Descent Reimagining Sol Contingency Foxed

Love will tear us apart again.

Fan remakes and reimaginings are labours of love living on a knife-edge, potentially blooming into a glorious monument to their adoration but knowing that one single letter from the owner could shut everything down at any moment. Sol Contingency has received that letter. It was to be a shiny “reimagining” of Parallax’s splendid six-degrees-of-freedom space shooter Descent in the UDK, but owners Interplay have stopped that. The team say they’ll continue, changing enough to make Sol Contingency their own thing.

But this wasn’t all unrequited love; at one point, Interplay were interested in making Sol Contingency an official Descent game.

Sol Contingency project lead Max explains:

I had been contacted by a daughter company of Interplay over a year ago, parallel to the development of SolC, and we were in talks trying to work out whether we could make Sol Contingency an officially sanctioned Descent game. I want to emphasize here that *they* contacted *me* about this. They even asked for and received a working copy of a functional internal build of SolC. We never made this public because things never actually got down to concrete business propositions and we really weren’t holding our breath for that. After all, SolC has been our passion project from the start and money was never our primary objective. So we trotted along, figuring that Interplay would come back if they were interested – maybe once Proving Grounds was released.

And back they came, but not the way we had hoped.

Interplay issued a cease & desist order, which the blog post includes with a few sections blurred. Interplay say that as they hadn’t yet struck a formal agreement, the team referring to Descent, showing off screenshots and story bits inspired by Descent, and their website preparefordescent.com wouldn’t fly. Copyright and trademark law require companies to fiercely defend their properties or risk losing them, but doing this to a group of fans you’re talking with is a bit of a Dear John letter.

The SolC team are planning to make new levels and enemies to replace their Descent bits. Max sez:

While we are very sad to see these iconic archetypes go, we will come up with new robots, a new plot, a new ship, new levels, and perhaps a few new weapons and names to differentiate our game just enough from the trademarked assets Interplay is so dearly holding on to. We still want to make a game that *feels* and *plays* how we all want, so none of the gameplay will change.

Here’s a look at an early multiplayer test, with unfinished art and assets, from back in May:

30 Comments

  1. eggy toast says:

    “The company with legal title to the work we were making a derivative of asked if they could see what we had done, and without consulting our attorneys we said “sure!” “

    • Gog Magog says:

      Remember kids: only point your legal folks at something if you’re absolutely sure you want to kill that thing.

    • skittles says:

      Yeah does seem a little odd, although maybe it wasn’t as simple an exchange as you imply. ;)

      Although next week Interplay will announce a new Descent game. It uses strangely familiar assets and coding.

  2. derbefrier says:

    Well that sucks.

  3. SIDD says:

    The level of thick-headedness most of these companies display is quite honestly shocking.

    Option A:
    Let’s sign these guys as an independent development company to ensure we retain rights to our IP. When the game is done, we put it up on steam for £5 and give them 10-20% of each sale. No investment from our side and no risk, but the chance of an ancient IP making a bit of money and maybe spur enough interest for us to justify to go full AAA on a follow-up.
    Bonus: Lots of goodwill from gaming community when being seen as “one of their own”.

    Option B:
    Let’s kill it, and stuff the IP back into the back of the closet where it will most likely never see sunlight again and definitely not make anyone any money.
    “Bonus”: Being known as being a bunch of twats that doesn’t give a toss about their fan-base .

    And time and time again, option B seems to be the default choice?! Wtf?!

    • Baggypants says:

      Option A is Riskier, especially If the fan made project turns out to be the Colonial Marines of your franchise. Option B is much less so.

      • SIDD says:

        If it’s a “remake” of an existing game then in regard to content and storyline there’s a limit to how awful they can be.
        Technically it can be a mess, true … but having your usual underpaid QA staff spend a week on the final product will cost you peanuts, and if it’s crap, then you axe it and the only money you’ve lost is the QA man hours.

        …unlike Colonial Marines which at the time of release represented a substantial investment making it too costly (short-term) for Gearbox/Sega/Whomever to cancel it even though it rightfully so should have been nuked from orbit.

        • Philomelle says:

          You seem to assume, very erroneously I must add, that Interplay actually has underpaid QA analysts. They don’t. It’s literally one asshole and a bunch of lawyers sitting in an office and copyright-trolling everyone they can find. Actual Interplay has been gone for nearly a decade now.

    • eggy toast says:

      Option A means contracting out the rights to a famous franchise to god-knows-who and hoping they don’t do something horrible, while also paying people to look over their shoulder and make sure they don’t do anything horrible that cheapens or destroys the value of your mark.

      Option B means having legal send a boilerplate letter and everything being forgotten by Monday.

      • Premium User Badge

        keithzg says:

        And in a broader sense, if you never ship any products, you don’t run any risk!

        Because while you’re right in some senses, “there’s some risk and effort in option A, therefore, we should never again do anything with this IP” is still a nonsensical way to do business, and that’s what these companies have been doing. See: Freespace . . .

  4. Gap Gen says:

    As an aside: It’s a shame that they missed out on getting the Descent name, because Sol Contingency as a name is doomed to be filed away in my brain with a bunch of 4X games in a leopard-infested bathroom with limited lighting and disabled access.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      I’m seeing a mostly black box, a nebula, a picture of a space-ship, a picture of a man looking soulful at the camera but he won’t appear in the game at all. There will be a box-quote: “Is this a game?” – Soviet Mothers’ Knitting Circular

  5. shinygerbil says:

    Interplay sound like a right bunch of contingencies.

  6. drinniol says:

    I wish you guys would stop perpetuating the myth that copyright holders need a stranglehold. Look at Star Wars, FFS. This is lawyers ‘earning’ paychecks.

  7. solidsquid says:

    “Copyright and trademark law require companies to fiercely defend their properties or risk losing them”

    Not actually true, as long as they do *something* in reaction to someone using their brand (whether that’s banning it, licencing it or offering a free licence doesn’t matter). They could have just said they were fine with the game as long as they didn’t call it a Descent game and they’d have fulfilled all the requirements for protecting their trademark

    • Philotic Symmetrist says:

      A somewhat relevant link as supporting evidence:

      link to eff.org

      • JarinArenos says:

        I am getting sick and tired of media sites like RPS – whether through ignorance or malice – perpetuating this copyright defense myth. It’s complete BS. These companies aren’t defending their copyright, they’re just being dicks.

        • Premium User Badge

          keithzg says:

          Well, but they really want to be dicks, so if they change peoples’ conceptions so eventually everyone believes they’re required to act this way then eventually people start giving them a free pass (this case being kindof a missing-link-in-point in that progression).

      • sonofsanta says:

        This is the link I was checking the comments for.

        RPS: please, you are better than this. Your research is normally top drawer, but you keep repeating this myth and excusing dickwad behaviour with it. Interplay aren’t being forced into doing anything here, they are just being cocks for the sake of it.

      • Bassen_Hjertelos says:

        Has anyone ever sent an e-mail to RPS containing this info. Perhaps the entire staff needs a wee bit of education on this particular subject. I’m thinking it’s easily lost in the myriad of comments here.

  8. Telkir says:

    It was a shame that this happened, but inevitable at the same time. Interplay has behaved like asshats in the past and I was surprised that it took them this long to target their copyright guns on SolC.

    Nevertheless, as I commented on the story on their blog, I hope this gives them the fuel to develop a 6DoF game that’s a damn sight better than anything Interplay could have come up with themselves. I wish the team all the best, and when the Proving Grounds demo comes out (if they continue calling it that), I’ll know that whatever the assets they go on to use, I’ll be playing a Descent game in all but the name.

    • omf says:

      The heartbreaker in this case is that so much work had already gone in Sol and it seemed like they were within a few weeks of delivering the release version. What a stupid, pointless waste of effort thanks to Interplay. It’s not like they’d showed the series an ounce of attention in decades.

      I hope they’re able to save the assets they’re now going to have to pull out of the game so that we can plug them back in ourselves later on.

  9. Myrdinn says:

    Interplay is clearly a company who peaked a long time ago and is now run by bitter businessmen and lawyers.

    • Caiman says:

      The tits running Interplay now exists merely to squeeze the last few bucks out of its old back catalogue and IP. Their behavior here is reprehensible, but they join the ranks of most politicians who prove that being regarded as complete dicks is meaningless to such pond slime.

  10. WiggumEsquilax says:

    link to youtube.com

    Because interplay.

  11. malkav11 says:

    It’s not like Interplay actually makes games anymore for this to have competed with, or a good name for this to besmirch if they made the relationship official.

  12. Premium User Badge

    keithzg says:

    This is why, honestly, you should never do a fan remake of a game. Period. Seriously, do a spiritual successor, and let people know that that’s what it is (nothing wrong with saying “in the style of such games as…”, although aggressive lawyers might try and argue otherwise), but never overtly rely on the IP of a corporate entity, because to the degree that they’re ‘people’ they’re obsessive-compulsive sociopaths. Create your own “IP”, offer it CC-BY-SA, and let these big IP warchests sit there rusting.

  13. Ken Castle says:

    They should have just gone the route Valve did with Black Mesa and acquired it. Both would benefit that way. Now Interplay proved it’s a zombie. It’s pissing off the fanbase and now people are even saying they will boycott Interplay over this. Real classy, Interplay. You used to be my most favorite company. Now you are my most hated. EA can’t even hold a candle to the anger I have for Interplay.