How to Burn Games for the Sega Dreamcast (and Other Consoles)
Note: I’ve published an update to this article with some definite information about what other consoles this method will work for in addition to some very specific information on burning games for the Atari Jaguar CD. You may also want to read about burning games with ImgBurn, a free program with similar features to Alcohol 120%.
I still suggest reading through this procedure first; the articles mentioned above assume the reader to have a decent grasp on the methods used here.
Sega’s Dreamcast was a commercial failure for a number of reasons including poor marketing and stiff competition, but another factor keeping sales down was the ease involved to duplicate a game. Disc burning technology wasn’t nearly as advanced back then, but it was still a rather uncomplicated feat to reproduce the Dreamcast’s entire library. Of course it is a minor tragedy that the Dreamcast’s life was cut short by piracy, but since the system is now defunct, I see no harm in reproducing or instructing others on how to reproduce these titles. Moreso than many other consoles, Dreamcast games can be particularly hard to locate on the secondary market. Being CD games, they are also much more prone to damage due to the fragility of the medium. These factors combined lead to a situation where either the games are no longer worth the plastic they’re burned on, or games are in such immaculate condition that prices skyrocket leaving large numbers to be unobtainable by the average gamer. For collecting purposes this article is useless, but if you have a $40 Dreamcast and don’t feel like shelling out $30 for every decent game, this is a good way to explore Sega’s hardware swan song, as well as one of the more powerful systems of its day.
What You Will Need:
- a computer with a CD burner
- a blank CD-R
- software that can burn disc images; I use and recommend Alcohol 120%
- an .iso file or .cue / .bin files for the game to be burned
- a program to decompress (unzip) compressed files; 7-Zip works great and is free
- an Internet connected, preferably high-speed, to download disc images (The ISO Zone is a great start)
Burning a game is a lot like burning an audio CD or a disc full of files. What we’re going to do instead is burn what’s called a “disc image” onto a CD. Disc images are files with the extension .iso. This means that sometime in the past, someone has taken a disc from the Dreamcast and copied the data exactly onto their computer. When this data is copied exactly as it is onto another CD, voila, a duplicate game. Another type of encoding is referred to as CUE/BIN. This is a set of 2 files, both necessary for a correct burn. One file has the extension .cue, the other .bin. Other files may be present as well, usually audio files, but you won’t need to manipulate these files individually; that’s what the .cue file is for. This isn’t quite the same as a raw disc image, but I won’t go into too many technical details. In this type of procedure, the .bin file contains the information, and the .cue file directs the software on how the information contained in .bin should be recorded. If available, I recommend using the CUE/BIN format; if not, ISO is still acceptable. I have had positive and negative experiences with both, but from a technical standpoint, the CUE/BIN structure is more correct.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
- First we need to make sure we have everything from the above list at our disposal. Perhaps the most unfamiliar object will be the software needed to burn discs of this type. There are a number of programs available for this purpose, but I use Alcohol 120%. It is the only program I’ve ever used to do this procedure, and as such, I’ve never had the need to experiment with any others. (Update: I have used ImgBurn with success; read about it here.) You can download a free 30-day trial which will be more than sufficient to burn a game, but if you plan on burning lots of games (don’t forget, this will also work for a number of other systems that use CDs, more on that later) I’d recommend going ahead and buying it. It’s a one time fee of $52.00 and includes all future updates. Trust me, Alcohol 120% will pay for itself in no time.
- Grab some CD-R’s. Make sure they are CD-Rs, not CD-RW’s, not DVD-R’s, but CD-R’s. Some people have preferences towards or against certain brands. I haven’t experimented much, but I’ve always used either Memorex or Sony.
- You’ll also need to obtain the actual file that we’ll be burning onto the disc. There are a number of repositories for these types of files on the Internet, and The ISO Zone is one of the best. Search for a game, and make sure it’s listed for the system you’re burning it for, in this case Sega’s Dreamcast. Depending on the game, there may be one or a dozen files listed. These files are always downloaded as a .zip or some other compressed format such as .7z or .rar. It will be indicated whether or not these files are ISO or CUE/BIN. I always try CUE/BIN first if available, but if for some reason it doesn’t work or is unavailable, ISO works fine as well. Save the file locally to your computer, but be warned, these files are huge, anywhere between 200mb and 600mb for a single game, hence the high-speed recommendation. The ISO Zone only allows 5 downloads per day to unregistered, non-paying users. I’ve found this to an adequate limit. Don’t be lured in just because you want 50 games; inevitably there will be long stretches where you don’t download anything. I digress, the decision is yours. If for some reason you are unable to find your desired game, you can use Google to search for title ISO or title CUE BIN, but be careful not to get caught up in any traps trying to force you to install a download manager, and be sure the file extensions are .zip, .rar, .7z, or other well known formats. DO NOT download .exe files. There are other legitimate ISO libraries out there, but they can be difficult to get to. Note that these ARE NOT ROMS. ROMs are for emulators. We are burning an actual game; DO NOT DOWNLOAD ROMS for this purpose. A couple of other decent sites are ROM Hustler (pretty much my backup if ISO Zone doesn’t have what I need) and SNES O Rama (scroll down to the bottom), but they are filled with ads and pop-ups.
- I almost forgot to include this, but you will also need a way to extract these compressed files. 7-Zip takes care of all widespread formats and is free to use.
- Obviously you will need a computer that burns CDs. In times past certain CD burners weren’t suited for this process, but any relatively modern computer should be good enough.
Once all this has been done, take your .zip/.rar/compressed file and extract it to its own folder. NOTHING should be in this folder except for the one ISO file or one CUE and one BIN file plus the occasional audio files. It is best to check the option “Extract to New Folder” or “Create if Folder does not Exist” or another comparable option to be certain that these files are not sharing a folder with any other files.
At this point I would recommend restarting your computer to make the burning process go as smoothly as possible. I’ve never burned more than 3 games before a reboot. Often what I do is download what I need and get everything in order, and then restart before proceeding.
Stick a blank CD-R into your drive, and open Alcohol 120%. Ignore any AutoPlay options that arise from inserting the disc, even those from Alcohol 120% at this point. What you should have is the screen below, and a blank CD-R ready to go.
Step 2: Preparing Alcohol 120%
First, look to the left and click on “Recording” under the “Options” heading. Leave everything as it is except for 2 checkboxes. Check “Overburn disc(s)…” and “Turn off ‘Auto-select best write speed’…”. Click “OK.”
Next click on “Image Burning Wizard” on the left side of the screen. A prompt should open up telling you to select your file(s) to be burned. Click “Browse” and navigate to the folder created during the extraction process. If you downloaded an ISO file, it should show up immediately. All you need to do is select it. If, however, you downloaded a CUE/BIN pair, you may not see anything. Look just above the “Open” button in the bottom right of the prompt, and you’ll see a drop-down box. Be sure to select “All Image files” and you’ll see the .cue file. You DO NOT need to pay attention to anything in the folder other than the .cue file. Select it and leave everything else alone.
Once you’ve selected a file, you’ll notice a checkbox under the file path. It says “Delete Image file after recording.” I advise making sure this box is UNCHECKED. When checked, Alcohol 120% automatically deletes the original file after the burn. I like to retain this file until after I’ve burned and played the game to ensure everything works properly. Problems can sometimes originate in these original files, but it is also possible that a mistake happened during the burning process or there was a problem with the CD-R, so I like to retain these files in case I need to burn the file again rather than going through the process of downloading it again later. Click “Next.”
Step 3: Configuring Alcohol 120%
After clicking next, there should be yet another prompt. Look in the upper right and make sure a check mark appears next to the appropriate drive; the software should take care of this automatically. Now look at the very bottom, to the drop down box labeled “Datatype.” Some people prefer “Customize” while others like to select “Play Station.” I normally stick with the Play Station setting, but if the disc doesn’t work, try it again on Customize. What is most important here are the above settings which should always remain the same for game discs, regardless of what Datatype is selected at the bottom.
On the “Write Speed” drop down, always always always select the lowest write speed that your burner supports. This is very important for making sure there are no errors. Most current drives don’t drop below 10x, but 10x is still better than maximum. Make sure you select the LOWEST NUMBER when burning ANY GAMES.
Near “Write Method,” there will be another drop down box. Be sure to select RAW DAO. This will probably be done automatically, but double check. Next to this are 2 checkboxes labeled “Write” and “Simulation.” “Write” should be CHECKED, and “Simulation” UNCHECKED. The number of copies are of course up to you. Four more checkboxes will appear under “Number of Copies.” All but one should be unchecked; CHECK ONLY the one marked “Enable Buffer Underrun Technology.”
Step 4: Burning
All that’s left now is to click “Start” and the burning should start. During this process, keep computer use to a minimum, and if using a laptop, it is very important to keep the laptop as still as possible. Burning should complete in roughly 7 minutes. After that, the game is ready to go!
This same method can be used to burn many other games. Among those I’ve tested are Neo Geo CD (used in the example photos), TurboGrafx CD / PC Engine Duo, CD-i, and 3DO. I am confident that the process should work with all consoles with CD media (as opposed to DVD media), including Atari Jaguar CD, Amiga CD32, Sega CD, PS1, and likely the original Xbox. I haven’t tested any of these, but when I do, I will comment on the results. (Update: I have commented on how this works for several other systems in my addendum to this article.) Sometimes the games don’t work exactly right and I’m never sure why. Occasionally there are discrepancies with both audio channels being available or entire sections of a game being inaccessible and generating a fatal error. Despite this, I would say 9 out of 10 games work flawlessly, and I would suspect the ones that didn’t contained faulty image files from the start. Since an image file is created directly from a disc, this means any scratches or dirt are sort of included as well. Many times, although the file might be available elsewhere, it is actually the same file. Other times it will be obvious that multiple individual “rips” have been made available, and this is a good way to find out whether something is wrong with the file or whether something went wrong during the burning process
What about the Sega Saturn?
Another popular candidate for reproduced games is the Sega Saturn. Unfortunately, this method is only part of what is required to create Saturn games. Everything I’ve outlined will accurately reproduce a Saturn disc, but the problem is that it will not boot the Saturn’s internal operating system. There is a way around this, but it is mechanically stressful to the Saturn and as such I do not recommend it. The Saturn has to boot from a “real” Saturn game. What one can do is insert a real Saturn game, wait for it to boot, open the lid, and replace it with a burned CD. In order for this to work however, the mechanism which stops the spinning motor when the door is open must be disabled. The most common modification to this end is to tape a small piece inside of the Saturn. Again, this will drastically shorten the life of the Saturn, and I do not condone such activity. The real fix is to buy and install a mod chip for the system that allows burned games to boot properly. I haven’t yet tried this, nor will I until I can get my hands on other working Saturn without breaking the bank. (Update: I have installed a mod chip into my Saturn with minimal effort and maximum benefit! Read about it here.) Even with all that, I’m still not confident enough in my abilities to be sure I could tackle this. The mod chip must be soldered onto a circuit board inside the Saturn, so for anyone interested, make sure your Saturn is expendable enough to start playing around with a hot wand inside. If you’d like to know more, Classic Gaming Sega Style – Sega Saturn Modchip has all the information you’ll ever need, including links to buy the chip.
- The ISO Zone – http://www.theisozone.com
- ROM Hustler – http://romhustler.net
- SNES O Rama – http://www.snesorama.us
If anyone has anything to add to this article, please get in touch with me. I’d love to get detailed information with screenshots on procedures with Nero or other burning programs. I’m also open to any one else’s experiences, be it tips, tricks, different settings, causes of and solutions to problems, or anything related to burning CD based games. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any additional information.
- An Update to Burning Old Games
- How to Burn Games for the Atari Jaguar CD
- Using ImgBurn to Burn Games
- Installing a Saturn Mod Chip
- How to Burn Games for the Apple Pippin (coming soon)
Written by The Cubist
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