The next generation of video game consoles is just around the corner. Sony and Microsoft are gearing up with their new PlayStation and Xbox systems and you can bet your britches (am I using the expression right?) they’re going to go all out with the features. Not just any feature will do but the right features are important. This is doubly true on the Microsoft side of things thanks to the disastrous conference they produced for the Xbox One.
One of the extras gamers generally clamor for when it comes to newer systems is backwards compatibility with their older games. For the longest time, I never really understood why. From my perspective, there isn’t a need in today’s market for backwards compatibility. However, after some time, I did come to the realization that the feature isn’t for me but for the “veteran” gamers out there.
You may be thinking I’m crazy for not caring for backwards compatibility in my new gaming system but you have to look at it from my perspective and the time period I grew up with gaming. My brother does have an extensive library of both games and gaming consoles. He still has a functioning Super Famicom plugged in. Take note, it’s not the SNES Classic. It’s the real deal where you have to put gaming cartridges in! The controllers don’t work all that well since they’ve been worn out from decades of wear and tear. They still work to a good degree but you can’t play fighting games on in because blocking low doesn’t register at times.
Anyway, he does boot up these classic consoles once in a blue moon to play some games but, if the desire to play a retro game strikes him, he doesn’t need to do so. After all, he’s already got so many of the games he owns on modern systems! Every video game company has been releasing retro games for use on modern systems nowadays. I mean, you don’t have to wait for the Final Fantasy VII Remake if you want to play Final Fantasy VII. You can just play the old game right now by going online! Sure, it’ll look ugly by today’s standards but it’ll be the exact same game!
You might complain about having to repurchase a game that you already bought years ago but these retro games are pretty inexpensive. It can be rather disgusting how cheap old games can be on online stores. I’m not even talking about unlicensed ROMs. I’m referring to official releases! You can even purchase collection editions that have around 20 to 30 games bundled into them. There’s a level of convenience to just paying a few dollars to play a game from your past compared to having to break out your old console and hook everything up.
Some games may even be bundled in with some games as well as sort of an Easter Egg. This was even something I experience myself when I was playing the remastered version of Day of the Tentacle. I haven’t played the original version so I was pleasantly surprised that the first entry of the series, Maniac Mansion, was completely playable in it, in all it’s blocky graphic glory! I didn’t even know it was the original game the first time I accidentally opened it up. I thought there was some kind of puzzle or clue that would’ve helped me in Day of the Tentacle!
There doesn’t really seem to be a reason for me to want backwards compatibility in modern consoles. That’s from my point of view anyway. This did lead me to thinking backwards compatibility seems like a waste of time because there’s no need for me to use it. However, that is a rather selfish way of thinking as I never tried to look at it from another point of view. Specifically, I never bothered to look at it from the side who has been playing games for a long time and has a large library of physical copies in good condition.
In order to get that point of view, I actually didn’t have to go all that far away. Rather, I just have to refer you back to my brother once again. I have to say he’s my older brother. My much older brother. He’s already in his early 40s and he’s been playing video games for around as long as he’s been alive. He’s been a gamer way longer than I’ve been alive. What’s amazing to me is how he takes the hobby seriously. Oh, he’s not one of those guys who remembers when a game was published but he does have a vast knowledge of video game related stuff.
You can also call him a curator for video games, kind of. He has a lot of video games and, more importantly, video game consoles. Most of them are still in working condition. Not pristine condition but working condition. That’s much more than I can say for my video game related stuff! His home has a dedicated room for all of that stuff. The room has shelves lined with old video games and systems.
So, if he already has all of this and the ability to play those games on his old system, why is he the one harping on backwards compatibility and why it’s so important? Well, for him, there’s several reasons that really didn’t occur to me.
For one thing, just because he has retro consoles that do work, that doesn’t mean that’ll be true in a couple of years. Technology has the awful habit of breaking down and this is a certainty for video game consoles. Switches can break. Wires can snap. A circuit can explode or overheat. A disc reader’s lens can burn out. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” it happens. Something will give out and it’s not like he can run out and buy a new retro console. He does have some electronics knowledge on how to fix them but if some specialized part goes kaput, it’s going to be nigh-high impossible to fix. This wouldn’t be a concern if consoles had backwards compatibility.
There’s also the mere convenience of having to just use one system instead of having to wrangle between different systems. One system he was incredibly happy to get was something called the Retron 5. It’s a weird looking thing but it the power to play different console cartridges. The Retron 5 does have some problems in his mind. It feels cheap and the controller just doesn’t feel good. Even with these gripes, it’s still the system that he has plugged into his television all the time because it emulates several systems without much hassle.
The biggest argument he has for backwards compatibility on newer systems is, oddly for me, the one that makes the most sense to me: it should be easy for them to do it. The people that design the Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox and even Nintendo Switch have the designs on how their systems so they should know how to make their systems backwards compatible. Instead, we have some really brilliant hackers who don’t work for Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo working behind the scenes to create emulators. Wouldn’t it be easy for the guys who make the consoles devise emulator programs on their systems. Sony used to do that with their PlayStation 2 and 3 but they seem to have forgotten that it’s possible.
I may not fully understand the need for modern consoles to enable backwards compatibility but maybe because I’m not the target audience. I’m not the gamer who really craves to play the older games that I love so much because I would rather play the latest games more often than not. Even if I don’t completely see the need for it, that doesn’t mean I don’t want it. If there’s a clamor for it, why should I complain if others want it.
Do you think modern gaming systems should have backwards compatibility as a feature? Let me know in the comments section below!