Does Backwards Compatibility Matter?

I keep my old consoles, despite the grief I get from the wife for doing so.

I have my original PS1, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, even a Sega Saturn (thats in the garage to be honest, along with my beloved Amiga).

Ill be honest, Ive been wanting an reason to put a picture of an Amiga on this blog for a while.

More importantly I have the games for these devices too, games which I don’t really play that often, but which I feel that one day I might. They represent a history of gaming, both in the general sense, but of course they represent MY history of gaming. Each title part of the journey that led me to today – in terms of my tastes, skill (or lack of) and perception of new titles that are released as part of today’s industry.

From time to time, I will find myself firing up a title, just see if it is as I remember it. I’ll be honest, not all the titles have aged so well, but many have. I knew which titles were poor and I part-exchanged them at the time. The sense of satisfaction, and security I have from knowing I can go back to these games that represent a time in my life is wholesome, real and important to me. Moving onto a new system has always been an exciting, due to what it may bring in terms of new games, but it’s also been exciting due to the fear regarding what I might be giving up. Once you buy a new console you KNOW that you won’t be going back to those old games, those old worlds half as often, if at all. All that time invested, in all those characters and stories, largely coming to an end.

However, some consoles cushioned the blow, and allowed one generation to bleed into another. The PS2 could play PS1 games, and indeed the original PS3 could not only play PS1 games (something it still can do), but also PS2 titles (whilst improving the graphics). The Wii could play Gamecube games, the original DS (and DSlite) Gameboy Advance titles, whilst today’s 3DS plays DS titles (rather awkwardly unless you have a 3DS XL).

One console that bucked the trend from the start was the Xbox 360. This console was a clean break from the original Xbox, and backwards compatibility was an after thought. Certain games were backwards compatible via a downloadable patch but the number of games catered for were few in number and Microsoft soon gave up updating the list of titles which could work (sometimes with bugs added). Many gamers were up in arms, especially as the Xbox was a beast of a console, and to keep both consoles wired up seemed crazy for many. In addition many Xbox owners hadn’t had their consoles for that long (it had a very short shelf life), so they had games they wanted to carry across to the Xbox 360. The last issue was that the launch titles for the 360 were poor and few in number for the first 12 months of that consoles existence.

The original Xbox. Im sure it booted with Norton Anti-Virus, as it seemed to take ages for games to start compared to a Gamecube….

Following on from the Xbox precedent, Sony decided to remove backwards compatibility as a way of lowering the cost of each console. It was never such an issue, as by the time Sony went ahead with this, there was a healthy number of titles on the PS3. However, for anyone with a large PS2 collection, keeping their PS2 close at hand would now be required (if you are lucky enough to have a spare room, it would go there)

As we move ahead to the next generation we wait to see what each of the three companies plan with regard to backwards compatibility. Sony have announced that the PS4 will not be backwards compatible at all. It has a totally new architecture, and whilst it could probably run an emulator, the Cell CPU in the PS3 is so unique, that even with the power of the PS4, performance would be poor. In addition, why spend the additional cost in developing and supporting such an emulator if you are confident that before too long there will be a healthy number of titles taking up our attention. However that is a gamble – what if there are NOT a healthy number of titles at the time of release?

Playing old games, as single player modes is something which can be done on future platforms, just check out all the Amiga titles coming to the Blackberry platform – they are just like the original. In addition it is not hard to find a Spectrum, or even Windows 95 emulator along with game files (legal or dodgy). Yet this time it IS different. This is the first generation of console to have games which are MORE than just games, but which are services.

How many people do you know who still prefer to play Modern Warfare three over Black Ops2? I know plenty – in fact I’m one of them. That game won’t be backwards compatible on the PS4, and even though there will be another (well I’m guessing here, but it’s not exactly a tough guess) Call of Duty title for PS4, once you have a community with a critical mass, it takes time for it to migrate, a long time. Now Sony do have a work around, via game streaming, but that won’t be for everyone. You will need pretty fast internet for that, and will it recognise old game saves?No one wants to start their game or online profile again. Of course for games such as MW3 they could re-release for the PS4 and based on your usertag/account you could continue from where you left off, perhaps. Would they though?

So moving forward it seems that we are all going to have to keep our PS3 consoles plugged in for sometime, and the idea we can part-ex our old console for the new one to help with the price isn’t going to be an option.

Expect lots of HD gamecube releases to make their way to the E-store on the Wiiu….

For the Nintendo WiiU it does have backwards compatibility (for the Wii only, not Gamecube), even though it’s been implemented poorly. You in effect have to reboot the console into a Wii mode. However game saves and digital titles can be transferred. It’s clumsy, but it works, and for families who have a Wii and want to know what is next (for them) it allows them to take their library of games (and controllers) with them. For Nintendo, keeping access to those simple games such as Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort are the equivalent of the platform services such as Modern Warfare 3.

Microsoft are yet to announce their plans, but whatever they are it could have a huge effect on the outcome of the next generation. Sony, due to technical reasons associated with the history of the Cell CPU used in the PS3 had no choice BUT to drop backwards compatibility. Microsoft’s new console will have more in common with it’s old, so could quite possibly offer a better solution than that offered when they went from Xbox to Xbox 360. Whilst this won’t encourage PS3 users to move to Microsoft, it could prevent Microsoft users from moving to the PS4 however attractive it is.

it’s not ALL about MW3 you know…..

At the end of the day, we can’t stop progress and we won’t all be playing MW3 forever. EA get around this by regularly switching off game servers to force you to play the latest version of Fifa. However, Activision doesn’t do this with the COD titles in the same way, and the community would be up in arms if they did.

What are your thoughts on the issue of backwards compatibility? Is it just the same as with previous consoles for you, or do games such as COD, or Halo and Uncharted change things for you this time round?