“Classic” consoles, tiny, re-packaged versions of 80s and 90s game machines, are a popular trend in gaming. But Sony took an expedient step for the PlayStation Classic: using an emulator that its fans have been developing for years.
Kotaku spotted the open-source license for PCSX ReARMed in a recent hands-on look at the new PlayStation Classic. That’s an ARM (mobile hardware) re-release of the PCSX emulator that PC gamers have been using for almost two decades to play classic PS1 titles on PCs. Because the emulator uses the GNU General Public License, it can be re-packaged and included in other software, like the popular RetroArch omnibus emulator. And it can even be included in a retail product, as is the case with the PlayStation Classic.
This is an interesting development if you’re a fan of emulators and ROMs. Big game publishers and console makers have historically been wary of the fan emulation scene, with reactions ranging from disapproving to outright hostile. (The kind of “classic” machines lining store shelves have been made by fans themselves using emulators and ROMs for years.) While game companies using emulation for older titles is nothing new—indeed, emulated games in published products have been around for decades—this is the first time we’ve seen a major publisher rely on open-source software to emulate classic titles instead of using its own proprietary solution. In contrast to Sony’s new machine, Nintendo’s NES Classic and SNES Classic use proprietary emulators to run old 2D games on low-power, inexpensive hardware.
Sony using a popular open-source emulator indicates that it recognizes the great work that’s gone into the PCSX project and its various offshoots and forks. Or, if you’re feeling cynical, it just didn’t want to spend money developing its own solution when there was a free, legal one ready to hand. There’s another bonus here, too: with the PlayStation Classic running open-source emulator software, it should be relatively easy to add extra titles beyond its 20-game library if you feel like some after-purchase modding.