Friday, 23 January 2009

Freeband

I attended the gaming mini-conference at Linux.conf.au this year and, as mentioned, presented a 25 minute seminar on a loosely associated stream of ideas around amateur game development and how this relates to roguelikes. I also sat on the game development panel and hopefully contributed some interesting comments: arguing especially for developing games in 2d to avoid the complexities of 3d.

Unfortunately, the gaming mini-conf (and Linux Chix in the same room the previous day) were deemed last on the list for video coverage, and when one camera failed to turn up, we missed out on getting any of the seminars on video. So you've missed out on me publicly betting $10 against Nick of FAAngband fame (who wasn't there, but I deemed a worthy challenger given his comments earlier herein) that there won't be any Angband variants released this year, in front of a slide explaining exactly why this won't be the case. There may be a digital photograph available later, although I've not seen anything on the official site.

Thanks to those people who took the time to talk to me on the day - my apologies for being a little distracted, but I also had a couple of customer visits to do in the afternoon so slipped out for a while.

The most interesting thing to come out of the gaming mini-conf was a presentation by Nic Suzor on the interaction of free software and copyleft with the legal system. Nic is in particular looking for examples of free software that works on home brew systems - ideally in an Australian context - due to the local legal pressure being put on home brew hardware suppliers by the likes of Nintendo. In order to push for legislative change, he needs to be able to show case studies where home brew has enabled software to be developed and released on a platform that would not otherwise have done so.

I spoke with him afterwards briefly, and suggested the recent GPL release of Angband, along with the local development involvement in the Nintendo DS port may be appropriate for him (Nick - drop me a line and I'll pass on his details).

Therein lies a bit of a problem. Angband is, for want of a better word, inspired by the copyrighted works of an English author whose estate, while not particularly litigenous, may not be especially eager to hear that the software derives a small portion of its content from these works. We have achieved a great deal by GPLing Angband, but I suspect that we may be tripping at the last hurdle, or at least ignoring the oncoming bus (to mix metaphors), by including work that could potentially infringe.

While the emphasis is on the word potentially, Nic did stress that a large part of this somewhat grey area of the law is sensible minimisation of risk. I would like to suggest that in this case a sensible minimisation of risk would be to develop an Angband variant that does not infringe on these works, and put that forward as the example Nic needs to help change the law locally. Such a variant, Freeband, would feature original fantasy content that justified the existance of a deep dungeon under a ramshackle township, with a progressive increase in risk towards an ultimate evil in the lowest depths.

The resulting gains would unfortunately be offset by a level of loyalty and fandom that the original material engenders. I think a sufficiently motivated cabal of individuals could overcome these problems, and create an equally mythically inspired world which people can invest their belief.

Volunteers?

11 comments:

Christer Nyfält said...

Well, I have started working on my variant. I'm not sure yet if I will release it this year.

As for the Freeband idea I agree, and want to take my own variant that way. However, I skeptical that a design by committee approach will work.

Jeff said...

Does the software *have* to be free? The software needs to not be encumbered by copyright/trademark violations, yes, but I don't see why it would have to be GPL to justify a legislation. Indeed, it would seem a stronger demand for legislation would exist if you could point to a successful ecosystem of aftermarket games.

I'd say there are some good examples of DS homebrew that woudln't have existed without homebrew, ie, never have shown up through normal channels.

ColorsDS is impossible with the official API as it doesn't expose the pressure sensitivity.

POWDER would never have cleared the hurdles to publish a game on the GBA or DS. So it fits the category of software that exists solely due to homebrew. While POWDER isn't GPL, to my knowledge with the Akoi Meex or classic tileset it is unencumbered by external trademark/licensing/copyright issues.

OTOH, Nintendo might always attack the API used by the homebrew ports. While the creators of these did clearly make a strong effort to avoid being tainted by Nintendo's copyrighted devkit, there is still the fear something remains or a intolerant judge won't see the reverse-engineering as valid. Further, I believe it is still undecided if the mandatory inclusion of a Nintendo splash screen renders everything a copyright violation - one could argue that boot code is part of the hardware handshake so it loses its copyright just like an opcode can't have copyright. Or maybe the fact that people have hacked bootloaders around it mean those of us that leave it in are suddenly liable?

At least POWDER is now on sufficient platforms that none can claim the game-itself is infected by Nintendo's API...

Nick said...

Pity about the video. I'm good for the $10, too, and may have to pay up, as I was kind of counting on Christer...

As for the intellectual property issue, I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that. My initial interest in Angband, and my variant, are heavily influenced by the, um, current theme; removing it would be a huge negative for me. I'm inclined to think, actually, that a delicate approach to someone involved with said estate with a view to getting some sort of approval might be worthwhile (although the usual advice about sleeping dogs may apply). Certainly the *band community is not exactly cashing in - I mean, we could offer a slice of the profits...

JohnH said...

In my mind there's a big problem with using original fantasy content to make a roguelike. It's the same problem, again in my mind, with making original fantasy content for most games:

Most game developers SUCK at it.

From the names loaded with apostrophes to the overuse of words like "chaos" and "corruption" to an over-influenced by bad D&D novels mode of writing, so much of it is not worth the bytes it's assembled with.

Nintendo probably does the best with The Legend of Zelda, but even they had a thumb through the ol' cliche dictionary when they made Twilight Princess.

Darren Grey said...

Nick: The referred to estate is not known for being condusive to things like this - any attempt at contact will likely open up a rather horrible legal mess.

Have to agree with JohnH about the really awful fantasy names and stories in most games (and even in most fantasy books). I consider the theme of the Angband games to be one of their biggest attractions. Any variant just to change a bunch of names will simply not get played.

Andrew Doull said...

JohnH: That sounds like a challenge. I'm going non-Tolkien with Unangband 2.0 (tm) so will be definintely doing this at some point - let's see how I go.

Everyone: Yes, there is a distinct disadvantage to try to remove the author out of Angband. Having said that, just remember we're free riding on someone else's creative endeavours, so don't complain if we get burnt.

VRBones said...

I'm going non-Tolkien with Unangband 2.0 (tm) so will be definintely doing this at some point - let's see how I go.

Huzzah! I was kind of hoping that's what you were hinting. I'd certainly be interested in a non-tolkien game as for me the gameplay is far more important than the setting.

Nick said...

we're free riding on someone else's creative endeavours

You say that like it's a bad thing. Personally, I'm perfectly happy for people to free ride on my endeavours, such as they are.

Also, I'm a bit concerned about that (tm) - have you trademarked 2.0? That's going to make a mess of learning to count.

Andrew Doull said...

All: We'll resolve this dilemma with the power of science.

(See the latest poll).

Zack said...

Andrew, have you ever heard about or played Lugaru? http://www.wolfire.com/lugaru It offers procedurally generated hilly 3d terrain, though the levels are designed. Their squeal Overgrowth is even using procedurally generated animations.

Andrew Doull said...

Zack: Get thee to the PCG Wiki and update the relevant pages there...