Jeff Minter has been making tip-top arcade shooters for a good thirty years now, including classics like Space Giraffe, Gridrunner, Revenge of the Mutant Camels, and Tempest 2000. That last one is coming back to bite him in the bottom.
TxK [official site] is his latest loud and colourful and silly and exciting shooter, and I’ve been waiting patiently for the PC port since its Vita debut last year. That port is now scrapped, thanks to the terrible creature wearing the skin of Atari. Minter says the publishers of Tempest 2000 claim that TxK is ripping it off, and he can’t afford a legal battle to defend it.
Atari are insisting that he remove TxK from sale and sign papers “basically saying I can never make a Tempest style game ever again”, Minter explained in a post on his Llamasoft forums (mirrored here). Certainly no PC port, then. He retold some of the accusations in his own words:
– 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).
Minter says that this legal trouble “has been going on behind the scenes for a while now” but he kept quiet publicly because he’d hoped they might work it out. Perhaps Atari would commission an officially licensed version, he thought, or even also revamp some of his older Atari games. “However they never gave an inch and just continued with threats and bullying,” he said.
“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?” he asked rhetorically. Turns out, so he heard, that when Atari had Tempest 2000 ported to PlayStation as Tempest X, they made very minor changes so they could declare it a different game and not give him royalties. “Yet now ‘Atari’ claim that TxK is in fact *closer* legally to Tempest 2000 than Tempest X was” he said. Oh dear.