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Golden Axe was already an old game when I found it at the back of an arcade in the 1990s. The dusty cabinet only cost 20 cents per credit while shiny new games demanded a whole dollar. It was good value: only 20 cents to become a dwarf who could ride dragons or weird chicken-leg creatures, bash up tiny gnomes for their magic potions, and sometimes summon lightning from the sky.
Even at that price I could never finish it, and playing it years later on Steam as part of the Sega Mega Drive & Classics Collection it's obvious why. The boss fights are cheap, enemies burst out of doorways to hammer you on the head, the difficulty spikes are entirely random, and ledges are precarious. It has all the hallmarks of arcade games designed first and foremost to vacuum coins straight out of childrens' pockets with maximum efficiency. But thanks to a Steam Workshop modder, it no longer has to be that way.
Tucked away among the mods in the Steam Workshop, behind the ones that or , I found the . These personalised tweaksets alter arcade classics, some of them adding infinite lives or unlimited time, level selection, or protection from death when you fall off the edge of the screen.
Games from Altered Beast to Vectorman 2 had been given the Chill Edition treatment. They took the rage out of Streets of Rage 2, and made even frantic games like Gunstar Heroes into relaxing experiences you can zone out to while listening to a podcast. At first I thought that was all there was to it, and then I looked into the identity of the blessed saint of a Steam user called xONLYUSEmeFEET responsible for these mods.
Turns out he's AJ Ryan, who has a condition called Arthrogryposis that restricts the use of his hands. Ryan steers his wheelchair, types, and plays games using his feet hence the username. You can check him out on YouTube , and he s able to type at 50 words-per-minute and use a mouse with his feet as well. Though he can play with controllers the triggers can be hard to depress with his toes and he s switched to PC gaming for his favorite first-person shooters. I'm glad I did because I can hold my own against my friends now! he says. But Ryan's keenly aware that not everybody is capable of doing what he can.
"Many Sega games are difficult to beat even for the most seasoned gamer and more people should be able to see these games through," Ryan says, explaining the impetus behind his project. "I began work on a few games before Workshop support released so I could have my mods on the store as soon as possible. I started making one of my favorite games, Streets of Rage 2, more accessible by adding in Infinite Lives and enabling additional features in the options menu. Upon completion of the mod, I decided I needed a name for my work. I didn t want to call direct attention to the fact my audience was those with disabilities so I decided on the Chill Edition moniker as I believed these Chill Editions could be enjoyed by anyone."
He was right. There were 34,143 players subscribed to various Chill Editions, and most of them had no idea who is responsible for them or that their creator has an even nobler motivation than saving modern players from ragequitting. His most popular mod is for Comix Zone an innovative but bastard-hard beat-em-up about an artist trapped in a comic who can traverse levels by ripping a path through the panel dividers which had 2,677 subscribers. The Chill Edition of Comix Zone made enemies weaker, adds infinite energy, and when you use the ability to rip a chunk of paper off the page and make a plane out of it, you now get health back instead of losing some. Each Chill Edition's modifications were chosen to suit the difficulties of that particular game.
"The experience I wanted for each Chill Edition game was to allow the player to go through the game at their own pace without worrying about a game over," Ryan explains. "So infinite lives/health were always my top priority for each Chill Edition game as if I could do that, any player could eventually beat the game. I also tried to enable stage/level select for every game to allow players to start the game from any level of their choosing. From there, I added features specific to each game that had a minor impact on difficulty such as infinite shurikens in Shinobi III or infinite time in Sonic."
Ryan started modding seven years ago, creating Doom maps when he was in high school, but his first Chill Edition for Streets of Rage 2 presented a new kind of challenge. "I was not familiar with Hex Editing or the workflow I needed to create in order to make my mods," he says. "The biggest obstacle for me was figuring out I needed to modify Sega s code protection in order to get any of the games to boot."
Though the process got easier once Ryan cleared that obstacle, his later work on the Sonic trilogy turned out to be "a nightmare" as he puts it. "All three games are structurally very different from each other so I was unable to get the same exact features across all of them which was always my goal for series of games." Sonic 3 & Knuckles was the Chill Edition fans requested most frequently and is currently the most popular one, but getting it to work took a lot of trial and error. "Additionally, getting complete hazard and drowning immunity in Sonic 3 & Knuckles to work without having the game lock out took forever to figure out."
A new obstacle stands in front of the Chill Editions right now, however. This week, dozens if not hundreds of mods have been pulled from the Mega Drive & Genesis Classics Collection, removing those that sneakily uploaded entire games as well as perfectly legit mods like Ryan s. Because of how many mods I uploaded I'm currently banned from the Workshop for 28 days! he says. Since the mods were first taken down, four Chill Edition mods have been reinstated, but that still leaves many more unaccounted for.
Even mods created by Simon Thomley, aka Stealth, the modder hired by Sega to create , have been caught in the mass ban. Ryan s hoping to get his mods reinstated or hosted elsewhere, but at the moment they are frustratingly unavailable on Steam, and modders are struggling to get more than stock answers from Steam support.
Ryan plans to continue working on the Chill Editions in the future, bugfixing existing ones while deciding which game to Chill next. He's hesitant to double up on work being done by other modders a lot of players request the JRPG Phantasy Star II, but there's already an out there for it. He's also considering modding other mods, like the original Japanese edition of Streets of Rage 3 which fans can now find under the name , although he wants to make sure the previous modders receive appropriate credit for their work. "I m always looking for suggestions on Chill Edition mods so always feel free to let me know! I ll make Chill Editions for as long as players ask me to."
The Chill Editions have proved worthwhile for both to disabled players who can now experience games that previously relied too much on fussy precision and tight reaction times, and anyone who never saw the end of Alien Soldier because it was just too hard. There are even commenters on Steam popping up to say how happy they are to be able to play games games they remember from their youth like Golden Axe alongside their own children, no matter what age they are.
Sometimes players are critical of the Chill Editions for being too easy, but that's the point of them. Arcade classics in particular weren't designed with accessibility in mind, and that's a shame. Video games all of them, including these historical artifacts of the coin-operated days should be for everyone.
Update: Earlier this week, dozens of Steam Workshop mods vanished from the Sega Mega Drive & Genesis Classics Hub without explanation. Sega has now responded, suggesting neither it nor Valve have removed mods that do not fall foul of Steam's terms of service.
According to Sega, this process has occurred automatically and both it and Steam are actively working to resolve those affected. The statement in full reads as follows:"SEGA would like to reiterate how delighted it is with how the Mega Drive/Genesis Collection community has self-moderated content on Steam Workshop. We've seen some fantastic mods created and released on the platform and want to encourage the community's continued creativity by helping to curate a library of outstanding mods.
"However, due to some erratic user behaviour over the last few days, many mods which didn't breach Steam's terms of service were automatically removed from Steam Workshop. SEGA and Valve are working together with the affected modders to reinstate their work as soon as possible and have already reversed a number of removals.
"SEGA and Valve are not actively removing mods that do not violate the terms of service, only those that do. We appreciate the help of the community's self-moderation in removing illegal or offensive content to maintain the high standard of legal mods on the platform. If you feel your mod does not breach the Steam terms of service but was removed, please contact email@example.com and SEGA will investigate."
Modders asking why their creations were taken down have received a stock reply from Steam Support: Due to reporting of content that violates the Steam Terms of Service, the content in question has been removed from the Steam Community.
Among the mods removed are some that violate copyright by uploading entire games including NBA Jam and Mutant League Football, but also many that are entirely within the Terms of Service. These include 'Sonic 1 Megamix' and 'Knuckles in Sonic 1' by modder Stealth, who was hired by Sega to create on the strength of ROM hacks like these, as well as over 20 'Chill Edition' mods created by xONLYUSEmeFEET to make games more accessible for players with disabilities.
After lodging a support ticket, modder Tiddles managed to get reinstated, a collection of tweaks that include bugfixes and the option to hear the original PC version's music. Other modders are still waiting and have received nothing beyond Valve's standard response: It is our policy not to provide specific feedback on removed content.
As of press time, some of the mods have been restored, but not all.
Sega has not replied to a request for comment.
No matter how hard it tries, Sega can't seem to nail a modern Sonic game at least, nothing has managed to match the affection we still hold for the '90s platformers. I'd argue that Sonic Generations was pretty decent, but overall, Sonic games are pretty average nowadays. There's no point sugarcoating it.
Sonic Utopia is a fan made game which imagines Sonic in an open world setting. As the video below demonstrates, it's more high-speed parkour than platformer, coming across like a meeting between SSX and Yooka Laylee. According to its creator Mr Lange, Utopia is "an experiment that not only tries to expand on Sonic gameplay in an intuitive way in 3D, but also aims to capture the best of Sonic's style and tie it together in a cohesive experience."
I don't know what Sega will make of this, but optimistically, it'd be cool if this guy got a job making a halfway-decent official Sonic game. Imagine that?
In line with the blue hedgehog s 25th birthday celebrations this year, Sega announced two new Sonic games back in July: Project Sonic and Sonic Mania. The latter sounds the most interesting of the pair a reimagining of the classics with new moves, new animations and new zones and was on display at this weekend s PAX West.
Courtesy of the folks at IGN, the following footage first showcases Sonic bounding around a familiar Green Hill Zone gathering rings, destroying Crabmeat bots and whizzing round loop-de-loops before facing off against a new end-of-level boss which looks distinctly more difficult than Robotnik of old.
Once disposed of, Sonic is then dropped into Studiopolis a brand new zone that sort-of echoes Sonic 2 s Casino Night the original s Spring Yard level.
It s without a concrete release date for now, but Sonic Mania is due at some point in 2017.
If you were a Mega Driver back in the day (or Genesis-er if you live Stateside) then you’ll know Sonic 2 was the best Sonic. The original Sonic the Hedgehog introduced the concept and set the tone, whilst Sonic 3 tried too hard with its dodgy boss melodies and pain-in-the-arse bonus levels. Anything after that was mince. Sonic 2 was the sweet spot in the series.
Why is this relevant here at RPS’s House-O-PCs, I hear you ask? A ROM hacker has given Sonic something very cool from our home: an Aperture Science portal gun.
Sonic Generations was a seemingly celebratory attempt to reconcile Sonic's troubled 3D incarnations with the 2D glory days of the Mega Drive era. It didn't entirely work, but, for better or worse, it's probably one of the best Sonic platformers of recent years.
Viking: Battle for Asgard is an entertaining third-person brawler. It's a bit naff, and has atrocious stealth sections, but also lets you thwack hundreds of enemies with axes and stuff. Sometimes that's all you need from a game, and that's okay.
Both bonus games are available for those who pay more than the average. It's a strange, eclectic bundle, but there's some good stuff in there. For $3.80 or above, you can get a collection of Dreamcast Games, a Sonic kart racer, Total War: Rome 2 DLC, Football Manager 2015 DLC, Empire: Total War, standalone Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer DLC, a Sonic platformer and a Viking brawler. There's also Shogun 2's standalone expansion available for those who part with $12 or above.