Let us take a moment to appreciate the work Datel did 20 years ago, reverse engineering and developing their own playable unofficial PS2 DVD discs which contained the watermark and decryption key required to boot code which could not be done with a consumer DVD burner. A 🧵… pic.twitter.com/CP0NQORwwp— 🕹 RetroReversing - Reverse Retro Games 🕹 (@RetroReversing) January 4, 2022
Infinite cheat codes, save states, memory monitoring, slow motion, and more! This 1993 ISA card version of the Datel Pro Action Replay for DOS computers is packed with odd features. Check it out in this episode of LGR Oddware:
Before the Pro Action Replay was released for the N64 Datel decided to release a similar product but instead of allowing memory editing via cheat codes it had a few built in games and would write to the SRAM (Battery backed up save data inside the cartridge). So for example if you plugged in Mario 64 it would edit the save data to give you all the stars and 100% completion. Not as useful as Action Replay as it pretty much completes the game for you, hence the name “Game Killer”.
One cool feature was that the cartridge has a card slot on it for “Killer cards” which were supposed to be cards that add support for other games but sadly none were ever released. This would be a cool reversing project to see if anyone can implement a working card for the Game Killer!
For more information on the Game Killer and the 6 in built games: http://www.nesworld.com/article.php?system=n64&data=n64-gamekiller
Of course they are most famous of their Action Replay (AR) cheat devices, which would have never have received approval from Sony. Modifying memory in the way AR does would be too much of a security risk in terms of piracy/exploits.
However unlike cartridge based versions it didn’t have the Code Creation capability and thus you were reliant on the codes created by the “CodeJunkies” team. You could get these codes either on the website or use the #PS2 modem to connect to the servers, that was a nice touch!
But it didn’t stop there, the ability to print unofficial PS2 Discs was unique to Datel and thus they could sell products without giving a cut to Sony. So it was cheap for Datel to bring products to market, which allowed them to do cheaper per-game equivalents of Action Replay…
There were many of these released for a third of the price of AR. However I believe the standard AR could do all the same cheats and would work out cheaper in the long run if you wanted to cheat in more than 3 games.
One of the best examples is when they used their technology to add official team names into PES3 which was not allowed to use the official FIFA names. AFAIK it was not possible to do with with just AR codes/saves so this product was required.
If you look at the Max Payne version, it is releasing the same day as the retail game which suggests Datel seem to have had early access to the final games before their release date. Other region versions wouldn’t have all the same codes as they would have been re-compiled…
One possibility is through their magazine subsidiary known as “Thin Ice Media” which published 3 retail magazines in the UK: GBX, G-force and PSi2. But would publishers really send preview copies to these magazines which were basically used as an advertising channel for Datel?
Although to be fair their magazines went on to be fairly successful with PSi2 having at least 38 issues (not sure if issue 39 exists or not). You see they had one advantage over the competition: the ability to burn playable PS2 cheat discs…
Sony only allowed their Official magazine to have a playable demo disc attached to the front cover, so for unoffical magazines to compete they just included a standard DVD with Game Trailers. This gave Datel magazines a USP in the market.
The cheap PS2 DVD creation meant that Datel could allow companies like Blockbuster to cheaply give their customers playable PS2 content while also advertising their Action Replay product. For example Power Play!
Even although Action Replay V2/Max has the ability to play DVDs from any region, Datel decided to sell just that feature for half the price of AR and marketed it towards movie and anime fans.
Side note: Action Replay was published by Karat in Japan and even had Potato Chips/Crisps to go along with the product.. ok back to the topic at hand..
But they didn’t just create standalone subsets of Action Replay functionality they also made entirely new software such as Karaoke Party! Which came with very popular pop songs at the time. I wonder did they license the music but not the game? or was it used without permission?
In a similar vein comes Dance Master, which was basically just a Dance Mat accessory that can work with any PS2 dancing game, but unlike competitors Datel could include its own unlicensed “Dance Work Out Game” which must have given it an edge over other 3rd party Dance Mats.
Another is eyeMax which builds of the craze that was the eyeToy and turns it into a video messaging service where you can create short video content to share with friends or the “global community”. It could have been the TikTok of its day, just a shame it wasn’t very well known..
They also released their own memory cards with the rather useful functionality of being able to back them up to your PC and share them online, or download save files from other users. Then there was their compression technology which claims up to 10x more space for saves..
Another product related to Memory Cards was the X-Drive, which allowed users to use actual Zip Discs for game saves, if Zip disks were cheaper this could have been a very popular product..
But what else did they do with the Memory Card hardware? How about Game Studio a Game Boy Color emulator! The glorious sound is a complete lie as it has a very annoying hissing sound, but at least it is better than the version for the PS1 that just played a random annoying song…
Datel had the technology to produce unofficial PS2 discs and really made the most out of it apart from one area… games. There was no big unlicensed hits like CodeMasters Micro Machines was for the NES. The closest was called MaxPlay: 10 retro games like space invaders/Jetpack
CodeJunkies is still going today and have a few cheat devices for sale such as for 3DS and the PS2 version of Action Replay is under their Retro section but it has been sold out for a while, which begs the question: do they still have the ability to create more PS2 Discs?
It is a shame that they never managed to figure out the #PS3 or PS4 Disc format as an Action Replay disc for those consoles would have been useful. Presumably the security of the Blu-ray Discs and upgradability of firmwares made it almost impossible to sell unofficial discs.
I would love to know how Datel technology was developed and ideally in future I would love to see Physical PS2 Homebrew or re-releases like we have seen for cartridge based consoles in recent years such as from Limited Run Games.
Datel also has the technology to create Gamecube discs and created a version of Max Play for the Nintendo Gamecube with the game 10 retro games as the PS2 version.