Sega's Dreamcast games console has been cracked, a group of programmers called Utopia has claimed - and begun distributing copies games on the Net to prove it.
Utopia's coders also released software that forces the console to play pirated games, something previously only possible through warranty busting hardware modifications to the console's innards, according to a CNet report.
"Finally, though no one really expected it, we made your dreams come true: Dreamcast BootCD V1.1 - boot copies and imports on a NON-chipped (!) standard consumer model," the group wrote in an information file distributed with the software.
Dreamcast's copy protection centres on the use of a proprietary CD-ROM format, which not only increases the amount of data a CD can hold to 1GB, but clearly marks out legitimate Dreamcast CDs from Recordable CD copies. Utopia's code presumably bypasses the console's software that rejects non-Dreamcast CDs. Of course, if the original game is bigger than the 650MB a regular CD can hold, that's a problem. But hackers reckon the solution is just a matter of pruning non-essential files like cut-scene movies.
Sega had already admitted there was a way around its anti-piracy measures and it has since modified its hardware and encoding software to block that path off. Details of the modification have been passed to Dreamcast software developers. The trouble is, there's little to stop a disgruntled employee at Sega or one of its partners from leaking such information to the wider hacker community.
Sega said it will vigorously pursue and prosecute any Web site that distributes Dreamcast games illegally. Again, there's a snag: according to the CNet story, most of the copies are being distributed through non-centralised channels, like IRC and Gnutella. ®