DEBATE: Dueling Thoughts On Backwards Compatibility

Friday, March 1st, 2013

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Millions watched last Wednesday when Sony revealed the Playstation 4 for the first time. That night, and in the days following, everyone was overwhelmed a deluge of news and speculation. But, I don’t think any of what we learned was more polarizing than the fact that the Playstation 4 will not be natively backwards compatible. Industry leaders brought forth the news, and their collective following spent hours quarreling like children over the issue.

Reporting Manager Steve Baltimore and I stand on opposite ends of the backwards compatibility argument. We both have quite a bit to say about the Playstation 4 in general (so I imagine we’ll both be on an episode of The Downpour Podcast to speak at length, unfiltered, in time), but we thought it would be beneficial to collectively address several key issues in the argument regarding the importance of “the system before the new system”.

Regardless of where the two of us stand, there will be no quarreling here. It’s important to know, when approaching something like this, that neither one of us are right. That’s the thing about polarizing issues—it’s completely possible to play Switzerland and understand both sides without slinging mud, spewing venom, or other obscenities. Without ado, I shall open this piece exactly how our sentiments began brewing, a bit before the Playstation 4 was revealed.

It all started with talks about Save Data.

When Nintendo revealed the Wii U Virtual Console for the first time, the semantics behind how the new Virtual Console treated our wallets (and already-existing software) ushered in people with pitchforks and flame shields all by itself. Some complaints had merit, some didn’t a lot like the issue at hand. The reason I bring up the Wii U is only because of how the new Virtual Console treats save data…

… which is to say, your old saves are an afterthought. Remember all those hours you put into Super Metroid when it came out on the Wii Virtual Console a long ways back? When you upgrade to the Wii U Version in a little while, after paying a small premium…bye-bye to all that time spent. Nintendo has said that upgrading your Wii Virtual Console games to the Wii U version will be like buying the software new.

Backwards Compatible

Nintendo finds a way to shirk save data again.

Regardless of the wallet-related antics and arguments brought forth by the new Virtual Console, the removal of save data is where I personally draw the line. To me, save data is like the atom, the building blocks of all video games. If I can take a file from a PS1 memory card from 1998 and make it playable on my new PSN copy of Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Cross via a cheap converter, if I can take save data from any of the older or newer systems (whether it be by illicit means or by simply using an SD card) and make it readable on a PC or another console…

There is absolutely, positively no reason why save data should ever be erased when migrating old software to a new platform. No, I’m not a programmer; no, I don’t know what it’s like for folks over at Nintendo. But I am a consumer—and if you are going to go out of your way to make your system backwards compatible (or try and plug new versions of existing software to loyal fans) like Nintendo has, there is no acceptable reason to forgo one’s simple save data.

The 3DS was truly the beginning of Nintendo’s fumbling with my data. Goodness knows I can access the files associated with certain games with a little bit of snooping.

Backwards Compatible

But if the save data for a certain game is corrupted, there’s no way to replace or repair it, even if you have a perfect back-up of the data in place, because of Nintendo’s new way of handling saves. I know I may not get sympathy from the majority of you for what I’ve just expressed, but isn’t that just a little…disappointing, at the very least?

Hey, at least Nintendo tried.

The Wii U contains a Wii within it. The “Wii Menu” portion of the Wii U is just like owning the last generation console, right down to the Wii Shop Channel and its Wii Points. While many consider this a weakness, my sentiment going in was “At least they tried.” I cannot say the same for Microsoft and Sony from where they currently stand. The early Playstation 3’s were backwards compatible with PS2 and PS1 games, but that was later shed to reduce costs. I’m kind of wondering if Nintendo will do the same thing when they inevitably bring down the cost of the Wii U.

Regardless of my speculation just then, here a rather icy fact regarding both the 3DS and Wii U launches: There would be next-to-nothing to play on these new systems at launch if they weren’t backwards compatible. The 3DS had Nintendogs, Pilotwings, and Steel Diver, as well as a few offshoots. The Wii U, as far as original content and not ports, put forth Mario U, Nintendo Land, ZombiU, and Scribblenauts Unlimited. I may be forgetting a few Wii U launch games, but… goodness knows I’m out of things to play on my new system. And when the 3DS launched, I had zero 3DS games to play for a long while until I sunk over 170 hours into Devil Survivor: Overclocked because I was absolutely starved for a good game made for 3DS.

Without the ability to rely upon my old systems’ libraries, my new systems would gather dust very, very quickly after I bought them. It’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow, but no console launch line-up has ever been good (especially when it comes to Nintendo), so backwards compatibility is important, at least initially, because the good games you bought your new system for aren’t going to come in waves immediately.

Now that I understand the Playstation 4 won’t be natively backwards compatible, I know for a fact I won’t be buying one at launch. I have far too many PS3 games to entertain myself with still, and if I can’t play the ones I already have, there’s no real sense in me buying the new system until I consider my experiences with the old one finished.

I wonder why people will try to argue with me on this. If you still have a huge backlog of PS3 games you want to play, why in the world would you rush out to buy a new system when it launches? Are people that desperate to “keep up with the Joneses”, so to speak? Everyone who thinks like this fascinates me, if only because I owned just a Wii and (3)DS until late 2011. I missed out on almost the entire last generation, (since many think the Wii doesn’t count, haha) but here I am, owning a gaming website and staying as current as my 360/PS3-owning compatriots. To be completely honest, outside of Sonic Generations and a few games I’ve gone out of my way to buy for my newly bought PS3, I haven’t spent nearly enough time with it as I probably should. There’s just no way I’m ready to make the jump yet.

There are people who HAVE played all the PS3 games they own, and want to go back to them when the new system launches, you ninny!

And that’s where I’ll speak in your defense. This habit of having an old console just to play old games is something I’ll never come to terms with. In today’s world, where we can purchase digital versions of NES games, there shouldn’t be a need for the NES anymore. The old consoles serve purposes only for small fits of nostalgia, and otherwise just take up way too much living room or storage space. I’ll be the first to admit: When I bought my 3DS, all of my other DSes were either given away or eBay fodder. And when I bought my Wii U, I said goodbye to my Wii forever (and to Gamecube support, because nostalgia going that far back just isn’t worth coming to terms with if I can sell my Wii for the price of a shiny new Wii U game). But…if Nintendo has the technology to stick a Wii in their Wii U, why can’t Sony stick a PS3 in their PS4 to serve the small, but vocal minority who fall into the category of wanting to have their cake and eat it too?

It’s 2013, ladies and gentlemen. We may not have hover-boards and all the things that Back to the Future projected we would, but our grasp upon technology and the digital age is simply staggering. I don’t ask much of my new consoles, but surely save data should be universal, and we should be guaranteed to at least have some semblance of everything available in the last console generation when ushering in the next one. Going forth into new territory, like what PS4 and the next Xbox are trying to accomplish, would be quite a bit easier on people if they could fall back upon what they know going into it.

Without ado, check out the next page where Sir Baltimore has his own thoughts to share.


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