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 listing for Sega Mega Drive Classics Hub is a Wild West-style grab bag of total overhauls, useful gameplay, and graphical tweaks—along with legally questionable uses of other companies’ copyrighted content.
Of the 163 Steam Workshop Mega Drive mods currently listed on Steam, the vast majority are revisions to the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Those run the gamut from minor gameplay modifications (adding knuckles to Sonic 1 or a homing attack to Sonic 2, for instance) to complete reworkings of the entire game (Sonic 3 Complete, Sonic Thrash), silly sprite swaps (Ring the Ring), and at least somewhat offensive jokes.
Outside of the Sonic series, Japanophiles are using 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 grant unlimited health and power. There are also a few completely silly mods that are difficult to categorize.
Amid the useful and playful hacks, though, 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’re supposedly “modding.” Other current offerings on Steam Workshop provide surprisingly decent (and definitely unlicensed) Genesis ports of games like Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, Street Fighter II Turbo, and Angry Birds, among others.
With Sega not offering any specific modding tools for Steam Workshop use, it doesn’t appear there are any restrictions on what kinds 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 highly talented and engaged community of modders behind them,” Sega Community Manager Daniel Sheridan writes on the Sega Europe blog. “Now content creators can easily share their custom ROMs with other Mega Drive & Genesis fans giving a new perspective on so many beloved retro titles.”
At least some of the mod uploaders are somewhat aware of the precarious legal footing of their offerings. “With these games being written from scratch the only part that holds any copyright is any stolen assets it might contain,” one uploader of a Nintendo-themed ROM writes in its Steam Workshop description. “With this being uploaded as a mod and being allowed to use copyrighted material in mods to some extent it’s all very iffy legally. I’ll remove 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 after the fact: a full version of Konami’s Contra: Hard Corps posted yesterday has already been taken down, for instance. Still, seemingly unedited ROMs of licensed retro games like Thunder Force IV and Ballz are still up on the Steam Workshop as of this writing. Keeping Sega’s Steam listings free of unauthorized content looks like it’s going to be an ongoing and time-consuming effort.