Micro$oft have made public the first list of Xbox games that are confirmed to be playable on the Xbox 360.
It’s a software-based solution that converts the old programming to work with the new processors. There is more info about how it works but it is frankly extremely dull; however it does raise one salient point, that being the nature of the solution (downloadable to burn to a CD or available from Microsoft) is a work in progress, with further games added to the list as the software becomes a better emulator for the old machine. As might be expected, to play any old games you have to buy the significantly more expensive Xbox 360 with a hard-drive, the ‘better’ option of the two-package release that they’re doing.
The hard-drive business is all a little puzzling to me. Why release two versions of a console? Micro$oft says that it has told games makers to ensure that all games need not have the hard-drive to run, so exactly who is going to use it and what for?
One of the things that I’ve always liked about consoles is the simplicity that they give when compared to the PC market. In the old days I learnt DOS and various hoodoo elements of autoexec.bat/config.sys files to get games running on PCs, and even now it’s often a challenge to tweak your system to be good enough to stand a chance of rendering the enemy on screen before they’ve killed you, and success is usually finally achieved only with the right incantations, chickens, and circles of flour. Consoles are the antithesis of the fiddly PC system: you buy the game, you put it in, and it works (unless you have an aging $ony Playstation2, in which case it might spin the disk, make some grinding noises, they deny that technology exists and decide to begin killing academics using wooden bombs that it builds in a hut in a forest somewhere). Er… Where was I?
Why are Micro$oft making two versions of a console? What is the actual advantage to buying the posh one (for gamers, rather than for Micro$oft, who will gladly charge you £80 for a hard-drive that might cost you twenty if you were putting it in your PC)? So far it’s essential to backwards compatibility, but, given that this is said to be being achieved through hardware-based solutions for the other consoles, it seems that this is a little like putting a bow around someone’s doormat and then giving it to them as a present; they’re happy to have it, but they could’ve sworn they had it anyway, and there is sensation that somehow they’ve lost out on the whole deal. Try it next time you go to a dinner party then ask the host if they feel it’s a good metaphor for Micro$oft’s approach to backwards compatibility, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the answer.
Micro$oft like us to believe that the hard-drive version is obviously better but they haven’t really given any good reasons why this might be. The amusing thing is that they are now faced with a situation where they have to say why the expensive version is better (which is an easy and publicly nice thing to do) but they also have the problem that the non-hard-drive version is regarded as being a bit rubbish. It’s got to be a problem in marketing terms, that, on the day of launch for your new console, 50% of your stock is regarded as being a bit pants. I can’t imagine the situation is going to endear Micro$oft to shop staff either, as they patiently (or not-so-patiently) have to explain the difference to the 40th concerned parent that day.
I’m sure the console itself will be lovely, albeit perhaps remaining the same as the last console only with a better graphics chip, but the two-packages release system doesn’t strike me as one of their most enlightened ideas. I just hope that it doesn’t catch on with other console makers.