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Backwards Compatibility, Why We Want it and Why We’re Dumb!

caution-rant1Admit it, even though you may not have yelled it at the top of your lungs you at least mentally cried foul when you heard that the XBOX One and PS4 would not be backwards compatible.  It’s ok, many of us felt the same way.  Backwards compatibility is continually sought after by us because we want to make sure that the games we love from previous generations will continue to be played for years to come.  We also want to be able to retire our old console and make room for newer & better technology.  It’s a great goal to have but it’s also an increasingly difficult pipe dream.

First let’s look at the past.  Before the PS2 was released in 2000 there was never a console that was able to embrace backwards compatibility other than the Gameboy.   Think about it, every other console manufacturer either didn’t make it passed their initial system (3DO) or went to a different shape/format on their next console (NES->SNES->N64, Genesis->Saturn->Dreamcast, 2600->5200->Jaguar).  It wasn’t until Sony raised their hands up to the sky and said “You will be able to continue to play Final Fantasy VII & VIII over and over again on the new console, with slightly upgraded textures” that we had a glimpse at what true backwards compatibility was (ok, they didn’t say it exactly like that but that’s what we all heard).  The funny thing about that is that the only other consoles to fully embrace this wondrous feature are the Wii (Gamecube games) and the WiiU (Wii games), 2 consoles that are heavily criticized for being behind the times, echoing the remarks made by Don Mattrick “If You’re Backwards Compatible, You’re Really Backwards”.  Sony was only able to do this with the PS2 because the Emotion Engine was able to process the PS1 games w/o a problem.  Once Sony moved to the Cell Processor in the PS3 the only way to process those games was to include that same Emotion Engine chip along side it, something that dramatically increased the price of the console.  When Sony realized they were in trouble with the PS3, due to it’s price, the first thing they did was remove the extra chip and replace it with a software emulator that didn’t quite work well all the time (probably the reason why Sony dropped it in from later versions that came out).  The nice part was that the PS2 was still being manufactured and sold by retailers meaning you could still play your old games on the older console.  Microsoft had very limited backwards compatibility when it moved to the 360 and gave up on it all together as time went on.

With the current shifts to completely different processor architecture (PS4) and completely different OS architecture (XBOX One), keeping with the old games would only serve to weigh down the system and keep it from realizing all of it’s Next-Gen glory.  The silver linings the lack of native compatibility are that both Microsoft and Sony are dedicated to supporting their legacy hardware for at least a few years to come and Sony’s Gaikai cloud system is expected to digitally distribute your old classics to you, much like Sony and Nintendo do with their current stores.  As for me?  I’ve already planned out how best to stack my PS4, DirecTV Genie, and PS3 on my entertainment center and figuring out a way to keep my son from sticking things that don’t belong in to the systems in my biggest concern now.  I’m fine with keeping my old hardware connected to my TV and look forward to playing both PS3 and PS4 games in the coming years.  What are your thoughts on this though?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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