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A few questions about clone software

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I'll go ahead and give my backstory like everyone else seems to, but if you don't want to read it just skip to the middle of the fourth paragraph(sorry for the length). Since sixth grade or so(I'm 23) I've wanted to make games(before then I wanted to be a scientist...), however, I was highly limited in what I could learn about computers and game development up until early high school(my internet was limited to my Saturn's Netlink, and later, my Dreamcast). Before then, I learned a decent amount about computers from deciphering what components did from computer ads, console boxes, and taking consoles apart and figuring out what I could about their innards. It was a little bit after I got my DC that I finally got a computer, and even then it was an extremely obsolete hand me down. While I've had a very comfortable amount of knowledge about computer hardware, software, and game development for some time(not quite on the level of the assembly programmers and graphics guru's from RWT and B3D, etc., but good enough), for a long time I did nothing but fail at learning how to program. Why? For several reasons. One, I was more interested in designing games than programming and really didn't see why anyone would want to program. Two, I would get overwhelmed by the amount of work that I alone would have to do(prgramming, art, design, music, running a website and/or business, etc.) that I'd get discouraged and put it off. Three, every damn C++ book I tried to read would just throw a bunch of syntax at me without properly explaining what it meant or was for and there just plain weren't a good amount of game development resources for Delphi and Python, the other two languages I tried. Four, my first computer wasn't good for much(an AMD 133 with 32MB's of RAM running Win95 and a 640x480 blurry mess of a display), my second, though much better, was very low end for when I got it, and it wasn't until a year and a half ago when I built my current computer(my third, second one I personally built) that I felt it was fast enough at all the needed tasks, had enough RAM, and had a nice high resolution display suited for this kind of work. So, about a year ago, my future of making games got a glimmer of hope. My younger brother wanted to join me. So, I start thinking about how we should go about doing things. I start reading back up on languages and what not, and I find out about this wonderful language called C#(I knew about nearly every other language, and don't really know how I overlooked it) and it's use of .Net, MDX, and later XNA(I knew of all of these but MDX, but didn't know the exact details of what they were). So, I download everything I can get my hands on, and we started learning it. Originally, we were both going to program, but now it's just me. How the company is laid out went through many revisions before we came up with what is likely the final one, which is currently that we have a company name and two team names, one for my games and one for my brothers(leaves plenty of room open for expansion). I will handle the business, designing/directing my games, and programming. My brother will handle the art, music, sound, and most of the design/direction of his games(He'll need some help on writing and the design documents for a while). My brother also needed a computer(he had my old one), so my mom let me build him a decent one with her tax return money. My current status in programming is alright. I've made a few nice programs(a Sliding Picture Puzzle and Tic Tac Toe to name a few), but a lot of the code itself isn't very clean and professional, I haven't made any custom controls or had much in the way of multiple classes that weren't due to having multiple forms, and I really haven't used polymorphism or inheritance much at all. I'm finally starting to grasp all of that though, especially after reading the source code for an MDX breakout. I could probably use a little more work before jumping into DirectX, but I really need to start a good project, a non-toy project, something I'd be comfortable releasing as freeware at some point in time, a project that gets me more motivated, makes me feel good about myself, and gives me some hope for the future. Now, the point of this whole thread is that I need some help and advice to make a few decisions before I decide what that project is going to be. First, I would like some opinions on clones and semi-clones. I searched the forum, and while there were a few topics on clones, none of them were exactly what I was looking for. I wouldn't worry about opinions and legality on this if it were just a hobby, but as I fully intend on creating a shareware company, I need to think about how this would affect me in the future. My plan was to create at least several freeware games. My reason for creating them is two-fold. One, so me and my brother can have a good amount of practice before we start our shareware games, and two, in order to attract people and get a bit of a community going before we release a shareware game in the hopes of that community being a bit of a catalyst for us. Here are some of the freeware games that I'd like to make but am having trouble deciding whether I should or not: Pong, Snake, a Light's Out type game, Breakout, Tetris, a Galaga type game, a Lunar Lander type game, a Frogger type game, and a Pac-Man type game. And just so you know, talking to a lawyer is not an option right now, and won't be for quite some time(Don't want to bother you with the details). The reason I say that is because there are usually a lot of responses telling the poster to just contact a lawyer. First up is Pong. There are many Pong's out there, but would it really be ok to make one with the name Pong, or would the name have to change? Second is Snake. I would think that I wouldn't have a problem with that after reading the wikipedia entry, but I just wanted to be sure. Third is Light's Out. I have an idea for a whole new theme for it(not lights), and I might expand upon the game itself by offering larger puzzles, etc. I know there are flat out clones with different names, but what is your opinion on me making one like described? Breakout is next. I know I wouldn't have a problem making that type of game since there are so many, but if I were to make one, I assume I'd have to use a different name? Tetris is a tough one. I really want to make a falling puzzle game before I go shareware because my first few will be puzzle games and I'd really like that practice, but on the other hand, I really don't want The Tetris Company going after me. What is the current status of using a different name for a Tetris clone? I assume there isn't anything wrong with making a Galaga or Lunar Lander type game as long as it's not a full blown copy and has somewhat different gameplay and a different name? Now for two more tough ones. Using a different theme, and for the most part, name(they which actually play off the originals), and perhaps some new game mechanics, would it be ok to make them without getting contacted by Namco and whoever currently owns Frogger? For all of those games that I could make that have different names, do you think it would be alright to include the name of the games that they are based on or inspired by, etc. on the website as part of their respective descriptions? And now for the last question. I would like your opinion on the morality of making these games. If the general consensus here is that our company sucks for making them, making them would damage our reputation before we even have one, having them on our website would turn off customers, or that having these games on my future website before I lauch a share ware game would in no way help me, I either won't make or won't release them.

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In general, clones aren't a problem as long as you don't directly implement unique game resources. Make Pac-Man, but use your own wakka-wakka sound. Make a Super Mario Bros. clone, but draw your own sprites. Don't just copy the music, or the graphics, or the name. Make it your own, and there's no problem.

Oh, and if you make a Tetris clone, don't use -tris in the name. Alexey Pazhitnov aggressively defends his trademark (in addition to being generally pompous.)

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Quote:
Original post by Kronus
First up is Pong. There are many Pong's out there, but would it really be ok to make one with the name Pong, or would the name have to change?


You cannot use the existing name of a published game; that is generally prohibited by trademark law.

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Third is Light's Out. I have an idea for a whole new theme for it(not lights), and I might expand upon the game itself by offering larger puzzles, etc. I know there are flat out clones with different names, but what is your opinion on me making one like described?


You haven't really described anything. I have no idea what Light's Out is, but again, change the name. If you have something new to offer, that will increase your chance of success.

Quote:
I assume there isn't anything wrong with making a Galaga or Lunar Lander type game as long as it's not a full blown copy and has somewhat different gameplay and a different name?


Gameplay does not have to differ. Gameplay cannot be trademarked or copyrighted, and I don't think anybody has patented it either, and if they have, I'm sure nobody has successfully defended that patent.

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For all of those games that I could make that have different names, do you think it would be alright to include the name of the games that they are based on or inspired by, etc. on the website as part of their respective descriptions?


No. Trademark law frowns upon you using other people's intellectual property to help sell your game. Although it's possible to word things in a way that could be ok, it's safer to just not do it. Let the reviews and the screenshots make the connection for you.

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If the general consensus here is that our company sucks for making them, making them would damage our reputation before we even have one, having them on our website would turn off customers, or that having these games on my future website before I lauch a share ware game would in no way help me, I either won't make or won't release them.


Unless you do something amazing with them, nobody is going to be amazed by you remaking a game that was someone else's idea 20 years ago, and which probably only took a month or two to make even with old technology. That's why we often recommend them as beginners' projects here on Gamedev.net. But that's not to say that they don't have a market to the more casual audience, eg. in the form of Flash games or mobile phone games.

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Original post by erissian
In general, clones aren't a problem as long as you don't directly implement unique game resources. Make Pac-Man, but use your own wakka-wakka sound. Make a Super Mario Bros. clone, but draw your own sprites. Don't just copy the music, or the graphics, or the name. Make it your own, and there's no problem.

Oh, and if you make a Tetris clone, don't use -tris in the name. Alexey Pazhitnov aggressively defends his trademark (in addition to being generally pompous.)


For various reasons, like that it would completely defeat the purpose of me making those games, that none of them would be that close to the original to use any of the original resources, and that it just plain goes against every fiber of my being, I wasn't going to and never would do that :) So, I guess I'm in the clear on that part.

As for Tetris, I have read about them going after clones, and the whole "look and feel" argument, which is what makes me so worried. It's one of those games that is recommended as a practice game, it would help me a lot since our first few games will be puzzle games, and my brother really wants to make our own for personal play, so it's almost a necessity that I make it. And, I'd really prefer to release all of the games I make and not have to keep them to myself.

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Original post by Kylotan
You cannot use the existing name of a published game; that is generally prohibited by trademark law.


Yeah, I was just hoping it was a different case with Pong. It just seems like you should be able to use that one without any problems, you know?

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You haven't really described anything. I have no idea what Light's Out is, but again, change the name. If you have something new to offer, that will increase your chance of success.


I didn't give an exact description, but I said the whole theme would be different, which automatically means I'd use a different name, and that I'd try and introduce new idea's to the puzzles to give a greater range of difficulty, just not in so many words.

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Gameplay does not have to differ. Gameplay cannot be trademarked or copyrighted, and I don't think anybody has patented it either, and if they have, I'm sure nobody has successfully defended that patent.


I'll be changing the gameplay anyway, but that's still good to know.

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No. Trademark law frowns upon you using other people's intellectual property to help sell your game. Although it's possible to word things in a way that could be ok, it's safer to just not do it. Let the reviews and the screenshots make the connection for you.


Do you mean selling in a literal sense, because I said these games were going to be freeware. Even then, I figured it probably wouldn't be wise to do, I was just making sure.

Quote:
Unless you do something amazing with them, nobody is going to be amazed by you remaking a game that was someone else's idea 20 years ago, and which probably only took a month or two to make even with old technology. That's why we often recommend them as beginners' projects here on Gamedev.net. But that's not to say that they don't have a market to the more casual audience, eg. in the form of Flash games or mobile phone games.


That's not really what I was going for with that question, and again, they aren't being sold. It was a long post and I can understand how you may have missed that. I'm not looking to gain an especially positive image with these, other than people seeing them as well done for what they are or getting a giggle out of a particularly goofy or clever theme change. What I was asking is whether having these freeware games would somehow be a bad thing, like it being generally frowned upon. I'd like to make all of these games as practice and for personal use, but if it would be a bad thing to put them up for download I'll only make the ones that I want to the most or that would be especially helpful in terms of learning.

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BTW, thanks for the help guys. I had meant to put a thanks in advance at the end of my original post but forgot. Sorry about that.

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I don't think such games would be generally frowned upon, but on the other hand, if you become known as 'those guys who re-did Pong', then that's not exactly beneficial either. It's your call.

And in legal terms, freeware is no more protected than commercial. You must follow all the same copyright and trademark restrictions in each case.

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