Interview: Where Next For Desktop Dungeons

By Alec Meer on February 4th, 2011 at 8:00 am.

Desktop Dungeons: an incredibly smart roguelike, which takes 10 minutes to play and turns roleplaying into something akin to a puzzle game. We went slightly bananas over it last year.

Desktop Dungeons: a game ripped-off shamelessly and sold for profit by someone else. Following an attempt to buy the DD devs off with a free iPhone (!), clone-game League of Epic Heroes finally panicked in the face of DD’s lawyers and disappeared from the App Store. There ensued a web-wide argument about plagiarism/inspiration.

Suffice to say it’s been a strange year for South African studio QCF Design. Seems like a good time to chat to their boss Danny Day about just what happened, the curious moral debate around game-cloning, the welcome resurgence of roguelikes – and what comes next for DD now the dark doppelganger’s out of the picture.

If you’re not familiar with DD, go play it. It only takes ten minutes (though you’ll probably then go play it dozens of times. It’s good like that). If you’re just too grud-darned lazy even for that, watch this video from the devs:

Now, on with the interview…

RPS: Just to clarify what actually happened, as not everyone necessarily went through the timeline: what makes the Desktop Dungeons/League of Epic Heroes situation different than “one game threatened legal action at another game for being similar”?

Danny Day – If you were to paraphrase it, that’s probably what it would end up looking like. Obviously we’d argue that “similar” isn’t nearly the half of it, although a few things make what went on here a little different to what usually happens when someone copies another developer’s game.

We were actually in contact with our cloner: [LoEH dev] Eric Farraro emailed us after he saw that we’d seen his gameplay videos via twitter. A month-long email exchange of extreme weirdness started with him explaining how it was ok that he’d duplicated DD exactly because he hadn’t quite duplicated all of it. That was important, as was making references to copyright and giving credit because he thought it was a great game. We tried to explain why we thought that the direct copying wasn’t quite cool and suggested a host of things that LoEH could do differently in order to explore the game-space that DD was merely part of instead of going where we’d already been.

We felt pretty third-worlded after Farraro offered (completely unbidden, by the way) to buy what essentially amounted to the rights to DD for the cost of an iPod. We realised that this probably wasn’t going to work out nicely for us, this guy wasn’t someone we could talk to as friendly devs all trying to make fun games. So we gave up, spoke to a few lawyers and went back to work on DD twice as hard as before. That culminated in the most pissed off we’ve been in ages as we wrote that list for our lawyer:

9e. Fighter (DD) attributes * INSTINCTS: Monsters of an equal or lower level always have their locations revealed * VETERAN: Fighters earn 1 extra experience on any monster kill * PIT DOG: Dungeon runs start with 1 level of standard Death Protection on the character vs Hunter (LoEH) attributes * Hunter’s sense: Can see equal level enemies * Veteran: +1 XP per kill * Battle Hardened: You can Cheat Death one time

And LoEH was just “inspired by”? It was page after page of this. Utterly maddening…

I think it’s important to point out that going legal wasn’t a strategy for us, we weren’t relying on the letter being effective and at no point were financial damages mentioned. Our plan was simply to make DD as good a game as it could be and preferably to have LoEH be a different game in the puzzle roguelike genre (or whatever it is people have decided to call DD these days) one that we could play too. Once things get legal, they move away from ideal solutions and toward absolute “thou shalt not” situations quite fast. Having to start thinking about the implications of cloning was a result of that, but now that we have, we’re amazed at how accepting some people can be of practices that don’t seem in any way sustainable for the games industry as a whole.

RPS: Why do you think Farraro backed down rather than went the distance, given he’d previously sounded so sure he was in the right? And how confident were you that the law was on your side?

Danny Day – We have no idea… It does seem like a complete turnaround compared to his stance in the Edge article, but he didn’t seem quite as confident all the time – the iPod offer in return for no legal action, etc. There’s been speculation in comment threads that he realised the game wasn’t going to sell much anymore or get good reviews, or that it would simply be too much work for him to fix the bugs that people were complaining about, or maybe Apple even blocked an update that he was trying to release. We don’t know what Apple sent him, only that it also included our lawyer’s letter to Apple itself. Like we said on our blog, it simply doesn’t make sense to increase the risk to your game by knowingly running head first into possible IP snafus without knowing exactly what you’re doing.

Just like nearly everyone else on the net, we’re not lawyers. We approached a few people for legal advice when our friends pleaded that we at least see if we can do something, probably because they were getting sick of our bitching. You’d be amazed how many lawyers, even IP specialists, treat games as though they’re completely devoid of any merit at all: “Aren’t all games just copies of Pacman anyway?” We ended up finding someone that understood gaming a little, but it wasn’t the gameplay videos that convinced him there was a case, it was Farraro’s emails to us. Based on his say so, we wrote as close to an exhaustive list of every instance where LoEH directly copied DD as possible and he couched that in legalese before lobbing it at Apple. He even offered not to charge us if the letter didn’t achieve anything… I guess the advice to budding young cloners then is to plead the fifth?

RPS: There’s been this counter-argument that game-cloning has, does and will happen, to a greater or lesser degree, all the time, and could even be thought as playing a part in gaming’s advancement. Is there any sense in which you agree with that sentiment?

Danny Day – No, that sentiment doesn’t make sense. Firstly, arguing that something already happening removes its wrongness is, quite frankly, bullshit. Pick any example of otherwise accepted behaviors being re-evaluated by societies and eventually changed: Slavery, dueling, insider trading, etc. Maybe our experience as South Africans, living in a society where people literally said “no more” and changed everything, makes that more obvious for us – but it’s not hard to see when arguing legalities and precedence over what people find acceptable and sustainable is a bankrupt stance.

Secondly, how is blatant cloning supposed to advance gaming as a whole? Does anyone remember a clone that actually did so? There’s a really good comment on our blog that relates cloning and being inspired by games to painting. The argument is that painting shares several elements as a discipline, some are technical – brushes, paints, what you paint on – and some are stylistic movements like realism, cubism, etc. The difference between someone adopting a cubist style and actually forging a painting is enormous. It simply seems that in the creative space of games we haven’t had the discussions we need to be having to be able to draw those strong distinctions.

Part of the problem is legal: people assume that laws trump all, instead of understanding that the current laws that “protect” games weren’t built to do any such thing. The way we talk about the legalities of games needs to change, both to prevent blatant cloning (someone stealing your product and then selling it at a reduced price because they didn’t need to pay as much to build it isn’t competition, it’s theft) and to stop Langdellian trademark trolling (“I totally came up with this idea for a name first, watch me lie to prove it! Now gimme money!”). We’re anal about names thanks to forgery: I can’t pretend to be Picasso and hope to get away with it.

About the only good thing you can say about clones, if you’re dead set on being an amoral corporate-type, is that they increased liquidity in the games industry. A successful clone is one that targets a platform or market that hasn’t been reached by an original: You could sell a forged painting in a South African auction house easier than you could sell one at Sothebys in London. Thus more people are spending money on the medium, theoretically. The reason we said increased liquidity – past tense – is the same reason that forging paintings is no longer lucrative, communication infrastructures destroy the isolation that prevents originals (or knowledge of originals) from reaching markets.

This is an area that people need to talk, fight and think about more, not shut down with short-sighted aphorisms and “Well that’s how it always has been”.

RPS: How’s it going to affect your future development projects? Does it mean you’ll be fearful of free, experimental games in case someone rips you off and gets something on sale before you can?

Danny Day – Well, now that people know we’ve got a crack team of highly trained legal operatives ready to launch from orbit at a moment’s notice, we suspect people might think twice about cloning our next awesome project..

Realistically, we don’t want to change our development habits. DD is a much better game because it’s been a free alpha. It simply wouldn’t be in the same place it is now if it hadn’t been available for people to play and enjoy and tell us where we’d made stupid mistakes (see the first incarnations of the Vampire). Bouncing stuff off players is a great way to make games. If we want to keep innovating, that’s what we have to do. What most players don’t realise is that we view the freeware version of DD as a playable prototype- it’s there to be played so we can learn from it.

What we are going to change is how long it takes us to move from our initial prototypes to a full version people feel happy paying for. Changing what you’re developing in is a lengthy process, especially when you have to learn a new set of tools and engines, just ask anyone who’s touched DNF.

RPS: So what is next for DD, on a content and tech level? What does the planned Unity version hold? Specifically on PC – are you laser focused on iPhone now, or are us lot going to see plenty of updates, and maybe even a full-on, paid version, too?

Danny Day – Wow, where to start? The game’s progression system is very different now: Players manage a Kingdom that’s essentially reliant on a non-stop stream of adventurers willing to risk life and limb for fame and fortune. It’s a bit of a parody of what tourism would look like in a swords-and-sorcery fantasy setting with modern commercialism. Every time you successfully bring back a boss monster’s head from a dungeon, the Kingdom earns gold that you can spend to buy new buildings or unlock new classes and what we’ve artfully named “preparations”.

Preparations can be bought before you enter a dungeon with a new adventurer and do things like swap health bonuses for extra mana upgrades, allow you to summon a shop at will or start out with a wand of confusion, that sort of thing. Obviously there’s a lot to balance there, so we’ve got a lot of testing ahead of us as we start adding those in.

Something else new that we haven’t really talked about much before are the sub-dungeons. We’re putting little mini-dungeons in the randomly generated dungeons for players to find, they might be quest encounters, extra boss battles or just rooms filled with treasure or a mad god. Anything we can come up with, essentially. We’re enjoying the idea of adding scripted types of event to an already randomly generated scenario.

Unfortunately the freeware isn’t going to be seeing any updates, we’re pushing hard to get the full version out on PC/Mac, then polish it for iPhone and hopefully Android after that. It makes the most sense to come out on PC first: This is where everyone’s been playing the game already and don’t expect to pay $1 per game. We have to hit the App Store, it would be silly not to, but it’s always best to do that when you’ve got as much buzz as possible so you have your highest chance of getting into the top-seller lists.

RPS: Did you make the game expecting it to be something you could sell, or was the appreciation for it when it came out a grand surprise?

Danny Day -A complete surprise. The first version of DD emerged from Rodain’s head in about 48 hours, he put it online so that he could get some feedback and see what people thought of the game. We realised it was something pretty special right away, so we started grooming the game for eventual release within the first few days of it blowing up. The timing was a little too perfect though: We’d just decided that we’d got enough saved up in the company to let us self-fund something for a year – try to get away from work-for-hire and see what we could do when left to our own devices. Having our first revenue project blow up into something like Desktop Dungeons has been great.

At first we had no idea how we were going to get the full game out, but one day we got an email filled with Popcap’s feedback on the game. Reading “Everyone here at Popcap’s been playing Desktop Dungeons non-stop, great game!” totally made our week. While Popcap weren’t super-keen on carrying the game (we asked), they did give us a lot of advice and were generally super friendly. I hope we get to buy Jason and co a beer or two at the GDC.

RPS: What’s the major stuff you’ve learned as you’ve been developing it?

Danny Day – This is the first time we’ve worked with Unity, so we learned a lot about that and the differences in Mono compared to .Net in very specific areas. Unity isn’t very geared up for procedurally generated content, so we had some mental gymnastics to do there. Generally though it’s been more about learning the business side of games… We still feel like we’re basically making it up as we go along, but somehow we’re still going. So that’s good.

Ideally we’d like to be able to take this experience of the little things that actually go into pushing a title out there, more than just building something people can play, and making that knowledge available to the South African game development community at large. Things like handling exchange control laws, local taxation vs international earnings and all that entertaining stuff. We’d like to be able to go to universities and say to the kids that just finished school or are starting out on the new game design courses: “Don’t worry too much about getting hired by EA or Ubisoft overseas, here’s how you can start up your own studio and make the games you want to make. This is the business knowledge you’re not getting because you’re nominally computer science students, this is how you entice artists to join you, etc.” It’s that generation that’s going to produce the games that get played in Africa, the ones that really light this place up.

RPS: There seems to be a bit of a roguelike resurgence lately – why do you think that’s happened, and where might it lead to?

Danny Day – It has a lot to do with procedural content generation. Roguelikes are a genre that most indies feel very comfortable with that offer almost the perfect intersection of value for player money in terms of play-time, vs developer budget and content production time. If you build a good roguelike, you know you’re going to have people that play it for hours and hours, much longer than they would usually invest into a game in a different genre that cost the same to make. There’s also a bit of a selection bias: We tend to call almost anything that generates content on the fly a roguelike game, so as more developers try to maximise their content budgets, we’ll see more games that behave (at least partly) roguelike-like. Music games escape this classification, but they’re popular among devs for similar reasons.

Roguelikes are also very good at generating word of mouth. Their players are fiercely vocal about just what it is that makes game X or Y awesome and why you should totally play it. We hate to social-media the interview, but as more people use more social communication mechanisms, the games that create the most loyal and vocal fans will start to seem like they’re everywhere. How long has it been since you heard someone talk about Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress? How hard do you think you’ll have to look to find a mention of ADoM, Nethack or DCSS in the comments on articles like this one?

We think it’ll lead somewhere pretty cool. Truly unique game sessions are always a good thing, as is replayability. It also can’t be too long now before someone figures out how to put roguelike systems into an MMO, producing what might well be the best game ever. Where grinding is replaced by permadeath, yet players return and keep paying their monthly fees to see if they can get just that little bit further with their friends next time, to see what new surprises they’re going to find in place of the same old raids.

RPS: And finally, any idea what you might turn your attention to once DD’s out the way?

Danny Day – … Damn, we’re all thinking about roguelike MMOs now.

Lots of people ask this, but the truth is that DD is still a pretty big amount of work. It’s squatting on our work horizons, blocking out anything that might be behind it.

We’d always like to return to Spacehack, our DBP entry from 2008 that’s been pretty well received, but there are always more game ideas. We’re a little leery of being seen as “those roguelike guys”, so we might wait a bit on Spacehack as it just happens to be our answer to “What happens if you try to make an action RPG/roguelike/SHMUP for consoles?”.

We’ve been curious to see if there’s maybe some room in the RTS genre for more fighting game mechanics, try to produce an RTS that’s as pick-up-and-play as a brawler. Then again, we’re playing a lot of Go at the moment, so maybe it’ll be turn-based and deeply simple. Who knows?

We can say that you’ll definitely be able to play a prototype of whatever we make next and help us decide if it’s a keeper or not.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Desktop Dungeons, the freeware edition, is available here.

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58 Comments »

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  1. Kaira- says:

    I still feel this game depends way too much on luck. Nice game otherwise, tho.

    • zombiemaster81 says:

      I found it quite balanced , and i played it for about 2-3 hours… nearly always getting up to the area around the boss with the starting characters.
      Btw. the name SpaceHack is allready taken: http://spacehack.rebelmind.com/en/main

    • 3lbFlax says:

      It depends too much on luck in as much as you can find yourself in an impossible situation, but that’s part of the charm, for me – you can always retire in those situations. I dare say the devs could code in a generator that ensured every scenario was winnable, but I think something would be lost there. Charm, I suppose, if I’m being consistent.

    • zombiemaster81 says:

      mm true tho it doesnt happen THAT often- most of the jams come about since you dont know the layout of the map and so cant lay a for-sure startegy. 9/10 times it seemed like i was the one who messed something up.

    • dislekcia says:

      Like zombiemaster81says, often there are ways out of most “blocked” situations well before you encounter the actual dead-end. Monster placement in the full is a lot smarter now and there’s a lot more visible information about neighboring tiles that should help as well.

      @frightlever: Nice point. Farmville did get a bunch of people gaming on Facebook (I’d argue that’s different to gaming on PC, but yeah), how much that advanced gaming though is two fold: Firstly, did Farmville do anything that Farmtown had not or could not, would the impact have been the same without Famville? And secondly, how many of those players are still playing now – are they playing Farmville or have they started enjoying other games? It’s a big area, but I’ll grant that the FB cloning strategies seem to be big earners – I guess we’ll have to see if those games end up being the ones we remember in 10 years.

    • trjp says:

      Solitaire (the classic PC version at least) is almost entirely based on luck and is the most played game on earth by a distance of several light-years…

      and your point is? :)

    • Baines says:

      Popcap is guilty of blatant cloning as well. It made them plenty of money, brought more people into computer games, did a big push for small casual games, and Popcap even did some measure of promoting people making small casual games.

      Maybe the big difference to be seen with Desktop Dungeons is that it has a lot of details, like the multiple powers for each character, and LoEH apparently copied nearly everything to the letter. It is the difference between “a maze game where the player eats pellets while being chased by monsters” and “a maze game with Pac-Man’s maze designs, exact duplicate of Pac-Man’s scoring system, exact duplicate of the algorithms that drive the ghost including the time changes brought about in later levels”. Or instead of just making a fighting game that was similar to Street Fighter 2 with some similar characters and stuff, you made a clone that used the exact same hit boxes, damages, and the like. At that point you aren’t building on previous work (many “clones” or similar derivative works do have differences in the details), you are simply copying someone elses work and putting a new coat of paint and your name on it.

    • Grygus says:

      Angry Birds is a pretty blatant clone and seems to have brought smartphone gaming to the masses in a way that no other title has; whether that’s an advance is up for debate, I suppose.

      I might also argue that for several years the entire first-person shooter genre was cloning someone else’s game and adding one feature.

  2. Memphis-Ahn says:

    Great timing on this article, considering what just happened recently with Wolfire and Lugaru HD:
    http://blog.wolfire.com/2011/02/Counterfeit-Lugaru-on-Apple-s-App-Store-developing

    • cocoleche says:

      That Lugaru story is disgusting.

      I hate to say it, but the fact that digital distribution implies little effort on the seller’s part, probably means we’ll see more of this. Not only does it require zero effort, but the public is more and more embracing digital distribution as a means to get their software.

    • terry says:

      Ugh. This has been happening a lot on the app store, I recall seeing some 8-bit emulated games packaged together without any copyright permission granted – Rare’s Lunar Jetman for one.

    • brzopotezni says:

      I have to say Apple is very unfair here. Using a centralized system
      for apps, controlling app entry for most of their devices, and disallowing
      apps that compete with their own applications… but they are not
      able to swiftly react when an obvious plagiarism happens?

      p.s. excuse my english :)

    • TheGameSquid says:

      That story about Lugaru is pretty sad indeed. And the most disgusting part is that Apple apparently still hasn’t responded. Using a system that has such high control over the applications you download and then simply allowing an obviously pirated piece of software to reside on your store with pretty much the exact same name. Pretty embarrassing.

      On a side note, the same thing happened to Nifflas’ latest creation, Night Sky. It received a clone of sorts on the iPhone before his game was even released on the PC. I don’t know if it was covered here on RPS, but here’s a link to a forum post from a user who noticed the clone game: http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=10741.0

      It seems like these iClones are becoming a pretty serious problem, and Apple apparently isn’t doing a whole lot about it…

    • 7rigger says:

      This is disgusting, I agree. And again, the comments on that page have defenders of this spank-monkey’s ‘work’

      I think education needs to be a priority in the future, not just for digital distributors (OK, Apple) but for consumers as well.

  3. DrazharLn says:

    Interesting interview. I approve!

    Monocle smile!

  4. Premium User Badge

    Flimgoblin says:

    damn it now I want to make an MMO roguelike :p

  5. adonf says:

    Wow ! I mean, WOW ! Comparing their legal bullying of another independent developer to the fight against apartheid, that’s some serious bullshit this guy is pulling here.

    • Brumisator says:

      Hmmmm, no that’s not what he said.
      “arguing that something already happening removes its wrongness is, quite frankly, bullshit.”
      That’s a very general view of life. And by following that basic thought pattern, one can apply it to any dilemma.

      He didn’t say anything about their situation being comparable to the apartheid.

    • pipman3000 says:

      he probably thought comparing it to the holocaust was too cliché and overused.

    • zombiemaster81 says:

      and also, that would be Independent Copyer, as he hadn´t Developed a damn thing himself. Maybe he should type professionally, like a secretary job or something.

    • adonf says:

      @Brumisator: Well maybe not compare but he put them on the same level, in the same group of things that need change.

      “arguing that something already happening removes its wrongness is bullshit”: I could agree with this, as a general view of life but it’s totally unrelated to the subject of cloning games. Because it’s not just already happening, it’s what everyone does. All games copy other games. It’s not wrong if it’s accepted by a majority. There wouldn’t be DD if the original Rogue hadn’t been cloned to death and I don’t see this guy defending the authors of the first game.

      I must add that threatening people who make games totally unrelated to theirs (no code, no graphics, no name in common with DD) is the kind of behaviour you’d expect from the EAs and Activisions, not from an independent developer who’s main work is based upon a lot of other games. I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy gave lectures on “How to optimally monetize your IP” at the next GDC.

    • Lilliput King says:

      adonf:

      “Well maybe not compare but he put them on the same level, in the same group of things that need change.”

      Good grief. No he did not. He was asked if he considered the argument that “game-cloning has, does and will happen, to a greater or lesser degree, all the time” had any merit. He argued that it did not, because the same argument could be used to justify slavery. If an argument can be used to justify the unjustifiable, it is absurd. Not complicated.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      @adonf
      “Because it’s not just already happening, it’s what everyone does” is bullshit. Games take insipiration from other games, and copy elements of them, that’s not the same as being clone. If all games were clones, then they’d all be exactly the same, we’d all still be playing spacewar since games would have never moved on from there.

      “must add that threatening people who make games totally unrelated to theirs” Totally unrelated? is that a joke? It was an exact copy. It wasn’t “inspired by” or “based on” or “similar”, it was exactly the same. Someone took the game they were making, copied it exactly then started selling it, and you describe their attempts to stop him doing that as “bullying”? Are you Eric Farraro in disguise?

    • 7rigger says:

      @Adonf

      As an artist studying at university who wants to get in to this glorious industry, I am depressed and saddened by your attitude. You’ve read all the arguments and the interview and you still see it as bullying? That is very sad.

      Is it too early to start drinking?

    • adonf says:

      Haha no I’m not Eric Farraro…

      Did he steal the code or disassemble the executable ? Did he use the same graphics or the same sound assets as the original game ? Did he pretend that his game was Desktop Dungeons ? I don’t think he did any of that. All he did was copy game mechanics. Game mechanics are not protected and it’s a very good thing that they are not. If they were we’d have to pay license fees to Id Software or Apogee each time we develop a new FPS. So you might consider what he did is immoral, but in my opinion QCF Design did not own what they accused him of stealing, yet they sent lawyers letters to make him take down his game. That’s legal bullying and it’s way more immoral than what Farraro did.

    • Deltadisco says:

      I get the feeling you’re the type that would cry “legal bullying” no matter what the situation. Did you even look at the examples of what was copied? Did you gloss over the part where it is made clear that QCF even went out of their way to talk to this guy about what he could do to legitimately make the game “his”.

      Now I’m a software/firmware designer and I really do feel like the current laws for protecting IP in this realm are sketchy at best.. but show me any other medium where you can lift something wholesale and not run into problems with the law. Implementing the same design with your own code somehow exonerates you? That is patently (ha!) ridiculous. Can you lift a song note-for-note and then claim.. “well I played it MYSELF on instrument X instead of instrument Y.. so I don’t have any obligation to the original writer”? Or would it fly to say “It’s not plagiarism if I rearrange the sentences and write it in Open Office rather than Word”?

      Just because a huge chunk of software IP law manages to miss the point doesn’t negate the fact that there’s still a sound idea at its core – to protect the creators of *original* content from theft. If you want to stand up against legal bullying it will really help your case to not argue in defense of someone that is clearly a hack and a thief.

    • Jeremy says:

      I’m going to make a FPS about a scientist who, through some unfortunate happenstance opens a portal to a world called Zen. Throughout the course of his adventures, he ends up traveling to Zen and kills a giant floating fetus.

      I shall call it “Radioactive Decay”.

      Is that inspiration?

    • Consumatopia says:

      From the definition of compare:

      1. To consider or describe as similar, equal, or analogous; liken.
      2. To examine in order to note the similarities or differences of.

      So, yes, Danny Day compared LoEH to apartheid, slavery, dueling, and insider trading. He also said Farraro “third-worlded” them. He did not, however “put them on the same level”, so, ironically enough, adonf was right the first time but wrong the second.

      Note the wrongness of the larger argument here. Courts respect precedence not because they love the status quo, as Day’s apartheid straw man argument suggests, but because it’s essential for the rule of law–because otherwise judges would be arbitrarily punishing you according to their own whims whenever they see fit.

      The outcome of the situation is not “no game mechanic copying” but “only large developers that can fend off lawsuits should copy game mechanics”. This had nothing to do with morality and everything to do with arbitrary power–big companies and little companies follow two different sets of rules.

      RPS: Why do you think Farraro backed down rather than went the distance, given he’d previously sounded so sure he was in the right?

      Right, if someone hands their money over to a mugger, that means they think the mugger was right. Not because there was more money to be lost fending off a frivolous lawsuit than could be made in his little iPhone game. Sometimes the best thing to do in a situation is back away and let everyone else know the other guy is a dick, and let everyone else treat him accordingly.

      You’d be amazed how many lawyers, even IP specialists, treat games as though they’re completely devoid of any merit at all: “Aren’t all games just copies of Pacman anyway?”

      No, I’m actually not amazed how many lawyers thought QCF Design’s claims were completely devoid of any merit at all. Maybe Day should have considered taking the fifth himself here?

      Speaking of that advice: “I guess the advice to budding young cloners then is to plead the fifth”. Yes, Day’s advice to developers is to treat all fellow developers as adversaries–good faith will always be punished.

      I liked DD. But I couldn’t read this interview past the part dealing with Ferraro. No way I’ll reward bullying like this.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Or would it fly to say “It’s not plagiarism if I rearrange the sentences and write it in Open Office rather than Word”?

      Note that OpenOffice and probably Microsoft Word itself would both have been shut down for imitating earlier word processors under your preferred regime.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “So, yes, Danny Day compared LoEH to apartheid, slavery, dueling, and insider trading. He also said Farraro “third-worlded” them. He did not, however “put them on the same level”, so, ironically enough, adonf was right the first time but wrong the second.”

      I don’t mean to be such a cunt, but this is the third time I’ve seen this in two days and I’m bored of it. It’s simple reductio ad absurdum, and one of the easiest arguments to comprehend. How is this beyond people? I’ll tell you – they’re looking to score points by being disingenuous. There is no way anyone could be stupid enough to genuinely get confused

      “Note the wrongness of the larger argument here. Courts respect precedence not because they love the status quo, as Day’s apartheid straw man argument suggests, but because it’s essential for the rule of law–because otherwise judges would be arbitrarily punishing you according to their own whims whenever they see fit.”

      He didn’t even talk about courts. He was criticising it as a moral argument. Use your fucking eyes:

      but it’s not hard to see when arguing legalities and precedence over what people find acceptable and sustainable is a bankrupt stance.

      I’m not saying it’s right or that it makes sense, but good god people. Attack the argument as given, not as you wish to infer it.

    • Deltadisco says:

      Not really. My “preferred regime” generally falls squarely under the umbrella of “common sense”. Two different companies can go build (often incredibly) similar cars to get the same job done – but you can’t go mass produce a Honda and then sell it as a Toyota without some legal wrangling beforehand.

      This issue isn’t black and white – it’s just as naive to say “lawyers bad!” as it is to say “cloning bad!”.

    • Consumatopia says:

      @Lilliput King, you’re not a cunt, you’re just wrong. Just because it’s a reductio ad absurdum doesn’t mean it’s not a comparison. Check the definition I posted. It fits.

      He didn’t even talk about courts.

      He hired a lawyer and threatened legal action. Use your own eyes.

      It’s funny how you quote me, but didn’t seem to read what I said. If you had, you would not have said a single thing that you just said.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Two different companies can go build (often incredibly) similar cars to get the same job done – but you can’t go mass produce a Honda and then sell it as a Toyota without some legal wrangling beforehand.

      Toyota building a part for part clone of a Honda would be like the Lugaru ripoff up above–copying their code and graphics.

      OpenOffice building a suite of applications very similar to Word in features but not actually copying Word code or graphics is like LoEH.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “He hired a lawyer and threatened legal action. Use your own eyes.”

      Really doesn’t have anything to do with the argument as he put it, which was a moral argument. Which is why he never railed against the concept of legal precedent (at least, as far as I can see?). Which makes you bringing it up a little odd, to be honest, as it has no place in a moral argument.

      “Just because it’s a reductio ad absurdum doesn’t mean it’s not a comparison. Check the definition I posted. It fits.”

      No, I’m sorry, it doesn’t. He said that the argument given can be used to justify the aforementioned things, and thus, it’s a duff argument. At no point is LoEH mentioned. At no point does any comparison take place.

    • Jeremy says:

      I will continue to be shocked when people consider protecting an original work a form of “bullying.” Bullying, in my mind, would be trying to lawyer up against a game or product that has the word “Dungeon” in it, regardless of content… like the Edge debacle. Trying to keep branding pure can often lead to bullying. However, these guys are not just protecting a name, they’re protecting the content of their game, which was lifted by someone else, repackaged slightly differently and made cheaper than the original by the cloner’s own admission. That’s where Danny even said that it became a legitimate lawsuit. Still, I’m more inclined to side with the original author than some rookie cloner, regardless of the legality of the process.

    • Consumatopia says:

      @Lilliput King, quoting Day:

      Part of the problem is legal: people assume that laws trump all, instead of understanding that the current laws that “protect” games weren’t built to do any such thing. The way we talk about the legalities of games needs to change, both to prevent blatant cloning (someone stealing your product and then selling it at a reduced price because they didn’t need to pay as much to build it isn’t competition, it’s theft) and to stop Langdellian trademark trolling (“I totally came up with this idea for a name first, watch me lie to prove it! Now gimme money!”).

      Day is making an argument about what the law should be. He made an argument against legal precedent. He’s suing people according to what he thinks the law should be, not according to what it actually is, what he admits that many lawyers tried to tell him it was. He got his way only because the other guy couldn’t afford to deal with his bullying.

      He said that the argument given can be used to justify the aforementioned things, and thus, it’s a duff argument.

      He argued that because legal precedent could be used to justify the aforementioned things, it shouldn’t be invoked to defend LoEH. That’s a similarity, an analogy, between LoEH and the aforementioned things. Sorry, Danny Day compared LoEH to apartheid.

      And it’s a false analogy. No one is arguing that legal precedent overrides everything. But given that we have a global software industry in the hundreds of billions of dollars (not just games) built on copying features from your competitors (except were protected by patent, not copyright or trademark), we might want to consider whether it’s fair to single out Farraro for enforcement of a norm we plainly have no intention of enforcing generally.

  6. pupsikaso says:

    10 minutes to play this game my bloody arse. I didn’t notice how a freaking HOUR just flew by… and I’ve got a quiz tomorrow =(

  7. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    I still dip in and out of the freeware version from time to time. One day I’ll get all those pesky unlocks. Beat the Factory with a Wizard indeed! Madness!

    Looking forward to a fully featured retail version of this and the chance to throw the devs some money for what is a wonderful game.

  8. Chunga says:

    Well, there is luck (or randomness) involved but there also is a bit of, strategic thinking inside the box. The DD wiki although it is old and outdated (?) is a good start to understand the mechanics. I am really sorry the free version isn’t going to be updated, I like the graphic style of it and the no-nonsense pick-up-and-play. But I understand they need food on the table too.

    I am a bit worried that the Unity DD is going to be a Megalosaurus with bling stuffed onto it, but let’s hope for the best.

    Best game in a long time for me. Many hours and many monsters later, I am still playing.

  9. pakoito says:

    I’ll give you this bags of chips for the full game. Deal?

    No but seriously, I’m eager to buy the full game already ^^

    • trjp says:

      In the age of taking pre-orders, charging for betas (with the game free on release) and having 2-year-long betas (Minecraft will probably sell about 20 copies when actually finished!!) I’m astounded the developers aren’t offering a way to throw them cash for DD really….

      Apart from anything else – by the time it’s ‘released’ people will be bored of it!?

  10. Kefren says:

    I recently completed the whole game. Every level with every character, then finally tackling Lothlorien, which was a %^&*$£%. I hardly ever got off the first stage, let alone completing stage 2 with less than max gold. As people said the randomness is the charm and on most levels you can just retire and retry (and get the excitement of a new layout to ease the pain). However Lothlorien was frustrating in that if you get a bad layout or start on stage 2 or 3 you have to go back to stage 1. I completed stage 3 on my second attempt, by using CYDSTEPP and hitting the final boss as hard as I could. Thankfully the DDwiki had warned me of what to expect. Overall I played the game for a few months, slotting in a few rounds whenever I had a spare half hour. A bargain at the price!

  11. BobsLawnService says:

    Erm, that Apartheid reference was a bit jarring. Next they will be saying they knock the odd Castle Lager back with Madiba before staggering home carefully through the streets avoiding the lions and hyenas.

    Also, I can see how Eric Farraro could feel a bit condescended to having somebody tell him what he is allowed to put in his game.

  12. mbourgon says:

    Having played some insane number of games since reading about it in December, I will say that I personally think they should’ve put out an iPhone version as soon as they found out about the clone. I think it could play really well, and honestly, it’s a new enough and clever enough mechanic that they could’ve bought yachts with the App Store money I think they’d get.

  13. SamC says:

    I’m curious, how much would League of Epic Heroes had to have changed for QCF to be ok with it? I can see how copying the exact classes and powers is iffy, but it’s still not copying art assets and code, like the Lugaru example. Programming a game,even a clone, isn’t a cut and paste affair. If League of Epic Heros had been free, would it be ok?

    • Deano2099 says:

      But for Desktop Dungeons, it is basically cut and paste. Every mechanic is visible to the player (and hence the cloner).

  14. Deano2099 says:

    Wow it’s amazing how much people can misinterpret an interview.

    Legal bullying? Well yes it was. He pretty much admits that much, saying they threatened the legal action not really believing they had a case. The crucial difference between this and EA or whatever doing it, is that they’d already been in dialogue with the guy and were trying to reach a compromise, and he just wasn’t interested. For those who haven’t played the games, this isn’t like every FPS ripping off Doom. In fact, the developers said they’d have loved to seen him make another game in the same genre with the same mechanics.

    But he ripped it off wholesale. It’s not making ‘another FPS’. It’s making a game called “Doomed” where the enemies all have exactly the same hit points, movement patterns and AI as Doom, the player’s weapons all act exactly the same as in Doom, but in both cases they have different names and different sprites. Oh and the level design is identical it just has different colour walls. And then you sell it for 10% of the price of Doom.

    The problem, of course, is you couldn’t do that, as there’s no way of replicating the Doom AI precisely, and a lot of other things (weapon damage, etc) would have to be figured out through a huge amount of trial and error.

    The reason Desktop Dungeons is so fun and unique is that, random level creation aside, it’s entirely deterministic. The rules are right there in front of you, you’re meant to learn them and gain an understanding of them, that’s part of the game. So it’s very very easy to copy.

    And no, it isn’t illegal to copy it in that way. But he makes the point that, maybe it should be. That’s the apartheid comparison – just because something has always been done one way, doesn’t mean that’s inherently ‘right’. That’s a fair comparison. It in no way attempts to put the two on the same level.

    It’s like that godawful Godwin’s Law thing people spout. Hey, if my boss is racist, doesn’t recruit Jews, spouts loads of propaganda to brainwash us in to thinking his way, harshly punishes any failure, and insists everything is done his way, then it’s fair to say he’s a bit like Hitler. He’s nowhere near as bad as Hitler obviously, but the comparison is valid and useful.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Legal bullying? Well yes it was. He pretty much admits that much, saying they threatened the legal action not really believing they had a case.

      I get that QCF Design wishes the law worked differently. But they only have the ability to enforce the norm against people who can’t afford to fend off their spurious lawsuit. This means one law for Farraro, another law for Zynga. That sucks.

      The problem, of course, is you couldn’t do that, as there’s no way of replicating the Doom AI precisely, and a lot of other things (weapon damage, etc) would have to be figured out through a huge amount of trial and error.

      This has been done with board games.

      Moreover, in software more generally, it’s essential that this be done. Often, for one program to interoperate with another, a developer will have to reverse engineer some protocol or file format. The are many programs that try to do nearly exactly the same thing, like office software. Global GDP would be noticeably lower if QCF Design’s legal wishes were made law.

      That’s the apartheid comparison – just because something has always been done one way, doesn’t mean that’s inherently ‘right’.

      Yeah, but it was ridiculous to mention apartheid to make such a banal point. And that’s usually true for most Hitler comparisons as well. “Third-worlded” was also a bit much.

    • dislekcia says:

      It’s apparently only legal bullying because it worked, if it hadn’t I guess people would be moaning about how lawyers don’t understand game IP or whatever. We consulted a lawyer for help, we’d have done the same thing if Zynga blatantly copied DD too. We’re idealists like that.

      @Deano2099: We should totally have a name for apartheid references destroying debates. That would be awesome… Wikus’ Law? (“Then he Wikused the argument.”)

      It might be helpful to the discussion (which I’m really enjoying BTW) to note that I was actually comparing how two different cultures think about law and morality. Comparing LoEH to Apartheid isn’t very useful – what axes are you evaluating on and how do you reach a conclusion? There really was no “I want readers to consider these things equally bad” slight of hand going on, I’m actually quite fascinated with these differences in perception.

      @Consumatopia: So what do you believe our legal desires to be? I don’t recall stating them in this interview, so it’s strange that you’re extrapolating implications. Especially considering I only said current laws aren’t about games and specifically that we need a good defintion for game cloning/plagiarism/copying, not software in general. This sort of discussion is exactly what we need to have more of, that’s the only way we’re going to get over the misconceptions and assumptions that currently surround this issue.

    • Consumatopia says:

      No, it’s legal bullying because the only reason it worked is because the other guy couldn’t afford to fight it off. If there were actually any money at stake (e.g. Lexulous/Scrabulous) you’d have gotten nowhere. What you did to Farraro you would have been unable to do to Zynga.

      I don’t know how your culture views the law. If it really is that might makes right and precedent doesn’t matter, then I don’t see why you didn’t just string up everyone who supported the old regime (like a lot of other countries horrifically do) instead of bothering with that whole Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The central principle here is the same laws ought to apply to everyone, and, if you want to talk national culture, that’s something I would have expected your culture to understand.

      I was assuming that your legal desires were something deeper than “X hurt my feelings and should be punished”. So you want to change the rules for games, but not software in general. Do you have a principled reason for that, other than that you happen to be a games developer and don’t particularly care about the rest of the industry? What distinguishes games from other software?

  15. Chunga says:

    All three of you who have wanted DD on the Mac: it’s alive, go get it at http://www.qcfdesign.com/?p=423

  16. Tei says:

    Desktop Dungeons is my favorite game on my netbook :D

  17. Buttless Boy says:

    Man, I’d love to see work on Spacehack once DD is done. DD is phenomenal and elegant, but Spacehack just sounds like a blast.

  18. jiminitaur says:

    The DD team failed to respect the crucial metric for idea theft in the marketplace. It isn’t the idea or its details, but the work that goes into implementing those details.

    If he had decompiled the DD code and systematically converted it into the format that he used, that would be one thing, something that could be proved through a less superficial analysis of his product and would indicate that he had stolen their work instead of manufacturing a comparable alternative. Instead they focused on the perceived similarity alone. They said because his product intentionally functions and feels like ours, he must be forced to stop.

    If those ideas were applied to the software industry at large, it would quash not only innovation, but that ever loving, ever changing team of enthusiasts who endeavor to provide a free comparable alternative to mass-market high-dollar PC software essentials.

    While I myself know the difficulty of putting up with loonies and can understand having a defensive attitude towards one’s labor of love, what we don’t see here is any direct evidence of the correspondence on either side. For all we know, they were total jerks to him, or used language that could easily be perceived as insulting. What we do know is that they admitted to legal threats based off admittedly flimsy arguments, and won by default because their opponent didn’t opt in for an expensive parry and thrust.

    The DD team may feel satisfied and justified, but to me they have proven themselves nothing but whiners and bullies. Their flimsy arguments about originals being less profitable in foreign markets because of clones doesn’t justify their ways, and reminds us that in their minds, the justification for their actions was that they were entitled to money on the grounds of the ideas alone, not because they brought a superior product to the market.

    Based off the reviews of the two products, I’m sure they would have earned their keep through legitimate competition in the iOS market, but the world will never know. All the it’ll know is that they bullied a competitor out of the market before they even got into it, by crying to big daddy Apple, Mr “We deserve money” himself.

    I for one won’t be supporting their products or their brand because of it.

    • Eolirin says:

      I’m sorry, but that’s *incredibly* disrespectful to the *entire* discipline of design. This isn’t an issue over ‘ideas’ it’s an issue over extremely detailed implementation of ideas. Design is as important a discipline as coding or art; it’s hard, it’s precise, and it isn’t just a matter of having ideas that anyone could think of. There’s a *ton* of work that goes into it, as much as goes into coding or art, and dismissing that work as somehow less deserving of being protected than those other disciplines belies a complete lack of understanding of what design is.

      There is a huge difference between ideas and design; the idea is “let’s make a rougelike that is like a puzzle game”. Anyone can do that without any issue. But that’s not the design; you have build a complex set of mechanics that implement that idea in a very specific and clearly defined way. This is unique, and there’s plenty of room for any given idea to have many many designs built on it. When someone else lifts it whole cloth, right down to how the attributes work and how difficulty levels impact gameplay, it’s not okay, even if that person implemented their own code and their own graphics. It’s no different than taking someone else’s code and replacing the art assets, or using someone else’s art assets with your own code. Inspiration is fine, making modifications to riff off an idea is fine, copying whole cloth is not.