. There's a bit of explanation needed, so here we go. *jumps into painting*
A Detailed Introduction to GameCube Demo Discs
for Anyone Who Doesn't Know About Them
If you have read any of my previous journal posts (such as the one on this random stock image on a GameCube disc or my documentation of every version of Super Smash Bros. Melee ever), you would know that there are many GameCube kiosk discs floating around in the wild. Most of them have been dumped and preserved (at least the ones that are known to exist) and a few of us are pretty set on documenting these obscure titles that Nintendo intended to keep behind a display unit and away from collectors' shelves. These kiosk discs are referred to online by their christened name (the name printed on the kiosk discs themselves), Interactive Multi-Game Demo Discs. In Japan, they may be referred to as Interactive Disc Catalogs or Gekkan Nintendo Tentou Demo Discs. Nintendo sent these discs to retailers back in the day to put in display GameCube consoles, and new discs would be shipped out every few months with content for the newest game releases. In Japan, some special demo discs (labeled slightly differently) were sent to players' mailboxes through services such as Club Nintendo.
Nintendo made different demo discs for different regions, each with different interfaces and slightly different content. In Japan, these discs are primarily identified on their label and within their ISO by the month and year. Europe and Australia numbered their discs as opposed to listing a month and year (and it seems that Europe and Australia actually had an identical lineup of demo discs). The North American lineup of Interactive Multi-Game Demo Discs started with month and year labels but switched over to numerical releases in September 2002. There are thirty-six versions in the Interactive Multi-Game Demo Disc series in North America. Europe had nineteen, but other regions weren't as organized or consistent in look as the North American lineup. While the North American demo discs had a consistently general GameCube theme, the European demo discs had different theming based on one of the titles featured on the disc.
The left menu is from a North American demo disc in June 2003. The right menu is from the April 2003 demo disc in Europe with a menu design inspired by The Wind Waker.
All of the demo discs function as what is known as a multi-boot ISO. A GameCube ISO can access additional compressed ISO files that are stored inside the initial ISO. These compressed ISO files are .tgc files. These compressed ISOs, or .tgc files, make it possible for games like The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition to store four different Zelda games and a demo of The Wind Waker on one disc. Each game on the disc has its own .tgc file. Very few retail games utilize .tgc files, but many promotional and bonus discs use them. These .tgc files can also be extracted and converted into .gcm files, another extension for regular GameCube ISOs, and can be used like any regular GameCube ISO and booted through the system's IPL or BIOS.
A multi-boot ISO is an easy way to describe an ISO with a menu that allows the player to select from various ISOs to load up, and they all function pretty much the exact same way. In fact, many demo discs feature a lot of the same files. The most common uses of .tgc files are for the game demos or videos. Sometimes, they are even used to load emulators with a predetermined ROM or clients that connect to a Game Boy Advance. In Japan and Europe, .tgc files are also used to load menus with details about new products from Nintendo.
Many of the GameCube's European, Australian, or Japanese demo discs have sections titled something along the lines of News Section, Library Section, or Player's Choice Section. These tend to feature the most early 2000s graphic design you could possibly want. Here's how they usually appear on the menu (specifically on the aforementioned April 2003 demo disc from Europe):
Once you select one of these on the main menu, you are brought to another strange menu. There are a variety of different designs for these menus as well:
Navigating these menus is a little interesting, and I wondered what it was that made these menus feel so strange compared to the other menus. The way they scrolled, the limited animation, and the pause between screens all felt a little less polished. This was especially different for me, as I grew up with North American kiosks.
I extracted some of these .tgc files for these menus, converted them to ISOs, and took a look inside the files. Behold: these particular menus are .HTML files.
If you don't know what that is, it's the markup language or code that creates webpages, and these GameCube ISOs can load, view, and browse .HTML files.
They aren't alone, either. It seems that Nintendo of Japan eventually started making their demo discs entirely from .HTML files. These webpages can be explored to view screenshots, read about upcoming or new titles, and even load videos and demos. They have kind of cool interfaces, too.
So... how does this work? Well, in terms of functionality, these aren't super special .HTML files. If you dump the files from the ISO, you can open them up in any internet browser, and they function very well. Here is menu from (what it is internally titled in Boot.bin) the Interractive Disc Catalog Summer 2003 For Japan (yes, including the typo) when I loaded the main menu in Firefox. For anyone curious, this disc's Title ID is D55J01, it is a Japan region disc with an Apploader date of April 17, 2003, and despite lacking an opening.bnr file (which gives it the disc a name, description, and picture on the GameCube IPL/BIOS), it seems to have been a gift mailed to certain Club Nintendo members.
Clicking on different menu options will bring you to the next appropriate menu, so these webpages work mostly as intended. More or less, the mouse acts as both the control stick and A button on the GameCube controller, but there are no alternatives for any other button presses. Of course, a standard internet browser isn't capable of loading any GameCube videos or demos in .tgc files nor does it attempt to do so. These .html files used by the demo disc ISOs can be found in the local or html folder of their respective ISO. In the case of this Japanese demo disc from 2003, that folder looks like this:
The local or html folder is always different in each of these HTML-based ISOs. It will contain whatever menu the ISO loads and any files it displays or uses. However, there are other files on each disc. Some discs have unique unused files, but they almost all share a collection of files that are not used whatsoever...
While we have the files for this 2003 demo disc open, let's go back to the root folder of the ISO:
Most of these folders and files go entirely unused with the exception of a few of the files in the root folder of the ISO, the SOUND folder (or at least some of it), and the local folder. So what the heck is the rest of it? It's various internet-related graphics and a few webpages that appear to be missing various assets. For anyone curious, here are the contents of some the interesting folders (the ones with graphics):
And here are some of the bigger or more interesting image files shown above ripped straight from the ISO (even Hamtaro for some reason):
At first, I did not recognize these graphics. Shout-out to those of you who recognized these graphics immediately. There are probably very few of you.
My hope was that these .HTML webpages hidden among these random, colorful graphics would show these graphics being used and would shed light on what this all is. Most of the webpages, sadly, do not operate as they were likely intended to and appear to be missing many of their needed graphics. I also don't know Japanese, so that didn't help a lot either. The comments inside of the HTML code were in English, so I was able to find out that a lot of these pages had to do with settings related to network configuration, ISP settings, and other basic system or account settings. Here's a few to give you an idea of what I found when I loaded them in Firefox:
When I first found these, I was very confused. It seemed like some sort of test-related assets for these ISOs lazily left on the disc. I couldn't find what the source of these images were - they looked like nothing else I recognized from any developer ISOs (like the Service Disc, the Aging Disc, or the Peach's Castle Tech Demo), and I couldn't find anything similar on the SDK. All of these files are always present together.
The netload.str file in the root folder simply contained this incredibly significant file path, which led me to believe it was something related to the SDK:
Sometimes, the HTML-based ISOs will have a folder in the root of the ISO titled constitu, which I initially thought would be random code or something uninteresting. However, I opened them in Notepad++ and found that I was very wrong: it's literally the first three articles of the United States Constitution in a GameCube game split up into a ton of different extension-less files. Here's a sample:
Once I ended up finding the U.S. Constitution, I decided to look a little harder in the files for clues, and I realized I really wasn't looking that hard at all. The OPTIONS folder gave me an incredibly good lead, thanks to these two graphics:
So that's pretty telling. These assets all seem to belong to the EGBrowser by PlanetWeb in 2001 (Spoiler Alert: they do). I also found PlanetWeb's name on one of the unused webpages on the ISO. Now I had something to research: the most radical name for any company ever.
PlanetWeb doesn't exist anymore, but I was able to find some info. PlanetWeb was started in 1996 in San Francisco, and they believed that internet would become incredibly necessary on a daily basis (they weren't wrong). The company developed internet products and services, adding internet browsers and e-mail applications to various electronic devices such as televisions, DVD players, screen-based phones, and video game consoles. Two of these consoles were the SEGA Dreamcast and SEGA Saturn (the links go to a YouTube video of each browser in action), and SEGA was the only video game company listed as one of their partners on their website in 2001 (surprisingly, PlanetWeb had a relationship with Netflix). Their primary product, The Planetweb® Browser, was the browser ported onto SEGA's consoles and other electronic devices. By the end of 2003, it seemed that PlanetWeb shifted their focus towards media sharing. A year later, the company jumped over to programming software or something. PlanetWeb was all about this until they were acquired by Monotype Imaging, Inc. at the end of 2009.
PlanetWeb also developed an internet browser for the PlayStation 2. I had to go to a different date of their site's archive to find it (I did search EGBrowser as well but that was after my rabbit hole into PlanetWeb). The PS2 browser was announced in November 2000 and released in April 2001. PlanetWeb collaborated with Ergosoft Co., Ltd. (a subsidiary of Koei which dissolved in 2009) to create a browser for the PlayStation 2 which was titled... the EGBrowser. And of course, this PS2-based internet browser uses many of the assets found on the GameCube demo disc.
Based on all of this information and what I have found in the ISO (the graphics and especially the file path referenced in netload.str), I feel it's safe to say that PlanetWeb and Ergosoft were porting or already ported the EGBrowser from the PlayStation 2 to the GameCube, and Nintendo was using it for their demo discs to some unknown degree. This is definitely evidence of a GameCube version of the EGBrowser as the file path implies a build for Dolphin (the GameCube's code name) and these assets do feature some GameCube-specific graphics (the logo appears in a few places) However, Nintendo, PlanetWeb, and Ergosoft were completely silent about this collaboration. There is nothing on the internet about PlanetWeb and Nintendo working together in any capacity whatsoever. This is the GameCube's lost internet browser.
It's surprising that no one has ever mentioned this online, but it's not surprising that this collaboration happened. Nintendo tried similar relationships with St. GIGA on the Super Nintendo's Satellaview and RECRUIT on the Nintendo 64DD's Randnet, and both services and partnerships ended in 2000. It seems natural that they would try to find yet another company to work with to bring internet services to the GameCube, especially one that was already had credentials working with SEGA and Sony (the latter of which Nintendo previously partnered with on the cancelled CD-ROM add-on for the SNES). Nintendo would later go to Opera Software for the Wii and DS and NetFront for the Wii U, 3DS, and Switch.
Unfortunately, it is unclear if the EGBrowser was ever completely ported to the GameCube unless there are remnants of its code hidden within these demo discs. The browser used to display the demo discs' .HTML files on the GameCube may be a watered-down version of the EGBrowser for GameCube, or it may even be the EGBrowser for GameCube with specific controls disabled. Code hacking is not my expertise, but a great next step would be to see if there is a way to enable or at least look for some code for the EGBrowser within the demo discs.
All GameCube Demo Discs that use HTML either for their main menus or for .tgc files within their ISO (not all contain the unused EGBrowser assets):
- Demo Disk 7 - April 2003 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 8 - June 2003 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 9 - September 2003 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 10 - November 2003 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 11 - March 2004 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 12 - May 2004 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 13 - July 2004 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 15 - February 2005 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 16 - April 2005 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 17 - May 2005 (Europe)
- Demo Disk 19 - April 2006 (Europe)
- Gekkan Nintendo Tentou Demo Disc 1 - November 2002 (Japan)
- Gekkan Nintendo Tentou Demo Disc 2 - November 2002 (Japan)
- Demo Disc - May 2003 (Japan)
- Demo Disc - May 2004 (Japan)
- Interactive Disc Catalog - Summer 2003 (Japan)
I have reached out to some former employees of PlanetWeb in the hopes of learning more about this. I am very curious as to why these EGBrowser files are in many of these demo discs in the first place. Also, why did an EGBrowser for GameCube never see the light of day, and why has there been no public mention of Nintendo and PlanetWeb working together? Was a GameCube EGBrowser just for Nintendo's own development purposes? Would the GameCube browser eventually get a unique name? What was the relationship between PlanetWeb and Nintendo like? Why is there a graphic of Hamtaro, and why is part of the U.S. Constitution in here?
Despite PlanetWeb not existing anymore, I don't really want to host all of these files online. I listed all of the demo discs that have HTML-based menus if you would like to look into these files for yourself. I would really like to see more on this, and I'll keep researching as much as I can. If you know anything or know someone who knows anything, you should let me know! I'm very fascinated by this whole thing.
Thanks for reading. This was a long one.
This is from a PlanetWeb presentation document from their website.
Yes, that one is known about, but I meant that there's a later, closer to final build demo in the US and EU discs I mentioned that hasn't been talked about anywhere. Sorry if I confused you or anything.