Sega Saturn (Hacking & Reversing)

Edit on Github | Updated: 11 November 2019

Introduction to Hacking/Modding/Reversing the Sega Saturn

Interested in learning more about the the Saturn? Excellent! This section will guide you through the basics, starting from basic architecture all the way to an introduction to reverse engineering your first game!

Reversing Sega Saturn Games

For an introduction on reverse engineering Sega Saturn games check out this post.

Sega Saturn Exclusives

When it comes to finding a game to reverse engineer it can be helpful to look at games that are cross-platform to compare builds. But the most valuable reverse engineering projects tend to be the platform exclusives as these are games people can no longer play on modern consoles.

Exclusive Sega Saturn Games & Re-releases

For a list of all the exclusive Sega Saturn games check out this post.

Sega Saturn Graphics

There are some myths around the Sega Saturn’s graphical abilities, such as the lack of transparency support, that can be preven false with some clever programming techniques.

Sega Saturn Alpha Transparency Effects

For details on Transparency effects in Sega Saturn games check out this post.

Sega File Formats

The sega saturn was the second released Sega console which used CD-ROM to distribute its games, one of the benefits of the CD-ROM format is many times more space than a cartridge. One of the downsides compred to cartridges however was the slower loading times as reading from a CD is much slower than reading from a ROM chip.

Unlike most cartridge based ROM chips CDs have a standard File System to read files from and so instead of everything being in a giant blob of binary and burned to a chip, the game could be split into multiple files.

Also the consoles would not have enough RAM to hold all the game assets so games would have to stream assets into memory when needed. So it would only read the texture or sound files used in a particular level and ignore the rest.

This makes it slightly easier to do some basic modding of Saturn assets compared to a ROM based console such as the Mega Drive, as you can normally pinpoint the asset you want down to a particular file and sometimes they have file extensions that tell you exactly what format the file is.

Sega Saturn File Formats

For details on the file formats you might find in Sega Saturn games check out this post.

Retail Sega Saturn hardware

When the Saturn was launched it brought incredible processing power into the home with two SH2 processors. The hardware was state of the art but also very complex and hard to program but exploring how it was developed is a facinating topic.

Sega Saturn Hardware Architecture

For more information on the Saturn hardware architecture check out this post.


Development Kits (Hardware)

Development kits are released to game developers before the launch of the system to allow games to be developed for the system’s launch. These systems would evolve over the systems lifespan and contained useful features for debugging and optimizing games for the platform. These systems were not just limited to the official offerings by nintendo as a few other publishers had their own versions of development hardware.

Official Development Kits

The official development kit for the N64 was a partnership between SEGA and Sophia and the hardware evolved over time. The first development kit released was called the Saturn Programming box or P-box and evolved into the Cart-Dev system.

Official Sega Saturn Development Kit (Hardware)

For more information on the official Segas Saturn Devkit check out this post.

3rd Party Development Kits

There were a few third party developers who created their own custom development kits for the Sega Saturn. One of the main developers for 3rd party devkits was SN Systems with their PSYQ Saturn with a much cheaper price tag than an official Sega devkit.

Psy-Q Sega Saturn Development Kit

For more information on the SN Systems PSYQ Saturn check out this post.


Software Development Kits

Official Software development kit

The Official Software development kit was developed in-house by SEGA and was made up of multiple libraries and compiler toolchains. One was a fork of GCC built by Cygnus Solutions and the other was a custom compiler built by Hitachi.

Official Sega Saturn Software Development Kit (SDK)

For more information on Official SDK for the Saturn check out this post.

Using the SDK - Compiling samples

One of the best ways to get started understanding how games were made using the official SDK is to tinker with the samples that come packaged with the SDK. By compiling and running these on a saturn console you can start to understand how everything pieces together.

Compiling an Official Sega Saturn Sample (SDK)

For more information on Official SDK for the Saturn check out this post.


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