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The Story of the PS2’s Backwards Compatibility From the Engineer Who Constructed It | by Tom James

The Story of the PS2’s Backwards Compatibility From the Engineer Who Constructed It | by Tom James

2023-02-26 02:46:40

Because the PlayStation 2 turns 20 in Japan on March 4, adopted by Europe and North America later within the yr, recreation retailers of all stripes will undoubtedly be trotting out lists and retrospectives commemorating probably the most culturally vital and profitable consoles to ever be produced. Though a lot of that spotlight will doubtless be centered on the various distinctive and various video games that helped make it such an ubiquitous pressure, it shouldn’t be forgotten that one of many system’s different key pillars that helped gasoline its success was its backwards compatibility with the overwhelming majority of the unique PlayStation’s library. This function, which had beforehand been confined largely to Nintendo’s portables and a few of Sega’s earlier methods, helped provide a way of continuity between {hardware} generations that was not often seen within the console area up till that time, giving the PS2’s beginning lineup the type of head begin that the competitors might solely envy. It was a legacy that may persist by way of all of Sony’s subsequent methods in various capacities till the PlayStation 4, when Jim Ryan famously quipped to Time “[Why] would anyone play this?” in dismissing shopper demand for such know-how.

Oh, how instances have modified, and shortly, at that.

For sure, since then, Sony’s perspective has modified because of Microsoft making backwards compatibility with the unique Xbox and Xbox 360 a serious promoting level for the Xbox One, with each corporations committing to it in some type for his or her subsequent consoles. These efforts, in fact, all needed to begin someplace, and for Sony, it lies with a former engineer you fairly doubtless haven’t heard of: Tetsuya Iida. Iida’s story is a outstanding one, having been given the accountability of growing the PS2’s backwards compatibility just some years after being employed and whereas nonetheless fairly contemporary in his occupation. In 2018, he wrote a series of posts [Edit: As of 2020, these posts are now hosted elsewhere here.] detailing the harrowing and largely solitary journey he undertook in bringing the function to life and it’s my pleasure on the twentieth anniversary of the PS2’s Japanese launch to share my translation of them. Whereas the majority of the content material stays as he introduced it, together with the photographs used all through, just a few sections have been touched up with further factors of clarification that he generously supplied after I contacted him with questions. It’s additionally been evenly reformatted to movement as one steady put up, relatively than 5 distinct ones, because it was initially introduced.

In any case, it’s my private honor to share this largely forgotten, but massively vital story at a time when backwards compatibility and recreation preservation usually are extra vital than ever each culturally and academically. Whereas the underlying idea could not have been invented by the PS2, Iida’s work was actually a big catalyst in popularizing it within the mainstream consciousness of gamers, retaining that historical past alive and accessible past the comparatively complicated realm of PC emulation on the time. With out his direct contributions, hundreds of PS1 video games would have been denied a second likelihood at life in a brand new millennium and the business could have taken even longer to study its previous very a lot so has a spot in each its current and its future.

Tom James
Japanese-English Translator

By Tetsuya Iida

It was 1996 once I first joined Sony Laptop Leisure as a part of the second wave of newly graduated hires on the time. Again then, I believe SCE’s analysis and growth staff was made up of all of round possibly 50 folks, with Ken Kutaragi standing on the helm whereas guys like me have been on the very backside of the ladder. If I keep in mind appropriately, I used to be employed simply after it had been introduced that Sq. entered the ranks of Sony’s third celebration builders. Across the time that Last Fantasy VII was popping out, I had an opportunity to observe the cutscenes for it and, like lots of people, vividly recall the shock at seeing Aerith meet her premature demise so dramatically…

I consider my first job after becoming a member of SCE was to program a video converter of types that may take a film file and apply filters to it. That additionally occurred to be the primary program I ever wrote professionally. The factor is, once I entered the staff, I used to be most likely the least helpful member out of everybody there. I’m not exaggerating once I say that, both. I had no actual electrical engineering expertise to talk of by any means and I didn’t even know find out how to boot up Home windows 3.1, not to mention find out how to write any applications. Even now, I can’t assist however surprise what folks at Sony noticed in me after they determined to rent me.

Fortunately, I received the possibility to learn to program computer systems because of a coaching program that the corporate ran. The fabric was simple for me to understand and I got here away from that coaching feeling like I might program absolutely anything. After I used to be performed with that coaching, I did lots of odds and ends. I used to be put answerable for all the pieces from inspecting CD emulators to mannequin knowledge converters, libc, and extra. It was within the midst of that work, round 1998 — no less than, I believe it was round then — that every one of us in that division have been briefed on the following era PlayStation {hardware}.

After that time, the analysis and growth group was break up into two groups. One staff clearly continued to concentrate on the then-current PlayStation {hardware}, whereas the opposite one set their sights on the following era. I knew that I, for one, as somebody who at all times likes experiencing new issues, needed to work within the latter staff. I believe I interviewed to hitch them as a result of I recall later being particularly assigned to it, one thing that actually excited me.

As soon as I used to be introduced onto the PlayStation 2 staff, I used to be given the duty of constructing PS1 video games play on the brand new system. Again then, it was regular in your outdated video games to not be capable of run on newer consoles, however SCE needed to buck that development, which I assumed was forward-thinking of them. Given how I had solely been with the corporate for just a few years at that time, too, I used to be actually happy that I used to be allowed to work on one thing so vital.

When this determination to make the PS2 backwards appropriate with PS1 video games had been made, the plan was already for the PS2 to reuse the principle processor on the PS1 as an enter/output processor for the brand new {hardware}. The catch, nevertheless, was that not one of the different {hardware} from the PS1 was, at that time, going to be included, that means that the remainder of it must be emulated with software program. Having been concerned with the software program engineering aspect of issues up till that time, it was as much as me to jot down the emulator for the PS1’s SPU, or its sound {hardware}.

The PS2’s sound chip is structured into two elements: the core and the digital sign processor. A senior member of the staff who labored particularly in sound engineering tackled the emulation work on the DSP aspect, whereas I centered my consideration on the core. To that finish, we took up store in a room arrange for us at a subcontractor and secluded ourselves as we set to work writing the required programming. There have been no home windows inside that room and I keep in mind usually arguing with the opposite engineer whereas we labored. It wasn’t all unhealthy, although, as we turned actually shut mates on account of that point collectively.

I don’t keep in mind fairly how lengthy we’d been working, however sooner or later, all the pieces was upended unceremoniously. Because it turned out, the PS1’s sound chip was going to be included as a part of the PS2’s internals in any case, that means that every one of our work was thrown out of the window.

The SPU emulator that we had been writing was rendered ineffective, leaving our roles up within the air because the adoption of the PS1’s sound chip didn’t come on the expense of the PS2’s personal new sound processor. We speculated about what would come subsequent, like, say, doubtlessly writing take a look at vectors for that new sound processor. My subsequent task, nevertheless, got here as an enormous shock.

Particularly, I used to be put answerable for emulating the PS1’s graphics processor, a request that completely baffled me. Another person was already presupposed to be taking good care of that and once I requested what was happening, I used to be informed that they have been quitting the corporate and that it was on me to select up the place they left off, no ifs, ands, or buts. Suffice it to say, after doing sound work up till that time, switching gears to the graphics aspect of issues was fairly the shift. However that didn’t finally matter, as I wasn’t given a lot of a say someway. Prefer it or not, I needed to settle for the order, even when the entire ordeal was nothing in need of complicated.

That’s to not say that I assumed it was going to be an unattainable hill to climb, nevertheless. In my thoughts, I view emulators as a type of converter in and of themselves, ones that primarily take orders designed for outdated processors and translate them into ones that the brand new goal processor can perceive and execute. In that sense, even when sound and graphics {hardware} have their justifiable share of variations, ultimately, they’re each nonetheless essentially sending instructions. All an emulator is doing is altering the form and movement of these instructions. As long as an emulator is absolutely examined, it ought to all work out ultimately, even when that’s clearly the actually powerful half in follow.

By the point that I inherited the GPU emulation work, the earlier particular person in cost had fortunately already laid down a fundamental framework, so I didn’t have to start out utterly from scratch. My first order of enterprise was to due to this fact rise up to hurry on the GPU specs for each the PS1 and PS2. After that, I set about implementing lacking features as I initially tried to concentrate on reprogramming the PS1’s GPU instructions.

The primary PS1 recreation that booted up within the PS2’s emulator was Ridge Racer. As a launch title for the PS1, it felt fairly profound that out of all of the video games within the system’s library to be chosen because the very first goal to rise up and operating, it was Ridge Racer that was chosen for that honor. I contemplated the importance of it being a primary of types as soon as once more for the PS2 as I turned the system on.

That being stated, the preliminary outcomes have been hardly excellent, to place it very, very kindly. The race queen who seems initially of each race, as an illustration, was rendered as a mosaic relatively than a correct sprite. Plus, once you’d full a lap, the display turned pink. Nonetheless, I used to be simply happy to see the sport operating in any respect. Even when the one factor that was really being emulated was the GPU, that’s once I knew it was going to be doable to attain PS1 backwards compatibility on the PS2 with that stage of software program emulation.

Early within the morning on March 2, 1999, I used to be standing behind the stage curtains on the Tokyo Worldwide Discussion board, the place the PlayStation 2 was going to be formally unveiled to the world later that day on the PlayStation Assembly 1999. My function was to carry out a stay demonstration of the console’s backwards compatibility with the PS1 as soon as the performance was introduced throughout the presentation.

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I had been on standby because the evening earlier than to organize for the occasion. A number of months had handed since Ridge Racer first booted up and progress on the GPU emulator had come a great distance. Quite a few PS1 video games have been now capable of run on it, with Crash Bandicoot: Warped being the perfect of the bunch. For that purpose, it was chosen as the sport to indicate off the PS2’s backwards compatibility. There was just one downside: typically it froze in emulation.

It goes with out saying that there’d be massive bother if the sport locked in the course of the demo in entrance of such a big viewers. Sadly, I hadn’t nailed down what was making these freezes to occur. All I might determine was that so long as Crash saved transferring, the sport remained steady for no matter purpose. Figuring out that, I stayed awake all evening, endlessly enjoying the sport on growth PS2 {hardware}. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone on this endeavor, as I had one different particular person available to assist play by way of the sport with me. The gameplay feed in our monitor was additionally arrange such that it could possibly be proven off on the massive display on stage throughout the convention with the flick of a change. As you would possibly anticipate, I screwed round with that change and had a enjoyable time with it. As for why we merely couldn’t begin enjoying the morning of the announcement, that was as a result of there was an opportunity the emulator itself wouldn’t load and there wouldn’t be sufficient time to repair it proper then and there. Consequently, as shocking as it would sound, it was due to this fact logistically safer to easily maintain the system operating all evening as soon as it had booted up.

Fortunately, we made it by way of that evening with out incident. The system stayed operational as the massive present was approaching that day. It could’t be understated how vital of an occasion it was, both. Sony CEO Nobuyuki Idei himself was in attendance to supply his assist. Tech demos have been rolled out that confirmed off the facility of the PS2’s Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer. From behind the curtains, I didn’t have an amazing view of what was taking place, however I might inform that individuals have been undoubtedly responding to it and cheering. Every part was going in keeping with plan. Then, quickly sufficient, it was time for the backwards compatibility reveal.

Consider it not, I truthfully don’t keep in mind a lot of what occurred in that second. The plan throughout the Crash Bandicoot demo was for me to play the sport as regular, leaping over obstacles and continuing deeper and deeper into the stage. However when it got here time to play the sport in earnest, I actually struggled with it and saved operating into one specific impediment within the stage I simply couldn’t get previous. From there, my reminiscence is a whole clean. I can’t inform you whether or not I managed to get my act collectively or not.

Evidently, although, issues appeared to pan out all proper ultimately as a result of the announcement was greeted with applause regardless of my unhealthy exhibiting of it. All informed, the occasion was an amazing success.

The PlayStation 2 was finally launched in Japan on March 4, 2000. Work on the PS1 emulator was principally accomplished round New Yr’s, if I’m not mistaken. Ultimately, there have been a handful of video games that simply wouldn’t run correctly, leading to us compiling a public blacklist of PS1 video games that gamers wouldn’t be capable of play on the system.

After the Japanese {hardware} launch got here those in North America and Europe, whose respective PS1 video games the emulator naturally additionally supported. Proper earlier than their releases, I went to Sony’s American and European places of work to help with debugging work, which was the primary time I ever went overseas. The PS2 finally wasn’t one hundred pc backwards appropriate with the PS1 again catalog, however it however supported practically all of it. Once I look again on it now, that task might be a very powerful one I’ve ever had in my profession.

Ken Kutaragi set a excessive bar for us at his staff, telling us to at all times measure the standard of our work primarily based on whether or not it was actually the very best in school globally. Once I take into consideration what I’ve performed in my very own lifetime that meets that objective, the very first thing that involves thoughts is the work I did on the PS1 backwards compatibility. That’s how proud I’m of it.

To be completely clear, I couldn’t have presumably performed it alone and had lots of people assist me alongside the way in which. Ultimately, if it hadn’t been me who pulled it off, anyone else would have. Regardless, the very fact I used to be capable of see such an enormous challenge by way of to the very finish is one thing I take nice pleasure in. I can solely hope I’ve one other alternative to do one thing comparable once more in my lifetime.

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