Backwards compatibility can be a sore subject for fans of the PlayStation 3. What was initially a shining promise of lasting support for the gamers' libraries of aging titles evaporated as Sony culled the legacy hardware from their consoles. And emulation is often considered an illicit topic, dripping with forbidden nectar. What rarely comes up is that the PS3 has always utilized software emulation to support original PlayStation titles. While backwards compatibility for the PS2 was cast out, PSOne was retained.
It's doubtful that the above elicited anything so dramatic as shocked gasps. The only reason I noticed was a recent Metal Gear Solid 4 playthrough caused a craving for MGS. Having never owned a PlayStation prior to its third iteration, and with Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance not compatible with the Xbox 360, I was jonesing.
Then, this article inadvertently saved me from scrounging through used games shops. The original Metal Gear Solid, amongst nearly fifty other titles, can be purchased from the PlayStation Store. Sweet relief, thy name is digital distribution! After forking over $9.99 (!) for a twelve year old game, I got my fix.
MGS holds up surprisingly well graphically. It shows its age, but the quality is apparent. The emulation plays the title just as it was in 1998. But if you've been following emulation recently, you've probably seen that not only can software replicate older game hardware, it can improve upon it. Particularly, the fantastic, open source Dolphin emulator can run GameCube and Wii titles at custom resolutions with anisotropic filtering and antialiasing. Given a beefy enough machine, one can play Wii games in HD.
What we can hope for in future console generations is greater utilization of hardware virtualization technology to allow more extensive software emulation of older consoles. Nintendo is already behind this move with their virtual console, although titles must be repurchased. Combined with games on easily supported optical media, current generation games need never be unsupported. Perhaps the NeXbox and PlayStation 4 will run full fledged virtual devices to play your games of yesteryear with improved graphics.
No, I will not try to guess what Nintendo will call their next console.