Legendary game developer Jeff Minter announced today through his Twitter account that the scheduled release of the PS4 conversion of the stunning PS Vita shooter TxK (one of the few games we have awarded a maximum ten score to) has been shelved indefinitely. For the last few months, the game has been at the centre of a legal battle with Atari, owners of the IP to the arcade classic Tempest which provided Jeff with the inspiration for the game but while discussions have been taking place for some time to try resolve matters amicably, it has reached a point where the only option Llamasoft had was to abandon all other planned versions of the game.
Jeff explains the situation more in on his forum which we have reproduced here:-
“This has been going on behind the scenes for a while now. I’d kept it on the down low all this time because I had hoped we could maybe work something out, maybe “Atari” would commission an officially licensed version from us; we made it clear we’d be willing to negotiate about that sort of thing.
I even thought maybe they might be interested in my doing updated versions of some of the other Atari IP. After all i do have a track record of doing decent reworkings of old games like theirs and I’d’ve really enjoyed a crack at some of those old things.
However they never gave an inch and just continued with threats and bullying. Specifically they had their lawyers present a number of legal accusations about a variety of things; we consulted a lawyer who told us that if we wanted to fight against it then it’d be expensive because we’d need to address separately each of the things they were accusing me of.
The accusations were addressed not only to Llamasoft as a company but also directed at me personally.
Basically most of it came down to “looks like Tempest 2000”, and it included such gems as:
- in order to create TxK I must have had access to, and stolen secrets from, Atari’s source code, in order to steal the work of the other people who worked on Tempest 2000. (I *wrote* the source code for Tempest 2000, and didn’t need to refer to it at all to create TxK, even if I still had it. The only other people who worked on the game were Joby Woods who did bitmaps (TxK has no bitmaps apart from one 64×64 graduated dot) and the Imagitec musicians (TxK has neither a modplayer nor any of Imagitec’s music). So I stole my own work out of my own brain I guess.
- The soundtrack to TxK sounds identical to the soundtrack of Tempest 2000. (In fact the TxK soundtrack is entirely original and highly acclaimed; it won a Develop award and went to #1 on Bandcamp).
- The player ship can jump. Apparently Atari owns jumping.
- There is an AI Droid in TxK. Yes there is, and there has been an AI Droid in almost every game I’ve made since Llamatron. Which I made 3 years before Tempest 2000. The AI Droid is a staple of my design style.
- I deliberately set out to cash in on Atari’s copyrighted Tempest name (by giving my game a deliberately obscure name of TxK).
- I deliberately set out to cash in on Atari’s stellar reputation by associating my game with their illustrious name. (I never mentioned Atari at all as the last thing I really wanted was for Llamasoft to be associated with the undead Atari responsible for turning Star Raiders into a fucking slot machine).
All abject bollocks, but set up legally so as to be expensive for anyone to contest. Even just going back and forth a few times with letters responding to their threats ended up running up a couple of grand in legal bills, and there is simply no way on God’s earth I can afford any kind of a legal battle.
I think they thought I was somehow making loads and loads of money on the Vita version of TxK, I guess because it did garner excellent reviews and a bit of positive press. But the Vita isn’t a massive market, TxK made back it’s development advance and a bit more and that was it. They kept hassling us and eventually I sent them sales statements so that they could see for themselves that we weren’t getting super rich out of it. I even tried to point out that if there was any serious money to be made out of it it would likely be from the ports we were making, and that we were willing to negotiate about obtaining “official” branding for, if it meant they could at least be released, but we were met with nothing more than intransigence.
Even after having shown them that, they are still trying to insist that I remove from sale Vita TxK (even though it’s plainly at the end of its run now and only brings in a trickle these days) and sign papers basically saying I can never make a Tempest style game ever again. So no chance of releasing the ports.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were actually some kind of precedent set that determined how different a game had to be to be considered a different game legally? Well, it just so happens there is, and it involves Tempest 2000 and Atari! Do you remember there was a Playstation port of Tempest 2000 called “Tempest X”? I always wondered why the name was changed, and other little aspects of the gameplay were altered. years later I managed to chat online with the guy who did the port, and he told me that the changes were made “to reduce the royalty burden”.
How so? Well, my original arrangement with Atari was that I was to receive a royalty on any ports of Tempest 2000. “Tempest X” was made exactly enough different that it would be legally considered a different game, cutting me out of any royalties.
Now Tempest X:
- was derived from my source code;
- had exactly the same soundtrack;
- used the same kind of powerup progression as Tempest 2000;
- had a changed name, some extra background effects, and some different web shapes;
- but was close enough to Tempest 2000 that *Tempest 2000 was available as a hidden unlockable by entering a specific word into the highscore table*.
(Furry friends will be amused to hear that that word was “yiff”).
Yet now “Atari” claim that TxK is in fact *closer* legally to Tempest 2000 than Tempest X was.
We are saddened and deeply disappointed by this news. There are countless games available on the market that are taking inspiration from or are paying homage to old arcade classics yet no action seems to be taken against any of them and certainly Atari themselves are not pursuing other games allegedly based on Tempest in this manner. In the event that TxK is to be removed from sale, we’d urge PS Vita owners everywhere to buy this game as soon as possible to avoid missing out on one of the best shooters everywhere and to show your support to one of the games industry’s true programming legends.