Meet Implicit Conversions, The Company Bringing Classic Games To Switch, PS5 And Xbox 1

Robin Lavallée has been in the game industry for a long time but traces his love for gaming back to when his father bought him a TRS-80 computer when he was nine.

"I started programming and never stopped,” he tells Time Extension. "I learned to program in C and, as a teenager, made multiple games and various mods for Doom-like games. I worked on a Final Fantasy II (IV) port for PC and a puzzle game named Chicken Little, based on Puyo-Puyo, with my friend Jacob Stine. This game and its demo won us a prize and helped land my first commercial job at Ubisoft."

While at Ubisoft, Lavallée worked his way up to director and worked on many popular franchises such as Prince of Persia and Heroes of Might & Magic. Following other jobs at Frima, Twitch and Meta, Lavallée has now settled into his role as CEO at Implicit Conversions. The company develops emulation software that enables old classics to run smoothly on modern consoles.

"I’ve always wanted to resurrect retro games," Lavallée explains. "There are too many forgotten games that are just completely lost nowadays, usually due to legal and hardware reasons. Also, even with quality-of-life improvements, setting up those old consoles can be complicated on modern televisions. It became clear that we needed a simple solution to emulate classic games on new consoles. This is where the SYRUP Engine came from. It’s named after the wonderful Maple Syrup that we enjoy in Canada. I have a sweet tooth."

Meet Implicit Conversions, The Company Bringing Classic Games To Switch, PS5 And Xbox 2
Robin Lavallée (left) with Jacob Stine (right) — Image: Robin Lavallée

"SYRUP allows developers to interface retro games with modern consoles like the PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch," reads the company's site. "Its architecture handles display, audio, controls, network, and add-ons, like trophies. It consists of multiple emulators - modified to be lightweight 'plugins'. It optimizes for reusability of the front-end features and portability of emulator plugins."

We asked Lavallée how the technology works and how it is different to other emulators available already. "Open-source emulators already exist, but they have various levels of quality and robustness for production-level games. When you emulate a console game, you can’t expect the user to tweak through multiple configuration settings to find the best experience. So, we aim to make it easy to use."

Implicit Conversions’ SYRUP Engine has also helped overcome some of the issues surrounding legal emulation that can be stifled by not owning the original hardware BIOS. "We reverse engineer the BIOS and write a new compatible version," says Lavallée. "We also use a High-Level Emulated (HLE) BIOS which is another rewrite of the BIOS but without implementing all its parts. This enables us to avoid implementing some of the code that was necessary for the old console hardware."

It's not just issues around emulating the old hardware on new consoles that Lavallée needs to solve, as the games also prove challenging to emulate. "Another issue is with Software Development Kit (SDK) libraries embedded inside the original ROMs," he says. "We developed tools that replace these libraries so the copyrighted code doesn’t remain on the ROM. The final issue is performance and how consoles cannot use JIT (Just-In-Time) techniques like a PC can. To solve this, we use Ahead-Of-Time (AOT) compilation that generates machine code for the target, such as Xbox or PlayStation 4, and this enables us to run games at 60 FPS."

Lavallée hopes these techniques help publishers bring down the cost and time it takes to emulate back catalogues successfully. He also hopes his work will open the market of bringing officially emulated games to new audiences and possibly help clear up legal wranglings around which company owns rights to certain games and software.

Implicit Conversions has worked on many titles since its launch and Lavallée points out some of the highlights as well as the challenges his team has overcome. "Some of my favourites are Jet Moto, Grandia, The Legend of Dragoon and several Star Wars games. We also built a great relationship with Namco and were proud when Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny and Tekken 6 came out. Valkyrie Profile was a challenging game as it required lots of tweaks to get correct. There were changes needed to upscale textures and the movies were improved using AI to insert missing frames. Finally, the game used lots of features of the PSP system software that other games did not, so there were tons of bugs to fix as well. The result is awesome, though!"

Meet Implicit Conversions, The Company Bringing Classic Games To Switch, PS5 And Xbox 3
"SYRUP allows developers to interface retro games with modern consoles like the PlayStation 5 or Nintendo Switch"

Currently, the team are working with Sony to bring PlayStation 1 titles to PS5, and we asked Lavallée how the relationship came about. ""My co-founder and friend, Jake Stine, worked on PCSX2, the PlayStation 2 emulator, before becoming an employee of Sony PlayStation to work on PS2 games for PS4. After he left, we reached out to Sony to start an experiment to do more emulation. One contract led to another, and we started hiring people to help us in this adventure. I like to say that we started this as a project, and it became a company by mistake."

The feedback from gamers has been positive, and Lavallée explains what it means to him. "It’s always fun when we work on a game and see reactions from the community. People are usually excited about the games when they get released. It’s always great when I see someone’s favourite game being re-released. It’s especially fun when we see the community asking for a game that we know will be released in the future!"

And speaking of the future, where does Lavallée see his work heading? "We would like to scale our engine enough so that other developers can use it, like how developers are using Game Maker, Unity and Unreal to make games. I want Implicit Conversions to be part of creating this new market and helping build it."

Lavallée sums up why he wants to continue emulating old games and why today’s gamers are still interested in playing old games. "The great thing about old games is that they are already made. There is no question about if the game is good or not. All the effort has already been put into the product. It’s like re-printing a book, the content is already there, and the effort to write it has been made. All we need is to repackage it, update some of the rough edges, and republish it!"

Editor's note: A previous version of this feature suggested that Implicit Conversions is currently working on bringing PS2 games to PS5. We've reached out for clarification on the matter and have been told that the company cannot "confirm nor deny" that PS2 games are coming to PS5.