The Magic Secrets Of The XBox 360 Emulator

by on 06/23/2015

Ever since Microsoft announced they’d cracked the nut of backwards compatibility on the XBox One, people have wondered how. The two systems had completely different hardware, one running on PowerPC and the other on x86. You can mimic the other chipset through emulation, but it takes a ton of processor power, and today’s consoles are so complex that it’s only recently that someone got a PS3 emulator for PC running (and barely at that).
Most people have been assuming Microsoft wrote individual emulator code for each of the 100 games planned for backwards compatibility so far. That’s not the case. Phil Spencer, XBox Boss, revealed the secret on Giant Bomb’s E3 podcast: it’s really one solid emulator that’s running those games. The list is just reduced to 100 because that’s the current number of 360 games that the XBox 360 emulator works with. But that number will increase as they tweak it, he assures.
“The approach that we’ve taken is to actually emulate the full Xbox 360 hardware layer,” Spencer said. “So the [operating system] for the 360 is actually running when you run the game. If you watch the game’s boot you’ll see the Xbox 360 boot animation come up. From a performance standpoint it allows [emulation] to work. We’re able to get frame by frame performance equivalents. [Xbox Live] thinks you’re on a 360, so people have been asking ‘hey, why are you playing Mass Effect on the 360?,’ I was actually playing on the Xbox One.”
Phil points out that because the XBox 360 emulator thinks it’s a machine, and the XBox One thinks the emulator is a game called “360,” compatibility can go beyond what backwards compatibility is usually capable of. XBox 360 games can now utilize features introduced with the One, such as streaming and screenshot-taking.
There is one element of the 360 that cannot be emulated, and that is Kinect. “There’s some caveats, and as always I like to be as transparent as I can be on this: Kinect games won’t work from the 360, because translating between the Kinect sensors is almost impossible.” I bet you’re all disappointed.

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