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How Do I Create a Spiritual Game Successor?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the pray-on-it dept.

Classic Games (Games) 125

An anonymous reader writes "I've recently been on a legacy video game binge, reliving the nostalgic days, when I realized that one of my favorite old games can be vastly improved with a few tweaks. This game is pretty much made for a controller, so I would love to get it done on Xbox Live, but doing it on the PC is just as viable. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure the game is not in the public domain yet. Based on previous stories covered here, some companies are all for community made successors while others choose to give them the crushing blow from the start. My question is: how far is too far when one is trying to make a spiritual successor? I do not intend to copy any materials, but it would be lovely if I could incorporate some game design ideas (very general level design, movement, and just one or two game features)."

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Um ... (3, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796276)

Pray for inspiration and success?

Re:Um ... (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797058)

I think that I'd start with a Ouija board. Let me find that manual - 'Programming with Ouija' - it's around here somewhere!

For spiritual successor there is only..... (2, Insightful)

3seas (184403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796292)

.... Lie.

Re:For spiritual successor there is only..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797310)

I've never been in such a position myself, but I'd probably say lying is the best initial defense. You'll need to be able to prove it, but if anyone asks you about it, saying "Oh, it really reminds you of X? That's interesting. I'll have to check it out. Is it any good?" is probably a good idea.

Sorry friend... (4, Funny)

cliffiecee (136220) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796310)

Alley Cat [wikipedia.org] was indeed an awesome game.

But I don't think adding LOLcats is going to improve it.

Re:Sorry friend... (1)

Unka Willbur (1771596) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796516)

ARGH! Now you've made me go and break out the emulator!

But, on a serious note, LOLcats improves EVERYTHING.

My Goodness... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796528)

I never expected Alleycat to get into my life again.. So much fun, so boring game.. But when all you had is CGA and you had completed Kings Quest, a few minutes of Alleycat was.... interesting ;-)

Re:Sorry friend... (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797416)

Ah, man, I thought you meant AlleyKat [lemon64.com] and got excited for nothing.

well (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796316)

Would someone playing your game who had played the other one realize yours is based on the older? If not then I don't see what the big deal is, as far as I know you can adapt general gaming ideas (though IANACL).

Re:well (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796826)

Well, "if not" then it's not a spiritual successor.

the usual formula (5, Insightful)

beefnog (718146) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796318)

1) accept zero money
2) gpl / lgpl
3) funky name that barely hints at the original
4) original artwork

unless the company happens to be in an IP troll mood, you'll probably be fine

Re:the usual formula (2, Insightful)

neokushan (932374) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796558)

^ This

The most successful "spiritual sequels" I've seen have generally been Open Source equivalents. Obviously you wont be able to open source anything from the Xbox360 SDK for legal reasons, but if you wanted to do it in XNA to get it on the 360, there's no reason why you couldn't.
However, a good ol' C++/OpenGL PC version would be ideal, that way if it's successful enough, it can live on through various homebrew ports to past, present and future games consoles alike.

Re:the usual formula (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796630)

Or;

1. Just make it however you see fit.
2. Don't add your name or any reference to yourself.
3. Release whatever the fuck you want to.
4. Let the users, not the lawyers, define the artistic merit.

Guess i'm a dreamer.

Re:the usual formula (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796672)

That's certainly an option, but probably non-viable for anything but single person dev team. :(

Re:the usual formula (4, Informative)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797064)

As it stands, under American Copyright Law (and many other places), the "rules of a game" as it were can not be copyrighted (or trademarked, obviously). This is why you can have a blatant Tetris clone on your cell phone, but it can't be called Tetris (as that would be a violation of trademark).

So long as the code is 100% yours (and/or is all code that is from scratch), all of the art assets (textures, models, music, etc.) are created from scratch, and you don't use any copyrighted material (character names, game name (obviously), and perhaps even the "distinctive appearance" of a character) you'll have no legal problems. Well, you might get sued, but any competent judge would throw the case out as in this situation they'd have no legal standing.

Re:the usual formula (3, Insightful)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797280)

I agree entirely. If creating a "successor" of a game - any game that was similar to existing games - was illegal, than the vast majority of commercial games out there would be illegal.

Unfortunately it seems to be a common myth in indie game development circles that rules and ideas are covered by copyright.

Re:the usual formula (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797374)

(Posting AC because Slashdot's login returns "503 Fucked" error messages)

Also, it's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. If you follow lhmhi's advice above, you're unlikely to get into trouble. However, if you go out of your way to ask permission from the original game developers and they say no, then what? You're screwed. If you go ahead and develop it anyways they could take you to court and show the judge that you anticipated possible infringement yet went ahead even after you didn't obtain permission.

Way better to cover your bases up-front to ensure that you're not copying any artwork, story, sounds, code, etc. and forge ahead.

Of course, all of this is moot. Consult with an IP lawyer before undertaking any serious development effort. Or just average out the Slashdot opinions... I'm sure they're just as good. :P

Re:the usual formula (2, Interesting)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797430)

Also, it's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. If you follow lhmhi's advice above, you're unlikely to get into trouble. However, if you go out of your way to ask permission from the original game developers and they say no, then what? You're screwed. If you go ahead and develop it anyways they could take you to court and show the judge that you anticipated possible infringement yet went ahead even after you didn't obtain permission.

If you ask, and they say "no", then don't make it. If you don't respect their wishes, and you were asking only as a formality, you're just being an asshole and the court deserves to ding you when you get sued.

Believe me, there are thousands of games that could work well if remade. Here's what you do:

1) Pick a game
2) Ask its creator if you can remake it (don't be an asshole)
3) If they say no, go to step 1.

Re:the usual formula (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798532)

Easier:

1) make your game

It's likely that while remaking the game you'll deviate in more than one way from the original because you find various ways in which you could make it better from your point of view and in the end the result will have so many of your own touches that it's more original than 90% of the big retail games today.

Re:the usual formula (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31798952)

Dumbest idea ever. Game rules cannot be copyrighted. Make the game. Call it something different. Make sure it *looks* different that the original game.

And whatever you do *don't* ask permission. Asking permission could be trouble. Even if a license is granted, you will be bound by the license, and you don't want that.

Re:the usual formula (2, Informative)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 4 years ago | (#31799144)

Far better:

1:Just make the game.

Don't take their artwork or story or character names and you're fine.

there are enough games out there anyway which are carbon copies of each other.

Asking the creator of the old game is stupid unless you want to use their code or artwork.

if you really feel the need to reference them then you might want to add an "inspired by" section and just make sure there's a decent list of other games in there too.

Stealing from one source is plagiarism.
Stealing from many is art.

Re:the usual formula (1)

Sparx139 (1460489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797558)

Well, you might get sued, but any competent judge...

There's your problem. How often have we seen this not happen?

Re:the usual formula (2, Informative)

Xest (935314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798938)

Yep, this is mostly true, if you're making a clone of a game you don't need permission providing you don't infringe on their IP.

Infringement of IP might be using the same names of characters, graphically similar enemies and so forth.

Basically, if the original game is story based you're going to struggle to immitate it without infringing on their IP because their IP is so core to the game, but if you're going for a less story focussed game, let's say something like Streetfighter 2, then clone away, just change the characters, change the moves, change the name, and there's really fuck all they can do- you can still do a fighting game that resembles it and recreate the spirit of the original game without copying their IP.

The same goes for a game like, say Desert Strike or the games in that series- it's fine to make a roughly isometric viewpoint based game where you fly around in a helicopter blowing shit up as long as you change the storyline, and use a slightly different helicopter, or give it different weapons.

So really it comes down to how closely the IP is tied into the gameplay, with Tetris there was really little IP other than the name, it's hard for them to claim coloured blocks as their IP and they cannot class the gameplay as their IP hence why as the parent said, you can clone the shit out of tetris and give it a different name. The same would go for games like Asteroids as long as the name and spaceship aren't quite the same. But then as I say, if you take an platformer like Mario or Sonic then you can copy the gameplay- game mechanics such as jumping on heads to kill, the speed characters move, how high they jump, but you can't copy the characters or enemies so by the time you're done you'll be left with a game that might play like Mario or Sonic, but is otherwise completely and utterly different and just another platformer.

So overall the answer to the question is really just how much of the original game you want to clone- if you just want to make a game that feels like the original, but has fresh characters, storyline, name and so forth then fine. If you want to clone the original characters and storyline then you're out of luck.

As an aside, in my younger days, Valve came in heavy handed against a mod team I was in for trying to create a clone of the original Teamfortress for a different engine and told us we were infringing on their IP because we used the word Fortress in the name even though we didn't use the word Team, and we used the same class names. They told us we could carry on if we removed Fortress from the name, and if we changed the class names. I was 17 at the time so wasn't going to argue, but I suspect they had very little case against us anyway, even more so when you take into account the fact the original TF mod was available free with source code and listed as free to use as you want, even though Valve later removed it and claimed that agreement was no longer valid, something I'm not sure they can retroactively take back anyway. So companies will try it on, if you believe you've done nothing wrong seek proper legal advice, they may just be trying to strong arm you when you have absolutely no case to answer at all.

I would say in the face of modern strengthening of IP laws, the laws surrounding computer game development are actually some of the fairest and most liberal, and I'd argue this is why computer games technology move so fast- we'd probably never have had Call of Duty MW games if Valve had been able to use say Counter-Strike to claim rights to modern warfare FPS games for example.

Re:the usual formula (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797210)

Alternative formula

1. Write it as a shell script.

Re:the usual formula (1)

KahabutDieDrake (1515139) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797690)

Over specialize and you breed in weakness. It's slow death. ;)

Re:the usual formula (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797720)

Even if they are in a troll mood, there is little they can do. As far as I know (not far, IANAL) only images, words, names and trademarks are a problem in a game. The gameplay is not patentable, nor is it relaly copyrightable. Your game has to simply look and sound diffrent. Have you seen the millions of tetris clones? You think nintendo doesn't care about them?

It doesn't hurt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796322)

to contact the IP holder?

Re:It doesn't hurt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796392)

This would be the worst thing to do. They'll use some sort of bullshit "Intellectual Property" argument and track you from then on. Don't use their real assets like artwork or level design and just make your own game. Don't ride their coattails and let your own creation live on its own. To say "May I borrow this one little feature?" is just inviting an army of lawyers where you just use it like everyone else uses basic concepts in the game industry and you'll be fine.

Re:It doesn't hurt (2, Interesting)

Garridan (597129) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797102)

Go with Hopper. It's better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Just a suggestion (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796324)

You could try Hare Krishna

Here's what I did... (5, Informative)

drenehtsral (29789) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796330)

If it is an individual who wrote the original game, ask them for permission. Both times I've asked, I've received permission.

If it is a faceless mega-corporation, avoid using images, music, or names from the original game, but unless they have a patent on the look-and-feel or game mechanics (never heard of the later), you can just code away.

For my platman (old Amiga game) remake for the GBA, you can get it on my web page. (www.greasybastard.com)

Also see freeciv, and any of the two-or-so decent Wing Commander Privateer remakes.

Re:Here's what I did... (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797392)

unless they have a patent on the look-and-feel or game mechanics (never heard of the later)

Nintendo has U.S. Patent 5,265,888 (since reissued [google.com] ) on the rules of Dr. Mario.

Re:Here's what I did... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797874)

It's cute that people think companies like EA are "mega-corporations."

Re:Here's what I did... (1)

Razalhague (1497249) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798506)

It's cute when people completely ignore the context of discussion, and the inherent scope it brings to words like "mega". Wait, no, that's not cute at all.

Re:Here's what I did... (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798620)

It's cute that people think companies like EA are "mega-corporations."

I'd say a listed company with an annual revenue of around $4 billion and over 9,000 employees qualifies as a "mega-corporation", wouldn't you? This makes it, I believe, two to three orders of magnitude larger than the average company.

The fun is in the doing (3, Insightful)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796340)

I have more fun making the games than I do playing them.

Tell the wikitruth (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796402)

A fat bastard hipster faggot neckbeard loser called peter symmonds reverts all my edits and rangeblocks all my IPs.

Please do not use wikipedia. Also dferg is a cocksucker.

Duke Nukem Forever and a Day (5, Funny)

Shinmizu (725298) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796416)

Well, you can just tell people you're working on Duke Nukem Forever and a Day. As long as you never finish, you've succeeded at making a spiritual successor.

Re:Duke Nukem Forever and a Day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31798912)

I hereby kick off the Count Fryem Forever project, expected to finish when it's finished.

You don't. (5, Insightful)

gillbates (106458) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796500)

So you played this game. You thought it was cool. You want to give others that cool experience that you liked so much.

Instead of copying the game concepts, invent something new. Go a level beyond the original. Give other people that "Wow - this is really cool new game" experience, not the "Wow - this is a really cheesy knockoff of ${GAME}".

I understand that learning to write games well without copying someone else's game is like learning to play guitar without _Stairway to Heaven_. That's fine; we've all got our Asteroids copies wasting bits on our hard drives. But copying games doesn't really bring anything new and good to the community:

  1. If it looks like a copy, it will be compared to that other game, and no matter how good you make it, there will be people who pan it because ${GAME} did X, and yours doesn't do X, or does Y instead and they liked X better.
  2. Even a poorly implemented or incomplete game will garner interest if it is NEW and INTERESTING. If you plan to open source this ever, and want to take it beyond the initial stages, it will be helpful to have a community supporting you, i.e. submitting bug reports and patches. Trust me, no one's going to even care to submit a bug report for a Yet Another Tetris Clone.
  3. Originality is good. Seriously, we have too many games which are essentially copies of each other with different texture maps. Do something that will challenge other game developers to rethink their gameplay.

If game writing is your passion, do it well. The big studios are not going to produce the creative, fun-to-play kind of games that an independent developer can. You are not competing with them - you have a range of freedom the professional game developer can only dream about. Use it. Be a blessing to other gamers, not the studios.

Re:You don't. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796780)

I disagree. I'd be perfectly happy to get yet another pacman clone, if it was the best pacman of all time.

original != good
unoriginal != bad

Re:You don't. (2, Interesting)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796812)

I don't really agree with this. The best OSS games I've played are all "successors" of older games, with improved but not so original mechanics: OpenTTD, Freeciv, Hedgewars or any of the Quake3 clones.

I was also pretty excited to see development around a Theme Hospital OSS clone, but alas, it seems the movement lost some steam nowadays.

Re:You don't. (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798600)

It's pretty hard to get enough people to cooperate in a way that could be described as proper opensource development (i.e. not just one guy doing all the work and releasing it under GPL but actually multiple contributors working together) when the goal is not "let's make X but better!". When the goal is to go original you get a katamari of ideas as every contributor will want to add his own "improvements". The best games look like they were designed by a single person or a hive mind even though there were many individuals involved because it all stays coherent.

Re:You don't. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797018)

Nice argument, but the facts contradict it. There are many great free tributes to classic games. Freeciv, OpenTTD, Oolite, FrozenBubble, beautiful remakes of King's Quest I & II, and Quest for Glory II, Scorched 3d, etc. Any of these stand up well against their original inspiration, and provide something new at the same time.

Re:You don't. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797538)

Really? Because I thought those remakes were all poor, none standing up to the original, let alone beyond.

Re:You don't. (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798608)

Then let's go for more straight rip-offs and compare Spring's Balanced Annihilation with the original Total Annihilation or the Supreme Commander games. TA was an unbalanced mess of units and Balanced Annihilation somehow managed to make it work better while Supreme Commander is a pretty shallow shadow of its spiritual predecessor Total Annihilation, while it may be more balanced the set of options went down radically.

Re:You don't. (1)

mqduck (232646) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797220)

This guy said "I realized that one of my favorite old games can be vastly improved with a few tweaks". Why would you want to discourage someone doing that and maybe even let you and everyone else play it?

Re:You don't. (2, Funny)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797268)

invent something new

That's like the old joke on how to carve a ship... "Start with a block of wood, and carve away anything that doesn't look like a ship".

Re:You don't. (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797302)

Can you point to me how many commercial games out there are totally original new ideas, as opposed to borrowing from previous games?

The big studios are not going to produce the creative, fun-to-play kind of games that an independent developer can. You are not competing with them - you have a range of freedom the professional game developer can only dream about.

Do you write games yourself, OOI?

The reason why commercial game developers tend to be less original is because coming up with original games, that are still fun to play, is hard. An idea may seem original and fun, only to become unworkable when you try to implement it.

And if commercial games aren't "fun-to-play", why do they sell so well?

Re:You don't. (3, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797482)

Can you point to me how many commercial games out there are totally original new ideas, as opposed to borrowing from previous games?

The most recent genre-launching video game was probably Parappa the Rapper in the mid-1990s. Parappa begot Beatmania, which begot Frequency and Amplitude, which begot Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Even a game like Katamari Damacy is just Bubbles (1982) redone as a 3D platformer.

Re:You don't. (1)

Sylos (1073710) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797686)

DOTA disagrees with your recent genre-launching video game definition.

Re:You don't. (1)

grumbel (592662) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797580)

Even a poorly implemented or incomplete game will garner interest if it is NEW and INTERESTING.

I would say its quite the other way around. A clone of a well loved game will attract lots of attention, because it basically comes with a build in fan base and there will be plenty of fan pages out there that might link your project, thus spreading the word. Doing something completly new on the other side means you have to start from scratch, you don't have places to advertise your game and people will have no idea if your game is even worth a try, after all there are thousands of other free games floating around out there. You will also have a much harder time attracting and coordinating contributors, as its much easier to point to something existing as example how to implement a feature, than trying to explain a vague gameplay concept over the Internet, especially when you don't even know if the thing will actually work out.

That of course doesn't mean that you should do an exact pixel perfect clone, after all why bother when I could play the original in emulation, but there is really nothing wrong with using ideas from an already existing games and adding a bit of your own style on top. The simple truth is that things are not created in a vacuum, they always connect in one way or another to things already out there. Be original when you have a really good idea, but don't try to reinvent the wheel just because you can.

Re:You don't. (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797626)

You see the same thing all over the place in other media as well. You can't swing a cat at a comics convention without hitting someone who's aching to "emulate" Jack Kirby by.... writing more stories using the characters Kirby created. (Or insert Will Eisner or Steve Ditko or Alan Moore or Jim Lee, etc. Or insert a beloved novelist or filmmaker or musician.) But that's not what made any of these creators great. What made them great was the fact that they created their own new characters (or songs or whatever). If you want to pay homage to the creators of PAC-MAN, don't waste your time on PAC-MAN-3D. Create something new, like they did.

Re:You don't. (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798626)

There's a difference between writing/movies/music/etc and games in that games are largely mechanical and those mechanics can be improved. Stories are fixed works, writing the same one again with small improvements makes no sense but a game is dynamic, changing the mechanics even minimally can have a gigantic effect on the outcome and people replay games to experience all the different variations the mechanics can provide so those changes can be a huge improvement. What may be compared to stories, movies etc is the level design, reusing old levels doesn't provide much new fun.

Also I believe the point here is not to honor the original devs but to produce something that is more fun to play than the original.

A lot of games are very similar (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796522)

I think you should be able to make a very similar game as long as you do not direct copy the graphics or the name I do not think you should encounter much trouble.
Just never say anymore then that it was inspired by the game.

I am in no way an expert, but (very general level design, movement, and just one or two game features) should be fine.
Pretty much every single FPS has similar moment and features anyways.

Don't use their IP and don't worry about it... (2, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796568)

I do not intend to copy any materials, but it would be lovely if I could incorporate some game design ideas (very general level design, movement, and just one or two game features).

If you aren't going to use any of their art assets or written copy, you don't use any of their trademarked names or characters, and you don't violate any patents they may have received on features (probably not an issue) then I don't see what the problem is in the first place.

They can't do anything to you just for imitating the general game play. Commercial games do that all the time. Look at something like Dragon Age - the engine and game play feels a LOT like a spiritual successor to Neverwinter Nights - Bioware just dumped their D&D license and created all of their own story line and assets.

Re:Don't use their IP and don't worry about it... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796692)

I think the main question is what makes a game a spiritual successor. You answer that and you've got most of the trouble worked out. I'd say that the big thing is not so much the game play, as the atmosphere and the philosophy. You have to be careful how you do it, but there's typically a lot of room within that to make something that's fresh and non-infringing. Provided you don't choose something that lacks the complexity and sophistication to allow for it.

Re:Don't use their IP and don't worry about it... (1)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796832)

True - and looking at existing examples might be a good way to help define that.

For example:

Total Annihilation -> Supreme Commander (same as with NN -> DA, it was the same developer who just no longer had rights to the original). The atmosphere, genre, *and* gameplay elements there are really similar...

System Shock -> BioShock (again the story of same dev, new franchise...)

This might become an interesting thread :) Any other obvious (or non-obvious) ones?

Re:Don't use their IP and don't worry about it... (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797400)

This might become an interesting thread :) Any other obvious (or non-obvious) [spiritual successors]?

Goldeneye 007 -> Perfect Dark -> Timesplitters

Re:Don't use their IP and don't worry about it... (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798196)

Any other obvious (or non-obvious) ones?

Mitchell's Osman to Capcom's Strider -- both directed by Kouichi "Isuke" Yotsui.

Re:Don't use their IP and don't worry about it... (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798642)

It's better described as the mental process in the player. The factors involved in that vary from game to game but a successor should provide a similar mental process (e.g. if a game has the player thinking about the large scale environment and how to navigate and explore it a game that instead focuses on a story and combat is not a sequel even if it uses the same setting, characters, etc). An important factor of that is also newness, if a part of the game was surprising the player with new ideas you can't make a successor by just recycling these ideas because they are no longer surprising and thus the mental process changes even if the physical content does not. Identify what the player is thinking about while playing the game, make sure you provide him with something that produces those same thoughts. Only looking at physical content creates the feeling that changing things is a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't dilemma, often fans will complain that a sequel changed things while also complaining that a sequel kept things the same, in both cases the mental process was changed (once because the mechanics differ, once because the newness was lost).

Play Safe (0)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796578)

The only reliable level that is acceptable is to use the same game the same engine, and just make new custom levels for it. Anything more than that will end you up in hot water for sure.

Gameplay can't be copyrighted (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796606)

IANAL, but according to conventional wisdom you can legally copy the gameplay of a game. You can make a clone of a game that has more than a passing resemblance (exact same game mechanics, similar visual style) without running afoul of copyright law, and there's tons of examples of this for both commercial and open source games.

However, you can't can't use any of the original character names, place names, or level design without the permission of the license holder. I'm not sure how far you could go recreating the story/plot.

Of course, you should strive to create something more than a clone, but don't feel afraid to build on the successful game design ideas from an existing work. The big problem with most fan games is that they want to build on an existing *universe*, which is on legally shaky ground especially without a firm signed commitment that it's OK to do so.

FL108 from the US Copr. Office (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797414)

IANAL, but according to conventional wisdom you can legally copy the gameplay of a game.

US Copyright Office form letter 108 [copyright.gov] agrees with you. But that doesn't mean a company with more money to spend on lawyers than you will leave you alone. The Tetris Company in particular attacks any unlicensed tetromino stacking game that has any sort of revenue stream.

Just do it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796632)

Shoot first [fascinationsoftware.com] (Invasion 3D). Ask questions later.

Yahtzee Did a Video On This (1)

sesshomaru (173381) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796640)

Yahtzee did a tutorial video on this which he cleverly disguised as a review of the game Bioshock:

Zero Punctuation: Bioshock [escapistmagazine.com]

To paraphrase, "Bioshock isn't like System Shock II, it is System Shock II.... the bad guy might as well be Shodan with a waistcoat and a copy of Atlas Shrugged... PSI powers are now Plasmids, the Hybrids are now Splicers and the wrench is now... well it's still a wrench but a different sort of wrench... everything that was cyberpunk then is steampunk now..."

You're okay (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796648)

Don't use trademarked names or logos or anything so close it would create confusion. E.g., PocMan, or PacMen or PacPeople are too close to Pacman, but ChomperMan, PelletEater, GhostEater, etc, are okay.

Don't use the original copyrighted materials. Artwork, exact text, etc, are all verboten.

Beyond that, you're basically okay. Game rules/mechanics specifically *can't* be patented (or copyrighted, of course) in the USA. That doesn't mean that there aren't patents purporting to do so out there. There is long-standing precedent in the courts to that effect. However, "software patents," which are method patents, and which are only enforceable in the USA currently, might cover any innovative bits of code in the original -- but basically not if the game was released before, oh, the State Street decision in 1998, to be safe.

Re:You're okay (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797426)

Game rules/mechanics specifically *can't* be patented (or copyrighted, of course) in the USA.

Nintendo's patent on the rules of Dr. Mario (originally 5,265,888; since reissued) and AFL's patent on indoor football with a rebound net (4,911,443) disagree with you. I can dig up citations if you wish.

Get it in writing (2, Insightful)

mykos (1627575) | more than 4 years ago | (#31796770)

Get everything CLEARLY in writing if you get the IP owner on board with it. They can act enthusiastic now and screw you over later.

Re:Get it in writing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797088)

More importantly, read whatever they send like a lawyer.
"CompanyX has no intention to sue DeveloperY for development of GameZ" ...is useless, because of the use of the word "intention". Their intention could change at any moment.

Better to write up your own proposal and see if you can get them to agree to it.

Or, just don't do it.. instead use your creative talents to make something new.
There's still no guarantee that someone wont accuse you of "stealing their IP".

Joss Whedon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796792)

Does it right. Make a great "thing", once the newness begins to fade, cut loose and start something different

Uhh.. asking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31796794)

Well, maybe that sounds strange, but how about just asking the company?

Re:Uhh.. asking? (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797324)

Any company would most likely say no (you're speaking to the lawyers, and what have they got to gain by saying yes?), at which point if you went ahead anyway, they know about your project, and have more of an argument to say that you knowingly copied the game that they owned the rights to.

Re:Uhh.. asking? (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797334)

Well, maybe that sounds strange, but how about just asking the company?

Because if you are not using any of their imaginary property (copyrighted/trademarked/patented materials), then they have no say whatsoever in your production and there is absolutely no need to ask permission for anything.

Spiritual games (3, Insightful)

ignavus (213578) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797290)

I am still trying to picture a spiritual game.

Do you steer a character up into the mountains to assume the Lotus position and meditate on the oneness of the world?

Are you attacked by demons, but instead of shooting them (Doom) you cast them out with prayer (obviously a movie spin-off from The Exorcist)?

Do you pass through increasingly higher levels of virtue as your avatar accumulates Love, Peace, Hope, etc?

It is an interesting idea anyway - spiritual enlightenment through game playing: the 21st century religion.

Wisdom Tree (2, Funny)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797432)

Wisdom Tree's games [wikipedia.org] weren't licensed by Nintendo. They were licensed by God.

Re:Spiritual games (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797610)

I am still trying to picture a spiritual game.

"Do androids dream of electric sheep" had an electronic game that was pretty well what you describe, except as unseen enemies threw rocks at you as you climbed the mountain you just had to grit your teeth and bear it.

Re:Spiritual games (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798318)

Yeah, I thought this too, when I saw how horribly they butchered Dante's Divine Comedia [dantesinferno.com] . The original was talking about the spiritual journey of a man seeking truth. It was a classic that influenced millions, and EA did their thing with it. I really don't expect anything more from EA, but I've been wondering, how could someone take the power and message of the original and transform it into an entertaining game? Because that's essentially what Dante did, he had a message he wanted to present, and he depicted it in poetry, which was a form of entertainment in those days. Why can't we do the same with games? I think Heavy Rain might be approaching a method that might work for that, but I'm sure there are other ways too. I think we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible in the video game medium.

Re:Spiritual games (1)

jlebrech (810586) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798338)

EstherRTS

Re:Spiritual games (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798658)

Well, Cursed Mountain sounds superficially like what you describe (you ascend a mountain and fight by using prayers on restless souls and demons)...

Re:Spiritual games (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798676)

I am still trying to picture a spiritual game.

Do you steer a character up into the mountains to assume the Lotus position and meditate on the oneness of the world?

You've played The Secret of Levitation [ysrnry.co.uk] then?

A lawyer (1, Troll)

bbqsrc (1441981) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797306)

Once again, Slashdot is not a lawyer. Ask one.

Re:A lawyer (1)

fishexe (168879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797366)

Once again, SINAL. Ask one.

There, fixed that for you.

Re:A lawyer (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797436)

Slashdot is not a lawyer. Ask one.

Ask Slashdot about the law typically means "What should I know first to make the most of my first consultation?"

examples (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797492)

People create "spiritual sucessors" all the time

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secret_Maryo_Chronicles

http://openlynks.sourceforge.net/

http://www.solarus-engine.org/

Copyright 101 (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797594)

"Unfortunately, I am pretty sure the game is not in the public domain yet. "

Since there are no video games I'm aware of that pre-date 1923 (US copyright law), I'd say that's probably right.

Re:Copyright 101 (2, Informative)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798066)

Authors can chose to release works into the public domain ahead of time, and sometimes things fall through the cracks, even though they are not all that old (see 'Night of the Living Dead').

Re:Copyright 101 (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798664)

Authors can chose to release works into the public domain ahead of time

Technically speaking, this isn't true. Under the Berne Convention, copyright exists even if it is not asserted. Courts interpret a "release into the public domain" as, essentially, issuing a perpetual license to perform any activity with a work. While the consequences are effectively the same, the legal situation is considered different.

and sometimes things fall through the cracks

Not in Berne Convention signatory countries, as the US has been since 1989.

see 'Night of the Living Dead'

One of relatively few professionally-produced works to have fallen into that particular trap. None have since 1989, meaning that it is highly unlikely any given video game (even one described as a "legacy" game) is in this situation.

"can be vastly improved with a few tweaks" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797692)

No, it can't. That's why it's classic. Stop trying to update old games and just go play the old one.

It's ridiculous that people think they can improve on old games and end up with an absolute disaster of a game because they think 3d adds a lot to old games (in most cases, it doesn't), or better graphics (mostly no), or adding some ridiculous tweaks to unbalance the old games.

Leave them alone. You want to play an old game, go play the old game.

Re:"can be vastly improved with a few tweaks" (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798668)

You cannot succeed if you do not try. Many physical games have evolved in many steps over the centuries, nobody told those people "you want to play football play the classic rules, don't try to invent new rules like having to kick the ball!"

No problem, but talk to a lawyer first.... (0)

stonewolf (234392) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797814)

You should look at the copyright law governing games and then talk to an IP lawyer. But, my understanding, and I am not a lawyer, is that so long as you don't copy the look and don't steal any images or sounds made for the original game. You are pretty much in the clear. A spiritual successor is OK. Consider, that anyone can write a story using time travel or warp drive, but you get in trouble if you have warp drive ships named the NCC Enterprise that looks like the one in Star Trek. But, you can have a ship named Enterprise. There have been many ships named Enterprise in real life. Another way to look at it is Doom versus all the other 3d FPS games ever made. They are all spiritual successors to Doom (or that castle game ID did first.) But that was inspired by first person games from way before then. OTOH, it is very hard to make a spiritual successor to Scrabble because you can't do Scrabble any other way. But, it would be easy to do a non-infringing spiritual successor do Risk (Dicewars), or Monopoly, or...

You do need to make sure that there are no patents on the game. If there are, you can just work around them. Or, if the game is old then it the patents may have expired.

Like I said, read the law. It is online. And, if you have any doubts talk to an IP lawyer.

Stonewolf

I met with a lawyer recently about a similar topic (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31797822)

I recently ran into a very similar situation with a software project of my own. And I did consult a lawyer.

Take your design. Sample images, logos, and gameplay design to a lawyer, especially one who does copyright work. Take the original game (or screenshots and descriptions) as well.

They should be able to give an opinion. If their opinion is that you're two close, then find some ways to make the game different in a way you feel is better until the lawyer says that it is different.

Once he says it is different, he can give you an "opinion letter" to that effect. Then, if you are sued his malpractice insurance will cover you.

In my case I was using some graphics in my software that were similar to graphics found elsewhere, but what I did was somewhat different and due to other circumstances, he explained why the other party would have no case and he would give me an opinion letter and if he is wrong his malpractice insurance would be responsible.

Copy just the essence (2, Insightful)

steveha (103154) | more than 4 years ago | (#31797850)

Figure out what it is that you really like about the game. Then make a game that does something similar, and conveys the essence of what you like.

For example, the essence of "Asteroids" would be a game where you pilot a space ship in 2D, with a simplified physics model (if you stop firing the engines, your ship will actually slow down and eventually stop due to some sort of highly unrealistic "friction" in space) and you busily dodge and shoot things. You could make a game that isn't called "Asteroids", doesn't have vector graphics, and has somewhat different rules, but it would still capture the essence. It doesn't matter if your rocks are kind of ugly or your sound effects are lame, but it does matter if the controls for the ship are sluggish to respond, or the game animation is jerky, that sort of thing. Sound effects and rock graphics are easily upgraded later; focus on the soul of your game. (I used to play Asteroids, and it wasn't because the graphics were so good or the music was so great. In fact, there was no music, although that sort of "heartbeat" sound effect was kind of cool for the day...)

Once you have your core gameplay, you may start having original ideas that may take you in a new direction. Suppose you added gravity to your spaceship game, and the player has to fly in and out of cave networks, shooting little bases and collecting stuff? (That one is called "Gravitar".) Suppose you shoot rocks, but they don't blow up, and little crystals come out and you collect them? Then add a giant lion-faced robot boss... (That one is called "Sinistar".) So, don't call your project some lame name like "Asteroids Clone"; it may not end up being a clone. You could call it some goofy name like "Nexuiz" and thanks to the miracle of the Internet, people would still find out about it (if it's worth finding out about).

Also, here is a meta hint that applies to any free software project: focus on what you are good at, and make something that is usable even if limited. If you make a game that is quite playable, but just has one level that repeats over and over, you may attract a fan base and someone may volunteer to write a new level for it. If your music is weak, someone who is a musician may donate some better music. But nobody will volunteer to take a broken mass of code that doesn't even compile, and help you sort it out. Successful free software projects build a community and some momentum, but you won't get a community or momentum without making something that actually works.

I suggest an informal "agile" approach. Get something working, no matter how limited and lame. For example, a ship that flies around. Then add some feature, and get that working too. Say, rocks. Then keep adding things: collision detection (ship must dodge), ship gun, rocks splitting when hit, a score counter, etc. At each step, get something that works and check it in to a source control system before you go on.

I use an informal agile approach on just about everything I do. If you are making a truly complicated game that needs crazy amounts of design, even then I suggest doing the agile thing... just design the broad outlines, then pick some easy corner of the project and start there.

Especially in a project you are doing in your spare time for fun, this style of developing is a good idea. And in true open source style, consider making all your little incremental releases publicly available. If you are lucky, you may start to build a little community even while you are still at the pre-alpha stage.

P.S. If you are looking for a project, please consider the Activision "Battlezone" game. It was an odd hybrid of a real-time strategy game and a first person shooter, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. If I ever tackle a game project like you are proposing, it would be this.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battlezone_(1998_video_game) [wikipedia.org]

steveha

Re:Copy just the essence (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798684)

I still have a hard time truly imagining what the point of an FPSRTS would be. What should the thoughts of the player be? Why would he fight himself instead of letting automatically controlled units do it (since it costs him the ability to control other parts of the battlefield as his attention is tied up)? How much would an FPSRTS differ from a team FPS from the perspective of a player?

Couple things (1)

nEoN nOoDlE (27594) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798264)

As long as you don't directly copy any of the art, assets, code or writing, you're free to do whatever the hell you want. Even ripping off the setting as long as you change the names is fair game. Doing tile for tile remakes of the levels (if it has such a thing) might be pushing the boundaries, so I'd stay clear of that too, but pretty much any game mechanic has been copied a million times over so you're safe ripping that off to your hearts content. That's what the professionals do, too.

Re:A Couple of things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31798802)

There, fixed that for you.

Be so smart and creative... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31798696)

... that you can find out these basic questions on your own.

What is that it you mean?
* Legally? You might want to do some more serious research what can and cannot go and don't want to rely on some half-assed slashdot answers.
* In regard to content in general? If you cannot come up with the basic ideas of your re-design than some comments on slashdot won't help you.
* In regard to "content that resembles the old game"? See the first point; and the second. Really, if you cannot come up with things that are cool or will trigger some nastalgia in people...then a few comments on slashdot will help you.

You cannot even formulate a proper question that will get you the "right" answers you want. Have fun with your game but right now, I'd be surprised if it goes anywhere.

The next one is the first one (2, Interesting)

rcharbon (123915) | more than 4 years ago | (#31798960)

I look forward to the next new game that does not use any concepts that appeared in a previous game.

Copy gameplay without story/character/graphics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31799104)

Leave the IP alone, make your game play just like it. Voila, "spiritual successor".

It's not for nothing that this is the same formula for creating a "ripoff." It either depends on who you ask, or whether you're the creator of the original. (Don't ask me, it never made any sense to me either)

(Posted AC because logins are 503ing again)

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