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Backwards Compatibility Is Important, And Could Win The Next Generation

Posted on Monday, March 11 @ 05:21:16 PST by Heath_Hindman
He remembers the future while anticipating the past.

It was recently decided that games are officially a form of art. This means little to us in our daily lives and probably doesn't sway the hobby's biggest haters, but it does signify that gaming is gaining recognition as something culturally important. We see more evidence every daygame music is the subject of live concerts all around the globe, we frequently see sitcoms and movies referencing games by their specific titles, and heck, this year's Oscar nominees even included a movie that starred animated versions of iconic game characters. There are still steps to be taken, but owning and playing games these days is far more socially acceptableeven coolthan it was 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. This brings up an important issue: game preservation. If these things are important to our culture, our heritage, and who we are, should we not be doing something to preserve them?

Consider the following: Humanity has lost a hell of a lot of what made us who and what we are. Picking one example, the official version of The Holy Bible is a lengthy text, but what we have is only a small fraction of the things that were written by the scribes, leaders, and other influential figures of those times. Pages and pageswhole books of the canonhave been burned, forcibly changed, or just plain lost. Save your religious debates for somewhere else, by the way. I'm not talking about the validity of Christianity (or any other religion for that matter), the existence of a God or gods, the pros and cons of organized religion, yadda yadda, and those other cans of worms; I'm talking about the collection of writings that has probably had the single biggest impact on the world today.

We can look back and learn about the way ancient people thought, what the common man dealt with in life, and what was culturally valued. It's been a huge influence in Western culture especially, and is at the very least an important historical record. And yet, it's far from complete. Whatever your personal feelings on The Holy Bible (or anything), understanding it has value. Similarly, whatever your game genre preferences or whatever consoles you own, understanding the roots and history of certain franchises, companies, characters, play mechanics, and so on just plain levels you up as a gamer.

This holds especially true for budding designers and developers out there. Learning from the past can be extremely beneficial, and doing so is made easier if a console can play the games that were released on its elders. In our day and age, when the formats are so similarwhen a Sony Blu-ray player plays DVDshaving these options in a box, even a more expensive one, should at least be available.

Understanding the previous eras of film can greatly assist young filmmakers, and yet, half the movies made before the 1950s are now lost forever, gone from any form of existence. The same is true of several TV shows, even whole series, from the '60s and '70s. We can't let that happen to video games. If we start allowing it, or pathetically sit back and do nothing, it completely devalues gaming as anything relevant to our culture or heritage—takes away a lot of what makes it art to begin with.

It's already happened to some, including Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn, one of the most praised and cherished RPGs of all time. It won't be released digitally or in any kind of remake, because the code is gone, lost forever. PlayStation might be a brand of business first and foremost, but there's got to be something more, something human about its legacy. Games can make us scream in anger, jump in terror, and cry tears of genuine sadness. They are clearly a medium worth preserving.

This generation has seen the rise of the independent developer.  We've seen thatgamecompany go from a startup not unlike most others to a company synonymous with gaming excellence and a deserving winner of Game of the Year awards. Development tools have become somewhat cheaper and the idea of knowing a programming language isn't just something for "nerds" anymore. Indie game makers can start up a project with the hopes of getting it onto the Xbox Live Marketplace or PlayStation Network and actually making a few bucks and getting some recognition. Considering this, a company could easily gain an upper hand on the competition by making its older, cheaper dev kits readily available and encouraging the indies to make new games.

A lot of independent games that come out these days are not pushing the limits of their system's hardware; while it's not all of them, a decent number of new indie games could have appeared a generation ago, if not more. So why not make it easier for these talented game makers to get in there and join your cause? Gamers would benefit as well, as a plethora of games could be made available to them, probably selling for dirt cheap. We already see great $5 and $10 deals on PSP games and PS2 classics on the PSN store, and these sellnow take that another step and make them new games, for even less money. Such a thing could give rise to the next big name in game development.

For an excellent example of the potential here, one need look no further than Hotline Miami. Everyone's raving about it, with its various awards/nominations and 85 Metacritic score, and yet, look at these visuals:

This came out first for PC and will soon branch out, but imagine if something like this (kind of reminds me of the original Grand Theft Auto, actually) had just come out on the PSN for all current PlayStation systems. This game alone would not be a huge selling point for your hardware, but once a platform gets a couple of titles like this, it starts to give it a noticeable leg up on its competitors in the race to win the hearts of the market. All that, from something as simple as indie designers being able to use old dev kits and submit things to the new store, and maybe even print their own discs. Sony asks for a cut, budding devs get their names out there and perhaps make some cash, and gamers get to experience an increased variety of interesting titles. Everybody wins.

I understand the criticism. There will be tech-heads that know more about this than I do, that will tell me all about the cell processors and the different media formats and about how hard it might be to make the PS4 backward compatible all the way back to PSOne for reasons it would take me years of schooling to fully understand. I get it—it's not easy. But if it were easy, a lot more of us would have made our own damn consoles by now. We played golf on the moon, we have phones that take pictures and use the internet, my Blu-ray player plays DVDs, and really, the PS4 playing previous PlayStation games isn't impossible. Heads-up: I'm gonna talk a lot more about PlayStation than Xbox here because there's a longer history and there's more solid PS4 info out right now.

If it's expensive, then make a separate SKU: one with only the streaming backward capability of Gaikai, and another with full hardware-based backward compatibility. Releasing multiple SKUs has become the norm these days, with handhelds and TV consoles alike, so I don't think consumers are as thrown by this idea as they may have been years ago. Feel free to charge a certain price for the former, and a much higher tag for the latter. Know which one I'd buy? I'd definitely buy the latter.

The lower-priced one exists for people who are okay with not having hardware-based BC, and the latter can be there for those who are willing to pay more for it. (Just me, here, but I'd pay up to $1,000 for a fully backward compatible PS4. I realize that not many people would go that high, but who's to say such a model would actually cost that?) Talk about the PS3's US$599 price tag of doom all you like, but let's face some facts here: The cheapest model of PS3 was a 20GB system (... what?) and was still 500 stinking dollars. Sony could avoid having a price tag that high for the people that don't want to pay it. For those like me who do? Great, we can!


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