Microsoft will bring multiple generations of software to its new video game console — but it will come at a cost.
In the middle of the company’s big E3 press conference on Sunday, a member of Microsoft’s Xbox team mentioned that Project Scarlett — the new next-gen console that launches 2020 — will cover a full “four generations of software.”
A post on Xbox Wire has clarified that point today. According to Jason Ronald, partner director for the Xbox platform, “thousands of games from all four generations will be playable on Project Scarlett. As such, we have now shifted our focus to help make the games you love playing on Xbox One compatible with future Xbox hardware.”
In other words, Project Scarlett, when it launches, will feature a similar backward-compatibility program to the current-day Xbox One. It’s not full platform emulation, as with the launch-edition PlayStation 3, but instead, the plan is to continue to work to get various previous-generation games running successfully on Scarlett.
That plan, however, does have a cost. Ronald writes that “after this week, we have no plans to add additional Original Xbox or Xbox 360 titles to the catalog on Xbox One, but we’re excited to continue our work on Xbox compatibility across platforms and devices, which remains a top priority.”
This week’s backward compatibility releases for Xbox One, then, will be the last we see from Microsoft until Scarlett goes live.
Backward compatibility in general has been a hot-button topic in certain parts of the internet. As a rule, the video game industry is not great at curating its own history. For example, when Nintendo decided to pull the plug on the Wii’s online storefront, it meant that a significant number of games, such as various WiiWare exclusives like the original version of WayForward’s darkness-based puzzle game Lit, are now officially lost to history. Unless you luck into a used Wii or Wii-U with a “lost” game pre-installed on its internal drive, the game is simply gone for good.
Due to a lack of interest in preservation efforts until relatively recently, many old video games run the risk of being permanently unavailable to collectors and historians. (The most notorious case comes from Taito’s seminal arcade game Bubble Bobble. The game’s original source code is just gone; Taito misplaced it at some point.) Historians and researchers are currently working to archive as much as possible from the homebrew library of titles for the unsuccessful Ouya console before its makers pull the plug on its online marketplace later this month.
As such, the Xbox One’s focus on its own backward compatibility projects is arguably the single biggest success of the console, as it represents a unique investment in preserving the system’s history going forward. It’s joined in this by strong rumors that Sony’s PlayStation 5 will also feature backward compatibility in some way. As the ninth console generation moves forward, then, a significant amount of the competition seems like it’ll be firmly rooted in the past.
Despite today’s announcement, it’s still a big week for the feature, with all four of the original Xbox’s Splinter Cell games joining the backward compatibility library. Splinter Cell, a stealth-based action game that ties into the work of Tom Clancy, was one of the most popular multiplayer games on the original version of Xbox Live, and its fans are still hoping to see the series make a comeback.
Other new BC titles on Xbox One include LucasArts’s comedy shooter Armed and Dangerous, the cartoon platformer Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy; Unreal Championship 2; the obscure Xbox 360 Japanese RPG Enchanted Arms; and Capcom’s mythological beat-’em-up Asura’s Wrath.
Notably, several backward-compatible games are also receiving actual content packs, adding new levels or maps to games that, in some cases, are over a decade old. This includes a new mode, Kashykk Assault, for Star Wars Battlefront II; a new mission for Armed and Dangerous; and new multiplayer maps and missions for all four Splinter Cell games.
The strangest announcement on the list, however, is that Microsoft is not only bringing Silicon Knights’s Too Human to the BC library on Xbox One, but is making it a free download. Too Human, a 2008 Microsoft project, was widely considered one of the worst games of its console generation, and notoriously spent a full nine years in “development hell.”
Silicon Knights (Eternal Darkness, X-Men: Destiny) lost a counter-suit to Epic Games in 2012, originally brought as a breach of contract dispute over Epic’s Unreal Engine. As a result of that counter-suit, Silicon Knights was forced to issue a general recall of the games it had made using the Unreal Engine, including Too Human. This included taking it down from the Xbox Live Marketplace, which meant Too Human was effectively erased from circulation unless you lucked across a used disc somewhere. Microsoft putting Too Human back up for free can only be considered a nod toward preserving the game for future historical reference.