The Unanswered Questions of the Steam N2O Release -Updated-

A long time ago, back on the original PlayStation, there was a neat little tube racer/shooter called N2O: Nitrous Oxide. It was a solid little game, not exactly a classic but certainly memorable, fast and colorful and shooty. Then time passed and N2O got lost in the used bins, and eventually, not even there as shelf space was made for the next three generations of PlayStation games. Now N2O is back, released as the first commercial emulated game on Steam, and brings with it a load of unanswered questions.

Initially the questions were about the emulator, PCSX-R, but those were quickly cleared up when Console Classics lived up to the promises of the GPL license of the software. After releasing the source code on request and adding the necessary information to the boot-up screen everything is cool on the emulator front, aside from some nitpicking about Steam DRM, but that still leaves a few questions about Sony. Specifically the BIOS necessary to run the emulator and the code libraries included on the original release of the game. If either of these are still there then the game has bigger problems than clearing up the license issues of the emulator running it.

N2O
It’s important that N2O was released in the correct way, not just to put Console Classics in the clear but also for the potential to see other great, lost PS1 games given new life. Console Classics has a pile of games it plans to release this way, some good and others of a more questionable quality, but the PS1 library was immense.  It would be fantastic if a developer could license an emulator, do appropriate bug testing, and give Skullmonkeys a new lease on life, or Lunar/Lunar 2, Silent Bomber, No One Can Stop Mr Domino, or any number of other dusty old great games.  There’s a lot of excellence in the old library that deserves better than to be left behind.

But it has to be done right, and this is the part that we don’t have enough information about quite yet.  There’s a non-Sony HLE BIOS that isn’t quite as compatible as the official Sony one, and it’s not assuming too much to guess that it’s the one N2O uses.  That’s still an assumption, though, (-Update- Not an assumption, there’s no Sony BIOS in there) and there’s always the question of whether that solution is versatile enough for all the other games Console Classics hopes to release.  A thornier question is that of the software libraries that allowed the game to run on a PS1, which might as well be abandonware except that “abaondonware” is a made-up word that doesn’t have any legal bearing on who owns and grants the rights to use the software.  The software library was called Psy-Q, made by Psygnosis and used by everyone creating official PlayStation games.  It’s in the programming of every PS1 game out there, and while different games may have varying amounts of Psy-Q depending on how much is needed, every game has part of it in there somewhere.  And that’s a problem.

PsyQ
Nobody needs to be the copyright police, or get all upset on Sony’s behalf.  The problem isn’t concern that decades-old software (the original version was from 1994) is being distributed without a license, but that if lawyers start paying attention, then it’s hard to know what will happen to that game you bought off Steam.  Do you get to keep it in your library if N2O gets pulled?  Will the Steam refund work if you buy it now but the game gets yanked in six months?  N2O is currently $3.74 thanks to a release sale, which isn’t enough to make me worry too much about losing it, but those little purchases can add up quickly as the PS1-Steam library grows.  It’s great to see Console Classics taking this path to saving forgotten pieces of gaming history, and I’m rooting for them to see success from it, but until the legality is properly explained it may be best to watch what happens from the sidelines.

Disclaimer: We sent Console Classics an e-mail but never heard back.  If we get a statement then the article will be updated with the details.

-Update-

Got an answer a few hours after this went up, because that’s how these things work.  In response to “…I’ve got a couple questions I was hoping you wouldn’t mind answering. It’s not about the emulator, because that seems to be sorting itself out, but rather the bits involving Sony code. Specifically, how the BIOS is being worked around and if the PS1 code libraries were removed from the source.”  (edited for length).

The response from Console Classics- “We don’t use any Sony BIOS in our releases and are very mindful of getting permission and agreements with the rights holders of all titles we will release. We’re still gathering titles for future release from a vast worldwide library of classic games and are very excited to be on Steam. Thanks for reaching out!”

So no Sony BIOS, but no word on if Sony’s development libraries were removed from the parts of the game that need them.