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Sony Files Patent for Modifying Emulated Games

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Posted on January 3, 2014 AT 01:00pm

Sony has filed a patent for modifying content in games when they’re being emulated remotely, presumably for use with the Gaikai cloud service headed to PS4 and Vita sometime this year.

The patent application was originally filed in June of 2012, but it was only made publicly available yesterday on the US Patent Office website, where it was discovered by NeoGAF user Rösti.

Once you strip down all the technical jargon, the paper essentially describes a method for creating new challenges in older games by modifying certain constraints—say, the time limit in a race or the amount of health you have in a particular boss fight. The process for accomplishing this is relatively straightforward: a piece of software known as the “snapshot generator” effectively boots up the emulator, sends a list of button presses to the game, then caches a save state when the proper conditions have been met. To put it an even simpler way, this technology would actually play games to run down the time limit or lose a bunch of health, then save.

Because the process used to modify the game doesn’t appear to involve any new code being executed, it should be applicable to a wide variety of titles—but the changes will be fairly limited in scope. The specific process described here could never be used to generate truly new content like additional levels or enemies, just slightly remixed versions of scenarios. That limitation is reflected in the text as well, which frequently refers to these modifications as “minigames.” In fact, the best touchstone for this might be a watered-down version of the Wii U’s recently released NES Remix.

And while the patent itself seems fairly straightforward, there is one piece of text that might hint at something more intriguing. Among a list of specific implementations of the tech—PlayStation games being emulated on Vita, PS2 games being emulated on PS3—Sony lists the PC as a hypothetical “target platform.” There’s every likelihood that this language is just designed to make the patent as far-reaching as possible from a legal standpoint, but it does raise an interesting point. If Sony’s cloud-based emulation can work on any Internet-connected platform, there’s no reason they couldn’t offer it to PC gamers who might be willing to shell out money for emulated PS1, PS2, and PS3 games but don’t have a PS4.

Josh Harmon, Associate Editor
Josh Harmon picked up a controller when he was 3 years old—and he hasn't looked back since. This has made him particularly vulnerable to attacks from behind. He joined EGM as an intern following a brief-but-storied career on a number of small gaming blogs across the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @jorshy. Meet the rest of the crew.

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