On As Many Platforms As A Game Can Stand
Soul Calibur 2 box designs for game systemsWhen it comes to publishing movies, music, and games, the matter of what format it gets published on really matters to those who own various formats for enjoying such.  Music has had a long enough history of different recording and playback formats for the mass market to consume, which includes phonograph records of various sizes and speeds, reel-to-reel tape, cassettes, 8-track cartridges, compact disks, and the recently-used MP3 computer file format among others.  Movies have enjoyed a much shorter history of ownership among the general public since very few people actually had film projectors for showing movies in their own home, but nonetheless the late 1970s and the 1980s brought forth recorded videocassettes in various formats in addition to laserdiscs in various formats, with only the VHS and the big record-sized laserdisc being the most-commonly used and marketed, and now the DVD format is making its way into homes with the same level of penetration as VCRs did in the 1980s.  With so many formats being used for enjoying music and/or movies in our own solitude and leisure, it can be unnerving at the very least when something we want to listen to or watch isn't available on the format we desire it to be on.
With videogames, however, the problem of finding a game on the format we want to play it on is made even worse by the fact that videogame formats are in a constant state of change (the switching from cartridges to compact disks and to DVD-ROMS just being a small part of that change), and that companies would rather develop competing formats for profits than really have one solid format that could be used for all kinds of gaming.  Then again, videogames aren't like music or movies in that there could even be a single format that could handle everything from the most ancient game program to the latest and greatest.  Videogaming seems to require the programming and the technology of the format being used for specific games to run on the system it's made for, whereas movies or music could theoretically be put onto any kind of format made for movies or music with very little being lost in the process.  To expect an Atari 2600 to run a game made for a system that can manipulate so many polygons per second, for example, would require a whole lot more than what the technology of that system from the late 1970s could realistically handle.
Imagic Atlantis box designs for Atari 2600 and IntellivisionSo with the absence of there being a single standard videogame format in mind, software publishers have resorted to the practice of what's called "multi-platform publishing" or "cross-porting", making a single game being available for different formats of videogaming.  In the early days of videogaming, when the Atari 2600 was just being released and personal computers for the home were being developed, such a thing as "cross-porting" was unheard of.  Companies that didn't have the rights to a certain game they wanted to publish on their own system ended up making them into variant clones that went under different names.  Space Invaders, for example, which Atari got the license for publishing on the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit personal computers, would be refashioned as Space Armada by Mattel for Intellivision, Alien Invaders-Plus! by Magnavox/Philips for the Odyssey 2, Astro Battles by Bally for the Professional Arcade, and a whole host of other names.
Atarisoft gamesThen came 1982, the year when game companies would start to make games for more than one system, even for other manufacturers' systems.  Imagic, which was made up of former Atari and Intellivision game programmers seeking recognition for their work, published Atlantis, Dragonfire, and Demon Attack for both the Atari 2600 and Intellivision systems.  Activision, which previously developed games for the Atari 2600 outside Atari's control, entered into the "multi-platforming" market with Pitfall! and Stampede for the Intellivision late that year.  Coleco made the boldest statement of all in this area by publishing games (mostly coin-op translations) for the Atari 2600, the Intellivision, and its own ColecoVision system.  By 1983, Mattel had its M Network label for bringing Atari 2600 adaptations of its Intellivision games, and Atari introduced Atarisoft with the grandest ambition of having Pac-Man, Centipede, Defender, and Galaxian being playable games on a wide assortment of personal computers and game systems.  As far as a single game title that had the biggest reach across gaming formats in that era of classic gaming was concerned, Bill Hogue's Miner 2049er, which was a Donkey Kong clone made for the Atari 800, was wildly popular enough to merit "cross-porting" to a variety of consoles and computers by various publishers such as Micro Fun, Reston Software, and Tigervision.
Genesis Batman: The Video Game box designHowever, "cross-porting" eventually hit a wall during the Nintendo generation of game systems of the late 1980s, when Nintendo had prevented its licensed third-party software developers from publishing the same games made for the NES on other systems by at least two years, while Sega simply forbade third-party companies from publishing Master System games under their own labels (with the exceptions being Parker Bros., Activision, and Absolute Entertainment).  Well, at least that was the rule in the revived American gaming market -- the Japanese owners of the same two systems (called the Famicom and the Mark III, respectively) saw some games that ended up being on both systems.  Sunsoft, for example, released versions of Batman: The Video Game for the NES, the Genesis, the Gameboy, and the TurboGrafx-16 -- yet only the NES and Gameboy versions came to market first here in the United States while the Genesis and  TurboGrafx versions were only made available in Japan for Mega Drive and PC Engine owners (Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, respectively).  By 1991, Nintendo's policy about "cross-porting" games made for the Nintendo-made systems had changed, allowing for at least the Genesis version of Batman to finally be made legitimately available to the American public, and also allowing the big-time publishers of Nintendo gameware like Acclaim to make their great NES, Super NES, and Gameboy games for other systems as well.  What it didn't change, however, was Nintendo's or Sega's desire to not "cross-port" their own developed games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend Of Zelda, or Sonic The Hedgehog for other systems, keeping them restricted to the systems they personally developed and manufactured, and forcing software developers to come up with games that cloned the action of the popular restricted titles without being outright clones in the process (NEC's Neutopia and Neutopia II for the TurboGrafx-16 being Legend Of Zelda copies, for example).
Atari 400/800 Miner 2049er box designThere are good arguments on either side of the issue of "cross-porting" games.  Those who favor the idea of having the same game being made available for multiple systems feel that a good game should not be restricted to just one or a few game systems, even if some versions have special features that other versions don't have, such as in the case of Namco's Soul Calibur II one-on-one fighting game having a special system-designated bonus character like Link from Legend Of Zelda in the Gamecube version, the superhero Spawn in the X-Box version, or Heihachi from Tekken in the Playstation 2 version.  On the other hand, those who disfavor multiple-system released games feel that having all games being available in this fashion robs game systems of their uniqueness in the area of offering game experiences that other systems can't adequately match -- according to their perception of the issue, that is.  The Gamecube right now is the only system on the market that can use a handheld game system, the Gameboy Advance, as an alternate or additional controller for games specifically made for those two systems hooked up in tandem, offering separate viewscreens for each player.  The X-Box uses a built-in hard drive that can do more than just save games for players, such as the game Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic has proven.  The games made to use these system-specific features may also be difficult or impossible to translate to other systems that don't share these features.
Whether side you happen to be on, however, "cross-porting" games for multiple formats will be a mainstay for as long as companies see profitability in making multiple formats for gaming and games that can only be played on certain formats.  But one can only wonder how long this will last with increasing advances of technology that would make the need for incompatible gaming hardware obsolete?

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