The SEGA Saturn’s copy protection has finally been cracked after twenty years!
As technology moves forward, the gaming world becomes more and more realistic with the increased power in today’s consoles. The latest machines from Microsoft and Sony do an amazing job of immersing you into these incredible gaming worlds.
However, people are also looking backwards and the retro gaming scene is always growing larger. Many of us are rekindling our youth while others discover pieces of history and see what we used to call entertainment in those days gone by.
Many old machines have been rescued from cupboards, attics or even purchased from charity shops. The games on cartridges and discs are still around and there are several groups trying to preserve their history.
For many, the easiest option is to buy a device that allows you to place multiple games onto a SD card which in turn plugs into a special game cartridge. The most famous of these is the Everdrive series of cartridges.
With the later CD based consoles, this is a little different. Firstly, the CD lasers on these devices are starting to wear out and break down. It has been over 20 years for some of these consoles and the parts were never designed to last this long.
For the SEGA Dreamcast for example, you can purchase an interface board that allows you to play CD images straight off a SD card. The board has been designed to plug into the CD connection port, so to use you have to remove the entire CD laser assembly.
For the SEGA Saturn however, no one has managed to come up with a simple solution, until now.
In 2013, on a trip to Japan, James Laird-Wah (AKA Professor Abrasive) decided to buy a SEGA Saturn as he had heard about the awesome hardware inside that played chip-tune music.
However, once he got it home he discovered creating homebrew software wasn’t going to be so easy.
The SEGA Saturn copy protection was based around a wobbly line that was burnt into the edge of CDs (See main picture). The console checked for this line to ensure the copy was genuine. CD burners have no way of recreating this effect.
A MOD chip was created into the 1990’s that allowed you to play copied games but this required the opening of the console and wiring in new electronics along with a touch of soldering.
James thought this was a rather clunky solution and decided to investigate further. He then discovered the expansion port on the back of the Saturn that was used for a special cartridge that allowed the Saturn to play VideoCDs.
I’ll let this interview with James explain the rest of the story. It’s rather technical but I found it fascinating. Hopefully, this will soon lead to a commercially available device.