Two Major Features Every Retro Game Service Needs

If you like old games, life is good in 2013. We have digital access to a wide library of retro titles ranging from NES classics to random Japanese imports like Makeruna Makendo 2. Services like the Virtual Console and PlayStation Network allow us to re-play old games without rummaging through our closets for the Super Nintendo cables.

But as convenient as they are, these platforms could use some improvements. And as we continue to hear about the next PlayStation and the next Xbox — codenamed Orbis and Durango, respectively — I hope that console-makers Sony and Microsoft take at least a little bit of time to improve the way they let us play old games.

Here are two major improvements that could significantly enhance retro gaming.

Fast Forward

While I have nothing but respect for anybody who wants to play old games as they were created, there's nothing worse than feeling like I'm wasting my time. And when my PS3 is emulating an old game like Xenogears — which is excellent, but so full of slow-moving text that playing it is like reading a book over a ten-year-old's shoulder — I just can't stomach 70 hours of sluggishness. There are many other offenders on older systems: while the PS1's loading times may have been more tolerable in 1998, today they're inexcusable.

This week, thanks to the big Final Fantasy sale, I bought FFIX on PSN to play on my Vita. I wanted to play it again with fresh eyes.

The problem with fresh eyes is that you suddenly start to notice problems that you forgot about over the years, like the ridiculous random encounter rate and the 5-10 seconds it takes for the "disc" to load before each battle even starts. I put "disc" in scare-quotes because, remember, there is no PS1 disc. This is an emulator on my Vita running the game.

Since I don't expect Square Enix to dig back into Final Fantasy IX's code to optimise it for a new machine, how about a fast forward button to let me zip through those loading times like I can if I use an emulator on my computer? It'd be easy to implement and ridiculously convenient for some of those slower moments that we'd all like to forget about.

Save States

Have you ever seen a tool-assisted speedrun? They can be ridiculously fun to watch, and none of them would be possible without save states, which is why speedrunners tend to use more legally dubious emulators for their impressive feats.

Save states are like bookmarks — you can use them to set up a save point anywhere and call it up again any time. This is a powerful tool, of course. When you can save and reload until you get the results you want, it's easy to abuse the hell out of your video games. "Oh, 50% chance of hitting my target? We'll see about that."

In other words, save states let you cheat. But they also make old games significantly more approachable. Most NES games have antiquated or convoluted save systems that don't hold up when we're used to modern gaming conveniences like auto-save and frequent save points. Almost all Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games limit you to three or four save files at most, for memory-saving purposes. On the PS3 or Wii U, that's not really a problem.

So bring on the save states. While some retro services have a "suspend" option that lets you create a temporary bookmark while you go off and do something else, it's usually deleted as soon as you load the game back up. A looser system would do wonders.

It's the little things, really. Little conveniences like fast forwards and save states can make the difference between an amazing experience and a mediocre one, as anyone who's played an old game on an emulator can attest. The PSN and Virtual Console are both great starting points — now let's see some improvements.

Picture: PseudoGil/Flickr


    The NES emulator on DS has fast forward and rewind. Only way I finished Mega Man 2 and Ghost and Goblins

    Save states yes if they are optional which they always are.
    Fast forward is unneeded though. If you don't want to spend time in a game, don't play it.

    Fast forward is so essential, I bought a heap of ff games during the PSN sale but I can't stand the idea of playing through certain parts without frameskip.

    Just hunt for a PS1 at pawnbrokers and the like. A hellova lot of them were chipped, and it's a good chance you will get one that is. (Ebay as well) Then you can play Thunderforce 5 & 6 YEAHHHHHH! At full speed too. Though a chipped PS2 is the thing for you Serrels - then you can use the 'fast loading' feature, to get rid of the X2 spin rate of the PS1. And am sure some crazy coder has made a Turbo Boost program for the PS2 as well, that gets you even quicker load times! (haven't checked much up on the PS2 modding scene yet - besides the basic modding). Even better. Mod an Xbox1 with XBMC - the PS emulator I use runs virtually any game at full speed, str8 off the HDD!
    Softmodding an Xbox1 is pretty easy really, and here's a great tutorial (the best)

    But yeah, there is no reason Sony cannot build a perfect PSone emulator for the PS3, considering they would have the Design Documents...

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