Tempest in a Teapot: IP Creator vs. IP Owner

ArsTechnica posted an article today about the current intellectual property holders of Atari being in communication with game developer Llamasoft (aka Jeff Minter), who programmed Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar in 1994, to suppress a game he recently released called TxK, which appears to be an update or sequel to Tempest 2000. (Tempest 2000 is itself a sequel of the Atari 1981 arcade smash hit Tempest, which was designed and programmed for Atari by Dave Theurer.)

On the face of it, it would appear that “Atari” has a pretty solid case. Very likely, Minter doesn’t own Tempest, Atari did (and the current owner of the Atari brand now does). Minter/Llamasoft almost certainly would have created Tempest 2000 as a work for hire, and the rights to it almost certainly were and are the exclusive domain of Atari. I don’t know the facts, I’m not a lawyer, but I am familiar with a bit of intellectual property laws, and to me it seems likely that unless Minter has a contract stating that he or Llamasoft is a part owner of the IP rights to Tempest 2000, unfortunately he probably doesn’t have much of a case should it come to a legal action against him for creating a game that is essentially Tempest 2000 for modern machines.

The thing is — and this is why I put “Atari” in quotes — the real Atari went out of business years ago, and the current company who owns their intellectual property isn’t the same company or the same people who created . This doesn’t change their legal standing with regard to ownership, unfortunately, and creates an interesting situation of the actual guy who created the game not having the rights to his own creation, aka John Fogerty syndrome.

While the legalities are probably pretty clear cut, my sympathies are with Minter, who clearly is more of a creator of Tempest 2000 than the current holder of Atari’s intellectual properties could ever hope to be. And the game he has produced does look like a worthy update to a classic game that was loved well by the golden era gamers of the pre-crash arcade era. Being a Jaguar release, Tempest 2000 was not as widely played or appreciated as it should have been, and a modern update that can be enjoyed by more people ought to be welcomed by the market. But because of trademarks and copyright and “works for hire”, Atari’s ghost probably does have it within its legal rights to quash the game if that’s what it wants to do. Hopefully, they and Minter can come to a happier arrangement. It sucks that a company that is doing little or nothing with an old back catalog of games can prevent its original creators from coming out with new innovations that build on their own earlier works.

Personally, my feeling is that the actual-creators should always retain a right to produce new stuff. It should be literally impossible for a creator to sign away the right to produce new original or derivative works of any property they had a hand in creating, even if they’ve sold the rights to a previously-created work. If a publisher wants to commission a work and wholly own it, such that the creator is labor and is paid one time for the work, and has no future rights to the work itself, I still feel that the actual people who did the creative things ought to be able to say, “I’m the creator of [X] and although it’s not an officially recognized part of the canonical [Publisher]-owned [X], here, world, have a new [X]-thing that I made, because I had some more ideas and I wanted to make them, and share them with or sell them to the world.

But, in the legal real world, it doesn’t work that way. It all comes down to who the owner is, and ownership can be transferred. There’s no permanent right residing with an original creator, and it all comes down to the terms under which a work was authored and published.

This harkens all the way back to the early days of Atari, the famous Activision split, where several of Atari’s best developers went to Atari President and CEO Ray Kassar, asking for recognition of authorship and to have their names attached to the games they were producing. Kassar refused, famously insulting his best creators by telling them they had no more to do with Atari’s success than the people who assembled the games and put them in boxes. They left in revolt and formed Activision, the first third-party developer of console games, and credited themselves on their own creations and paid themselves royalties.

And more recently, Konami just had a falling out with Metal Gear auteur Hideo Kojima, and are in the process of removing his name from his creations. So in the future, if Hideo Kojima wants to create something new, it can’t be in the Metal Gear universe, which is owned by Konami. And Konami can do whatever they want with Kojima’s creations, legally, even if it sucks or is completely contrary to the spirit that Kojima put into his works.

There has always been this clash between business and creator, really any time a creative enterprise is something larger than one person can realize — any thing that requires teamwork necessarily entails contracts, and contracts are ugly things that can trip up someone who doesn’t have expert legal counsel on retainer, and that’s almost always something too expensive for creative types who often struggle financially to afford. This sort of thing happens all the time to creators with their works, and it’s terrible.

What it comes down to is this: Creators create properties. That’s where the value is. Owners tend to the the ones who monetize properties. But owners’ interest in monetizing properties shouldn’t inhibit creators from creating more properties. Because ultimately, it’s creations that are the thing we should value, and ought to encourage.

I hope that Minter and Atari are able to work something out that is mutually beneficial, and doesn’t result in the game being pulled from the market. Like Minter said, they should be hiring him.

Lessons learned from the first crowdfunding campaign

One month ago, I was struck with inspiration and needed money to make an idea I had a reality, so I embarked on my first crowdfunding campaign. Today, it reached goal. I’m about to get busy working on turning all that money into a successfully completed project, but I think right now is a good time to reflect on the things I learned along the way so far. Continue reading

Play Tech acquires YoYoGames

News broke today that YoYoGames has been bought by PlayTech.

I don’t know what this will mean for the future of GameMaker: Studio, but often when a company sells a property to another party, or is acquired, there’s a distinct change in direction, and this usually makes people who’ve been happy with the current direction unhappy. As someone who’s been happy with the current direction that YYG has been steering GM:S for the last four years, I’m therefore concerned. What will the future bring? I have no idea. I just hope that GameMaker remains in good hands.


Thinking about a human-like AI for playing Scrabble

[I got into playing Words With Friends on Facebook and my mobile phone back in 2012, and started writing a lengthy article on designing an AI to play scrabble-like games in a manner that convincingly simulates a learning human. This weekend, several years later, I’m a spectator at a local Scrabble tournament, and decided to finally finish up my thoughts.]

Designing AI for Scrabble-like games

I’ve been playing the Zynga game Words with Friends with various people for a few weeks, and have gotten progressively better at the game. After looking back and reflecting on the evolution of my play, and the development of my strategy, I became inspired by the idea of a convincingly human-like AI that embodied the various stages of my development as a player.

While actually programming it is a little more effort than I want to put into it, even just thinking about the design for such an AI is interesting.

Continue reading

What I love and hate about game jams

This weekend was the weekend of Global Game Jam 2015. All over the planet, more than 10,000 participants got to try their hand at making a game in 48 hours, on the theme “What do we do now?”

I thought about the theme, and tried to imagine a situation that would lead someone to say, “What do we do now?” and the first think that came to mind was being stranded. Quickly, I envisioned a space ship that encounters a systems failure while in transit, and becomes disabled in deep space, with the crew left to figure out what to do to get things back working again. Continue reading

Fibonacci Tartan and Kilt

Some time ago, Youtube channel Numberphile posted a video on a tartan based on the fibonacci sequence.

Inspired by this, I’ve created a fibonacci-based tartan of my own:


Isn’t it beautiful?

My design is based on the first seven numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. It uses one thread of yellow, then one thread of red, two threads of dark green, three threads of navy blue, five threads of red, eight threads of dark green, and thirteen threads of navy blue. To scale up the size of the sett, I will be multiplying these numbers by seven. I call the tartan, Fibonacci-7.

I just started a crowdfunding campaign to register the tartan with the Scottish Registrar of Tartans, and have a kilt made with it. It will cost an estimated $2250 to have it produced. Once registered, the tartan will become available to textile manufacturers to produce cloth and garments in this tartan.

If you are interested in math or just love a beautiful tartan, please consider donating to the cause, and spread the word. If every visitor to this site donated just $1, we’d have funding within less than one month. So if you’re a regular reader of this site and have found my articles on GameMaker useful, please show your appreciation by donating what you can. Thank you.

Global Game Jam 2015 Warmup

On 1/23/2015, Global Game Jam weekend will be kicking off. I will be working at the Cleveland Game Developers site at the LaunchHouse in Shaker, OH.

This Saturday, 1/17, I will be leading a Pre-Jam Warmup session to give our participants opportunity to limber up their creative and technical skills. It’s a good idea, and fun. The goal is to build confidence and ensure readiness for the big Jam coming up the next week.

If you want to do your own version of this wherever you are, here’s what we’ll be doing for our warmup sprints:



  1. Launch your tools and make sure they still work.
  2. Check for updates, download and install any (if you wish).
  3. Test to your satisfaction that your stuff is working (write a “hello world” and prove it’s all working properly.)
  4. Create/Verify you can log into your GGJ account, any other accounts you may wish to use during GGJ15 (Trello, GitHub, DropBox, itch.io, newgrounds, kongregate, etc.) If you’re new to any of these, you’ll want to take time during the week leading up to the Jam to familiarize yourself with them.
  5. Create a checklist of things to bring to the Jam, and get everything together ahead of time
    1. Computer
    2. Verify you can connect to wifi at your jam site
    3. Create/verify you can log into any web accounts you plan to use during the Jam
      1. globalgamejam.org – be sure to join to your local site
      2. dropbox.com
      3. trello.com
      4. github
      5. itch.io
      6. kongregate
      7. newgrounds
      8. Make sure your team members can access any shared resources or services too!
    4. Power cables, extension cords, surge bars
    5. Peripherals
      1. headphones
      2. gamepad controller
      3. mouse
      4. 2nd monitor
      5. image scanner
      6. musical devices
      7. ???
    6. Human comfort
      1. Food/drink
      2. Pillow/sleeping bag/blanket
      3. ???

We’ll run this one up to an hour, but as soon as everyone’s done, we’ll proceed to the next sprint. If you’re downloading something huge and it’ll take longer than an hour, try to complete this before 1/23/15.

01: Development exercise: Asteroids

Asteroids is a simple action game. If you’ve never heard of Asteroids, google it and watch a youtube video or two, and you’ll get the idea in a few seconds. You’ll understand it faster than I can explain it in words.

Your job is to see how much of it you can build in an hour. You can make your own interpretation of the game, or try to slavishly re-create the original in every detail, it’s up to you. Work independently or as a team (if you have a team). We’re all in this together, so if you run into trouble, ask the room and someone will chime in with advice.

If you finish early, polish for the remainder of the hour, innovate a new feature, or whatever.

At the end of the hour, we’ll take a little time to show off our work and talk about what went well/what could have gone better.

02: Development exercise: Simple 2D platform engine

Take 1 hr to Work up a simple, 2D platform engine from scratch.

You don’t have to spend any time on animating sprites unless that’s something you *want* to focus on as a graphics contributor; square and rectangle programmer art representing the hitbox of your game objects are perfectly fine.

You decide how you want it to work in detail, and implement it however you like. The goal shouldn’t be to try to complete all of these features in an hour, but to choose a few of them and make a solid, well-crafted engine out of them — quickly.

You can design your own requirements, or use the following checklist of features and pick which ones you wish to support in your engine:

  1. solid platform
  2. jump-through platform
  3. destructible platform
  4. movable platform (player can pick up or push)
  5. gravity
  6. walking
  7. running
  8. shooting
  9. jumping
  10. wall walking
  11. ceiling walking
  12. double jump
  13. wall jump
  14. player health/death
  15. static enemy (spikes)
  16. moving enemy
  17. scrolling/camera
  18. moving platforms : any or all of horizontal, vertical, swinging, circle
  19. ladders
  20. pickup item (coin, power-up, etc.)
  21. door (how the door works is completely up to you.)

After an hour of development, we’ll spend an hour on demo and code review so we can learn from each other’s work. The code review is not meant to be exhaustive, but to show off highlights in technique if you found a cool way to do something, or to ask for ideas for how to do something better that you struggled with.

03 – Free for all

If we still have energy and want to keep going, we can come up with more ideas for sprints and ad lib it as we go. Maybe a graphics-oriented sprint, or sound effects engineering session, or a concept/design session where you have to brainstorm a pitch to a randomly chosen theme. We can quickly discuss and vote on it as a group.

XX – Wrap-up:

By now, even those of use who have never met or attended the meetup before will know each other a little bit, and will have worked together. Now’s a good time to talk to each other and find out if you have the right mix of talent and interest to maybe team up next week. This can go on as long as it needs to.