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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.
  • Run a virtual machine.
  • 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. Coleco also sold a standalone 2600 clone, the Gemini.
    • The Intellivision II also had an add-on, and many other, less-known consoles had ways to play Atari 2600 games.
    • The Atari 5200 also had an add-on module for Atari 2600 games known as the CX-55 2600 Adapter. This rather clumsy add-on contained the entire 2600 hardware on board including 2 extra controller ports for the otherwise incompatible DB9 joysticks. Further complicating matters is the fact this adapter only works on later 2 port units and not the original 4 port consoles without being modified. This caused Atari to start scraping the 4 port consoles until one of their service engineers by the name of Gary Rubio discovered the simple mod to correct the issue.
  • Recently, the Atari VCS has stated that in addition to 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. If it ever makes it to market.
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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 select Xbox 360 games. And now, select Xbox Original games are compatible with Xbox One. And on the mid-gen Xbox One X, select Xbox 360 games and all original Xbox games run with increased graphical resolution without altering the game code.
  • One of the features mentioned in the upcoming Xbox console line for 2020, consisting of the Xbox Series X and Series S, is to continue with the backward compatibility with the Xbox One games and Xbox One compatible games from the previous two consoles, with the exception of games that use the Kinect accessory.
  • 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 data exclusively for use on the Super Game Boy such as custom color palettes. More extravagant but seldom used features include SNES quality music tracks and in one special case A port of Space Invaders contains an entire SNES port of the game on the Game Boy cartridge that will only work when inserted into a Super Game Boy. Nintendo later re-released the Super Game Boy as the Super Game Boy 2 in 1998 exclusively to Japan which added a link port and fixed an issue with the original where games ran at 2.4% faster than normal due to the clock speed being divided by the SNES' clock and not the Game Boy's.
  • 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 ARM7 processor for new games, and the Z80 processor for old ones and to act as a sound processor. (Although very few if any games used the Z80 in this fashion and instead used the faster ARM CPU for software audio mixing) 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.
  • A seldom known series of adapters known as the WideBoy 64 was developed by Intelligent Systems for the Nintendo 64 for game developer's and journalists to test games on a TV and make it easier to take screenshots. The first revision supports Game Boy and Game Boy Color and the second revision added GBA support. Finding one nowadays for a reasonable price is a game in and of itself.
  • The next adapter was the Game Boy Player for the GameCube. This one contains the entire GBA hardware, playing single-player Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games, all on the TV and much like it's predecessor several GBA games had enhanced features when used on the Game Boy Player such as less washed out color palettes and rumble support for the controller. (Don't confuse it with the Nintendo GameCube-Game Boy Advance link cable.) The only GBA games that refuse to run are the Game Boy Advance Video series of cartridges due to concerns from Nintendo people would record the high quality video's with a VHS or DVD recorder.
    • Datel (The manufacturer of the GameShark and the Action Replay series of cheat devices) released their own GBA adapter known as the Advance Game Port. This would plug into the Memory Card slot of a GameCube and use a disc containing a software emulator to run GBA cartridges plugged into the Memory Card slot adapter. (It does not support either Game Boy or Game Boy Color cartridges) This perculiar setup also meant it was forward compatible with the Wii although the quality of the emulator is questionable at best.

  • 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 bar the Z80 CPU. 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 Pokémon ones, where it enabled players to bring Pokémon from the GBA games into the DS installments. The slot and hardware of the GBA were removed in the DSi and the DSi XL.
  • Given that the Wii was not inaccurately described as "Two GameCubes duct-taped together", it was fairly trivial for Nintendo to implement full backwards compatibility. This was achieved with a compatability layer known as MIOS which lowered the Wii's CPU and GPU clock speeds down to the GameCube's original speeds and limiting the available amount of RAM as well as patch any problematic games before launching them. The Wii has four GameCube controller slots and two memory cards located on top of the console, and these were required - GameCube games on Wii did not support Wii Remotes or Classic Controllers. On the plus side, though, GameCube controllers could be used with a multitude of Wii games - annoyingly, though, the actual Wii menu itself didn't come with support, forcing the use of a Wii Remote just to start the game. It also lacks support for the Game Boy Player and broadband adapter. In spite of these flaws, the Wii is still generally a preferred option for playing GameCube games today, due to the Wii itself being dirt cheap, component cables for GameCube being very rare and expensive, and it being much easier to pirate games on Wii compared to GameCube.
    • 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. Every 3DS also has the ability to run GBA games through a hidden software layer known as AGB_FIRM used for the Ambassador Titles and custom injections on homebrewed system's.
  • The Wii U keeps Wii compatibility using a similar method as it's predecessor 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. The Wii U has a seperate 512MB NAND memory chip for Wii save data and downloadable titles.
  • 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.
    • Valve Software has taken this further by incorporating a WINE-based subsystem right into Steam on Linux. Called Proton internally and "SteamPlay" in marketing, it allows a ridiculous number of Windows games to run with minimal issues and minimal user involvement. A growing number of games are even "whitelisted" as being guaranteed to work out of the box.
  • 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. WSL 2 even uses an actual Linux kernel. It's possible to launch Linux and Windows programs from each other's command lines. 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.
  • When using Wayland (a new display server protocol for Linux and other Unix-like systems that aims to replace X), apps still using X can run using the Xwayland compatibility layer.
  • Similar to Wayland, the XQuartz project allows macOS to run X11 applications. Apple previously developed a dedicated X11 app for this, but stopped development in favor of the open source XQuartz. As most graphical Unix applications have native macOS ports, it's more useful for accessing X programs on a remote server using SSH.
  • There are several X servers available for Microsoft Windows, though like on the Mac they're more useful for running X11 apps over SSH. It's possible to use them with Cygwin or Windows Subsystem for Linux.
  • Versions of Windows NT through Windows 2000 had the ability to run OS/2 applications, though only in text mode without some additional software.
  • 64-bit Windows 10 running on ARM is compatible with 32-bit x86 applications using emulation.
  • Applications written for middleware like Java or Flash Player are generally guaranteed to run on any platform that has a working copy of that middleware installed. This is how Video Game/Minecraft was able to have working Mac and Linux ports from day one. You could even play Flash games on the Wii through its built-in web browser (and, presumably, still can, provided they were made for Flash Player 7 or older and are still online).

     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 Play Station 2, allowing people 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. Later on PS2 and PSP software emulation was added for use in the downloadable PS2 Classic's and PSP Mini's.
  • The PlayStation 2 was able to play PlayStation games thanks to including several of its system's processors; Namely the main R3000 CPU which was used as the I/O processor and the SPU which was used for sound processing. The GPU was emulated on the PS2's Emotion Engine. You could even use PS1 controller's and memory cards without issue although the original memory cards are needed for saving game data as the PS2 memory cards were incompatible (PS1 games can't write to them.) Later Slim models replaced the IOP processor with a custom PowerPC based chip known as Deckard which not only reduced PS1 game compatibility but PS2 game compatibility as well.
    • Sony had also planned downloadable PS1 games in Japan through the Play Station Broadband Navigator; A complete overhaul of the system's OS and the predecessor to the Play Station Network including web portal browsing, emails and enhanced save data and title management for the optional internal HDD or an external USB 1.0 HDD. Only one game was released by Konami under the ID of SLBB-00001 but included a full software emulator of the PS1 that was feature complete. It was speculated to have been removed from the service in 2004 due to the emergence of various HDD loader's like HD Loader and the growing homebrew scene coupled with the oncoming Slim revision lacking hard drive support. Said homebrew community discovered this emulator years later and modified it into POPStarter to install PS1 games to a hard drive. This emulator was later recycled for the PSP and it's PS One Classic's series.

  • Though the Playstation Portable can't fit PS1 discs, it can run PSOne Classic games from a built in emulator known as POPS.
  • The Play Station Vita contains the PSP's R4000 CPU for playing downloadable PSP games. the Media Engine GPU, DSP and security co-processor's are all done via software emulation.
  • After many years being outnumbered by Microsoft in every of their Xbox consoles and after years of petitions, it was stated that the 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.
  • The Sega SG-1000 and ColecoVision both share the same off-the-shelf hardware, and while neither console could run games made for the other system under normal circumstances, a clone console called the Dina 2-in-1 can run SG-1000 and ColecoVision games, though compatibility with the latter is spotty at best due to the lack of a second numeric keypad; the sole keypad is integrated to the console itself making keypad-intensive games a chore to play. It is clear that Bit Corporation made the Dina with SG-1000 compatibility in mind due to it being a popular console in Taiwan, with ColecoVision support being more of an afterthought. A company called Telegames marketed the Dina in the U.S. as the Personal Arcade, only advertising the Colecovision capability and ignoring the SG-1000 functionality, as that system was never released in America.

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