The new console generations are always as exciting as they are somewhat disappointing. While there’s no doubt that the hardware always has a lot of room to stretch its legs, the lack of launch titles is pretty much just accepted at this point. This is where backward compatibility can come in to save the day but for the Xbox Series of consoles, the software goes a step further.
The saving grace, and a new and bold step forward, comes with the adoption of the Series X and S Developer Modes. This is a special setting that users can apply to their systems which allows devices to run test software. While retail games cannot be played in this mode, the two Retail and Developer settings can be toggled fairly easily.
Of all the many different developments and test programs available in this mode, the one we’re interested in is an emulator framework called RetroArch. This framework acts as a collective program to manage and automatically download dozens of specific emulators through components called cores.
These cores allow users of RetroArch to play games from more than 50 different systems, from major devices like the PlayStation 2 to lesser-known consoles such as the Bandai WonderSwan. While the RetroArch platform has been popular on PC and other custom devices for some time, with Xbox we have the first-ever acceptance on a major console without the need for hacking.
Why Care about Emulators?
The strength of emulators ties into the idea of creating as large of a library as possible. By allowing access to ROMs, or files of entire games, these emulators can bring literally more than 10-thousand older titles to the Xbox systems. Not only that, but given the power of the Series X and S, RetroArch on these systems can run the vast majority of titles without processor-bound slowdown.
In interactive entertainment, a more common illustration of this idea could be found in the online casino market, with hundreds of games located in a single, streamlined space. Spread over slots, roulette, baccarat, live games, and more, this same principle of choice has been crucial to driving growth. Most of these libraries never age into obsolescence, meaning they avoid the generational death than the console can imply. With emulators now freely available for the first time on major consoles, similar advantages could now hold.
As history has shown, this abundance of choice has been the backbone of driving some major industries in the internet age. Streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, for example, have seen enormous success through letting people watch vast libraries of TV and movies on demand. The same can be said for Spotify, which occupies a similar position in the musical space.
the Xbox Series X and S can now run PS2 games, thanks to the RetroArch emulator. It runs surprisingly well for emulation software, too. It’s a work in progress at the moment, but it looks super promising https://t.co/YmwO0NWB0D pic.twitter.com/OjHXQtpPfs
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) December 2, 2020
While some have suggested that the allowance of RetroArch might have been an accident on Microsoft’s part, we believe otherwise. Historically and with the current generation, Microsoft seems to be the console developer most interested in creating as vast a library as possible. Sony has gone for exclusives, Nintendo adopted the way of the hybrid, and this, we would bet, is where Microsoft has placed their chips.
For people who own new systems, or those looking to enter the new console generation, the adoption of emulators in this way could be a game-changer. Whether you grew up with games like Chrono Trigger on the SNES, or only now get to experience them for the first time, in terms of raw library, nothing has ever come close to the potential now unleashed.