Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive, Daytona USA — the Sega Saturn had its fair share of hit games over its troubled lifespan, games which, sadly, will soon become unplayable as the console's disc drive reaches the end of its life span.
To make matters worse, Sega's 1994 console has proved notoriously difficult to crack due to its hardware-based piracy protection. Sega Saturn discs are etched with a physical mark that allows them to be played, which makes bypassing the console's DRM tricky. Thankfully, engineer James Laird-Wah, also known as Dr Abrasive, has dedicated the past three years to doing just that, and has finally found a way of loading Sega Saturn games onto the console via USB.
According to Kotaku, Laird-Wah began tinkering with the console in 2013 after being drawn to the Sega Saturn's multi-channel sound chip, specifically its potential for composing chip tune music. Laird-Wah wanted to write his own software for the console – known as "homebrew" in the modding world – but rather than trying to get his hands on a specialised mod chip, the engineer decided he could do better and took matters in his own hands.
He finally cracked the console this month, with his exploits documented on YouTube channel debuglive. After three years of toiling over a hot console, Laird-Wah has developed a plug-in flash drive for the Sega Saturn that emulates the console's disc drive and takes control of the system on start-up.
Laird-Wah is now working on a way of turning the technology into something consumers can get their hands on themselves. We're not sure how keen Sega will be on the prospect of Saturn owners bypassing its DRM, but it should at least be grateful to Lair-Wah for bringing new life to the company's 22-year-old console.