Going Backwards (Compatibility) To Go Forward.

There is a lot of criticism that the PS Vita is ditching UMD, and will not be offering users the opportunity to re-download their titles via the Sony Entertainment Network portal.

Sony have done this before; dropping backwards compatability with the PS3, Microsoft long ago gave up trying to emulate the X-Box to work with their myriad of not all stellar games, and Nintendo recently did it twice – they dropped the GBA slot from the DS a few years back, and have dropped Gamecube compatibility from the Wii.

Many argue this is bad for gaming. But my argument is – you’re wrong.

The reason I say this is emulation, or hardware simulation, is costly. It was fine with the PS1 to PS2, although Sony did spend an awful lot on fighting the Bleem! people for the software to emulate the PS1 efficiently through the software. But consoles are complicated beasts, and emulation isn’t by its very nature perfect. Emulation is copying the original – it isn’t the original, and isn’t meant to be. It is an attempt to simulate an environment, a system and its bios, and doing that within the confines of more powerful equipment is never straight forward.

And since software emulation is such a thorny issue (for many more reasons, one of them piracy), hardware emulation requires keeping the tech inside the machine running somewhat parallel to it all. This bulks up a machine, adds more to the cost of the unit and is somewhat environmentally damaging as a result, more parts means more nasty waste products. It’s really not a good deal.

Since neither is perfect, the question then becomes why we feel like we need backwards compatibility at all?

I may be speaking as a collector, but I will ask it anyway – what exactly is wrong with keeping your old system? If you want to play games on it, the PS2 Slim and the Gamecube are hardly monsters of machines, and the PSOne is very neat and compact too. Even if you don’t go for the slimline remakes, the bulky originals are aesthetically pleasing in some regards – and make a nice talking point for someone not accustomed to coming face to face with the ghosts of gaming past.

And the value of these machines, if kept in good working order, will eventually go up. Those of you who have a boxed Super Nintendo will know they sell for upwards of £120 now, depending on condition you can double or triple that. The games you have will increase in value as well, as many can attest to from the PS1 era, and games that we bought for £30 now valued at £300. Keep things in good nick, and in time you will be rewarded.

But we demand backwards compatibility for various reasons – a difficulty in letting go of the past, or perhaps selling off the old console for a new one, and wanting to keep playing the games. It is understandable, but if you want to buy a new console, don’t junk the previous generation – keep it. Enjoy it. The games will still be there for you when you want them, and if you keep it working it will continue to give you a lot of pleasure for many years to come. I still haven’t played every PS1 game. Or every PS2 game. Or every Gamecube game. I still find a few here and there that tickle my fancy and make me curious enough to part with the odd fiver here and there, and I take them home and load them up on my old machines, and enjoy them. As they were meant to be played, on the machine they were designed for. No glitches. No clunky software loading issues. No slowdown. Just as nature – or rather developers – intended.

And in doing so you’ll keep the games you love, and feel rewarded in years to come when some of them sell for several hundreds, or the machine itself starts to climb in value. As long as you keep all the bits intact – the boxes, the packaging, keep things dust-free and used regularly to stop the innards from seizing up – you’ll find that there is some justification in keeping the good memories with you.

When the next-gen comes, the prices of consoles will drop like a stone. Second hand Wii consoles are already dropping like a stone, the Wii itself new has dropped sub-£100 and with the Wii-U later this year, that price will continue to freefall as people try to shirk off their old machines. With no word on Wii compatibility (although apparently the Wii Remotes will be used by it), the Wii may indeed itself soon be consigned to the scrapheap of silicon hell. The console that sold a hundred million units faster than any other, and revived the fortunes of a company many proclaimed defeated, will be no more. The games will be forgotten. The good things the Wii did will be buried under new shiny graphics.

I won’t be throwing my Wii away, it will sit by my PS1, PS2 and Gamecube (my X-Box is too big and boxed away in the cupboard). And I will welcome the new generation in, and ask it to sit beside its predecessors, as a reminder of where they came from and what I expect of them.

We don’t need backwards compatibility. At all. You buy a new machine to play new things. If you love your old machine, keep it. Don’t expect companies to pander to your whims on this – they’ll cut every unnecessary cost, and the most unnecessary they can see is backwards compatibility. It isn’t cost effective. And if they want to play an old game on their hardware, they’ll just do a remake or a network/online space port for you to buy.

Respect your elders and keep your old machines if you love them. They’ve been with you for years. They’ve entertained you. Pleased you. Thrilled you. Made you laugh, cry and shudder. They have done so much for you.

They’ll still be there if you keep them with you. Throw them away and you will end up missing them, as so many demonstrate every day with cries for “Remake this!” or “Port that!”. If you kept the originals, you could play the originals. As they were intended. Without running the risk of some overzealous person missing the point in a remake.

There is method in the madness. Take care of your past. It can be personally rewarding – as well as financially rewarding in the coming years.

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