The question has always been the same - why is it that I can go into a shop and buy a brand new copy of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality but I can’t do the same for a copy of Super Castlevania IV? Because of this fact - I love emulation. Not because I get to play loads of games without paying a penny for them - far from it. I love emulation because I like knowing that out there, on the internet, there is fairly easy access to these massive archives of games that otherwise would be lost.
Here in 2013, pretty much everything can be emulated. Obviously, the 360 and PS3 are still far from being a reality, but that’s okay. They’re current machines, actively supported and used on a daily basis with a massive selection of easily accessible titles, new and pre-owned. Playstation 2, Gamecube and even Wii titles are almost all possible to emulate, and with the ability to run some of these games in much higher resolutions than what they were originally running at, many actually look and perform even better than on their native hardware. PSOne, SNES, Megadrive and pretty much everything dated back to the beginning of videogaming history emulates almost perfectly, and entire back catalogues can be fit onto a fucking USB stick. Only the Sega Saturn has caused problems, still requiring a fair bit of setup that is more complex than most other emulators, but they’ve got 90% of the catalogue running - all of the ‘important’ stuff, anyway.
Right now, there is no way to emulate the original Xbox. Nothing. The two most popular emulators, Xeon and CxBx, take different approaches to successful emulation. Xeon is a more traditional emulator and it can run Halo at a poor framerate, but that’s it. It also, appears to be dead in the water right now. CxBx, on the other hand, is a bit more exotic, and significantly more alive. From what I’ve gathered, it turns an Xbox disc into a Windows .exe file and it can actually run a handful of games - Smashing Drive, Futurama, Robotech: Battlecry, Whacked! and Turok fucking Evolution - a game that was dead to me within minutes of starting the first stage. I wandered over to murder the giant stegosaurus that stood in the middle of the field and passed straight through it. Fuck that game. CxBx development seemed to died off a couple of years back, but the torch has picked up by someone who goes by the hacker alias of ‘BlueShogun96’, who has continued and pushed the project much further than anyone else towards actually playable content.
Other than these few games, most of the CxBx ‘success’ stories are pretty depressing.
"Nice screens, but what's stopping it from going ingame?" - In regards to OutRun 2’s issues.
“I'm going to update the status of this game to ingame with an asterisk or two for the due to the fact that it does show ingame gfx even though you can't interact with it.” - On Quantum Redshift actually booting, but remaining completely unplayable.
“I managed to get Zapper to get passed the intro videos.” Zapper. Who cares about Zapper? Not Buck Bumble, that's for sure.
Now, I’m not here to rag on the people who are putting in their own free time to get Xbox emulation even to this state. The fact that it is even at this point is an impressive feat by all involved. Hopefully, some dedicated souls will continue to push what is currently possible, and get the end result of a playable back catalogue of games. My issue is that we could potentially lose an entire console catalogue worth of games if this isn’t resolved. The Xbox 360 has limited backwards compatibility, and even the games that are ‘compatible’ don’t always run without flaws (Panzer Dragoon Orta, for example, crashes after stage two). Genuinely great Xbox exclusive titles such as Otogi 1 & 2, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes, the legendary Metal Wolf Chaos, Steel Battalion and its daft controller and the underrated Voodoo Vince are all, right now, only playable if you have an actual Xbox console set up and running. Hassle, unreliable ageing hardware and actually being able to find the discs, if you’ve got an unmodded machine, are all problems you’ll have to solve if you simply want to play an old, unavailable game.
Sony are no better. They jettisoned Playstation 2 support when it was clear it was causing them to haemorrhage money during the early days of the PS3. Nintendo probably have the the best preserved catalogue, through the e-Shop, but they’re of course very specific Nintendo titles or well known classics. The recent appearance of the ‘HD remake’ is preserving an amount of these catalogues, but obviously not all. Understandable - no one is crying out for a high-definition remastering of N64 sporting classic Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, regardless of how rad that game was - but I love the fact that, with a little bit of tinkering, if I wake up one morning and want to get a four player game of that up and running, I bloody well CAN. Just the same as I can wake up like I do every Sunday morning, log in to Spotify and listen to ‘Number of the Beast’ in my pants.
A Spotify, of sorts. Maybe that’s the future? With Sony’s new console apparently just days from being unveiled, the rumour mill is kicking in hard in regards to what exactly the next generation machines are going to give to us. Their recent acquisition of Galkai, a videogame streaming service, adds a bit of credibility to the rumour that backwards compatibility of the future could all be done virtually. Think about this - as part of your £40 per year Playstation Plus subscription you get access to a massive library full of PSOne, PS2 and possibly even PS3 games that are streamable at the press of a button. That would be amazing, and a way of actually legitimately playing these titles. I would expect Microsoft to take note, should something like this appear on February 20th.
Because of emulation, I got to play some incredible, inaccessible games when growing up, and have pumped a no doubt terrifying amount of money and time back into this hobby almost certainly because of my exposure to classic SNES RPGs. I hope they find a working solution to Xbox emulation. I think it would be a shame to let certain games disappear forever. After all, an all time classic record is timeless - are you telling me that Super Mario World is any different?