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Xbox backward compatibility team originally had to reproduce bugs

The Xbox One backwards compatibility team couldn't fix bugs with emulation, and had to reproduce the game entirely, warts and all.

@DeekeTweak
Published Sun, Apr 12 2020 2:11 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 11:44 AM CST

Backwards compatibility is one of the Xbox brand's biggest strengths. But Microsoft was faced with lots of resistance when first starting the legacy-supported initiative.

Xbox backward compatibility team originally had to reproduce bugs 3 | TweakTown.com

The Xbox One backwards compatibility program had a rocky launch. Developers weren't originally enthusiastic about Microsoft emulating their games and gave explicit instructions not to meddle with their creations. Publishers, developers, and IP holders all had the same sentiment: Don't touch our games and keep them the same. That meant re-creating everything the original game offered, including game-breaking bugs and other issues.

This actually proved to be tough for the Xbox back-compat team. Microsoft got so good at emulating older Xbox 360 games that they had to dial back certain things to reproduce certain errors found in the legacy games. In a recent podcast with Dealer Gaming, Xbox exec Bill Stillwell gives an interesting perspective on what it was like when BC first started, and how developers eventually warmed up to the idea of their old-school games looking and playing better on modern hardware.

"When we first started the program, developers we really nervous, like 'do not change my game.' We even got to a point in emulation where games that had bugs, we needed to make sure that the bugs reproduced in the emulator the same way it did in the game. Not only could we not fix the bugs, the problem is when you run into a game...the bug was maybe 1 out of every 100 times on the Xbox 360 version.

"And then when we emulated it we get the bug every single time because we're just more efficient at it," Bill Stillwell, who was part of the original Xbox One backward compatibility team, said in a recent podcast with Dealer Gaming (about the 51 minute mark).

"And then it was like 'how do we make it closer to the reproduction rate on the Xbox 360?' Because we couldn't fix it. Developers were very clear with us that it was their IP, they built it a certain way, and they don't want us making any changes to it."

Read Also: Full Xbox One backward compatibility list of games

The Xbox BC team didn't stop there, though. They weren't content with just getting old games to run on the new hardware. They wanted to innovate, to add a new dimension to backward compatibility. The Xbox One X's native boost mode and upscaling tech was born, something that'll carry forward to the Xbox Series X.

"Then if you remember about halfway through the generation one of the engineers actually made games play at 4K. You did it through supersampling and then some tech we then used on a set of games like Halo 3, Red Dead Redemption, where we made them effectively 4K games on the Xbox One X as part of that enhanced program we ran for a while."

"That team has never stopped looking at and I think at that point most of the industry made the switch and went 'Oh, why wouldn't I want my game to take advantage of HDR? Why wouldn't I want my game to look better?' We applied that same tech by the way on all the original Xbox games so that they looked better. Because they really didn't look great when you put them on a newer console."

Stillwell makes a good point that the games industry is kind of like a stubborn old curmudgeon that's set in its ways. Change is slow and gradual, and backwards compatibility was originally seen as a potential threat. Now it's an incredible business model that sparks legacy game sales while folding into subscriptions for extra revenues.

"I think what you have to realize is the industry is reluctant to change because they have a model that works. It takes sort of these seismic shifts in consumer behavior before people say 'Oh I guess it's okay for my back compat library to be available on a new console. I guess Game Pass is an okay subscription that won't crater my business.'

"It takes the industry time to get around to new methods of monetization, new methods of access, new methods of reaching customers. You have to go through these sort of steps."

The Xbox Series X will push backwards compatibility to new limits. The next-gen Xbox will play four generations' worth of Xbox games--original Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and eventually, Xbox SX games--better than any console before it. Some games like Gears of War 4 Ultimate will be natively upscaled to 4K resolution on the console without any optimizations. Other games like Gears 5 can get enhancement patches to run at Ultra-equivalent GeForce RTX 2080 preset settings with ray tracing effects on.

Microsoft promises that any game that's playable on the Xbox One can play on the Xbox Series X, and these games will look, feel, and ultimately play better on the powerful next-gen system.

Xbox Series X is due out by Holiday 2020. No pricing has been announced.

Check below for confirmed specs and details, and a huge content listing of everything we've heard about Xbox Series X so far:

Xbox Series X confirmed details (Formerly Project Scarlett):

  • 8-core, 16-thread Zen 2 CPU
  • 12.15 TFLOP Navi GPU on RDNA 2 architecture
  • 7nm+ AMD SoC
  • 16GB GDDR6 memory
  • 2x Xbox One X's 6TFLOPs of GPU perf
  • 4x CPU power of Xbox One generation
  • Can deliver up to 40x more performance than Xbox One in specific use cases
  • Adaptive sync supported
  • Super-fast SSD that can be used as VRAM
  • Supports 8K resolution (likely media playback)
  • 120FPS gaming
  • Variable refresh rate (adaptive sync/FreeSync)
  • Variable Rate Shading
  • Raytracing confirmed with dedicated raytracing cores
  • Backward compatible with thousands of Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games
  • New controller with a dedicated share button
  • Compatible with Xbox One accessories

Xbox Series X coverage:

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Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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