Shortly after joining, I started tinkering with emulating the Sony PlayStation entirely in software, which eventually turned into a crazy and intense 6-month project to ship Connectix Virtual Game Station in time for MacWorld in January 1999.
As you might expect, both Connectix and Bleem! were sued by Sony Computer Entertainment of America, and I got to see some of the ugly side of the legal system. Fortunately, we eventually settled out of court, but the legal battles pretty much killed the product.
After all that excitement, I ended up going back to Virtual PC, this time with the intention of porting it to Windows, which may seem odd at first, but actually represented an opportunity for us to move into the virtualization space.
Early in 2003, we announced that Connectix had been acquired by Microsoft, and soon I was on my way to Redmond, WA for some new adventures.
Connectix Virtual Game Station
Shortly after joining Connectix in August 1998, I remember mentioning over lunch how freeware Sony PlayStation emulators were starting to appear, and how interesting it was that you could read a PlayStation CD using any old CD-ROM drive, even though they were pressed with a cool black coating that made them look special.
With management intrigued by the idea, I got the OK to begin tinkering with some rudimentary emulation of the system with the intention of running on one of the shiny new iMacs that had just appeared. Now this would be a killer app for a Macintosh market that was traditionally starved for games!
One thing led to another, and I kept investigating, and kept developing, and no one told me to stop. Within a month or so I had the system up and running using a simple interpreter, but the speed was nowhere near adequate.
At this point, we naïvely decided to approach Sony Computer Entertainment of America about licensing their BIOS and getting some sort of endorsement. We put on a dog & pony show where we demonstrated the A-list title Crash Bandicoot running on an iMac.
Then the CEO asked if our emulator would run any game at all, and we nervously said, “Of course,” knowing full well that we had not had time to verify the hundreds of available games. He walked over to the bookcase and picked out a random game. Luckily for us, it was Ridge Racer, a game we had in fact spent quite a bit of time on—whew!
We asked our CEO if we should proceed, and to his credit (and our surprise), he said yes. So we worked on creating a compatible BIOS replacement that used none of Sony’s code, and then raced to the finish line in order to release our first version at the MacWorld Expo in January 1999.
Not too surprisingly our booth at the show received a visit from some of Sony’s legal staff, and soon enough Connectix found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
The district court soon granted Sony a preliminary injunction which prevented us from selling CVGS while the case was being pursued. All of our reverse engineering efforts were put under a microscope, and I was deposed for questioning. What a stressful time.
We of course appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled in our favor, setting up an important precedent in the legality of emulation. Unfortunately this was a Pyrrhic victory for the product itself, as the initial injunction and rampant piracy had pretty much killed all the sales momentum we had.
Still, we were able to release the Windows version we had worked on, and made quite a bit of progress in terms of improving game compatibility once the injunction was lifted.
But as with most things legal, it’s never over until it goes all the way to the top. Sony filed additional complaints and tried to appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court, but fortunately they declined to hear the case. Eventually we reached a settlement before the remaining issues went to trial that saw Sony taking ownership of the code, which it prompty buried.