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Some video game systems can play games made for another system. This works without porting the games. It's like a system inside a system.

This feature may provide backwards compatibility, so that a newer system can play games from an older system. A new console or handheld would play not only its launch titles, but also the older games. Another reason is to enjoy handheld games on the big screen, or the other way, to play console games on a handheld.

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There are a few ways to make this work:

  • Extend the hardware in a compatible way, like how the Atari 7800 can play Atari 2600 games.
  • Put hardware from the old system in the new system, like the Game Boy Color chips inside the Game Boy Advance.
  • Use an adapter, like the Super Game Boy.
  • Just run an emulator.

See also Game Within a Game.


Examples:

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     Apple  
  • The Apple IIGS was backwards-compatible with its predecessor, the Apple II, even though it was a 16-bit computer. As with the OS/2 mentioned below, it's believed that the ability of the computer to run software for the older machines in the Apple II family discouraged native development. This caused a chicken-and-egg scenario where people didn't buy the new computer because there was little software that took advantage of its features, and people didn't develop for the new computer because it didn't sell well. It didn't help that it was hobbled by a slow processor. The IIGS was ultimately overshadowed by the more powerful Macintosh.
  • macOS is based on Unix, and Apple released a version of Unix on the Mac called A/UX in the late '80s and early '90s, but the company also offered the Macintosh Application Environment for Sun and HP workstations in the mid-90s.
  • Apple released an Apple IIe card for certain mac models, mainly the LC series, designed to get Macs into elementary schools that were still mainly based on Apple II computers.
  • The Apple Macintosh has endured changes requiring backwards compatibility.
    • With the move from 68k to PowerPC processors, macOS gained a 68k emulator. PowerPC Macs were able to run 68k programs, and programs that mix 68k and PowerPC code. The emulator was generally faster than a 68k Mac, but 68k code was slower than native PowerPC code.
    • Mac OS X, versions 10.0 through 10.4, used the "Classic" emulator to run Mac OS 9 programs at full speed (though this includes waiting for Mac OS 9 to boot inside Classic). To avoid this emulation, there were also "Carbonized" apps that run in both OS 9 and OS X (without Classic).
    • Intel Macs, running OS X 10.4 through 10.6, use the "Rosetta" emulator to run PowerPC programs. (Sorry, Rosetta didn't run Classic.) OS X Lion 10.7 can't run Rosetta.
    • During the era of Mac OS 7, Apple made a DOS Compatibility Card with a 486. Later, OrangePC made similar cards. These NuBus or PCI cards had a 486 or Pentium and booted DOS or Windows. These cards were so expensive, that a whole PC might be cheaper. Later, emulation became feasible (on faster processors like the PowerPC G3), and emulators like Virtual PC appeared.
    • Modern Macs can use Boot Camp to dual-boot macOS and Windows, similar to how PCs can dual-boot Windows and Linux with a bootloader.

     Atari  

  • The Atari 2600 wasn't able to play any other console games nor had the hardware for it. However, A LOT of other consoles of the time had the entire hardware of the 2600 (emulation was still unfeasible):
    • The Atari 7800 uses the same hardware to play both 2600 and 7800 games.
    • The Colecovision had an add-on, the "Expansion Module", allowing the user to play Atari 2600 games.
    • The Intellivision II also had an add-on, and many other, less-known consoles had ways to play Atari 2600 games.
  • Recently, the Atari VCS has stated that apart of include Smart TV features and new games from this generation, Atari 2600 hardware is part of the VCS with almost all games already added into the console.

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     Microsoft  

  • Xbox 360 is backward compatible with most of the Xbox games (like the 80% of the games aprox.) A complete list of which games are compatible or not (and their specifications) can be seen here and here.
  • By popular decision, Microsoft decided to repeat the same formula and make Xbox One also backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games. And now, Xbox Original games are compatible with Xbox One.
    • One of the features mentioned in the new Xbox console for 2020 (called by now as "Project Scarlett") is to continue with the backward compatibility with the Xbox One games and the previous two consoles.
  • In a What Could Have Been example, there were conversations between SEGA and Microsoft about getting Dreamcast games compatible with the Xbox, in a time SEGA still had the rivalry with Nintendo. Sadly, the conversations didn't end well, with the two companies disagreeing on how the Dreamcast's online features would be implemented, and the idea was ditched. However, SEGA went in good terms with Microsoft and developed some exclusive games for Xbox, like OutRun 2, Shenmue II and Jet Set Radio Future, the last 2 sequels from the Dreamcast.

     Nintendo  

  • First came up the Super Nintendo Entertainment System which, through the Super Game Boy adapter, was able to use Game Boy cartridges in order to play them on the TV and even enhance them as some games included colour data exclusively for this use.
  • The Game Boy Color stayed compatible with the first Game Boy, and was able to play old games like Tetris (or play Tetris DX in color). Conversely, certain Game Boy Color cartridges could be played on the original Game Boy, albeit stuck in monochrome (with some even having special features for Super Game Boy compatibility); these cartridges resemble typical Game Boy cartridges, but typically come in black instead of gray. Game Boy Color-exclusive carts, meanwhile, are translucent and rounder in shape.
  • The Game Boy Advance included the entire hardware of the Game Boy Color inside, thus allowing it to play both Game Boy and Game Boy Color games in addition to GBA ones. There's the ARM processor for new games, and the Z80 processor for old ones. This system also allowed to play the games stretched in order to fit the wider GBA screen. Multiplayer worked in old games, if you used the old link cable, not the new GBA link cable.
  • The next adapter was the Game Boy Player for the GameCube. This one was as good as a GBA, playing single-player Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games, all on the TV. (Don't confuse it with the Nintendo GameCube-Game Boy Advance link cable.)
  • Keeping up with its predecessor, the original and lite variants of the Nintendo DS had a GBA cartridge slot as well as most of its hardware. This played single-player GBA games (but not older Game Boy Color games). The GBA slot also enabled other features in specific DS games, mostly Pokemon ones. The slot and hardware of the GBA were removed in the DSi and the DSi XL.
  • The Wii is Nintendo's first home console to be completely backwards compatible with its older sibling, the GameCube: it had all of its hardware, controller ports and memory slots, enabling near-perfect compatibility with GameCube titles. GameCube games can't use Wii remotes or storage, so you did need a GameCube controller and (if you wanted to save) a memory card. Super Smash Bros. Melee is just as great on the Wii as on the GameCube (the Wii doesn't have the GameCube's High Speed Port, so you can't use the Game Boy Player on the Wii; you also can't use any GameCube network adapters, so the very few GameCube games that go online can't do so from the Wii).
    • The Wii also introduced Virtual Console, which downloads and emulates games from old consoles. This even included some non-Nintendo consoles. The 3DS and WiiU have their own versions of Virtual Console.
  • The Nintendo 3DS plays DS games (and DSiWare) with no problem.
  • The Wii U keeps Wii compatibility but loses GameCube compatibility. Wii game discs, Wii remotes and so on still work, but you can no longer use GameCube controllers in Wii games.
  • More concerned to piracy, various hackers have modified the Nintendo Mini consoles (NES and SNES) to be able to load other games than the ones already charged as well to run other consoles in their system (the most known case is PlayStation games running in a NES Mini).

     PC  

  • Thanks to the enormous processing power of modern computers, emulators for PC exist for all consoles up to the sixth generation, albeit with varying degrees of compatibility and requirements. For more information, see our Emulation page, and Emulation on The Other Wiki. If that's not enough, you can run multiple operating systems on the same machine through multi-booting and virtualization.
  • Windows supports old 16 bit applications on all 32 bit editions. They also support all old 32 bit applications on 64 bit systems. They even include a pile of hacks to mask bugs in old applications. And that's just the support for compiled applications.
  • OS/2 could run Windows applications, though this backfired spectacularly after IBM and Microsoft split in the early '90s. Because software developers could target Windows and OS/2 users just by writing a Windows app, very few people developed OS/2 programs.
  • WINE (WINE Is Not an Emulator) allows Unix-like systems to run Windows programs. Its status in the Linux community is controversial because some users believe it discourages native Linux app development as OS/2's Windows compatibility did, but its proponents argue that WINE can attract more users to the platform.
  • Going to the Windows side, Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) allows developers to run native Linux binaries on Windows by translating Linux system calls into equivalent Windows system calls. Before that, the open source Cygwin implemented an API to allow Unix-like programs to be compiled into Windows binaries.
  • One of the reasons that Linux vaulted ahead of other free Unix clones in the '90s has been the Linux community's emphasis on interoperability. It's always been very easy to install Linux and keep using Windows through dual-booting. This meant that Linux users could still use mainstream applications along with the powerful Unix toolset.

     Sega  

  • The Sega Genesis AKA Mega Drive had the Master System's hardware inside but not its cartridge slot. Thus, the Power Base Converter, essentially a passive adapter for Sega's previous-generation system, was made to allow for backwards compatibility with practically all of the Master System's librarynote . This gave Sega bragging rights over Nintendo's Super NES, which earned the ire of parents who were displeased by the fact that they had to buy a new console that is essentially incapable of running games from the previous one.
  • The Sega Game Gear (which hardware-wise was pretty much a handheld Master System) had a so-called Master Gear Converter, allowing its owners to play Master System games on their Game Gear but without FM sound.
  • In addition to being able to play its own library of 32-bit games, the short-lived Sega 32X adapter is compatible with Sega Genesis games.
  • A notable example is Bleem!, a commercial PlayStation emulator released by The Bleem Company in 1999 for IBM-compatible PCs and Dreamcast. The latter, most known as "Bleemcast!", was allowed to play games from PS1 into a Dreamcast, having some public releases as Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo 2 on the SEGA console. This was expanded when hackers leaked a Bleemcast! beta, so more games were adapted to Dreamcast, even years after the console was discontinued and The Bleem Company ended.

     Sony  

  • Early SKUs of the PlayStation 3 came with the Emotion Engine (CPU) and the Graphic Synthesizer (GPU) from the PlayStation 2, allowing to play PS2 games on the console; this was shortly removed in later units and replaced with software emulation of the PS2 hardware, which had issues running some games. Eventually, all PS2 compatibility was left out for later models. Though PS1 software emulation is supported across all models.
  • The PlayStation 2 was not only able to play PlayStation games, thanks to including that system's processor (which wasn't removed due to PS2 games using it for sound processing), but also you were able to use your PS1 memory cards & joysticks.
  • Though the Playstation Portable can't fit PS1 discs, it can run PSOne Classic games from a built in emulator.
  • After many years being outnumbered by Microsoft in every of their Xbox consoles and after years of petitions, it was stated that PlayStation 5 will be backwards compatible with PS4.

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     Other  

  • Due to Google's lenient submission policies, along with the platform's open nature, more than a dozen emulators for popular consoles and computers are available on the Play Store. Though considering how Sturgeon's Law applies to pretty much the whole Play Store catalogue, Shovelware and all, only a few of these emulators are either completely original works or directly ported from their desktop equivalents without any adware thrown in.
    • Which is in stark contrast to Apple's restrictive policies for its App Store, which basically kept unofficial emulators from even showing up at all. This didn't keep savvy people from resorting to sideloading or using Cydia on jailbroken devices though. And it's pretty much the same case with the Microsoft Store too. Some did manage to smuggle an emulator by masquerading the application as an unrelated program, but we all know what happened afterwards.
  • Do you know Ben Heck?? If you do, you already know what he has done. If you don't, check his website. He has made up tons of custom consoles like an Atari 2600 with a PlayStation 2 inside.
  • In Minecraft, it is entirely possible to build your own working computer. However, such computers are far too primitive and slow to play games from any existing system.
  • The FC3 Plus plays NES, SNES and Sega Genesis games all with the same console. Also the Retro-Bit company, known for their consoles as the RetroDuo and RetroTrio.
  • Decades after these consoles were released, retrogamers discovered Dendy and similar famiclones have their game cartidges compatible with Famicom (aka Japanese NES) and vice versa. So, you can play Famicom games in a Dendy or other famiclone, as well you can play Dendy's pirated games on a Famicom (or a NES with a FC-to-NES adapter.)
    • One of the most famous famiclones, the "Creation" (seen mostly in Latin America and in Spain under the name of "Yess") is compatible with NES cartridges and controllers, being known as the "poor version" of the NES.
  • Because Unix-like systems are easy to port to new hardware and many of them are open source, they've been ported to almost anything that's Turing-complete. The portability champion is the NetBSD project, via a strict separation of machine-dependent and machine-independent code. Their slogan is "Of course it runs NetBSD." NetBSD's license allows developers to keep their changes private, in contrast to the GPL. This makes it popular with embedded systems developers. It's even been ported to a toaster.
  • Newer Chromebooks have the ability to run Android apps, and some models are able to run standard Linux applications.
  • The Commodore 128 was compatible not only with the Commodore 64, but also with CP/M, though it was well past its prime when the 128 was released.
  • Intellivision announced that with their new console in 30+ years, the Intellivision Amico, will include the complete library of the original Intellivision console apart of 20 reimagined games incorporated to the console.


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