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December 2015 Retro Gaming Article

December 7, 2015 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Sony's PS4 has eight PS2 games ready for download, but not via backward compatibility

Is it the gamers or the manufacturers who have forgotten the value and basic concept of backward compatibility?
I was very surprised when the PS3 was re-released without the former PS2 compatibility shortly after it's introduction. Similarly, I was shocked when both Sony and Microsoft announced the end of backward compatibility when launching their Generation 8 consoles in 2013!

Sony PS4 In my view, backward compatibility is a vital part of introducing a new game console. Regardless of the new machine's blazing speeds, insane amount of memory, or gigantic hard drive, the ability to play a game you loved the week before is very important. Buying a new game console should not invalidate your collection of games unless you change brands.

If you upgraded from a PS3 to an Xbox One there is no expectation that the Xbox would be capable of playing your favorite PS3 games. That's been a constant since the days of Atari's home consoles. However, I am amazed that gamers today think nothing of spending $400 on a new game console and only be able to play that system's launch titles. When I spend money on a new console, I'm lucky to have enough money left over to buy one or two new games.

Sony PS4

Importance of Backward Compatibility

As I mentioned, the ability to play your existing games should be a benefit to both the gamer and manufacturer. Some gamers trade in or sell their old consoles to afford the newest one. Having a pile of games you can no longer play on your new console is awful. But there's a much more important reason a manufacturer should want you to be able to play your previous games.

New game consoles often come with new architectures requiring new programing techniques. Mastering the best way to develop for a new console takes time. Developers must learn the new tricks to maximizing the power of a new system. This translates into mediocre games at launch compared with those arriving a year later. Games tend to become better as a console ages. Even seasoned programmers have learning curves when tasked to develop on a new platform.

Allowing gamers to enjoy prior games simply makes the transition to a new console better for all involved. Nintendo has always been terrific about each new console supporting the games from the previous system. Anyone who doubts this should see how easy it is to play a Game Boy cart on a GameCube - now THAT is backward compatibility!

Sony's PS4 Gains PS2 "Compatibility" (not really)

Recently, Sony announced PS2 compatibility for the PS4. I know the PS2 is a beloved machine with a huge and respected game library, but what about the PS3? I'm no expert, but this whole scenario struck me as strange. Backward compatibility is most important at launch for the reasons I stated. Two years later... it's just strange. Then it hit me.

Your PS2 game discs are not compatible with the PS4. Games are being re-engineered for the PS4.
We're really not talking backward compatibility, are we? Many articles around the web have called this "backward compatibility", but that's a misuse of the term. Additionally, they are introducing only eight PS2 titles (for now) and they're available strictly via download. Your original PS2 game discs will not function in a PS4. This whole thing is familiar to Microsoft's recent "compatibility" announcement. It's an emulation scenario, not true backward compatibility.

Nintendo has been doing this for a long time via their Virtual Console online store for consoles and handhelds. Users can purchase selected games from other eras and consoles which can be played on current generation hardware. At no time did anyone consider this backward compatibility. No one thought it involved physical media. However, Sony's announcement seemed to conjure a lot of misinformation.

The 8 titles being released seem fairly expensive to me, although they have been upscaled in resolution and have a smoother frame rate. I am most familiar with Nintendo's Virtual Console that offers older classic games for between $5 - $10. Sony's games range $10 - $15. Considering many gamers already own the PS2 game discs, it becomes vexing to feel as though they need to pay twice to enjoy these titles on the PS4.

Rogue Galaxy for PS2 These are the PS2 titles being sold for the PS4:

  • Dark Cloud - $14.99
  • Grand Theft Auto III - $14.99
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - $14.99
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - $14.99
  • The Mark of Kri - $14.99
  • Rogue Galaxy - $14.99
  • Twisted Metal: Black - $9.99
  • War of the Monsters - $9.99
I'm wondering if this is a trial to see how these games perform in sales. More may be on the way.

Backward Compatibility

The basis for backward compatibility is being able to use/play game media from an older game console in a newer console. The ability to play previous media is achieved via emulation at no additional cost to the gamer.

My first experience with backwards compatibility was playing Atari games on a Colecovision via the Expansion Module 1. This gave Coleco a tremendous advantage since they made fantastic games AND enabled the entire Atari 2600 library. Next up, for me, was the ability to play my 2600 games on my Atari 7800. As Nintendo began to re-inspire gamers with the NES and SNES, backward compatibility lapsed.

Wii with a GameCube disc The Super Game Boy enabled Game Boy carts to be displayed on the TV via a SNES console adapter. Game Boy adapters kept appearing for Nintendo consoles through the GameCube. Once they standardized on the 12cm optical disc, they allowed backward compatibility between the Wii and GameCube and more recently with the Wii U and Wii. As a Nintendo fan, this scenario has come to be expected.

As I built up my Wii U game library, it was great to also be able to play all of my Wii games at no additional charge. Prior to that, I hadn't delved too far into the GameCube library until I bought a Wii and could play those games seamlessly with all 4 GameCube controller ports!

At this point in gaming, it seems as though a precedent has been set to do away with backwards compatibility all together. I don't expect to hear that term in the near future. Although we don't know too much about Nintendo's NX, it seems safe to assume it will not be compatible with Wii U game media. However, Nintendo promises not to dismiss the Wii U in wake of the NX.

The only thing we can count on is change. That's part of what makes the gaming industry and it's history so fascinating.

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