Getting older video games running on newer consoles may seem like a simple idea: the new boxes are faster, so older, weaker games should just work, right? Things never quite work out that way, especially when the architecture changes dramatically between console generations, which is why we̵
Microsoft’s engineering team has already received hundreds of previous games to work with the Xbox One family (and beyond). Now engineers have broken ground on a completely different vision for backward compatibility: making games from the past, especially the scary base Xbox One, render more fluid on Series X / S. This new feature, called “FPS Boost”, is particularly interesting because it requires zero code updates injected into older games.
Do not remasters; more like ReShades
Unfortunately, Microsoft’s announcement of the feature on Wednesday fails exactly how it works. Instead, it leaves the storytelling to the frame analysts at Digital Foundry, who got exclusive dibs on the story. In a Wednesday video that breaks down how the feature works, John Linneman confirms that Xbox series consoles, while processing older game codes, can “send data back from Direct3D [a longstanding API used in both Xbox consoles and Windows games] to the game faster than the original [consoles] did. “
As a result, all internal game logic continues to render with the original target frame rate, but the important things for 3D frame rate performance, from animations to camera movements, can get a frame rate increase without breaking the underlying game. Linneman reports that this does not happen with game code modifications or INI adjustments. During the broadcast, Richard Leadbetter of Digital Foundry throws himself into comparing this with the PC gaming ecosystem to mods, especially popular finishing injector modes like ReShade, which fans often use on PC versions that are unattended by the creators (cough, cough, NieR: Automata).
Digital Foundry’s video joins us at Ars Technica in raising a serious eyebrow at how this feature is rolling out: in the form of five relatively low-profile games, all from the Xbox One generation. The following boosts below apply both Series X and Series S consoles.
- UFC 4 (increases from 30 frames per second to 60 frames per second)
- The Super Lucky’s Tale (from 60 frames per second to 120 frames per second)
- Far Cry 4 (from 30 frames per second to 60 frames per second)
- Watch Dogs 2 (from 30 frames per second to 60 frames per second)
- Sniper Elite 4 (from 30 frames per second to 60 frames per second)
Three of the listed games never received an Xbox One X compatibility update, and FPS Boost does not affect the resolution. Thus play as Watch Dogs 2 and Far Cry 4 continue to operate with basic Xbox One resolutions while getting a boost in frame rate. Still, the results are impressive when it comes to a “set-it-and-forget-it” patch to increase the fluidity of older games (and keep the amplified frame rates locked and smooth) without breaking anything.
(UFC 4 is a bit more confusing when it comes to boosts, so I will quickly clarify: the existing version offered a 60fps mode with lower resolution on Xbox One X and was locked to 30fps on base Xbox One. Now both Series X / S have access to 60 fps mode, while Series X can get up to 1800p resolution with that frame rate.)
None of the above games have been formally released by Microsoft, which can be a powerful game to impress fans that these updates may soon appear for some older games, long without updating original publishers – although Linneman confirms that Microsoft has tried to make on-the-go games for errors introduced by this injection process. Still, if the $ 299 Series S is ready to take advantage of such boosts at lower rendering resolutions, a larger FPS Boost ecosystem will make the value proposition even greater for anyone less interested in pixels and more interested in pure performance per dollar.
These updates are set to roll out today across Xbox series consoles, while new PR game series with visual switches will roll out “this spring” according to Microsoft. This menu includes FPS Boost, Auto-HDR, and according to Linneman, perhaps other options such as anisotropic filtering.
As Linneman and Leadbetter pointed out, Microsoft had already hinted at plans to update the frame rate for existing software, in particular Fallout 4 (a game that Microsoft now technically owns publishing rights to, thanks to the acquisition of Zenimax / Bethesda). But FO4 did not appear in today’s presentation, and it is unclear whether the frame rate plans require a full rewrite of the code, or whether Microsoft will take advantage of this clever FPS Boost trickery. Exactly how many more games can see upgrades remains unclear, beyond a promise to “reveal more FPS Boost games soon”, and we have yet to hear any promises about FPS Boost possibly coming to the Xbox 360 or OG Xbox game.
But it’s hard to imagine Microsoft building system-level peas on such upgrades and then just upgrading, such as a dozen older games. So we look forward to more frame rate updates coming.