One of the questions surrounding the launch of Xbox 360™ is backward compatibility. We know many top titles from the original Xbox® will play on the new console, but which ones? How will the whole process work?
In search of answers, we climbed the corporate ladder until we reached Todd Holmdahl, the Corporate Vice President of the Xbox Product Group. Todd has an important job—he's the man responsible for the design, engineering, testing, and manufacturing of all Xbox consoles worldwide. Todd has played an instrumental role as one of the founding fathers of the Xbox program. Since the program's inception, he's helped create the vision for the program, led the console design, development and manufacturing effort, and recruited and developed an exceptionally talented team.
We sat down with Todd to find out exactly what plans Microsoft® has regarding this important issue. Here's what he had to say:
Xbox.com: Is Xbox 360 backward compatible?
Todd: Yes. Today we’re confirming more than 200 titles including games like Halo® and Halo® 2; Star Wars® Knights of the Old Republic® I and II (LucasArts); Ninja Gaiden® and Ninja Gaiden® Black (Tecmo®); and Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas™ (Rockstar Games). I can confidently say our goal remains to make as many games backward compatible as possible.
Xbox.com: So what are the 200+ games that are backward compatible as of today?
Todd: It's simple: You can log onto Xbox.com/games for an up-to-date list of original Xbox games that run on Xbox 360. There are more than 200 titles as of today, and we will update you on a regular basis after launch.
Xbox.com: At E3, Microsoft said Xbox 360 would run the "top-selling Xbox games." What did you mean by that?
Todd: That's a fair question. We've been working hard to certify as many original Xbox games to work on Xbox 360 as possible. This process is a detailed procedure that we're committed to, but it means that not every game is going to be ready on day one.
Naturally we started with the games that have sold the best and the ones with a large Xbox Live® following. We also worked on games we knew were important titles for this holiday, and we're proud to have made games like Half-Life® 2 (Valve), Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland (Activision, Inc.), and Pro Evolution Soccer 5 (Konami Digital Entertainment) backward compatible.
As we focused on the top sellers, we discovered that many other games worked due to similarities in their technology. As an added benefit, games that share engines and technology have been in some cases easier to certify for backward compatibility and have made the launch lineup as a result.
Xbox.com: How is your backward compatibility solution going to work?
Todd: As you’ve heard from us before, backward compatibility on Xbox 360 is done through software. Now that we’ve solved the technical challenge and the emulator is working, we’re certifying each original Xbox title by hand to run on Xbox 360.
What I’m really proud to tell you and your readers is that it’s easy to get the emulation software, and it’s free. We’ll give gamers a choice—you can get the latest software updates from Xbox Live, burn a CD from xbox.com or sign up on Xbox.com for a CD that can be delivered to your home at a nominal shipping and handling fee. Once you get the CD, put it in your Xbox 360 and you’re ready to go.
Xbox.com: Will there be any benefits to playing original Xbox games on my Xbox 360 console?
Todd: Absolutely. One of the great things about gaming on Xbox 360 is the satisfaction of knowing that every game will be playable in high definition. We are now proud to reveal that this extends to the original Xbox games as well. Every original Xbox game will be upscaled to 720p and 1080i, and will take advantage of Xbox 360’s anti-aliasing capabilities, delivering a picture that is clearer and crisper than anything available on Xbox.
Xbox.com: What if I put in a game that isn't backward compatible?
Todd: I want to clarify—if a game isn’t on the list at Xbox.com/Games, it won’t run on your Xbox 360 console. Putting in a game that’s not on the list will give you a message saying that the game is not currently supported on Xbox 360 and point you to Xbox.com/Games for more information.
We’re working hard to determine the next batch of backward compatible titles, and would love to get feedback directly from gamers as well. We’ll have a place on Xbox.com where gamers can tell us their thoughts as we get closer to launch.
Xbox.com: Backward compatibility on other consoles is achieved through the hardware. Why can't backward compatibility be achieved on Xbox 360 in the same manner?
Todd: We knew that our transition to the new and much more powerful CPU and GPU would make backward compatibility challenging, but many gamers told us that backward compatibility was something that was important to them for the next-generation Xbox. To make this possible, we needed to emulate the Xbox hardware including the Xbox CPU and GPU.
This is a huge feat for the team and is a perfect example of how powerful the platform is because of the three-core architecture in the CPU and the powerful GPU. A software solution not only shows off the power of the platform but also demonstrates its flexibility. We're really very proud of this accomplishment. After testing it, we have taken the extra step to hand certify each game to ensure that it lives up to our stringent quality guidelines and only then will we confirm that a game is backward compatible.
Xbox.com: Do I need a hard drive for backward compatibility?
Todd: Yes. Xbox 360 comes standard with a 20GB hard drive accessory which will enable gamers to play original Xbox games. Those who choose to buy an Xbox 360 Core System will want to purchase a hard drive if backward compatibility is something they want at a later date.
Xbox.com: Why do I need the hard drive for backward compatibility?
Todd: It's basically due to differences in the architecture. For backward compatibility, we have to recreate the procedures and functions of Xbox using stored data on the hard drive.
Xbox.com: So if I buy the Xbox 360 Core System, my Xbox games won't be backward compatible?
Todd: If you want to play original Xbox games on an Xbox 360 Core System, all you need to do is pick up a hard drive accessory and you're ready for backward compatibility.
The Core System is about choice. If you just want to play Xbox 360 games, sign on to Xbox Live using a memory unit, and enjoy the digital media capabilities of Xbox 360, then maybe the Xbox 360 Core System is the right choice for you, particularly if you plan to play Xbox games from your Xbox console, or never had an Xbox in the first place. The point is that you can buy the Xbox 360 Core System and add the hard drive accessory when you're ready.
Xbox.com: Will I need anything in addition to the hard drive for the backward compatibility to function?
Todd: Nope. Everything is simple and painless. All you'll need is the Xbox 360 hard drive and the free software that we'll make available over Xbox Live and Xbox.com.
Xbox.com: Is Xbox Live Arcade on Xbox 360 backward compatible?
Todd: Because of changes in the technology, the current Xbox Live Arcade games are not compatible with Xbox 360. We are continuing to support Xbox Live Arcade games, however, and Xbox owners will be able to enjoy new releases in the future.
Xbox.com: Why have you been so quiet about backward compatibility since its announcement at E3?
Todd: Rumors. We all hate them. We wanted to tell the whole story, but we had to be ready. This is a revolutionary advancement in software technology that hasn't been done before, and it took some time to get it right.
Xbox.com: How will you deliver the emulators for backward compatibility?
Todd: There are several different ways that you can get them:
For Xbox Live members (either Gold or Silver members), just connect your Xbox 360 console to Xbox Live and insert an original Xbox game. The system will automatically check if you have the latest emulation software, download it to your Xbox 360 console as part of a system update if you don't, reboot, and start loading your original Xbox game.
Those who are not part of our Xbox Live network will be able to download the emulators from Xbox.com, and burn them onto a CD to insert into your Xbox 360 where it will auto-install the emulator. Or you can go to Xbox.com and simply sign up for a CD to be sent to your home for a nominal shipping and handling fee.
Xbox.com: What if I can't get online? Will the software be available from print publications?
Todd: Actually this is something that we're currently looking into right now. We're checking to see if this is possible. We're still looking at other methods as well.
Xbox.com: You mentioned that I can download the emulators from Xbox.com and burn them to a CD. How big are they?
Todd: They're small and take up less than five megabytes.
Xbox.com: Are there any emulators already pre-loaded on the hard drive?
Todd: An early version of the emulator that supports Halo®: Combat Evolved and Halo® 2 offline is included on Xbox 360 Hard Drives right out of the box as a special bonus to devoted fans of the franchise. However, to play Halo 2 online, or to play any other titles on the launch list, the full emulator update is required.
Xbox.com: Is it true that Microsoft is working with developers to place emulators on future Xbox game discs?
Todd: Microsoft is currently weighing a number of delivery methods, and downloadable data placed on Xbox game discs is definitely one of our options.
Xbox.com: Will future Xbox games be backward compatible?
Todd: We're not going to forget about the console that got us where we are today. Xbox still has a very bright future with many top-tier titles coming out from the world's best developers. To that end, we are working with developers to certify that their games will run on Xbox 360 down the line.
Xbox.com: What about saved games as well as free and purchased downloadable content? Will that be transferable to Xbox 360?
Todd: Content will not be transferable from Xbox to Xbox 360, including saved data and downloadable content. However, all free downloadable content for original Xbox games plus premium content for Halo 2 will be available on Xbox Live Marketplace for free. Xbox 360 owners will be able to get this free with an Xbox Live Silver or Gold membership.
Xbox.com: So do people have to buy their downloadable content again?
Todd: On the current-generation Xbox, downloadable content can't be transferred from console to console. For example, if you have two original Xbox consoles and want to have a specific content download on each one, you need to download it twice, and that means paying for it twice if it’s premium content. This also holds true from Xbox to Xbox 360.
Xbox.com: Will there be any notification on future Xbox game boxes that denotes whether or not they will be playable on Xbox 360?
Todd: No, Xbox.com/games is the ultimate destination to find information about which games will run on Xbox 360.
Xbox.com: Can you play games cross-platform? Specifically, can I play Halo 2 on Xbox 360 with my friend who plays it on Xbox?
Todd: Yes. You can play backward compatible original Xbox games cross-platform from Xbox 360 to Xbox. Personally, I can't wait to see the first Xbox vs. Xbox 360 Halo 2 clan matches pop up on Xbox Live.
Xbox.com: What about my Xbox Live account? Can I still be the same person on Halo 2?
Todd: Absolutely. All current Xbox Live accounts transfer seamlessly to Xbox 360 as Xbox Live Gold accounts. You'll keep your gamertag and the friends, stats, and reputation that you've built up over the years.
Xbox.com: If you had waited to launch Xbox 360, could you have had all of the games ready for backward compatibility?
Todd: No matter when we were complete, testing would have taken place closer to ship because we're using the final hardware to individually hand certify each game.
Xbox.com: How often will you update the emulation profiles for each game? For example, if a bug is found with the Halo 2 emulation profile will you release an update/fix?
Todd: This is where our extensive testing process comes into play. Sure, it takes us longer to get the games out there, but we have the benefit of knowing that each game will feel and play like it should. Now, I'm not saying that all of our games will be completely bug free, but the probability is definitely less. Of course, if there is a problem, we'll handle it in a timely manner.
Xbox.com: By what date do you plan to have all original Xbox games backward compatible?
Todd: We're continuing to work hard to certify as many original Xbox games to work on Xbox 360 as possible; we'll be adding to the list regularly.
Xbox.com: What criteria do you use in choosing which Xbox games will be backward compatible on Xbox 360? How far back into the Xbox game library are you going to go?
Todd: When we say Xbox library, we mean the entire Xbox library. This ranges all the way from our launch in 2001 up to games that haven't even shipped yet. As we've said before, we prioritized the top-selling titles and those games with a large Xbox Live following for launch, and we're going deeper into the portfolio every day.
Xbox.com: Can you tell us whether we can play localized Xbox games on Xbox 360?
Todd: All games are still region encoded and can only be played in their native regions.
Xbox.com: Thanks, Todd!