Less than 24 hours after the rollout of official mod support for emulated Steam versions of dozens of Genesis/Mega Drive classics, the Steam Workshop list for Sega Mega Drive Classics hub is a Wild West-style grab bag of total overhauls, useful gameplay tweaks, and graphical tweaks, along with legally questionable use of copyrighted content from other companies.
Of the 163 Steam Workshop Mega Drive mods currently on Steam, the vast majority are revisions of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. These range from minor gameplay tweaks (adding Knuckles to Sonic 1 or a homing attack Sonic 2for example) to complete operations of the whole game (sonic 3 complete, Sonic thrash), silly sprite swaps (Call the ring), and at least slightly offensive jokes.
Outside of Sonic series, Japanophiles use the mod support to offer fan translations of the original Japanese versions of certain games, as well as palette swaps that replace Americanized characters and backgrounds with their original Japanese counterparts. Other popular mods include early prototype versions of existing games (as well as unreleased titles) and “Chill Editions” that offer unlimited health and power. There are also a few completely silly mods that are hard to categorize.
However, among the nifty and playful hacks are a number of “mods” that use copyrighted and trademarked characters from other game makers. Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Mega Man, and more appear in Steam Workshop Genesis games that often bear little to no resemblance to the original titles they supposedly ‘mod’. Other current offerings on Steam Workshop feature surprisingly decent (and definitely unlicensed) Genesis ports of games like Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, Street Fighter II turboand Angry Birdsamong other things.
Since Sega doesn’t offer specific modding tools for Steam Workshop use, it appears there are no restrictions on what kind of raw Genesis ROMs can be uploaded to the service as “mods” under the current system. “The Steam Workshop functionality is a platform to share the wealth of custom Mega Drive & Genesis ROMs out there and support the very talented and engaged community of modders behind it,” writes Sega Community Manager Daniel Sheridan on the Sega Europe blog . “Now content creators can easily share their custom ROMs with other Mega Drive and Genesis fans, bringing a new perspective to so many beloved retro titles.”
At least some of the mod uploaders are somewhat aware of the precarious legal basis of their offerings. “Because these games are written from scratch, the only part that holds any copyright is the stolen assets it might contain,” writes a Nintendo-themed ROM uploader in the Steam Workshop description. Now that this is being uploaded as a mod and allowed to use copyrighted material in mods to some extent, it is all very questionable legally. I will be removing this mod at the request of SEGA or any of the copyright holders of assets used in this game .”
The community already seems to be removing some of the most egregious examples of infringement in retrospect: a full version of Konami’s Contra: Hard Corps for example, that was posted yesterday has already been deleted. Yet seemingly raw ROMs of licensed retro games like Thunder Force IV and Ballz are still active in the Steam Workshop at the time of writing. It looks like it’s going to be an ongoing and time-consuming effort to keep Sega’s Steam listings free of unauthorized content.