As of last week, the Sega Saturn turned 21 years old, at least if you start counting from its EU release. Although it enjoyed an initial surge of popularity, the Saturn was quickly left by the wayside in the console wars that left only three companies standing. Like any old, obsolete console, the Sega Saturn has its own share of loyal fans. Now those fans can take their consoles out of storage. At long last, the Sega Saturn’s DRM has finally been cracked and the console can finally load and play games off a USB stick instead of a CD.
It’s not that there was no interest in trying to crack open the Saturn. After all, there is probably no console known to man that wasn’t subjected to such hacking. The Saturn, however, had a notoriously difficult DRM to crack, which made playing pirated CD copies also near impossible. That DRM utilized a mark that was etched on the physical medium itself, which makes this accomplishment no small feat.
Curiously enough, the story started out not with the direct intention of cracking that DRM. Dr Abrasive, the possibly insane electronics master and coder who made this possible, wanted to get his hands on the Saturn’s 32-bit sound chip, which, back then, was quite the innovation. But to take advantage of the chip, he had to write homebrew programs, which he had to burn on CDs and use a mod chip that is no longer made. So started a quest to make the Saturn read from USB.
That was back in 2013. Fast-forward three years later, and we’ve got this admittedly amazing hack that finally does what Saturn lovers have been dreaming of.
Some might see this as an inordinate waste of time just to pirate games. In some cases, like with modern consoles, that might be true. But the Saturn is a vintage console with hardware components, like its essential CD drive, that are starting to die. And 20 years is a long time for any CD media to retain its data integrity. While the crack, if made available will probably be used in less innocent ways, it does give the Sega Saturn another, though unofficial, lease on life at the hands of the often more creative modding community.