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The Death of Sonic Modding

The Death of Sonic Modding

It’s been two years since I wrote an article celebrating some of the best Sonic mods available on the Steam Workshop for the original three Sonic The Hedgehog games. As I write this it’s been two days since Sega announced Sonic Origins, a collection of the first three Sonic The Hedgehog games along with Sonic CD. And mere minutes ago, Sega announced that it is pulling the original games from Steam.

In layman's terms, mods for Mega Drive games are often referred to as “ROM hacks” because you are “hacking” the “Read-Only Memory” file of a game. The most common ROM hacks are translation patches for games only ever released in Japan, but there are plenty of hacks that change every aspect of a game from the sprites to the soundtrack.

While we can assume that anyone who already owns the delisted Sonic games will still be able to download them, nobody new will be able to buy them. In my aforementioned article, I covered only 11 mods out of over 1,300 different Sonic mods available for SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics on Steam. For six years people have been able to get their very own Steam account and buy Sonic The Hedgehog, then discover that it has Steam Workshop support only to fall down the rabbit hole and discover some fantastic mods. Add Tails to the first game, replace characters with others from Sonic Advance, play as Metal Sonic in brand new zones…

What if the developer of the next Sonic 3 Complete or Sonic Classic Heroes is getting a new computer in June, mere weeks after Sega pulls the original games? Well tough, we’ll never see which new mechanics they could have produced. No other Sonic game has Steam Workshop support, the various mods and hacks are available on a variety of fansites instead.

Of course, I’m only someone who plays with mods rather than creating them. So, I contacted a member of the ROM hacking community, the creator of Sonic 2 Versus Edition who had this to say:

Steam Workshop provides a frictionless platform for hosting, discovery, delivery, and metrics, which puts ROM hacks by individuals and small teams on the same footing as larger works, and provides a means for players to enjoy those hacks through a professional package. With this move, promotion of ROM hacks is relegated from a legally legitimate route to community sites and events, personal hosting, and social media. Sega has retracted this olive branch at a time when they are releasing Origins, a title that benefits from the expertise of the hacking community.
- Wafer

Wafer has since asked for a retraction, as they felt uncomfortable speaking for the whole community:

Whilst my statement does reflect my own personal opinions, it does not reflect the opinions of the ROM hacking community as a whole. ROM hacking existed before Steam and it will continue to exist in the absence of official support. The article headline and content does not reflect my opinion, even though I knew what it was when providing my quote.
- Wafer

It would be remiss of me to not mention that SEGA Mega Drive & Genesis Classics has other games for purchase that will still be able to be modded. Like the two mods for Comix Zone (not counting translation mods), the 15 for Ecco the Dolphin, or the one for Space Harrier II — did I mention that there are over 1,000 for the Sonic games? 20 of those alone were created for The Sonic Hacking Contest 2021!

Companies have every right to protect their intellectual property, but it’s hard to remain uncynical when a company is removing a product because a “remaster” is going to be available — especially when the original is fully moddable. To me, it looks like Sega doesn’t want people to add the features from Sonic Origins into Sonic The Hedgehog. Modders have basically been doing this for over a decade already, and are probably concerned that Sega has instead taken their ideas. After all, the ROM hack Knuckles in Sonic 1 has been around since April 2016, was interestingly enough the very first mod to be uploaded to the Steam Workshop, and its creator (Simon Thomley) later worked on Sonic Mania.

And now it’s a feature in Sonic Origins.

Andrew Duncan

Andrew Duncan


Guaranteed to know more about Transformers and Deadpool than any other staff member.

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