Sega Saturn's copy protection finally cracked, giving retro gamers a new option

Excessive wear, heat, and just plain old age can all wreak havoc on CD-based game consoles. The Sega Saturn, now more than two decades old, is at risk of becoming essentially extinct due to disc drives inside no longer being able to read games. But one dedicated wizard took it upon himself to crack the system’s DRM, and preserve its library.

Dr. Abrasive (real names James Wah), who previously created “Drag ‘n’ Derp” for easily loading files onto Game Boy cartridges via USB, was interested in developing software for the Sega Saturn next due to its multi-channel sound chip, but found that the console’s copy protection system made it impossible.

“It actually works quite well. It detects the little wobble in the outer rim of the CD when it’s trying to read the protection data,” Wah says. “And that’s not something you can do with a CD burner.”

Wah was able to acquire a Sega Saturn’s CD module CPU, which he connected to a circuit board of his own and “tricked” into revealing the entirety of its ROM contents to him. He was then able to use this information to determine exactly how the console’s operating system worked.

“There are bits [of code] that have been written by hand and edited several times,” Wah says. “I’ve actually been really surprised by much you can see of its development history just by kind of looking at the code.”

After examining a slot for a peripheral card on the back of the system, Wah opted to circumnavigate the CD drive altogether, instead using “tentacles” and a small card plugged into the peripheral slot to effectively replace the drive completely. He has now also implemented the ability to read and write files directly to a USB drive while the system is running, which allows you to store saved game files.

Curiously, though the Sega Saturn has remarkable copy protection on the system itself, the discs can be read on a PC without issue. This allows anyone to easily load them onto a USB stick for use in the cracked console.

“These consoles, the CD drives are slowly dying. And especially in the west, it was never that popular a console that generation. So finding spare parts is actually a little bit difficult,” Wah says. “Ultimately I’d like to help homebrew become accessible and also more powerful with a USB interface, but I’d like to see it with a place in archiving.”

For more information about the challenges Wah still faces and footage of the cracked system in action, check out the video at the top of the page.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Join the Apple club with our complete guide to switching from Android to iOS

If Android simply isn’t cutting it for you anymore, then you might be considering Apple’s warm embrace. Here’s how to make the switch from Android to iOS without losing your contacts, sleep, or hair!

Problems with installing or updating Windows 10? Here's how to fix them

Upgrading to the newest version of Windows 10 is usually a breeze, but sometimes you run into issues. Never fear though, our guide will help you isolate the issue at hand and solve it in a timely manner.

Having problems with your Xbox One console? We have the solutions

The Xbox One has evolved over the years, but so have its problems. Thankfully, we have solutions for some of the console's most enduring problems, whether you're experiencing issues with connectivity or your discs.

Dataminers discover SNES games, more emulators for Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo Switch Online may soon launch SNES games and more emulators, according to data miners. The list of hidden SNES titles include Breath of Fire 2 and Star Fox 2, while the other emulators may be the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo GameCube.

‘RollerCoaster Tycoon 2’ ride takes 12 years to complete

A RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 player has constructed a coaster in the game that will take more than 12 years to complete from beginning to end, and is actually a tiny ride taking up a small portion of the landscape.
Product Review

'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe' is 2D platforming wizardry

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is the latest Wii U game to come back from the dead on Switch. And wow, it’s much better than we remembered.

‘Battlefield V’ adds Squad Conquest mode in ‘Lightning Strikes’ update

Electronic Arts and DICE have detailed what is included in the Battlefield V update Lightning Strikes. The update includes access to the mode Squad Conquest through the end of January.

Here's everything you need to know to trade in 'Pokémon Go'

After literally years of waiting, Pokémon Go finally gives trainers the option to trade Pokémon with others. It's not easy, though, and the cost is quite high if you try trading with strangers.

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.

‘Rocket League’ is the latest game to get full cross-platform play

Psyonix has announced that Rocket League now supports full cross-platform play across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, joining Fortnite as the only games to do so.

Here's what you need to know about 'World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth'

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is the latest expansion for the now 14-year-old MMORPG. It goes back to the roots of the Alliance vs. Horde conflict. Here's what you need to know.
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.

Latest ‘Fortnite’ update channels Halo with a scoped revolver

The latest update for Fortnite, update 7.20, is now available, and it brings a new Scoped Revolver weapon to the game alongside the returning Glider item and a limited-time Snipers-only mode.