Implicit Conversions: Bringing yesterday’s classic games to today’s consoles

Friends brought together in their teens by their love for Final Fantasy, Robin Lavallée and Jake Stine have created Implicit Conversions to develop emulators capable of running classic games on modern consoles. 

Their collaboration is filling a little-explored space in the gaming industry and participating in the preservation and availability of classic games whose original consoles are becoming hard to find. As their company grows, the two developers reveal what makes it a unique start-up in the world of emulation.

Robin Lavallee and Jake Stine

Uniting Global Talents: A Complementary Collaboration

With seemingly incompatible backgrounds, Robin Lavallée and Jake Stine are proving that their skill sets and experiences are actually complementary. They created Implicit Conversions in January of 2019. 

The name came to Jake after some thinking: he had to find a name unique enough to avoid worrying about trademarks all throughout the US. He thought about how he spent so much time talking about implicit and explicit conversions in C++ and how it would be fitting to reference the conversion of old games to new formats which they’d carry as implicitly as possible.  And so the name, “Implicit Conversions” was born.

Preserving Gaming Heritage: Accessibility and Distribution

The two developers set themselves the goal to develop console emulators for consoles in a way that would enable well-known game producers as well as smaller editors and retro indie creators to distribute their games on modern consoles.

“A lot of people in emulation do it because they genuinely enjoy classic games and most of the work they do in this field isn’t a source of income for them,” Jake points out. “When I realized I could make a livelihood out of my own passion, I was amazed.” Robin expands: “There isn’t a lot of overlap between open-source developers and corporations in emulation; we try to bring these two worlds closer together. Jake has more experience in emulation, I have more experience in programming for consoles; we are very complementary. ”

Maintaining the Console Experience: A Form Factor Advantage

Most emulation is carried out on PC, but Implicit Conversions has the advantage of maintaining the original format the games were designed for since they emulate classic console games on newer consoles. “Form factor is overlooked by many indie game developers,” Jake clarifies, “because they have many controllers attached to their PCS: a successful PC game should be used with mouse control, phone game with touch control, etc… Users might not want to attach a controller to their phones, it’d reduce the use they can get out of their devices. But consoles are different; they are always like that, linked to their controller.” 

To Jake and Robin, it is key to maintain the console experience for players. Implicit Conversions’ main goal is to put the games in front of people, they are focused on accessibility: “Some old video games can be hard to republish,” Robin comments. “There are different versions depending on the region, different contracts with publishers… So people turn to pirating because they don’t really have other options. I dream of creating something that would enable the easy distribution of retro games and allow publishers and creators to keep monetising them, like Youtube does for video. It would both respect intellectual property and ensure that everyone profits from the hard work put into games.” 

Overcoming Technical Challenges: Emulation and Problem Solving

Jake admits it’s a technical challenge since emulators don’t run very well on consoles… since that’s not what consoles were designed to do. But Implicit Conversions is technology driven, it’s an engineering firm that is free from the constraints of game development since they work with games that are already produced. “We can improve a game to some extent,” Jake comments, “but it sets the precedent for what the final product should be. We are emulation developers, we have to focus on how a game works rather than how to make a good game. We can thus bypass some of the hardest parts of software development such as establishing a roadmap. The roadmap is made by the games we have to deliver on a particular console. We are free to concentrate on the tech and problem solving.”

Preservation and Recognition: The Lore of Video Games

One of the company’s long-term goals is to make porting easier across consoles to give game developers the opportunity to distribute on any console. To the founders, the question of preservation is also a major focus. Robin insists on the difficulty raised by the relative newness of video games in human culture: “We don’t yet have a lore around video games such as can be seen in literature, with commented books for example, but it will come. It’s heartbreaking to see how many games have been lost already, even for consoles as recent as the PS3. Also, it’s hard to anticipate which old games will be popular with today’s audience. All there is to base an opinion on is how successful they were when they came out, but there is no certainty they’d meet the same recognition today. Look at how Among Us surprised everyone! Plus, there are games that are easier to emulate than others…”

Expanding Horizons: Pioneer in the Western World

Implicit Conversions is now growing. “I think we’re currently the only Western company with the ambition of providing global console emulations,” Robin declares. “There might be companies doing exactly the same thing in Japan, but communication and exchanges are hindered by the language barrier.” 

Today, the company employs 18 people full or part-time. For Robin and Jake, the company’s strength lies in the people it brought together.

Their recruitment process revolves around finding competent and driven people. To them, the most pivotal issue is to convince talented people to join them, which they have managed so far through their transparent, innovative, and human approach.  “We are lucky to have a lot of senior developers onboard,” Robin asserts. “It’s a risky bet, to leave a solid company to join our little start-up; but there’s something magical about creating something that will make hundreds of thousands of games work without actually producing an original game.” 

Embracing a Remote Work Culture: Uniting Global Talent

Working remotely from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Just another day at “the office”.

Robin and Jake don’t like too much process in the way they manage their team, they’d rather focus on feedback. “Processes aiming at preventing errors often tend to limit people’s creativity and freedom,” Robin points out. “I’d rather let people make mistakes and then spend time correcting them. People need the opportunity to make mistakes.” Jake also insists on his preference for creative problem solving, especially in this niche section of the industry. He admits he was surprised by the interest a lot of young developers show toward retro gaming.

Implicit Conversions has been a full-remote company since its inception. The company doesn’t have a physical office. “I’ve had really great experiences working remotely with other engineers,” Jake explains. “When I founded my own company, it made sense to me to keep working that way. It can represent a challenge for junior engineers, but I’ve learned that if there happens to be a block, it’s more likely to come from someone’s personality and shyness rather than the lack of face-to-face interaction.” 

Robin also enjoys the efficiency of this way of working, especially since he can avoid lengthy commutes. But he misses not seeing his colleagues and acknowledges that remote working is not for everyone. “The perfect situation for me would be a hybrid way of working: so I can have time to do things on my own as well as a shared space with others,” he confides.

Both founders are very careful in their recruitment process and insist that full-remote requires a good setup and specific conditions to be successful. “Most people who work in emulation already know how to self-motivate because they know what they want to do,” Jake says. “They don’t need an office and most don’t want one. And at Implicit Conversions, there’s no risk to ever bring people back to the office, ‘cause there just isn’t any physical building.”

Robin believes that providing such a level of freedom can be daunting at first, but experience has proved that it works. “Programming is an intellectual activity,” he explains, “our brains are working anywhere, anytime; ideas don’t only come when we are in front of our desk during office hours.” Working remotely facilitated bringing together people from all over the world; people who wouldn’t have been able to cooperate otherwise.  The team currently consists of people from the United States, Canada, France, Portugal, Ireland, and Belgium.

Shaping the Future of Retro Gaming

As CEO, Robin always places people on the top of his to-do list. Providing people with a safe and satisfying work environment is his priority. “I know I can’t please everyone and there can be conflicts, but resolution is never far when one is open to listening and understanding,” he affirms. “I think that 80% of technical problems come from miscommunication. The capacity to synthesize clearly is primordial to avoid issues down the line. I’d rather have on the team someone who communicates well than someone more technically proficient.” As CTO, Jake values creative technical solutions and collaboration. “Most of the reason why I’m where I am today is because I was trying to help people do what they wanted to do,” he says. “This helps me see the perspective of the people I work with now and our common motivation is nothing other than seeing this company succeed.”

Jake and Robin’s vision and commitment to the project have already shown great success. Their enthusiasm and complementary skill sets have brought together a talented and passionate team. As Implicit Conversions continues its development, we can expect a lot more “retro and oldies” to be available on our modern consoles in the future! 

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