Microsoft finally finishes its PowerPC emulator

Look what the nerd brought to a gaming conference


E3 2015 Microsoft kicked off this year's E3 gaming conference by announcing that its x86-powered Xbox One console can now play games built for the PowerPC-based Xbox 360.

The Windows giant took center stage at the Los Angeles Convention Center to announce that its latest console will run games that are available for its predecessor. The biz claims soon more than 100 Xbox 360 games will be playable on the One – you can find the initial list here.

Microsoft didn't say exactly how the 360 emulation will work, although it has been working on it for some time ("It turns out to be hard to emulate the PowerPC stuff on the x86 stuff. So there is nothing to announce, but I would love to see it myself," Microsoft exec Frank Savage told last year's Build developer conference.)

The hardware in the two machines are not similar: the 2013 Xbox One uses a custom 64-bit x86 chip based on the AMD Jaguar architecture, while the 2005 360 relied on a 64-bit IBM Xenon PowerPC processor. The x86 and PowerPC architectures are not compatible, so some emulation is needed to get games running.

(The Xbox One has an AMD Radeon-class GPU, as does the 360, so supporting graphics code written for the 360 on the One shouldn't be a huge problem for Microsoft.)

Game developers do not need to change any code for their 360 titles to run on the One, we're told: popping in a 360 disc or downloading the title from the Xbox marketplace should be enough to run it on the XB1.

We assume Xbox One owners will need to install a firmware update containing the new emulator. We wonder how well it will perform, too.

True backwards compatibility has become a rarity with modern consoles. Sony attempted to offer it with the PS3 by equipping early models with two different processors, but the feature was soon abandoned.

While the competing PlayStation 4 is not backwards compatible with the PS3, some older PlayStation titles are available for the new console via Sony's streaming Playstation Now service.

If playing old games on the Xbox One is not a selling point for you, Microsoft also rolled out new options for its experimental Hololens headset. The heavily guarded prototype device will now play Minecraft, the block-by-block world-building game.

Redmond also announced a push for third-party VR headsets, touting its controller deal with the Facebook-owned Oculus, and announcing a deal with Valve to help develop the studio's games for VR headsets running Windows 10. Gamers will also be able to buy a new Xbox Elite controller, an input pad featuring additional buttons that can be mapped for specific tasks in each game.

Finally, Microsoft shed light on an upcoming crop of games exclusive to the Xbox One and PC. Those include Halo 5, Gears of War 4, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. Redmond also touted the non-exclusive releases of Fallout 4, FIFA 16 and Madden NFL 16. ®

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