Mon Jun 2 13:37:05 EDT 2014

MobileWonderGate Resurrection

WonderGate box

WonderGate in action

So here's a thing. On Saturday evening I received two NTT DoCoMo MobileWonderGate (further just called WonderGate) packages, one for use and one for a backup in case I break the first one or something. The packages include a manual, a WonderSwan cartridge, an adapter, a list of supported phones and a fairly hefty booklet with support station names, locations, and phone numbers. I'll sprinkle this post with some pictures of this stuff because I think it's kinda neat.

Before I go on, let me give a bit of information on what WonderGate actually is. To put it shortly, WonderGate is an adapter that connects a WonderSwan to an NTT DoCoMo cellular phone. This adapter contains nearly all of the interfacing required to connect to the internet and dial numbers; the WonderSwan just has to send a couple bytes in a request. This means that it can be very fast and use very little battery power on the WonderSwan itself. This adapter could be used by games to provide downloadable content, or uploading user-generated content, or possibly even net-play. The package also includes a WonderSwan cart, which provides the ability to browse the internet, check and send e-mail, and play downloaded games.

Anyways, since this stuff is about 14 years old now, it pretty much doesn't function at all. You probably can't get the phones that work with the adapter, you probably can't get service for them if you happen to have them, and the phone numbers that it needs to dial for internet (haha, yes, really) probably aren't in service anymore. Compound this with the fact that I don't live in Japan, the only place where this could possibly work at all ever (the WonderGate only supports one cellular technology, and that happens to be one that is exclusive to Japan), and you might think this is just a pointless hunk of junk that I'll leave sitting around in a closet until I go insane and sell all of my stuff.

I was determined to make this not so. Thus, I present to you, a new project: MobileWonderGate Resurrection. This is exactly what you think it is; a project to bring WonderGate back to life. I have mostly completed the first step earlier today, which is to get the WonderSwan cartridge to display a web page.

WonderGate cartridge

Sadly, it's still not working 100%; the main navigation still fails since it's sending a request to a server that is no longer online (not sure why yet, I believe it may be to verify that a website is safe?) and I haven't pulled apart what it's expecting in the response yet. The way I am currently able to display a page is to go into the Mailer functionality of the cartridge, and ask it to take me to the mopera email quick-start page. There is also an unknown command being sent to the adapter whose purpose I don't understand still.

My next step is probably going to be to finish up most of the support for the WonderSwan cartridge. I will probably put up a code repository or two once I feel the support is adequate, then work on making it all somewhat less user-hostile. In the meantime, I'll also be looking for games that have WonderGate support, and seeing what I can do about those and how much functionality I can try to bring back. Sadly, I'm very afraid that any of the information hosted on now-offline servers is probably gone forever.

This era of Japanese computing and mobile integration has always been a huge point of fascination for me, and also a depressingly mysterious one. There is very little information still around, very few things have preserved, and I'm afraid that almost all of it has gone with the times. It's one of the reasons that I'm so concerned about the current trend of digital-only games. Once people stop caring or companies go out of business (which does happen, quite often, don't delude yourself), it will be lost to time, for none more to learn of its joys and stories. If you have any information about essentially anything related to the Japanese mobile phone ecosystem from 1998-2005, please contact me in any way possible, I am extremely interested.

Posted by trap15 | Permanent link | File under: wondergate, reverse_engineering, wonderswan