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Backward Compatibility and Cross Platform Library Usage

Ted Stahl, 2005


The Atari VCS (2600):

The Atari VCS had the largest game library for its generation. This was a fact that not only Atari recognized, but so did Coleco and Mattel. Coleco released the Expansion Module #1 that enabled ColecoVision owners to play Atari 2600 games. On a similar note, Mattel released a peripheral called the System Changer that enabled Intellivision owners to play Atari 2600 games on their system. In actuality, this device was an Atari VCS clone that simply used the Intellivision for its power and a/v output.

Atari considered making their following generation console (the 5200) backward compatible, but it would have priced the system too high. Instead, they chose to release the CX-55. This was an adapter that enabled people to play their old 2600 games on their 5200s. However, there were some complications with this peripheral. It was not 100% compatible with all 5200 consoles. The unit didn’t fit correctly on the 4-controller port models. In order to rectify this situation, Atari offered a free modification to those systems through Atari authorized service centers when someone purchased a CX-55.

The 5200 was not as popular as Atari's original VCS. The 5200 library consisted of only 70 or so cartridges. When Atari chose to include backward compatibility in the 7800, they chose to enable it to play cartridges from the 2600 library. This gave it access to approximately 500 previously released titles. Parents perceived this system as a wise upgrade because it meant that the games that were previously purchased for the 2600 were still usable along with the new games designed specifically for the 7800. Sadly, the 7800 library was even smaller than the 5200's. Approximately 60 cartridges were released for Atari's 3rd video game console.


Nintendo GameBoy:

Nintendo is the first manufacturer to recognize the importance of integrated backward compatibility. All of the main GameBoy line is backward compatible. (This excludes offshoots like the Virtual Boy and the Nintendo DS. Though the DS plays GameBoy Advance titles, it cannot play original GameBoy nor GameBoy Color titles.) This means that the GameBoy Advance plays its own titles as well as original GameBoy and GameBoy color titles. And, similarly, the GameBoy Color plays its own titles as well as original GameBoy titles.

Further recognition of this library led Nintendo to release the Super GameBoy cartridge adapter that enabled Super Nintendo owners to play their original GameBoy games on their televisions via their SNES. Nintendo resurrected this concept when they released the GameBoy Adapter that enabled people to play not only original GameBoy, but GameBoy Color and GameBoy Advance cartridges on the Nintendo GameCube.


Sega Master System:

When Sega released their Genesis, they knew that they had to do whatever they could to get the edge on their rival Nintendo. The original Sega Master System had some good titles, but it had tough competition with the NES. To keep original Sega Master System owners loyal to Sega for the next generation, they released an adapter called the Power Base Converter. This unit fit on top of the original version of the Genesis (it does not fit into the later designs) and enabled users to play their SMS games on their new Genesis. The unit could accept the SMS cartridges as well as the Sega Cards.


Sega Genesis:

Though the Sega Master System didn’t fare well against the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the Genesis held its own against the Super Nintendo. The library that was built for the Genesis found new life in the form of a portable system called the Nomad. This unit was essentially a portable Genesis. In fact, it could accept a second controller and it had an a/v output that enabled it to connect to a television. Unfortunately, it did not prove too popular because of its high price and battery usage. Also, the screen did not refresh well with fast action and that was difficult to justify when the pillars of the Genesis library are the Sonic the Hedgehog titles (which were known for their fast screen action).


NEC TurboGrafx-16:

NEC released a similar handheld unit based off their TG-16. It was called the TurboXpress. It enabled players to take their TG-16 library on the go and play those titles wherever they wanted. As an additional enticement, NEC also created a tuner for the unit that essentially converted the TurboXpress into a portable television complete with telescopic antenna.

NEC also released the Turbo Duo system which was capable of playing CD-based TurboGrafx titles and new Superbit games. It also had a cartridge port to enable players to enjoy all of their original TG-16 games too.


Sony PlayStation:

In spite of many examples throughout the industry, Sony was the first manufacturer to make a home console that was truly backward compatible with their previous generation’s library. (Atari skipped a generation from the 7800 to the 2600.) They did this by including the original PlayStation’s CPU as an I/O processor. Essentially, they included a PlayStation on the PS2’s motherboard. This gave the PlayStation 2 the advantage of being able to play hundreds of games upon its launch. This meant that those who already had invested in PlayStation libraries didn’t have to keep both systems wired up to their televisions. And for those who had just bought into Sony’s via the PlayStation 2, they could enjoy the previous system’s library without having to purchase both consoles.


Microsoft Xbox:

Microsoft claims that their Xbox 360 will be backward compatible with "most popular Xbox titles." Time will determine what this means, but it appears that Microsoft recognizes the value of keeping a library accessible via a new platform.


Sony PlayStation 2:

Keeping consistant, Sony is claiming backward compatibility in their PlayStation 3. However, they are boasting the ability to play titles not only from the PlayStation 2 library, but the original PlayStation library as well. This is a shrewd move on their part because there are still a number of valid games from their original platform. Especially when one considers that almost every Final Fantasy game was re-released on the PS1. The original PlayStation library is one of the most robust home console libraries of all time. By offering backward compatibility with both the PS1 an dthe PS2, Sony is providing PlayStation 3 owners with the largest combined library of playable titles on any single home system.




Go Backto software main page Last Updated on 02-Oct-2005 For suggestions  please mail the editors 


Footnotes & References