After 20 Years, Someone Cracked The Sega Saturn’s DRM

After 20 Years, Someone Cracked The Sega Saturn’s DRM

Sega Saturn disc drives are beginning to die off. Until now, it meant your machine might be useless. Thanks to engineer James Laird Wah, Sega’s 32-bit hardware has been cracked, allowing games to be loaded via USB.

Wah is known online as Dr Abrasive, and is responsible for a USB-powered ROM-reading cartridge for the Game Boy called the Drag ‘n Derp.

The news was revealed on the YouTube channel debuglive, which features an exhaustive interview with Wah, showcasing his multi-year process.

Wah started poking around the Saturn in 2013, attracted to the machine’s notoriously ambitious multi-channel sound chip. “Gee, it’d be nice to have one of those around,” he said. To take advantage of that chip, he wanted to write software for the Saturn.

What he found was that Saturn homebrew required a mod chip — which largely aren’t produced anymore — and burning CDs for the Saturn to read.

“We can probably do better,” he said.

Thus, he went down a rabbit hole requiring years of reverse engineering.

The reason it’s so notoriously hard to crack the Saturn is because of its hardware-based DRM, which required discs to have a physical mark — called a wobble — that was etched into the CD. Wah had to figure out a way for the Saturn to tell him out the disc drive worked, then come up with software that would allow him to emulate the disc drive over USB.

The end product looks like this:

This isn’t something you can buy yet; Wah is working out the kinks. Still, it’s a promising move towards revitalizing the Saturn community and ensuring the native hardware can be used to play games for years to come.


  • Miss my Saturn, so many great games for its time. But so hard to get one cheap now!

    • Japanese units are cheaper, I’d go for one of those. I picked up one a couple of years ago with an Action Replay Plus 4M , and not only does it give you access to the Japanese (and US) library, it also runs your unoptimized PAL games at full speed, the way they were originally intended 🙂 Of course, you have to avoid PAL optimized games, as they’ll run too fast with a bit of the screen cut off, but most PAL optimized games were SEGA first party titles, and the vast majority of those are cheaper and easier to find as Japanese titles. Most of the fighters, racers, platformers and basically anything that isn’t an RPG/VN/ are English text-heavy anyways 🙂

      The Saturn can be quite pricey to buy for, but the Japanese imports soften that blow by quite a bit, if you’re willing to not understand the occasional cutscene 🙂

      Unless you really, really dig shmups. In that case, you’re screwed, haha. Almost ALL of them are ridiculously pricey. Layer Section, and maybe another one or two shmups are quite cheap, but everything else… so expensive!

  • There’s been an SD drive replacement for a while now, the Rhea. It loads iso files, and the unit literally replaces the disc drive. It also automatically region patches But this one featured in the article will be a lot less invasive, and you won’t have to hack out your disc drive to use it. Love that this uses the Video Card slot! The only thing I’d like to know is how it handles different region games. I may have to use this on my Japanese Saturn when the day comes, but my PAL units drive is almost completely gone, and only runs discs very occasionally… when it’s in a good mood!

  • Honestly hat off to this guy. Engineering at its BEST!

    Wouldn’t it be an amazing world if more people got into this sort of thing, at whatever their intellectual level, or their interest. Not just computer hardware or software, but just crazy sh*t – stuff that makes you go wow I wanna do that, I wanna be that. What if governments fostered this stuff? At an early age and celebrated it!

    Instead, its losers with guns. Or zealots, doing their best to bring the world back to before the dark ages.

    Thank God (dog?) for guys n gals this like this, doing crazy WTF stuff. Because they can and because it doesn’t hurt anyone and because its super duper cool.

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