Your Videogame and Fair Use Copyright Law

Flachovatereza / Pixabay

The videogame world and the copyright office do have their collisions. In our modern digital culture, a video game can have as much popular mindspace as a popular film or television show. So, naturally, a big game can create opportunities for parody, comment, and post-modern artistic manipulation.

We saw this question on Quora recently:

Can a parody style fan game have Fair Use protection if it uses the original game’s art assets?

And here’s our answer:

Yes, although you can still get taken to court if your original game’s publisher is aggressive.

Fair Use isn’t guaranteed; it’s a legal line that gets tested in court when a case arises. There’s a couple good online tools that will help you assess and strengthen your argument like the Fair Use Evaluator .

My advice is if your game is fan-built, truly parodic, and unlikely to make a profit, go for it. The publisher is unlikely to see it.

Video Game Vs. Real World Combat

Today’s chuckle is courtesy of Endless Origami, which hits on a favorite thought of mine: the differences between video game strategy and real-world combat strategy. Sometimes they are radically different, which means we’re in for a heap of trouble if (a la The Last Starfighter) the FPS video games we’ve been weaned on are actually being sent our way by a crack team of alien game developers who are trying to train us how to save the universe.

Here’s the comic (click to visit the EO site):

video game writer comic

And here’s the way I first read the comic, in Spanish, on the Metaverso tumblr:

video game comic


Hulu Plus Review-ette

Hulu Plus Sounds Useful

You know, it’s not hard to like Hulu Plus. One of the big wins for me is that Hulu Plus has a huge catalog of Criterion collection movies. These are classic arthouse movies and canonical cinema landmarks from a wide range of eras. And they have some essential TV shows that Netflix doesn’t have. But fyi…

Hulu Plus Is Currently a Dreadful Beating on the PS3

It’s no fun when you curl up with your significant other or your father’s cat and you get this message. Incessantly.


Or you don’t even get the message – just a gray loading screen while you wait for the service to respond.

And of course… the advertising is dreadful. Once you’ve seen the same ad ten or 15 times, rage starts to bubble up from your gut. This is not a feeling you want when you’re trying to relax. So my tip for today is “it ain’t ready yet.” There are rumors that Hulu Plus may someday go ad-free, albeit possibly for a higher price than Netflix. Hrm. Interesting strategy, Hulu: deliver less but charge more. Good luck with that.


ACL “Sound and the Jury” contest horrors

ACL’s “Sound and the Jury” contest has started, and in a pretty marginal way.

The winner gets a slot at the ACL music festival – huge prestige. It could be a launching pad to great things for the right band. A band with talent. Too bad the bands who are currently winning are spectacularly weak. I’m sorry, Sound and the Jury, but pale imitations of Jack Johnson don’t deserve any stagetime at the Austin City Limits Music Fest.

It just goes to show: being popular doesn’t automatically give you talent. True in the videogame development world, too.

I’m voting for Kissinger right now. I like ’em; check them out. There’s a link there to their MySpace page. All they have to do is get in the top 100 to advance. If you have alternative suggestions I’m open to them too.


What happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

What the heck happened, M. Night Shyamalan?

I just saw the ad for the new M. Night movie. It’s designed to look like some kind of andromeda strain movie.

“There appears to be an event happening,” a man intones. This, according to our statistics, is the blandest, most uninformative, passive-voice piece of advertising ever recorded in the history of modern advertising (post-1890).

Then we see the word SOMETHING flash in big letters. People look panicked.

IS, say the titles. Some crap about it being a three-stage phenomenon, going from disorientation to fatality.

HAPPENING, say the titles. Apparently the fatality is caused by people spontaneously being turned into silhouettes that fall from great heights.

Suspense! And now the name of our filmic production? It’s called THE HAPPENING.

Oh. My. Gawd. How could this be?

How could M. Night make such a laughable and airheaded trailer?

How could the guy behind The Sixth Sense continue to piss away his once-mighty creative license with movies like Signs and The Village?

How can this guy continue to land talent like Wahlberg, the star of his new pic?

Does he still know how to tell a good idea from a weak one? Has he lost the knack of screenwriting?

The third stage is fatal

M. Night, the clock is ticking. This Happening better be happening. Hollowood is the home of upward failure, but you know, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Even fanboys.


Screenwriting: a ?!?! moment in Blade Trinity

A screenwriting thought: Blade Trinity puzzler

Screenwriting isn’t game design (although a lot of game designers wish it were). Still, screenwriters are, like game writers, in the business of visual storytelling. Under that precept, I’d like to relate the following tale of woe.

The other night I channelsurfed upon Blade Trinity. I’m as much a fan as anybody of the brain-dead spectacle so I watched a fair chunk of it, although I admit that I was hot-swapping between it and Harold and Kumar.

Anyhow, among ridiculous tropes and hilarious pomp, one ?!?! moment stood out for me. Abigail (Biel) and Blade (Snipes), after discovering their friends murdered and base defiled, are girding for battle to the requisite vengeance beat.

Silvery blades in leather holsters, check. Black revolvers that fire vampire-killing mumbo-jumbo fluid, check. CG-tastic UV folding hacksaw, check.

Cut to Abigail at her laptop.

Cut to Abigail selecting tunes for her iPod playlist. On the screen you can clearly see the phrase “Abigail’s iPod.” I nearly ingested a fatal dose of popcorn through my nose.

They’re about to do battle with the hordes of Hell and Dracula himself, and Abigail is loading Nickelback tunes into her freaking iPod like she’s preparing for a road trip to Boise?!? This was easily the funniest thing I’d seen all night. (Apologies to Kal Penn… the new H&K movie looks essential.) The only way they could’ve improved it would’ve been to show her loading up a Kung Fu lunchbox with a seaweed wrap and a thermos of Starbucks’ finest mochachoco latte.

To me this clip screamed, “Middle-aged screenwriter desperately trying to prove his cultural relevance.” Next time, guys, pay a little less attention to the cultural fads and a little more to the emotions and drama of the movie you’re making.

Did anybody see this thing in the theatres? Please let us know. I MUST know if this clip caused any guffaws – or not.


Game design case study: why can’t I stop playing Bard’s Tale?

Game writing trumps game design?

My current crap-game obsession is inXile’s Bard’s Tale for the PS2. An ill-fated classic-game revival, BT has very little in common with its storied predecessor (which I also loved back in the days when I was too young to buy my own computer – can you say “floppy disk swapfest”?). It’s an action-RPG that smells like rotting nipples.

Kind of like this image from the blog of Emmy C.

The main game design problems

  • Lousy visuals – inXile’s engine delivers a chunky, unpalatable picture sure to make children cry and dogs howl.
  • Ridiculous character control – amazingly, the Bard is unable to move and attack at the same time. A mistimed attack starts a damnable anim that gives your enemies enough time to slice you open and decorate their Christmas tree with your entrails.
  • Frustrating stun dynamic – if you’re hit, the Bard is temporarily stunned and vulnerable to more strikes. Of course, the genius game designers thought you’d enjoy it if those strikes also stun you. In other words, if you’re surrounded by cheesy grunts, as you usually are, and you happen to take a hit, the resulting dogpile will escort you right to Hades. As a result, I’ve been forced to play like a 90-pound weakling, cowering behind any obstacle and running in circles to avoid swarms of foes.

Running in circles. An apt description. Did I mention that blocking is temporary, so it’s impossible to block past this problem? Yep.Yet I keep playing. Why would I torture myself?

The game design pluses

  • inXile made a classic mistake — they saved the best game design for last. In the ice levels, they bring the camera in about 15%, and suddenly the game looks kinda nice! Decent water effects, reflections, cool textures… all the stuff that looked like surrealism from a distance.
  • The gameplay’s come up a notch. There’s a series of cool sequences on ice floes where you have to defend your floating ice raft as a steady stream of foes swim aboard and zing you from the shoreline. You can dodge, but you can’t cheese your way along by retreating every time you start to run low on health or mana. There’s a simple exploration puzzle and a funny headcount competition with a forlorn giant Viking.
  • Most importantly, this game’s made me laugh aloud several times. That helped me survive the first half, just barely. Usually game humor only makes me quirk my lips. I grudgingly admit that this might be the funniest game I’ve played since Lucasarts’ Monkey Island. That’s the highest praise I’ve got for game humor. A few examples:
    • The narrator comments dryly on your antisocial behavior if you open a chest in the storage room of the barmaid you’re tasked to help at the beginning of the game.
    • He also finds it surprising it’s taken you that long to try to get your hands on her chest.
    • The treasures are a constant source of absurdity. Druids carry mistletoe and Stonehenge souvenirs. The trow drop trow pants (trow pants, trowsers, get it?). Others are carting snowglobes of the local village. Of course, the attack chickens you encounter on a demented farm drop chicken nuggets. (Conveniently, there’s no voyaging to the local merchant to sell your crap. The game automatically converts these gewgaws into cash immediately — a game design innovation I’d like to see in other RPGs.)
    • Cary Elwes’ inspired, sarcastic voice acting as the Bard and the narrator’s dryly disapproving British persona. One of my favorite lines from the load screen is his “Where were we? Oh yes. The Bard was making an ass of himself.”
    • The hero (you) is such a bonehead that he releases a curse on the world that destroys villages and dogs his own footsteps. He’s working for good, but it’s kind of a two-steps-forward, one-step back thing. And he’s purely motivated by skirt-chasing and gold.
    • I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say there are a few musical numbers that pop up at the most unexpected times. I hate musicals with a passion, but the timing is sublime.
    • There’s more, and of course, like any good joke, it’s easy to suck the humor out in the retelling. Trust me, it’s good game writing.

Game writing carries it?

So I guess I’m saying that this almost unredeemable game has dragged me along, kicking and screaming, just because of the quality of the game writing. Is it possible that good game writing can justify a bad game?

Maybe a good game writer is worth the expense. They’re a lot cheaper than good code, and game writing crashes a lot less frequently.


game writers and gamers welcome

Game writers – specifically videogame writers – it’s here! The video game writer blog.

Thoughts about the art and science of writing for games. War stories. Analysis of games, gameplay, and of course, game writing. Case studies of videogame writing and where it succeeds (Planetfall, God of War) — and fails, even in bestselling titles (Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, I’m looking at you!).

Game writers and game designers are heartily encouraged to comment and contribute. Aspiring game writers – if you can write, we want to hear what you think.