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Ever since Sega exited the video game console business after the demise of the Dreamcast, they have ported their games to countless platforms, including those of their former rival Nintendo. Sega’s most popular platform, the Sega Genesis, which has seen the most Sega-published games, received new versions for Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft systems either as individual downloads or via compilations such as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (or, Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection as it’s known in PAL territories). Considering how many other platforms these games have been ported to, it is little surprise that Sega saw fit to release them on PC via the Steam digital store.

Now, this is not news. Emulated Genesis games have been available for purchase through Steam for years now. What is new, however, is the recently-released overhaul to the Genesis emulator’s interface, developed by a company named d3t.

Originally, the interface consisted of a small window, with which you’d select the game you wanted to play, select a save state if you wanted to, and start playing. It had some options for adjusting the window size and resolution and whatnot, but it was very bare-bones. With this new update, however, you now see an entire 3D room, designed to look like the bedroom of a Sega fan from the 1990s.

Within this room, you can select individual Genesis games that you own, which are alphabetically organized on a shelf, and see a cartridge pop into a Model 1 Genesis as you load up each game on a CRT-TV. The TV’s screen, viewable either as part of the room or in full-screen, can be customized in various ways, such as by adding or removing scanlines, or adjusting the curvature of the screen. Other things scattered around the room include Sonic the Hedgehog comic books, popular Genesis game posters, and even a Sega-branded analog clock.

Above: A screenshot of Phantasy Star II, with o% curvature. Now compare that to…
100% curvature. One can also adjust this setting to anywhere in between, as they see fit.

Beyond the aesthetic upgrade, the one major new feature that has been added to this emulator is Steam Workshop support. One can now download custom mods for the Genesis games that are available for purchase via Steam.

One of the most immediately popular mods is a very silly one for Streets of Rage II which plays a voice clip from the sitcom Home Improvement every time someone dies. There are also some more serious mods to enjoy as well, such as ones that adds new gameplay features, or others that allow one to play the Japanese versions of various games in the collection.

Things like the Japanese Bare Knuckle III, which ended up being changed in several ways (from the story to the gameplay to the graphics) when localized for overseas release under the name Streets of Rage III, are now readily available to try out in their unaltered form, in a way that is supported by Sega.

The most popular Genesis mods currently available via Steam.

Your save states made prior to the update are still available, though only in the simple interface initially. This is because the save states in the simple interface and the save states in the new 3D room are stored in two completely different folders. One can easily copy the files from one folder into the other, so it’s not too inconvenient, though it is frankly a clunky workaround.

Also, one grievance I have is that the 3D room interface only offers 4 selectable save states per game, unlike how the original simple interface offered 5 save states at a time.

As of this writing, one can play the games in this collection with either the keyboard, or a 360 controller. I personally prefer to play Genesis games using an actual Genesis controller, which I connect to my computer via the Retrode 2. This is not natively supported by the emulator, which is frankly bizarre as the old version of the emulator supported it just fine.

Thankfully, programs like Joy2Key do exist, so it’s still possible to use non-360 controllers with these games, provided you don’t mind going out of your way to get them up and running.

In the end, if you don’t find any of this interesting, and you don’t want to bother, you can always bring up the original interface for the emulator, which is now selectable upon game-start via the option “Simple Launcher”. If nothing else, you can finally take screenshots in Steam through the Simple Launcher, when previously one needed to use the convoluted workaround of adding the Genesis emulator as a non-Steam program in order to allow the Steam overlay to function. Users of the emulator had been asking for a fix for years, so it’s been a long time coming.

Needless to say, this update isn’t perfect. It’s got some technical issues that should be patched, and I’d appreciate additional support for more types of controllers. What this update represents, however, is something that is fairly unprecedented – official support for modding of emulated console games. The rest of the update I can take or leave, but the idea that this is a thing that exists is honestly exciting to me.

I can’t help but wonder whose idea it was to allow for custom game ROMs to be distributed as mods via the Steam Workshop. Will this be the first bold step, which other companies strive to follow-up with their own officially supported console game ROM modifications? Or will this idea be overlooked and forgotten with time? I’m going to hope it’s the former.