A big question that lingered over the launch of this generation’s consoles was that of backwards compatibility. With their chests puffed huge, showing off PlayStation 3 hardware that was still partially imaginative, Sony announced full compatibility with all previous systems, the PlayStation by emulation and the PlayStation 2 by physically including an Emotion Engine in the hardware. Microsoft had a slightly different tack to getting their recent console working, though.
Rather than include the four year-old Xbox processor in the Xbox 360, they used their expertise to develop a virtual environment for their Xbox, going so far as to license Nvidia’s tech to get the games to work on AMD’s new Xenos GPU. Of course, not every game would make the cut, only a fraction, but it was enough for most people, who really just wanted to boot up Halo 2 and call it a day.
In reality, while I whipped out Project Gotham Racing 2 or Jet Set Radio Future from time to time, I wouldn’t have died if Xbox compatibility were out of the picture. It appears that Sony’s taken that note and sung with it because the PlayStation 4 won’t feature any PlayStation 3 compatibility at all. It’s not even in the cards. One advantage of PC gaming is that no matter how old the game, people manage to get it to work (something Cody and I discussed on the recent N5 Show) while each new box is a gamble. That isn’t to say that developers won’t re-release old games, which is becoming more and more common, particularly with downloadable titles.
Microsoft is rumored to be taking up an x86 architecture with their next Xbox that will make their box eerily similar to the PlayStation 4’s, but also the original Xbox. In theory, Microsoft’s next console could easily support compatibility with original Xbox games (probably moreso than the Xbox 360 did) and through another wave of clever, hard-earned emulation, get Xbox 360 games working on it as well.
Obviously, many more people bought Xboxes this generation than PlayStations (well, when you exclude their handhelds, and legacy hardware, and worldwide sales..) so it would make more sense for Microsoft come up with a solution than Sony. The question remains, though: will anyone care?