Three Steps Forward, Two And A Half Steps Backwards

Much has been written, here and elsewhere, about backwards compatibility for gaming consoles, both with regards to the Xbox's successor, Xbox 360, and to consoles in general.

We asked our readers if backwards compatibility for the new Xbox was important; 43% of you said you wouldn't buy one if it wasn't, and only 17% of you thought it wasn't important or wouldn't affect their purchase decision.

We wondered what Microsoft was thinking, even considering releasing Xbox 360 without this feature.

For awhile it seemed the idea was dead, and then, suddenly, backwards compatibility was back-- although perhaps not for everyone, but perhaps only for buyers of the "premium" edition of the Xbox 360. It's still not clear what the models and pricing will be for the 360; it's known that backwards compatibility will require the hard drive, and that the Xbox 360 has one, but we don't know at what price, or if a stripped-down model will come without one.

With at least some information released now on all three of the next generation of consoles, it's possible to start answering some of those old questions and start thinking about what the new questions should be.

Some questioned whether backwards compatibility was an issue at all; after all, in the last generation, only the Sony PlayStation 2 had this feature. Although it was the market leader, some were unwilling to cede that this feature contributed significantly to its dominant market position.

The three manufacturers seem to have resoundingly replied that they think this compatibility is important. All three of the new consoles have some compatibility; Nintendo's Revolution will run GameCube titles. The PS3 will run PS2 titles, as the PS2 ran PS titles before it. The Xbox 360 has been promised to run "the most popular Xbox titles"-- interpret that as Halo, Halo 2, and... some others... via software emulation that many assume is one of the results of Microsoft's purchase of Connectix's Virtual PC product.

The question now is, is that enough?

Supporting at least the Halo games-- the franchise that is the foundation of whatever success the Xbox and the Xbox 360 have had and will have-- was the absolute minimum Microsoft could do, if our poll was at all typical of Xbox owners' sentiments. It wouldn't matter if the new box could make a mean cup of coffee and give you a killer backrub, if it couldn't run the Halo games it would have a hard time displacing its predecessor under the living room TV; a challenge made even more difficult by the fact that the console consumed much more space there than its competitors.

So that much is guaranteed. If you bought your Xbox just for Halo and the Halo games are all you play, you can rest assured that you can get the new box and still get your Halo fix. Of course, your old box does that, too-- so unless it's worn out or you've got money to burn, you don't need to get a new box to play Halo or Halo 2. It's also not known at all if emulated games will benefit at all from any of the new console's new features or not. The original Xbox supported HDTV modes like 720p and 1080i, but most games didn't. Many, if not most, games supported 480p, which is what Halo and Halo 2 use. Some used 720p. I could only find six that used 1080i. 720p is supposed to be the minimum spec for new Xbox 360 games-- but that's no indication that Halo or Halo 2 would use them; in fact, it might not be possible.

So for those wondering what console to buy in the next generation, two more questions remain: exactly how many of my old Xbox games will the Xbox 360 support, and what new games do I have to look forward to, and when?

For Halo fans this is a particularly thorny question. Microsoft's Bill Gates has now been widely reported to have promised that Sony's PlayStation 3 launch will run up against the relase of Halo 3; but Bungie itself has remained strangely silent on its next project, telling fans last week not to expect any announcements in the near future.

At the very least, Halo 3 won't be a launch title. If what is being written about Sony's plans is true, it would have to be out sometime in the first half of next year-- meaning a maximum of twenty months after the release of Halo 2, whereas the gap between the release of Halo and Halo 2 was 36 months. I've already speculated on what I think that means, and others have taken that ball and run with it. Until either Microsoft or Bungie comments in more detail, there won't be any way of telling what's really going on. For those who bought the Xbox for Halo and would do the same again, things are up in the air. Producing Halo 3 in that amount of time will be a tall order for any developer, unless they started well before Halo 2's release.

For those who bought the Xbox for Halo but then moved on to other games, the question of how well the 360's backwards compatibility will work comes back. Hopefully between now and the launch, more information will come out about which games will work and which ones won't. I'd expect that beyond the list that will be officially labeled as compatible, there will probably be a grey area of games that will mostly work, as is the case with most software emulators. Possibly there will be a role in this process for a database of information on reader experiences with different games; if so, Rampancy will be happy to provide that if possible.

The new console's launch lineup is not looking that shabby, although it does seem to lack a single must-have title. That may actually be good; it may illustrate that Microsoft's stable of developers is now broad enough that no one title is going to dominate the platform. But as strong as that lineup is, it's not as strong as it would be with Halo 3 in it-- assuming the game is done well, doesn't suffer from overhype, and doesn't leave fans hanging waiting for another sequel.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
NOT FAIR!

I have a xbox and if halo 3 is for xbox 360 then that won't be fair, because then I would have to spend about 400$ dollars to just play halo 3!

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