Will the Xbox 360 be backwards compatible or not?

That’s the big question everyone’s been asking ever since Microsoft’s presentation at E3 and, depending on whom you ask, the answer has been everything from “yes” to “no” to “somewhat.” So the folks at CVG try to set the record straight:

For Xbox 360, it was the million dollar question – will it be backwards compatible? Microsoft’s silence on the issue seemed worrying, but at last week’s E3 press conference it was finally confirmed that the next-gen machine would play current gen Xbox games.

Only the ‘best-selling’ ones, mind. There’s no guarantee that every Xbox game will be playable on Xbox 360, but Microsoft has pledged to make sure top sellers like Halo 2 and Project Gotham Racing will run.

Larry Hryb, Xbox Live’s Director of Programming, recently elaborated on the issue in his weblog. Quoting colleagues, Hryb wrote “At launch, Xbox 360 will be backward compatible with the top Xbox games.”

Hryb goes on to state that the “goal” is to have every Xbox game run on Xbox 360, but he can’t confirm that this will actually be a reality at launch. Now from where I’m standing that sounds like a really big “somewhat backwards compatible” statement to me, but Microsoft Engineer Michael Brundage seems a bit more optimistic:

“Xbox backwards compatibility is a unique project in so many ways, and I’m sure it will be the hardest technical challenge of my career – I can’t imagine what could possibly top it in terms of sheer technical difficulty,” wrote Michael Brundage on his weblog.

Brundage goes on to discuss how many experts and commentators have already assumed that Xbox 360 backwards compatibility is impossible. “One such sceptic interviewed me for my current job, and pointedly asked during the interview how I planned to handle the project’s certain future cancellation,” he wrote.

“And yet, here it is. It’s magic! This is part of what makes working at Microsoft so much fun – the opportunity to work on magical projects and do the impossible.”

While Brundage doesn’t specifically say that his Xbox emulation code for the Xbox 360 will definitely run every title you throw at it the implication that it will seems pretty clear. What is very clear, however, is that Microsoft is hedging its bets by not making any 100% definitive claims. They keep emphasizing that the goal is to have every current Xbox game run on Xbox 360, but they won’t promise that it will and that naturally leaves folks to wonder just how backwards compatible it really will be much to the annoyance of folks like Larry Hryb.

Interestingly enough no one is doubting whether or not the PS3 will really be backwards compatible with both the PS2 and PS1, which is quite a feat in its own right, but then Sony’s already proven they can do backwards compatibility. If Microsoft can pull it off it’ll be a big feather in their cap. Though, in all honesty, I have to wonder how necessary it really is. I can’t remember the last time I played any of my old PS1 titles on my PS2 outside of the first couple of months I owned the PS2 and didn’t have much in the way of next-gen titles to play on it. It’s a nice option to have, but I think a lot of folk’s perceived value of that feature is overblown.

4 thoughts on “Will the Xbox 360 be backwards compatible or not?

  1. Although the XBox360, PS3 and the Revolution are debuting in different windows, Microsoft sure could use a decisive win in this category.  That PS3 has, unabashadly, promised back comptability merely makes it all that more vital to a decisivie XBox360 market_win—unlike the last round of gaming system debuts.

    Next: very, very, very (really) inexpensive Japanese (then, to our astonishment, Chinese) HDTV units.

  2. I recall hearing quite a while back that the PS2 backwards-compatibility isn’t accomplished through emulation or anything like that at all.  Instead, the PS2 actually contains the main core from the PS1 (in addition to the PS2 core, of course).  Normally, I believe the PS1 core is used to process the audio, but when you put in a PS1 game then the unit simply switches over and uses the PS1 core to run it.

    So, it may very well be that Sony’s planning to do the same sort of thing in the PS3: include a PS1 and PS2 chip so that they can be used to power the older games.

    Sega also did this sort of thing in one of their systems, I believe—the one after the Genesis (but before Dreamcast).

    Microsoft’s backwards-compatibility, in comparison, is clearly software emulation-based rather than hardware-based like Sony’s has been in the past.

    Anyway, just figured I’d share what I’d heard long ago.

  3. Agreed on the backwards compatibility issue. In a sense, it’s almost a game of “my dad’s bigger than your dad” when it comes to lesser points like that. By the time the next gen consoles actually emerge, it’ll have been a couple of months since the last round of big releases for the current crop. Sure, there will undoubtedly be a period of time when the new releases for the new consoles will be more about showing off their technical abilities, but by the time there are one or two unmissable games out there, there won’t be too many people going back for their PS2 or XBox fixes.

  4. I still play some of my ps1 games on my ps2…

    Like Final Fantasy… uh, 1-9 (except 3) i have on PS1.  Castlevania Symphony of the Night I just picked back up recently, 10 bucks at Blockbuster.  Oh, and of course, Legend of Dragoon *nerdy smile*

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