Backwards Compatibility

The Gameological Society has a brilliant column today in which the games industry is shooting itself in the foot by not embracing its past and enabling backwards compatibility on the next generation of consoles.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two arguments against backwards compatibility that make any sense:

  1. The technology and methodology required to make old software work on new/different hardware is too expensive to justify; and
  2. Old games – even the best of them – can look and feel incredibly dated.

I don’t know enough about #1 to make any sort of coherent argument for or against it; I’m probably only repeating it here since it’s pretty much what the console manufacturers have said about it.

#2 is something I can understand, I suppose.  If you play GTA3 right after playing GTA4, the differences between the two games are so profound that GTA3 becomes almost unplayable.  Similarly, while System Shock 2 might be an incredible game, it’s also incredibly archaic and unintuitive in terms of its mechanics; there’s a reason why those older games had lengthy tutorials that explicitly showed you how everything worked.

But to throw out an entire generation’s worth of content simply because the format has changed?

Imagine if you couldn’t listen to the Beatles anymore simply because the world had moved on from vinyl to CD and the record companies found it too cost-prohibitive to transfer their libraries over.   Or if movie companies decided that transferring VHS movies to DVD was, to paraphrase Microsoft’s Don Mattrick, “backwards-thinking”.

Here’s the key section from the GS article linked to above:

…Sony’s PlayStation 3 launched in 2006 with full backward compatibility for all previous PlayStation formats. PS2 compatibility was achieved through specialized hardware on the PS3 circuit board. 2008 saw the removal of PS2 compatibility from all future PS3 revisions as a cost-cutting measure, with a cheaper software-only solution being deemed [unfeasible] by Sony. Yet in 2011 Sony began selling PS2 games digitally on PS3. Hackers have since discovered that these games are running via a surprisingly robust backward compatibility solution that could be applied to old PS2 discs, but is not.

I have to surmise from all of this that backward compatibility for games would be possible but expensive. Sony and Microsoft could have been faced with a choice between two expensive forms of backward compatibility, and they chose to support one medium, video, but not the other, games.

This sends a clear message that these companies consider the medium of film and television to be more important than the medium of games. Why would two companies with such enormous investments in games make such a seemingly skewed judgment call? Well, they would probably argue that the culture has made it for them, by giving film and television pride of place in society, and relegating games as a lesser medium. And this may be the case. But when gaming’s industry leaders buy into that broader belief, it hurts the long-term health of the art form.

I hate to keep bringing up Red Dead Redemption – I feel like it’s been in every post I’ve written lately – but it’s a key example of the legacy we’d be losing without backwards compatibility.  I’ve been starting to work on my BEST GAMES OF THIS GENERATION post, and RDR is most likely right up at the top of my Top 10 list.  For me, RDR is Rockstar’s finest hour – a masterpiece top to bottom, and one of the finest games ever made.  And once the new consoles arrive, there will only be two ways I can continue to play it – either Rockstar re-releases it to work on the XB1 and the PS4 (which seems unlikely, given that they never even gave it a PC port), or I continue to hold on to my dying 360 and hope it doesn’t completely break (since I wouldn’t be able to replace it).



the first hour: Call of Juarez Gunslinger

I knew that my life would change dramatically after my son was born, but I’m still occasionally surprised as to how far-reaching that change actually is.  As far as this blog is concerned, I knew I’d have less time to write, because I also knew that I’d have less time to play.  But while I also knew I’d be sleep deprived, I wasn’t necessarily prepared for my brain’s sudden inability to engage in critical thinking – or even coherent thinking.  When I try to come up with topics to write about, or even just opinions about games I might be playing, I generally get about as far as “I think this is pretty good” and then I just shut down.  Consequently, I often find myself sitting at my desk, staring at an empty post, feeling bad.

(I suddenly find it very strange to think that just a few months ago I was preparing to make some major career moves/concessions in an attempt to kickstart a professional videogame journalism career.  Considering my meager output of late and the lazy quality of what I’ve actually managed to publish over the last few months, I’d have been justifiably fired long ago.)

But I’m also feeling a bit disconnected from games in general.  I’m not sure if that’s because of the baby and my dramatically reduced availability for playtime, or if it’s simply that the release calendar is so dead right now.  My consoles are gathering dust because it’s exceedingly difficult to secure any alone time in the living room, but it’s not like my PC is getting much action either.  As I’d mentioned a few posts ago, I was able to successfully install a new hard drive in my PC, and I’d spent a lot of the last few weeks re-downloading stuff from my Steam library that felt “essential”, or that at least would be fun for a few free minutes while the kid was taking a nap.  But even the “essential” stuff  isn’t quite grabbing me the way it used to.   I’ve been sorta tooling around in Sleeping Dogs again (because I lost my save file when my old hard drive crashed), but that’s pretty much it.

This is more or less why I bought Call of Juarez Gunslinger last night – I needed something new, and when I’d read a few things that said that it wasn’t terrible, that was enough for me to pull the trigger (so to speak).   And I’m delighted to report that even though I’m only 2 missions in, I’m having a pretty great time.  It’s kind of a perfect game for me right now, in that it’s gorgeous-looking, the action is solid and enjoyable, and – most importantly – each mission is relatively short and self-contained, which is ideal for someone in my current (i.e., limited time) situation.

I have no familiarity with the CoJ franchise, and in any event Red Dead Redemption set the bar so high for games set in the Old West that I never bothered with anything else.  (Let me say, once again, that the lack of a PC version of RDR is, perhaps, the biggest bummer of this current generation.)  But as long as I’m making comparisons, the game it most reminds me of is Bastion; the game is narrated as you play it, and in a neat twist the narrator will occasionally switch up how the story is being told, so the action will rewind for a few seconds and then something different will happen.  It’s a novel touch and it keeps you on your toes and engaged in the story.

Action-wise, it’s more or less standard first-person shooting but with an arcade feel – you get XP with every shot that hits an enemy, and the XP changes depending on the quality of the hit – headshots score more than bodyshots, running enemies score more than stationary targets.    This is all to say that when you shoot an enemy, numbers fly out in a very satisfying manner.  There’s almost no enemy AI to speak of – outlaws will occasionally duck behind cover, but they generally stay in one place.  This is all fine, though.  It’s meant to be a shooting gallery, and the action is quickly paced – you’re constantly on the move, running through startlingly pretty environments, shooting your way out of trouble.

And then there are duels, which would appear to be a sort of boss battle mini-game.  You and your enemy size each other up, and as you do so your left thumbstick controls how far away your hand is from your gun, and your right thumbstick controls your “focus” – which has something to do with accuracy, although once you actually start the duel proper you suddenly have to aim again.  I’ve only done two of these, and so I’m still a little hazy on how to do them well, but they’re tense and exciting and pulling them off is very satisfying indeed.

XboxOne reveal impressions

It’s hard to not be a little disappointed that there weren’t more games announced at today’s XboxOne reveal, even though I think we all knew, deep down, that today’s reveal was about the actual box itself, and that if they blew their wad on game announcements today, there’d be nothing left to surprise us at E3.  Even the vague announcement of 15 exclusive games, including 8 all-new franchises, doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence – those 8 all-new franchises could very easily be new Kinect titles, which nobody will care about.

And it’s also just been revealed, via The Verge, that XboxOne will not feature backwards compatibility.  Not necessarily that big a surprise, but still.  The PS4 won’t feature back-compat either, but they will offer PS3 games via their cloud; it’s unclear if Microsoft will offer something similar.  (I bring this up specifically because the lack of a PC version of Red Dead Redemption means that the 360 is the last place I’ll be able to play one of my favorite games of all time.)

Still, though – it’s a good-looking device, and that new controller is sexy as all get-out.   If I’m less-than-crazy about the name, it’s because I already refer to the original Xbox as Xbox1.  But then again, I have no idea how to refer to my 3rd generation iPad, either.

The TV stuff – eh.  If it helps me to eventually be able to get rid of Time Warner Cable, I’ll be thrilled.  The snappiness of the Kinect functionality was impressive, though it’s unclear if that was real or not.  (I speak as someone who’s been using Kinect voice functionality to watch HBO with a baby in the room, and while it’s very nice to be able to say “Xbox Pause” when the baby needs attending to and I can’t find the remote, it’s also a little annoying when I say something to my wife and my Xbox starts fast-forwarding for no apparent reason.)

It’s too soon to pick a winner between PS4 and XboxOne until they start revealing games and release dates and prices.  Watch Dogs, which accompanied the PS4 reveal, has been confirmed to be an XboxOne title (as well as Assassin’s Creed 4); the Call of Duty stuff that closed out the show doesn’t interest me in the slightest.   And I’m not that big a fan of any of the 4 EA Sports titles they talked about (although, if they can introduce some of that new tech in Tiger Woods 16, I’ll be happy for the year delay.)  When they talked about the new cloud service and the 300,000 servers that will be powering this thing, they also seemed to imply that XboxOne would be able to handle MMO experiences; this bodes well for stuff like Bungie’s Destiny, but I wonder if they they are also ultimately talking about games like Dota and League of Legends.

(It’s also too soon to pick a winner, because we’ve yet to see the Steam Box.  And if I had to pick one, it’s entirely possible that’s the one I’d pick.)

What did you think?

disconnection and reconnection

So I replaced my broken hard drive over the weekend.

I’ve never been a fixer.   I’ve never had a mechanically-inclined mind.  When I played with Legos as a child, I never created things – I gained intense pleasure from building the thing that was on the cover of the box, following the instructions to the letter, and that was the extent of my creativity with physical objects.   (This is, I think, a reason why Minecraft holds no appeal for me.)

So, yeah; I had a busted hard drive and absolutely no idea how to fix it, and even less desire to learn.   The broken hard drive was a $100 problem; if I tried to fix it and ended up breaking something else, I’d then have a $1000 problem, and that’s just not something I can deal with right now.   So early last week I’d asked my Facebook friends for advice, and a friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood offered to fix it, but at the last minute he had to cancel and wouldn’t be able to help until next week, and I knew I’d start to go insane if I had to go that long without a working PC.

So I put on my big-boy pants, sent the manual to my iPad (since our wireless printer is on the fritz, which is a problem I have NO idea how to solve), got myself a screwdriver, and prepared for the worst.

And 5 minutes later, my new hard drive was in place, and I was installing Windows 7 again, and now everything seems to be working quite well – better, in fact, than it was before the old hard drive failed.  (The PC had been having very weird problems for quite a while, actually – so, in a way, this was a boon.)

The new PC is strictly a gaming machine now – the only applications it’s running are Google Chrome, Spotify, and Steam.   (Previously it had also been running ProTools… until, for some strange reason, it couldn’t run it anymore.)

Let me interrupt myself here to say this:  I love the cloud.  I finally get the cloud.  There wasn’t really all that much on my PC that I needed to save, and it was backed up on an external hard drive anyway, but truth be told everything I’d be using on this PC is either in Google Drive, Spotify, or Steam, and I didn’t need my external hard drive for any of that stuff.

The only real pain in the ass is rebuilding my Steam library, and it’s only a pain in the ass to the extent that my download speeds aren’t where I want them to be.  (They generally average around 2.5 MPS, but sometimes they just conk out completely.)  But I’ve also realized that I don’t need to download everything.  Before my old hard drive failed, I had over 100 games installed.  This time around I’m just going to stick to the essentials, the stuff I may have already beaten but still enjoy wandering around in.  (Cloud saves are great, by the way.  I’m finding that I’m less inclined to re-download stuff where there are no cloud saves – Far Cry 3, for example.)

I have more to say, specifically about being disappointed by Metro Last Light and about feeling disconnected from gaming in general, but the XBOX event is about to happen and I suspect my tune may change considerably once that’s over with, for some reason.

and now a brief bit of self-promotion

I’m very excited to announce that my very first solo album, “UNTRUE SONGS”, is now available for purchase, should that be something you wish to do.


This is a collection of songs, sketches and loops written and recorded over the last 8 years or so; I picked the best 15 out of, say, 100 or so… cleaned them up a bit, trimmed a little fat, tried to put them in some sort of order that made sense, and, well, here you go.  I hope you enjoy it.

yet another interruption

I know posting’s been light around here lately, and so this post is here to explain that, unfortunately, it’s going to be light for considerably longer than I’d anticipated, as I woke up Sunday morning to see an error message on my PC indicating that my hard drive failed, and that I needed to back my shit up IMMEDIATELY and then turn everything off and don’t come back until a new hard drive is ready to be installed.  I then spent around an hour with Dell customer support in an attempt to get a second opinion, and, well, yes – my hard drive is toast.  Now, they tell me I ordered a new hard drive and some free Windows 7 installation discs, but I haven’t yet seen an email confirming any of this.  So either my new drive shows up on the 20th, or else… it doesn’t, and I have to start paying attention to my newborn son on a more regular basis.  (Joke.)

As the PC was becoming my primary – well, only – gaming hub, this is a real kick in the balls.  My 3DS isn’t doing much for me, I still don’t have a lot of console time, and my iPhone 4 is dying a very slow death and running everything verrrrrrrry slow, which renders it pretty much useless as far as subway gaming goes.

Not that I was doing a tremendous amount of gaming anyway, to be honest.  I’d mostly been dabbling in a bunch of things – the PC port of Fez (which I still love, but which is a weird game to replay after over a year), a few mid-game missions in Saints Row the Third (because I needed a little bit of mindless fun to suit my sleep-deprived state), the first level in Metro 2033 (because I’m curious about this week’s sequel and realized I’d never played the first one even though it was sitting in my Steam library all this time), and a little bit of Monaco (which I want to like a lot more than I actually am).  I guess the biggest thing that I ought to mention is that I picked up System Shock 2 when it came out on Steam last week, and I played it for around 30 minutes or so – long enough to sorta get the hang of it, while also being confronted with the sad reality that even the best games of yesteryear do not age very well.

Anyhoo.  My rental copy of Metro Last Light for the 360 should be arriving later this week, and I’ll see if I can fit that in during the wait between twilight feedings of the wee one.  But that’s pretty much it, as far as gaming goes, here at SFTC HQ.

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