Xbox One team "built a virtual Xbox 360 entirely in software" for backwards compatibility

Kareem Anderson

Image Credit: Xbox Youtube

When news broke about the Xbox One receiving backward compatibility in the coming months, much of the internet erupted with joy. Microsoft was awarded praises from on-the-fence console buyers as well as from previously frustrated Xbox 360 users. While the overwhelming majority of feedback was positive about Microsoft’s new announcement, not everyone took to the news with such blind enthusiasm. Competitors questioned whether or not profits would warrant such a taxing endeavor. Others, rightly asked how Microsoft planned to achieve the fantastical feat of bringing games over from an entirely different architecture.

Microsoft was sparse with details surrounding its backward compatibility announcement at during its E3 keynote. Perhaps, learning a thing or two from its recent disastrous E3, Microsoft opted not to weigh itself down in details. Keeping things light and quick paced, Microsoft glossed over the announcement and quickly moved onto another topic. Still, many gamers, computer engineers, and journalists were left scratching their heads, as to how Microsoft would get old Xbox 360 games onto the new hardware.

Eventually, the Xbox One team came clean about the use of emulation during subsequent interviews and presentations at E3. For anyone who may have missed the details about the new emulator program for Xbox One during E3, Xbox front man Larry Hryb sat down with Bill Stillwell of the Xbox Platform team to discuss the details of backward compatibility. According to Bill, the Xbox team “built a virtual Xbox 360 entirely in software. And then we take the old 360 games put them in the emulation program that is built into Windows 10.”

When clicking on the guide, users are met with the same guide options as they had on the Xbox 360 console. In addition to the familiar 360 guide interface for migrating Xbox One users, users can also take advantage of the Xbox One’s new features. Former, Xbox 360 users can now use voice or controller input to do things like snap picture in picture or start a recording using the new Kinect. Also, since the Xbox One is running an emulator, the Xbox 360 achievements are kept with the emulator, but cloud saves can link to various accounts on multiple platforms. If a gamer has saved achievements on a game from Xbox 360, those achievements carry over without any need to retain them again on the Xbox One. 

Image Xbox YouTube

As for digital vs. disc, the Xbox One will automatically pull digital titles through gamers Xbox Live account on the Xbox One. Disc compatibility is a bit more nuanced. Since the entire program is running off an emulator, Microsoft needs to verify each game for stability and feedback. What this means is that as of right now, only Microsoft approved games will be able to read old 360 discs. Fortunately, for gamers, Microsoft is committed to offering a hundred or so titles when backward compatibility is more widespread. Microsoft also mentioned that as the month goes on, Xbox One users should expect more titles to be released.

Larry gets to the heart of this walkthrough when asking, “why can’t you just enable every game, right off the bat?” Bill explains that since this version of backward compatibility relies solely on software manipulation, utilizing specific hardware features like USB peripherals, or Kinect pose technical difficulties. However, beyond those limited issues, “the only thing that stops us, is getting the legal permissions for things like licenses that may have changed over time, or whatever the case may be.” Bill does clarify, while waiting for individual 3rd party license agreements to clear, Microsoft will initially be pushing all first party titles into the program.

Lastly, Bill and Larry reiterate that backward compatibility on the Xbox One is free. Currently, Xbox One Preview members can test out the new program now with general availability  happening sometime later this year. According to Bill, the Xbox One team will initially add titles to the program based on popularity, the number of current active users and fan feedback. So visit the new dashboard to let the team know which Xbox 360  games you would like to see come to the Xbox One.