Connect with us

Games

Past & Future: A Technical View of Backwards Compatibility

Published

on

Society’s predictions for future technology are always changing. According to the Back to the Future series, we should have had gravity-defying hoverboards by 2015. Instead, we see kids rolling around on the two-wheeled, inaptly named scooters that are basically mall cop Segways without the handlebars. It’s clear that the technical demands of the movie version exceed what is available today and that’s a reality we have to accept. The gaming world is subject to the same limitations, but there isn’t just demand for more advanced hardware—there’s a demand for outdated products as well. While there are players who actively participate in the retro gaming scene, there’s a middle ground between past and present that can be traversed with backwards compatibility (a console’s ability to play the games of its predecessors). It’s a fading commodity that, like the hoverboard, is subject to the present day’s technological inadequacy. Despite an undeniable demand, the titans of the gaming industry are hesitant to provide it and here are a few reasons why.

Recreating the Original Hardware

The most obvious solution is to simply add the original hardware onto a next-gen console, allowing it to natively play older games. Sony did this with its edition of the PlayStation 3 that could play discs from either of the first two. The result was an unnecessarily large system that preceded a later release of the smaller, but non-backwards-compatible PS3 Slim. It’s also more expensive to manufacture, given that multiple chip sets need to be incorporated into the same machine. Nintendo did a better job with this idea on the Wii and its GameCube integration, but this is primarily because the two consoles didn’t have very significant mechanical differences in the first place. Additionally, the expenditure of resources on attaching a secondary system results in reduced effort toward improving the current-gen specifications, which is where we really want the machine to excel anyway.

Software Solutions

The alternative route is to create software that eliminates the need for native hardware and there are two ways to accomplish this. The first is to write a translation code that will convert a previous-gen game into a format that the newer console can read. This happens in real time while you’re playing, which produces the bane of every gamer’s existence—lag. Most of us are familiar with the type that coincides with a slow internet connection or low battery on a wireless controller. Similarly, if a system is translating the software on demand, there’s an inevitable delay that may or may not be noticeable depending on the situation. It might not make a difference most of the time, but any former Ice Climber players know that a single mistimed jump can induce unhealthy levels of frustration. In a case like this, it would be the game’s fault, although some of us would blame it on the game either way (you know who you are).

The second method circumvents the lag problem, but comes with a crippling drawback of its own. Developers can blanket a game’s existing code with a new layer that allows the corresponding next-gen console to interpret it without the need for active translation. But since every game’s code is unique, this layer will need to be also. Every previous-gen game would need to be individually coded in order to be played on a newer machine. Microsoft has chosen to implement this strategy on the Xbox One, which is why only certain games are available to play through backwards compatibility. It’s ridiculously inefficient, but still far better than nothing.

Future Access to the Past

The video game industry evolves in a way that’s unparalleled by any other form of media. As such, it’s unable to look back at its past in the same way that music or film can. Playing a song or enjoying a movie from half a century ago is far easier than playing a video game from the previous decade (more on that here). But for now, solutions like the NES Classic Edition and HD re-releases are the best we’re going to get. When future generations are immersed in their own virtual experiences, it would be nice to give them a peek at the history of such a beloved pastime.

Andrew has always been a pretty avid conversationalist. Talkative as a child and even more so as an adult, he's always sharing his experiences and indulging in the stories of others. His favorite conversations are about worlds far more interesting than his own, so he plays video games and watches television series to step into as many as he can.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Games

Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Fortnite’

Published

on

Join us all month as our staff looks back at the most influential games of the past decade. This is not a list of our favourite games but rather a look back at the games that left the biggest impact in the last ten years on an artistic and cultural level. After careful consideration, we narrowed it down to ten games that have most defined, influenced and shaped the industry as we know it.

****

You know, I never thought I’d be writing this article.

I thought Fortnite was going to be another one of those fads that came around quickly and left just as quickly, a fading blip of relevance like every other AAA game that releases and is buried under something better. Whether that be better looking, better playing, or just plain…better.

That never happened. Instead, what we got was a phenomenon.

There are only three other times in history where I feel like the world “phenomenon” really translates well: the original NES, PokéMania in the West, and the launch of World of Warcraft. However, Fortnite really captures the meaning of that word. It absorbed, and to a slightly lesser extent, continues to absorb large amounts of popular culture, integrating itself into the American ethos in a way that sent ripples throughout the larger, non-gamer market.

It’s hard to quantify the impact of a peak claim of nearly 250 million players. Most games don’t reach a fraction of that player base and those that do don’t often carry the clout that Fortnite accumulated for itself. Oftentimes, when a game is as mentioned and cited in the industry as Fortnite, it’s for unmitigated disasters or fads that quickly fade due to their failure to adapt.

Fortnite, on the other hand, has done nothing but adapt to changing player tastes, pumping out content on a hitherto unimaginable scale on an ever-expanding number of platforms. What started out confined to the typical trio of PC, PS4, and Xbox One soon expanded onto Android, iOS, MacOS, and Nintendo Switch quickly. Well-optimized ports and eventual cross-play enabled players to play with each other despite their own hardware choices. That two friends with an iPhone SE and a GTX 2080ti-equipped PC can play together is proof that Fortnite has done well to integrate players together from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

If anything, Fortnite has proven right a premise that Nintendo has preached for years: that the more accessible a game is, the greater the success that it can be. Fortnite’s accessibility didn’t stop at its incredibly easy-to-run game engine or its easy-to-learn gameplay loop, but also continued in its actual presentation. For a game ostensibly about hunting down other players Hunger Games-style until only one player remains, it has strikingly bright and appealing visuals. Characters and skins are not only instantly recognizable, but easily marketable, ensuring that all fans–yes, even the middle-schoolers you overhear at your local games store–can purchase physical, in addition to digital, representations of their favorite characters.

In many ways, Fortnite, and its publisher, Epic Games, remind me of NES-era Nintendo.

Did they operate calculating business with a keen eye for profit through manipulating kids’ access to the First Bank of Mom and Dad? Yes. Did they create playground, and message board, conversation starters that create narratives that continue exist long after irrelevance? Yes.

But, in the end, did they create games whose importance changed gaming forever?

Yes.

Ultimately, I think that is the biggest aspect of Fortnite‘s legacy: it is one of the few games that did not shackle its free-to-play players with unfair restrictions or give paying players unfair, buy-to-win advantages. For all that it offered: hours of fun with friends, inclusion in massive social events, and the ability to continue your play across nearly every console, it gave it all for free.

And that, I think, will endure long after all the V-bucks and Battle Buses have faded away.

Continue Reading

Games

‘KartRider: Drift’ is Gorgeous But in Need of Fine-Tuning

KartRider: Drift is Microsoft’s new exclusive racer coming in 2020. Here are hands-on beta impressions from behind the wheel.

Published

on

kartrider drift

KartRider: Drift had the odds stacked against it from the outset. Though the KartRider series has been immensely popular in China and Korea for more than a decade, its brand recognition in the West has been largely nonexistent. Thus, when it was showcased at Microsoft’s XO19 event in November, many dismissed the game as a generic Mario Kart clone. In reality, not only is KartRider is one of the longest-running competitive racing games in the world, but its closed beta weekend proved that Nexon is taking the impending Western release very seriously.

Push to Start

Beta players were given access to three modes: online matchmaking, solo time trials, and the garage for character and kart customization. The online interface is simple and intuitive; with a press of the “X” button players can toggle between Solo, Duo, and Squad (four-player) races across Item Mode (featuring traditional kart racer items) and Speed Mode (no items). Switching between different configurations is a snap and, thanks to KartRacer already being such a massive game in the East, I rarely had to wait more than 20 seconds to get thrown into a match. Creating private parties and inviting friends to race is also an option.

Although maps took a while to load, performance was consistently smooth once races actually began. It’s here where Nexon’s investment in Unreal Engine 4 really shines; the tracks are simply a joy to look at. Each manage to pop with personality despite not being based on recognizable IP like Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing. Of the nine tracks available during the beta only two stuck out as being a bit samey. Each of the drivers also benefit from colorful, distinct designs and fully customizable win/loss animations. The only portion of the presentation that didn’t impress was the music, which was quite catchy at first, but looped endlessly irrespective of the track.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the actual course design, which is largely serviceable but also initially frustrating. For instance, a forest-themed track features logs that stick up from the ground and stop racers in their tracks. This wouldn’t be too egregious, but the logs are so large that only tiny spaces on either side remain. Nearly half of my races on this map were marred by traffic jams caused by a couple of these choke points. Another map features a jump that must be hit at just the right time to not collide with a building and cost players the entire race.

Even maps that don’t demand unreasonable precision from new players suffer from jarringly sharp edges that make it easy to get stuck on corners. This is only exacerbated by a finicky drift mechanic that takes hours of experimentation and countless losses to nail down. While growing more competent at cornering eventually felt rewarding and worthwhile, the high skill threshold here feels like it’s at odds with KartRider: Drift’s framing as an accessible, beginner-friendly experience. These aren’t necessarily design flaws, but they seem like missteps in a game that’s trying to appeal to as many newcomers as possible.

kartrider drift

Tantalizing Customization

While KartRider: Drift’s core mechanics might aggravate the casual players it’s trying to reach, its customization options are some of the most appealing I’ve seen in any kart racer. Players can choose from a range of skins, emotes, kart types, and wheels to fully deck out their characters. Be it the aggressively adorable Bunny Buggy or skins that turn characters into little baseball and football players, it’s tough not to fall in love with the clean, cutesy charm on display here.

One potential worry is that since the game will be completely free-to-play, it’ll follow the route of relying on premium skins and emotes to generate revenue. There was no store or lootbox-esque system implemented in the beta build, but it’s clear from the “Epic” and “Rare” tags on items that premium customization will surely be a major focus. Considering players gain experience and level up the more races they compete in, there’s hope that at least some items might be unlockables to encourage higher attachment rates.

KartRacer: Drift is an unusual Microsoft exclusive, and yet it’s clear that Nexon has poured a tremendous amount of care and resources into it over the years. Having crossplay with PC this early on was crucial and ensures a built-in online community of millions from the get-go. It remains to be seen if the team makes any track design tweaks or alters the hyper-touchy drift, but what’s already here is at least worth giving a whirl when it releases for free sometime in 2020.

Continue Reading

Games

The Best Reveals of Indie World December 2019

From long-awaited sequels to unexpected crossovers to some surprising shadow drops, there was something for everyone in the latest Indie World showcase.

Published

on

Indie World

It’s been a banner year for independent games, and Nintendo has closed it out with a new Indie World presentation. From long awaited sequels to unexpected crossovers to some surprising shadow drops, there was something for everyone in this showcase. We’ve rounded up a few of the very best reveals below.

Animated GIF

The show started off strong with the reveal of Sports Story, a sequel to 2017’s much loved, golf-obsessed RPG Golf Story. Whereas the first game focused solely on the noble sport of golf, the sequel has a much broader scope, integrating a variety of new sports like tennis, baseball, and soccer, to name only a few. On top of that, the gameplay is expanding with plenty of new elements, including dungeons to explore, espionage missions to sneak through, and numerous memorable characters to interact with. Just like its predecessor, Sports Story will be a Switch exclusive when it launches in mid-2020.

Some of the best indies can be immensely stylish experiences, and such games were well represented throughout this showcase. The first one shown was Gleamlight, a 2D action game created by developers who worked on the recent Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It puts players in control of a sentient sword, tasked with exploring a mysterious world made of stained glass. It leaves players to their own devices, with no UI or dialogue to tell its somber story. Like so many other games in this presentation, it will release in early 2020.

Animated GIF

Another eye-catching title was Liberated, which describes itself as “a playable graphic novel.” Literally taking place across the panels and pages of a cyberpunk comic book, Liberated features a mixture of stealth-based gunplay and action platforming, along with a dystopian story told from numerous perspectives. It will be a timed Switch console exclusive when it launches next year.

Indie World

Not all games were so serious or artistic – some were decidedly sillier. One such game was SkateBIRD, which, as the title implies, is all about controlling cute little birds on skateboards. This intrepid athletes will spend their time “grinding on bendy straws, kickflipping over staplers or carving lines through a park held together by sticky tape,” and if that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what does. These little birdies won’t take flight until late 2020.

Indie World

To get even sillier, imagine the bizarre bird-based dating simulator Hatoful Boyfriend set to an Ace Attorney soundtrack. As bizarre as that sounds, that’s exactly what Murder by the Numbers is. This murder mystery visual novel blends detective work with pixelated puzzling, featuring characters designed by Hatoful Boyfriend creator Hato Moa and music by Ace Attorney composer Masakazu Sugimori. Releasing early next year, this unusual mashup will be a timed Switch exclusive at launch.

Animated GIF

Procedural generation can feel like a tired trope in indie games. However, SuperMash, which describes itself as “the game that makes games,” looks like it should be a unique take on that style with its inventive genre-mashing style. Players will be able to mash distinct genres together – such as JRPG and platformer – to randomly created entirely new gameplay styles. It has plenty of unique mashing potential, releasing in May next year on Switch.

Animated GIF

It’s seemingly impossible for Nintendo to hold a presentation without a shadow drop or two, and that holds true with this Indie World showcase. The free-to-play multiplayer hit Dauntless was revealed to include exclusive weapons and armor in the Switch version, which also features full cross-play support. Likewise, the deluxe version of the philosophical puzzler The Talos Principle was announced for Nintendo’s hybrid wonder, featuring all the immersive mind teasers and world design that made the game such a hit when it launched years ago. Unlike most other titles in this showcase, you won’t need to wait until next year to play these – instead, they’re both available for download now.

Animated GIF

The presentation opened with a sequel to a fan-favorite indie, and fittingly enough, that’s also how it closed, with the announcement of Axiom Verge 2. Details are currently scarce, but this new title will return to the sci-fi universe of the original 2015 Metroidvania hit, including “completely new characters, abilities, and gameplay.” We’re sure to learn more about this mysterious new sequel ahead of its release in Fall 2020.

These are only a few of the most exciting reveals from Indie World. For everything announced, you can see the full presentation below.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending