Just How Big Of A Deal Is Backwards Compatibility?

Now that it is available to Xbox One preview members, just how big is backwards compatibility?

When it was revealed, the backwards compatibility announcement was met with thunderous appraise from the Xbox E3 crowd. Despite pleasing the rabid Xbox fans at the conference, many on the web were skeptical or outright dismissive of the move by Microsoft. In this piece, lets look into just how much backwards compatibility matters in 2015.

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First, lets glance at the gaming performance experts Digital Foundry’s findings on backwards compatibility.

Bringing the library of Xbox 360 titles to Microsoft’s new platform is an enormously impressive technical feat, to the point where you can’t help but wonder just how the engineers achieved it. We’ve had a few thoughts about this. Firstly, we suspect that Microsoft’s insistence that Xbox 360 developers stick to the DirectX 9 console API played a role in this – it would surely have helped to create a clear route in mapping GPU instructions from one generation of processor to the next (though it begs the question of what’s going to happen with later games, that used some highly inventive DX9 code to get closer to the metal).

Right now, as you might expect from early preview code, the virtual machine works and the fact that it does work is simply astonishing. However, as impressive as that is, there are a number of issues. Looking at Mass Effect in particular, we can’t help but wonder whether the current CPU virtualisation is as fast as it should be. Clearly there is more work to do, but with a full release due later this year, the engineers still have plenty of time to polish things up. Even considering its current flaws, the state of the virtual machine’s capabilities is remarkable: those precious few moments when performance actually exceeds the Xbox 360 gives us just a bit of hope that in the long run, we may actually end up with an improved experience in some games.

Expanding on the mentioned improved performance in Digital Foundry quote, here’s a snippet of improved game performance from the original Mass Effect

When performance gains like this are possible in the beta program, I can’t help but wonder if we could see bigger improvements as BC reaches further optimization on the Xbox One. During the initial announcement, Xbox head Phil Spencer promised roughly 100 titles in the program by Holiday 2015, but until then, here’s the game list preview members can currently enjoy:

  • A Kingdom for Keflings
  • A World of Keflings
  • Alien Hominid HD
  • Banjo-Kazooie
  • Banjo-Tooie
  • BattleBlock Theater
  • Defense Grid
  • Geometry Wars Evolved
  • Hexic HD
  • Jetpac Refuelled
  • Kameo
  • Mass Effect
  • N+
  • Perfect Dark
  • Perfect Dark Zero
  • Small Arms
  • Super Meat Boy
  • Toy Soldiers
  • Toy Soldiers: Cold War
  • Viva Piñata
  • Viva Piñata: TIP
  • Zuma

If you want to make your voice heard about what game’s you’d like supported by Xbox One backwards compatibility, Microsoft set up this nifty voting system!

In response to Microsoft’s announcement, Sony’s Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida said they were surprised by the announcement and noted that “The technology behind it must be very challenging.” As for PS3 to PS4 backwards compatibility, Yoshida went on to say, “It’s going to be super challenging to do so. I never say never, but we have no plans.”

Yoshida trying out the Xbox One Hololens experience at E3
Yoshida trying out the Xbox One Hololens experience at E3

What do you think of Xbox One implementing backwards compatibility? Do you think it’s a good edition to the console’s expanding feature list, or is it a waste of resources to support old games? Feel free to let me know on Twitter!

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