AD came across a sketchy but tantalizing Twitter rumor this week. We would normally just skip over it, but a few factors gave us pause, so let's talk about it.
Video game podcaster and streamer KMEGA 405 posted an image of original Xbox and 360 titles that were supposedly in the queue for future backwards compatibility support. People were quick to point out that there are some suspect titles on the list, such as games with complex licensing arrangements, but Wing Commander Arena jumps out near the top of the list. That alone is very unusual. Most of the games on the list are fairly popular, so Arena stands out as a relatively unknown. Not to mention: Microsoft stopped adding games to the backwards compatibility catalogue in back in June 2019. And without any further evidence, that's where we would have left it.
If the rumors are true about BC is making a return to Xbox then here is a list of games that is rumored to drop.
There's a few points to keep in mind. Between 2015 and 2019, some 600 original and Xbox 360 games were made playable on Xbox One. And if you go back and read the press release, they technically stated that no new games would be added to backwards compatibility on Xbox One as they focused on the transition to Xbox Series S/X. Furthermore, they actually teased that someday thousands of games from all four Xbox generations (original, 360, One and Series) would eventually all be playable on the same future machines. And they actually announced a new form of backwards compatibility back in March where a handful of original and 360 games would be playable via Xbox Cloud, which is a virtual Xbox interface available on PCs/Macs, Android/Apple devices and the consoles themselves. Additionally, Microsoft has been heavily hyping the 20th anniversary of the Xbox platform this year, and the formal milestone arrives next month.
So if you’re like me, you’ve been hoping the backwards compatibility program isn’t done. Good news! It’s not. We should be a getting new batch later this year. Mix of OG and 360.
The evidence continues to mount: almost ten games that weren't part of the original backwards compatibility program recently popped up in the digital Xbox store with a November 30 release date. They've since disappeared, but obviously something is going on. It seems increasingly likely that Microsoft is making preparations to start adding more games to its backwards compatible library roughly to coincide with the brand's 20th birthday.
Will Wing Commander Arena make the cut? Previously Microsoft had indicated that there was some small amount of work necessary to port or prep the games to work on the newer systems. More recently, they've developed automatic enhancements that increase the resolution or frame rate on certain vintage games without the developers needing to go back and recode anything. If they were truly going to roll out support for thousands of games, potentially without needing any involvement on the developers' behalf, there's a real shot at Arena being scooped up in that net.
And why do we care? This could be a big deal for our niche group of diehard Wingnuts. Arena launched in 2007, but the transition to the Xbox One in 2013 led many fans to shelve/sell/get rid of their 360s. A lot of fans I talk to don't actually maintain a machine capable of playing the game anymore, so existence on modern consoles would automatically reopen the door to a huge audience once again. If it were playable on phones, tablets and computers, the market becomes even bigger. And if it came with resolution or frame rate boosts, that would be a bonus. Even if that part's just wishful thinking, there are a bunch of quality of life improvements that would make Arena instantly superior on modern systems. The act of ending a game and launching a new one with a group of players was always a little clunky, even in the game's heyday. Xbox now supports parties where people can much more easily group up, play and chat together. There are also native screenshot, video recording and streaming abilities, which would make it much easier to share Arena content across the internet. Controls have been improved with the ability to easily remap or adjust inputs or use adaptive hardware. And it would just mean that this one gem, which relies on Xbox Live to exist, is far less likely to disappear and be lost to the gaming abyss.
Arena wasn't for everyone, but we had a lot of fun unlocking ships and assaulting cap ships together. This all might still be a long shot, but it feels a lot closer today than at any point in the last five years. And stranger things have happened: Arena was finally released in Japan in 2019!